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Yoko Tani
Tani in a still from The Savage Innocents (1960).
Yōko Itani

(1928-08-02)2 August 1928
Paris, France
Died19 April 1999(1999-04-19) (aged 70)
Paris, France
Alma materUniversity of Paris
Occupation(s)Actress, entertainer
    (m. 1956; div. 1962)
    • Roger Laforet
Japanese name
Hiraganaたに ようこ
Alternative Japanese name

Yoko Tani (谷洋子, Tani Yōko, 2 August 1928[1][2][3] – 19 April 1999)[1][2] was a Japanese-French actress and vedette, who had a career in both Japanese and European cinema during the 1950's and '60s.

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Early life

Tani was born Yōko Itani (猪谷洋子)[1][2] in Paris in 1928, to Japanese parents Zenichi Itani and Taeko Egi. Her father was an economist, and her mother was a longtime associate of Oku Mumeo. Her maternal grandmother, Maseko, served as the model for a famous painting by Kiyokata Kaburagi. Her great-grandfather, Gakusui Egi, was a famed Confucian scholar and a feudal lord of the Fukuyama Domain.

Tani's parents were both diplomats at the Japanese embassy,[4] with Tani herself conceived en route during a shipboard passage from Japan to Europe in 1927 and subsequently born in Paris the following year, hence given the name Yōko (洋子), one reading of which can mean "ocean-child."[5] Tani would later play a diplomat's daughter in Piccadilly Third Stop. She has occasionally been described as 'Eurasian', 'half French', 'half Japanese'[6] and even, in one source, 'Italian Japanese',[7] all of which are incorrect.

According to Japanese sources,[8] the family returned to Japan in 1930, when Yoko would still have been a toddler, and she did not return to France until 1950 when her schooling was completed. Given that there were severe restrictions on Japanese travelling outside Japan directly after World War II, this would have been an unusual event; however, it is known that Itani had attended an elite girls' school in Tokyo (Tokyo Women's Higher Normal School, currently Ochanomizu University Senior High School), and then graduated from Tsuda University. She subsequently secured a Catholic scholarship to study aesthetics at the University of Paris (Sorbonne) under Étienne Souriau.[3][9][circular reference]


Return to France (1950–1955)

Once back in Paris, Tani found little interest in attending university (although by her own account she persevered for two years despite understanding hardly anything that was being said).[10] Instead, she developed a more compelling attraction to the cabaret, the nightclub, and the variety music-hall, where, setting herself up as an exotic oriental beauty, she quickly established a reputation for her provocative "geisha" dances, which generally ended with her slipping out of her kimono. It was here she was spotted by Marcel Carné, who took her into his circle of director and actor-friends, including Roland Lesaffre, whom she was later to marry.[11]

As a result, she began to get bit parts in films—starting as (perhaps predictably) a Japanese dancer, in Gréville's Le port du désir (1953–1954, released 1955)—and on the stage, with a role as Lotus Bleu in la Petite Maison de Thé (French adaptation of The Teahouse of the August Moon) at the Théâtre Montparnasse, 1954–1955 season.[12]

Lesaffre and Japan (1956)

Tani in 1956

Tani's involvement with cinema was, up to the mid-1950s, limited entirely to that of portraying stereotyped orientals in French films. With the end of the US occupation of Japan in 1952, however, postwar Japanese cinema itself burst upon the French scene, culminating in the years 1955 and 1956 when a total of six Japanese films, including Akira Kurosawa's Ikimono no Kiroku (I Live in Fear 生きものの記録), were entered at Cannes. It was at Cannes that Tani first made contact with Kurosawa, and the director Hisamatsu Seiji, contacts which led to a trip to Japan in 1956 by Tani and Lesaffre and their joint appearance in the Toho production Hadashi no seishun (裸足の青春 fr. La jeunesse aux pieds nus), a film about the difficult lives of Catholics in the remote islands off Kyushu, in southern Japan. Tani played the part of a 'fallen woman' who has returned to the islands from Tokyo (where she had run off to become a stripper), and Lesaffre that of the local bishop.[13] It was originally intended that the film be directed by Kurosawa himself, but in the end, it fell to his Toho stable-mate Taniguchi Senkichi.[14] Tani and Lesaffre's ambition was to bring the film back to France and release it in the French market, an aim which was, however, never achieved.

During the same trip, and also for Toho, Tani took a minor role in Hisamatsu's Jōshû to tomo ni (女囚と共に), a variant on the "women in prison" theme, in which she played a westernised Japanese Catholic named Marie. This film was notable only in that it starred two veritable legends of the Japanese cinema: Hara Setsuko and Tanaka Kinuyo.

International period (1957–1962)

Early in 1957, Tani appeared in a small role in her first English-language film: the MGM production of Graham Greene's The Quiet American, a political drama set in French Indochina. Despite being an American production, the film was shot entirely in Rome (with location scenes of Saigon added), with Tani cast as a francophone Vietnamese nightclub hostess.

But Tani's real "break" in English-language cinema came with the 1958 production The Wind Cannot Read. This film, a war-time love story, had originally been a project of the British producer Alexander Korda, and was to have been directed by David Lean, who in 1955 travelled to Japan with author Richard Mason and cast Japanese actress Kishi Keiko as the female lead. Locations were scouted in India, and Ms Kishi (then 22 years old) was brought to England to learn sufficient English for the part. At a very advanced stage, the project fell apart, and a few months later Korda died. The pieces were eventually picked up by the Rank Organisation, and it was decided to produce the film using the script and locations already set out by Lean, with one of Rank's big stars, Dirk Bogarde, in the male lead, Ralph Thomas to direct, and Tani, who was found in Paris, to play the leading female role. The film was a commercial success and one of the top British films of that year, and led to further roles in other British co-productions --- as the Inuit Asiak in the Anglo-French-Italian The Savage Innocents (Les Dents du diable) (1959 - nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1960), and as the ingénue Seraphina in Piccadilly Third Stop (1960).[15]

Aside from The Quiet American, her only other "Hollywood" roles were in My Geisha (1962, shot on location in Japan) and the Dean Martin comedy Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed? (1963, Paramount Studios Los Angeles).

Despite being type-cast as an exotic, Tani got to play some unusual roles as a result, as evidenced by her portrayal of Japanese doctor/scientist Sumiko Ogimura in the self-consciously internationalist 1959 East-German/Polish film production of Stanisław Lem's novel The Astronauts, Der schweigende Stern (First Spaceship on Venus), and as Miyake Hanako, Japanese common-law wife of the German double-agent Richard Sorge in Veit Harlan's Verrat an Deutschland [de].

Perhaps even more unusual (for the time) was her trip to Vancouver, Canada in 1962 to play the role of Mary Ota in James Clavell's The Sweet and the Bitter, which treats the aftermath of the wartime internment of Canadian Japanese and the loss of their properties and businesses. Ota, a young Japanese woman, returns to British Columbia after a twenty-year absence to avenge her father's internment-camp death, her hatred directed towards the man who stole her father's fishing boats.[16] The film was completed in 1963, but there was no North American release due to legal and financial difficulties. British Lion finally underwrote a showing of the film in London in 1967.[17]

Spies, swords and sandals (1963 onwards)

1962/63 marked a shift in Tani's career: a return (once again) to France and the definitive end of her marriage to Lesaffre. From this point on she was to be more strictly European-based and to take on work mainly in the low-budget Italian peplum cinema and in femme fatale roles in UK television dramas such as Danger Man and Man in a Suitcase.

Despite her involvement with film, Tani never abandoned her attachment to the nightclub and cabaret. The British producer Betty Box, when looking for the female lead for The Wind Cannot Read (vide supra), wrote:

As Richard [Mason] suggested, it had been extremely difficult to cast the Japanese girl -- we spent months on that, and nearly gave up. We eventually found Yoko Tani in, of all places, a girlie club -- more or less a striptease joint -- in Paris, and we were delighted with Richard's reaction to her.[18]

And, from a 1960s account of the well-known Le Crazy Horse de Paris nightclub:

[Le] Crazy Horse Saloon is a training ground for stars. From first to last the strippers all have names which are likely to crop up in the movies or Parisian social life: Yoko Tani, Rita Renoir, Rita Cadillac, Dodo d'Hambourg, Bertha von Paraboum, etc.[19]

Even as late as 1977, we find her in São Paulo, where she had a small role in Chinese-Brazilian director Juan Bajon's sexploitation film O Estripador de Mulheres:

Yet images of Japanese-Brazilian sensuality, both explicit and potential, were not confined to film: in 1977, Yoko Tani starred in a transvestite show in downtown São Paulo...[20]

Ho Ai Li, Assistant Life Editor of 'The Straits Times', (18/10/'15), quotes Tani as saying, when she was in Singapore, to film Goldsnake:

In Singapore, she told the media: "They told me that Singapore was the Paris of the East, (but) one thing is very different. In Paris, the government has to bribe shopkeepers to smile at visitors. Here, everybody smiles all the time."

Personal life

Tani's 1956 marriage to Roland Lesaffre was childless, and ended in divorce in 1962. Lesaffre claimed in his autobiography Mataf (éditions Pygmalion, 1991), that theirs was the first Franco-Japanese marriage after World War II[21] --- conceivably true, but almost impossible to verify. (True or not, it may have begun something of a trend, since Kishi Keiko and Yves Ciampi were married the following year.)

In later life Tani remarried, wedding Roger Laforet, a native of Binic, Côtes-d'Armor (Brittany). A wealthy industrialist, Laforet was an associate of Baron Marcel Bich, co-founder of the BIC consumer products empire. Tani's later years were spent between Paris and their house in Paimpol overlooking the sea.[22]


She died in Paris, from cancer, but is buried in Binic together with Laforet. Their tomb carries the Breton inscription «Ganeoc'h Bepred» (roughly, "Always With You").[23] Tani was survived by her younger sister, Aiko.

In popular culture

Her first name inspired the Belgian comics character Yoko Tsuno by Roger Leloup.[24]





  1. ^ a b c fr:Yoko Tani
  2. ^ a b c "谷洋子(たに ようこ)とは - コトバンク". Retrieved 2015-01-04.
  3. ^ a b mr.yunioshi. "女優編:海外の映画シーンで活躍する日本人スター&スタッフ". Retrieved 2015-01-04.
  4. ^ "Yoko Tani" (JPG). Retrieved 2023-08-30.
  5. ^ ibid
  6. ^ Film fatales: Women in espionage films and television, 1962–1973 Tom Lisanti, Louis Paul p 282
  7. ^ The Film Daily. Vol. 129. Wid's Films and Film Folk Incorporated. 1966. Retrieved 2015-01-04.
  8. ^ "映画の國 || コラム ||". Retrieved 2015-01-04.
  9. ^ "Yoko Tani on Japanese Wiki".
  10. ^ Video on YouTube
  11. ^ "Reperes biographiques de Roland Lesaffre, Filmographie de Roland Lesaffre, ses décorations | Marcel Carné". 10 August 2010. Retrieved 2015-01-04.
  12. ^ "Affiches de Théâtre - La Petite maison de thé de John PATRICK - Théâtre Montparnasse 1955". Retrieved 2015-01-04.
  13. ^ "裸足の青春(1956) | Movie Walker". Retrieved 2015-01-04.
  14. ^ "Photographies de Roland Lesaffre | Marcel Carné". 12 August 2010. Retrieved 2015-01-04.
  15. ^ David Lean: A Biography Kevin Brownlow Faber&Faber, London 1996 pp 331-341
  16. ^ Canada and Canadians in Feature Films: A Filmography, 1928–1990 Ian K. Easterbrook, Susan Waterman MacLean, University of Guelph, 1996 p 60
  17. ^ Gerald Pratley, Torn Sprockets: Uncertain Projection of the Canadian Film. University of Delaware Press, 1987. p. 176.
  18. ^ Lifting the Lid: the Autobiography of Film Producer Betty Box, OBE Betty Evelyn Box, University of Michigan Press, 2000
  19. ^ A Parisian's guide to Paris Henri Gault, Christian Millau Random House, 1969
  20. ^ A Discontented Diaspora: Japanese Brazilians and the Meanings of Ethnic Militancy 1960–1980 Jeffrey Lesser, Duke University Press 2007
  21. ^ "1991 - L'autobiographie de Roland Lesaffre : Mataf | Marcel Carné". 12 August 2010. Retrieved 2015-01-04.
  22. ^ "Binic-Etables-sur-Mer. Hommage à l'actrice japonaise Yoko Tani". 22 July 2017.
  23. ^ "BINIC (22) : cimetière - Cimetières de France et d'ailleurs". Retrieved 2015-01-04.
  24. ^ "Roger Leloup".
  25. ^ "» EDGAR WALLACE AT MERTON PARK – by Tise Vahimagi". Retrieved 2015-01-04.
This page was last edited on 11 June 2024, at 20:52
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