Yoko Shimada, Shogun Actress, Dies at 69

Yoko Shimada – the Japanese actress best known to worldwide audiences for her Golden Globe and Emmy-winning role as Mariko in the 1980s TV miniseries Shogun – has died at age 69. Japanese news reported that Shimada died on Monday, July 25th in a Tokyo hospital from complications related to colorectal cancer she had been battling. James Clavelle's classic Shogun novel and its characters have endured as iconic literature, and Yoko Shimada's screen work in the '80s adaptation will be equally enduring – especially the way she pulled off her English-speaking dialogue, despite not being at all fluent in the language. 

Yoko Shimada was born in the city of Kumamoto on the island of Kyushu, Japan. She got her first big onscreen role in the 1970 TV drama Osanazuma, followed by roles in projects like Kamen Rider. After having that modest success in the '70s, Shimada was cast in Shogun as Hosokawa Garcia (aka Akechi Tama) of the Akechi Family – a real-life figure who became a political chess piece (hostage) during the Sengoku period of civil war and upheaval. Garcia is notable for her conversion into Catholocism, which was at odds with the samurai code (ritual suicide); however, Garcia was killed by her family's loyal samurai retainer after being taken hostage by a rival lord looking to secure his power. The death of the last Akechi Clan member set off an outrage that would help re-shape Japan, afterward. 

Shogun was, in fact, the second time that Yoko Shimada played Hosokawa Garcia on screen; she had first taken on the role in the 1978 NHK taiga drama TV series Ogon no Hibi. Of course, Shogun's version of the character, "Mariko" is a fictionalized take – though her arc was largely the same (Catholic conversion, hostage at Osaka Castle – only killed in a ninja raid. Still, it was tight rope walk of dramatic performance, and Shimada deserved all the accolades and awards she got, after being called upon to be the only female cast member to deliver English-language dialogue and still carry the performance.


Though the Shogun miniseries was a hit in the US, it did poorly in Japan when the TV series was mashed together into one, much shorter, theatrical movie. Shimada would appear in another US production soon after (NBC's short-lived Chicago Story series), as well as several international-spanning movie productions including the Crying Freeman manga adaptation with Marc Dacascos, and the 1995 film The Hunted with Christopher Lambert. She would continue to star in Japanese productions through the decades, with her final onscreen role being the 2016 Japanese movie Kanon, where she played a book store owner. 

Offscreen, Shimada's life had some definite dark chapters. A public affair with Japanese singer Yuya Uchida in 1988 brought scandal; she also fell into alcoholism and debt, culminating with another scandal when she did a nude shoot for an artistic photo book clear debts in the early 1990s. While the book was a success, Shimada's reputation as an actress was marred, and the momentum of her career slowed considerably. 

We send codonlences to Yoko Shimada's family, fans, and friends in their time of mourning.