How & why did Japanese actress Yoshiko Okada escape to the USSR for the rest of her life?

Russia Beyond (Photo: Public domain)
In the Fall of 1972, a woman appeared at the airport in Tokyo and was greeted like a star. The news that legendary actress Yoshiko Okada had come to Japan from the USSR after many years traveled all over the country. Why was she gone for so long?

Yoshiko made her stage debut at 17. In 1923, she began acting in movies, including those of directors Kenji Mizoguchi and Yasujiro Ozu. And, in 1936, she met director Ryokichi Sugimoto - this fateful meeting forever changed her life.

Sugimoto was a member of the Communist Party, translated Soviet literature into Japanese and taught acting, emphasizing the methods of Russian theater. He persuaded Okada to go to the USSR, to learn new theatrical language, free from bourgeois remnants, from Russian director Vsevolod Meyerhold.

And she believed him. In January 1938, the lovers arrived on Sakhalin Island, the southern part of which then belonged to Japan. According to the official version - with a concert program. A few days later, while sledding along the border, they suddenly jumped up and ran towards the Soviet territory.

But the land of dreams met them unfriendly. The lovers were arrested and never saw each other again. A year and a half later, Sugimoto was shot, while Okada was sentenced to 10 years in a camp on charges of espionage. She was released in 1947. Thus began the new life of the actress.

She worked for many years as an announcer on Moscow radio - she hosted programs that were broadcast to Japan. She told her former compatriots about Russian literature. She did not forget about theater, either: she graduated from the directing department of GITIS and worked at the ‘Mayakovsky’ Theater. And, together with Boris Buneev, directed the movie ‘10,000 Boys’ (1962).

When she arrived in Japan in 1972, she was welcomed as a superstar. In her homeland, she staged Ostrovsky’s ‘Talents and Fans’ in the theater and played in movies. And she came back. She said she missed the USSR when she was in Japan and vice versa. Only in the late 1980s, she learned of Sugimoto’s fate and that his testimony was used to accuse Meyerhold of spying for the Japanese.

Yoshiko Okada spent almost 54 years in the Soviet Union. She passed away in February 1992. The actress’ ashes are buried in a cemetery in Tokyo.

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