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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Yumi Shirakawa: One Glorious Day

Toho star Yumi Shirakawa in May 2015. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Writing this blog entry will be difficult for a few reasons. First, there's a lot to say. Second, I don't want to say too much. Third, the news of Shirakawa-san's passing is still a bit too fresh in my mind. Still, some of my blog readers requested more details about my meeting Shirakawa-san, and I thought it was a splendid idea. Here goes.

Yumi Shirakawa breaks into laughter when presented with a piece of memorabilia for her to sign, as Yosuke Natsuki looks on. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

I met Yumi Shirakawa for the first and only time on Sunday, May 3, 2015. The event was Akira Takarada's 81st birthday celebration, which took place in a restaurant high up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (a.k.a. the Tax Towers). The event was a star-studded one, and it featured several celebrity guests who rarely (if ever) make personal appearances. The luminaries included: Yumi Shirakawa, Yuriko Hoshi, Yosuke Natsuki, Machiko Naka, Akira Wakamatsu, and several others. The guest who jumped immediately out to me was Yumi Shirakawa. There's a reason for that.

Yosuke Natsuki and Yumi Shirakawa, two Toho stars who remained close friends for decades. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Yumi Shirakawa is my favorite actress. She an aura and a presence onscreen unlike any other actress I've seen. Watch her in The H-Man (1958) and The Secret of the Telegian (1960), and you're likely to see what I mean. She was beautiful, feminine, vulnerable, and ethereal. There was something about her that appealed to me more than any other Toho actress. She seemed a bit mysterious to me, and I liked that.

In fact, when I was planning a move to Japan, Yumi Shirakawa was at the top of the list of actors and actresses I wanted to meet. No joke. She was always in the number-one spot. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but it was a challenge I couldn't refuse. It was worth doing.

A fun group shot featuring Yumi Shirakawa and many of her co-stars. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

I didn't get my opportunity until four years into my stay. Yosuke Natsuki gave me a big assist, and I will always be grateful for his help. Not only did Natsuki-san personally introduce me to her, but he invited me to sit at the table reserved for the special guests with him and Shirakawa-san. I was the only fan at the event invited to do so. So I essentially got to spend the entire afternoon with Shirakawa-san, and even though she didn't speak English, I most certainly enjoyed our time together.

Actresses Yuriko Hoshi and Yumi Shirakawa listen to a speech. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

What impressed me most was how unlike her screen persona she was. She was open-minded, down-to-earth, and friendly -- not at all like the reserved and shy presence I saw in the movies. She also seemed to have an impish sense of humor. She was very close with Natsuki-san, and I snapped many photos of the two of them together on her camera. Of course, I was more than happy to make myself available to her for anything she needed.

Bin Furuya and Yumi Shirakawa pose for pictures. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

When the party moved to a nearby restaurant, Shirakawa-san was the only female guest to join us. When attendees and guests were taking seats, I intentionally tried to sit at a different table from Shirakawa-san and Natsuki-san (in order to give other fans a chance), but Natsuki-san wouldn't hear of it, and he insisted I sit with them. At the restaurant, Shirakawa-san posed for many photos (including a few with Bin Furuya) and signed many shikishi boards and DVDs. She seemed amused by seeing so many fans of her movies. When I asked a few of my friends who their favorite guest of the day was, they unanimously said Yumi Shirakawa. I agreed.

Yours truly with Yumi Shirakawa.

Look at this picture, and you'll see why. A picture truly does speak a thousand words -- and more. I couldn't tell you how excited I was to meet her, but she looks much more excited than I do! Unfortunately for them, a lot of tokusatsu fans in the Western world never seemed very interested in Shirakawa-san, probably because she never starred in a Godzilla movie. Those people truly missed out on an exceptional person, someone I am honored to have met.

And now she's gone. I took the news of her passing pretty hard. She gave me a lot to look forward to, as I was confident our paths would cross again. The world seems like a darker place without her. Seems like? Okay, I'll say it. It is a darker place without her.

Rest in peace, Shirakawa-san. Your life brought joy to so many others. I'll always remember.

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