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Yoshiko Yamaguchi is seen in an April 1991 file photo.

Sadayuki Mikami/The Associated Press

Japanese film star Yoshiko Yamaguchi, who was known as Rikoran and symbolized Japan's wartime dreams of Asian conquest, has died at age 94.

Shirley Yamaguchi, as she was known in the West, died of heart failure on Sept. 7. She was one of the biggest Japanese screen stars during and after the Second World War, and later in life served as a member of the Japanese parliament for nearly two decades.

During its militaristic march across Asia in the first half of the 20th century, Japan operated coal mines and railroads and forced China's last emperor, Puyi, to be head of a puppet government in Manchuria, which the Japanese called Manchukuo.

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That was where Ms. Yamaguchi was born, to Japanese parents, in 1920. When she was 13, she was adopted by a Chinese friend of her father and was renamed Xianglan ("fragrant orchid").

She made her debut as Chinese singer Li Xianglan – Rikoran in Japanese – and starred in Chinese-language films made by the Japanese-run Manchurian Cinema Association, many of them propaganda movies, which she later regretted. In the 1939 movie Song of the White Orchid, she depicted a young Chinese woman who falls in love with a Japanese man after her family is killed by the Japanese.

Ms. Yamaguchi was widely believed to be Chinese, and became a star across Asia. Yue Lai Xiang, one of her best-known songs, is still popular among Chinese singers.

After the war, Chinese authorities arrested Ms. Yamaguchi and accused her of being a traitor to China. But a friend produced family records proving her Japanese origin, saving her from execution. She apologized for her duplicity and was allowed to leave China.

During the 1950s, Ms. Yamaguchi appeared in two Hollywood films – King Vidor's Japanese War Bride and Samuel Fuller's House of Bamboo – and on Broadway in a show called Shangri-La. At home, she starred in Japanese director Akira Kurosawa's 1950 film Scandal, Seijun Suzuki's Escape at Dawn (1950) and other movies.

She then largely withdrew from the silver screen, but the story of her dramatic life was made into dramas and musicals that are still performed. Her 1987 autobiography, Half My Life as Rikoran, was a bestseller.

After her first marriage to Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi ended in the mid-1950s, Ms. Yamaguchi married diplomat Hiroshi Ohtaka, who was Japan's ambassador to Burma, now Myanmar. She also appeared on television as host of a popular afternoon talk show.

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In 1974, she was elected to the Japanese parliament's upper house as a member of the governing Liberal Democratic Party and served until 1992.

She was among the contributors to a private atonement fund for Asian "comfort women" used as prostitutes for Japan's wartime military.

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