Mitsu Yamada was born in Osaka on Feb. 5, 1917. Her father was an onnagata theater actor, a male performer who specialized in female roles. She studied traditional dance and music as a child and at 13 joined the Nikkatsu studio, where she mainly appeared in period dramas.
Ms. Yamada was married six times, most recently to the actor Tsutomu Shimomoto, who died in 2000. She had one child, the actress Michiko Saga, with her first husband, the actor Ichiro Tsukida. Ms. Saga died in 1992.
The scholar Donald Richie, who wrote about Ms. Yamada in his book “Japanese Portraits” (2006), described her as a peerless technician who mastered the art of the kata, the intricate physical language specific to classical Japanese dance and theater. “This art informs everything that Yamada does: the way she turns, the way she lifts her hand, the way she smiles,” Mr. Richie wrote. “A knowledge this encompassing means that Yamada always knows precisely what to do and how to do it.”
Dennis Lim ~ New York Times ~ 15 July 2012