Tura Satana, Screen Goddess and Asian-American Actress Dies, Aged 72
Tura Satana, the trash queen of the 1960s, the star of Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, the only film Russ Meyer made that did not contain nudity, died on February 4th, aged 72.
In Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Satana played Varla, the leader of a trio of thrill-seeking go-go dancers who kills a man with her bare hands.
Tura Satana was born as Tura Luna Pascual Yamaguchi on Hokkaido. in Japan. Her father was Filipino-Japanese while her mother was part Cheyenne Indian, part British. During World War II, she was a child prisoner at Manzanar internment camp for Japanese-Americans in California. As an Asian American teenager in the US of the 1950s, Satana was repeatedly assaulted because of her background and looks. The fact that she was exotic, attractive and voluptuous from a young age proved to be a huge burden and she soon dropped out to become a dancer and nude model.
Her incredible performance in Faster Pussycat, for which she created a character so dark, so mean, so violent, so pissed off with the advances of white men, that it’s difficult to think of a harder, more sassy sex symbol today (Stieg Larsson’s Salander, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, springs to mind), was not followed by a glorious career in Hollywood.
Because of its mixture of sleaze and girl power, Faster Pussycat, arguably Russ Meyer’s greatest moment (a director known for movies featuring well-endowed women) remains one of the best never-seen drive-in cult classics of the 1960s. It is brazen, sexist, kind of feminist and just nasty, nasty, nasty. It informs us that the American Dream is a farce and that women need to do their own thing. In its time, Faster Pussycat was revolutionary, and widely ignored. Some time in the swinging 60s, Tura Satana turned down a marriage proposal from Elvis.
Satana continued to act in a few trash movies, had an appearance in Irma La Douce by Billy Wilder and popped up in 60s TV series such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. In the 1990s, interest in her work rekindled and she appeared at various cult film conventions.
In the 1990s, Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! often played at the Scala Cinema in London, a legendary venue, that also hosted The Stooges once, and eventually closed down in the 90s after illegally showing Clockwork Orange, which at the time was still banned in the UK (by director Kubrick who felt the country was not ready for it).
Any self-respecting B-movie fan in town would gravitate towards this little masterpiece eventually. Today, the film can probably be found on the Net and younger British viewers will miss out on sitting in a dark auditorium, surrounded by stray-cats, clochards, street bums and crack heads, waiting for the opening credits, with the rumble of London Underground trains rushing past every few minutes.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Welcome to Violence…”
It’s in this context that I like to remember this almost forgotten screen goddess of the 1960s.