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The first I knew of the actress Ri Koran, otherwise known as Yoshiko Yamaguchi, was in 1985, while staying in a grubby hotel in Beirut. An old face-cream advertisement for the cosmetic company Shiseido had been tacked onto the bedroom wall. The image showed a woman with jade earrings dressed in a silk qi pao, holding an armful of chrysanthemums. The very fragrance of an idealized Orient, I took her for a Chinese.

So, it transpired, did the wartime Chinese and Japanese who flocked to her films or played her songs on their gramophones. As Japan’s vampire armies advanced across northern China, the voice of Ri Koran rang out over the bloodstained land like a lark.

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