Remembering a Legend: Tura Satana
By: Hella Goode
“Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” (Russel Meyer, 1965)…the title alone grips you. When you see Tura Satana as Varla, it kind of gropes you. But you wouldn’t want to grope her because she really would kick your ass. Tura, born Tura Luna Pascual Yamaguchi on July 10, 1938 in Hokkaido, Japan lived a less than privileged life, although those are usually the more interesting ones.
Her family immigrated to the United States and grew. She attended James A. Riis Elementary School in a part of Chicago where racial categories were distinct. She was neither black nor white, in fact she was multiracial. Yet people only saw her as Japanese, and after World War II that was not a good thing. She was constantly taunted by the other girls until one day she finally fought back, and as you might guess….she kicked their asses!
She spent more time fighting than most of us think anyone should have to, but these struggles helped form the foxy femme fatale she would become. She was an early bloomer which seemed to lead to trouble. As a young girl she was gang raped. Understandably, this left her shaken, but also very angry. As if it were a page torn out of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill manuscript she went on a revenge manifesto and over time found each and every one of the so-called young men and, again, she kicked their asses!
Her voluptuous build at such an age convinced others of her adulthood, helping her score jobs as a model and dancer way before legal to do so, according to most sources beginning at the age of 13. She was 5′ 7″ and by the time she was fully developed was said to be a 40FF bra size. Her burlesque routines weren’t run of the mill strip numbers. She was very athletic, graceful and artistic too. Her skills as a martial artist and her sultriness as a dancer lead to roles in other movies and on television as well. About her dancing she said, “When I was dancing burlesque was an art – classy and elegant and requiring talent. I got out of it when it started to become raunchy and lost the art. Now they call it nude dancing, but it’s plain old pornography as far as I’m concerned. They do things on stage that I wouldn’t have even thought of doing.”
As was common in Japan, early on her parents had planned her arranged marriage. She was 13 at the time and he was 17. As was to be expected by a girl who had seen that life could be better than the four walls of a domestic home, she broke free of it. It was not her only marriage. Tura had also married John Satana, giving her his now infamous last name, and Endel Jurman whom she loved dearly. She had a daughter named Kalani later at 19 years old.
Tarantino must have been extremely mused by Tura as parts of Death Proof seem to be reminiscent of her performances as an actress where she took names and kicked ass and had fun in muscle cars with other hot chicks who kick ass. Some say that he even based the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, and Lucy Liu’s part Japanese character, Oren Ishii from snippets of Tura herself. Her image sparks flames even now.
It was tempting to think that Tura would have even kicked death’s ass had it knocked on her door before coming in. It had to happen. All that ass-kicking can take its toll on the heart. This February 4, 2011 in Reno, Nevada, Ms. Tura Satana passed of heart failure. Tura, darling, KAIP, may you Kick Ass In Peace, or Pieces……