Rest in peace, Tura Luna Pascual Yamaguchi—better known as cult movie superstar Tura Satana
Any fan of cult movies will have seen Russ Meyer's over-the-top classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! — and if you have, you can't unremember Tura Satana's brain-bending portrayal of murderous go-go girl Varla (or the cavernous cleavage that led mammophile Meyer to cast her). But Satana's mostly overlooked real life story is as shocking and indelible as the plots of the exploitation flicks that made her famous. Born Tura Luna Pascual Yamaguchi in Hokkaidō, Japan, the daughter of a Japanese-Filipino silent film actor and a circus performer of Cheyenne Indian and Scots-Irish heritage, she moved with her parents to the U.S. before World War II, during which her family was interned at Manzanar.
After the war, the Yamaguchis moved to Chicago, where Tura experienced constant racist and sexist harassment due to her Asian features and precociously voluptuous body. An excellent student, while walking home from school one day, she was raped by a gang of five men — who escaped prosecution due to bribery of the local judge. Tura subsequently studied aikido and karate — the marital arts moves she shows in Faster Pussycat! are real — and over the next decade and a half, tracked down each of her attackers and brutally punished them, having vowed to get her revenge.
As a teenager, she was sent to reform school, where she became the head of a brawling, leather-clad girl-gang. At 13, her parents pushed her into an unwanted marriage with 17-year-old John Satana, which ended in less than a year, with Tura escaping to Los Angeles, where a fake ID enabled her to find employment as a nude model (even posing for a set of 3-D stereoscopic nude photography sessions for silent screen comedy superstar Harold Lloyd). She returned to Chicago and at 17, began a career as a go-go dancer, then as a queen of the burlesque circuit, during which she dated Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, the latter of whom even proposed to her (she turned him down).
A few years later, at 19, she became pregnant with her first child, Kalani. She worked bit roles in TV and film, before being discovered by Myers and cast in Faster Pussycat! in 1965, at the age of 27. Though she would never work with Myers again, she consolidated her exploitation queen status under another director, psychotronic auteur Ted V. Mikels. She starred in two of Mikels' most memorable movies — The Astro-Zombies (1969) and The Doll Squad (1974) — but, after making Doll Squad in 1973, she was shot by an ex-lover, and decided to leave showbiz, finding work as a nurse and then an L.A.P.D. dispatcher, where she met the man who would be her husband until his death in 2000, retired police officer Endel Jurman.
She and Jurman married in 1981; that same year, she was in a serious car accident that broke her back, forcing her to undergo over 17 operations during the next two years.
In 2001, Tura made her return to the screen for friend and patron Mikels' Astro-Zombies remake. By that time, the world had thoroughly rediscovered Tura and embraced her as an alt-feminist icon. When she died on February 4 of heart failure in Reno, Nevada, she and her longtime manager Siouxzan Perry were in the process of raising funds for a documentary on Tura's epic, kick-ass life, called TURA! The Documentary. A teaser trailer can be seen here.
She was 72. She will be missed.