Momoko Kochi's see-saw film career saw her become one of the most visible movie actresses in Japan, only to find herself typecast and her career stalled at the age of 30; yet, thanks to her appearance in Gojira and its American-edited version, Godzilla, King of the Monsters, she was perhaps the Japanese actress best known to audiences around the world.
Born Momoko Okouchi in Tokyo in 1932, she was discovered in a 1953 talent contest run by Toho Films and signed to a contract with the studio. (Her Gojira co-star Akira Takarada was discovered in the same competition.) Kochi's first film, A Woman's Heart Released, was released that same year, and in 1954 she worked in a movie directed by Kajiro Yamamoto, one of Toho Studios' veteran filmmakers, but it was her other film that year that defined Kochi's screen career for the rest of her life.
Yamamoto's protégé Ishiro Honda was making a science fiction film with a very topical storyline, called Gojira, and chose Kochi to play the female leading role of Emiko Yamane. In addition to serving as the center of the story's romantic subplot, her character provided the means to the resolution of the main story -- it was as solid a dramatic role as a 22-year-old actress of limited experience could ever hope to get and Kochi did extraordinarily well in it. A year or so after its release in Japan, the rights to Gojira were sold to an American distributor, Joseph E. Levine, who proceeded to re-edit and reshoot parts of the movie, transforming it into Godzilla, King of the Monsters. Released in America in 1956, it went on to become the most widely seen and known Japanese film ever issued in the United States, finding a huge audience not only in the 1950s but across every generation since. Kochi's face thus became perhaps the best known of any Japanese actress outside of Japan.
In her own country, she soon found her acting work largely confined to monster and science fiction movies, including Half-Human) and The Mysterians. In 1959, Kochi decided to pursue the formal acting training that her early discovery by the studio had prevented her from receiving. By the early '60s she was doing Shakespeare on stage and primarily working in theater, with occasional appearances in television commercials. She did little film work again until 1995, when she was offered the chance to reprise the role of Emiko Yamane in Godzilla Vs. Destroyer, the final Godzilla film in Toho's original cycle of movies. Her performance in the role was very touching and affecting, and her presence in the movie became one of its major selling points to the public in Japan, where the decades hadn't dimmed the luster of the original movie or the quality of the acting in it. It was to be Kochi's final role -- the actress died of cancer three years later.