Juzo Itami

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Juzo Itami
Juzo Itami.jpg
Native name 伊丹 十三
Born Yoshihiro Ikeuchi (池内 義弘?)
(1933-05-15)May 15, 1933
Kyoto, Japan
Died December 20, 1997(1997-12-20) (aged 64)
Tokyo, Japan
Years active 1960–1989
Spouse(s) Kazuko Kawakita (1960–66)
Nobuko Miyamoto (1969–)

Juzo Itami (伊丹 十三 Itami Jūzō?), born Yoshihiro Ikeuchi (池内 義弘 Ikeuchi Yoshihiro?, May 15, 1933 – December 20, 1997), was a Japanese actor and a film director. The ten movies he directed, all of which he wrote himself, are comic satires.

Early life[edit]

Itami was born Yoshihiro Ikeuchi in Kyoto.[1] The name Itami was passed on from his father, Mansaku Itami—who had himself been a renowned satirist and film director before World War II. He was the brother-in-law of Kenzaburō Ōe and uncle of Hikari Ōe. He played the father Ishihara in the comic TV program Cometa-san.[citation needed]

At the end of the war, when he was in Kyoto, Itami was chosen as an infant prodigy and educated at Tokubetsu Kagaku Gakkyū (特別科学学級; "the special scientific education class") as a future scientist who was expected to defeat the Allied powers. Among his fellow students, were the sons of Hideki Yukawa and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga. This class was abolished in March 1947.[citation needed]

He moved from Kyoto to Ehime Prefecture when he was a high school student. He attended the prestigious Matsuyama Higashi High School, where he was known for being able to read works by Arthur Rimbaud in French. But due to his poor academic record, he had to remain in the same class for two years. It was here that he became acquainted with Kenzaburō Ōe, who later married his sister. When it turned out that he could not graduate from Matsuyama Higashi High School, he transferred to Matsuyama Minami High School, from which he graduated.[citation needed]

After failing the entrance exam for the College of Engineering at Osaka University, Itami worked at various times as a commercial designer, a television reporter, a magazine editor, and an essayist.[citation needed]

Acting career[edit]

Itami studied acting at an acting school called Budai Geijutsu Gakuin in Tokyo. In January 1960 he joined Daiei Film and was given the stage name Itami Jūzō (伊丹 一三?) by Masaichi Nagata. In May 1960, Itami married Kazuko Kawakita, the daughter of film producer Nagamasa Kawakita. He first acted on screen in Ginza no Dora-Neko (1960). In 1961 he left Daiei and started to appear in foreign-language films such as 55 Days at Peking. In 1965 he appeared in the big-budget Anglo-American film Lord Jim. In 1965 he published a book of essays which became a hit, Yoroppa Taikutsu Nikki ("Diary of boredom in Europe"). In 1966 he and Kazuko agreed to divorce.

In 1967, when working with Nagisa Oshima on a film Sing a Song of Sex (Nihon Shunka Kō) he met Nobuko Miyamoto. He and Miyamoto married in 1969. Around this time, he changed his stage name to "伊丹 十三" (Itami Jūzō) with the kanji "十" (ten) rather than "一" (one), and worked as a character actor in film and television.

In the 1970s, he joined the TV Man Union television production company and produced and presented documentaries for television, which influenced his later career as a film director. He also worked as a reporter for a TV programme called Afternoon Show.

In 1983, Itami played the father in Yoshimitsu Morita's The Family Game, and The Makioka Sisters for which roles he won the Yokohama Film Festival and Hochi Film Award for Best Supporting Actor.


Itami's debut as director was the movie Osōshiki (The Funeral) in 1984, at the age of 50. This film proved popular in Japan and won many awards, including Japanese Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. However, it was his second movie, his "noodle western" Tampopo, that earned him international exposure and acclaim.[2]

On May 22, 1992, six days after the release of his anti-yakuza satire Minbō no Onna, Itami was attacked, beaten, and slashed on the face by five members of the Goto-gumi, a Shizuoka-based yakuza clan, who were angry at Itami's film's portrayal of yakuza members.[3] This attack led to a government crackdown on the yakuza.[citation needed]

His subsequent stay in a hospital inspired his next film Daibyonin, a grim satire on the Japanese health system.[citation needed] During a showing of this film in Japan, a cinema screen was slashed by a right-wing protestor.[4]


He purportedly committed suicide on December 20, 1997[5] in Tokyo, by leaping from the roof of the building where his office was located, after the press published evidence that he was having an extramarital affair. The suicide letter he reportedly left behind denied any involvement in such an affair.[6]

Some consider his death suspicious, among them journalist Jake Adelstein.[7] Citing unnamed sources, Jake Adelstein of Yomiuri Shimbun, who wrote a number of articles dealing with Japanese yakuza, directly accused alleged organized crime boss Tadamasa Goto of murder. Adelstein stated that, according to his sources in the Japanese underworld, Juzo Itami was planning a new movie about Goto's yakuza faction and its relationship with the religious group Sōka Gakkai, and that "A gang of five of his people grabbed Itami and made him jump off a rooftop at gunpoint. That’s how he committed suicide." According to Adelstein, Itami had said that his wife was aware of his alleged affair and that Itami's purported suicide note was typed on a word processor.[citation needed]

In Adelstein's book Tokyo Vice, he recounts a conversation with a source that told him of the murder of Itami, whose 1992 film Minbo no onna satirized organized crime, and led to Itami's well-publicized attack, beating, and stabbing by yakuza thugs who were angry about their depiction in the film. Itami was apparently planning a new movie about Goto's yakuza faction and its relationship with the religious group Sōka Gakkai. "Goto wasn't happy about that," Adelstein’s source told him.[8][9] At the time, the police treated Itami's death as a possible homicide.[citation needed] Itami's surviving family have never publicly commented on the circumstances surrounding his death.[citation needed]


His brother-in-law and childhood friend Kenzaburo Oe wrote The Changeling (2000), which modeled their relationship.[10]



As director[edit]



  1. ^ The Independent
  2. ^ Vincent Canby (March 26, 1987). "New Directors/New Films; 'Tampopo,' A Comedy from Japan". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ The New York Times
  4. ^ Associated Press
  5. ^ Crow, Jonathan. "Juzo Itami". AllMovie. Retrieved 15 June 2009. 
  6. ^ Chicago Tribune
  7. ^ Therumpus.net
  8. ^ Cpj.org
  9. ^ Japansubculture.com
  10. ^ Tayler, Christopher (June 12, 2010). "The Changeling by Kenzaburo Oe". The Guardian. 
  11. ^ Fandango.com

External links[edit]