Kamatari Fujiwara

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For the founder of the Fujiwara clan, see Fujiwara no Kamatari.
Kamatari Fujiwara
Ongaku kigeki horoyoi jinsei.jpg
Born (1905-01-15)January 15, 1905
Tokyo, Japan
Died December 21, 1985(1985-12-21) (aged 80)
Tokyo, Japan
Cause of death
Heart attack
Other names Keita Fujiwara
Occupation Actor
Years active 1933–1984
Spouse(s) Unknown Village woman (m. 1922–1924)
Sadako Sawamura (m. 1936–1946)

Kamatari Fujiwara (藤原 釜足 Fujiwara Kamatari, January 15, 1905 - December 21, 1985) was a Japanese actor.

He was born in Tokyo, on January 15, 1905, in Tokyo, Japan. Fujiwara's parents ran a printing business. The business did not go well, so at the age of 10, Fujiwara started working at a local confectionery store. By the age of 14 he started selling timber for building and manufacturing in Shizuoka prefecture. A year later he returned to Tokyo to study as a pharmacist.

Initial work with Asakusa Opera Movement[edit]

The Asakusa Opera Movement was started in 1916, and was part of the mass culture of the time.[1] By the 1920s it had become very popular. Fujiwara, inspired by this, enrolled at the Takinogawa actor school. After graduation, he approached actor Kuroki Kenzo to see if he would personally teach him acting. His first work was on stage as a chorist. Realising that he was short, not particularly attractive, and unlikely to have a main part on stage, he decided to diversify his skills for performance and started studying violin at Toyo music school.

Following the Great Kanto Earthquake, the Asakusa Opera movement started losing popularity. As a result, Fujiwara worked at the movie theatre as a violinist. where his lesser height and unattractiveness were not an issue.


Perhaps, in spite of his looks, Fujiwara married and he and his wife had a son. Sadly, after the birth, his wife died.

Casino Follies[edit]

At this time, an old friend, actor and comedian Kenichi Enomoto, asked him to join the Casino Follies. The Casino Follies were a huge complex of theatres, music halls, and movie houses that drew large amounts of people to the Asakusa district, previously the heart of old Edo. In the late 1920s this was the era of the Ero Guru, a Japanese equivalent of the American flapper phenomenon.[2] In 1933 he resigned from Casino Follies and became a movie actor.

First films[edit]

His first movie was Ongaku Kigeki - Horoyui Jinsei (in English - Musical Comedy - Intoxicated life) made in 1933. It was a comedy about the joys of beer drinking This was a Toho Film Company production and in fact most of his movies, for 40 years, were made with Toho.[3]

Marriage to Sadako Sawamura[edit]

In 1936 he married popular fellow actor Sadako Sawamura, whom he had met whilst working together on set. Though they acted in many Toho Studio films, they were only in two together; Toyuki a Chinese/Japanese co production made in 1940 and Uma, made in 1941. Though perhaps not through any lacking of effort, they did not produce children and divorced in 1946. Fujiwara did not re-marry again.

Work with Kurosawa[edit]

He made his first appearance in a Kurosawa film alongside Takashi Shimura in 1952's Ikiru. He played the role of Senkichi. Fujiwara's shomin persona is always that of a real-life person. Generally he played the role of an ordinary subject-citizen: petty, conservative, mediocre, far from being handsome or rich. Over time he made this his specialty.[4]


Fujiwara's perhaps most famous role, and certainly the film that made him initially famous, was as the character of Manzo, in the famous Akira Kurosawa movie, Seven Samurai. The character of Manzo was a paranoid peasant, who protected his daughter from the attentions of the Samurai by dressing her as a little boy. The character's story is part of the key plot. Manzo, like many of the characters that Fujiwara portrayed, is low class, dishevelled, understated and perhaps not very wise.

A famous story about his involvement in the film involved his interaction with Kurosawa. Kurosawa when directing films, was notoriously strict and the actors in Seven Samurai were very scared, except for Toshiro Mifune (who famously argued with Kurosawa and at one time, threatened the director with a gun). Fujiwara acted in a very comical fashion, portraying himself as a silly old man. Kurosawa wanted him to be more serious in his role, and became aggravated with Fujiwara, repeating to him constantly to play the role in a certain fashion. Fujiwara acknowledged this and pretended to understand, however when the filming began, Fujiwara simply resorted to acting foolishly despite Kurosawa's direction. Kurosawa became very angry with the actor, and the other actors in the film started to think that he was mentally disturbed. Finally, Kurosawa relented and let him play the role in a comical fashion. However, when Kurosawa saw the initial rushes footage he was so impressed with the range of emotions he could portray (from humorous to serious dramatic), and his general acting ability, he apologized to the actor.

Hidden Fortress and R2D2[edit]

One of his largest roles was in the Kurosawa epic, Hidden Fortress. It was in this role that he played a comic grotesque, opposite Mifune. His annoying peasant characterization gave inspiration to George Lucas, who was inspired by the two main peasant characters and the storyline to base the robot R2D2 on him (the taller fellow lead character, played by Minoru Chiaki was inspiration for C3PO. Additionally, the characters and general plotline involving a princess fleeing an evil empire, formed the basis for Lucas's movie, Star Wars. Despite the influence, Fujiwara received no money from Lucas, and Lucas never personally thanked Fujiwara. Fujiwara may or may not have seen the Star Wars films, but he has not made public comment on what he thought of R2D2, C3PO or any other of the characters, including Jar Jar. [5]George Lucas acknowledged heavy influence of The Hidden Fortress on Star Wars,[6] particularly the technique of telling the story from the perspective of the film's lowliest characters, C-3PO and R2-D2.[7][8]

Continuing to work with Kurosawa, he became a long-time member of director Akira Kurosawa's stock company. He continued to appear in Kurosawa's films until his death. Though a capable and highly professional actor, his subtle technique was very often overshadowed by the charismatic performances of Shimura and Toshiro Mifune.[citation needed] Today he is remembered primarily for his supporting appearances in Kurosawa's films, particularly as the suspicious farmer Manzō (万造) in Seven Samurai, the deranged former mayor in Yojimbo, the spidery treasure-seeking farmer in The Hidden Fortress, and the drunken Kabuki actor in The Lower Depths. Apart from working with Kurosawa, he worked with the director Ozu Yasujiro in Tokyo Twilight, playing the role of Chin Chin Ken at the Ramen bar, and also voiced the role of daddy in the Movie version of long running Anime, Sazae San.

He had difficulty remembering lines. When Arthur Penn, an American film director, needed a Japanese actor for his film Mickey One, Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde, Little Big Man) was so impressed with the performance of Kamatari Fujiwara as the peasant who tries to disguise his daughter as a boy in Akira Kurosawa's 1954 Seven Samurai that he hired him to play the deaf-mute character, simply known as "the artist" in his own film surrealist movie, Mickey One, starring Warren Beatty, released a decade later. Penn picked him to play the role, based on French Artist Jean Tinguely.[9] It was his only role in a non-Japanese film, and, considering that it contained no lines, it was suited to the forgetful actor's sensibilities.[citation needed]

Fujiwara had a long running career, appearing in more than 70 films, and in addition to this more than 50 TV appearances, from the 1930s to 1984.

Later life and death[edit]

Fujiwara retired in the late 1970s, though he continued to make occasional television appearances. His final film role was a memorable cameo in Juzo Itami's The Funeral (お葬式, 1984). He eventually died, in 1985 at the age of 80. He passed away in a Tokyo hospital after suffering a heart attack.[10] Osaka's Abuyama old Mound was used as his final burial site.[11]



  1. ^ Yoshida, Yukhiko “Lee Tsia-oe and Baku Ishii before 1945” Pan Asian Journal of Sports and Physical Fitness p57
  2. ^ Shannon, Anne Park "Finding Japan: Early Canadian Encounters with Asia" He changed his name to Kamatari.
  3. ^ Galbraith IV, Stuart "The Toho Studios Story: A History and Complete Filmography", Scarecrow press, 2008
  4. ^ Ginoza, Naomi "Dissonance to Affinity: An Ideological Analysis of Japanese Cinema in the 1930s" p 271
  5. ^ Bowman, James. "THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE JAPANESE" American (19328117). Nov/Dec2007, Vol. 1 Issue 7, p66-70. 5p.
  6. ^ "The Secret History of Star Wars". Michael Kamiski, 2007, pg 48. Retrieved 2011-01-31. 
  7. ^ Star Wars DVD audio commentary
  8. ^ "The Secret History of Star Wars". Michael Kamiski, 2007, pg 47. Retrieved 2011-01-31. 
  10. ^ Chicago Tribune, December 23, 1985 NEWS NATIONAL, p. 8 1pp
  11. ^ JAPANESE NEWSPAPER HEADLINES. (MORNING) 3 November 1987, Japan Economic Newswire, KYODO

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