January 15, 1905|
|Died||December 21, 1985
|Other names||Keita Fujiwara|
He was born in Tokyo, on January 15, 1905, in Tokyo, Japan. Fujiwara 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
At the time the Asakusa Opera movement was very popular. Fujiwara, inspired by this, enrolled at the Takinogawa actor school. After graduation, he approached reknonwned 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.
Despite his looks and short stature, he got married and had a son. Sadly, after the birth of his son, his wife died.
At this time, an old friend actor and comedian Kenichi Enomoto asked him to join the Casino Follies. He changed his name to Kamatari. In 1933 he resigned from Casino Follies and became a movie actor.
His first movie was with Toho Film Company, and in fact most of his movies, for 40 years, were made with Toho. By 1936 he remarried to Sadako Sawamura, though they divorced 10 years later.
Work with Kurosawa
Seven Samurai and working with Kurosawa
The film role that initially made him famous was as the role of Manzo, the paranoid peasant, whose efforts to protect his daughter by dressing her as a little boy form one of the key plots in the famous Akira Kurosawa movie, Seven Samurai. 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. 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
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. George Lucas acknowledged heavy influence of The Hidden Fortress on Star Wars, particularly the technique of telling the story from the perspective of the film's lowliest characters, C-3PO and R2-D2.
Continuing to work with Kurosawa, he was 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. Today he is remembered primarily for his supporting appearances in Kurosawa's films, particularly as the suspicious farmer Manzo 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. 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.
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
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 died in 1985, at the age of 80, at a Tokyo hospital after suffering a heart attack. Osaka's Abuyama old Mound was used as his final burial site.
- Hideko, the Bus Conductor (秀子の車掌さん Hideko no shasho-san) 1941
- The Skin of the South (1952)
- Ikiru Akira Kurosawa (1952)
- Tomei Ningen (1954)
- The Seven Samurai Akira Kurosawa 1954
- I Live in Fear 1955
- The Lone Journey (1955)
- Romantic Daughters (1956)
- The Hidden Fortress (1958)
- The Funeral (1984)
- Tokyo Twilight Yasujirô Ozu (1957)
- The Lower Depths (1957)
- The Sun's Burial Nagisa Oshima (1960)
- The Bad Sleep Well (1960)
- Approach of Autumn (1960)
- Yojimbo (1961)
- Sanjuro (1962)
- Heaven and Hell (1963)
- A Woman's Life Mikio Naruse (1963)
- Red Beard (1965)
- Mickey One Arthur Penn (1965)
- The Sword of Doom Kihachi Okamoto (1966)
- The River of Tears Namida gawa Kenji Misumi (1967)
- Double Suicide (1969)
- Dodeskaden (1970)
- Battle of Okinawa (1971)
- Kagemusha Akira Kurosawa (1980)
- Sailor Suit and Machine Gun Shinji Somai (1981)
- Bowman, James. "THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE JAPANESE" American (19328117). Nov/Dec2007, Vol. 1 Issue 7, p66-70. 5p.
- "The Secret History of Star Wars". Michael Kamiski, 2007, pg 48. Retrieved 2011-01-31.
- Star Wars DVD audio commentary
- "The Secret History of Star Wars". Michael Kamiski, 2007, pg 47. Retrieved 2011-01-31.
- Bock, Audie "AMERICAN DIRECTORS LOOK EAST TO JAPAN FOR INSPIRATION AND ART 5 October 1980 The New York Times
- Chicago Tribune, December 23, 1985 NEWS NATIONAL, p. 8 1pp
- JAPANESE NEWSPAPER HEADLINES. (MORNING) 3 November 1987, Japan Economic Newswire, KYODO