Eijirō Tōno

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Eijirō Tōno
Eijiro Tono 1954 Scan10052-1.jpg
Tōno in 1954
Native name
Born(1907-09-17)September 17, 1907
Tomioka, Gunma, Japan
DiedSeptember 8, 1994(1994-09-08) (aged 86)
Setagaya, Tokyo, Japan
Years active1934–94

Eijirō Tōno (東野英治郎, Tōno Eijirō, 17 September 1907 – 8 September 1994) was a Japanese actor who, in a career lasting more than 50 years, appeared in over 400 television shows, nearly 250 films and numerous stage productions. He is best known in the West for his roles in films by Akira Kurosawa, such as Seven Samurai (1954) and Yojimbo (1961), and films by Yasujirō Ozu, such as Tokyo Story (1953) and An Autumn Afternoon (1962). He also appeared in Kill! by Kihachi Okamoto and Tora! Tora! Tora!, a depiction of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. His final film was Juzo Itami's A-ge-man (Tales of a Golden Geisha) in 1990. Tōno also starred as the title character in the long-running television jidaigeki series Mito Kōmon from 1969 to 1983. In the early years of his career he acted under the name of Katsuji Honjo (本庄克二).

Early life[edit]

Eijirō Tōno was born on 17 September 1907 in Tomioka City, Gunma Prefecture, Japan, the son of a sake brewer. He attended Tomioka Middle School. After enrolling as a student in the Commerce Department of Meiji University he joined the left-wing Society for the Study of Social Science (社会科学研究会 : Shakai-kagaku kenkyukai ). This was politically dangerous, as the Peace Preservation Law of 1925 made members of any association whose object was the alteration of the kokutai (National Polity), or of the system of private property, liable to imprisonment for up to ten years. In 1931 he became a student on the proletarian drama course run by the Tsukiji Little Theatre (築地小劇場: Tsukiji shogekijo ). He made his stage debut in the Tokyo Left-wing Theatre (東京左翼劇場: Tokyo sayoku gekijo ) production of The Mount Osore Tunnel (恐山トンネル: Osoreyama tonneru)by Jūrō Miyoshi. Having completed the proletarian drama course, he joined the New Tsukiji Theatre Group and took the stage name Katsuji Honjō (本庄克二).


Through the 1930s, Tōno appeared in almost all of the New Tsukiji Theatre Group's productions, receiving favourable reviews. In particular, his performances as Heizō in Earth (土: Tsuchi), Yugorō in The Composition-writing Classroom (綴方教室: Tsuzurikata kyōshitsu) and the Gravedigger in Hamlet established his reputation as an actor. He also came to play an important part in the management of the troupe. In 1936, he made his film debut in Older Brother, Younger Sister (兄いもうと: Ani imōto). In 1938 he appeared in Teinosuke Kinugasa's Kuroda seichū roku (黒田誠忠録)and subsequently had roles in pictures for the Shōchiku, Nikkatsu and Tōhō studios. Up to this point, he was credited under his stage name, 'Katsuji Honjō'.

In August 1940 the New Tsukiji Theatre Group was forcibly disbanded and Tōno and others were arrested for infringement of the Peace Preservation Law. Tōno was released without charge some nine months later and returned to acting, but was subject to an order by the Home Ministry (内務省)that he should appear only under his real name. From this time on, he was credited as 'Tōno Eijirō'. In 1943 he appeared in Keisuke Kinoshita's debut film Port of Flowers (花咲く港: Hana saku minato). In 1944 Tōno, Eitarō Ozawa, Koreya Senda, Sugisaku Aoyama, Chieko Higashiyama and others formed the Actors' Theatre (俳優座). During the last year of the Pacific War, he toured Japan under the auspices of the Japan Peripatetic Drama League (日本移動演劇連盟), an officially-sponsored body whose remit was to raise morale, and therefore productivity, by bringing drama to factories, mines, farming communities and fishing villages.

After the war ended in August 1945, Tōno returned to the Actors' Theatre as one of its central figures, both actor and administrator. Between the end of the war and 1990 he also played supporting roles in well over 200 films. Notable among them were seven films for Akira Kurosawa, including Seven Samurai and Yojimbo, four for Yasujirō Ozu, including Tokyo Story and An Autumn Afternoon, and nine for Keisuke Kinoshita, including Marriage (結婚: Kekkon) and The Ballad of Narayama.

The role for which he is perhaps best remembered in Japan, however, is that of the title character in the hugely popular TV jidaigeki Mito Kōmon, in which the historical Tokugawa Mitsukuni, retired daimyō of the Mito Domain, roams the country in the guise of a retired merchant, Mitsuemon, righting wrongs and correcting injustice with the aid of two samurai retainers. Tōno played the role in 381 episodes between 1969 and 1983. (The series continued through 2011, with four further actors playing Mitsuemon.)

Tōno died of heart failure on 8 September 1994, at the age of 86.

Partial filmography[edit]

  • Older Brother, Younger Sister (1936) - A laboror (uncredited)
  • Port of Flowers (1943) - Hayashida
  • Kaigun (1943)
  • Kanko no machi (1944)
  • Army (1944) - Sakuragi
  • Izu no musumetachi (1945) - Murakami
  • Morning for the Osone Family (1946) - Ippei Yamaki
  • Zoku Showa hito keta shachô tai futaketa shain: Getsu-getsu kasui moku kinkin (1971)
  • Gokumon-to (1977) - Kaemon Kitô - Yosamatsu's Father
  • Mito Komon (1978) - Tokugawa Mitsukuni
  • Hunter in the Dark (1979) - Shogen
  • Eireitachi no oenka: saigo no sôkeisen (1979)
  • Izakaya Chōji (1983) - Matukawa
  • So What (1988)
  • Death of a Tea Master (1989) - Kokei
  • Harasu no ita hibi (1989)
  • Ageman (1990) - Prime Minister


External links[edit]