January 15, 1905|
|Died||December 21, 1985
|Cause of death||Heart attack|
|Other names||Keita Fujiwara|
|Spouse(s)||Unknown Village woman (m. 1922–1924)
Sadako Sawamura (m. 1936–1946)
Fujiwara 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 had started selling timber for building and manufacturing in Shizuoka prefecture. A year later he returned to Tokyo to study as a pharmacist.
Fukiwara worked regularly and extensively with Akira Kurosawa, and was known for both being adept at comic acting, as well as being able to do serious roles 
Initial work with Asakusa Opera Movement
The Asakusa Opera Movement was started in 1916, and was part of the mass culture of the time. By the 1920s it had become very popular. Fujiwara, inspired by this, enrolled at the Takinogawa actor/martial arts 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 Kantō 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 after one amorous night, she successfully fell pregnant. He and his wife had a son, however sadly for the couple, after the birth, his wife died.
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. As part of the troupe, he was able to use physical comedy, utilising Karate breakfalls and blows he had learnt in his stage tuition in the Akasuar. In the late 1920s this was the era of the Ero Guru, a Japanese equivalent of the American flapper phenomenon. In 1933 he resigned from Casino Follies and became a movie actor.
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.
Marriage to Sadako Sawamura
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 remarry again.
Work with Kurosawa
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. All up, Fujiwara appeared in 11 of Kurosawa' s films, and along with Mifune, Shimura, Nakadai and Chiaki, was regarded as one of Kurosawa's core actors . Perhaps the two most famous roles for Kurosawa were the well-remembered role in The Lower Depths, where he plays a drunken Kabuki actor complaining about his "Bitol Organs", and his role as Manzo in Seven Samurai. Ironically, despite his roles generally being supporting roles to other action type actors like Mifune, Fujiwara was an accomplished martial artist which he had gained and applied to his stage performance in his earlier years.
Fujiwara's perhaps most famous role abroad 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, and disheveled.
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 character Matashichi 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, Tahei, played by Minoru Chiaki was inspiration for C-3PO. 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, on in particular, what he thought of his connection to the Star wars Christmas special. 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 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, with whom he developed a friendship. While on the set of Hidden Fortress he was drinking with Mifune, who became brusque. While smaller than Mifune, Fujiwara became annoyed at his rudeness, and despite the fact Mifune was a huge star in Japan at the time (and the film's lead), Fujiwara used a Karate blow to knock him to the ground. Rather than being angry, Mifune laughed but behaved well for the rest of the filming. 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 Yasujirō Ozu 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. It was his only role in a non-Japanese film, and, considering that the character had 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 eventually died, in 1985 at the age of 80. He died in a Tokyo hospital after suffering a heart attack. Osaka's Abuyama old Mound was used as his final burial site.
- Ongaku Kigeki - Horoyui Jinsei 1933
- 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 Yasujirō 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)
- Yoshida, Yukhiko “Lee Tsia-oe and Baku Ishii before 1945” Pan Asian Journal of Sports and Physical Fitness p57
- Shannon, Anne Park "Finding Japan: Early Canadian Encounters with Asia" He changed his name to Kamatari.
- Galbraith IV, Stuart "The Toho Studios Story: A History and Complete Filmography", Scarecrow press, 2008
- Ginoza, Naomi "Dissonance to Affinity: An Ideological Analysis of Japanese Cinema in the 1930s" p 271
- 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