THE KUROSAWA PLAYERS (Part Two)

      Several of my favorite members of Akira Kurosawa's stock company.

Minoru Chiaki in RASHOMONMINORU CHIAKI

     Obviously one of Kurosawa's favorite players, Minoru Chiaki appeared in ten films for the director. A rail-thin Chiaki played the Priest in RASHOMON in 1950 while five years later, a heavier, rounder-faced Chiaki played Heihachi, the jolliest of the seven samurai.

    In HIDDEN FORTRESS, he was one of a pair of bickering buffoons who assist a princess on the run, characters said to be the inspiration for R2D2 and CP3O in George Lucas's STAR WARS. 

     His other Kurosawa films include THE IDIOT, THRONE OF BLOOD and THE LOWER DEPTHS.


Isuzu Yamada in THE LOWER DEPTHSISUZU YAMADA

     Isuzu Yamada only played in three Kurosawa films, but was terrific in each one, excelling as women who apparently lived to be a thorn in the side of Toshiro Mifune.  In THE LOWER DEPTHS and again in YOJIMBO, she played landladies who plotted Mifune's destruction; successfully in the first, not so much in the second.  But it was in THRONE OF BLOOD that she played her greatest role for Kurosawa: Lady Asaji, the cool, almost robotic wife of Mifune's Macbeth-like Washizu. Yamada's eerie performance made Lady Asaji one of the strongest female Kurosawa characters ever - admittedly not a large group to choose from.

Kamatari Fujiwara in HIDDEN FORTRESSKAMATARI FUJIWARA

     Another of Kurosawa's favorites, sad-faced Kamatari Fujiwara appeared in more than a dozen of the director's films, including SEVEN SAMURAI.

     Among his more memorable roles are one of the two buffoonish peasants of HIDDEN FORTRESS and the alcoholic actor in THE LOWER DEPTHS.

Daisuke Kato in YOJIMBODAISUKE KATÔ

     SEVEN SAMURAI devotees remember Daisuke Kato as Shinijiro, one of the first to join the group.  He can also be seen in RASHOMON as the police officer and in IKIRU as a lowlife gangster. 

     But his greatest role role for Kurosawa was in YOJIMBO as the butt-ugly and rock-stupid villain Inokichi ("Wild Pig")  who cannot even subtract two from four without using his pudgy fingers.

Bozuken Hidari in SEVEN SAMURAIBOKUZEN HIDARI

     With the kind of  beautifully homely face that could only belong to a character actor, Bokuzen Hidari will be forever be remembered by SEVEN SAMURAI fans as lovable, frightened Yohei, the confused farmer whom Toshiro Mifune's Kikuchiyo endlessly taunts and teases. He made his screen debut in SCANDAL, and his touching performance as the kindly old pilgrim in THE LOWER DEPTHS may just be his best.


Yunosuke Ito in SANJUROYUNOSUKE ITO

     Long-faced Yunosuke Ito appeared in only a handful of Kurosawa films, making his greatest impact as the novelist in IKIRU who leads the dying Watanabe through a night of decadence.  He also played the "horse-faced" chamberlain who appears at the end of SANJURO.

Kyoko Kagawa in MADADAYOKYOKO KAGAWA

     One of the most underrated members of the Kurosawa Players, Kyoko Kagawa was unforgettable as the homocidal "Praying Mantis Lady" in RED BEARD and memorably lovely as the landlady's sister pursued by Toshiro Mifune in THE LOWER DEPTHS.  In THE BAD SLEEP WELL and HIGH AND LOW, she played essentially the same character - the long-suffering wife of the movie's lead male, a role she played once again in Kurosawa's final film, MADADAYO.  Her impressive non-Kurosawa resume includes Kenji Mizoguchi's SANSHO THE BAILIFF and Yasujiro Ozu's TOKYO STORY.  As of 2006, in her mid-seventies, Kagawa was still gracing Japanese movie screens with her talent.

Masayuki Mori in THE IDIOTMASAYUKI MORI

   
     Another underrated player, Masayuki Mori is perhaps best known for being teamed with ethereally beautiful actress Machiko Kyo in two of Japan's greatest contributions to cinema: Mizoguchi's TALES OF UGETSU and Kurosawa's RASHOMON.  Unfortunately, most of his other work with Kurosawa occurred in films that now rank among the director's least-respected and most difficult to find, such as SANSHIRO SUGATA PART 2, THEY WHO TREAD ON THE TIGER'S TALE and THE IDIOT, in which he played the title role.  Mori can also be seen as the corrupt executive of THE BAD SLEEP WELL.

Susumu FujitaSUSUMU FUJITA

     Kurosawa's first star player, Susumu Fujita played the role of Sugata in both SANSHIRO SUGATA and its sequel SANSHIRO SUGATA PART 2. Although he appeared in a few more early Kurosawa films such as THEY WHO TREAD ON THE TIGER'S TRAIL and NO REGRETS FOR OUR YOUTH, he was quickly replaced as Kurosawa's leading man by Toshiro Mifune.  Still, Kurosawa retained respect for Fujita's considerable talents and occasionally cast him in some smaller parts such as the samurai who runs away when trouble hits in YOJIMBO.  His most important and prominent role in the Mifune years was as General Tadokoro in the epic samurai comedy HIDDEN FORTRESS.

Akira Kurosawa    The Stuff You Gotta Watch

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