Veteran stoic actor Sugawara Bunta (78) announced yesterday that he has effectively retired from the movie business. He held a press conference after attending an event to honor firefighters and said that in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 he could no longer see any point in making movies. Last year he stepped down from the lead role in Yamada Yoji’s latest project “Tokyo Kazoku” and yesterday he spoke about how he and Yamada (80) had discussed the decision, “The director agreed with me.” Sugawara also revealed that he had been hospitalized in the winter of 2011, causing him to reevaluate his career. He is a native of Sendai City in Miyagi Prefecture, one of the areas worst hit by the quake and tsunami.
Sugawara has almost 200 movie titles to his name but, like his contemporary Takakura Ken (80), will always be best remembered for his roles in hard-boiled yakuza movies, particularly Fukasaku Kinji’s “Jinji Naki Tatakai” (Battles Without Honor and Humanity) series of the 1970s. In recent years he has done about one project a year, including voice roles for a couple of Studio Ghibli animations, but has not been a leading man on the big screen since 2003’s “Watashi no Grandpa.” He did leave the door open slightly for himself yesterday, saying that he is open to considering future projects on their merit.
Yamada’s movie, loosely based on the Ozu Yasujiro 1953 classic “Tokyo Monogatari” (Tokyo Story), had been scheduled to start shooting last spring, but due to the natural disaster that has been delayed until this year. It is now scheduled to start next week and no doubt it will have seen some script changes to reflect the much changed mood of post-3/11 Japan. The project recently lost actress Ichihara Etsuko (76), who stepped down as she is due to undergo surgery. Such are the risks of working on a project with a lead actors in their late 70s, I guess.
Ichihara Drops Out of Yamada Movie (Feb. 6, 2012)