Imamura Shohei, one of Japan’s greatest movie directors, died of multiple organ failure at a Tokyo hospital yesterday afternoon. He was 79. He won the Palme d’Or grand prize at the Cannes International Film Festival twice, with “Narayama Bushikou” (Ballad of the Narayama) in 1983 and “Unagi” (The Eel) in 1997. Actor Yakusho Koji (50), who starred in Unagi, said “It was truly an honor to have a chance to work with Imamura-kantoku (director). He taught me so much. I wanted to see him make many more movies. He was a treasure of the Japanese movie industry.” Yakusho recently visited Imamura in hospital before leaving for this year’s Cannes festival, where the movie “Babel” in which he supports Brad Pitt, won the Director’s Prize. Imamura began as an assistant director under the master Ozu Yasujiro at the Shochiku studio and made his first movie in 1958. But he was not really a studio player and moved toward a less stylized manner than that of classical Japanese cinema and was not afraid to tackle taboo subjects. The common theme in his movies was the nature of Man and the recurring question of what it means to be a working class Japanese. At the time that his first Palme d’Or was being announced in Cannes, he was playing mahjong in Tokyo. He also left the festival early in 1997, sure that Unagi had no chance of winning the top award. A heavy smoker who enjoyed shochu, he had a gourmet’s palette, despite suffering from diabetes from his late 20s. He was diagnosed with colon cancer last summer, and though he underwent surgery, the cancer had spread to other organs. He was hospitalized several times and spent most of his last week in a semi-conscious state.
• Singer Naito Yasuko (55) has been hospitalized following a brain hemorrhage. She felt unwell during a dinner show in Fukui Prefecture on Sunday and collapsed after coming off stage. She was rushed to hospital but is expected to make a full recovery.