Farewell to Veteran Actors

Irigawa Yasunori, Iwai Hanshiro

Sad news over the Christmas weekend as the Japanese showbiz world lost several of its veteran actors. Irigawa Yasunori (photo left) died of rectal cancer at a Kanagawa Prefecture hospital. He was 72. Given just months to live when the cancer was discovered during surgery in August 2010, he held a press conference in March of this year to announce his refusal to undergo treatment that might have extended his life. He continued to work and had hoped to survive long enough to see the screening of his final movie “Bitter Coffee Life,” which is due for release next May. The movie tells the tale of a terminally ill cafe manager and his interactions with his customers. Three times married and divorced, Irigawa is survived by five children and five grandchildren.

The world of kabuki theater lost two of its established actors of the postwar era. Iwai Hanshiro (photo right) died of multiple organ failure at a Tokyo hospital in the early morning of December 25. He was 84. Just hours later kabuki actor Kataoka Roen VI died of a heart attack at a Shinjuku hospital. He was 85.

Real name Nishina Tadayoshi, Iwai was born the eldest son of a nihon buyo (traditional dance) family and made his stage debut in 1935. He went on to establish himself in a wide variety of famous kabuki roles. He also had an active career on the big screen, including an appearance in Kurosawa Akira’s “The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail” (1945). He battled health problems since 1997 when he made his final stage appearance. He is survived by three daughters, all of whom are in show business. The most famous is Nishina Akiko (58), whose 1979 marriage to actor Matsukata Hiroki (69) was famously opposed by her father.

Part of a kabuki family that extends back to the mid-17th century, Kataoka made his stage debut in 1934 and took the name Roen in 1959. His father, actor Kataoka Nizaemon XII (1882-46), his mother, brother and two maids were murdered by a live-in pupil with an axe in 1946.