Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Ishii Sogo pays tribute to Yamada Tatsuo

Yamada Tatsuo (centre), a prolific supporting actor who appeared in around 100 films including "The Sinking of Japan", "Ashura" and the upcoming "The Sun That Doesn't Set", and also attended high school in Toyama with future filmmaker Takita Yojiro who would later direct him in "When the Last Sword is Drawn" and "Departures", died of stomach cancer on July 26th at the age of 53.

To many people though, including myself, he will always be remembered for his 1980 screen debut as Jin, the indestructible protagonist of Ishii Sogo's Mad Max-inspired violent opus "Crazy Thunder Road". 13 years later, he reunited with Ishii to play an older, wearied but still rebellious version of the same character in "Street Noise", a short instalment in the director's 1993 omnibus "Tokyo Blood". This marked Ishii's return to filmmaking after a protracted absence, and Yamada's presence also represented a fond farewell of sorts to the style of frenzied, kinetic cinema he'd become associated with before exploring a new internalised, metaphysical approach.

Ishii remained silent on his close friend's death until August 3rd, when he posted this moving tribute on his website.

Encountering actors and crew members is a truly wondrous experience that feels like a gift from above.

For me, Tatsu was my eternal star.

He was generally known as a distinguished supporting actor, but Yamada Tatsuo was always the star in my films.

Ultimately we only worked on two films together, but we shared a rivalry between actor and a director in which neither of us would budge an inch. There was no such thing as an easy job when we worked together, and there was always an unspoken rule between us that there would be absolutely no possibility of working together if we weren't able to invest over 100% of our energies in a project.

Tatsu was also one of the few people who had a profound understanding of the essence of the kind of films I wanted to make, and it would have been unthinkable for me to accept an offer of a job that he didn't approve of.

When "Crazy Thunder Road" was screened at the Kanazawa Film Festival in September of 2007, he kindly came as a guest, and although he was a man of few words and very good at hiding his true feelings behind humour, for the first time ever he spoke with me earnestly and fondly about the time we made the film. Afterwards, he joined me for a drink even though he was obviously in a bad way, and our robust discussion about the kind of films we'd make together next eventually turned out to be the last time we'd ever talk.

I'll never forget the happy, melancholy, and relaxed look on Tatsu's face back then.
Just as everyone would imagine, Tatsu was a real man's man, while at the same time he was also a very sensitive soul.

Of the new scripts I've completed, a few were written with Tatsu in mind.

I am once again angered by my own pathetic inability to get a new film off the ground in time.

I'm sorry.

I am filled with regret. And sadness.
Yesterday's films no longer exist.
Tomorrow's films are yet to be known.
All we have now are the films of today.

In memory of Yamada Tatsuo.

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