Sunday, May 22, 2011

Suzuki Noribumi remembers Okada Shigeru

The May 13th edition of the Nikkei Shimbun featured the following remembrance of the late Toei chairman Okada Shigeru (who died on May 9th) by Suzuki Noribumi, one of the most original and entertaining filmmakers to have emerged during his heyday. Although the same can be said for all of the old major studios, Toei's output today is nowhere near as dynamic and provocative as it was once famed for, and Okada's old-school impresario approach to filmmaking has been sorely missed for quite some time already.
Former honorary chairman of Toei, Okada Shigeru, was an outstanding film producer. When I joined Toei's Kyoto studio as an assistant director in 1956, his talent was already recognized despite his youth. I was set to make my directorial debut with a period tragedy, but Mr. Okada was the one who suggested I was suited to making comedies, which later led to my involvement with the "Truck Yaro" series.

He stuck to his guns and never held back from saying harsh things, but he had a warm-hearted, fatherly demeanor. When Daiei had a hit with a female gambler film starring Enami Kyoko [Yuge Taro's "Onna Tobakushi" (1966), which went on to become a 17-film series], he spurred us into action, saying "How would it look if the originator (of ninkyo films) couldn't do the same?" and told me "Write whatever you like", allowing me to write the screenplay as I saw fit. "If we run [the screenplay] by the board everyone will want to have their say, but if it turns out well, I'll green-light the project," he said, and "Red Peony Gambler" (1968) starring Fuji Junko [now Fuji Sumiko] was born [which became a series in its own right, spanning eight films].

He also enjoyed taking risks, producing experimental works and handpicking young directors. "A delinquent sensibility is an absolute must" was a favorite phrase of his. He meant that films should handle material that can't be dealt with on strait-laced television. He also said, "Film directors must have relationships with many women." His argument was that without doing so, they couldn't depict real life in their films. His choice of words was extreme, but as I look back now, they seem to have a certain truth to them.