Bunta Sugawara, the “90th anniversary” actor, shows his “opinionated actor” image in “Battles without Honor and Humanity,” NHK’s historical drama “The Great War,” and other dramas. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Bunta Sugawara, the “90th anniversary” actor, shows his “opinionated actor” image in “Battles without Honor and Humanity,” NHK’s historical drama “The Great War,” and other dramas.

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Production announcement press conference for the movie “Battles Without Honor: Operation Summit” (from left) Bunta Sugawara, Tatsuo Umemiya, Hiroki Matsukata, and Asahi Kobayashi (’73)

This year marks the 90th anniversary of Bunta Sugawara’s birth, and CS broadcaster Toei Channel is airing 10 films starring Bunta, including his masterpiece “Battles Without Honor 4K Remastered [R15+]” over a two-month period starting in August as part of its “90th Anniversary Bunta Sugawara Starring Movies Vol. 1” program.

Bunta was born on August 16, 1933, and until his death on November 28, 2002, at the age of 81, he was one of Japan’s leading actors, appearing in numerous films and TV dramas, including the “Battles Without Honor” series and “Truck Man” series. He was one of Japan’s leading actors.

It was “Battles Without Honor” (’73, directed by Kinji Fukasaku) that solidified Bunta’s popularity and status as an actor.

Based on the nonfiction book “Battle without Honor and Humanity” serialized in a weekly magazine by Koichi Iiboshi and directed by Kinji Fukasaku and starring Bunta Sugawara, the film is based on the prison diary of Kozo Minoh, a Minoh gang leader who was one of the parties to the “Hiroshima Yakuza War,” a gang war that broke out between the city of Hiroshima and Kure immediately after the war ended, and which involved the biggest gangs in Japan. The film was a big hit, directed by Kinji Fukasaku and starring Bunta Sugawara. The series was made as a new dollar-box real-life documentary series for Toei, replacing the ninkyo (chivalry) line.

In December 1972, when I was a reporter in charge of movies in the Culture Department, I covered the production announcement at Toei’s headquarters in Ginza, Tokyo. Mr. Mino, former head of the Mino clan, who attended with Bunta (played by Shozo Hirono), said

I didn’t write any lies. Dozens of people have died in the past in the Hiroshima gang wars. However, the worst thing in the yakuza society is to stand up to one’s boss, and that is what I did. That is what I did. And that I wrote the memoir. I want people to understand that.

He was a quiet man. Although he spoke quietly, I was overwhelmed by the presence of the genuine article that he created.

Although he had changed the names of the characters and organizations, he said, “I want to keep the film as a documentary.

I wanted to keep the film as a documentary,” said Fukasaku.

The film is a realistic drama that follows director Fukasaku’s “real-life” approach, with an indecisive gang leader played skillfully by Nobuo Kaneko and members played by Bunta Sugawara, Hiroki Matsukata, Tsunehiko Watase, and Tatsuo Umemiya, who are all rife with shouting and bullets, betrayal, and intrigue. The “no-holds-barred” yakuza ensemble drama was so popular that when the film was released in January 1973, it became a record-breaking blockbuster, with long lines of people circling the Marunouchi Toei movie theater in Ginza, Tokyo.

Bunta said

Bunta said, “Normally, in the case of “The Mamushi Brothers,” for example, I would try to show 120% of Bunta Sugawara, where there would be 100%. But in “Battles Without Honor and Humanity,” I reduced it to about half.

But in this “Battle without Honor and Humanity,” I kept it to about half. As a result, I think it was for the best.

I think it turned out to be a good thing,” he said.

Since then, I have interviewed Bunta several times on set and at production announcements, and have had the strong impression that he is an actor who “says things,” not only about his acting, but also about his criticisms, arguments, and proposals against Toei and others to which he belonged, sometimes speaking passionately and other times coolly about his own opinions.

In December 1974, after the “Battle without Honor and Humanity” series was completed with the fifth film, “Battle without Honor and Humanity: The Conclusion,” Bunta starred in the first film of the “New Battle without Honor and Humanity” series (five films were produced until 2000), in which he said

In December 1974, Bunta said, “I’m going to tell Toei exactly what I want to say to them.

He said, “I’m going to tell Toei exactly what I want to say,

He said, “If we continue to follow the real-life Battle without Honor and Humanity forever, it will only wear us out. If you want to go beyond ‘Battles Without Honor and Humanity,’ you have to be adventurous.

He made this clear.

In the “Truck Boss” series (1975-79), in which he co-starred with Kinya Aikawa, he showed a new talent, including a comical performance in which he one-sidedly fell in love with a madonna, and the series was a hit, with 10 films produced in all.

He also starred in NHK’s historical drama “The Age of the Lion” (’80) as Hiranuma Pigitsugu, a low-ranking samurai of the Aizu clan who survives the end of the Edo period and the Meiji era, and attracted a lot of attention. When we interviewed Bunta at the time, he said

He criticized NHK for not having a large room for actors and demanded that they think of a solution.

He once criticized NHK for not having a large room for actors and demanded that they consider a countermeasure, causing NHK to panic.

In the case of movies, there are single, double, five, ten, and large rooms in the studios, and even extras get one or two tatami mats to lie down on. Actors work physically. Everyone should be given a place and space to rest.

I have seen senior actors and senior actors sitting in front of a mirror in a waiting room without a room. Even if they get a private room, their asses don’t feel comfortable. But it would be too arrogant to say, “I’ll take your place.

I was impressed by his comment.

NHK’s producer in charge of the drama said, “Basically, it’s the core of the drama.

Basically, we try to provide private rooms to those who will be the core of the drama, but there are definitely not enough of them. The actors and we used to think it was a matter of course, so Bunta’s point was fresh in our minds.

He said.

On the other hand, in the case of TV, there are not only dramas but also variety shows, singing shows, and culture programs, and the number of actors is enormous.

The market is saturated now, so we need to be creative,” he said.

He said, “We are saturated now, and we need to be creative.

In June ’77, when Bunta asked me to come to his home in Tokyo, he claimed that the fence on the boundary line installed by a neighboring kindergarten was encroaching about 20 cm. He said he would file a lawsuit against the kindergarten management, claiming, among other things, that there were problems with the management of the kindergarten.

When he moved into his house five years ago and built a new house in May of the same year, he had discussions with the kindergarten about building a fence on the boundary with his neighbor’s house, but they had hit a snag. This was said to have provoked Bunta, who is a man of principle and duty.

The trial continued with the kindergarten counter-suing for defamation and damages, and eventually the case was settled.

The trial was eventually settled, but Bunta said, “Even though I am an actor, I have to do what I have to do as a citizen.

I don’t care whether it’s black or white (court decision), I will continue to fight the kindergarten issue.

It was just like Bunta, who was known as an “actor who speaks out”, to say, “I don’t care whether it is black and white (the court decision) or not, I will continue to fight the kindergarten issue.

Bunta Sugawara, who captivated audiences with his passionate performances in a wide range of roles in such films as “Battles Without Honor” and “Truck Man,” was an actor who continued to make his presence felt as an “opinionated actor” who caused a stir in various fields with his various arguments.

  • Literature Ryo Sakamoto (Writer, former head of the Culture and Society Department of Tokyo Sports Newspaper)

    Writes articles on entertainment, movies, Hollywood information, etc. for the web magazine "PlusαToday" and other publications. Member of the Japan Film Pen Club

    A member of the Japan Film Pen Club

  • PHOTO Kyodo

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