by Chris MaGee
It's been another sad week for Japanese film. Veteran actor Kei Sato, best known for his roles in Kaneto Shindo's 1964 horror "Onibaba" and Kihachi Okamoto's 1966 evil samurai film "Sword of Doom" passed away yesterday (Thursday) in Setagaya, Tokyo. Cause of death was pneumonia. He was 81.
Kei Sato was born Keinosuke Sato in Fukushima City in 1928. While a young man he worked in the municipal offices of Fukuhima Prefecture, and it was there that he first was bitten by the acting bug. He joined a small theatre company and began committing himself to learning to act. Sato committed himself so much that he was eventually fired from the municipal office. In 1950 at the age of 22 he moved from Fukushima to Tokyo to continue his studies at the Haiyuza Theater. His screen acting debut came 9-years later opposite Tatsuya Nakadai in the second part of Masaki Kobayashi's epic 9-hour screen adaptation of Gomikawa Junpei's novel "The Human Condition". In it he played a Chinese prisoner of war interred in a Japanese P.O.W. camp in Manchuria.
During the 1960s Sato came to prominence starring in the films of New Wave director Nagisa Oshima such as 1960's "Cruel Story of Youth" and "Night and Fog in Japan" and 1968's "Death by Hanging". He also got a reputation with the public for his villainous roles in various gangster and jidai-geki films. Despite his work in the mainstream Sato continued to collaborate with avant-garde and underground filmmakers like Shuji Terayama (Pastoral to Die in the Country), Hiroshi Teshigahara (Pitfall), and Kazuo Kuroki (Evil Spirits of Japan). He was also awarded the Best Actor at the 1972 Kinema Junpo Awards for his role as the patriarch of the Sakurada family in Oshima's film "The Ceremony". Sato's last screen role was as a shadowy leader of an underground secret society in the Toho produced manga adaptation "Kaiji" co-starring Tatsuya Fujiwara and Teruyuki Kagawa.
Our condolences go out to Sato-san's family, friends and colleagues. Thanks go to Tokyograph and The Japanese Times for the details on this sad story. We leave you with the trailer for Kazuo Kuroki's 1970 film "Evil Spirits of Japan" in which Sato played the dual role of a yakuza and a former student activist who switch places.