by Chris MaGee
It was in April of 2009 that actor Hiroyuki Nagato made the announcement that his wife of 33 years, actress Yoko Minamida, had been suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. It was only six months later that Minamida succumbed to the illness. It was a very sad ending to what seemed like a truly loving relationship. Now, less than two years later the story of Nagato and Minamida becomes that much more sad. On Saturday, May 21st Hiroyuki Nagato passed away at a Tokyo hospital. The cause of death was given as complications from heart surgery that Nagato had in 2010. He was 77.
Nagato was born Teruo Kato in Kyoto in 1934. Right from the beginning he was destined to have some kind of life in Japan's motion picture industry. Nagato's grandfather was Shozo Makino, often cited as being the first proper director in Japanese film history, his mother was actress, and Makino's daughter, Tomoko, and his father was actor Sadako Sawamura, star of such films as "Gate of Hell" and "The Burmese Harp". Nagato's younger brother is actor Masahiko Tsugawa.
Nagato joined Shochiku in the early 1940's as a child star. In 1945 he made his screen debut in 1945 in Masahiro Makino's "Hisshoka". On that film Nagato was billed as Akio Sawamura, a name he would perform under for the next six years. Nagato would eventually enroll in Kyoto's Ritsumeikan University, but dropped out to star alongside Yujiro Ishihara and his future wife Minamida in Takumi Furukawa's adaptation of Shintaro Ishihara's novel "Season of the Sun". It was this film that launched Nagato into super stardom. He would follow up this role with appearances in such classic films as Shohei Imamura's "Pigs and Battleships" and "The Insect Woman", Yoshishige Yoshida's "Akitsu Springs" and Takashi Miike's "Gozu" and "Izo". Nagato had struggled with ill health since the passing of his wife Yoko Minamida, who he married in 1976. His last screen appearance was in Norihiro Koizumi's 2010 film "Flowers".
Our deepest condolences go out to Nagato-san'sfamily, friends and colleagues, and our thanks go to Tokyo Hive for the details on his life. We leave you with the trailer for "Season of the Sun", the film that introduced Nagato to Japan's movie fans.