by Chris MaGee
Sad news for Toei Studio and for fans of Japanese film this past week. Former Toei president Shigeru Okada, who lead the studio through some of its greatest successes from 1971 to 1993, passed away on May 9th due to a bout of pneumonia. He was 87.
Born in Hiroshima in 1924, Okada grew up with a passion for judo, but would go on to study Economics at Tokyo Daigaku University. Shortly after graduation Okada joined Toei. By 1951 Okada was in charge of production at both Toei's Kyoto and Tokyo studios. It was here that the the studio was churning out their signature samurai and ninkyo eiga, or yakuza-themed "chivalry films", all of which saw completion under Okada's watchful eye. It wasn't until Okada became president of Toei in 1971 that he wouyld oversee a series of films that would transform the yakuza movie genre forever. Between 1973 and 1975 Toei and Okada would produce Kinji Fukasaku's epic "Battles Without Honor and Humanity" series starring Bunta Sugawara and Hiroki Matsukata. Throughout the rest of his tenure as president of Toei Okada would oversee the production of everything from softcore exploitation films through to animated films released under the Toei Animation banner. In 1993 Okada's son Yusuke took over the reins at the studio while Shigeru would continue to act as an honorary chairman. The elder Okada also acted as the president of the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan for many years.
Yesterday a memorial service for Okada was held in Tokyo attended by his son Yusuke, veteran Toei actress Sumiko Fuji, star of the "Red Peony Gambler" films, and actor Ken Watanabe, amongst many, many others. Our deepest condolences go out to Okada-san's family, friends and colleagues at this time. Thanks to Mark Schilling for the information on Okada's life published at Variety.com.