by Chris MaGee
Sad news the weekend for fans of Nikkatsu action films of the 1960's. Actor Hideaki Nitani, best known for his supporting roles in such films as "Underworld Beauty" and "Tokyo Drifter" died of pneumonia on Saturday, January 7th at a Tokyo hospital. He was 81.
Born in 1930 in Kyoto, Nitani didn't start his career on the screen but on the airwaves. In 1954 he began work as an announcer for a Nagasaki-area radio station. It wasn't until two years later when Nikkatsu Studios began hiring new onscreen talent that Nitani went from announcer to actor. In 1954 Nikkatsu had finally begun to produce films again after having temporarily shuttering itself during the post-war U.S. Occupation. Joining Nitani during this hiring blitz were stars like Akira Kobayashi, Yujiro Ishihara and Jo Shishido. Nitani made his screen debut in 1956 in Takumi Furukawa's "The People of Okinawa". This would begin a string of roles, mostly as tough guys and gangsters, in the films of Seijun Suzuki, Yuzo Kawashima, Ko Nakahira, and Koreyoshi Kurahara, amongst others.
Nitani would begin to take roles on the small screen beginning in 1968 while still acting in Nikkatsu films; but once the studio shifted production entirely to it's famed Roman Porno line of erotic films in 1971 Nitani, as well as many of Nikkatsu's other stars, moved on. Nitani would find fame starring as veteran police detective Kyosuke Kumashiro in the hit TV Asahi series "Frontline Investigators (Tokuso Saizensen)" which ran from 1977 until 1985. Nitani would continue to act on television and the occasional film while being active with charitable organizations working to rebuild post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia. A stroke in 2003 forced Nitani into retirement.
Our sincere condolences go out to Nitani's family, friends and colleagues. We leave you with the trailer for one of Nitani's best known films, Seijun Suzuki's "Tokyo Drifter". Thanks to Don Brown and The Japan Times for the news of Nitani's death and the details of his life.