Yamanaka Sadao (山中貞雄)

Sadao YAMANAKA (November 8, 1909 - September 17, 1938) was a Japanese film director and screenwriter. He was born in Kyoto Prefecture (there is also the opinion that he was born in Kochi Prefecture).

A genius who died early

He was born on November 8, 1909 as the youngest child of father, Kizaemon (喜三右衛門) and mother, Yoso at Gojo-sagaru, Honmachi-dori Street, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City. In 1922, he entered the former Kyoto City First Commercial School.
His classmate, Shigeji FUJII later became a playwright of Shochiku Kyoto Studios and a fellow of the 'Kajiwara Kinpachi Narutaki Group,' and in the grade above his was Masahiro MAKINO who was the eldest son of Shozo MAKINO, the 'Father of Japanese film.'

In 1927, he entered Makino Productions through his connection to his senior of the school Masahiro MAKINO. In 1928, Makino transferred Yamanaka to First Arashi Kanjuro Productions (Kan-puro) as a screenwriter and assistant director so that he could play an active role, but the independent production company failed within the same year due to a Five company agreement. When Yamanaka returned home, all his relatives tried to force him to quit the film industry but he did not lose his enthusiasm.

When Kanjuro ARASHI was invited to Toa Kinema in 1930, members of the former Kan-puro company, including Yamanaka, also went. Arashi read Yamanaka's screenplay and praised him as a genius. Arashi was convinced of Yamanaka's worth by the screenplay for 'Muttsuri Umon' and gave him his first directing job in 1932 with "Iso no Genta: Dakine no Nagawakizashi" (Genta of rocky shore sleeping with a long sword) adapted from a play by Shin HASEGAWA. The film caught the attention of the film critic Matsuo KISHI, and the high praised that he gave the production led to it receiving widespread attention, resulting in the picture being ranked among the top ten directorial debuts of the year and Yamanaka taking his place among the masters of Japanese Cinema at the young age of 22.

In the following year, he moved from Second Kan-puro to Nikkatsu Studios. He went on to revel in the title of young genius director and released "Bangaku no Issho" (Bangaku's Life) and "Machi no Irezumimono" (The Village Tattooed Man).

From 1934, Yamanaka formed the 'Narutaki-gumi' screenwriting group with the highly talented Hiroshi INAGAKI, Eisuke TAKIZAWA, and screenwriters Fuji YAHIRO and Shintaro MIMURA who all transcended the framework of film companies, and released 22 films under the collaborative pseudonym of 'Kinpachi KAJIWARA.'
They brought major innovation to the Jidaigeki-eiga (period film) genre, and a lot of support from both critics and audiences. He associated with a broad range film industry professionals other than those of the 'Narutaki-gumi' including Daisuke ITO (film director) and Mansaku ITAMI of Kyoto as well as Yasujiro OZU and Hiroshi SHIMIZU (film director) from Tokyo, with whom he went drinking on many occasions.

In 1937, he moved to Tokyo and with P.C.L Film Studios he released his final masterpiece "Ninjo Kamifusen" (Humanity and Paper Balloons) featuring the Zenshinza kabuki theater troupe before he joined the army. On September 17 of the following year of 1938, he died from disease contracted at the front at a hospital in Kaifeng, Henan Province, China. He died at the age of 28.

Heritage of Yamanaka

In his short life, he released 26 films (including two films on which he served as assistant director) in just five years as a director. However, we can only see 3 movies; "Tange Sazen Yowa Hyakuman-ryo no Tsubo (Extra Story of Tange Sazen, the Vase of One Million-Ryo)," "Soshun KOCHIYAMA" and "Ninjo Kamifusen." Only fragments of "Iso no Genta: Dakine no Nagawakizashi" (Genta: The Long Sword), "Kaito Shirozukin" (The White Hood) and "Uminari Kaido" (Seacoast Highway) are remain. Furthermore, as the above 3 films are versions that were released after the war, it is not certain whether or not they are the same length and cut as the originals. It appears that at least some sword fighting scenes in "Tange Sazen" (the One-Eyed Swordsman) were cut under censorship by occupation forces. It is for this reason that not everything is known about the director Sadao YAMANAKA.

His nephew Tai KATO is a film director. Fellow 'Narutaki-gumi' assistant director Ryo HAGIWARA was one year younger than Yamanaka and greatly influenced by him, going on to become a film director.