Kato Tai (加藤泰)

Tai KATO (August 24, 1916-June 17, 1985) was a Japanese film director. He made mainly period dramas and yakuza films. His major works include "Kutsukake Tokijiro yukyo ippiki" (Tokijiro KUTSUKAGE: Man of Honor), "Meiji kyokakuden sandaime shumei" (The Story of a Meiji Knight, the Third Generation), and the "Hibotanbakuto" (The Scarlet Peony Gambler) series.

Biography and Personal Profile

He was born into a family of traders in Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture. His maternal uncle was film director Sadao YAMANAKA.

In 1937, he entered Toho Film Studios. He learned from Yasutaro YAGI, and moved with Yagi to Riken Film and Manchuria Film Association, where he made documentary films.

In 1946, he returned to Japan. He entered Daiei Kyoto Studios as an assistant director and became involved in making films directed by Daisuke ITO, whose films had captivated him when he was a boy. He also made a memorable trailer for Akira KUROSAWA's "Rashomon." However, he was fired by Daiei during the 'Red Purge' for being the chief clerk of Daiei Labor Union, and moved to an indie Takara Production. In 1951, he released his debut period movie "Kennan Jonan" (Sword Trouble, Woman Trouble).

In 1956 he moved to Toei Kyoto Movie Studios, directing many masterpieces featuring Toei star Kinnosuke YOROZUYA, such as "Kaze to onna to tabigarasu" (The Wind, a Woman and a Traveling Crow), in which the main characters daringly appeared with no makeup on in an age when stars generally wore white Shironuri makeup; "Mabuta no haha" (Mother of My Dreams), a reworking of Shin HASEGAWA's novel; and the unique "Sanada fuunroku" (Tale of the Sanada Family), a highly regarded example of the 'New Wave of Toei Jidaigeki,' which encompassed musicals, science fiction and social criticism.

During a period in which Toei shifted from mass vendetta period dramas to yakuza films, Kato directed "Kutsukake Tokijiro yukyo ippiki," his masterpiece whose title became a byword for Tai KATO; "Brutal Tales from the End of the Edo Period" a realistic period drama about internal conflict in the Shinsengumi (a special police force at the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate); and "Meiji kyokakuden sandaime shumei" (The Story of a Meiji Knight, the Third Generation), which presented life in the Japanese Mafia with a unique sense of beauty and lyricism and greatly influenced later yakuza films.

His creative activities reached a peak from 1967 to 1970; he directed the masterpiece "Oryu sanjo" (The Appearance of Oryu), part of the "Hibotanbakuto" series, starring Junko FUJI; made successful action movies such as "By a Man's Face Shall You Know Him" and "The Eighteen-year Sentence" which starred Noboru ANDO; and directed "Showa onna bakuto" (A Showa Lady Gambler), a revenge story featuring a strange curse in which Kyoko ENAMI, a star of yakuza films who had moved from Daiei to Toei, played the lead. In addition, following meetings with directors from Shochiku such as Yoshitaro NOMURA and Yoji YAMADA, he directed the unique suspense "Minagoroshi no reika" (Annihilation Song), in which Makoto SATO played a multiple killer out for revenge.

In the 1970's, he mainly worked on scripts for TV period dramas, although he directed "The Dark Side of Ranpo EDOGAWA," regarded as a masterpiece of occult cinema, and epic series such as "Musashi MIYAMOTO," "Life Game" and "Flower and Dragon" for Shochiku, and "Nihon kyoka den" (Legend of the Yakuza) and "Like a Flame" for Toho. In 1981, aiming to make the 'ultimate documentary,' he directed "The Ondekoza" which showcased the youth and passion of the members of the Ondekoza drum troupe from Sado, Niigata Prefecture. It was Kato's first documentary film since he had worked for Manchuria Film Association and was released posthumously. The film, unreleased during his lifetime due to conditions at the production company, was shown for the first time in a special showing titled 'Tai KATO, Man and Woman, the Aesthetics of Feeling' which was held at the Eurospace theater in 1994.

His films are marked by his unique style, which is characterized by extreme low angle and close-up shots. He was so obsessed with low angle shots that he is said to have dug up an asphalt-covered public road in order to position the camera and ordered an electric line that came into shot to be cut. In addition, the shots he took from under a moving train have achieved a legendary status.

In his later years, he wrote many books on the work of his uncle, Sadao YAMANAKA, and other aspects of Japanese cinema. He died suddenly in 1985 while working on a script based on Saikaku IHARA's novel "Koshoku gonin onna" (Love Stories about Five Women).

His films, which have a unique style, have been highly acclaimed by many film fans and critics, even after his death, and special screenings of them have often been held.