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Juzo Itami (1933 - 1997)

Lifespan: 1933 - 1997

Related: Japanse cinema - director

Films: Tampopo (1985)

According to wire service reports, Itami Juzo, committed suicide by jumping off a building on Dec. 21, 1997. He was 64. In 1992 the Japanese movie director had his face slashed by Yakuza because he portrayed them as ordinary gangsters, thugs and extortionists in his film Mob Woman (Minbo no onna). Yakuza prefer to be portrayed as modern samurai with Robin Hood qualities.

Biography

Juzo Itami (15 May 1933 - 20 December 1997) was an actor and a popular modern Japanese film director. Many critics came to regard him as Japan's greatest director since Akira Kurosawa. His movies, all of which he wrote himself, are comic satires on elements of Japanese culture.

Itami was born Yoshihiro Ikeuchi in Kyoto, Japan. The name Itami was passed on from his father, Mansaku Itami who had himself been a renowned satirist and film director before World War II. Itami worked at various times as a commercial designer, a television reporter, a magazine editor, and an essayist. He first acted in 1960's Ginza no Dora-Neko and appeared in various films and television series, including the big-budget Western film version of Lord Jim in the 1960s. The most notable movie in which Itami acted may be Yoshimitsu Morita's 1983 movie Kazoku G?mu (The Family Game).

Itami first directed a movie, Ososhiki (The Funeral), in 1984, at the age of 50. This film proved popular in Japan and won many awards, including Japanese Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. However, it was his second movie, his "noodle western" Tampopo, that earned him international exposure and acclaim. All of his films were profitable; most were also critical successes.

Itami's wife, Nobuko Miyamoto, is often the star of his movies. Her role tends to be that of an Everywoman figure.

In 1992 Itami was attacked by yakuza crime syndicate members who were angry at his portrayal of yakuza as bullies and thugs in his film Minbo no Onna. This attack led to a government crackdown on the yakuza. His subsequent stay in a hospital inspired his subsequent film Daibyonin, a grim satire on the Japanese health system.

He apparently committed suicide on 20 December 1997 in Tokyo, after a sex scandal he was allegedly involved in was picked up by the press. (His suicide letter denied any involvement.) Many consider his death suspicious; some believe it had something to do with a cult religion he was dealing with. At the time, the police treated it as a possible homicide. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Itami_Juzo [Dec 2004]

More films

  1. Minbo (1992) - Juzo Itami [Amazon US]
    Who says filmmaking isn't dangerous? Writer-director Juzo Itami (Tampopo) found out the hard way. After the premiere of his 1992 film, Minbo, he was attacked and seriously injured by a knife-wielding yakuza (Japanese mobster).

    Given the subject matter of Minbo, it's not surprising. This overly long film (123 minutes) paints an unflattering picture of the intimidation techniques of the Japanese mafia. They bully their way along a thin line that divides civil from criminal offense so they cannot be easily arrested, prosecuted, and jailed. One can only assume that Itami must have gotten pretty close to the truth or he wouldn't have been attacked.

    Nobuko Miyamato (Itami's wife) plays minbo specialist Mahiru Inoue, a woman with a very personal reason for hating the yakuza. Tough on the outside but compassionate on the inside, she is employed to help the staff of the Hotel Europa rid themselves of a yakuza infestation so that they can host more respectable guests. It's an uphill battle for the large cast, and the story suffers along the way from Itami's characteristic meandering.

    Instead of trying to cover the shortest distance between two points, Itami bounces after too many characters and weakens the impact of the story as a whole. Nobuko Miyamoto's performance is really terrific and she makes up for a lot, but it's too bad there's not more of her and a lot less of Yakuza 101. --Luanne Brown for Amazon.com

  2. Marusa no onna aka A Taxing Woman (1987) - Juzo Itami [1 DVD, Amazon US]
    A Taxing Woman (Juzo Itami) is the subtly hilarious tale of Ryoko, Tokyo's hardest working female tax inspector. The ruthless diligence of this innocent looking heroine is matched only by the intricate deceptions of Gondo, tax cheat extraordinaire. When Ryoko chances on one of Tokyo's busiest "love hotels," owned by Gondo, she realizes what a goldmine she has stumbled upon. Ryoko's attempt to audit Gondo is thwarted by his hilarious evasive maneuvers. Against a backdrop of stake-outs, searches and a spectacular raid, the two adversaries act out a madcap game of cat and mouse. The taxing woman and her clever prey test their respective skills of detection and deception in a scenario playfully complicated by stirring of mutual sexual attraction. The internationally acclaimed team of Nobuko Miyamoto and Tsutomu Yamazaki (stars of Tampopo and The Funeral) give performances in the best tradition of romantic farce, reminiscent of vintage Tracy and Hepburn. - From the Back Cover [...]

  3. The Funeral (1985) - Juzo Itami [Amazon US] The debut film from acclaimed Japanese director, Juzo Itami (Tampopo, A Taxing Woman) shows a very untraditional side to a very traditional ceremony. When Chizuko's (Nobuko Miyamoto) ornery father unexpectedly dies, the undertaking of the three-day funeral is too much to handle. Her family and especially her husband Wabisuke (Tsutomo Yamazaki), find themselves in hilarious situations as the younger generation struggles with the complex rituals of the Buddhist ceremony that are fading fast from modern Japanese life. --From the Back Cover

  4. Taxing Woman's Return (1988) - Juzo Itami [Amazon US] In A Taxing Woman's Return, we get a reprise of Nobuko Miyamoto's role as Ryoko Itakura, that indomitable Japanese tax collector who stops at nothing to get her man. In this story she is after the Chief Elder of one of the country's 180,000 registered religions. Onizawa (Rentaro Mikuni) prays for the souls of the sick and the dead with one hand and rakes in billions of yen with the other.

    His cult, Heaven's Path, has its fingers in several rice bowls, including a huge land scheme involving political graft. Ryoko is on the case, trying to prove that Onizawa is not paying his fair share of taxes, but she gets herself in trouble by working outside the rules.

    Itami's habit of following the lives of several characters shows itself to good advantage in this film. His use of visual symbolism also seems stronger and more accomplished. For example, Onizawa has recurring dreams of a sheer rock wall crumbling down on top of him. This image alone helps us to feel his terror and serves to make him a more sympathetic character even though he does some very unsympathetic things.

    Unfortunately, Miyamoto's character seems almost incidental to this story. Itami, as usual, introduces her in the first scene and then forgets about her until the end of Act I. It's the tremendous performance of Rentaro Mikuni and the insightful look into the problem of corruption in Japan that makes this film worth viewing. --Luanne Brown, Amazon.com

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