Juzo Itami : biography
, born , was a Japanese actor and a film director. The ten movies he directed, all of which he wrote himself, are comic satires.
Itami’s debut as director was the movie Osōshiki (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.
On May 22, 1992, six days after the release of his anti-yakuza satire Minbō no Onna, Itami was attacked, beaten, and slashed on the face by five members of the Goto-gumi, a Shizuoka-based yakuza clan, who were angry at Itami’s film’s portrayal of yakuza members as craven, dishonorable bullies. This attack led to a government crackdown on the yakuza. His subsequent stay in a hospital inspired his next film Daibyonin, a grim satire on the Japanese health system.
Itami was born Yoshihiro Ikeuchi in Kyoto. 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. He is the brother-in-law of Kenzaburō Ōe and uncle of Hikari Ōe. He played the father Ishihara in the comic TV program Cometa-san.
At the end of the war, when he was in Kyoto, Itami was chosen as an infant prodigy and educated at Tokubetsu Kagaku Gakkyū ( "the special scientific education class") as a future scientist who was expected to defeat the Allied powers. Among his fellow students, were the sons of Hideki Yukawa and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga. This class was abolished in March 1947.
He moved from Kyoto to Ehime Prefecture when he was a high school student. He attended the prestigious Matsuyama Higashi High School, where he was known for being able to read works by Arthur Rimbaud in French. But due to his poor academic record, he had to remain in the same class for two years. It was here that he became acquainted with Kenzaburō Ōe, who later married his sister. When it turned out that he could not graduate from Matsuyama Higashi High School, he transferred to Matsuyama Minami High School, from which he graduated.
After failing the entrance exam for the College of Engineering at Osaka University, Itami worked at various times as a commercial designer, a television reporter, a magazine editor, and an essayist.
He purportedly committed suicide on December 20, 1997 in Tokyo, by leaping from the roof of the building where his office was located, after a sex scandal he was allegedly involved in was picked up by the press. The suicide letter he reportedly left behind denied any involvement in such an affair.
Many consider his death suspicious. Citing unnamed sources, Jake Adelstein of Yomiuri Shimbun, who wrote a number of articles dealing with Japanese yakuza, directly accused Goto of murder. Adelstein stated that, according to his sources in the Japanese underworld, Juzo Itami was planning a new movie about Goto’s yakuza faction and its relationship with the religious group Sōka Gakkai and that "A gang of five of his people grabbed Itami and made him jump off a rooftop at gunpoint. That’s how he committed suicide." According to Adelstein, Itami had said that his wife was aware of his alleged affair and that Itami’s purported suicide note was typed on a word processor.In Tokyo Vice, Adelstein’s source tells him the story of Japanese director Juzo Itami, whose 1992 film Minbo no onna satirized organized crime. Itami was apparently planning a new movie about Goto’s yakuza faction and its relationship with the religious group Sōka Gakkai. "Goto wasn’t happy about that," Adelstein’s source told him. "A gang of five of his people grabbed Itami and made him jump off a rooftop at gunpoint. That’s how he committed suicide." At the time, the police treated it as a possible homicide. Itami’s surviving family have never publicly commented on the circumstances surrounding his death.