THE EIGHTH SAMURAI! Shigeo Kato Shares Stories from His Decades-Long Acting Career!

Shigeo Kato in March 2019. Photo © Brett Homenick.

Born on June 16, 1925, in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, actor Shigeo Kato joined Toho in the early 1950s. Early in his acting career, Mr. Kato appeared in brief roles in such cinema classics as Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952) and Seven Samurai (1954), as well as the original Godzilla (1954). Mr. Kato remained a Toho actor until the end of the contract system in the early 1970s. In 2018, Mr. Kato starred in his very first movie, the independently-produced Our Memories on the Beach. In March 2019, Mr. Kato discussed his acting career in greater detail in this follow-up interview with Brett Homenick. The interview was translated by Manami Takagi and Keiko Takemata.

Brett Homenick: I don’t think there’s a definitive list of all the Kurosawa movies that you were in. So could you tell me, as best as you could remember, the names of all the Kurosawa movies that you were in?

Shigeo Kato: In Ikiru (1952), I was one of the bureaucrats who work for the city government. My role was that of a clerk at city hall. One day, some ladies came, and they were complaining about something. But my character said that there were too many mosquitoes, so please go to another department.

In Seven Samurai (1954), I played a farmer. I appear throughout the movie. There is one closeup shot of me in the movie. It was right before the bandits came to the village. My face was so serious, and I was worried about their arrival. So that scene just focused on my face. Also, I had a bamboo stick and tried to fight the bandits with it. But in most of the scenes, I was standing in the background in a group.

The next movie is I Live in Fear (1955). I crashed my scooter during the rehearsal. But it was done well in an actual take. When I crashed my scooter, Mr. Kurosawa and Mr. Mifune were so surprised. However, Mr. Kurosawa gave me another chance. In the scene, I handed a telegram to Mr. Mifune.

I was in The Lower Depths (1957), but I was just a person in a crowd, so it’s probably difficult to see me in this movie.

In The Hidden Fortress (1958), I was a villager. In the [fire festival] scene, some villagers got together and had a party. I was dancing with some other villagers and the dance-team girls [who were playing dancing villagers in the scene].

In Red Beard (1965), Mr. Mifune plays a doctor who had a big clinic. I played a worker at the clinic. I took care of the patients and sometimes brought them food. Since it was a Kurosawa movie, Toho had to keep the actors available for a long time. They couldn’t be sure when we would be needed for shooting for this movie. So every day I went to Toho prepared, wearing the uniform that had the name of the clinic, Koishikawa Sanatorium, on it.

There was an open set for this movie at Toho, so I had to wait there every day. I think I was special because I was a member of Kurosawa’s team, so Toho had to keep some actors like me available just for Kurosawa movies because they knew Kurosawa would want to use us. Later on, while filming Madadayo (1993), Mr. Kurosawa told me that he recognized me as one of his team members. So Toho had to keep some actors available, and I was one of those actors.

BH: How long did you work on Red Beard?

SK: Two months.

BH: After Red Beard, what was your next Kurosawa movie?

SK: It was Sanjuro (1962). I forgot my role in this movie. I think I was the gatekeeper when the horses came in. I opened the gate. So I think I was the gatekeeper.

I was also in Throne of Blood (1957). I was wearing red armor. I think I was one of the samurai, and I was in a castle wearing red armor.

I was not in either Kagemusha (1980) or Ran (1985). After Kurosawa left Toho and established his own production company, I did not audition for those movies because Kurosawa knew who I was. Teruyo Nogami was working for Mr. Kurosawa as a script supervisor, and she knew that I used to be in many of Mr. Kurosawa’s movies. So after Kagemusha and Ran, she said, “Come over and join our productions.” So after those movies, I started working with Mr. Kurosawa again. Dreams (1990) was the first movie on which I worked with Mr. Kurosawa again.

In Dreams, there are several segments. Chishu Ryu, who was [sitting] beside some watermills, was in a segment in which his 100-year-old girlfriend died, and there was a funeral for her. Five or six old people were walking along a river in a funeral procession, and I was one of those mourners. I behaved like I was 100 years old and had a flower in my hand. It was like a festival. It was a beautiful scene with many flowers. The water was also very clear. It was not a sad scene; everyone was very happy.

There were many segments in this movie. My scene was in the episode “Village of the Watermills.”

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Let’s go back to The H-Man (1958). It’s a horror movie directed by Mr. [Ishiro] Honda. What do you remember about The H-Man?

SK: For that movie, the director told us, Haruya Kato, Haruo Nakajima, and me, “Just imagine that the melting man is there.” In reality, we could not see it, but he just told us to imagine it. But each person has a different imagination. (laughs) So I imagined how the monster looked, and the two other actors imagined the monster their own way.

So after the movie was completed, we saw it, and each of us had a different expression! I think I was the most afraid-looking. When Yoshio Tsuchiya saw the movie, he said to me, “When I make a monster movie, I’m going to use you in it because your expression was great. You looked really scared.” (laughs)

Before he died, Mr. Tsuchiya told me, “I once promised you that if I became a director, I would use you in my movie. I’m sorry that I did not become a director, and I was not able to cast you.” I said, “It’s OK!” (laughs) Mr. Tsuchiya was impressed because I was the only one who looked scared.

BH: Another question is about The Three Treasures (1959).

SK: This story was taken from Japanese myths. Amaterasu the Sun Goddess hid behind a rock, and the world became dark. Nobuko Otowa was an actress [who played the goddess Ame-no-Uzume], and she was dancing on a rock, so the villagers were clapping and making noise. Then [inside the cave of rocks] Amaterasu the Sun Goddess realized something was going on, so she opened the [heavy cave] door a little bit. Asashio, who was a sumo wrestler, then opened it wide. Setsuko Hara played Amaterasu the Sun Goddess, and when she reappeared, light came back to the world. I played one of the villagers who were clapping while watching Nobuko Otowa dance.

BH: Do you have any other memories of this production? It was a very long production.

SK: I think it was about three months. It was a big movie. Toshiro Mifune and Setsuko Hara were in it. It was an all-star film.

BH: Do you have any memories of the director, Hiroshi Inagaki?

SK: Hiroshi Inagaki was such a famous director. After the war, he joined Toho, and Toho people were impressed because he was such a great and famous director. The first movie he made at Toho was Sasaki Kojiro (1950). My character was rowing a boat, and there was an actor playing a monk on the boat with me. The actor was supposed to say his lines, but he was not a very good actor. So they had to shoot the scene many times. I had to keep rowing the boat during this time. I was almost naked and wearing only a fundoshi (old-fashioned Japanese underwear). It was the only thing I was wearing in the scene, and I had to keep rowing the boat from nighttime until the morning because the actor playing the monk could not deliver his lines properly.

Do you know who Kamatari Fujiwara is? He’s a famous supporting actor. In the same movie, Mr. Fujiwara played the captain of a pirate ship. He was holding a list and checking everyone who was trying to get on the ship. This pirate ship was a little big. One day, Mr. Fujiwara had other work, so he was not able to come to the set for this movie that day. So they asked me to fill in for him and play his part because I looked somewhat similar to Mr. Fujiwara — for example, my height and build.

Usually, if they use a different actor, they shoot from far away. However, they filmed me as if I were Mr. Fujiwara, but only in close-up shots. They thought it was fine, so they filmed my face.

For the movie Sword for Hire (1952), Akira Kurosawa wrote the screenplay. There was a scene in which I was in a river, and the flow of the water was so strong that I was almost overwhelmed by it. But there was a stick on the big rock, so I grabbed it. But it actually turned out to be a spear. There was a samurai who was played by Danshiro Ichikawa.

I tried to grab the rock. There was a stick on it, so I grabbed it and tried to get on the rock. However, it was really a samurai with a spear. That was what I was holding, and the samurai was trying to push me away, so I fell back into the river. That was the scene. The first take was no good, but the second take was OK.

It was shot in the morning. Actually, it was supposed to be with another actor. But he didn’t want to go into the river, so he said, “I have a stomachache.” So I did the scene instead. The scene was shot in the morning, and I thought that would be it for the day. But in the afternoon, I was told to act in another scene. For this scene, I was told to wear a samurai costume and act drunk while crossing a suspension bridge. A female samurai would be coming toward me, and I would try to drunkenly flirt with her, which I did. When I did that, the woman would try to throw me into the river. Actually, when my character was thrown into the river, a dummy was used instead. So I didn’t have to go back into the river.

But that woman was Ri Koran, whose Japanese name was Yoshiko Yamaguchi (a.k.a. Shirley Yamaguchi). She was very popular at the time. Before the war, she was a big star in China. After the war, she came back to Japan and became a Japanese actress. She was so famous, and a lot of people came to the Nichigeki Theater to see her perform. She was so beautiful and her voice was so beautiful that many people wanted to see her in the movies. Ri Koran acted with Kazuo Hasegawa. That movie was so popular that a large audience came to the Nichigeki Theater to see it.

During the war, we Japanese thought she was Chinese because her name was Ri Koran. But one time the Chinese government tried to arrest her because she appeared in a Japanese movie and was helping the Japanese. That’s why the Chinese government tried to arrest her. But after doing some research, they discovered that her nationality was actually Japanese. Then they let her go. This was first movie in which a Manchurian movie star, Ri Koran, wore a kimono.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Let’s talk about Mothra (1961). Do you remember shooting Mothra?

SK: Mr. [Shoichi] Hirose and I were drinking tea. For this scene, we were told to imagine Mothra because it did not really exist. So we imagined it was there. Of course, Mr. Hirose and I imagined different things. But we imagined it and reacted as if it were there. The monster movies were always like that.

BH: What about general memories of Mr. Hirose?

SK: He was famous for playing villains because he had a face for it. The reason they chose me and Mr. Hirose is because Mr. Hirose looked like a villain, and I look so quiet. We were so different, and that’s maybe why we were chosen for that scene.

Mr. Hirose, Michiko Wada, and Mitsuko Kimura graduated from the same school for actors and actresses. Before I entered Toho, they were already there. That was their background.

BH: Next, we can talk about Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster (1964). This has the Mt. Aso scene.

SK: For that movie, about 20 people went to Mt. Aso. We left at night on a night train and arrived there in the morning. Then we took other transportation to the location. So it took almost a day to arrive at that location. All of a sudden, the director created that scene for Yutaka Nakayama, Sekichi Omura, and me.

There was a comedy movie that the three of us were in that was released during New Year’s. So the director had the idea that if he used these three actors, it would be a good scene. That’s why he all of a sudden created that scene. “It’s too late to pick up the hat!” But Mr. Omura tried to retrieve it.

BH: So that was invented at the time. It was not in the script.

SK: It was not in the script. The director invented it.

BH: Do you remember the name of the movie?

SK: We were in an outfit. I don’t remember the name of the movie. It was not a big movie. It was released about one year before we shot that scene. So the director thought the combination of the three of us was good, but I don’t remember the name of the movie. I loved Mr. Honda. I think I worked with Mr. Honda more than any other director.

BH: Were you “the number-one location man” at Toho?

SK: Because I was so square, I never drank, so I never had a hangover. So I usually accepted any role. I played fishermen, farmers, postmen, and policemen. Any role can fit me somehow. I was called “the location man” because any role could fit me. I could become a local man. So maybe that’s why I was used on so many locations. I’m not so tall; I’m just a regular, local person. So that’s why. If I were tall and good-looking, it would have been different. But I was short and looked like a local person.

BH: Do you have any general memories of Senkichi Omura?

SK: Mr. Omura started very old in the movie business. I think he was 10 years older than I am, but when I started working at Toho, he was already doing comedy in the theater. One time, he was in the movie The Rickshaw Man (1958). He played a mute. The movie had a very good reputation. He could play an unusual characters, and he was very good at it. That’s why Mr. Honda liked him a lot. Mr. Omura was a very versatile actor, and he liked acting very much.

BH: Let’s talk about Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964). In this movie, you played an island person.

SK: I was painted all red [with red iron oxide]. The cosmetics were not very well developed at that time. So they put red paint and mud on us to create some color. They [the make-up staff] painted our bodies. Some days, they would say, “Now become a black person,” and they would paint our bodies all black. The quality was not very good, so sometimes it would cause a rash on the skin. But the director did not decide that. An assistant director or somebody else decided who became what. The director did not ask us to become red or black.

One day, when I went to the studio, there was a call sheet that said, “Black person: Mr. Kato. Red person: [another actor].” So you never knew who I would be.

So for those movies [Mothra and Mothra vs. Godzilla], they used not only professional actors but ordinary people walking the streets as extras. They [the extras from outside Toho] used the public bath in town after shooting, and of course it caused a problem. Then the public bath house complained to Toho. But I just used Toho’s bath. I was a Toho actor, so I didn’t use a public bath.

It was difficult to get the paint off. Sometimes the shoulder part of my shirt would get red paint on it. It was not so easy to clean it all off. Sometimes I didn’t care if I got all the paint off my body because the next day, I’d have to paint my body all over again. Actresses also had to paint their whole bodies, except their breast areas.

At that time, I don’t think the cosmetics were very refined. So makeup artists experimented with new techniques, like using mud. It caused some skin problems among some actors and actresses. They went to the Toho offices and complained, “Look at this!” They insisted on getting paid extra money due to those issues. There was a period in which all the cosmetics we used had low quality. The makeup artists invented new techniques as they went along. But at that time, actors had to complain about their problems to Toho and get the extra money. So we had to complain.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: How about director Kihachi Okamoto? What do you remember about Mr. Okamoto?

SK: I think I was in The Spook Cottage (1960). It was a skiing movie. I was also in Oh, My Bomb! (1964). He was a serious person. He used to call me Shigeo-san. When he was an assistant director, he invited me to the shooting location of The Sound of Waves (1954). After he became a director, I think I only worked with him on those two movies. When he was a chief assistant director, he used to ask me to come to the location very often. He belonged to the team of director Senkichi Taniguchi. He graduated from Meiji University.

Mr. Okamoto was a gentleman. When director Shiro Moritani wanted to use me, he used to ask Mr. Okamoto. When I was in Mr. Okamoto’s movies, and Mr. Moritani saw them, he said, “I want to use Mr. Kato.” I used to be in Mr. Moritani’s movies very often. Mr. Moritani directed a famous movie called Mount Hakkoda (1977). For Judge and Jeopardy (1968), they didn’t use stars. They used actors like me.

Koji Tsuruta was the star of Seishoku no Ishibumi (1978) and played the principal of a school. It was the made before Mount Hakkoda. In this movie, my daughter was kidnapped. My daughter was played by Mako Hattori. She was commercial model.

BH: I’ve heard that when Mr. Taniguchi was a director, and Mr. Okamoto was the chief assistant director, Mr. Taniguchi would basically let Okamoto direct the movie because Okamoto was very smart, and maybe Taniguchi was not so good at directing. Did you see that?

SK: I didn’t see that. Their relationship was like master and pupil. So they always worked together.

BH: How about Yog, Monster from Space (a.k.a. Space Amoeba, 1970)? You are throughout this movie on the island.

SK: The location was Hachijo-jima. It was in winter, and it was snowing! I was supposed to be an islander. I said something [in the movie]. I was wearing island clothes, but I don’t remember what I said. It was winter and snowing, so I was surprised!

BH: How about Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971) with director Yoshimitsu Banno?

SK: I don’t remember.

BH: Speaking of Mr. Banno, you worked with Mr. Banno on The Last Days of Planet Earth (a.k.a. Prophecies of Nostradamus, 1974).

SK: I was supposed to wear a board on my back during this scene. There was a balloon, and inside it was gunpowder mixed with water. There was a cord, and I had a button. Before the actual take, we had a rehearsal at Toho Studios. I did not wear a wetsuit during the rehearsal. Instead of the board, I used a magazine as a buffer. But it was very hot. So I said, “Ouch! It’s hot!” The director of Toho’s Acting Division was there. His name was Mr. Shinoda. It was considered a risky scene, so that’s why he was there. When I said, “Ouch,” Mr. Shinoda said, “This is not the actual take, so don’t behave like that.” But that was my natural reaction.

The next day was the actual take. During the scene, I wore a wetsuit instead of using the board. In the movie, the sun was getting hotter and hotter, so the roof of the house started burning. Then the people inside the house ran outside. I was one of the people who ran outside. So then I pushed the button. I was wearing a wetsuit, but during the actual take, I didn’t put a board in between myself and the balloon. But something unexpected happened. I was wearing a wetsuit, but I was already sweating. So there was sweat inside the wetsuit. After I pushed the button, the balloon exploded, and the hot water was released. The hot water from the balloon made my sweat very hot, too. So it was extreme heat, and it made my heart beat very quickly. I felt very uncomfortable, and even after the shooting, it was hard to breathe.

I was supposed to use a board during the shoot, but when we rehearsed with the magazine, perhaps they decided that if I wore a wetsuit, it would be fine. The wetsuit was someone else’s idea, not mine. They decided, “No, the board is too much. Maybe if you wore a wetsuit, that would be fine.” That’s what they said.

BH: Were you angry at Mr. Banno after this scene?

SK: I didn’t get mad. In the movie, we were crawling away from the burning house. There was smoke behind our bodies, but it was not enough for the director. So Mr. Banno wanted fire from behind. So the next day, they dug a hole. Mr. Banno asked me to lie down over the hole. He brought a burner and wanted to use real fire. It would have been right behind my back. So I said, “OK, but before I do it, I’d like to see someone else do it first. Show me.” Then they decided not to do it after all. It was too risky. Everyone was so serious about doing the scene. So if I had not rejected it, maybe we would have done it. That’s because they were so serious about making the movie.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Do you have any memories of Submersion of Japan (1973)?

SK: In Submersion of Japan, there was a scene that I was in. I was supposed to be in downtown Tokyo, and I was inside a house, not a building. There were four Toho actors and actresses. Aside from us, there were also some extras. The extras were told about a secret exit [on the set]. But the four of us actors were not told about it. It was a scene in which everybody was running around to get out of the house because of the fire.

I realized that all the extras were gone, but we were still running around, trying to find the exit. Then the person in charge of the lighting dipped a cloth with oil and dropped it. Then it would catch fire and burn in a fireball. So they dropped many fireballs on us. One of the fireballs hit an actress on her back. It was kind of scary. Finally, they said OK, and the scene was completed. So the shooting was sometimes scary. I had such a scary memory.

When the fireball was dropped on the actress, she caught fire, and we were trying to put out the fire by patting her on the back.

BH: She was not badly injured, I guess.

SK: She was crying. I think it was her real reaction. Her name was Shizuko Azuma. Ms. Azuma once [co-starred with] Akira Takarada. Mr. Takarada was a very big star. The movie was How the Bell of Liberty Rings (1954). But after that movie, she did not become very successful. About two years before she died, she appeared in Ultraman Tiga (1996-97) in which she played a grandmother. She was communicating with Ultraman Tiga, and it was a good role, I thought.

BH: What about the TV version of Submersion of Japan (1974-75)?

SK: I don’t remember. TV scripts were [very] thick. For TV, there are so many lines. I always have to memorize them. As soon as the director says OK, I immediately forget them.

BH: Around this time, you worked with director [Yasuzo] Masumura, so what general memories do you have of working with Mr. Masumura?

SK: In the movie called Dynamic Islands (1975), I played a stupid policeman. At the end of the movie, I’m standing in front of the criminal, but I don’t realize it’s the criminal. So I played a stupid policeman, and in the scene, I was chewing a grass [straw]. Mr. Masumura liked that scene and me when he saw that scene. Chewing the grass [straw] was my idea. I imagined that a stupid policeman would be like that.

When Mr. Masumura saw that scene, he asked the cameraman, “Who’s this actor?” The cameraman was from Toho, so he said, “That was Shigeo Kato.” Then he remembered me. One year later, when he was making Lullaby of the Earth (1976), Mr. Masumura thought of me for this movie and used me. My role was a nice, gentle old man. The movie starred Mieko Harada, who was about 16 years old at the time. Her character was abused by her parents. So she had a lot of anger.

My character was in a Japanese inn. When her parents weren’t there, she asked my character, “Can I throw this plate and break it?” My character replies, “Oh, yes, go right ahead!” It was that kind of scene. I just let her do whatever she wanted to do. But it was a nice scene, and the shooting lasted only about one hour. It was a short scene, but it was nice. It The movie had a good reputation after the movie was completed.

BH: Do you remember the name of the cameraman (from Dynamic Islands)?

SK: I forgot his name, but he was a Toho cameraman. I met him recently, but I don’t remember his name [Kazumi Hara]. Last year, I saw him. When I met him, I said, “Thank you very much for mentioning me to Mr. Masumura.” The next year, director Masumura made Double Suicide of Sonezaki (1978), and again he used me. The stars were Meiko Kaji and Ryudo Uzaki. It was a story about a prostitute. I had a big supporting role in this movie. Sachiko Hidari was in it, and she was very famous. So, in this movie, I had a fight with Sachiko Hidari, who was a very big star. I still remember my lines from the movie.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: How about Station (1981)? I think your part was cut out.

SK: My name is on it, but I’m not in the movie. I was supposed to be in it. I went to Toho Studios and was waiting. I was supposed to have a role, but there was nothing. So my name is still on it, and I still got paid for it. (laughs) That was their idea. It was none of my business. (laughs) That was Toho’s situation. I don’t know why. After that, Mr. Masumura used me again, and it was a big hit.

It was a TV program called the Akai series (1974-80). Momoe Yamaguchi was a big star at that time, and she was one of the main characters in it. I was in the first episode, and I played a company president. But I was killed by Hiroyuki Nagato, who was very famous, too. So Mr. Masumura liked me. He was not a Toho director; he was from Daiei. I think he was the best director for me. He gave me many good parts. He admired my work.

BH: Let’s talk about Godzilla (1984).

SK: The director Koji Hashimoto and I got along. When he was an assistant director, we got along well. After Toho’s contract system ended, I was the only one who continued to act in movies and TV. There were about 150 actors or actresses, but they all changed occupations.

Before the war ended, I was controlled by others and was always told what to do. But at Kamakura Academia (a.k.a. Kamakura Academy), I learned that I am the one who should decide what I do and that no one can force you to do anything. So just look at the situation carefully, and then decide what to do. That’s the spirit I learned at Kamakura Academia. So when the Toho contracts expired, everybody except me changed occupations. Everybody was told to go to bowling alleys or other occupations. But I thought, “I love my work, and I love being an actor. So even if I can’t make a living as an actor, I will continue this work.” That’s why I chose to continue to be an actor.

BH: I have a question about Hajime Tsuburaya. You worked with Mr. Tsuburaya on the Ultraman shows. Could you talk about your memories of Hajime Tsuburaya?

SK: Hajime Tsuburaya worked for TBS, actually. I didn’t know him. Actually, I never talked to him. But his father was Eiji Tsuburaya, so maybe that’s why he knew about me. All of a sudden, he started offering me roles. He’d say, “Please play a policeman. There is no script, but could you do it?” I think Hajime Tsuburaya was familiar with his father’s work, which is maybe why he knew about me. But actually I didn’t know him, and I never talked to him.

I knew Hajime Tsuburaya’s father, Eiji Tsuburaya, because before he started the Ultraman series, the Japanese government made an educational film to inform the public about dysentery, which used to be common a long time ago. It could kill people, so the Japanese government made an educational film to show how it works. Mr. Tsuburaya made this educational film. Since that time, I knew Eiji Tsuburaya.

BH: What memories do you have of Eiji Tsuburaya?

SK: I remember that when I was about 15 years old, I saw the movie The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya (1942). I saw the the scene in which the airplane is flying between the rocks, and I thought it was real. I didn’t know about special effects, so after I found out it was just special effects, I thought his idea technique was great.

When I started working for Toho, I was very new at that time. The Japanese government made the educational film about dysentery. The film advised people to wash their hands thoroughly, and so on. In the film, I played a doctor, and Mr. Tsuburaya was filming. Mr. Tsuburaya was manually cranking the camera. Since then, I knew Mr. Tsuburaya, and he knew me. We didn’t have personal conversations, but we’d say hello to each other. That was all.

BH: Do you know why Hajime Tsuburaya had the [nick]name Pin-san?

SK: Maybe the cameraman or the people around him called him Pin-san. Maybe his personal friends called him that.

The kanji character of the name Hajime is sometimes read as pin, so maybe that’s the reason he was called Pin-san. The kanji character is ichi [one], but it could also be pin.

BH: But you were personally offered jobs by Hajime Tsuburaya.

SK: Yes, everybody was told to go to the shooting location. He told me, “You are the policeman at the police station.” I was given the part at the shooting location. My costume was already prepared for me. There was no script. They probably saw me in many movies and TV shows. So that’s probably why they cast me. They probably thought I would be appropriate to play a policeman. I think that’s how the decision was made.

BH: The last topic that we’ll discuss is the end of the contracts at Toho. Talk about what you remember about that situation, and why Toho did it.

SK: During that time, all the actors and actresses were fired and went to work for a bowling alley, tennis court, or golf course that was owned by Toho. I was the only one who rejected that offer. Everybody except me quit acting. I had made a lot of effort and could continue. There was a union at that time. They had a negotiation with the company, and requested Toho to extended it one more year. So they negotiated for a year without pay.

After one year, they received severance pay, and they quit. So I worked very hard on my TV roles, and I tried to work in TV. But if my work did not satisfy them, they wouldn’t offer me any other roles. So I tried my best. But other actors who went to the bowling alley or the golf course, it seemed they were told they would receive a monthly salary and bonuses and would have a stable life. But I chose a different path. My work was not so stable.

Mr. Kato holds a certificate from former Toho President Isao Matsuoka. Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: What year did this start to happen?

SK: I was a contracted actor at Toho for 20 years until Showa 47 (1972). That is when they announced all the actors would be let go. The negotiations lasted until Showa 48 (1973), which is when they were actually let go.

BH: Do you have any memories of Mr. [Haruo] Nakajima and his reaction to being switched to the bowling alley?

SK: Mr. Nakajima chose to work at the bowling alley, but after a while, he complained about his situation. He worked at the bowling alley, but sometimes he also had to work at a mahjong parlor. Bowling alleys were very popular a long time ago, but of course, trends change. So he was complaining about it. But after a while, he started to receive job offers from the States because he was a Godzilla suit actor. So after a while, he quit Toho’s bowling alley and made personal appearances as his main work.

The staff member, who was younger than the Toho actors, was a full-time employee, so he became the boss of the actors. Mr. Nakajima was dissatisfied with that. I think many actors thought that it would be better to continue doing what they liked, even if their lives were unstable, rather than doing something different from what they wanted to do.

BH: What are your most proud of, or what do you think is your best work?

SK: I forgot! I think it might be Mr. Masumura’s movie Lullaby of the Earth. But I don’t remember.

BH: Do you have any final comments, or is there anything else you’d like to share?

SK: In Dreams, I played a 100-year-old man. One of the previous episodes was “The Blizzard,” which starred Mieko Harada as the Snow Spirit. I was in the episode “Village of the Watermills.” My character was walking along the river in a celebration. Ms. Harada wanted to join the scene, even though she had already starred in a previous episode.

She asked Mr. Kurosawa if she could participate in the march. She didn’t care if she was seen or not in the film; she just wanted to participate in the march. Ms. Harada was the star of Lullaby of the Earth. I played an old man in that film, and it was her first movie. She worked in a Japanese inn in the movie, but she had so much anger, and the old man let her throw the plate and break it.

She recognized me in the march. “Oh, my God, it’s Mr. Kato!” After shooting was finished, she said, “Mr. Kato, wait, wait!” She had a baby with her. “I got married, and this is my baby.” She showed me her baby. I was so impressed, and it was a great moment. When I first met Ms. Harada, she was still 16 years old. More than 10 years had passed, and we met again. At that time, she had grown up and had a baby. I was so impressed. It was a great story for me. After Lullaby of the Earth finished shooting, I didn’t see Ms. Harada until I saw her on the set of Dreams.


One thought on “THE EIGHTH SAMURAI! Shigeo Kato Shares Stories from His Decades-Long Acting Career!

  1. Thank you for preserving Mr. Kato’s legacy in these wonderful interviews. It is always a treat to watch my Toho DVDs and Blu-Rays and await the appearances of Mr. Kato. I am very grateful we ran into each other that day in 2017.


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