Born 1924 in Tottori, Japan. In 1943, joined Toho as a production assistant, but soon after was recruited into military service. After the war, he was reinstated at Toho, serving as assistant director to Taniguchi Senkichi, Makino Masahiro, Naruse Mikio among others. In 1958, made his directorial debut with All About Marriage and in 1959 directed the successful Desperado Outpost. Demonstrated a talent for mass-producing entertainment films. Nikudan was produced by ATG (Art Theater Guild) in 1968. Established Kihachi Productions in 1974 where he continued to create enjoyable, high quality works such as Dixieland Daimyo (86) and Rainbow Kids (91). Consistently made every effort to criticize the war, Consistently backed by his personal experiences. Died at 81, on February 19, 2005, leaving a body of 39 works. His humor-filled stories, rhythmical tempo, original camera work and other idiosyncrasies are called the Kihachi Touch, which continues to fascinate many of his fans.
THE “KIHACHI TOUCH” AND THE CENTENNIAL OF JAPANESE IMMIGRATION
Japan of thousands of years becomes one hundred years old in Brazil. To celebrate the Centennial of Japanese Immigration, Mostra’s choice of films by Master Kihachi Okamoto (1924 - 2005) was not mere chance. Okamoto is the symbol of a golden age of Japanese cinema built up almost anonymously by altruistic talent, without the concept of authorship later common to the first generation of filmmaker critics of the French Cahiers du Cinéma. His films were intended to be shown in Japanese colony cinemas in São Paulo, without attracting the attention of the critics. Following orders from his studio, Okamoto adapted to every kind of film. A revision of his work enhances our esteem for his films with evidence from his exemplary personality that left a touch of beauty, even in unfavorable conditions, in the whirl of interests of the film studios.
Just as in the life of the great studios, Okamoto’s history much resembles that of the Japanese immigrants to Brazil, especially to São Paulo - stories of altruistic pioneers that only time will uncover and that we can then admire. Kihachi Okamoto is a great filmmaker redeemed for later acknowledgment by generations of film lovers with films now raised to the category of masterpieces.
In this retrospective, we will have the rare opportunity to witness Okamoto’s extraordinary qualities as a filmmaker who was at ease moving through all of the genera of Japanese cinema. Bruce Eder, American critic and a great connoisseur of Japanese cinema says that “If Kurosawa is the John Ford of samurai films, Okamoto is the Samuel Fuller of this genera”. And Susan Sontag went as far as to classify Okamoto, Akira Kurosawa and Kon Ichikawa under the same “fundamentally epic concept of cinema”. These observations are in the Cahiers du Cinéma España of April 2008 in an article by Roberto Cueto, on the occasion of the retrospective presented by Cinemateca Espanhola.
Okamoto made classics both of his samurai and his gangster films, not only on the subject of the war that left its mark on him, but on the scene post-war, in a Japan rapidly adapting to conflictive modernity imposed by the victorious west. A great admirer of John Ford, he inserted his references to conflict in westerns in almost all of his films. In Desperate Outpost, for instance, of 1959, Okamoto transposed the elements of a western to the Manchurian front, right in the midst of World War II.
He was a student of Meiji University and production assistant at the Toho studios when he came face to face with the horrors of war as a recruit at the age of 19, assigned to naval battles in the South Pacific in 1943. Enthralled as he was by cinema, his passion for American films and French comedies broke off temporarily. “It was a miracle I survived the war, since statistics show that the greater incidence of casualties were among those who, like myself, were born in 1924”, he later stated in an interview with American professor and writer Peter B. High. Marked as he was by the horrors of war, he is among the post-war authors of Japanese cinema including Yasuzo Masamura, Masaki Kobayashi, Kenji Misumi, and Seijun Suzuki (the 23rd Mostra paid Suzuki tribute with a retrospective).
Once the war was over, Okamoto went back to the Toho studios in 1947, this time as assistant director to Senkichi Taniguchi, Masahiro Makino, Mikio Naruse, and Ishiro Honda. Almost ten years were to pass before the opportunity arose, in 1958, to direct his first feature All About Marriage. Just as in Ozu classics, a comedy of manners is a pretext to make of the film an excellent portrait of the times with all of the yearning and disquiet of his generation.
His prestige in the studio was established with films subsequently on the underworld, the film noir and musical genera, on human conflict, the war and, invariably, to a remarkable extent, on samurai sagas. Two actors especially - Tatsuya Nakadai and Toshiro Mifune - contributed to promote his prestige as a filmmaker. With humor unique, control over time, camera moves and other idiosyncrasies true to Japanese descendants, he now fascinates scores of admirers worldwide who in these, his attributes, can identify the unmistakable “Kihachi Touch”. Confident as to this same touch, he founded his own film company, Kihachi Productions in 1974. He died in 2005 at the age of 81 and left a total of 39 films - mostly yet to be known.
The Okamoto Retrospective is being presented in São Paulo in collaboration with Tokyo Filmex, Toho, The National Museum of Modern Art Tokyo, The Japan Foundation Film Library Tokyo, Fundação Japão de São Paulo, National Film Center Tokyo, Cinemateca Brasileira, and Minako Okamoto producers. Minako Okamoto is Kihachi Okamoto’s widow.