Actor Shigeo Kato poses with his new book, Shige-san: The Early Days of Hase, Kamakura. Photo by Brett Homenick.
Today, I paid a visit to Kamakura and met with actor Shigeo Kato, who (at the age of 92) is still going strong. Kato-san is a former Toho actor who began working for the studio in the early 1950s and appeared in movies as varied as Ikiru (1952) and Godzilla vs. the Thing (1964). We talked about Kato-san's new book, which is only available in a few bookstores in the Kamakura area. The book recalls Kato-san's memories of growing up in the city.
We also talked about the movies and cartoons Kato-san grew up watching, everything from Mickey Mouse and Popeye animated shorts to the comedy films of Charlie Chaplin. During our conversation, I was surprised to find out that Kato-san was friendly with Shochiku director Kazui Nihonmatsu, who directed The X from Outer Space (1967) and Genocide (a.k.a. War of the Insects, 1968).
Nihonmatsu was also from Kamakura, and in the years after World War II (around the time both began their respective film careers), they would go out drinking together in the evening. Apparently, Nihonmatsu was a handsome guy who resembled Nikkatsu heartthrob Yujiro Ishihara, making him rather popular with the ladies. Moreover, Nihonmatsu grew up in California in the years prior to World War II and returned to Japan sometime before the war began. He could apparently speak English like a native speaker. (This could explain why his two genre films had large roles for American actors.) His family also had an elite background.
Nihonmatsu had a long career at Shochiku as an assistant director, but his career as a director didn't last very long. I was quite surprised to find that Kato-san knew Nihonmatsu, especially since very little information about the director is available anywhere.
It was a great afternoon to spend with Kato-san, despite the sweltering heat. I certainly look forward to seeing him again soon!