OBITUARIES: Eiji Okada

Although he worked with some of the foremost Japanese directors, Eiji Okada will be best remembered in the West for Alain Resnais' first feature, Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959), swept abroad by the then burgeoning nouvelle vague.

Marguerite Duras wrote the screenplay (after Francoise Sagan turned down the chance to do so) and said that she and Resnais had "agreed that we could not imagine a film about Japan which did not deal with Hiroshima": so they conceived a tale about a Japanese architect, played by Okada, and a French actress, Emmanuele Riva, who remember the past while conducting an adulterous affair in that city. His parents were killed there, but he was away. "Une chance, quoi," she says. "Oui," he replies. "Une chance, pour moi aussi," she replies, a banality overlooked at the time.

Memories of the Second World War also featured in The Ugly American (1963), since a friendship begun then is one reason why Marlon Brando is appointed ambassador to this particular, unnamed South-East Asian country; the friend, Okada, is now a powerful nationalist leader and a putative Communist puppet. In both films Okada gave performances of memorable integrity and gentle strength.

Coincidentally, there was a French angle to Okada's first film, Till We Meet Again (1950), since it was "inspired" by Pierre et Luce, by Romain Rolland, which Okada had recommended to Tadashi Imai. During the last days of the war a boy, played by Okada, about to leave for the front, falls in love with a girl (Yoshiko Kuga) working in a munitions factory. Okada worked again for Imai in Monument of Star Lilies (1953), a study of the 1945 bombardment of Okinawa in which he plays a soldier, and A Story of Pure Love (1957), a drama about teenage delinquents in which he was a police inspector.

None of these three films shows Imai at his best, which is when his compassion for the poor and underprivileged is perfectly countered by his indignation. His predecessor in this respect - though he was more resigned than angry - was Mikio Nacuse, who directed Okada's most effective film, Mother (1952), about a family just coping. This is a common subject in Japanese cinema, and Nacuse is its master. Okada played the elder daughter's fond admirer.

Following his two "Western" films Okada did two native efforts widely seen abroad: Susumu Hani's She and He (1963), a marital drama in which Sachiko Hidari is attracted to a ragpicker when her businessman husband, Okada, neglects her; and Hiroshi Teshigahara's Woman of the Dunes (1964), a gallows comedy in which Okada is an entomologist kept prisoner by a crazy woman, Kyoko Kishida, who lives in the sand. He continued to act, but the only film of his seen widely in the West was The Yakuza (1975), directed by Sidney Pollack, with Robert Mitchum - who is sent to Tokyo to rescue a girl kidnapped by a gang headed by Okada.

David Shipman

Eiji Okada, actor: born 13 June 1920; died 14 September 1995.

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