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BIG IN JAPAN
Koji Ishizaka


Koji Ishizaka
Matt Wilce

Koji Ishizaka is one of a handful of heavyweight veteran actors whose popularity has remained high for the past 30 years. Ishizaka was born on June 20, 1941 in Tokyo, and while he was a student at Keio University he made his debut in the 1965 NHK taiga (year-long) drama "Taikouki." His big screen debut came the following year-in the movie Wakai Musume ga Ippai - and although Ishizaka quickly became a popular actor, he really shot to fame in the ' playing the role of Kosuke Kindaichi in a series of five detective movies directed by Kon Ichikawa.

Based on the character created by novelist Seishi Yokomizu, Ishizaka's role was an affable turn of the century detective, who could be best compared to Peter Falk's Columbo. The first movie in the series was The Inugami Family, which was a number one smash hit in 1976 and until recent years remained the biggest grossing Japanese movie ever. Ishizaka followed it up with the inferior sequel Devil's Bouncing Ball Song (1977) also scripted by Ichikawa. The third movie Island of Horror (1977) was an improvement and featured a killer who left clues in the form of haiku, but the fourth installment Queen Bee (1978) was far removed from the original novel on which it is based. The last in the series made by Ichikawa, and the last to star Ishizaka, was Death on Hospital Hill (1979). Although the special effects are crude, the plot's often convoluted and the filming rushed, the first and last movies in the series are atmospheric thrillers where Ishizaka's talent really shines. The movie series continued with two of Ishizaka's contemporaries, Ken Takakura and Kenichi Hagiwara, playing the detective as well as many other actors who failed to capture the character in the same charming way as Ishizaka.

Ishizaka's versatility shows in his filmography: he has appeared in everything from the 1984 Godzilla remake (he played a power plant guard.) to Taketori Monogatari (1987), Fusa (1993) and the comedy Shinsengumi (1999).

Ishizaka can currently be seen co-hosting the TV antique show "Nademo Kantei Dan" (We'll Appraise Anything) which airs on Tuesdays and Sundays. Ishizaka is a keen antique collector himself and often jokes with his co-host Shimada Shinsuke about buying the guest's antiques after the show is over. He also appears as a regular contestant on the TV show "Sekai Ururun Taizaiki."

In 1999 he starred in the NHK taiga drama "Genroku Ryoran" (The Exquisite Blooming of the Genroku Period) playing Kira, the bad guy, even though backstage he is anything but that. Interviewers have commented on how relaxed and friendly Ishizaka is even when they're drilling him with questions while he's sitting in makeup.

The series is partly an adaptation of Seiichi Funahashi's novel "Shin-Chushin-Gura" about the story of the 47 ronin (master-less samurai). In addition to being one of the most popular historical Japanese tales, the 47 ronin story is also one of the most frequently filmed. A recent successful version, Chushin-Gura: 47 Assassins, was directed by Ichikawa in 1994. Interestingly, it also featured Ishizaka, so this taiga drama role came easily. Throughout his career he has maintained a close working relationship with Ichikawa, one of Japan's most respected directors. In addition to their collaboration on the Kindaichi series and Chushingura, Ishizaka appeared in the 1985 remake of The Harp of Burma and Tenkawa Densetsu Satsujin Jiken (The Noh Mask Murders) in 1991.

Ishizaka's work will definitely not disappoint fans of historical intrigue, and viewers will continue to look forward to watching his star quality shine on the little and big screens for years to come.

Matt Wilce

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