|BIG IN JAPAN
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'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.