For 50 Years, This Japanese Actor Has Specialized in One Role: Getting Killed in Samurai Movies

(Photo: Toei Kyoto Studio Park)

Seizo Fukumoto, 71, has been acting since the age of 15. For the past 50 years, he's developed a specialty: he's the guy who gets killed. It's not a large role, but in Japanese historical movies, there's always a need for an actor who can be killed convincingly. That's what Fukumoto does, and he's known for being an expert at it. Jun Hongo writes for the Wall Street Journal:

One of his signature moves is the "ebi-zori," or prawn bend, in which after being struck, he arches his body backward like a prawn, then goes into convulsions, twitching and grasping before dying.

"The way my characters die has a huge impact on the impression the lead character gives in a film," Mr. Fukumoto wrote in a 2012 essay. Ebi-zori is the perfect way to go, in his opinion, because the camera can remain focused on the hero's gallantry while the kirareyaku actor also gains screen time by turning his face toward the audience as he falls dead.

Now Fukumoto is getting the chance to have the lead role in a movie. Appropriately, it's about an aging actor who has spent his career getting killed. Rocket News 24 describes it:

Now Fukumoto is finally taking center stage in his most recent film, Uzumasa Limelight, which takes its name from the Charlie Chaplin 1952 classic Limelight and also seems to follow its plot to some extent. Fukumoto plays Seichi Kamiyama, an aging actor working in Toei Uzumasa Studios, Kyoto. Much like the real-life Fukumoto, for most of his career Kamiyama has been typecast as a guy who takes a sword to the midsection and falls in agony.

As the film progresses, Kamiyama takes Satsuki, a young actress, under his wing because she reminds him of great starlets in his past. He teaches her the art of sword fighting which gives her an edge over her competition and sets her on the path to stardom. However, by the time Satsuki achieves her own starring role in a television series, Kamiyama has retired. She decides to pull him back in front of the camera once again, only this time as her co-star, giving him the limelight he deserves.

(Video Link)

Here's the Japanese language trailer for that film.

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