Yujiro Ishihara (Born December 28, 1934 - July 17, 1987) was one of Japan's premier film and TV actors alongside Toshiro Mifune.
Ishihara got his start in 1956 when he starred in Nikkatsu's Season of The Sun, the Movie Of The Book for one of the novels written by his brother, Shintaro.note The movie with an instant hit, with thousands of young men imitating Ishihara's looks and demeanor, eventually evolving into what was known as the "Sun Tribe" counterculture movement. Yujiro would quickly become the Nikkatsu's top-billed star, starring in hit after hit, from rebellious youth dramas, neo-noir crime movies, Romantic Comedies, and gangster pictures, while working with legendary directors such as Toshio Matsuda and Koreyoshi Kurehara. In his time he was given nicknames such as "The King" and "The Boss", channeling his inner Elvis Presley (whom he met and struck a rapport with during his yearly Hawaiian vacations) and Frank Sinatra.
In 1962, Ishihara would marry his frequent costar Mie Kitahara, then his Distaff Counterpart with Nikkatsu's actresses. She would soon retire as an actress, and the two would remain together until Yujiro's death in 1987. As the decade wound down, Ishihara branched out, costarring with Toshiro Mifune, his rival for Japanese box-office supremacy, in several All-Star ensembles, namely in Kei Kumai's The Sands of Kurobe, Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai Banners and Machibuse, and Koreyoshi Kurehara's 5000 Kilometers to Glory.
The '70s brought a shockwave into Japanese cinema with the sudden boom in television, and the new craze began to cut into the Japanese film industry's usual patrons. Moving with the times, with Nikkatsu switching to Roman Porno features, and despite swearing that he'd never make the jump to the small screen, Ishihara landed a starring role in the iconic Cop Show Taiyo Ni Hoero as Superintendent Shunshuke "Boss" Todo. As with many of his contemporaries, the transition from movies to film was surprisingly easy and the show was an instant success, lasting 14 years and 718 episodes while serving as the Trope Codifier for every subsequent Japanese cop show.
1976 marked an even bigger milestone for The Boss when his own production company, Ishihara Promotions, released his first independent TV series, Daitokai (The Big City), a cop show that was equally groundbreaking as Taiyo (being equal parts human drama and Cop Show). While it only lasted for three years and 131 episodes, it would become legendary for its over-the-top action scenes and later paved the way for the much more famous Seibu Keisatsu in 1979 which solidified Ishihara's legend for a new generation of fans.
Sadly, the good times for Ishihara wouldn't last forever. A series of small scandals rocked his personal life for a while, before he was hospitalized in 1978 due to liver cancer (no doubt accumulated from his chronic smoking and drinking habits) and again in 1981 because of an aortic aneursym. However he beat both thanks to surgery, and returned to work soon afterwards. However, his smoking, drinking, Life of the Party lifestyle, and Big Eater habits finally caught up with him and he died on July 17, 1987, of liver cancer at the age of 52.
However, today, his legend and legacy are far from forgotten in Japan. His films and three shows are fondly remembered and are constantly rerun on Japanese TV, Ishihara Promotions is still up and running while keeping his memory alive, a museum in his Hokkaido hometown was opened in July 1991, and as the ultimate mark of dedication by his legions of fans, the 1999 memorial commemoration of his death brought 170,000 of them to his grave in Tokyo.
His films and works include:
- Season of The Sun
- No Hate But Love
- Rusty Knife
- I Am Waiting
- Red Pier
- Red Handkerchief
- Alone Across The Pacific
- The Cleanup, a 1969 All-star gangster picture.
- Machibuse, starring himself, Toshiro Mifune, and Zatoichi star Shintaro Katsu.
- The Sands of Kurobe, based on a best-selling novel and the Real Life story of the building of the Kurobe Dam.
- Samurai Banners, a samurai Epic Movie based on the 4th Battle of Kawanakajima.
- 5000 Kilometers to Glory, based on the winning team of the 1969 Japan Prix.
- Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines
- Taiyo Ni Hoero
- Seibu Keisatsu
Tropes attributed to him include:
- The Ace: Basketball player, actor, singer, songwriter, producer.
- Blood Brothers:
- Was this with Tetsuya Watari, whom he shared a birthday with.
- Was also this with Zatoichi star Shintaro Katsu, yakuza film legend Ken Takakura, and Japanese baseball legend Shigeo Nagashima.
- Big Eater: As he aged, he put on a lot of weight.
- Cool Car: He drove around in a gorgeous Mercedes-Benz 300SL and Nissan Gazelle.
- Life of the Party: His trademark.
- Nice Guy: His characters, and himself to a degree, as his motto was "Do onto others what you would do to yourself."
- Mr. Fanservice: In his younger years.
- Image Song: Brandy Glass, his bestselling single.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: His roles in youth dramas.
- Red Baron:
- "The King", and "The Boss".
- "Yu-chan", to Ken Takakura.
- Smoking Is Cool: Again, a trademark of his and a factor in his passing.
- Surprisingly Good English: His covers of "Autumn Leaves", "I Left My Heart in San Fransisco", and "As Time Goes By".
- Tall, Dark, and Handsome: In his Nikkatsu years.
- The Big Guy: Especially in his later years.
- The Cameo: In My Youth In Arcadia's prologue as Phantom F. Harlock I.
- The Rival: Was this, to a degree, with Toshiro Mifune.
- Trademark Favorite Food:
- Kaiseki dishes, curry rice, beef steak, and potato croquettes, all washed down with brandy.
- Subverted with chicken, which he hated.
- True Companions: His "Ishihara Corps", with Tetsuya Watari and Hiroshi Tachi.