Collection: Bunta Sugawara

Bunta Sugawara 菅原 文太

(August 16, 1933 – November 28, 2014) was a Japanese actor who appeared in almost 200 Japanese feature films. Sugawara was born in Sendai. His parents divorced when he was four, and he moved to Tokyo to live with his father and stepmother. As part of a wartime policy to evacuate children from major cities, he was moved back to Sendai during fourth grade. As an adult he entered Waseda University's law program, but was dropped in his second year for failing to pay and began work as a model in 1956.

His first acting role was in the 1956 Toho film Aishu no Machi ni Kiri ga Furu. Sugawara appeared in Teruo Ishii's 1958 White Line after being scouted by the Shintoho studio. At Shintoho he gained starring roles despite being a newcomer. However, when Shintoho filed for bankruptcy in 1961, Sugawara moved to the Shochiku studio where he was cast in Masahiro Shinoda's Shamisen and Motorcycle, but was fired from the role for coming to set late after a night drinking. He gave a notable performance in Keisuke Kinoshita's Legend of a Duel to the Death (1963), but it did not fare well at the box office. Disenchanted with the low pay, and what he felt were unsuitable roles, he left and went to Toei in 1967 after being recommended by Noboru Ando.

He had a part in Ishii's 1967 Abashiri Bangaichi: Fubuki no Toso, one of many films in the director's Abashiri Prison series. Sugawara's first starring role at Toei was in Gendai Yakuza: Yotamono no Okite in 1969. It launched a series, with the last installment, 1972's Street Mobster by Kinji Fukasaku, being the most successful. He achieved major success in 1973 at the age of 40, when he starred in Fukasaku's five-part yakuza epic Battles Without Honor and Humanity. Based on a real-life yakuza conflict in Hiroshima, the series was very successful, and popularized a new type of yakuza film called the Jitsuroku eiga, and the role of Shōzō Hirono still remains his most well known. Sugawara also starred in Fukasaku's Cops vs. Thugs in 1975. Also in 1975, he starred in the comedy Torakku Yarō: Go-Iken Muyō as a love-seeking truck driver, which launched a successful ten-installment series. Sugawara won the 1980 Japan Academy Prize for Best Supporting Actor for his role as a detective in Kazuhiko Hasegawa's 1979 satirical film Taiyō o Nusunda Otoko.

His son, Kaoru, died in a railroad crossing accident in October 2001. On February 23, 2012, Sugawara announced his retirement from acting. He came to the decision after the Great East Japan earthquake and being hospitalized in the winter of 2011, although he said he might consider future roles. Late in life, he took up farming in Yamanashi Prefecture. On December 1, 2014, it was announced that Sugawara had died from liver cancer in a Tokyo hospital on November 28, 2014.

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