• The Associated Press


Movie director Yoshitaro Nomura, whose 1974 suspense thriller “Castle of Sand” (“Suna no Utsuwa”) has been ranked by critics as one of the country’s best films ever, died Friday at 85.

Nomura died of pneumonia at Tokyo’s Okubo Hospital, where he had been receiving treatment since March 22, his son, Yoshiki, said.

Nomura was one of Japan’s most prolific and celebrated postwar directors, making an astonishing 89 films — from samurai dramas to musicals to crime stories — over more than three decades.

Born in 1919, the son of director Hotei Nomura joined the Shochiku film studio when he was 22. Twelve years later, he made his directorial debut with “Hato” (“Pigeon”).

Nomura showed he could skillfully weave tales that were both social commentary and suspense thriller, and was a pioneer of Japanese film noir, collaborating with best-selling mystery writer Seicho Matsumoto. The duo made eight films, including “The Chase” in 1957, “Castle of Sand” in 1974 and “The Demon” in 1978.

Nomura also adapted American detective novels, turning Ellery Queen’s “Calamity Town” into “Three Undelivered Letters” in 1979 and Agatha Christie’s “The Hollow” into “Dangerous Women” in 1985.

Many Japanese critics consider “Castle of Sand” Nomura’s most compelling work. The thriller follows two detectives as they investigate the murder of a retired policeman and uncover a link to the jarring, hidden past of a young star composer. It received accolades from Kinema Junpo — one of Japan’s most prestigious movie contests — and picked up the special jury’s prize at the Moscow International Film Festival in 1975.

Even after directing his last movie in 1985, Nomura continued to work as a producer and mentored directors, including Yoji Yamada of “Twilight Samurai” (2002) fame.

“Mr. Nomura was a genius who could create perfect movies in every genre. His death marks an end to a major era in Japanese moviemaking,” Yamada was quoted as saying by Kyodo News.

In 1995, the government awarded him an Order of the Rising Sun, one of the nation’s top honors.

Nomura’s funeral is scheduled for Tuesday at Gokokuji Temple in Tokyo. He is survived by his son, Yoshiki, and daughter, Kaori.

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