Yakuza film veteran Bunta Sugawara dies at 81

Kyodo

Renowned actor Bunta Sugawara, who won fame portraying the grittiness and cruelty of small-time gangsters, died Friday at a Tokyo hospital from liver cancer, movie company Toei Co. said Monday. He was 81.

A native of Sendai, Sugawara starred in director Kinji Fukasaku’s eight-part “Battles Without Honor and Humanity” film series beginning in 1973. The films were acclaimed for their realism, differing from previous works in the genre that emphasized the chivalry of yakuza.

Sugawara also played a rough-hewn but sincere long-distance truck driver in the “Torakku Yaro” (“Truck Guys”) series of 10 films from 1975, and in 1979 played a detective in “Taiyo o Nusunda Otoko” (“The Man Who Stole the Sun”).

After making his film debut in 1958, Sugawara turned to yakuza films at Toei. The veteran actor also appeared on television in the NHK dramas “Shishi no Jidai” (“Era of Lions”) and “Tokugawa Ieyasu,” and voiced a six-armed spirit in the 2001 Studio Ghibli animated film “Spirited Away.”

Later in life, Sugawara turned to farming in Yamanashi Prefecture and headed a social justice group.