Thesp starred in 'Vengeance,' 'Narayama'

Thesp Ken Ogata, 71, who appeared in pics by master helmer Shohei Imamura, died suddenly on Sunday of unknown causes. The family held a private funeral on Tuesday before his death became known to the press.

Born in Tokyo in 1937, Ogata joined the Shinkokugeki drama troupe in 1958 and appeared in the troupe’s signature period dramas. Perfs as the warlord Hideyoshi in a 1965 maxi-drama on pubcaster NHK and the lead in the popular period drama series “Hissatsu Shikakenin” gave him national exposure.

Ogata also began working in pics in a variety of roles, including the 1974 Kenji Misumi swashbuckler “The Last Samurai” and the 1974 Yoshitaro Nomura detective thriller “The Castle of Sand.” Internationally, he first got major exposure for his turn as the cold-blooded killer in Shohei Imamura’s 1979 “Vengeance Is Mine.”

He later appeared in the Imamura pics “Eijanaika” (1981), “Ballad of Narayama” (1983) and “Zegen” (1987) , as well as the helmer’s segment for the 2002 ominibus “11’9”01 — September 11″. In the period pic “Ballad of Narayama” his perf as the son who carries his aged mother to die of exposure on a nearby mountain, following an age-old local tradition, won him the Best Actor prize at the Japan Academy Awards, while the pic itself scooped the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Ogata was nommed a total of 11 times for the Japan Academy’s Best Actor award, winning three times.

Ogata also played the title role in Paul Schrader’s 1985 “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters” as the controversial scribe Yukio Mishima. The pic screened in competition at Cannes, but opposition from Mishima’s widow, among other factors, prevented its theatrical bow in Japan.

Ogata remained great in demand to the end in pics and on TV. His last perfs, in the Fuji drama series “Kaze no Garden” (Garden of the Wind), will begin airing on October 9.

Ogata also earned acclaim as a calligrapher, holding his first public exhibition in 1991. His two sons, Kanta and Naoto, have followed in his footsteps as thesps.

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