Prolific director a major impact on pop cinema

Umetsugu Inoue, a director who had a big impact on Japanese and Hong Kong pop cinema starting in the 1950s, died Thursday of a cerebral hemorrhage in Tokyo. He was 86.

Inoue directed 116 features and nearly 300 TV dramas in a career that spanned five decades.

Born in Kyoto in 1923, Inoue entered the Shintoho studio in 1947. He helmed his first pic, “Head Cheerleader of Love” (Koi no oendancho) in 1952, but made his name with jazzy, American-style musicals starring singer Izumi Yukimura.

In 1955 Inoue moved to the Nikkatsu studio, which had just restarted production after a long wartime and postwar hiatus.

His 1957 blockbuster “The Guy Who Started a Storm” (Arashi o yobu otoko) put the studio firmly in the black and launched Yujiro Ishihara, playing a wild, two-fisted jazz drummer, to superstardom.

Inoue’s mix of music, action and hot young talent became a template for a new genre, called Nikkatsu Action, that would keep Nikkatsu atop the B.O. charts for nearly a decade.

In 1960 Inoue left Nikkatsu to go freelance. Starting in 1967, he spent three months every year in Hong Kong, making musicals and other pics for the Shaw Brothers, including “Hong Kong Nocturne” (Xiang jiang yue ye, 1967) and “Hong Kong Rhapsody” (Hua yue liang xiao, 1968). During his six years with the Shaws he made 17 pics, most of which were money spinners.

In 1977, Inoue began directing for TV, while making the occasional feature, the last being “Code Name Black Cat” (1987). One of his assistant directors was Takashi Miike, who recounted his experiences with Inoue in his 2003 biopic “Director Poison” (Kantoku chudoku)

Inoue is survived by wife Yumeji Tsukioka, formerly a star in his pics, and a daughter.

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