TOKYO — Thesp Ryo Ikebe, whose career started in 1941 and spanned the Golden Age of Japanese films, died in Tokyo on Friday at age 92. The cause of death was sepsis.
Born in 1918 in Tokyo to painter and comic artist Hitoshi Ikebe, Ikebe joined the Toho studio in 1941 with the aim of becoming a helmer. His soft-featured, city-bred good looks drew the attention of Toho helmer Yasujiro Shimazu, who cast Ikebe in the 1941 pic “Fighting Fish” (Togyo).
After serving in the military for four years, Ikebe emerged as one of postwar Japan’s brightest new stars, appearing in such hits as Tadashi Imai’s youth drama “Blue Mountains” (Aoi Sanmyaku, 1949) and the Akira Kurosawa-scripted WW2 drama “Desertion at Dawn” (Akatsuki no Dasso, 1950).
In the 1950s, Ikebe moved from young leading man roles to a wider range of parts, such as the elite bureaucrat who falls into self-destructive dissipation in Minoru Shibuya’s “Modern Man” (Gendaijin, 1952) and the cheating businessman in a troubled marriage in Yasujiro Ozu’s “Early Spring” (Soshun, 1956).
In the 1960s, with the decline of the studio system and the influx of new genres and styles, Ikebe changed direction again, starring as an ex-con who takes up with a fast-living younger women in Masahiro Shinoda’s seminal gangster pic “Pale Flower” (Kawaita Hana, 1964), as well as co-starring with yakuza pic icon Ken Takakura in the hit nine-part “Remnants of Chivalry in the Showa Era” (Showa Zankyoden) series (1965-1972).
Ikebe also appeared in “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters,” Paul Schrader’s 1985 biopic about writer/actor Yukio Mishima, though abroad he is perhaps better known for his turns in Toho’s signature sci-fi pics, such as Ishiro Honda’s “Battle in Outer Space” (Uchu Daisenso, 1959) and Gorath (Yosei Gorath 1962), as well as Jun Fukuda’s “Battle in Outer Space 2” (Wakusei Daisenso, 1977).
Ikebe starred in many TV dramas and stage plays, while carving out a second career as a best-selling, critically acclaimed essayist and memoirist. His 1991 autobio “A Light Breeze and Sometimes a Whirlwind” (Soyokaze toki niwa Tsumujikaze) won a Japan Literary Award Special Award.
His last appearance as an actor was in the NHK drama series “Love on a Summer’s Day” (Natsu no Hi no Koi) in 2002, although he kept writing essays for a Tokyo magazine until the October 2009 issue.