19 August 2010

Ten Things I Know About Takao Saito (斎藤孝雄)

Along with Teruyo Nogami, cinematographer Takao Saitō (斎藤孝雄, b. 1920) is one of the few surviving members of Akira Kurosawa’s core group of regular collaborators. 

1.  Toho Studios
A native of Kyoto, Saito entered Toho Studios as a camera assistant in 1946. His first film at the studios was Kurosawa’s One Wonderful Sunday.

2.  Not a Manga-ka
 Golgo 13, Vol. 4
He is sometimes confused with the manga-ka Takao Saitō (斎藤隆夫 aka さいとう・たかを, b. 1936) – same name when Romanized, different spelling in Japanese. The manga-ka does have a cinema connection however, as films like King Kong (Merian C. Cooper/ Ernest B. Shoedeck, 1933) and The War of the Worlds (Byron Haskin, 1953) were highly influential on his artistic development.

3.  Asakazu Nakai

Saito began as an assistant to Asakazu Nakai (1901-1988), a cinematographer who worked on more Kurosawa films than any other. They worked together for over 40 years beginning with No Regrets for Our Youth (1946).

4.  Camera B in Kurosawa’s 3 Camera Set-Up

Starting with Seven Samurai, Kurosawa used multiple cameras and more than one cinematographer. Saito was always assigned camera B, and given free rein to film as he pleased. “Whenever Kurosawa looked at the dailies”, recalls Teruyo Nogami in Waiting on the Weather, “he would murmur, ‘Interesting,’ and linger with pleasure over what the B camera had turned out. Today, Saito is the last cameraman to enjoy Kurosawa’s full confidence.” (Nogami, p.111)

5.  Teruyo Nogami
Waiting on the Weather: Making Movies with Akira Kurosawa 
Nogami has described Saito’s role on set as being “wifely. . . crucial, yet inconspicuous. He was proficient at both panning shots and dolly shots, using a telephoto lens of 500 or 800mm so that the picture had speed and the rough, protruding quality that Kurosawa liked.” (Nogami, p. 111)

6.  Toshiro Mifune

Saito was the cinematographer on the only film ever directed by Toshiro Mifune: The Legacy of the 500,000 (Gojuman-nin no isan, 1963).

7.  Chris Marker

During this close-up of Saito’s face in AK, Chris Marker reflects: “those were the eyes which saw Mifune being riddled with arrows in Throne of Blood, or stabbing youthful Nakadai in Sanjuro.”

8.  Alex Cox

Speaking in  Alex Cox’s documentary about Kurosawa’s later years, Saito said that “when he wrote a script, he already had a picture of every scene in his mind. So when he showed me the actual storyboards, they were all very practical showing exactly what to do. He was very easy for a cameraman to work with.” (Kurosawa: The Last Emperor, 1999)

9.  Albert Pyun

Saito acted as a mentor to the Hawaiian-American cult film director Albert Pyun. Toshiro Mifune had seen one of Pyun’s films at a festival and invited him to come to Japan to do an internship. Pyun cites his time working as an assistant under Saito as a transformative moment in his career (see Planet Origo).

10.  Awards

Saito was nominated for an Oscar for Kurosawa’s Ran (1985). Together with his co-cinematographer Shōji Ueda, he won Japanese Academy Awards for Best Cinematography for Madadayo (Kurosawa, 1993) and Rhapsody in August (1993). 

Takao Saito Filmography 

With Kurosawa on the set of Ran (1985)

As a camera assistant:

1947 One Wonderful Sunday (Akira Kurosawa)
1952 Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa)
1954 Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa)
1955 I Live in Fear (Akira Kurosawa)
1957 The Lower Depths (Akira Kurosawa)
1958 The Hidden Fortress (Akira Kurosawa)
1961 Yojimbo (Akira Kurosawa)
1962 Kurenai no sora (aerial photography) (Senkichi Taniguchi)
1962 My Daughter and I (aerial photography) (Hiromichi Horikawa)
1999 After the Rain (photography consultant) (Takashi Koizumi)

Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa (The Criterion Collection) (Sanshiro Sugata / The Most Beautiful / Sanshiro Sugata, Part Two / The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail)

Eclipse Series 7 - Post-War Kurosawa Box - Eclipse from Criterion (No Regrets for Our Youth, One Wonderful Sunday, Scandal, The Idiot, I Live in Fear) (1980) (Criterion Collection) 
As a cinematographer:

1962 Sanjuro (Akira Kurosawa)
1962 Nippon musekinin jidai (Kengo Furusawa)
1963 Attack Squadron (Shue Matsubayashi)
1963 High and Low (Akira Kurosawa)
1963 The Legacy of the 500,000 (Toshiro Mifune)
1963 The Lost World of Sinbad (Senkichi Taniguchi)
1965 Red Beard (Akira Kurosawa)
1965 Nippon ichi no goma suri otoko (Kengo Furusawa)
1965 Tameki no taisho (Kajiro Yamamoto)
1966 Doto ichiman kairi (Jun Fukuda)
1967 The Killing Bottle (Senkichi Taniguchi)
1967 Kojiro (Hiroshi Inagaki)
1967 Go! Go! Wakadaisho (Katsumi Iwauchi)
1968 Rio no wakadaisho (Katsumi Iwauchi)
1968 Aniki no koibito (Shiro Moritani)
1969 Bullet Wound (Shioro Moritani)
1969 Akage (Akira Kurosawa)
1970 Dodes’ka-den (Akira Kurosawa)
1971 Futari dake no asa (Takeshi ‘Ken’ Matsumori)
1978 Mitsuyaku: Gaimusho kimitsu roei jiken (Koji Chino)
1978 Shag (Sadao Nakajima)
1980 Kagemusha (Akira Kurosawa)
1982 Lake of Illusions (Shinobu Hashimoto)
1985 Ran (Akira Kurosawa)
1988 Oracion (Shigemichi Sugita)
1990 Dreams (Akira Kurosawa)
1991 Rhapsody in August (Akira Kurosawa)
1993 Madadayo (Akira Kurosawa)
1993 Rainbow Bridge (Zenzo Matsuyama)

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© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010