Sunday, January 18, 2015

Cinematographer Takao Saitô R.I.P.

Takao Saitô, the cameraman and cinematographer who worked with director Akira Kurosawa on such films as Seven Samurai, Ran, Yojimbo, Throne of Blood, and many others, died on 6 December 2014 at the age of 85. The cause was chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

Takao Saitô was born in Kyoto, Japan on 5 March 1929. He went to work for Toho Co., Ltd. in 1946. His very first work in film was as an assistant cameraman on Akira Kurosawa's One Wonderful Sunday (1946). In the Fifties he worked as an assistant cameraman on the films Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954),  I Live in Fear: Record of a Living Being (1955), Throne of Blood (1957), The Lower Depths (1957), The Hidden Fortress (1958), and The Bad Sleep Well (1960).

It was with Sanjuro in 1962 that Takao Saitô first worked as a cinematographer. In the Sixties he served as a cinematographer on such films as Nippon musekinin jidai (1962), Attack Squadron! (1963), High and Low (1963) , The Lost World of Sinbad (1963), Red Beard (1965), Nippon ichi no goma suri otoko (1965), The Killing Bottle (1967), Sasaki Kojiro (1967), Red Lion (1969), and Dodes'ka-den (1970). He worked as an assistant cameraman on Yojimbo (1961) and an aerial photographer on Kurenai no sora (1962) and My Daughter and I (1962).

In the Seventies Mr. Saitô served as cinematographer on Futari dake no asa (1971), Mitsuyaku: Gaimushô kimitsu rôei jiken (1978), Shag (1978), and Kagemusha (1980). In the Eighties he served as cinematographer on Lake of Illusions (1982), Ran (1985), Oracion (1988), and Dreams (1990). In the Nineties he served as cinematographer on Rhapsody in August (1991), Madadayo (1993), and Rainbow Bridge (1993). He served as a photography consultant on After the Rain (1999).

There can be no doubt that Takao Saitô was a master with a motion picture camera. Even when he was working as an assistant cameraman (the secondary "B" camera) many of his shots would wind up in Akira Kurosawa's final cuts. Indeed, according to legend, despite the fact that Kazuo Miyagawa was the chief cinematographer on the film, the majority of Yojimbo is composed of shots taken by Mr. Saitô. With fellow cinematographers Shôji Ueda and Asakazu Nakai he earned an Academy Award nomination for Ran. Not only did he deserve many more such nominations, there were many times he deserved to win the actual awards. Along with fellow Kurosawa collaborator Kazuo Miyagawa, Takao Saitô was one of the few cinematographers in the history of film whose every frame would make a good still photograph. While much of the greatness of Akira Kurosawa's films is largely due to Mr. Kurosawa's direction, there can be no doubt that much of  their greatness is due to the talents of such cinematographers as Takao Saitô as well.

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