Umetsugu Inoue interview
By Mark Schilling

Q) How did you get into films? Did you watch musicals when you were young?

A) I went to the Kyoto Municipal Number One Commercial High School, which is the
third oldest commercial high school in the country.

When I was a third year student, the third, fourth and fifth year class presidents and vice
presidents were called together and taken to a temple where they were holding a funeral
for a graduate (of the high school) who had died fighting in the Sino-Japanese War. I was
forced to sit on a wooden floor for a long time listening to sutras until my legs went
numb. I had no idea who we were there for -- then afterwards I heard that it was a famous
film director.

Several days after that screenings of this director's films were held at the Kyoto Asahi
Hall. That's when I finally learned his name -- he was the great Sadao Yamanaka.

My high school also produced Masahiro Makino, Tameyoshi Kubo, Seiichiro Uchikawa
and me -- five film directors altogether. Kyoto was a center of filmmaking so perhaps it
was only natural. Even so it's interesting that five film directors could come out a
commercial high school.

Anyway, when I learned that the funeral had been for a famous director, I wanted to see
his films.

At that time there was a Teachers Association in Kyoto. Its members were junior high
school teachers who would take turns patrolling the streets. They would go to the
entertainment districts and take the names of students who were going into the movie
theaters and coffee shops and report them to their schools. At that time, it was forbidden
for junior high school students to go to a movie theater alone.

I was the class president, so the Teachers Association caught me, there would be
hell to pay. But I managed to sneak into the Asahi Hall by the back entrance. The film
they were screening was Yamanaka's "Jinjo Kamifusen" (Humanity and Paper Balloons). I
was really impressed by that film-- it mad me realize how wonderful movies were. I
became an enthusiastic film fan and snuck into theaters in various ways, avoiding the
eyes of the Teachers Association. But I never thought in a million years I would enter the
film world myself.

Q) In 1946, when you were still a student at Keio University, you got a job with Shin
Toho. How did that come about?

A: My senior at Kyoto Number One Commercial, Seiichiro Uchikawa, got a job as a
assistant director at Toho. That was when Toho was having its labor troubles and some of
the actors and staff broke off to form the Shin Toho union.

Living in Tokyo, I needed a part-time job, so with Uchikawa's help I was hired as a third
assistant director for a film Tamizo Ishida was directing for the Shin Toho union. It
was "Midori wa I na Mono" (Alien Green) -- a period drama comedy. They didn't have
enough staff, so in addition to my work as an AD, I helped in other ways. I would stand
there with the script and the call sheet and the clacker. When the director yelled "start" I'd
hold out the clacker, then start the stop watch around my neck and make notes about the
dialogue. But I had no idea what I was doing -- I was always screwing up and getting

I thought they wouldn't ask me back, but instead Shin Toho hired me after I graduated --
that was in 1947.

Q: But to get promoted to director, you had to write scripts, didn't you?

A: That's right, you had to write scripts if you wanted to be promoted, so I studied
scriptwriting. I'd studied economics at the university, so I didn't know a lot about
literature. Most of the other ADs coming into the company at that time had. Fortunately,
I'd seen a lot of movies and so had a lot of ideas, but I didn't know how to structure them.
So I studied scriptwriting. How to plot, how to move the story from point A to B to C.

Toward the end of 1950 a gap opened up in the lineup for New Year's. They only had two
months to make a film and no script -- no plan, even. One of the producers proposed a
film based on a story by Masao Shiro -- "Wakasama Samurai Torimonocho" (The Casebook
of the Young Samurai Lord) -- but it was too short for a film. I had an idea to use just the
atmosphere of the story and write something original, with all the action taking place in
one house. So the producer asked me if I could write it up as a script and got me a room
in a ryokan (Japanese-style inn).

I dashed off an outline by about seven in the evening. I thought it would take me three for
four days to write the actual script, but after dinner I got so caught up in what I was
writing that I forgot to go to sleep. I finished the script by about nine o'clock the next
morning and took a nap. Then around eleven I went to the studio to wait for the producer.
When he finally came in I slapped the script down (on his desk). He couldn't believe that
I'd finished it in one day -- he thought I was lying. But there was this old woman --
Granny Hirata -- at the ryokan who told him "What are you talking about -- he was hard
at work. He was going scratch, scratch, scratch all night long -- I couldn't sleep." I'd
written it all right. But from a business point of view writing a script in one night isn't a
good idea. (laughs)

A critic called Eto wrote a column for the Mainichi newspaper about promising young
movie people. He said that this Shin Toho assistant director Inoue has something
interesting coming out for New Year's. That he's a promising newcomer. After that the
requests flooded in, even though I was just an AD.

It's wasn't because I was that great -- it was because I was quick and cheap. I would dash
off something in five days and get Y50,000 or Y100,000 for it.

That's how I could be promoted to director so quickly. Even so it took me four years to
make it to director. When I became a director the studio was divided -- all the assistant
directors under me were with me, all the directors above me were against me. Also, all
the old-timers on the staff were against me.

Q: How did you start writing musicals?

A: I liked music -- I could play the harmonica and the guitar and the ukulele pretty well.
A little bit of piano too, but mostly classics. I didn't know anything about jazz. But
when I became a director at Shin Toho, jazz was booming. After the end of the war
Chiemi Eri appeared. Then she went to America and along came Izumi Yukimura.

Around that time Shin Toho broke off from Toho and got a new president who had come
from Korakuen (a Tokyo amusement complex). This president called me in. "You're
young, Inoue, and you like music," he told me. "I want you to do something with Izumi
now that we have her under contact."

I didn't know anything about jazz , but I met Izumi and tried to learn as much as I could. I
met this couple Danny and Mary who had this jazz band. Mary was still going to a
women's college. Her father, mother and two sisters were also into jazz -- they were all
band managers. Also there were all these jazz coffee shops, mainly in the Ginza. I was
lucky -- with Mary's help I learned all I could about jazz. I went to the Ginza every day
with her. This was the time when live jazz was at its peak. The jazz coffee houses were
really something. Later I was able to meet Mary's mother and father at Tennessee (a jazz
coffee shop) -- they really taught me a lot. Her mother even asked me to stay at their
place. I ended sleeping in Mary's room

Q: How did you come to make "Tokyo Cinderella"?

A: "Tokyo Cinderella" had a lot of singing -- so much that the drama had to be cut quite a
bit, but that may have been what made it a success. It was the first real jazz movie made
in Japan. The composer of "Sukiyaki" (Ue o Mite Aruko) saw "Tokyo Cinderella" and told me
that it was unheard of to give (the lead role) to a skinny kid like Izumi. He thought I
should have used Ineko Arima or Mariko Okada. But Shin Toho was a small studio --
Toho had taken all of the best stars, like Setsuko Hara and Kazuo Hasegawa, and then cut
it loose.I had to do what I could with a sixteen-year-old star. There was no way I could
have gotten Mariko Okada (a popular ingenue) (laughs)

Q: "Shorisha" (The Winner) was your first film with Yujiro Ishihara, wasn't it?

A: It was released in May -- Golden Week (a cluster of holidays in last April and early
May). There was a ballet scene in  an American film -- "The Red Shoes" -- that went on for
fifteen minutes. I did something similar, but mine was about thirteen, fourteen minutes.
Reiko Kondo did a great job with that scene -- she really got into it. The scene was
supposed to be about thirteen minutes, but I ended up shooting three times longer.

That film did well at the box office, so the (producers) wanted to do another film with
Inoue and Ishihara for the summer Obon holiday (The Festival of the Dead in August) --
That was "Washi to Taka" (The Eagle and the Hawk). It was based on a script I'd written a
long time before about a detective on board a ship. There had never been a Japanese film
shot entirely on a boat like that one.

We took the boat out on Tokyo Bay and got hit by a typhoon.  The waves were coming
right over the deck as we were filming. I wanted to time the shooting so we'd film the big
waves just as they hit -- splash! But when we were ready to start filming none of the
actors -- Yujiro and all the rest -- came out. They'd all gotten seasick waiting. (laughs)

We finally had to dock and take rooms in an inn for the night. The waves were dangerous
but the boat wasn't built for them -- it had a flat bottom like this (demonstrates). That's
how they built them during the war. After we finished shooting on that boat they were
going to scrap it. (laughs) We shot on the boat a total of four days -- after that nothing but
sets. It was a hard film to make, but I really love it.

After that I filmed  "Arashi o Yobu Otoko" (The Guy Who Started a Storm) for New Year's.
Before that, though, I got married (to Yumeji Tsukioka (one of the stars of The Eagle and
the Hawk). That film was really a tough shoot for Yujiro -- he had to work like crazy
learning drumming so he could look convincing with the real drummers in the film --but
it turned out to be a huge hit. Managing director Emori sent me a telegram: (reads)
"'Arashi' is getting a great reaction. All the theater owners are surprised -- and trembling
with fear. (They think we're going to raise the rental fee on them.)"{laughs)

When "Arashi o Yobu Otoko" opened on the 29th (of December) I was finishing
my next film ("Yoru no Tsuno" or "Horn of the Night"). I heard that it was a hit, but I didn't
really have time to think about it. Then on the 30th it started to sink in -- this was a huge,
huge hit. The noon siren sounded and ten minutes later we wrapped "Yoru no Tsuno."
That's when I realized that Yujiro's era had begun.

Q: Did you think he was going to be big from the very beginning?

A: I didn't know that he was going to be that big. He wasn't a pretty boy like Shin
Uehara.. He was really smart -- he'd graduated from Keio University. Also he was very
modern. And he was a good looking kid, but just a cut or two above the average. He was
a new type -- a member of the intelligensia and a man of the people, all mixed together.

Q. How did you happen to make "Hong Kong Nocturne"? It's reminiscent of the "Sannin Musume" (Three Girls ) series with Hibari Misora, Chiemi Eri and Izumi Yukimura.

A: More than the "Sanin Musume" films it's a remake of  "Odoritai
Yoru" (The Night I Want to Dance, 1963), a film I did for Shochiku. The three girls in that picture were Yoshie Nieta, Chieko Baisho and Taeko Waniguchi. The story is exactly the same.

The first film I made for Run Run Shaw, the Hong Kong producer, was in a comic style.
He wanted me to sign a contact to do more. "You're really good," he said. "Come work
for us again."

The first film I did for him (Operation Lipstick) was a spy movie -- comic action --
something about the Hong Kong government. It was a story of political intrigue, about
separatists who wanted independence from England and China...(Run-Run) wanted me to
do something else right away, but in three months I had on my visa thought could only
shoot one film. I thought I might make the next one in Japan -- that's what I thought
anyway. (laughs)

Anyway, "Hong Kong Nocturne" had a lot of good actors in it. Run-Run was overjoyed
with it -- what . It became a big hit -- a million dollar movie. It really did well in Hong
Kong. We screened it for the British governor at a Christmas party. Then Run-Run Shaw
showed it to the king of Thailand. In Japan they were making period dramas with a
musical flavor. You couldn't make modern Western-style musicals then in Japan --
nobody was doing that kind of thing, including me. So (Run-Run) was surprised to see
me do it in (Hong Kong Nocturne).

So when I went back (to Japan), he told me "What do you think you're doing -- make
another one right away!" I asked him if he wanted me to write something., "I'll have
someone else write it -- so get over here."

At any rate, I could only make two films in three months -- that was the limit. If I'd had it
my way I would have spent a year or two (making that sort of film).

The next year when I went (to Hong Kong) and took a tour of the sets, I saw that the
actors I had worked with the year before were still there. So I said I'd make two films in
three months. This was great news for the (studio) management. At that time one of those
films cost 50 million yen to make. If you spend a year or two making a film, that 50
million is not working for you all that time. But I could make two films in three months
and then they'd get their money back right away. (laughs) They'd get ten times their
money back! So (Run-Run) wanted Inoue. "I'll have someone else write the script -- just
get over here! (laughs) So I went there every year for six years and made seventeen films.

When I did (Tokyo Nocturne). I wanted to use newcomers (in the main roles). (Run-Run)
thought that the foreign director would want to use veterans. "Why newcomers?" he
asked. I said that if young people see the film then young people are better (in the main
roles). When he said that (casting newcomers) was hit and miss, I said that if you want to
make a good movie, it's better to use young people. Then it became a big hit. After that,
when I couldn't come, he brought in all these other Japanese directors.

Q: What role in Raymond Shaw play in making your films?

A: Run-Run Shaw was the one who asked me to come to Hong Kong. He even met me at
the airport when I first came over for a look see with my manager. After that Raymond
handled all the negotiations. But Run-Run Shaw talked to me about films. He asked me to
see this film he wanted me to make -- the American film "How to Marry a Millionaire,"
about these three stewardesses. He said he wanted me to remake it. I said there's a
problem with the rights. He said "We don't worry about that in Hong Kong." I said "You
say you don't worry, but I'm in Japan, so there's no way I can just remake it as is. Then
he said "We want you to make it any way," so I said I would change the stewardesses into
dancers and have them go to Taiwan, Japan and Thailand. He said OK -- and the film
(The Millionaire Chase) became a big hit.

Q: How was it making films there? Were the shooting schedules about the same as in

A: The pace was faster than Japan. I had to shoot quickly because I only had three
months, so they would give me priority and work like crazy -- they had to getting rolling
and shoot something! In Japan I'd have to wait for this or that, but when I went to Hong
Kong, I was the first priority. I made the schedule to suit myself We (Japanese) handled
all the post-production -- all the editing and music. I had a wonderful editor with me.

I did that for six years. One year I filmed in Japan. In five of those six years I made ten
films (in Hong Kong) and seven in Japan -- seventeen altogether.

Q) Why did you stop going there?

A: Raymond quit and Mona Hong <?> took over. Mona Hong had been a singer -- she
had a husky voice and was quite good. Anyway she was tight with money, but she didn't
know she was tight. It was terrible. The last time I went there the hotel they had me stay
at was a shithole...I stopped going after that. (laughs)

Q: We're also planning to screen "Hana to Namida to Hono" (The Performers) with Hibari
Misora and Shinichi Mori. How did you become involved with that film?

A: When I said I was going to quit Nikkatsu, the news was in the morning papers. That
same day I got a call from Hibari's mother. "Please come to the Toei studio in Kyoto and
shoot my daughter's next picture," she said. I was really glad to hear that, but I had
several films lined up after I left (Nikkatsu). I was all booked up. Then ten years passed.
In that time Hibari got married and divorced. She performed at Koma Theater (in
Shinjuku, Tokyo) twice a year. A lot happened. Anyway, she was celebrating her 25th
years in show business. I got a call from her mother just as I was preparing to go to Hong
Kong. "Sensei! When can you come? It's been ten years already! My daughter is going to
be an old woman!" I said "Uh, I'm going to Hong Kong." "Go to Hong Kong later," she
said. "Your promise to us comes first." (laughs) Well. it couldn't be helped -- I made a
call (to Hong Kong) and asked if I could go in March instead of January. Then I made
Hibari's picture.

Q: By then she was this big diva. Did that present any problems?  

A: Yes, she was a big star, but the Toei movie fell through -- the one we were going to
make in Kyoto. The (film) we did after that was great, though. And the one after that. Just
around the time I met Hibari, her younger brother was involved in this pistol incident and
was found to be mixed up with the yakuza. She wanted to help him, so she put him in her
show. The mass media really made a stink about that. so she had to drop him. So I really
wanted to go all out for her.

Then I got a  letter from her mother saying she was so happy (Hibari) could meet me after
so many years. It was wonderful to see me working so diligently on the set. The mass
media has been saying all these bad things about us, but we appreciate your support.
We're so happy to be working with you after so many years."

I wrote a reply saying "I apologize for making you wait ten years, but I'm glad that we
could work together. Hibari is a wonderful performer."

"She gets up early and, more importantly, her performance is terrific. The mass media has
been bashing her, but I am proud to be associated with her and I support her one hundred
percent. I'm really rooting for her. You may think that millions of people are against her,
but millions are also for her. Please believe that everyone on my staff supports Hibari."

The day after I sent that reply I went to the set and, when I turned on the lights, I saw
Hibari and her mother in the shadows. They had been waiting for me in a dark set. They
hugged me, saying they were so happy to get that letter. They both kissed me! (laughs)
Then the president (of the studio) told me "Inoue Sensei! I heard you sent Hibari a love
letter. Hibari and her mother read that letter every night over drinks and just cry and cry."

Q: How was her performance (in that film)?

A: She'd gotten a lot better as an actor. She was originally a natural talent -- she had been
doing this since she was a child. But as she got older her acting became more powerful.
She'd fight with Shogo Shimada (a veteran character actor who played her father in the
film). "Sensei! That performance of his is crap!" (laughs)