Tetsuya Watari, the Japanese actor who worked with international cult favorites Seijun Suzuki and Kinji Fukasaku on some of their best-known films, died on Aug.10 of pneumonia at age 78. His death was announced Friday following a private family funeral.
Joining the Nikkatsu studio in 1964 after graduating from Aoyama Gakuin University, Watari soon became a mainstay of its action line-up, starring in Suzuki’s 1966 “Tokyo Drifter” and Toshio Masuda’s 1968 “Outlaw: Gangster VIP,” which became a six-part series. Both films have been widely screened abroad, and since rereleased for home entertainment.
After Nikkatsu turned over production to softcore porn in 1971, Watari left the studio and joined Ishihara Promotion, the talent agency started by Nikkatsu mentor and megastar Yujiro Ishihara in 1963.
In 1975 Watari starred in Fukasaku’s action biopic “Yakuza Graveyard,” playing a self-destructive gangster who was based on a real-life model. But he was prevented by illness from appearing in Fukasaku’s signature gangster series, “Battles Without Honor and Humanity” (1973-74).
Watari also starred in top-rated TV cop shows “Seibu Keisatsu” (Western Police, 1979-84) and “Taiyo ni Hoero” (Roar at the Sun, 1986).
In 1987, following Ishihara’s death, Watari took over as president of Ishihara Production and served in that capacity until 2011.
Plagued by illness throughout his career, including rectal cancer in 1991 and a heart attack in 2015, Watari nonetheless built a long and impressive list of film and TV credits, starting as a fearless, hot-eyed young gangster with Nikkatsu and maturing into the formidable graying kidnapper of the 2004 Hideyuki Hirayama thriller “Lady Joker.”
Watari had a younger brother, Tsunehiko Watase, who also found success as an actor, including appearances in the “Battles Without Honor and Humanity” series. He died at age 72 in 2017.