Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chikara Hashimoto

Chikara Hashimoto (橋本 力), a.k.a. "Riki Hashimoto" was born October 20, 1933 in Hokkaido. Though known primarily in the West for his film career, acting was something he fell into due to his original claim to fame - baseball.

Hashimoto participated in baseball championship series in high school prior to his turning pro in 1953. He played outfielder, originally with the Kokutetsu Swallows (today's Tokyo Yakult Swallows) and from 1957 onward with the Mainichi Orions (later the Daimai Orions; forerunner of the Chiba Lotte Marines). In 1959, Hashimoto was assigned to a farm team due to injury. This proved to be the beginning of the end of his baseball days, but also led to fame and fortune perhaps far greater than he would have achieved on the diamond.

While on the farm team, Hashimoto landed a gig as an adviser and actor in a baseball movie for Daiei based on the work of famous writer Kosuke Gomi. This film, directed by Keigo Kimura and starring Kenji Sugawara, would be Chikara Hashimoto's acting debut. However, it also marked the end of his professional baseball playing days, as he broke his collarbone making a diving catch during filming. After completion of the shoot, assistant director Daijuro Nakamura suggested to Hashimoto that he should consider becoming a professional actor. This led to a discussion with Daiei president Masaichi Nagata, and an agreement was reached.

Chikara Hashimoto was based primarily out of Daiei's Kyoto studio. This is where he played what may be his most memorable role, the great stone god Daimajin in three separate films. Hashimoto was afforded an almost unique opportunity with Daimajin, as his eyes were visible and he was therefore allowed to emote with them - which he did beautifully. He was instructed to not blink on-camera, as Daimajin was a god and a god obviously wouldn't blink. It's a testament to Hashimoto's professionalism and discipline that he pulled this off, despite the considerable discomfort it caused.

Among his considerable body of credits, Hashimoto appeared in such fantasy films as GAMERA VS. VIRAS and YOKAI DAISENSO ("Spook Warfare"), the former being for Daiei's Tokyo studio. He also appeared in at least two Zatoichi movies - 1964's FIGHT, ZATOICHI, FIGHT and 1971's ZATOICHI MEETS THE ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN. These Zatoichi movies were possibly more pivotal than they might seem at first glance for Chikara Hashimoto, as he developed a strong friendship with star Shintaro Katsu. When Daiei declared bankruptcy in 1971, Hashimoto moved over to his friend's Katsu Productions.

Chikara Hashimoto is probably most recognizable to audiences outside of Japan (and maybe even in his native land!) for his role as "Suzuki" in Bruce Lee's 1972 Hong Kong classic FIST OF FURY (a.k.a. CHINESE CONNECTION). As you can see from the screenshot below, Hashimoto had lost none of the intensity that characterized his turn as Daimajin.

Chikara Hashimoto

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