I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Keiichiro Akagi -- Muteki ga Ore wo Yondeiru(霧笛が俺を呼んでいる)


I was having a conversation with commenter James Noah who like me spent many years in Japan, and he asked me if I'd covered Keiichiro Akagi(赤木圭一郎)in the blog. Sheepishly, I had to admit that I didn't even know who Akagi was since I was never a huge fan of the old movies in Japan ("The Seven Samurai" was pretty much it for me). James was then kind enough to tell me about this young intense actor of the late 1950s and early 1960s who was lined up with other popular stars of the time such as Yujiro Ishihara(石原裕次郎)and Akira Kobayashi(小林旭). According to Wikipedia, J-Wiki and James himself, he was seen as the Japanese equivalent of James Dean through his good looks, tough guy outfits and rough-and-tumble but decent-guy performances. However, in terms of his face, he resembled Tony Curtis which is why he earned the nickname of Tony. Another nickname was The Cool Guy, I guess, to distinguish him from Ishihara's Tough Guy and Kobayashi's Might Guy.

Unfortunately, another commonality between the Tokyo-born Akagi and Dean was the brevity of their lives. Dean was killed in an auto accident in 1955 at the age of 24 whereas Akagi died in 1961 when the go-cart that he was driving at Nikkatsu Studios lost control and collided into a steel door. He was only 21. But during that short film career between 1958 and 1961, he had already amassed 26 movies.

Actually, the above video is of Akagi with actress/singer Ruriko Asaoka(浅丘ルリ子)in the 1960 "Nukiuchi no Ryu"(抜き射ちの竜...The Dragon Lashes Out), the first of four movies in the "Kenju Burai-chō"(拳銃無頼帖...The Villainous/Independent Record of a Gun) series about a top-notch gunman. The first scene shown in the video indicates how the studios may have wanted to have those comparisons made between Akagi and some of those Hollywood young turks of the time. I swear that first scene must have been inspired by the pivotal one in the 1954 "On the Waterfront" with Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger.

The other movie that Akagi was known for is "Muteki ga Ore wo Yondeiru" (The Call of the Foghorn) from July 1960. A story of mystery, violence, betrayal and heartbreak, Akagi plays a ship's navigator who lands in Yokohama and ends up playing detective when he's told of the death of an old friend under strange circumstances. The film was the final one for Akagi before his untimely death.

Of course, being the star of the movie, Akagi was pretty much obliged to sing the theme song for the movie as would be the case for his contemporaries, Ishihara and Kobayashi. Given the same title, "Muteki ga Ore wo Yondeiru" was written by Kaoru Mizuki(水木かおる)and composed by Hideyuki Fujiwara(藤原秀行), and it became a big hit for the star. Following in the vocal footsteps of the above-mentioned stars, Akagi gives a laconic, devil-may-care but also melancholy performance as he hints at the plot of the movie via Mizuki's lyrics. Meanwhile, the music has that well-known feeling of the downbeat downtown life through the muted trumpet, mournful saxes and the cutting strings. I think hard-boiled would be an apt description of both movie and theme song.

As I have for Dean, I also now wonder what would have become of Akagi if he had survived the crash.


  1. An Ode to Tony:
    (Written by a junior high school student in Okinawa shortly after Akagi's passing in 1961).

  2. Hello James and thanks for the ode. Let me translate and admittedly it may not be the best version: "Tony, you were so young. I really wanted you to sing some more...really wanted you to sing so you could break through the darkness. Sing the loneliness in what you've left behind."

    1. Nice translation. Pretty good memorial from a 14-year-old, in my humble opinion.


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