February 2002

Joy of Friendship

I was scheduled to meet the actor Ichiro Zaitsu at a hotel sushi restaurant at 4:00 p.m. on January 5. In the drama "Oraga Haru," the story of the haiku poet Kobayashi Issa (1763 - 1827), which was aired on NHK's satellite hi-vision channel on January 1 and then again on its terrestrial channel on January 3, Zaitsu had performed brilliantly and very realistically as the father of Issa, who was played by Toshiyuki Nishida. Having been so deeply impressed by his acting just a couple of days earlier, I was very much looking forward to seeing him.

When I arrived at the appointed place at 3:50 p.m., Zaitsu was already there. "I got here a little early," he said with a smile. Sitting ourselves at the counter, we ordered drinks and a snack and first of all chatted about golf. Zaitsu reported with satisfaction that he had gone round the Taiheiyo Club Gotemba Course, the one that was made famous recently when Tiger Woods played a miracle chip at the eighteenth hole, with a score in the thirties. "This year I'll try and do even better!" he declared boldly.

How was it that this hale and hearty fellow could have played the role of an emaciated old man lying on his deathbed in "Oraga Haru" so wonderfully? The contrast with reality once again amazed me. We left the sushi restaurant at about 5:30, I think it was, and went to a bar on the second floor. After making a toast with Campari and soda, we got onto the topic of Zaitsu's acting in the drama. "Really, it would have been better to have shown the old man's ribs a bit more," he said. In one scene, the dying father says that he wants to eat some pear. Zaitsu's acting when he raised both arms asking for a pear and the way he spoke the words, "I want some pear," were simply magnificent. So realistic. He also told me about an exchange with the director. "In that scene," he said, "I wanted to raise my hands higher, but the director told me that it wasn't necessary." Moments like that mean everything to the actor. They mean, Zaitsu told me, showing the wonder of life at its very roots. I had indeed, I thought, seen a professional at his very best. Zaitsu had also been very impressed by my suggestion, on these pages, about the creation of a "cultural base for a happy family," and we talked about this topic, too.

"We've had plenty already," Zaitsu said toward the end of our meeting, "but for memory's sake, how about a Salty Dog for the road?" This had been the cocktail that Zaitsu had treated me to when I first met him, accidentally, 10 or so years ago. Since then we have enjoyed a long friendship, a friendship that had now entered the year 2002. "A Salty Dog for the road," I replied. "Yes, that would be good. But you know, the one for the road should really be a Blue Margarita. I bought you a Blue Margarita in return, remember?" "That's right," said Zaitsu. "Okay, let's have one for the road!" It was about 6:30 when we parted. Zaitsu was scheduled to take the first plane to Nagasaki on January 6 for a few days' filming.

I enjoyed a wonderful New Year's, full of memories. My meeting with Zaitsu, and a television interview with the sculptor Churyo Sato, who said that "art is necessary waste." Those words impressed me a lot. "My sculpture, for example," Sato said, "it might be wonderful for people who feel something about it, but for people who don't feel anything, it's quite unnecessary. So it's a waste, isn't it?" I felt a strong respect for Sato, who sees kindness toward others as his way of life.