Born into a family of actors, Wakayama already in his childhood followed his father’s footsteps, becoming involved in the kabuki theater. His younger brother Toshio Okumura also developed a profound interest in the profession, and became an actor. In adulthood, he would find fame and notoriety in the Japanese movie industry under the name Shintaro Katsu, becoming also one of the greatest actors of his generation.
Eventually, though, Wakayama became more interested in martial arts. He started to study and practice judo, and acting became secondary. In the beginning of the fifties, though, he accepted an invitation to tour the United States with a theater company, for a series of spectacles that lasted nine months.
With a consistent and perfectionist style, that contributed substantially for the development of the action movie genre as period pieces quintessential for the consolidation of Japanese cinema as a major exponent of sublime art, it’s no exaggeration at all to affirm that – in the second half of the twentieth century –, samurai and ninja warriors portrayed onscreen were largely a definitive feature of Tomisaburo Wakayama.
With a mordacious seriousness and a spectacular degree of realism that definitely surpassed the highest expectations, his legacy and proficient dramatic abilities had made him one of the greatest actors of his generation, and one of the most recognizable faces of Japanese action period movies. With a fantastic degree of density – and a passionate sensibility that allowed him to fully surrender to his characters –, Tomisaburo Wakayama has proved in hundreds of movies, though only a handful of these were necessary, why he deserves to be qualified as one of the greatest actors that ever lived.