On the 5th of June, Toshi Shioya passed away of an Aortic Dissociation. He was 56. Toshi Shioya was the actor who played Lt. Tanaka in ‘Blood Oath’.
I’d been put in touch with him through Brian A. Williams who produced and wrote ‘Blood Oath’. It must have been around 1998 because I was directing educational videos up in Queensland on a regular basis and I recall being on the phone to him around that time. I finally met him in Tokyo around 2000. He was a vibrant, driven, headstrong sort of man. I remember he spoke very quickly in a kind of hail fellow well met sort of vernacular in Japanese as he explained where he was up to with convincing Daiei studios and the Tokuma Group into putting money in to ‘Giants At Dawn’ a film with which I was involved.
At that point in time I wasn’t a co-writer or anything – I was more a kind of interpreting intermediary trying to make sense of Toshi’s missives out of Tokyo. His missives in Japanese were quite truncated fragments of things he’d said and done with names that had no context outside of Japan. The Film business in Japan back then was insular and atrophied. The great explosion of production that happened in the 2000s was still not quite on the drawing board. Yet, Toshi was definitely part of that wave and wanted to be a producer, a director, a studio executive, a drama school convenor and probably a few other things I hadn’t even thought of as being viable.
His enthusiasm had a weird edge to it – like a gauntlet being thrown at your feet – he talked as if he was daring you to join in with his scattergun quest to be this kind of multifaceted movie mogul. It was clear he hadn’t watched my show reel or read my CV or understood that I was in Tokyo to try and figure out just what he was doing. He was, to put it gently – more than a little self-obsessed; and in a way that I find a little awkward with actors. I don’t know if he took kindly to my verbal prodding to figure out just where he thought the project was going to go. He had the “hey kid, let me set you straight” tone, and gave me the kind of self-narrative that had my eyes spinning.
All the same, the good news was that Toshi was infused with a kind of man-on-a-mission sort of energy about ‘Giants at Dawn’. He felt it was some kind of providence and destiny that his birthday – 5th of August – was the same day as the Cowra Breakout. He was meant to be part of the production, and he kept saying he was very close to getting it up. You hear that a lot in the business. “we’re close”. What we get taught is that nothing is on until the money’s in the bank, ready to go. Still, there’s close and then there’s close.
As it turned out, Toshi was really close. He was so very close he could smell the success he thought was his due, waiting for him in the next room. He was talking to Mr. Tokuma, who controlled the Tokuma publishing empire in tandem with Daiei Studios, and had him just about to commit to ‘Giants at Dawn’. And then Mr. Tokuma died. And just like that the whole thing folded. Daiei Studios got absorbed into another entity. The project files got lost in the transition and never made it to their new offices.
About a year later, I wrote a draft for ‘Giants at Dawn’, on spec. I think we went around once more, this time trying to get an answer out of the Yomiuri group who own the Tokyo Yomirui Giants. And of course Tsuneo Watanabe turned it down and that was that for Toshi. After that Toshi drifted away from the project. He went on to produce ‘Ichigensan’ directed by Isao Morimoto and after that he started directing films.
I only got to see one of his directorial efforts. I wasn’t impressed, but then, I probably wasn’t in a forgiving kind of mood. The last time I conversed with him must have been around 2005 or so when that film came out. In 2006, the ‘Giants at Dawn’ project made one more tilt at getting investment from Japan. On that occasion Toshi was not involved.
You meet all kinds of people in the film business; you work with them intensely for a while, and then part ways. It’s a tremendously sad thing that the final reminders are when you hear that they have passed away. When I think back on the man, I can still picture his over-aged boy-ish looks and the staccato, machine-gun Japanese, while he talked about his plans with a wild look in his eyes. All it does is remind me how fragile and ephemeral, is each living moment – and time just keeps flowing along.