Photo/IllutrationA scene from “Satoshi no Seishun” ((c) 2016 “Satoshi no Seishun” Production Committee)

  • Photo/Illustraion

OSAKA--Satoshi Murayama, a shogi master who was just 29 when he died, is being feted in print and film 18 years after his passing.

Murayama was from western Japan and considered on a par with Yoshiharu Habu, now 45, who holds the most prestigious shogi rank of Meijin and is from eastern Japan.

A leading shogi magazine devoted its February issue to Murayama. Not only that, a film based on his life will be released this fall.

Even to this day, Murayama's passion for shogi, commonly referred to as Japanese chess, is widely shared by the generation that came after him.

Housed on the third floor of the Kansai Shogi Kaikan building in Osaka’s Fukushima Ward, the “kishi-shitsu” playing room is where professional and amateur shogi players get together and hone their skills.

Murayama, who became a professional player at age 17, spent so much time there that he was regarded as the unofficial owner of the room. With his shoulders hunched and lost in deep concentration, he was regularly seen staring at the shogi board.

When 9-dan-ranked professional player Toshiaki Kubo, 40, was in elementary school and a member of Shoreikai, a shogi training institution for amateurs, he was approached by Murayama. They formed a close relationship, with Murayama offering Kubo helpful tips about the game.

Murayama was six years older than Kubo and a much more skilled player, but never bossy. He often treated Kubo at an eatery that he used to frequent.

“There are many people who still talk about their memories of Murayama-sensei (Mr. Murayama),” Kubo said with a twinge of nostalgia. “He will remain in everyone’s heart forever.”

Referred to as “kaido” (remarkable prodigy), Murayama often exhibited his extraordinary ability as a game was approaching its climax. He entered a title match at age 23.

Murayama developed nephrotic syndrome as a child, and dedicated himself to shogi as he battled the disease.

He was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 1997 and underwent an operation. But he rejected anticancer drugs on grounds they would affect his play.

Murayama had a recurrence of the cancer the following year that killed him.

The Japan Shogi Association posthumously honored him with a 9-dan rank, the highest available.

In 2000, “Satoshi no Seishun” (Satoshi’s youth), a non-fiction book describing Murayama's life as a shogi player with support from his mentor, 7-dan-ranked Nobuo Mori, 64, became a best-seller.

“He was as genius like Habu, but he was not only a good player, but he was also selflessly compassionate,” author Yoshio Osaki, 58, said. “That’s why he continues to be loved.”

A biographical film based on the book, also titled “Satoshi no Seishun” and distributed by Kadokawa Corp., will open this fall.

Kenichi Matsuyama, 31, who plays the role of Murayama, had to put on weight to portray the champion in his prime.

“He is someone who made me want to be ‘earnest’ like he was,” Matsuyama said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.”

Director Yoshitaka Mori, 37, talking about Murayama’s charm, said, “He was a very multifaceted character because sometimes he could be naive and other times he could be very boorish.”

Prior to the release of the feature film adaptation, Shogi Sekai, a magazine specializing in the Japanese version of chess, featured Murayama in its February issue. With Habu and 9-dan-ranked Koji Tanigawa, 54, looking back on Murayama’s playing style in the article, the magazine's sales soared.

“Murayama’s way of life universally appeals to people’s emotions. If he were alive today, he would have achieved results just like many other players of his generation,” Habu said.

The two masters were about as good as each other, with Habu winning seven games against Murayama who defeated the Meijin six times.