On the top of the front page of this Asahi this morning was the article reporting the death of Morishige Hisaya, one of the most important performers of the postwar era. He died on November 10 of old age; he was 96. This was such big news, the newspapers put out an extra.
Morishige was born to a wealthy family in Osaka in 1913, and his characters often reflected a well-bred, witty, refined, but also a bit insouciant figure with a touch of pathos. He went to Waseda and did theater there, entering the great musical comedian Furukawa Roppa's troupe after graduating. But to avoid going to war, he applied for and got one of the most difficult jobs there is to get: an NHK announcer. From then on, Morishige was famous in part for his smart and mellifluous voice. He was sent by NHK to Manchuria, and it was his experiences there, especially escaping the country with his family after the war, that he said hardened him greatly and gave him a foundation for his later work.
Morishige only became famous as an actor in the early-1950s, and first as a great comedian, starring in many of the hilarious Toho comedy series such as the "Shacho" (Company President) and "Ekimae" (Station Front) series. There he played the spoiled but still lovable company president or official against such splendid actors as Frankie Sakai, Ban Junzaburo, Kobayashi Keiju, and Kato Daisuke. But Morishige's range was great, and in the mid-1950s began appearing in much more serious roles on film, such as the "Jirocho sangokushi" series (his Ishimatsu is rightly celebrated), Meoto zenzai, Neko to Shozo to futari no onna (based on a Tanizaki story), Snow Country, and some of the best Kawashima Yuzo films such as Aobeka monogatari and Gurama-to no yuwaku. Everyone knows him in Japan, but he is less famous abroad because he did not appear in the films of canonized directors, with the exception of a small role in Ozu's The End of Summer (as Isomura). He also starred on stage, often with his own troupe, repeating some roles hundreds of times (his most famous stage role was as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof); he was also a prominent face on television, where he appeared in famous dramas and variety/talk shows. With his great voice, he also recorded many songs and did many recitations in public and on radio.
With his voice, he also did a number of anime, including all the male voices in The Tale of the White Serpent, the first feature-length color animated film in Japan, and the voice of Otokko-nushi, the great boar in Princess Mononoke.
The multi-talented Morishige was simply one of the most famous and celebrated cultural figures in postwar Japan, and thus was awarded the Person of Cultural Merit in 1984 and the Order of Culture in 1991. He was an incredibly talented individual, and we all need to revisit his splendid work.