Kiyoshi Kobayashi (1933-2022)

Kiyoshi Kobayashi, who died of pneumonia [in July], hated the term “voice actor.” He found it to be belittling and reductive, and insisted on describing himself on documentation and contracts as a plain actor. Despite this, a huge amount of his work was narration or dubbing, and he actively shunned the limelight, claiming that it was detrimental to his performances if people formed an image in their minds of the man who played them.

He started off in theatre, drifting into radio and television in the 1950s after he was approached to perform in an adaptation of The Caine Mutiny. A key player in the Izumiza theatre company, he devoted himself to television when the company folded in 1971.

His early roles included parts in Star of the Giants and Yokai Ningen Bem in the 1960s, but his true heyday was in the 1970s, when he began playing the sharpshooter Daisuke Jigen in the Lupin III series.

“I didn’t think it would become such a popular work,” he once said of Lupin III. “I thought at the start it would be just another job. But I was soon saying, I want to do this as much as possible.”

In fact, he would keep doing it for the rest of his life, remaining in the role of Daisuke Jigen throughout the TV series, films and TV specials. In 2011, when the decision was made to retire the original cast in favour of new blood, Kobayashi expected to be given his marching orders, but was kept on, being told that they couldn’t find anyone to replace him. He did not actually retire as Jigen until 2021, after over fifty years of service.

Jigen, of course, was not his only role. He appeared in many other anime, including stand-out performances in Space Adventure Cobra (Crystal Bowie), Death Note (Watari), and the Japanese dub of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Splinter). But his true metier was live-action dubbing, in which he became the go-to guy for voicing Japanese versions of Lee Marvin and James Coburn and even, after the death of his Lupin co-star Yasuo Yamada, Clint Eastwood. If producers needed someone whose voice could send a shiver down the audience’s spine, be it Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon, or Edward Teague (Keith Richards) in Pirates of the Caribbean, they made sure to make Kobayashi their first call.

When asked what his secret was with Jigen, he once confessed that it was the only role he ever played where he had never bothered to “act” at all. In everyday life, he said, “If I speak, it’s Jigen.”

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #223, 2022.

Takao Saito (1936-2021)

“Saito would ultimately produce manga versions of Live and Let Die, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Thunderball and The Man with the Golden Gun. His work on Bond would inform and inspire his most famous creation, a globe-trotting, ruthless assassin named in part for his high-school teacher: Duke Togo, codenamed Golgo 13.”

Over at All the Anime, I write up the life of Takao Saito.

Asei Kobayashi (1932-2021)

“The following year, he would win an award for his music for ‘From a Northern Inn’, a weepy tune about a girl knitting a sweater for a boy who will never wear it. The song twice entered the charts and also a later anime – in Isao Takahata’s film Chie the Brat (1981), the leading lady belts it out at her father, in a passive-aggressive way of accusing him of paternal neglect.”

Over at All the Anime, I write an obituary for Asei Kobayashi, an unlikely TV star, quiz-show champion and composer, most notably for Science Ninja Team Gatchaman and Turn-A Gundam.

Jay Benedict (1951-2020)

Over at the All the Anime blog, I remember the actor Jay Benedict.

He had played Deak, one of the local slackers at Tosche Station on Tattooine, in a scene deleted from Star Wars: A New Hope, describing his performance as one of “playing space pinball” while Biggs (Garrick Hagon) told Luke Skywalker he was joining the rebel alliance, and Koo Stark “sat around looking beautiful.” When we worked together with Hagon on one anime dub, Benedict ribbed him about how Hagon’s character had made it to the final cut, only to get blown up above the Death Star.

Sankichiro Kusube (1938-2020)

Over at the All the Anime blog, I write the obituary for Sankichiro Kusube, a leading producer at A-Pro, and then its successor studio Shin Ei.

“Kusube not only dragged Doraemon back onto the air, but pushed for its leap into cinemas as well, personally guaranteeing the creator and the TV channel that he would take personal responsibility if Doraemon: Nobita’s Dinosaur (1980) proved to be a failure. It’s for this reason, his willingness to be the fall guy, that Kusube’s name made a rare appearance on the production credits for the film, which would go on to be the highest grossing domestic animation film of the year at the Japanese box office.”

Mariko Miyagi (1927-2020)

Over at the All the Anime blog, I write an obituary for Mariko Miyagi, the actress who supplised the voice of “anime’s first pin-up.”

“It was like being in love,” wrote one fan, Hayao Miyazaki, decades later, “and Bai-Niang became a surrogate girlfriend for me at a time when I had none… I was hooked when I saw Hakujaden, and I wound up choosing to become an animator because of it.”