Jason David Frank (1973-2022)

When I met Jason David Frank for the first and only time, I was a 24-year-old newshound for a children’s magazine, and he’d drawn the short straw, dispatched on a press tour of Europe to promote Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie.

It was driving him slowly crazy. He was holed up in a west London hotel suite, with only an old school buddy of his to keep him company. The publicity people, usually hands-on and clock-watching, were nowhere to be seen.

I introduced myself and showed him our magazine, and he laughed heartily at our electric rotating lollipop cover-mount, which everybody agreed looked like a sex toy.

“The thing is,” I said to him as we sat down to talk, “when I watched the film–”

“You watched it!?” he said. “Dude, nobody who’s come through here today has seen anything more than the trailer.”

“Well, I thought it would be smart to watch it.”

“D’ya think?” he laughed around the rotating electric lollipop in his mouth. “Go on, man.”

“I saw that some of the actors were under-cranked so they looked like they moved faster. But you– ”

“Yeah! Right!” Suddenly he sat bolt upright, flinging the electric lollipop onto a coffee table, looking at me with intense focus. “They don’t have to speed me up. Sometimes I think they want to slow me down. It’s because we’ve all got our skill sets, you know, like one’s a dancer and one’s a gymnast and so on, but I’m a martial artist. This is what I do.”

We talked about the martial arts, about how he’d taken the job as the Green Ranger and been so overwhelmed by the love of his fans – an entire generation of children who thrilled to have him back in successive iterations of the franchise, as the White Ranger. In later years, he would be a Red Ranger, a Black Ranger and a Green Ranger again. He boasted that he was throwing all the money he could spare from his starring role into real estate, because this might be the only chance he got to make proper money. I don’t think it ever registered with me that he was still only 22 – he had a presence about him that made him seem much older.

The next journalist in line had been kept waiting for almost half an hour as we ran over. But Frank didn’t want me to go. “A lot of these guys,” he confided. “They don’t care. It’s just great that someone appreciates the work, you know.”

Jonathan Clements is the author of A Brief History of the Martial Arts. This article first appeared in NEO #226, 2022.

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.