Ueki Hitoshi, one of Japan’s top postwar comedians, died yesterday morning of respiratory failure ata Tokyo hospital. He was 80. He worked up until last November, making a guest appearance in the movie “Maiko Haaaan!!!”, and his final public appearance was at the funeral of writer, talento and former Tokyo governor Aoshima Yukio in December. Aoshima wrote the lyrics for “Suudarabushi”, the best-selling song that launched the massively successful career of Ueki and the band Crazy Cats (photo, Ueki center). From 1961, the comic band made more than a dozen hit movies with vocalist Ueki playing an irresponsible salaryman in a Japan at the peak of its economic confidence. But Ueki could also play a serious role, as he did in Kurosawa Akira‘s “Ran” in 1985. In 1993 and 1999, he was officially recognized with purple-ribboned medals awarded for scholarly or artistic achievement. The Crazy Cats marked their 35th anniversary in 1990 with an appearance on NHK’s annual Kohaku Uta Gassen song spectacular, getting a top audience rating of 56.6%.
• Former Morning Musume member Kago Ai (19) has finally thrown it all away. Caught up in a second scandal she’s been dropped by her management and will retire from showbiz. The latest issue of weekly magazine “Shuukan Gendai” published a story about an overnight trip she took to Kusatsu Onsen resort with 37-year-old Ishimoto Haruo, a cafe owner. And to make matters worse, it included photos of her smoking (the age limit is 20) in Ishimoto’s car. Kago fessed up and, after consulting with her parents, her management at Up Front Agency decided to cancel her contract. Already confined to her Nara home since being caught smoking at the beginning of last year, she had only been allowed to return to work in Tokyo in January. Even then she was not allowed to perform and restricted to office work. Last month she expressed her desire to return to singing. With her baby face, Kago was one of the more popular members of Morning Musume and the Hello! Project, and was also active in spinoffs Mini Moni and the duo “W”, with fellow member Tsuji Nozomi (19).