Comedian and actor Tani Kei died of a brain contusion early Saturday morning at a Tokyo hospital. He was 78. According to a source, he was rushed to hospital on Friday evening after falling down the stairs of his Mitaka home. He had been suffering from health problems in recent years and hadn’t appeared in public for some time. His swansong was, appropriately, last year’s 20th and final movie in the long-running “Tsuri Baka Nisshi” (Diary of a Fishing Fool) series, of which he appeared in every one. Real name Watabe Yasuo, Tani’s stage name was a tribute to the Hollywood star Danny Kaye. Married since 1958, he and his wife Kazuko had four children.
The multi-talented Tani was one of the best known stars of the post-war era. Born in Tokyo, he was raised in Hiroshima and Yokohama. He started playing trombone in junior high school and first played professionally while in college. He performed in groups such as Sharps & Flats and Frankie Sakai’s City Slickers in the early 1950s before joining the legendary jazz/comedy band Crazy Cats in 1956. With their roles in the “Musekinin” comedy movies and the TV shows “Otona no Manga” and “Shabondama Holiday” they were among the biggest stars of their day. The late Hana Hajime and Ueki Hitoshi were the two most popular members of that band, with Tani a close third, and their lyrics were written by Aoshima Yukio, who would go on to become governor of Tokyo. Among Tani’s many other contributions to pop culture were catchphrases like “Gatchon!” and “Buhyo-Buhyo” and the Japanese voice of Charlie Brown.