One of Japanese TV’s longest running shows came to a close last night. Old school to the bitter end, the “Mito Komon” jidai-geki ran on the TBS network since August 1969. The last episode, an extended special that featured many past regulars, drew an audience rating of 13.9% in and around Tokyo and over 17% in Nagoya. Not stellar figures but respectable enough for a show that had long lost its appeal for the younger demographic.
The show told the fictional traveling tales of the historical daimyo (regional lord) Tokugawa Mitsukuni (1628-1701), with five actors playing the lead role over the years. The original and best remembered was Tohno Eijiro (1907-94), who played the role for 13 years. Satomi Kotaro (75) was the last, having played a different supporting role in the series some years next to Tohno. The show always built to a climax, when the unarmed main characters would be engaged in a swordfight with the villains. One of Mito Komon’s sidekicks would wield his master’s inro (a case bearing his family crest) and shout the famous catchphrase, “Kono mondokoro ga me ni hairanuka” (Can you not see this emblem?). Whereupon the goateed star’s true identity would be revealed and the villains would instantly surrender and beg forgiveness. See the short video clip below.
Lyricist Matsumoto Reiji died yesterday in what police believe was a suicide, setting himself on fire outside his home in Tokyo. He was 68. His wife found him badly burned but still conscious on the street in front of his Setagaya home at around 4:40am. Police later found a discarded lighter and the canister of an oil heater near the scene. Matsumoto was rushed to hospital and declared dead shortly after 10am. No will or suicide note has been found but his family say that he seemed to be troubled recently and likely had health problems. A music industry colleague reported that Matsumoto had undergone gall bladder surgery in May.
A former chief purser for Japan Airlines, Matsumoto joined the Pony Canyon record label in his early 30s after a chance encounter with the company president. He started as a director and then became a lyricist, writing popular songs for a wide variety of artists that ranged from teen aidoru’s to such mega-stars as Ishihara Yujiro (1934-87) and Morishige Hisaya (1913-2009). He wrote the last song that Morishige recorded, “Izuko e.” His many enka hits included several for Ishino Mako (50), and ironic in view of the manner of his death, the title of Ishino’s final single before she retired in 1981 was the Matsumoto-penned “Burning Love.” He also wrote a song for the 100-year-old twins Kin-san and Gin-san, who were a media sensation in the early 1990s.