The turbulent life of impersonator and comedian Taihei Shiro (photo left), one of the pioneers of the so-called “manzai boom,” came to a sad end yesterday at the Osaka Medical Center. He was 55. A spokesperson for the Yoshimoto Creative Agency said he was hospitalized in a coma on February 4 after collapsing at his office in his native Osaka. He was put on life support but never recovered consciousness.
Real name Itoh Hiroshi, he was a child actor and entered the world of comedy apprenticeship with Shochiku Geino while in his second year of high school. He made his debut in 1976 as one half of the duo of Taihei Saburo & Shiro. Shiro changed comedy partners time and time again but found his partnership with Saburo was the most stable, and the pair managed to break with tradition and left Shochiku to join Yoshimoto. And it was there in the 1980s that they helped create a nationwide boom in Osaka-style manzai comedy that has since become a staple of TV entertainment. In 1992 the pair split up again and Shiro ran unsuccessfully in an election for national government. He also talked about giving up showbiz altogether and becoming the most successful ramen (Chinese noodles) restaurateur in Japan. In 1999 he was back with Yoshimoto and formed a new manzai duo but that was also short-lived and Shiro went solo. He helped develop the careers of several Yoshimoto acts as well as running restuarants and bars.
Speaking to reporters yesterday about the death of his friend, Taihei Saburo (55, photo right) said that Shiro approached him about four years ago suggesting that they get back together as an act, but he refused. “Maybe one day we’ll enjoy being Taihei Saburo & Shiro again in heaven.”