Morishige Hisaya

Aaron Gerow aaron.gerow at
Tue Nov 10 18:51:43 EST 2009

On the top of the front page of this Asahi this morning was the  
article reporting the death of Morishige Hisaya, one of the most  
important performers of the postwar era. He died on November 10 of old  
age; he was 96.

Morishige was born to a wealthy family in Osaka in 1913, and his  
characters often reflected a well-bred, witty, refined, but also a bit  
insouciant figure with a touch of pathos. He went to Waseda and did  
theater there, entering the great musical comedian Furukawa Roppa's  
troupe after graduating. But to avoid going to war, he applied for and  
got one of the most difficult jobs to get: an announcer for NHK. From  
then on, Morishige was famous in part for his smart and mellifluous  
voice. He was sent by NHK to Manchuria, and it was his experiences  
there, especially escaping the country with his family after the war,  
that he said hardened him greatly and gave him a foundation for his  
later work.

Morishige only became famous as an actor in the early-1950s, and first  
as a great comedian, starring in many of the great Toho comedy series  
such as the "Shacho" (Company President) and "Ekimae" (Station Front)  
series. There he played the spoiled and ineffectual but still lovable  
company president or official against such splendid actors as Frankie  
Sakai, Ban Junzaburo, Kobayashi Keiju, and Kato Daisuke. But  
Morishige's range was great, and in the mid-1950s began appearing in  
much more serious roles on film, such as Jirocho sangokushi (his  
Ishimatsu is rightly celebrated), Meoto zenzai, Neko to Shozo to  
futari no onna, Yukiguni, and some of the best Kawashima Yuzo films  
such as Aobeka monogatari and Gurama-to no yuwaku. Everyone knows him  
in Japan, but he is less famous in Japan because he did not appear in  
the films of canonized directors, with the exception of a small role  
in Ozu's End of Summer (as Isomura). He also starred on stage, often  
with his own troupe, repeating some roles hundreds of time (his most  
famous stage role was as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof); he was also a  
prominent face on television, where he appeared in famous dramas and  
variety/talk shows. With his great voice, he also recorded many songs.

With his voice, he also did a number of anime, including all the male  
voices in Hakujaden, the first feature-length color animated film in  
Japan, and the voice of Otokko-nushi, the great boar in Princess  

The multi-talented Morishige was simply one of the most famous and  
celebrated cultural figures in postwar Japan, and thus was awarded the  
Bunka Kunsho in 1984. He was an incredibly talented individual, and we  
all need to revisit his splendid work.

Aaron Gerow
KineJapan owner

Associate Professor
Film Studies Program/East Asian Languages and Literatures
Yale University

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