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Death of Showa icon Hideki Saijo, 'artist with special depth,' shakes Japan

Hideki Saijo poses for a photo during an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun in March 2012. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The death on May 16 of Hideki Saijo, an iconic musician with a career spanning almost half a century, shocked Japan. His close friends expressed deep grief over the loss of a star who once energized the whole nation with his emotionally charged songs and TV appearances.

Saijo, whose real name was Tatsuo Kimoto, died of acute heart failure at a hospital in Yokohama in Kanagawa Prefecture, his office and people close to him said. The 63-year-old singer/actor is survived by his wife Miki. Major media outlets gave top coverage of his death on May 17, in which many people, both famous and ordinary, expressed their surprise and sorrow over his passing.

The news hit Saijo's friends hard. "It was all too sudden and I can't find words to say right now," commented Goro Noguchi, another top-class entertainer of his time. Saijo, Noguchi and another singer Hiromi Go were dubbed "New Big Three" ("Shin Gosanke") for taking the nation by storm in the 1970s. "Please give me some more time so that I can compose myself," an apparently disturbed Noguchi said.

Go explained that the three were like real brothers, with himself the youngest and Saijo in the middle. "I'm filled with sorrow to see him pass away before me. He was so nice to me when I was a newcomer (to the entertainment world). I'd like to express my deepest condolences," Go stated.

Saijo approached the pinnacle of the entertainment world in the 1970s with his performance mixed with a shouting style and active dancing, which attracted many young women back then. Experts say Saijo succeeded in establishing a popular but professional music style that was representative of the "postwar Showa Era" (1945-1989).

Following his success as a singer, Saijo ventured into the acting world, appearing in the TV comedy series "Terauchi Kantaro Ikka (The Kantaro Terauchi Family)" and the film "Ai to Makoto (Love and Sincerity)," which was adapted from a popular manga series by the same name. He proved popular outside Japan, attracting many fans in places including Singapore and Hong Kong.

Asei Kobayashi, a composer who acted together with Saijo in the Terauchi Kantaro Family series lauded Saijo's talent as a musician. "He was a top artist with a special depth. This world is crazy to let go someone like him and keep someone like me."

Saijo suffered strokes twice in 2003 and 2011, which impaired his speech. He remained onstage by overcoming the illness through rigorous rehabilitation programs. He had his last performance in April of this year, but collapsed at his home on April 25 and was taken to a hospital where he later passed away.

(Japanese original by Nami Demizu, Cultural News Department)

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