Veteran action star and singer Tetsuya Watari, known for his role in the hit police drama “Seibu Keisatsu” (“Western Police”), died of pneumonia earlier this week, his office said Friday. He was 78.
Watari, whose real name was Michihiko Watase, died Monday at a hospital in Tokyo at 6:30 p.m. He remained active in show business even after undergoing surgery for rectal cancer in 1991, and heart surgery in June 2015.
Watari shot to fame in TV police dramas in the 1970s, including “Dai Tokai” (“The Big City”) and “Seibu Keisatsu.” He also was praised for his roles in movies about yakuza, such as “Tokyo Drifter” and “Graveyard of Honor,” and appeared in NHK period dramas.
As a musician, Watari’s songs included the smash hit “Kuchinashi no Hana” (“Gardenia flower”).
The Hyogo Prefecture native was scouted while attending Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo, and made his starring debut in 1965 in “Abare Kishido” (“Wild Chivalry”).
He appeared in many productions by major filmmaker Nikkatsu before joining a production company founded by fellow action star Yujiro Ishihara.
The veteran actor was part of what was dubbed the “Ishihara Gundan,” or Ishihara Corps — actors who belonged to Ishihara’s talent agency. The company, Ishihara International Productions Inc., was founded in 1963 but will end its talent agency operations early next year.
Along with his fellow actors, Watari devoted himself to volunteer activities following major disasters.
About a month after the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, he visited the tsunami-hit city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture and helped run the soup kitchens that were feeding displaced residents.
“It is very regrettable. We will miss him a lot,” a 77-year-old woman who recalled receiving food from him at the time said of the actor’s death.
Miho Konno, 47, helped prepare food with Watari in the aftermath of the quake. She said Watari told her nobody can beat him when it comes to cooking yakisoba (stir-fried noodles).
“He was tender-hearted, particularly showing his smile to children,” Konno said.
Watari also visited his native Hyogo to cheer residents about a month after the Great Hanshin Earthquake heavily damaged Kobe and surrounding areas on Jan. 17, 1995.
Accompanied by his fellow actors, Watari trucked food to the nearby city of Ashiya, where they cooked yakisoba and other dishes for the residents for several days.
Sachiko Kawabata, 77, remembers interacting with Watari at the time. “In contrast to his terrifying image in police dramas, he was a smiling, calm person,” she said. “We were encouraged by him.”
Watari’s younger brother, actor Tsunehiko Watase, died in March 2017 of multiple organ failure at the age of 72.