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Ken Shimura, Comedian Whose Sketches Delighted Japan, Dies at 70

This obituary is part of a series about people who died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

TOKYO — Ken Shimura could make people laugh just by tweaking a traditional dance, mangling an English lesson or acting like a shogun fool.

Mr. Shimura, a beloved comedian in Japan, died on Sunday at a hospital in Tokyo, the Izawa Office, which represented him, said. He was 70.

His slapstick humor, physical comedy and naïve persona made him a household name in Japan for nearly five decades. Generations of children grew up watching his comedy skits and dance routines. And before there was “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” Mr. Shimura introduced the concept of broadcasting footage contributed by viewers on the variety show “Kato-Chan Ken-Chan Gokigen TV,” which aired for six years on Saturday nights on TBS, one of Japan’s main television networks.

Mr. Shimura started feeling sick on March 17 and developed a fever and extreme fatigue two days later. He was hospitalized on March 20 and tested positive for the coronavirus three days later.

He had recently been cast as the lead in a forthcoming film to be directed by the well-known director Yoji Yamada. Mr. Shimura had also been invited to be a torch runner in the Olympic relay, which was canceled after the Tokyo Summer Olympics was delayed for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ken Shimura was born Yasunori Shimura on Feb. 20, 1950, in Higashimurayama, a city in the western Tokyo metropolitan region, to Kenji and Kazuko Shimura. His father was a schoolteacher and celebrated judo athlete.

Mr. Shimura joined a popular music band, the Drifters, as a roadie in 1974. As the group branched into comedy, Mr. Shimura was recruited as a member and performed regularly with the group in its television variety show. He created characters including Baka Tonosama (stupid lord) and Henna Ojisan (weird uncle).

One of Mr. Shimura’s most famous and enduring acts was his rendition of “Higashimurayama ondo,” a song written about his hometown. Mr. Shimura added impish moves to traditional dance forms as he performed it on the variety show, and the routine was popular enough that people all over Japan learned the words whether they had any connection to the town or not.

Mr. Shimura was a lifelong bachelor. His survivors include two older brothers.

Hisako Ueno contributed reporting.

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