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Japan Entertainment News - August 2004

An Heir is Born

Prince of the kyogen world, Izumi Motoya (30) has a son and heir. He appeared before the media Sunday with his extended family to show off his son Motokiyo, who was born at the end of July. Present were his wife Aki (35), a former TV celebrity, his daughter Ayame (2), his two sisters and his ever-present mother Setsuko (62).

• There were impressive line ups at a couple of "end of summer" concerts over the weekend. The Avex label tried to put its recent problems behind it as it rolled out the stars to kick off this year's "a-nation" concert tour. 48,000 rain-soaked fans watched Hamasaki Ayumi, Porno Graffiti, Tommy February6, ELT, Exile and others perform at Showa Memorial Park west of Tokyo. Among the headliners at a 2-day event sponsored by FM radio station J-Wave in Tokyo were Ulfuls, Okuda Tamio, Begin, and rapidly rising star Moriyama Naotaro (28).

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Lessons With Rei

In a survey that asked people to name the celebrity who was their ideal home tutor, actress Kikukawa Rei (26) came out on top, ahead of actress Matsushima Nanako (30) and comedian/director Kitano "Beat" Takeshi (47). Topping the list of worst home tutors were celebrity - and perennial least popular man in Japan - Degawa Tetsuro, simpering actress Sato Tamao and, surprise, Kikukawa Rei.

• Pop duo Chage & Aska played their first outdoor gig in 16 years in Tokyo at the weekend. Celebrating their 25th aniversary, they played live versions of their early hits for the first time in 15 years as well as new songs for a crowd of 20,000. The duo, who enjoyed their biggest success in the late 1980s and early 90s, postponed the second half of a nationwide tour to rehearse for this event. They'll finish the tour between erly September and mid-December.

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Makiko Mama

Actress Esumi Makiko (37) is expecting her first baby this winter. She married 38-year old Fuji TV director Hirano Shin in January of last year and made the happy announcement amidst the publicity for her latest movie. She will star alongside Nishida Toshiyuki (56) in the 15th episode of the "Tsuri Baka" (Fishing Fool) series. Esumi and Hirano met on the set of the popular comedy-drama series "Shomuni." They married just two and a half months after they started going out.

• Popular TBS announcer Ogura Hiroko (29) has been chosen to host the evening news show "News no Mori" from the end of next month. Ogura has been a main reporter for TBS on the Olympics. Alongside her will be Ikeda Hiroyuki (48).

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Can't Give Up That Man!

TV Asahi announcer Tokunaga Yumi (29) just can't seem to break up with comedian Uchimura Teruyoshi (40). The two had a well-publicized affair last year, which led to Tokunaga giving up her main TV spot. She divorced her husband, a TV Asahi director, and this April got a job as sports caster on the popular "Hodou Station" news show, on condition that she broke up with Uchimura. But the latest edition of Friday magazine reveals the two are still meeting secretly. Uchimura, one half of the comedy duo U-chan Nan-chan is known as one of Japan's most eligible bachelors but also something of a lady's man.

• Actor Kobosuka Yousuke (25) has left the Yokohama hospital where he spent the last two and a half months. He miraculously survived a fall from his 9th-floor apartment on June 6, suffering a cerebral contusion and two broken legs among other injuries. He is said to be already driving his car to the hospital to undergo rehabilitation.

• Kabuki actor Ichikawa Somegoro (31) is to be a father. His wife Sonoko (32) is two months pregnant. Somegoro is the son of actor Matsumoto Koshiro (62) and the brother of actress Matsu Takako (27).

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Dandy Gets a Bride

Dandy Sakano (37), the comedian who many predicted would not be on our TV screens for long after his "Gets!" gag had faded, has tied the knot. He married his girlfriend Natsuko on August 22, her 24th birthday. The pair met three years ago when Sakano was supporting his struggling comedy career with a part-time job at McDonalds. Sakano made his breakthrough last year when the Gets! gag was featured in a TV commercial for a loan company.

• Actor Esumi Eimei has died of stomach cancer at a Tokyo hospital. He was 68. He appeared in soft porn movies early in his career, but also in "Dodesukaden" (1970) by the late master director Kurosawa Akira.

• Comedian Nakagawa Tsuyoshi (33) has been hospitalized due to overwork. His younger brother and side-kick in the Yoshimoto duo Nakagawa-kei, Reiji (32), will have to hold his own for the next two weeks. The duo appear on 9 regular weekly shows.

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Ilmari, Nonami Love Nest

A romantic relationship between Ilmari (29), a member of the 5-main hip hop unit Rip Slyme, and actress Nonami Maho (24) has been revealed by Josei Jishin. The weekly magazine says the pair have been living together since early summer at a Tokyo apartment near Nonami's family home, a claim both their agencies deny.

• Entertainer and TV host Kosakai Kazuki (photo, 48) is to return to work next week. The host of the afternoon chat show "Gokigenyou" has been recovering after surgery to remove a tumor from his neck. He will return to hosting the show on Monday, August 30.

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Okada's Son Commits Suicide

Actor Okada Masumi (68) announced at a press conference yesterday that his 26-year old son commited suicide at the end of last month. He said, "I don't know why. It's ben hard... and so sad when the child dies before the parent." His third son was from his marriage to actress Fujita Midori (58), whom he divorced in 1994. He worked for a theater company as an assistant stage designer. He was found hanged on July 27 at his mother's home in the upscale Denenchofu suburb of Tokyo. Okada said he had been too shocked to attend the private funeral the following day. He called the brief press conference after the magazine Shuukan Josei reported on the suicide and claimed that Okada and his son had been on bad terms. Okada said this was untrue.

• TV viewership of Saturday's baseball game between the Yomiuri Giants and the Hiroshima Carp was a mere 4.2%, the lowest ever figure for a Giants game. While it was overshadowed by the Japanese medal rush at the Olympics and NTV's 24-hour TV marathon, the figure also reflects the declining interest in pro baseball.

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O-tsukare Sama!

NTV's 24-hour TV marathon came to a close last night with the last-minute arrival of actress Sugita Kaoru (39), who was this year's choice to run the 100km marathon. It took her more than 25 hours, but she was in reasonably good shape when she arrived at the Tokyo Budokan, from where the live event was broadcast. Last year's runner, comedienne Yamada Hanako (29) arrived an hour after the show was scheduled to finish. It seems that the grueling event is used to give an image boost to female stars who, while popular, have "flawed" characters. Yamada has built a successful career because of, rather than despite, her lack of height, brains and looks. Sugita made her name as a child actress, especially in the original "3-nen B-kumi Kimpachi Sensei" school drama series in 1979. But her late teens saw her rebel against her "goody-two-shoes" image. Now her "sales point" is that she's a woman entering middle age and never married, who speaks her mind and likes a drink.

• Singer Nagabuchi Tsuyoshi (47) finished a marathon of his own. With the smoking volcano of Sakurajima as a backdrop, he played all night to 75,000 fans in his home of Kagoshima. Over the course of nine hours he played 41 songs spanning a 27-year career. He finished with the song "Captain of the Ship" and repeated the phrase "Ikite!" (Live!) for a full 20 minutes!

• TV personality and former Olympic volleyball star Kawai Shunichi (41) has been hospitalized with shingles. He hopes to be back at work by the end of next month.

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Hajime Loses Baby

Singer Hajime Chitose (25), who had been expecting her first child at the end of the summer, has suffered a miscarriage. She announced the sad news on her web site, adding that she herself was well on the road to recovery and looking forward to another chance. She married a 27-year old restaurateur in January.

• Singer Nakajima Mika (21) played the first of a series of concerts for fans who won tickets by lottery. Sponsored by Coca Cola Japan, who gave away the tickets to 15,000 people who bought their Sokenbicha tea (out of 750,000 people who applied), the 6-venue concert series features Nakajima accompanied by violinist Hakase Taro (36).

• With the country's Olympic athletes providing the excitement of a "medal rush" sports fans are staying up late to catch the action. Despite an average viewing figure of less than 18% for the 9pm-to-midnight slot, figures have almost reached 30% for the live coverage of judo semis and finals. NTV's coverage of Anno Kyoko gold medal performance managed 29.8%. Overwhelming 100kg gold-medal favorite Inoue Kosei probably would have done even better except he fell to a shocking loss in the 4th round.

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Lifesaver Matchi

Former idol singer turned racing driver Kondo Masahiko (40) has been honored for saving a drowning boy. The Maritime Safety Agency awarded him with a lifesaving certificate for rescuing a 2nd grader from Osaka who was drowning off Shirahama beach. The incident took place at the beach in Wakayama prefecture a couple of weeks ago. "Matchi" said he was somewhat embarrassed by the award, adding, "I just did what anyone would have done." He reached superstardom as a member of the Tanukin Trio idol group in the early 1980s, along with Tahara Toshihiko and Nomura Yoshio. In 1994, he entered the Le Mans 24-hour road race and now has his own team, Kondo Racing.

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Hikki vs. Beckham-Sama?!

The September 23 edition of the Tunnels Fuji TV variety show "Tunnels no Minasan no O-kage Deshita" will feature the unlikely pairing of singer Utada Hikaru (21) and soccer "idol" David Beckham (29). The two will go head-to-head in a popular regular segment where they have to eat several types of food and guess the dish that the other hates most. The segment was filmed during Real Madrid's recent visit to Japan. Meanwhile 'Hikki' will make her first official appearance as 'Utada' on TV Asahi's "Music Station" on September 10. She will make her U.S. debut with her new name and a new album "Exodus" on October 5. The album goes on sale in Japan on September 8.

• Actress Mizuki Arisa (27) has a new, younger man in her life. Her relationship with singer Mitsunaga Ryota (24) was revealed in the latest edition of gossip magazine Friday. The two are said to be living together at Mizuki's home. Mitsunaga made his debut with the hit single "Always" in January of last year, and the song was used as the theme tune to the hit drama series "Itsumo Futaride." Mizuki's last relationship was with J-league player Nagai Hideki, and at one point marriage seemed on the cards for the pair. Rumors of a breakup were never confirmed.

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Checkers Drummer Dead

Tokunaga Yoshiya, drummer with the pop group Checkers, died yesterday at a Yokohama hospital of tongue cancer. He was 40. Checkers were one of the most popular boy bands of the 1980s, formed in Fukuoka in 1981, and produced one of Japan's leading pop singers in Fujii Fumiya (photo, 42). They broke up in 1992 but there had been hopes of a band reunion in recent years. "Kurobe," the youngest member of the band, announced on his web site last September that he was undergoing treatment. He appeared to have made a good recovery when he played at a concert with rock band Wild-G in January, but was readmitted to hospital soon after.

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They're Back!

Singer songwriter Makihara Noriyuki (35) is back on top of the charts for the first time in almost 10 years. "Explorer" is his first original album to top the Oricon chart since "Pharmacy" in November 1995. An ironic title that turned out to be, as Makihara's career went into a slide following his arrest for stimulant drug use in 1999. He will start a national tour on September 4.

• The popular TBS school drama "3-Nen B-Kumi Kimpachi Sensei" is to have a seventh series, starting in mid-October. Starring Takeda Tetsuya (55) as the philosphizing teacher, the series is marking its 25th anniversary this year, and will feature many of the actors and actresses who have launched their careers playing students on the show.

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Off to Taiwan

Pop/hip hop group Da Pump have announced their first solo overseas gig. Currently in the middle of a Japan tour, they said at the weekend that they will play in Taiwan at the end of September.

• Also heading for Taiwan are Dengeki Network (photo). The outlandish performance group, formerly known as the Tokyo Shock Boys, are to be the CM characters for a diet product over the next year. They are known for dangerous stunts involving things like scoprions, dry ice and fluorescent light tubes.

• Former NTV announcer Tahara Setsuko, wife of TV newscaster Tahara Soichiro (70), died last Friday of multiple organ failure. She was 67. Her husband is the regular host of the political debate show "Sunday Project."

• Singer Sun Plaza Nakano (43) has denied a rumoured romantic relationship with TV Asahi announcer Ishii Kiwa (26).

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CM Queen Hasekyo

The new queen of the TV commercial world is actress Hasegawa Kyoko (26), according to Video Research Comhouse. "Hasekyo" appeared for a total of almost 29 hours of on-air time in the Kanto region during the first half of the year, pushing such sponsors as NTT DoCoMo, Canon and Nihon Seimei insurance. She jumped up from 94th place in last year's list. Second and third places went to Lasaru Ishii (48) and Kisa Ayako (33) both mainly for insurance company Alico Japan. In fourth was N.Y. Yankees slugger Matsui Hideki (30). Topping the rankings for the Kansai region was recently married actress Mizuno Maki (34).

• Almost 100 young members of the Johnny's Jimusho talent agency appeared in a music spectacle in Tokyo's Harajuku on Sunday. The production cost ¥1.2 billion and was held at a newly unveiled "big top" theater. It featured 8m-high fountains, a 360-degree screen and singers flying all over the place on suspension wires. Johhny's is known for producing most of the top male pop music acts, with current big names including SMAP, Tokio, V6, and Arashi.

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Ins and Outs

Actor Shimizu Kentaro (51) was sentenced yesterday at the Tokyo district court to 28 months for use of marijuana and stimulant drugs. The judge addressed him, saying, "You have fans supporting you all over the country. Do you swear never to touch drugs again?" Shimizu answered, "Yes." He does not plan to appeal the sentence. Shimizu did time for the same offence in 1994.

• A new pop trio including Morning Musume member Ishikawa Rika (19) was announced yesterday. Biyuuden also includes Miyoshi Erika (19), who was the only person to pass last August's audition to join the Hello! Project troupe, and Okada Yui (16), who was one of 32 new additions in June. The trio will release their debut single on September 23. Ishikawa is set to graduate from Momus next spring.

• The weekly magazine Focus has revealed a relationship between actress and former 80s idol Yakushimaru Hiroko (40) and a chief cameraman at NHK. Yakushimaru divorced singer Tamaki Koji (45) in 1998.

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Ziggy's Got Seoul

With "Yon-sama" and all things Korean becoming more and more popular here these days, the flood goes both ways. Veteran rock band Ziggy announced yesterday that they are to play a joint concert in Seoul with up-and-coming Korean band Buzz. The concert will be held at Hanyung University on August 29, about a week before the band's quadruple greatest hits album "Vicissitudes of Fortune" goes on sale.

• Popular actress Nakama Yukie (photo, 24) paid her first visit to Korea to film scenes for her her ongoing Fuji TV drama series "Tokyo Wankei" (Tokyo Bay Scene). She plays a Japanese-born Korean who visits the country with her Japanese boyfriend to find her roots. Filming of the series is already approaching the finale. Japanese dramas were allowed to be broadcast on cable channels in Korea for the first time from January. Nakama stars in two of the most popular, "Gokusen" and "Trick."

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An Unlikely Match

In what is being billed as one of the most unlikely couples around, actress Fukuda Kyoko (21) has been linked with comedian Arita Teppei (photo, 33) by the gossip weekly Friday. According to the magazine, "Fukakyon" spent a full 24 hours with Arita at an apartment belonging to a "kohai" (junior) member of his talent agency. The relationship between the pair is thought to have been a "date" they went on as part of a variety show. Fukuda is very busy in the middle of filming a TV Asahi light drama series and the way she chose to spend a rare day off has reporters assuming the relationship is serious. Arita is one half of the manzai duo Cream Stew and is not exactly considered eligible bachelor material.

• What seemed like a dream match, between actress Takagi Saya (40) and pro diver and photographer Sugahara Maki (40), has come to an end. The couple's life in Hawaii featured on several TV shows and seemed idyllic. Takagi had become a world-class free diver, but it seems she needs the fast-paced life of Japan and will return to work as an actress.

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Fumio's Final Journey

Actor Watanabe Fumio, a star in many movies by Oshima Nagisa (72) and a TV regular, died yesterday in a Tokyo hospital of acute respiratory failure. He was 74. In the 1950s and 60s, he appeared in such Oshima films as "Ai to Kibo no Machi" (Town of Love and Hope, 1959) and "Seishun Zankoku Monogatari" (Cruel Youth, 1960). In his forties, he began to work mostly in television. He starred in such TV shows as "Kuishibo Banzai!" and "Renso Gemu". The former made him a household name as he travelled the country sampling regional foods, a standard type of show these days.

• Namesake actor Watanabe Ken (44) has hinted he may move to Hollywood following his invitation to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. More details of his upcoming Tinseltown project, Batman Begins, have also come to light. His character, Ra's Al Ghul, is central to the development of a young Bruce Wayne into the caped crusader. Once again, Watanabe will have a shaved head as he did in The Last Samurai. Is he the new Yul Brynner?

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Takuro Ailing Again

Another twist in the Avex saga. President Yoda Tatsumi (64) has resigned, leaving the door open for Matsuura Masato (39) and Chiba Ryuhei (40) to return. Taking over as president will be Kobayashi Toshio (39), formerly an executive director, but it is presumed to be only temporarily, until Matsuura assumes the post. Top artist Hamasaki Ayumi (25) is expected to stay with the label, after earlier saying she would leave amidst the accusations (for more details, see earlier stories this week).

• Impersonator Corokke (41) announced during a show last night that he and his estranged wife are back together.

• Folk singer Yoshida Takuro (photo, 58) had to stop halfway through a performance in Tokyo last night. The singer, who became a big star in the 1970s, was diagnosed with cancer last year. He recovered well enough to play a comeback tour last autumn, and had recently started another.

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Avex in Chaos

Record company Avex is in a state of chaos following the sudden announcement by managing director Matsuura Masato (39) and executive director Chiba Ryuhei (40) that they are quitting. The pair addressed company employees at an emotional morning assembly yesterday, and said the problem was chairman and president Yoda Tatsumi (64). Yoda criticized Chiba for pursuing personal profit from a few big artists. Chiba tearfully denied any fault, while Matsuura complained that Avex had lost its love of music and said he wanted to start over. They have the support of many staff who also said they would quit. More significantly, the label's top star, Hamasaki Ayumi (25), has already said she's off, too. The company's share price went into freefall until trading was suspended.

• Ironically, Hamasaki's announcement came on the same day her new single topped the Oricon chart. It is her 20th hit to go straight to the top. On the album chart, rock group Porno Graffitti's Greatest Hits "Blue" and "Red" have grabbed both the top two slots, the first time the feat has been achieved since Mr. Children in 2001.

• Rock band The Yellow Monkey have formally broken up. They have been inactive since a concert at Tokyo Dome in 2001, but finally decided to call it a day last month. They made their major debut in 1992 and released 8 albums. &

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Little Dynamite Dead

The woman known as the "Japanese Liza Minelli" and "Little Dynamite" has died. Shuri Eiko was a popular jazz singer who enjoyed success in Las Vegas in the 1960s. She was 56. With a powerful voice, expressive body language and beautiful legs, she was a sensation on her return home. She had a big hit with "Kitakuni Yuki de" in 1972 but later became better known for sudden cancellations and neurosis. She married her manager in 1978 but they later divorced. She had been in poor health in recent years.

• Having already formed their own unit "W" in March, Kago Ai (16) and Tsuji Nozomi (17) officially "graduated" from Morning Musume last night. They made their final appearance as members of the unit as the Hello! Project summer tour came to a close in front of 12,000 fans in Yoyogi, Tokyo. The pair are both short, baby-faced and look almost like twins. They joined the group together in April 2000 and have been inseparable since. Their departure sees Momus reduced to a mere 14 members...for now. "W" will start their own Japan tour in a week, while Momus will start theirs a couple of weeks later.

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Avex Founder Steps Down

Matsuura Masato (39) has stepped down as managing director of Avex, the company he established in 1988. He also plans to resign as vice president in October. The reason given was a difference in vision for the business side of operations. The avextrax record label became huge with a Eurobeat focus in the 1990s, producing such acts as Amuro Namie (photo, 27), Hamasaki Ayumi (25), Every Little Thing and TRF. But the company has seen sales decling in recent years, buoyed only by the contined popularity of a few top stars like Hamasaki and Amuro. Matsuura set up the company, then known as Avex DD, as a CD import business straight after he graduated from college. He released the first album, a Eurobeat compilation, in 1989 and set up avextrax in September of that year.

• Former badminton player Jinnai Kimiko (40) and her husband, former baseball player Kaneishi Akihito (43) have been the victims of crime again. Their luxury car was broken into on Friday night and a bag containing jewelry was stolen. Jinnai was stabbed by a burglar in their home, while they were still engaged, in 2001.

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