The buildup has already started to this year’s Kohaku Utagassen. The NHK New Year’s Eve song spectacular has seen dwindling audience figures in recent years and the broadcaster is having a harder time than in the past attracting top stars. NHK carried out its annual poll of who people want to see in the lineup: topping the list of male stars was young enka singer Hikawa Kiyoshi (27), followed by SMAP, a couple more enka celebs – 40-time veteran Kitajima Saburo (68) and 33-timer Itsuki Hiroshi (53) – and soul balladeer Hirai Ken (32). The top female star was Tendo Yoshimi (49). In 2nd and 3rd were a couple of younger popsters, Utada Hikaru (21) and Shibasaki Kou (23), neither of whom have appeared on Kohaku. After them came enka singer Sakamoto Fuyumi (37) and pop diva Hamasaki Ayumi (26), who has been on 5 times.
• “Casshern,” the directorial debut by Kiriya Kazuaki (36), is to be shown at U.S. cinemas through major studio Dream Works. The news follows the recent U.S. debut of Kiriya’s wife, Utada Hikaru (21), who sings the movie’s title track.
• Kabuki actor Nakamura Jakuemon (84) is one of five people to receive the Order of Cultural Merit this year. Among 15 others commended for their contribution to culture were movie director Yamada Yoji (73) and theatrical director Ninogawa Yukio (69). Yamada was known for years as the director of the long-running “Otoko wa Tsurai Yo” movie series. But in the last couple of years he has made a very successful switch to period, samurai dramas.
Comedian Shimada Shinsuke (48) gave an emotional press conference on Friday to apologize publicly to the Yoshimoto staff member who filed assault charges against him. He admitted that he had been 100% in the wrong and renounced claims made by some that she had been rude and “asking for it”. He said he had considered retiring from show business but had been talked out of it by his “sempai” (senior) Kamioka Ryutaro. As someone who has lived abroad and clearly has a strong personality, the 40-year old woman was brave enough to stand up to the star and behaviour that no doubt is common in the business. Comedians in particular regularly slap each other, though the woman’s version of last week’s incident was considerably more violent than Shimada’s. Still, his tearful apology has been made, he has given a suitably remorseful performance, he has been given 10 days house arrest, and he hosts 8 different TV shows, so the matter will probably be laid to rest.
One of Japan’s top baseball stars made a pitch of a whole different kind today. Seibu Lions star pitcher Matsuzaka Daisuke (24) and NTV announcer Shibata Tomoyo (29) held a press conference at a plush Tokyo hotel this afternoon to anounce their engagement. The couple have not tried to keep their 4-year relationship a secret, but the announcement is big news nonetheless. It comes shortly after Matsuzaka helped the Lions become Japan Series champion for the first time in 12 years. He also helped Japan win the bronze medal at the recent Olympics. The engagement follows a trend of star baseball players marrying TV announcers – other examples include the country’s top catcher Furuta Atsuya and Nakai Miho, L.A. Dodgers pitcher Ishii Kazuhisa and Kisa Ayako, and Mariners star Ichiro and Fukushima Yumiko.
Comedian and variety show host Shimada Shinsuke (48) has been questioned by police after assaulting a female member of staff during the recording of a TV show. One of the biggest names in the huge Yoshimoto comedy empire, Shimada was a shadow of his boisterous self when reporters tried to interview him on his arrival in Tokyo on Wednesday night. He has 8 regular TV shows, but some have already been affected by the case. This weekend’s recording of the TBS show “Bari Bari Value” has been postponed, for example. It seems that a 40-year old woman filed charges for assault on October 25 following an incident during the recording of an ABC TV show in Shimada’s hometown of Osaka. The woman is not a regular Yoshimoto manager and Shimada is said to have flown off the handle at her “attitude.” Sources say she has worked abroad and is “strong willed,” a comment that wouldn’t be made about a male employee.
The popular Fuji TV variety show “Toribia no Izumi” (Well of Trivia) is to make its way across the Pacific. The show, which is subtitled, “Wonderful Useless Knowledge,” presents little-known facts to a panel of celebrities including comedian Tamori. They indicate their approval by pushing a button that let’s out a “hehhh” sound, which indicates surprise in Japanese. The more “hehhh’s” it gets, the more prize money is sent to the person who sent in the trivia. A dubbed version of the Japanese show is to air on the U.S. cable channel Spike TV from November 11, with an original American version scheduled for next April. The English version will use the word “hey!” The Fuji TV show became a sleeper hit in a late-night slot in 2002 and was moved to the “golden time” of 9pm from July of last year. A Taiwanese version is also set to start next month.
Fans in the entertainment world heaped praise on the Seibu Lions baseball team, who won their first Japan Series in 12 years yesterday. “Leo” fans include legendary actress Yoshinaga Sayuri (59), who said she actually went to see them play at Seibu Dome 3 or 4 times during the season. Singer Matsuzaki Shigeru (54) watched the final game 7 in his car on the Chuo Expressway. He was delighted that the team won in its first year under manager Itoh Tsutomu (42), an 11-time Golden Glove player in the Lions golden days of the 80s and early 90s.
• It seems that actress Tanaka Hiroko (photo, 33) has been married for the last four years, the Sankei Sports newspaper revealed this week. She owned up when it was revealed that she is four months pregnant, which will obviously affect her future work schedule. She is quite popular, in an NHK afternoon schedule kind of way.
The 17th Tokyo International Film Festival kicked off at the weekend. In addition to the usual screenings in Shibuya, this year also sees the Roppongi Hills complex hosting many entries. Roppongi’s Keyakizaka Dori street was lined with a whopping 200m-long red carpet and 6,000 people turned out to welcome such local beauties as Matsu Takako (27), Matsuzaka Keiko (52), Hasegawa Kyoko (photo, 26) and Ueto Aya (19), all of whom were dressed to the nines. Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro gave the opening speech, and said he used to go to the cinema at least once a month before becoming leader, but now has no chance to. The festival opened with a screening of Yamada Yoji‘s latest samurai pic “Kakushi Ken, Oni to Tsume” (Hidden Sword, Demon’s Claw), starring Matsu and Nagase Masatoshi (38). The prize money has been increased to $100,000 this year, the highest among the 11 major international festivals. The panel of 6 judges is led by Yamada, and the winner of the main Grand Prix award will be announced on October 31.
Actor Hagiwara Kenichi (54) was arrested on Friday evening for professional negligence resulting in injury after he caused a traffic accident. The accident happened in Yokohama when Hagiwara, who was on his way home from work and hadn’t slept for over 24 hours, got out of his lane on a curve and hit a motorcyclist riding in the opposite direction. The 46-year old man suffered serious injuries, including a broken leg and possible spinal injury. Hagiwara had been wrking on the shoot of his directorial debut, the movie “Sankotsu” (Scattering of Ashes) in which he also stars. The actor, known by the nickname “Shoken” got his start as vocalist of the group The Tempters back in the 1960s. After the group broke up he became a star of TV and movies. The traffic accident is his second – he injured a motorcyclist while driving drunk in 1984.
Director/actor/comedian Kitano “Beat” Takeshi (57) gave a press conference at a Tokyo hotel on Thursday to announce that his daughter Shouko (22) recently married and is to have a baby next spring. The former singer and her new husband, a 25-year old chef at a Tokyo restaurant, registered their marriage on October 5. Takeshi gave a typically comical performance, questioning whether he really should have over the family fortune to “some cook.” But he also indulged in the sentmental, saying he hoped his grandchild would say “my grandpa was amazing in so many ways.” Shouko made her debut as an actress in her father’s film “Hanabi” in 1997 under the name Matsuda Shouko. The next year, she reached No.10 in the charts with a single produced by X Japan’s Yoshiki. Another single followed, but in 1999 she went to the U.S. to study and her career was put on hold.
“Talento” Niiyama Chiharu (23) is engaged to marry Kuroda Satoshi (29), an infielder for the Yomiuri Giants baseball team. The marriage registration and wedding ceremony are to be held during the baseball off-season. Sources made a point of saying that the couple have been going out for a year, and also that Niiyama is not pregnant and the pair are not living together, two things that seem to come before most celebrity marriages in Japan. Niiyama made her debut at the age of 15, when she won a talent scout audition for the HoriPro agency, beating out 43,000 other hopefuls. Kuroda started his career with the Seibu Lions, moving to the Giants in 2002. He has yet to become a regular starter.
• Tom Cruise, in town to promote his latest movie “Collateral,” became the first foreign celeb to make his mark outside Yurakucho’s Hibiya Chante cinema in downtown Tokyo. Cruise put his handprint in the Nemu no Hiroba, and to mark his special status, it was gold instead of the usual silver. It was the first new addition in almost 12 years, and was made in recognition of Cruise’s contribution to Japanese cinema through his work on “The Last Samurai.”
• Meanwhile, Godzilla is to get the same treatment in Hollywood. With the world premier of his last celluloid appearance, “Godzilla, Final Wars” to be held in the U.S. next month, his star is also to be inducted to the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard.