Hirai Ken‘s hit single “Hitomi wo Tojite” (Close Your Eyes) is the biggest seller of the year, despite the fact that it never made No.1 in the Oricon weekly charts. It sold 834,000 copies (of 950,000 distributed), helped largely by being the theme song for the sleeper hit movie “Sekai no Naka de, Ai wo Sakebu.” Hirai (32) is the first male solo artist to top the annual rankings since Oda Kazumasa sold over 2 million copies of “Oh! Yeah/Love Story wa Totsuzen ni” in 1991. His latest album, “SENTIMENTALovers” is already a million-seller, just three days after its release. The best-selling album of the year was the greatest hits collection by Utada Hikaru (21). Her “Single Collection Vol.1” sold almost 2.5 million copies. She is the first artist to top the rankings four times, and has done so with just four albums released.
Actor Kubozuka Yosuke (25) is to make his movie comeback next summer. He will co-star in “Tobi ga Kururi to”, starring actress Mizuki Arisa and based on the novel of the same name. Filming already started in Tokyo last week. The often controversial actor miraculously survived a fall from his 9th-floor apartment in June and spent 3 months recovering from his injuries.
• NTV presenter Shibata Tomoyo (29) gave a tearful farewell to her fans on the “Sports Urugusu” show on Sunday. She spent six years on the show but will retire in December before marrying Seibu Lions ace pitcher Matsuzaka Daisuke (24). She was presented with a bouquet by fellow presenter, former Giants baseball star Egawa Suguru (49).
• J-pop diva Hamasaki Ayumi (26) has announced that she will not be taking part in the year-end Japan Record Awards. This is despite the fact that she won the main award for the last three years running, the first artist to do so. It seems it is part of her new policy not to take part in any award ceremonies, which was partly affected by the recent turmoil at her record label, Avex.
Visiting Korean superstar Bae Yong Joon (32) lost his trademark smile yesterday – and even shed a tear. The cause of his distress was news that 10 of his middle-aged female fans had been injured in a crush outside his central Tokyo hotel. Afternoon wide shows carried live coverage of his car’s attempted progress through the screaming crowds, and said the injured fans had been aged between 43 and 51. The mass hysteria, usually the domain of teenage girls, shows no signs of abating, with every possible sighting of the soap opera star, known as Yon-sama, crammed with “obaa-chans” for hours ahead.
• Meanwhile, younger fans in his home country were welcoming Japanese pop diva Hamasaki Ayumi (26). In her first performance in Korea, Ayu bared her midriff and sang her hits for about 15,000 fans at the first Asian Song Festival. She even sang the chorus of the song “Boys and Girls” in Korean. Also on the bill were local girl BoA (19), who has made it big in Japan, and other big Asian acts.
More than 3,500 screaming female fans turned out at Narita airport to welcome the biggest foreign celebrity in town. But the average age of the women was probably mid-30s to 40s, and the celeb in question was Korean soap opera star Bae Yong Joon (32). Several TV networks even aired the arrival of “Yon-sama” live, such is his celebrity status these days following the huge popularity of the series “Winter Sonata”. Several hundred fans “abandoned their families” to spend the night at the airport to get the closest possible glimpse of the ‘idol,’ who has insured himself for ¥1 billion in case of injury in the melee everywhere he goes. About 420 police, including 70 anti-riot squad members, were mobilized to control hysterical fans.
• And speaking of celebrities with an inexplicable fan base, a diamond-studded platinum Hello Kitty has sold for ¥10.5 million yen. The special edition of the hugely popular character was created to celebrate its 30th anniversary. It was sold to a customer at the Mitsukoshi department store in Osaka, after touring the country for the last few months.
“Howl’s Moving Castle” has got off to a great start at the box office. The latest anime feature from Miyazaki Hayao (63) grossed a full 40% more in its opening weekend than his previous hit “Spirited Away.” (2001), the box-office record holder. It was seen by 1.1 million people and brought in ¥1.5 billion over the opening two days. It continues a trend of growing popularity with every film turned out by Studio Ghibli.
• “Naruhodo Za Waarudo” (Discovering the World) is to make a brief comeback. Fuji TV will air a New Year’s special of the show which ran for 15 years until 1996. Original presenters Aikawa Tetsuya and Kusuta Eriko will be replaced by comedy duo Bakusho Mondai.
• Actor Sakai Toshiya (45) revealed on a variety show last night that he recently divorced. He meekly made his admission on the “Odoru Odoru Sanma Goten” hosted by his friend, comedian Akashiya Sanma (48). He and his wife were in their tenth year of marriage and were considered an ideal couple.
Today is the Kinrou Kansha no Hi (Labor Thanksgiving Day) national holiday
The latest Miyazaki Hayao-directed anime feature, “Hauru no Ugoku Shiro” (Howl’s Moving Castle), opened at a record 448 cinemas across Japan at the weekend and is already predicted to break the box office record set in 2001 by Miyazaki’s previous hit, the Oscar-winning “Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi” (Spirited Away). The number of screens showing the movie is exactly a third more than the 336 that “Sen to…” opened on, and that movie made over ¥30 billion. “Hauru…” is scheduled to open in Korea on December 24, France on January 12, Taiwan on February 5, and Hong Kong on March 17. Negotiations are underway for the U.S. version and the dubbing is likely to feature some top Hollywood names.
• Talento Carousel Maki celebrated her first birthday as a woman on Sunday. Her actual 62nd birthday is the 26th, but Sunday’s party saw over 150 gays, “new half,” and drag queens from across the country gather for the celebration.
The voice actors who do the main parts for the ever-popular children’s anime Doraemon are all to retire over the next few months. With all five being in their late 60s – one is even 70 – they’ve decided to step aside after 25 years and make way for a younger generation of actors. The voice of the the robot cat himself is provided by actress Oyama Nobuyo (68). The weekly animation series is based around the adventures of lazy elementary school student Nobita and his friend Doraemon, a time-traveling robot cat created by the future Nobita to look after his hapless earlier self. Doraemon’s many special gifts include a “dokodemo-door” which can open to anywhere in the world, and a “take-copter” bamboo device that fixes to the head and allows the characters to fly.
Veteran actress Shirakawa Yumi (68) was hospitalized yesterday after falling out of her bed while asleep. The wife of actor Nitani Hideaki (73) is said to have suffered injuries to her shoulder and cervical vertebrae.
• Young talento Kato Rosa (photo, 19) denied she was romantically involved with popular actor Tamaki Hiroshi (24). She denied the romance, reported in a women’s weekly magazine, while at a ceremony to light up a giant Christmas tree under Tokyo Tower. Christmas is a time when singles are expected to go out on dates and rumors of romance usually abound. Born in Naples, Kato is an up and coming model and actress and is perhaps best known as the face of the bridal magazine Zekushi. She is also a regular on NHK’s Italian language study program.
The latest idea for reviving the flagging fortunes of the Kohaku Uta Gassen, NHK’s New Year’s Eve song special, is to go Korean. With the Korean boom still going strong, the network is negotiating to get such stars as heart-throbs Bae Yong Joon (32) and Lee Byung Hun (34) and actress Choi Ji Woo (photo, 29) to boost its lineup. Bae, known as “Yon-sama,” in particular is a firm housewives’ favorite, while Lee is currently the most popular among young women.
• Comedian and emcee Shimada Shinsuke (48) continues to be kept off the airwaves following his assault on a female Yoshimoto staff member last month. In his place, mostly fellow Yoshimoto veterans such as comedy duo Downtown will host this year’s remaining shows on NTV, Yomiuri TV and Fuji TV. Shimada is/was a regular host of eight TV shows.
Child actors currently banned from working after 8 p.m. will be allowed to appear on stage up to one hour later from January, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. A panel appointed by ministry officials agreed to the change because child actors have been prevented from appearing in meldonium-mildronate.com, and older actors were forced to take their parts because of the 8 p.m. deadline. Children working on TV programs or in movies, however, will still be limited by the 8 p.m. limit.
• Ishihara Makiko (71), widow of the screen legend Ishihara Yujiro (photo), said she was moved to tears by the new TV Asahi biographic series on her late husband. She herself is portrayed by actress Matsuzaka Keiko, while Miura Tomokazu takes on the role of her late husband in middle age. Ishihara died in 1987 of cancer at the age of 52. The series, titled “Ototo” (Younger Brother), started tonight and runs for five nights. It is narrated in the voice of Yujiro’s elder brother, Tokyo governor Ishihara Shintaro.
• Haida Rumihiko (50), son of the late singer Haida Katsuhiko, has been arrested for helping two Czech women gets jobs as bar hostesses without valid visas. He arranged jobs for the two 21-year olds in the Kabukicho entertainment district of Tokyo.