Monthly Archives: May 2005

A Star Returns

Hollywood actor Watanabe Ken (45) was one of a glittering group of stars who appeared at a PR event yesterday for the new movie “Batman Begins.” The event was held at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Tokyo’s trendy Roppongi district and a huge number of press from Hong Kong, China and Taiwan turned up to see the new Batman, Christian Bale (31), director Christopher Nolan (34), Tom Cruise’s new love Katie Holmes (26), Oscar winner Morgan Freeman (67) and Irish star Liam Neeson (52). Unlike many Japanese actors, Watanabe seemed quite at home with the Hollywood stars, joking around and playing “host.”

• Tired British rockers Oasis have finally got to No.1 in the charts. Though they’ve been hugely popular here in Japan for years, “Don’t Believe the Truth” is their first album to reach the top of the local Oricon chart. It is the first original album by a British band to reach No.1 since the Bay City Rollers did it in 1977. Meanwhile, at No.2 is the eponymous album by indies duo Def Tech, made up of Shen (24), born in China and raised in Hawaii, and Tokyo boy Micro (24). It’s taken a while since the January 22 release, but they are only the second independent group to put out a million-selling album, after Mongol 8000. It’s also the first original million seller this year.

Four in a Row for Namie

Talento Yamaguchi Moe (27) spoke yesterday for the first time about her romantic relationship with Ozeki Shigeo (30) founder of the IT company Zeel. She told fellow showbiz types on the Wada Akiko TBS show “Akko ni O-makase!” that her boyfriend has “living expenses” of over ¥1 million a month and is interested in reading books on philosophy. This prompted a surprised reaction, as Moe-chan is generally regarded as either pretty dim or a better actress than she is given credit for.

• The MTV Video Music Awards were held last night at the Tokyo Bay NK Hall. Taking three prizes, including the Best Video award, were the Okinawan sensation hip hop group Orange Range, Japan’s best selling artists in 2004. Amuro Namie (photo, 27) became the first artist to pick up an award four years running, getting the nod as the Best Asian Performing Artist and for the Best R&B Video. Visiting special guest Mariah Carey (35) picked up the International Video Icon award.

• English actor Gerald Butler (35) arrived at Narita Airport on a PR trip yesterday. His first trip to Japan was to promote “The Phantom of the Opera” in January, when he was relatively unknown, and he slipped through the airport almost unnoticed. This time around 2,000 screaming fans ensured a suitably chaotic welcome in the terminal building. Butler’s in town to plug another movie from 2004, “Dear Frankie,” which opens here June 25.

One Dream Comes True

Pop group Dreams Come True performed along with top foreign acts including Jamiroquai and Ashanti at yesterday’s “MTV Asahi Super Dry Live” event. The show was held at the Yoyogi No.1 Gymnasium in Tokyo. The theme of the event was making dreams come true and DCT vocalist Yoshida Miwa (photo, 40) helped one young couple do just that. After the band’s performance, she took part in a marriage ceremony on stage.

• Pop diva Mariah Carey (35) arrived in town yesterday for the MTV Video Music Awards show tomorrow. It’s only been two months since her last visit, which was to promote her latest album, “Mimi,” which has sold over 2 million copies in the US and about 300,000 here. About 1,000 fans turned out to greet her at Narita Airport. Dressed in her trademark low-cut dress, she told her fans “Aishitemasu!” (I love you!). She appeared last night on the live “SmaStation-4” TV Asahi show, talking to SMAP member Katori Shingo.

• Oscar winners Morgan Freeman (67) and Hilary Swank (30) seem to be enjoying their visit to Japan. Both appeared at the Japan premier of “Million Dollar Baby” and Freeman joked that he’s planning to stay in Japan to master the language. When asked in an interview what he thought of Watanabe Ken (45), Freeman replied that he sees him becoming the next Mifune Toshiro, who in his day was the Japanese actor best known outside the country. Swank said she spent her day off yesterday getting a foot massage and shopping in Harajuku. Saying she’s a big Yomiuri Giants fan, she said she had to get a baseball cap before she left. She could always get one in the Japan Zone Store of course…

Love at the Budokan

Pop/rock duo Love Psychedelico (photo) played at the Nippon Budokan for the first time yesterday. Backed up by the stellar guitar work of Sato Naoki (31), vocalist Kumi (29) told their 12,000 fans, “I can’t tell you often enough, Thank you! I love you!” She is one of the few vocalists in Japan who can sing in excellent English. The duo’s greatest hits album “Early Times” topped the oricon chart for two weeks after its February release. They have a new single, “Right Now,” coming out June 16 and will play in Taiwan for the first time June 22.

• The movie “Densha Otoko” (Train Man) is to be shown in several countries in East Asia, including Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, following sales efforts at the recent Cannes Film Festival. The movie is based on a supposedly true story that played out on the Channel 2 web site, Japan’s most popular BBS. It tells of an “otaku” (nerd), played by Yamada Takayuki (21), who comes to the rescue of a woman (Nakatani Miki, 29) being groped on a train. Not knowing how to pursue his newly found love, he turns to the Web for help and advice. The love story was turned into a best-selling book and has the subject of a lot of publicity over the last year, and has publishers scouring the Web looking for the next big hit. The biggest question that remains is whether it’s really a true story of innocent love triumphing or just a clever marketing ploy. The movie opens on June 4.

Matsuda Seiko‘s agency have denied a recent magazine report that she was romantically involved with a handsome former sports trainer in his early 30’s. Matsuda is 43.

Addicted to Coke

With their hair tied up, tight black suits and glasses, playing their instruments in a circular room with people dancing all around them, the girls in the new Diet Coke TV commercial are obviously taking their cues from videos by Lenny Kravitz and the late Robert Palmer. Leading the “rock group” is Mayama Keiko (26), who is becoming one of the countries most popular fashion models. Known by her nickname of MayaKei, she made her name the same way as many other models, as a cover girl for JJ magazine. With a strong femal fan base, the new commercial, which clearly appeals to rock fans and those with a secretary fetish, is bringing her lots of male attention, too.

• According to a weekly magazine, the son of legendary idol singer Yamaguchi Momoe (46) and actor Miura Tomokazu (53) is planning his showbiz debut. Currently a university student, the 20 year old is said to resemble his mother and be a “Johnny’s Jimusho” type. But the article says he’s planning to join the more macho Ishihara Promotion agency, founded by the also legendary Ishihara Yujiro and home to many of the top action stars. The plan involves father and son Miura appearing together in a revival of a popular old TV drama series, “Daitokai.” The agency denies the report, but if it turns out to be true, the debut will receive huge media attention.

• Actress Seto Asaka (28) acknowledged her relationship with Johnny’s Jimusho idol group V6 member Inohara Yoshihiko (28) for the first time this week. At a PR even for an upcoming TV drama, Seto said she and Inohara were doing fine, thank you.

Aegis Set to Destroy Summer Competition

Production has finished on the big summer movie, “Boukoku no Aegis.” The movie, which features “Last Samurai” star Sanada Hiroyuki (photo, 44), Nakai Kiichi (43) and Sato Koichi (44), is based on a popular manga about terrorists taking control of a Maritime Self Defense Forces “Aegis” class destroyer. The Sakamoto Junji-directed flick is scheduled to open July 30.

• In town to promote multiple Oscar-winning movie “Million Dollar baby” are Hilary Swank (30) and Morgan Freeman (67), both of whom took awards for their roles in the Clint Eastwood boxing flick. They will attend the Japanese premier of the movie tonight in Tokyo. This is Swank’s first time in Japan, while it’s Freeman’s fourth visit. It’s rare these days for Hollywood stars to appear at the Japanese opening of their movies, and considering they are both Oscar winners, this is a rare treat indeed for local film fans. Both stars arrived directly from a stint as judges at the Cannes Film Festival. Presenting them with a bouquet at a PR event yesterday was young actress Kuriyama Chiaki (20), who appeared in the Tarantino movie “Kill Bill, Vol.1.”

• Silly Award Season: Actress Momoi Kaori (53) has been chosen as this year’s Miss Lily, given to the celebrity who most suits the white flower. Momoi will appear later this year in the Hollywood movie “Sayuri,” based on the bestseller “Memoirs of a Geisha.”

4 Japanese Movies Make Time Top 100

“Ikiru” (To Live), directed in 1952 by the legendary Akira Kurosawa (photo), and three other Japanese movies have been selected among the “All-Time 100 Movies” by Time magazine. “Ikiru” was also chosen as the best movie of the 1950s. The other Japanese movies to make the list, which didn’t actually rank the movies, are 1953’s “Tokyo Story” by Yasujiro Ozu and “Ugetsu” by Kenji Mizoguchi, and “Yojimbo” (The Bodyguard) by Kurosawa from 1961. Needless to say, the list was dominated by Hollywood epics including “Casablanca” (1942), “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), “The Godfather, Parts I and II” (1972 and 1974) “Schindler’s List” (1993) and “The Lord of the Rings” (2001-2003).

• Kinjou Ayano (27), the pianist in the female duo Kiroro, is married and three months pregnant. She married a 31-year old restaurant “producer” yesterday. Her partner, vocalist Tamashiro Chiharu (28), got married just last month. The duo will play a series of five dates across the country in August and September, finishing up in the hometown of Okinawa.

• The band Day After Tomorrow announced that they’re going to put the band on hold and the three members will go solo. Guitarist Kitano Masato (30) has recently been in the news due to his romantic involvement with Sayaka (18), daughter of pop diva Matsuda Seiko. It’s thought that he might be planning to write songs for her and help her develop her career, possibly on the Avex label. The other band members are vocalist Misono (20) and keyboard player Suzuki Daisuke (26).

Korean Boom Continues

The Korean boom shows no sign of cooling off. About 3,500 female fans flocked to Narita Airport on Sunday to welcome actor Kwon Sangwoo (28), star of “Sad Love Song.” Kwon is on his second PR visit to Japan. He attended a “fan meeting” of about 6,000 screaming, mostly middle-aged, females at the Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba. Tickets for the event cost up to a whopping ¥15,000 but were sold out in less than an hour. With merchandising selling like hotcakes, the brief visit to Japan is believed to have earned Kwon close to ¥200 million. The drama series, whose Japanese title has been abbreviated to “Kanakoi,” airs on Saturday afternoons on Fuji TV.

Sad Love Song official Japanese site

• Meanwhile Korean R&B singer SE7EN (20) is also in town. He played a gig at the Tokyo Bay NK Hall on Sunday, kicking off his 7-city tour of Japan. 6,000 fans who bought his album were given free invitations to Sunday’s show. He recently released “Style,” his second single in Japan.

• Top Takarazuka star Ayaki Nao (photo, 34) gave her farewell show at the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater on Sunday. More than 8,000 fans turned out in the rain to bid her farewell. Having always played male roles in the all-female troupe, she will make her debut as an “actress” in the stage production of The Producers in August.

• Pop idols Tackey and Tsubasa finished their national tour at the weekend and announced to the 15,000 fans at the Yokohama Arena that each will go on their first solo tours later in the year. Imai Tsubasa (23) will start his national tour in September at the Tokyo International Forum, while Takizawa Hideaki (23) will kick off his tour in November.

Anri, Lee Ritenour to Wed

Singer Anri (43) announced to fans after a concert on Friday that she is engaged to legendary LA jazz fusion guitarist Lee Ritenour (52). Anri made the shock announcement during the encore of her show at Yokosuka Arts Theater. Ritenour worked with the singer as a producer on her 2000 album “Smooth Jam – Quiet Storm” and they have been collaborating since. Anri made her debut in 1979 and has had hits such as “Olivia wo Kikinagara” and “Cat’s Eye.” She also sang the theme song for the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998. She married the president of an apparel company in 1989, but bankruptcy and heavy debts led to divorce in 1993. Ritenour is also a divorcee.

• Sayaka (18), daughter of J-pop legend Matsuda Seiko (43), announced to fans on Saturday that she is taking an extended break from showbusiness. She said in a letter to her fan club that she wants to separate herself from her mother, who is in rehearsal for a tour to celebrate her 25th anniversary in the business, and dedicate herself to her singing career in a more disciplined way. The pair have appeared together in several TV commercials, but cracks started to appear in their relationship late last year. Seiko controls the money as her daughter is still a juvenile and this is said to have led to trouble. Sayaka moved out of her mother’s Tokyo home last autumn, and these days seems to rely more on boyfriend Kitano Masato (30), guitarist with the band Day After Tomorrow. Sayaka had a success with her debut single in 2002, but her fourth single, released in January, only sold about 30,000 copies. She recently graduated from an international high school in Tokyo.

• On Saturday, actor Oguri Shun (22) made his first public appearance since his relationship with former Morning Musume leader Yaguchi Mari (22) caused her to have to quit the group. After doing a voice-over recording for an upcoming anime movie, he acknowledged the relationship to the media and aplologized to fans for any “inconvenience.”

Former Pop Idols Turn to Crime

Two former members of the Johnny’s Junior idol group were among a trio arrested this week on robbery charges. The two unemployed 19-year olds were not named as they are juveniles. Also arrested was a 24-year old, though there are believed to have been others involved in the criminal gang, including other former JJ members. The group stole about ¥310,000 in cash from a 55-year old company worker on his way home on the night of April 6, leaving him with slight injuries. They are suspected in several other cases of “oyaji-gari” (hunting middle-aged men) as well as about 30 safe-breaking cases in western Tokyo, amassing about ¥3 million in ill-gotten gains. The former pop idols said that they had grown tired of the rigorous and hectic entertainment business and just wanted to hang out with friends.

• I suppose every country has them. Those quirky stories that are just fluff but seem to capture the public imagination. We have the mystery “piano man” in the UK. And Japan has “Fuuta-kun.” A 2-year old Lesser Panda at a zoo in Chiba, his claim to fame is…wait for it…he stands on his hind legs. Fair enough, I thought it was a hoax when it was just photos on TV, but actual footage of the creature has been on all the wide shows and news programs. Oh, and it’s not even something that unusual. His “grandfather, a 9-year old, does it, too.

• Enka singer Mori Shinichi (57) gave a tearful performance this week at the strangely named Potato association Charity Show at NHK Hall in Shibuya, Tokyo. He performed with his wife Masako (46) at the very first event in 1985 and again in recent years, but the two recently divorced.