Monthly Archives: November 2005

A Red Carpet Day

The red carpet was rolled out on Tuesday night for the world premiere of “Sayuri.” The Hollywood version of the bestselling novel “Memoirs of a Geisha” features scenes at a sumo tournament, so the star-studded event was held at the Tokyo Kokugikan stadium, where tournaments are held three times a year. The Columbia Pictures movie, co-produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Rob Marshall, opens here on December 10. Though it tells the tale of a young Japanese geisha, three of the major female parts are played by Chinese actresses Zhang Ziyi (26), in the lead role, and Gong Li (39), as well as Malaysian-born former Bond girl Michelle Yeoh (43). Over 700 reporters turned out to cover the pre-event press conference on Monday. (photo © CNSPhoto)

• A slightly smaller media barrage was waiting for Brad Pitt (41) and Angelina Jolie (30). But the 500 reporters who packed a room at the Park Hyatt Tokyo hotel included no members of the foreign press, and local media were also banned from releasing anything outside the country. The two stars of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” were separated on the stage by a producer but exchanged plenty of comments and looks. Sankei Sports reported that Pitt looked a bit less wild than usually and a bit more “fatherlike.” But with his characteristic humor, Pitt joked that his co-star was too big-headed and he didn’t want to perform with her again! About 1,800 fans turned out for a red carpet event at Roppongi Hills Arena in the evening, though only 600 were lucky enough to get inside.

• Actress Yamamura Momiji (45) was punched in the face while filming at a shrine in Kyoto. The actress was working with 15 crew members, filming an introduction to the shrine for the satellite Kyoto Channel. She was standing in front of the honden (inner sanctuary) when a man next to her suddenly landed a single punch to her left cheek. Staff restrained the man until he was arrested by police. The man admitted the attack but gave no reason, and refused to provide his name or identification.

True Romance?

Arriving at Narita Airport by private jet on Sunday were Hollywood’s hottest “couple,” Brad Pitt (41) and Angelina Jolie (30). The two, in town to promote “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” walked through the airport lobby with Jolie’s two adopted children Zahara (9 months) and Maddox (4). About 200 fans, and 50 reporters were kept in check by 50 additional security staff. The stars, who have yet to acknowledge their relationship or repond to speculation about marriage, gave a press conference yesterday – with foreign media excluded – and attended the movie’s premiere last night. The movie opens on December 3.

• Also arriving at Narita, though by regular scheduled flight, was actress Toda Naho (31). Speculation of romance between her and New York Yankees outfielder Matsui Hideki (31) has been in the news again. Toda returned from New York on Sunday and was met at the airport by those busy 50 reporters and questions about love and marriage. While she publicly admitted that she and “Godzilla” are romantically involved, she refused to be drawn on the question of wedding plans. Matsui recently signed a new 4-year, $52-million contract with the Yankees that makes him the best-paid Japanese player in the major leagues.

• And one more arrival. Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi (26) arrived at Narita Sunday from London, and is here to promote “Sayuri,” the Hollywood version of Arthur Golden’s bestseller “Memoirs of a Geisha.” Directed by Rob Marshall, the movie also features top Japanese stars such as Watanabe Ken, Yakusho Koji and Kudo Yuki (Youki). The movie opens on December 10.

A Busy Weekend for Kabuki

A couple of firsts for kabuki over the weekend. On Friday, UNESCO announced its decision to designate kabuki as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The traditional Japanese theater form dates back to the Edo Period, Japan’s renaissance. It joins noh,similarly designated in 2001, and bunraku puppet theater designated in 2003. Kabuki’s candidacy still needs to be ratified by a few more countries, but is expected to receive formal protection under the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage sometime in 2006. Among those delighted by the news was Sakata Tojuro IV, the first kabuki actor to take that stage name in 231 years. Formally known as Nakamura Ganjiro, the “living national treasure” spoke to the press at Minamiza theater in Kyoto before the annual “kaomise” performances that begin on Wednesday. About 5,000 fans turned out to celebrate his ascension to the new name earlier this month.

• Meanwhile, the Kabukiza theater in Tokyo’s Ginza saw young ladies in swimsuits take to its hallowed catwalk for the first time. The Shochiku movie studio held the finals of its Star Gate audition for young actresses. In its 110th year, and from over 10,000 hopefuls, the studio chose 19-year-old student Ebise Hanako (photo), who was also chosen as a winner in the Kyoto Kimono Queen pageant earlier in the year.

• And finally, it was announced Saturday that popular young kabuki actor Nakamura Shido (33) recently became a dad. His wife, actress Takeuchi Yuko (25), gave birth to a baby boy at a Tokyo hospital last Tuesday. The couple married in June.

Puffy on Parade

Pop duo and anime idols Puffy took part in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York yesterday. They are the first Japanese artists to join the annual event. Their parade float was a recreation of the tour bus that appears in the animation series “Hi! Hi! Puffy AmiYumi,” and featured giant versions of their cartoon characters. At the end of the route, they performed a song for delighted young female fans.

• Hollywood watch: Brad Pitt continues his feud with the foreign media in Japan. He and Angelina Jolie are due to give a press conference in Tokyo on Monday for their new movie “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”, but have barred any foreign media from attending. It will be the pair’s first official public appearance together since off-screen romance was reported between them during the summer. Japanese media will have to sign a document promising not to ask personal questions or distribute their coverage outside the country. Foreign reporters were also kept out of the press conference for “Ocean’s Twelve” in January, Pitt’s last PR trip and just after he split with Jennifer Aniston.

• And Kiefer Sutherland (38) is in Japan for the first time. He has already featured in a series of TV commercials for Ohtsuka Seiyaku’s Calorie Mate drink, based on his Jack Bauer character, but is in town to promote the latest “24 Season IV” DVD release. At a press conference yesterday he said he had jet lag the night before and wandered the streets of Shibuya. “But I’ve been thinking of doing a documentary in Tokyo so I shot some film,” he admitted.

Mama For a Day

Yesterday saw singer Koda Kumi (23), popular in the club scene, become the mama of a different kind of club for a day. It was all part of the promotion for her greatest hits album – she said that if it became a million sller, she’d “open” her own hostess club in the upscale Ginza district. Well, the album has sold 1.4 million copies and Koda already had a day’s training from a real Ginza mama. So she got dolled up in a kimono, in contrast to her usual no-bra low-cut style, and arrived at the club by limousine. She had 30 “Koda-musume” lookalikes on hand to cater to the 100 or so music industry types and three fans lucky enough to get a special invite, out of 10,000 who applied. Today she returns to her regular job, but has another marketing stunt up her sleeve. From December 7, she will release a new single every week for 12 weeks. And if the all make the Top 5? “Hmm, maybe take a turn as a pro wrestler?” she wondered.

• Yesterday also saw singer Hajime Chitose (26) make her first appearance since becoming a mother. She was on the Sony Music Online website to promote her newly released single “Katari Tsugu Koto” (Hand-me-downs), her first release in almost two and a half years. It was also her first live Web appearance since she made her debut in 2002.

A Big Job for Koichi

Today is the Kinro Kansha no Hi (Labor Thanksgiving Day) national holiday.

With their latest chart topper, Kinki Kids have now had more No.1 albums than any other male idol act. With their 9th album going straight to No.1, they surpassed their Johnny’s Jimusho stablemates SMAP and V6 on eight. “H Album-Hand” has sold almost quarter of a million copies in its first week. Meanwhile, member Domoto Koichi (photo, 26) is going to be taking his job even more seriously. As one half of the hugely popular duo – the other half being Domoto Tsuyoshi (no relation) – he has been an idol for over a decade. But Koichi has always been the more serious of the two and now he is being rewarded with a new level of responsibility. From 2007 he will take over the running of an annual stage show at Tokyo’s Imperial Theater which, for the seven years up to the 2006 production, has been run by his boss Johnny Kitagawa. Koichi will be responsible for the production, casting, music and creation of the show. “Endless Shock,” the 2006 show, will be put on in February and March of next year. Tickets are already extremely hard to come by.

Oh, You Sexy Thing!

Actor Watanabe Ken (46) has been named to a list of the world’s sexiest men. He was included in the “International Men of Sexiness” in the latest edition of the weekly People Magazine. Other notable names include British actor Clive Owen, Aussie country-rocker Keith Urban, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Swiss tennis star Roger Federer. Watanabe is commended for his humility, discipline, simplicity and adaptability. Topping the poll as the “Sexiest Man Alive” was actor Matthew McConaughey.

• The celebs turned out for the opening of a new restaurant in central Tokyo yesterday. Cotton Club, a recreation of the famous New York night spot of the 1920s, officially opens for business in the new Marunouchi Tokia building tonight. But people like Kano Mika (38), musician and Morning Musume producer Tsunku (37), and Rakuten CEO Mikitani Hiroshi (40) got a sneak preview of the venue’s food and live jazz.

• Actor Nakamura Shigeyuki (38) revealed on his website yesterday that he has been divorced since last month. He made his debut as a member of the Johnny’s Jimusho idol group Eagles in 1983 and has been a second-tier actor since the group broke up in 1985. He married former actress Shirase Megumi in 2000.

• The latest Harry Potter movie opened on over 800 screens here last Saturday and pulled in ¥367 million at the box office on its first day.

Japan “Popping” Up Round the World

Singer Shinohara Tomoe (26) seems to be making something of a comeback. She made a big impact back in the mid-90s with her bubbly personality and outlandish fashion sense, and her single “Ultra Relax” was a big hit in 1997. She disappeared from the music scene over the last few years as she concentrated on theater work, but has been popping up on variety shows again lately. In October she released her first single in five years. This week she’s in Paris for a month-long event to promote Japanese pop culture. It was also announced that she will be back in the City of Light next June to take part in a major music festival.

• Meanwhile, the “anime USA” festival was held in Washington DC over the weekend. Pop trio m.o.v.e. were on hand to provide a live rendition of “Dogfight,” the theme song to the anime series “Initial D.” The 3-day event attracted about 3,500 fans of anime and manga.

• And coming in the opposite direction, it was announced that Bon Jovi will be touring Japan for the 13th time next April. They’ll play 6 stadium shows, bringing their total here to 35, a new record for a foreign band. They currently share the record with the Rolling Stones with 29.

Mino to Breath Life into Kohaku

Mino Monta (61) has been named as one of the emcee’s for this year’s Kohaku Uta Gassen. The song spectacle has been an institution on NHK every New Year’s Eve for generations but has seen declining viewer ratings in recent years. The network obviously hopes the man known as “Mister TV” and the King of the Ratings will help reverse the trend. He currently has a total of eight regular weekly shows, three of them live. For Kohaku, he will be accompanied by NHK announcer Yamane Motoyo (57), who is very popular with middle-aged men.

• TV Asahi announcer Takeuchi Emi (28) is seriously involved with a company president, according to the latest issue of weekly magazine Friday. She managed to duck out of a press conference for an upcoming variety show as soon as her romance with Nojiri Yoshitaka (33), president of wedding organizer Take and Give – Needs, was mentioned by a reporter. In 2001, Nojiri became the youngest ever president to take his company onto the Nasdaq Japan stock market.

Ryoko Loses Father

Actress Yonekura Ryoko (30) is in shock after the death of her father. Yonekura Yasumi died yesterday at a Yokohama hospital of lung cancer. He was 57. Yonekura said in a fax statement from her agency Oscar Productions, “I still can’t believe it and don’t know what to think. My father understood me better than anyone and always supported me as an actress. I just don’t have the words to thank him.”

• Former sumo star turned TV talento Mainoumi Shuhei (37) is to make an apearance in the Hollywood movie “Memoirs of a Geisha” (titled “Sayuri” in Japan). During his 8-year career, the diminuitive wrestler made up for his lack of height by developing an astonishing range of fighting techniques. His bouts with the man-mountain Konishiki were always a highlight of any sumo tournament. He retired from the sport in 1999. He has since appeared regularly on Tv as a sumo and sports commentator and in occasional dramatic roles. The new movie will have its world premiere on November 29 at the Ryogoku Kokugikan stadium in Tokyo where sumo tournaments are held three times a year.

• Toshiba EMI is to release 14 songs penned by the late John Lennon as ringtones. It is the first time in the world for the music of a former Beatle to be used due to complicated copyright issues. Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono (72), says she thinks her husband would have approved. “John always loved new technology. I think this will open new doors for many people to find his music.” The first two songs to be released will be “Imagine” and “So This is Christmas.”

• British funk band Jamiroquai are in Japan for their 7th tour, the first in three years. They opened the tour last night at the Nippon Budokan, where they played a 17-song set, including old hits and tracks from their latest album “Dynamite,” for 8,000 fans. They play another gig there tonight before moving to Osaka for two more shows.