Monthly Archives: May 2006

Death of a Master Moviemaker

Imamura Shohei, one of Japan’s greatest movie directors, died of multiple organ failure at a Tokyo hospital yesterday afternoon. He was 79. He won the Palme d’Or grand prize at the Cannes International Film Festival twice, with “Narayama Bushikou” (Ballad of the Narayama) in 1983 and “Unagi” (The Eel) in 1997. Actor Yakusho Koji (50), who starred in Unagi, said “It was truly an honor to have a chance to work with Imamura-kantoku (director). He taught me so much. I wanted to see him make many more movies. He was a treasure of the Japanese movie industry.” Yakusho recently visited Imamura in hospital before leaving for this year’s Cannes festival, where the movie “Babel” in which he supports Brad Pitt, won the Director’s Prize. Imamura began as an assistant director under the master Ozu Yasujiro at the Shochiku studio and made his first movie in 1958. But he was not really a studio player and moved toward a less stylized manner than that of classical Japanese cinema and was not afraid to tackle taboo subjects. The common theme in his movies was the nature of Man and the recurring question of what it means to be a working class Japanese. At the time that his first Palme d’Or was being announced in Cannes, he was playing mahjong in Tokyo. He also left the festival early in 1997, sure that Unagi had no chance of winning the top award. A heavy smoker who enjoyed shochu, he had a gourmet’s palette, despite suffering from diabetes from his late 20s. He was diagnosed with colon cancer last summer, and though he underwent surgery, the cancer had spread to other organs. He was hospitalized several times and spent most of his last week in a semi-conscious state.

• Singer Naito Yasuko (55) has been hospitalized following a brain hemorrhage. She felt unwell during a dinner show in Fukui Prefecture on Sunday and collapsed after coming off stage. She was rushed to hospital but is expected to make a full recovery.

Jacko’s Private Pachinko Parlor

Michael Jackson (47) caused another crowd panic in Shibuya last night when he decided to try his hand at pachinko. He had the “Maruhan” pachinko parlor in Shibuya all to himself after it closed at 11pm, but a crowd quickly gathered outside and the police were called in to keep order. Jackson was seen to wildly enjoy the unique Japanese game, which combines pinball with the gambling of slot machines. It’s illegal to win money in the parlor itself, but the media didn’t mention if he had to slip around the corner to a separate booth to pick up his prizes. Earlier in the evening, he held a private party at an exclusive French restaurant in Aoyama. About 100 people were in attendance, including the glamorous Kano Sisters, former X Japan member Yoshiki (40), and actress Mizuki Arisa (29).

• Drumming group Kodo are to play this summer’s Fuji Rock Festival. They will be the first instrumental group to perform on the festival’s main stage. Though in no sense a rock group, Kodo have wowed music fans in Japan and worldwide for the last 25 years and are sure to be a big hit at Fuji Rock. They have performed in 43 countries, including Norway for a concert commemorating the 100th Nobel Prize ceremony in 2001.

• Actress Ishiki Sae (29) is expecting her third child. She made her return to work yesterday on an NHK show, only to announce that she was five months pregnant. She married American-Japanese entrepreneur and former model Sarfen Satoshi (29) in 2002, as her acting career was hitting a peak.

• Actress Mimura (21) is seriously involved with Japanese-born Korean conductor Kim Seikyo (36), according to today’s issue of the weekly magazine Flash. The couple are said to have met on the set of last year’s movie “Kono Mune Ippai no Ai wo”. Mimura is an up and coming name, and starred in the movie “Chakushin Ari 2” (One Missed Call 2). Kim was born in Osaka, where he is a resident conductor with the Century Orchestra.

Okada Masumi Dead

Actor Okada Masumi died early this morning of cancer. He was 70. Born in Nice, France to a Danish mother and Japanese father, he was one of the most popular supporting actors of the postwar era, appearing in a wide variety of TV, movie and musical theater roles. With his command of English and French and a deep booming voice, he was often the emcee of variety shows and beauty contests. His nickname was “FanFan.” He was married three times, including a first “contractual” marriage to choreographer Yoneyama Mamako.

• The legendary Michael Jackson (47) is in town since the weekend, making his first public appearance since being acquited on child molestation charges last year. He was making his first trip to Japan in eight years and was honored at the MTV Music Video Awards Japan on Saturday. On Sunday he visited an institute for handicapped children. His car was mobbed by screaming fans but Jackson wasn’t fazed, opening his window to sign autographs.

• Actress Mashita Konomi (28), who had been expecting her first child, revealed at the weekend that she lost the baby at the beginning of the month. She and her non-showbiz husband (39) married in June 2004. Mashita made her debut in a TV commercial at the age of four and was a popular child actress.

• NHK has revealed the extent of its financial scandals. After a former chief producer in the national network’s sports department was found in 2004 to have claimed millions of yen for fictional business trips, the company carried out extensive investigations. The findings have turned up some 287 cases involving 194 employees, who stole a total of more than ¥3.5 million in taxpayer’s money. Further false claims by the chief producer have also been discovered and will lead to a police case.

• “Babel”, the Brad Pitt Hollywood movie that also features Yakusho Koji (50), has been awarded the Director’s Prize at the Cannes International Film Festival.

Comedian Threatened by Rightists

Popular comedian Ota Hikari (47) recently received a written warning from an extreme rightist group. One half of the comedy duo Bakusho Mondai, Ota has brought his more serious face to the variety show circuit and often discusses political and social issues with intelligence and insight. His Tokyo management agency revealed on Friday that the chief of the Nagasaki-based rightist group Seikijuku visited them in April and delivered a one-page A4 letter. The letter condemned an anti-Japan remark supposedly made by Ota on the radio. It turned out the remark was never made and was the fabrication of a poster on an online forum. A bodyguard was assigned to Ota and police patroled the area around his agency in Suginami Ward. The Seikijuku chief was imprisoned for 12 years for the attempted murder of the mayor of Nagasaki in 1990 following a remark that the emperor had been responsible for Japan’s entry into World War II. Such “uyoku dantai” rightist groups are thinly veiled political organizations run by the yazuka.

• Actor Hayami Mokomichi (21) got a double shock on Friday. The weekly gossip magazine Friday published a story revealing a romance with a young actress. Mokomichi later in the day admitted was a good friend, though nothing more, from his college days. What he claims he didn’t known was that she is an AV (porno) actress. He said she probably hadn’t told him because she feared he would no longer want to be seen with her as his career is just taking off. He insisted that he has no intention of breaking off their friendship.

B’z, Yuming All-time Chart Toppers

Chart ranking company Oricon is celebrating its 40th year in the business. To mark the occasion, it has released a ranking of the biggest sellers of the past four decades. Top of the male rankings is rock group B’z, who have sold a staggering 41,450,000 albums and 33,210,000 singles. They also have the most million-selling singles (15) and albums (19). And the best-selling female artist is Matsuyoya Yumi, with a total of 29,300,000 albums sold. Hamasaki Ayumi has sold the most singles, currently 19,840,000. With B’z still very much on top of their game, their records will keep extending and are unlikely to be beaten anytime soon. Yuming is somewhat past her heyday and has the likes of Hamasaki and Utada Hikaru on her tail. Johnny’s Jimusho pop duo Kinki Kids got a mention for the fact that every single (22) and album (6) they’ve ever released has gone to top of the Oricon charts. Other record holders are folk singer Inoue Yosui, who topped the album chart for 68 weeks in a row, and 80s idol duo Pink Lady who held the No.1 spot on the singles chart for 63 straight weeks.

• NHK announcer Shimazu Yuriko (32) is engaged to marry a lawyer in September. According to the “Shukan Bunshun” weekly magazine, the pair met last year when Shimazu was on vacation in New York, where her fiancee was working. They started going out when he returned to Japan.

• Actress Uchida Yuki (30) is to make her drama comeback. She will appear alongside Tamura Masakazu (62) in the TBS drama series “Dare yorimo Mama wo Aisu”, starting on July 2. It will be Uchida’s first work since she and actor Yoshioka Hidetaka (35) divorced last December, and her first dramatic role she they starred together in “Kita no Kuni Kara” in 2002. It was that long-running series that brought them together, and they even got married on location in Furano, Hokkaido.

Standing Ovation for Babel

The Hollywood movie “Babel” received at 12-minute standing ovation at the Cannes International Film Festival yesterday. The movie stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett and features one of Japan’s finest actors in Yakusho Koji (50). It was directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, who was in tears as the applause and handshakes from the audience of 2,500 just kept coming. The movie is set in Morocco, Tunisia, Mexico and Japan, and the story begins with a tragedy striking a married couple on vacation. It is entered in the competition section and is considered a strong candidate for the Palme d’Or. Yakusho has experienced the big prize before, winning in 1997 with “Unagi.” Other Japanese appearing at Cannes this year include actor Odagiri Jo (30), making his third trip to the festival, and director Nishikawa Miwa (31).

• Also at Cannes, the movie version of the manga “Death Note” has been receiving lots of interest from international distributors. More than 50 companies are said to have expressed interest, and deals have been tied up for eight countries in Asia. The hugely popular manga, which has sold over 14 million copies, has been translated into several languages and has been popular throughout the Far East. The first of two movies, directed by Kaneko and starring Fujiwara Tatsuya, is set to open in Japan on June 17. The second movie is scheduled to open in October.

• Olympic gold medallist Arakawa Shizuka (24) is to make her dramatic debut. The winner of the figure skating gold, Japan’s only medal at the recent Turin Winter Olympics, will appear in the June 1 episode of the TV Asahi legal drama series “Shichinin no Onna Bengoshi.” She will play a prosecutor battling in the courtroom and on the ice rink against series star Shaku Yumiko (27).

• Popular fortune teller Hosoki Kazuko (68) has written a letter of complaint to Fuji TV. She was unhappy that a “bad guy” character in the May 1 episode of the Fuji drama series “Top Caster” was clearly based on her. Hosoki’s huge popularity as a writer – her phenomenal book sales put her in the Guinness Book of Records – and sharp-shooting granny has spawned a whole new genre of variety show.

Watanabe Ken Fighting Hepatitis

Hollywood-based actor Watanabe Ken (46) reveals in his newly published autobiography “Dare? – Who Am I?” that he has hepatitis C. At a PR event held yesterday in Tokyo’s Ginza district, he said he is in good condition at the moment, but is still undergoing treatment. Since June of last year, he has been having weekly injections of Interferon and takes medicine twice daily. In February, the virus took a turn for the better, and if that condition continues for a year or so, the treatment will be considered successful. Like many hepatitis sufferers, he contracted the disease as a result of receiving infected blood. He had blood transfusions as part of his treatment for leukemia, which developed in 1989 at a time when his acting career was really taking off. The hepatitis was discovered shortly before he started filming the 2002 Tom Cruise movie “The Last Samurai”. The huge debts incurred by his wife during his years of medical care was a major factor in their acrimonious divorce, which was finalized last year. Watanabe got remarried to the actress Minami Kaho (42) in December. He is currently appearing in, and is executive producer of, the movie “Ashita no Kioku” (Tomorrow’s Memories) about a middle aged man who develops early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. It is now obvious why he has been able to bring such passion to the project as he has battled not once but twice with life-threatening disease.

No Love for Arthur

A bit of a TV coincidence last night. On “Gowan Coaching!” on TV Tokyo, Itoda Jun (33) was one of two comedians given ten days to learn to play the sax. The husband of actress Adachi Yumi (24) managed a very respectable rendition of “Fly Me to the Moon”, under the tuition of top female sax player Asamoto Chika. Itoda dedicated the song to his wife and new baby. Meanwhile, over on Yomiuri TV’s “Geikoi Real”, actor Kuroda Arthur (45) was professing his love for Korean talento Yoon Sona (30). The show, presented by Yoon and comedian Shimada Shinsuke, features TV personalities who have a secret love or admiration for a fellow geinojin. Yoon was clearly shocked that this time she was the one with the secret admirer. Both she and Kuroda are known as very “majime” (serious) types who don’t open up their hearts easily. She ended up in tears as she thanked Kuroda for his love letter but declined to accept his offer of a relationship. The coincidence is that just a year ago, the media was counting the days until Kuroda would marry Adachi. Shimada mentioned that Yoon came from a “serious” family, slyly adding that her mother was unlikely to publish a book of nude photos – a thinly veiled reference to that very stunt by Adachi’s mother.

• Nigerian talento Bobby Ologun (40) announced yesterday that he is leaving his management agency. He was questioned by prosecutors earlier this year after starting a brawl at the Tokyo office of R & A Production. In response to the announcement, the agency said that Ologun is under contract until the end of 2007 and can’t work on TV until then. A spokesman for his new company, Aremuco Production, said, “It’s true that one or two legal matters remain unresolved, but Bobby is serious about his decision. He will never work for R & A again.”

• TBS announcer Kimura Ikumi (33) and former pro tennis player Sugisawa Shuichi (38) announced yesterday that they got married last Friday. The two first met at a party just four months ago. They plan to hold a wedding ceremony in the autumn. Sugisawa is president of the sports management company Team Scandinavia.

An Irregular Proposal

Comedian Matsumoto Kouta (photo left, 27) was serious for once when he proposed to his girlfriend on stage yesterday. One half of the popular duo Regular, known for their “Aru Aru Tankentai” routine, Matsumoto was appearing in the final show of the stage production “Ninja Illusion Naruto” in Osaka. He introduced his girlfriend’s parents, who were sitting in the audience, and promptly asked them, “Kanojo wo boku ni kudasai!” (Please give me your daughter’s hand). She then appeared on stage and he said, “Shiawase ni shimasu node, kekkon shite kudasai.” (I’ll make you happy. Marry me, please), to which she could hardly refuse! The couple have been going out for more than two years, though their relationship was only discovered by the media in March.

• Over 1,000 fans, and not all of them screaming teenage girls, turned out for the first fan event held by popular actor Shimizu Mokomichi (21). The event was held at the Studio Dream maker in Tokyo’s Odaiba. Mokomichi talked about his first movie starring role in “Rafu” (Rough), set to open on August 26, and the upcoming TV Asahi drama series “Regatta”. Rough, which also satrs Nagasawa Masami (18), is described as a “poolside love story” and is sure to be a summer hit. Mokomichi’s fan base varies from high schol girls to young mothers and the fan event even attracted a number of young men.

Today’s other stories: Mokomichi’s First Fan Event

Puffy’s Yumi Living With Actor

Singer Yoshimura Yumi (photo left, 31) of the pop duo Puffy is living with actor Omori Nao (34), according to today’s issue of the weekly gossip magazine Friday. Starting out as friends, the pair are said to have become romantically involved at the beginning of this year. Spokespeople at the management agencies of both celebrities declined to comment on what they said was a private matter. Yoshimura divorced singer Nishikawa Takanori (35), better known as TM Revolution, in 2002 and was later linked with Awanokoji Sho of the rock group Kishiden. But conflicting performance schedules put paid to their romance and they split at the end of last year. Yoshimura, together with Onuki Ami, has enjoyed great success in the US, where they are known as Puffy AmiYumi and have their own show on the Cartoon Network. Omori, son of the actor Maro Akaji (63), is currently appearing in the Fuji TV series “Busu no Hitomi ni Koishiteru”.

• Singer Fukuyama Masaharu (37) is to make his first variety show appearance in 14 years. He will appear on tonight’s edition of the TBS late show “Koisuru Hamikami!”. He will no doubt be promoting his new single “Milk Tea”, due for release on May 24, which is used as the show’s theme song. Comedienne Hisamoto Masami (45), one of the presenters, is a huge Fukuyama fan. The hugely popular singer is set for a busy day today, appearing on four different networks.

• Popular actor Uchino Masaaki (37) and former top Takarazuka star Ichiro Maki (41) are engaged to be married. Ichiro left the all-female troupe in 1996 and has performed on stages around the world. She and Uchino met when they played together in the musical “Elizabeth” in 2000. Ichiro appeared in the 1997 NHK taiga historical drama series, while Uchino is to play the lead role in next year’s production.