Disgraced funny man Yamamoto Keiichi (38) is to be replaced by fellow comedian Tsukaji Muga (photo, 34). With Yamamoto’s career believed to be finished because of the ongoing rape allegations against him (see yesterday’s update), his role in the Fuji TV drama “Tokyo Tower” is to be taken by Tsukaji, the rotund half of duo Drunk Dragon. Fuji had already begun promoting the drama, which featured Yamamoto in a key role and was due to air on July 29, when the rape case broke on July 17. The network initially planned to just archive it, but after receiving a barrage of messages from disappointed fans, they decided to postpone it until key scenes could be re-shot. The drama is a tearjerker based on the bestselling novel by Lily Franky (whose official pen-name, by the way, is “Lily Franky Goes to Hollywood”). It features Hokkaido actor Oizumi Yo in his first lead role in a national network drama.
• The 63rd Venice International Film Festival opened yesterday, and will feature several giants of the anime world. Among the 21 entries in the running for the Golden Lion are a live-action version of the hit anime “Mushishi”, directed by Otomo Katsuhiro and starring Odagiri Jo, and the anime “Papurika” by Kon Satoshi. Otomo is best known for the 1988 anime classic “Akira” and most recently 2004’s “Steamboy”. Kon’s earlier works, including “Sennen Joyu” (Millenium Actress) and “Tokyo Godfathers” have enjoyed worldwide acclaim. Four other Japanese films are to be screened outside the competition, including “Gedo Senki” (Tales from Earthsea), the latest anime feature from Studio Ghibli, and “Korogi” (Crickets) by Aoyama Shinji.
The criminal case continues against comedian Yamamoto Keiichi (38). Police in Hakodate have sent documents to prosecutors regarding his alleged assault and rape of a 17-year old girl in the city on July 17, though an arrest is not expected at the present time. Yamamoto was in Hakodate to play for the amateur baseball team run by comedian Hagimoto Kinichi (65). He and several acquaintances picked up four local girls the night before the game and took them back to their business hotel. Yamamoto has admitted to having sex with the girl, but has insisted it was consensual and that the girl claimed to be 18. The latest move by police is an attempt to clear up contradictions in the two accounts. Yamamoto was dropped by the Yoshimoto Kogyo agency the day of the incident and is considered unlikely to be able to resume his showbiz career. His partner in the duo Gokuraku Tombo, Kato Koji, is continuing as a solo performer.
• From today, Americans will be able to get a glimpse of the future of Japanese baseball. The two pitching sensations who had their home nation enthralled during the recent national high school championship are part of the team that left for the U.S. yesterday. They will play a total of five games against American youngsters on the east and west coasts, as well as fit in a visit to Cooperstown and a Major League game. In particular, the media have focused on 18-year old Saito Yuki, who led Waseda Jitsugyo to their first Koshien title, and his rival Tanaka Masahiro of Komadai Tomakomai. Saito threw an amazing 948 pitches in seven complete games, including a replay of the final against Tomakomai. Rather than going the usual route and joining a Japanese team, he has expressed an interest in going to college and then playing in the major leagues. This morning’s wide shows featured footage of the team meeting New York Yankees star Matsui Hideki and visiting the Ground Zero site.
Actress Honjo Manami (31) has been named as a presenter of Fuji TV’s autumn variety show “The Best House 123”, despite the fact that she’s currently six months pregnant. The show, which will air from November 1, presents the world’s Top 3 in a variety of categories. Honjo, who along with comedy duo London Boots presented the show in a late-night slot in January, is expecting a baby at the end of December but plans to work until the last moment and hopes to be back on the show early in the new year.
Actress Hazuki Riona (31) is making her return to the big screen after three and a half years. She will be at the Venice International Film Festival, which opens August 30, to promote the movie “Sakebi” (Scream). She has a supporting role to star Yakusho Koji (50). She will accompany director Kurosawa Kiyoshi (51) and producer Ichise Takashige (45) in her first visit to an international film festival. Hazuki has made headlines in recent years for her tumultuous personal life. She has already been married twice, after earlier romances with stars like actor Sanada Hiroyuki and baseball player Ichiro, but neither marriage lasted more than a few months. She had a child during her second marriage.
• The weekend saw the annual 24-hour TV marathon on NTV. This year’s theme was “kizuna” (ties), which led to some smaltzy but also some genuinely moving segments. One particularly sad documentary saw actress Hirosue Ryoko visit the site of the 2004 massacre at the school in Beslan, Russia in which over 340 people died, more than half of them children. It looked at the stories of some of the children who survived the horrific ordeal. On a lighter note, the centerpiece of the show is always a long-distance run by a celebrity, and this year it was the turn of Japan’s lankiest comedy duo, Ungirls. If ever there was a pair who looked like they couldn’t manage 100m, let alone 100km, it’s these two. As always seems to happen, they managed to arrive at the Nippon Budokan right on time for the end of the show. But it’s all for a good cause. The charity event, which managed a second-best ever average audience rating of 17.7% in the Kanto region, brought in almost ¥300 million in donations.
Ogawa Makoto (18) is the latest starlet to graduate from Morning Musume. She made her last appearance in the musical “Ribbon no Kishi” (Princess Knight) at the Koma Theater in Shinjuku yesterday. She gave a special performance of the song “Aozora ga Itsumademo Tsuzukuyouna Mirai de Are!” from the group’s new album “Rainbow 7”. The other members of the group then presented her with bouquets as she looked back on her five years with Momus. She was a second-year junior high school student when she and three others joined in 2001. One of the others was Konno Asami (19), who graduated in July. They released 19 singles in that five-year span. Ogawa is going to study abroad, but plans to remain with the Hello! Project group and rejoin them after her return to Japan.
• Announcer Zemba Takako (31) is to become the main “sub-caster” on the TBS news show “Tsukushi Tetsuya NEWS23” from September. Zemba quit NHK in March and will replace fellow ex-NHK announcer Kusano Michiyo (39) on the show from September 25. Other new additions include “reporter/caster” Yamamoto Mona (30), who moves from Asahi Hoso, and former TBS “sportscaster” Takano Takahiro (26).
• Talento Mister Chin (42) and his wife Aimi have had their first baby. The couple married in February and were expecting the baby at the end of September. But both mother and child are said to be doing well.
Paris Hilton (25) is staying true to form on her visit to Tokyo. She’s been late for every PR event she’s attended over the past few days, and was 45 minutes tardy for yesterday’s “Samantha Tabatha” promotion in Tokyo’s Minami Aoyama. She greeted the 30 fans, chosen by lottery to attend the event, with some basic Japanese. Making her emcee debut for the event was 2006 Miss Universe runner-up Chibana Kurara (photo, 24), who in my opinion easily overshadows the heiress in the looks department. The Okinawa native was the highest Japanese finisher in the annual event since Kojima Akiko was crowned in 1959. She also won a prize at the event for best national costume, wearing a version of a Sengoku-jidai samurai outfit that included a slit miniskirt and high heels!
• American-Japanese newcomer Joelle already has her third theme song. She has recorded the theme for “Tanka”, the directorial debut by lyricist Aki Yoko (64), who also penned the lyrics for the tune “Rashin” (Naked). With music written by her husband Uzaki Ryudo (60), the song is said to be suitably raunchy for the erotic theme of the movie. Joelle was born in Salt Lake City, Utah and has an American father and Japanese mother, both English teachers. The family moved to Akita when she was one year old. She went to a girl’s high school during which time she studied opera. After graduating from a Tokyo music school, she sent a demo tape to a Backstreet Boys producer and ended up recording in the U.S. Her debut album, “Lucky Maria” was released in January and included all three songs from that demo. The title track was used as the theme for a special edition of the TV Asahi drama “Trick” in November, and again for a movie version in June.
Actor and comedian Seki Keiroku, a semi-regular in the “Otoko wa Tsurai Yo” (popularly known as “Tora-san”) movie series, passed away yesterday from pneumonia at a Tokyo hospital. He was 78. He first came down with pneumonia last September and had been in and out of hospital since. During a brief recovery, he made his last stage appearance at a theater in Asakusa, Tokyo’s old “shitamachi” (downtown district) whose strip clubs had been the launching pad of his career decades before. In June he moved to a “barrier free” house in the capital, but only spent a total of ten days in his new home. Seki made his name in the 1950s as part of the Asakusa-based comedy trio “Three Pockets” with Atsumi Kiyoshi (1928-96), who went on to play the role of Tora-san, and Tani Kenichi. The Tora-san series had 48 movies over a period of 27 years, making it the longest-running in the world. Seki played the role of Ponshuu in the first two movies, reappearing from #26 till the series ended. He also narrated the “Benny the Ball” character in the Japanese TV version of popular 60s U.S. cartoon “Top Cat” (known here as Doraneko Taisho).
• Talento Nakamura Yuma (36) has given birth to her first child in the U.S. Nakamura divorced from Maeda Koyo (38), formerly the leader of 80s Johnny’s Jimusho group Otokogumi, in 2003. In April she maried a 52-year old American lawyer and is currently living in Los Angeles. Maeda got remarried to comedienne Umihara Tomoko just this week.
• The latest issue of women’s weekly “Josei Seven” reveals that comedian Hamaguchi Yu (34) and popular talento Ogura Yuko (22) are romantically involved. The magazine photographed the couple walking Hamaguchi’s dog near his home. Hamaguchi is one half of the comedy duo Yoiko. His partner, Arino Shinya (34), married former talento Kitamura Yuko in February 2005. Ogura, popularly known as Yukorin, plays up her hyper-cutesy image and claims to be from the planet Korin.
The Paris Hilton carnival opened in Tokyo yesterday. The celeb (25) has been in town since Sunday, this time to promote her debut album “Paris” and until yesterday had been on her best behavior. But true to form, she was 30 minutes late for yesterday’s press conference, offered no apology or explanation and ended it pretty much on schedule. She then insisted on taking picures with a young female fan who managed to get among the reporters by claiming to be a writer’s assistant. A spokesperson for promoters Warner Music Japan said they basically had no control over the event. Hilton appeared at three different events in the capital. Asked for a reaction to her recently announced appearance in next year’s Guinness Book of World Records (she was voted least favorite and most overrated celebrity), she said she only cares about what her fans think and has no interst in the opinions of critics and journalists. Her solo album, which goes on sale today, is an eclectic mix including hip hop and reggae, and produced by Scott Storch, who has worked on hits for Beyonce, 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg.
• Talento Great Kitao (47) divorced his wife Asako in February, he announced on his official website yesterday. The couple had been married since 2002 but his work had kept them apart. Real name Suzuki Masayuki, he was a member of the Takeshi Gundan group of comedians who worked with Kitano “Beat” Takeshi. He appeared in Kitano’s 1999 movie “Kikujiro’s Summer”.
• Actress Okamoto Aya (23) has nothing to say about the recent drunk driving incident involving Nakamura Shido (33). The kabuki actor was stopped last month for running a red light and found to be over the alcohol limit, and it was later revealed that Okamoto was in the car with him. Nakamura has been married to actress Takeuchi Yuko (26) since June of last year. Okamoto was appearing yesterday at a PR event for the movie “Chikatetsu ni Notte”, when a reporter asked her about the incident. She just ignored the question. The movie due for release on October 21.
Japan Post yesterday announced a new service that allows you to make your own original postage stamps using photographs. Actress Yonekura Ryoko (31) appeared at an event to promote the service, posing for a photo with company president Ikuta Masaharu. She touted the “warmth” of hand-written letters and cards over their increasingly popular electronic alternatives. Using the new service, to be officially launched on September 1, customers can bring a photo to any post office and have a sheet of ten ¥80 stamps printed for ¥1200. The photo part of the stamp measures 4cm square and has a perforated edge so it can be removed from the main stamp. A similar product was launched unsuccessfully in 2003, shortly after Japan Post became a privatized company, which had the stamp and photo separated. The company hopes to sell 1.5 million sheets within this year. Also yesterday, Yonekura appeared at a PR event for the stage version of her popular TV Asahi drama series “Kurokawa no Techo”. Based on a novel from the late 70s, it has been dramatized several times over the years. The TV version starring Yonekura ran in 2004 and 2005. She will be making her stage debut in the new production, scheduled to open at the Meijiza theater on October 3.
• Actress Nishida Hikaru (34) has given birth to her first child in the U.S. She married a Japanese trading company employee in 2002 and they are living in California, where he works. Her management agency announced yesterday that she had a baby boy on August 18.
• Kabuki actor Nakamura Kantaro (24) has withdrawn from a tour of western Japan. The tour is part of a series of events in celebration of his father’s succession to the stage name of Nakamura Kanzaburo. Kantaro began suffering pain in the ligaments of his leg in June. His part will be taken by his brother Shichinosuke (23).
Those poor kids have to go through it all again! The final of the summer national high school baseball tournament, better known as Koshien for the stadium where it is played, will be replayed for just the second time in its 89-year history. NHK and TV Asahi have had to re-arrange their programming schedules to fit in this afternoon’s live broadcast. The first replay in 37 years will see West Tokyo representative Waseda Jitsugyo, trying to win its first title, battle once more against two-time reigning champs Komadai Tomakomai from Hokkaido. Both teams put out their star pitchers yesterday and played to a nerve-wracking 1-1, 15-inning tie. Amazingly, Waseda’s Saito Yuki pitched his third complete game in three days, yet another example of the punishment young baseballers have to endure before they even turn pro. Does he have to go through it all again today?
• Former baseball star Ishii Hiro (42) revealed at the weekend that he is soon to remarry. The popular infielder, who now runs a restaurant in Yokohama, is engaged to model and “race queen” Funaki Kae (30). They appeared on yesterday’s NTV show “The Sunday” to say they’d be tying the knot next week. He met the former Miss Yokohama at the end of 2003, several months after his divorce from singer Okamura Kyoko (44), with whom he has a daughter. Ishii’s pro career started in 1989 to 2002, and he played for four teams, including the Yomiuri Giants, before ending with the Yokohama Bay Stars in 2002.
• 80s idol singer Yasuhara Keiko (36) announced on her blog yesterday that she is expecting her first child. A member of the idol trio Shojotai from 1984-89, she went on to become a narrator. She married in 2003.
• One step ahead is former Olympic medallist Kotani Mikako (39), whose management agency announced yesterday that she had her second baby on August 12. Kotani won a bronze medal in synchronized swimming at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and is now a sports commentator. She married former sprinter Sugiura Yusaku in 1999.
Actress Matsushima Nanako (32) has her first major movie role since starring in the horror classic “Ringu” nine years ago. She was in Tokushima City recently as filming started on “Bizan”, based on the novel by singer/songwriter Sada Masashi (54). Last week’s location shot saw 2,500 Tokushima residents join several hundred extras in a recreation of the city’s famous Awa Odori festival dance, which features in the movie’s closing scene. The drama centers around a daughter and mother (Miyamoto Nobuko, 61, in her first movie in 10 years) who is battling with terminal cancer, and a young doctor, played by Osawa Takao (38). Matsushima herself became a mother in 2004, when she and actor Sorimachi Takashi (32) had their first child. “Bizan” is scheduled for release next summer.
• Talento and opera singer Mori Kimiko (47) says she will split her time between work and caring for her hospitalized husband (50), who was recently involved in a traffic accident. Mori revealed during a TV interview on Thursday that her husband had been in a crash late on the night of August 13, when his car collided with a motorbike and resulting in a serious head injury. He was taken to the intensive care unit at a nearby hospital in central Tokyo. He and Mori have been married since 2001.
• Russian pop duo tATu angered Japanese fans when they failed to turn up for a scheduled performance yet again. The pair were suppose to appear at a small live house in Nagoya on Friday night. But when they reached the 300-capacity venue and found that only about 50 fans were waiting, they drove away. The incident was a reminder of a similar “dotakyan” (sudden cancellation) back in June 2003. (See earlier story)