16-year old Korean actress Ara is a familiar face in her own country but an unknown in Japan. That is about to change as the Avex music label has arranged for her to appear on 53 billboards throughout Tokyo from tomorrow. The posters include only her photo, a URL and a vague line of catch copy, as Avex hope to stir up interest in this mysterious young beauty. The teenager is known as the “Queen of TV commercials” in South Korea and was chosen from almost 40,000 hopefuls who auditioned for the main female role in the upcoming Japanese-Mongolian movie “Aoki Okami”. An epic story of Genghis Khan that cost ¥3 billion and was shot entirely on location, it stars Sorimachi Takashi (Matsushima Nanako’s husband) and opens in theaters next March.
• Last Friday’s broadcast of the movie “Death Note” on NTV got an audience rating of 24.5%. The network says it is the second-highest rating of the year for their Friday movie slot, with the July showing of the Miyazaki Hayao anime “Howl’s Moving Castle” the highest at 32.9%. Read our Death Note feature article here.
• Actor Uchino Masaaki (38) and former top Takarazuka star Ichiro Maki (41) have a baby daughter. The couple married in July. 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.
• Actor Ogura Ichiro (55) and former idol singer Tani Chieko (47) got married yesterday. They held a ceremony in the mountain resort of Karuizawa. It is the third marriage for Ogura. Tani debuted in 1977 but never had a hit.
Movie sequel “Death Note – The Last Name” had its world premiere in Hong Kong yesterday. Stars Fujiwara Tatsuya (24), Matsuyama Kenichi (21) and Toda Erika (18) were all there to meet some 20,000 fans who held up red apples and lollipops, mimicing a theme from the movie. The young actors were overwhelmed with the huge turnout and enthusiasm of the fans. The first Death Note made over ¥2.8 billion at home during the summer and is also the most successful ever Japanese movie in Hong Kong. It has attracted the attention of dozens of companies, including Hollywood studios, interested in doing a remake. But Fujiwara doesn’t seem too happy with the talk about a Hollywood version of the series, saying he’d rather see the original appear on screens worldwide, conceding only “If they have to do a remake, they could at least do it with the same cast.” Fans in Japan and Hong Kong can look forward to the opening on November 3, with screenings also set for several other Asian countries. Read our Feature Article on Death Note.
• Comedy was the order of the day as the 19th Tokyo International Film Festival came to a close yesterday. The festival’s main competition prize, the Sakura Grand Prix, went to French movie “OSS 117 Cairo Nest of Spies”. Directed by Michel Hazanavicius, it is described on the festival’s website as a “comedy masterpiece with a delightful womanizing spy.” U.S. art house comedy “Little Miss Sunshine” won two jury awards as well as the Audience Award. The final screening was a new version of local 1976 hit movie “Inugamike no Ichizoku”, remade with the same lead actor and director. Ishizaka Koji (65) revived his role as Yokomizo Seishi’s famous detective creation Kindaichi Kosuke, and veteran director Ichikawa Kon (90) was behind the camera once more. Also walking the red carpet last night were actresses Matsushima Nanako (33) and Fukuda Kyoko (23). Subtitles for last night’s screening were only completed the day before.
• The recent Japan Series-clinching game had an amazing peak audience rating of 73.5% in Sapporo. Even the average rating for the baseball broadcast was a whopping 52.5%, as the local Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters won their first ever title. The peak rating came as series MVP Inaba Atsunori (34) gave his “hero interview” at 9:40pm. The game was also the last for fellow outfielder Shinjo Tsuyoshi (34), whose broad appeal to fans of all ages boosted ratings across the country. The game had a rating of 31.4% in Nagoya, home of the defeated Chunichi Dragons.
It was a storybook ending for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, 2006 Japan Series Champions! They beat the Chunichi Dragons 4-1 last night to take the series in front of their home fans by the same margin. The success was of course a team effort, but outfielder Shinjo Tsuyoshi (34), playing in the first Japan Series of his 17-year career, grabbed most of the limelight. He announced earlier in the season that this would be his swansong, and he had tears running down his face during his final at-bat. He struck out, but the telegenic and flamboyant former Major Leaguer – whose agency also represents Hollywood star Watanabe Ken (47) – has already been swamped with offers from the showbiz world. Shinjo has a huge and varied fan base and his next career move could be anything from sports commentator to movie star.
The Fighters were in the Japan Series for the first time since 1962 when they were known as the Toei Flyers. In 2004 they left their home at Tokyo Dome and became the first pro team in Hokkaido, playing home games at the Sapporo Dome. They’re led by American manager Trey Hillman, just the second non-Japanese to lead a team to the yusho following Bobby Valentine’s success last year with the Chiba Lotte Marines. The win in game 5 went to 20-year-old Japanese-Iranian pitcher Darvish Yu, who beat Chunichi ace Kawakami Kenshin (31).
• Takuya (35), guitarist of the defunct J-pop unit Judy and Mary, has divorced his wife of two years. He and Takeshige Miho (24), a former popular geisha in The Gion district of Kyoto, married in June 2004 and held an elaborate wedding reception the following November. They separated last month and filed for divorce in mid-October. The main reason for the split is said to have been Takeshige’s inability to adjust to life in Tokyo. While a geisha, she went by the name Takachou. Judy and Mary were one of the most popular bands of the 90s, playing a melodic mix of pop, rock and punk and releasing seven albums. Vocalist Isoya Yuki is still performing solo under her given name, while bassist Onda Yoshihito has joined a band called Hot Rod Crue.
If the movie “Hostel” is just too sick for you, leave and get your money back. That’s the deal being offered by the cinema in Tokyo’s Shibuya district that will be showing Eli Roth’s splatter movie from Saturday. Anyone who decides to leave the movie within the first 46 minutes – the point at which the first nasty scene reaches a climax – will be refunded the cost of their ticket. The Shibuya N cinema is also cooperating with the local Sakuragaoka Clinic, who will have a nurse on hand in the theater on opening day. Movie-goers will have to cover their own medical expenses! The offer is available for the opening week only and ends on November 3. The story is about two young Americans backpacking in Amsterdam who get locked out of their youth hostel. They meet a man who tells them of a hostel in Slovakia where hot women are eager to meet foreign tourists. Off they head with their new Icelandic friend in tow, and of course they find more than they were expecting. Over 150 gallons of blood were used in the making of the movie, whose executive producer is none other than Quentin Tarantino (43). Though there were scenes of audience members vomiting and passing out when it was shown in the U.S., it made over $47 million at the box office and a sequel is scheduled for release next January.
A preview showing was held for “Death Note – The Last Name” last night at the Tokyo International Forum. Although star Fujiwara Tatsuya (24) was appearing in a stage production in Osaka and unable to attend, cast members including Matsuyama Kenichi (photo, 21) and Katase Nana (24) were on stage to greet the audience. The movie is the second in a two-part story, the first having been a big hit following its release in June. The movie has also done extremely well overseas and has drawn attention from Hollywood. It is based on a hugely popular manga series that has sold over 18 million copies. See this month’s Feature Article for more about Death Note.
Another manga-to-anime getting its first public showing yesterday was “Tekkon Kinkreet”. The movie, which features Arashi member Ninomiya Kazunari (23) in his first voice role, had its world premiere at the Tokyo International Film Festival. Directed by Michael Arias and based on the popular manga by Matsumoto Taiyo (39), the movie is to get worldwide release through Sony Pictures. It’s set for release here on December 23. There are plans to enter it at the Berlin and Cannes film festivals next year.
• The latest in this season’s silly awards goes to actress Sato Eriko (24) who was named “Best Leather-nist” for 2006. The award is given to the celebrity who is judged to look best in leather. Of course Sato, who starred in the live action version of “Cutie Honey”, looks good in anything!
• The classic SciFi manga “Giant Robo” is to be remade as an anime. Written by the late Yokoyama Mitsuteru, the manga was first published in 1967 and the anime was planned to commemorate its 40th anniversary. Yokoyama, known as the Iron Man of manga, died in 2004 but producers decided to fulfill his wish to see the idea realized. The story was made into a live action TV series in the late 1960s and a straight-to-video series in the mid 90s. The new series of 13 episodes will be available first on the online service Sg-TV from January and aired on the Animax satellite channel from February.
• U.S. vocal group Boys II Men release their first new album in four years today. “The Remedy” is being released in Japan first, with a bonus track featuring a collaboration with Exile member Atsushi (26). The group are coming to Japan next January for a tour of seven cities.
Folk duo Kobukuro have topped the Oricon album charts for the fourth week in a row. Sales of their double hits album, “All Singles Best”, have topped 1.8 million making it the year’s best seller. It has been almost two and half years since Utada Hikaru (23) kept the No.1 spot for four straight weeks, and the last male artist to do it was rock band B’z in 1998. Kobukuro received a message of congatulations and thanks from L.A. Dodgers pitcher Saito Takashi (36). Saito, who had a successful season in the MLB, said he owed some of that success to Kobukuro’s music. “I always listened to it before a game. It always got me fired up. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them top the chart for ten weeks!” Kuroda Shunsuke (29) and Kobuchi Kentaro (29) first met in Osaka in 1998 when both were performing as street musicians. At the time of the major label debut in 2001, they were compared to fellow “Neo-Folk Duos” Yuzu and 19 (Juku). The name Kobukuro comes from the first four letters of their family names.
• Newscaster Yamamoto Mona (30) has officially been kicked off the TBS late-night news show “News23”. Just days after she started on the show at the end of last month, it was revealed that she was having an affair with handsome but married politician Hosno Goshi (35). Hosono is a member of the Minshuto opposition party, and ironically Yamamoto’s first report was on the Minshuto party conference. At first TBS refused to comment on what they called a private matter, but Yamamoto went on indefinite “sick leave” after just a week on the show. She apologized through her management agency, who suggested she plans to continue her media career, presumably after an appropriate period out of the spotlight. The political career of Hosono, who has a wife (31) and one child, is likely to carry on as usual.
• Model Mori Izumi (24) is romantically involved with a former Johnny’s idol. The weekly women’s magazine Josei Jishin identified him simply as 27-year-old former Johnnys Jr. member “T-san” and said that he works in the import business. The pair are said to have been dating since before Mori’s modeling debut. She is the grand-daughter of fashion designer Mori Hanae (80).
Singer Fuji Keiko (55, real name Utada Junko) returned briefly to Japan to give Fuji TV an exclusive interview, which aired last night, in an effort to clear her name following some recent bad press. The mother of pop princess Utada Hikaru (23) was found with a huge amount of cash at an airport in New York back in the spring. Authorities, suspecting the $420,000 in cash had links to drugs, decided to confiscate it and have yet to return it. Reports on the incident, revealed on the U.S. website The Smoking Gun, said sniffer dogs had detected drug traces and that Fuji was described as acting strangely. The report said she claimed that she planned to donate the money to an orphanage in Las Vegas. In last night’s interview, conducted in the back of a car, she made no mention of that plan. She said it was normal for her to carry that kind of cash, particularly when visiting Vegas, where she is a regular guest at the Wynn hotel. By way of explanation, she showed her passport to the camera, revealing a jet-set lifestyle that has seen her visit dozens of countries over the last few years. She claims to have spent something like ¥500 million in the last five years. As an executive in her daughter’s management company, she is thought to have earned about ¥170 million last year. Fuji was a very successful singer back in the 1970s before suddenly giving it all up and moving to the U.S. in 1979.
• Pop idol Matsuura Aya (20) has bounced back from the medical condition that forced her to cancel concerts just two weks ago. She will have to continue medical treatment for the arthritis-like problem that affects her jaw and was causing intense pain when she sang. She gave a tearful apology yesterday to 2000 fans at the Tokyo Kouseinenkin Hall, where she performed an afternoon and an evening show. There was no mention of whether she still had to use painkillers just to get through a performance.
• Actor Fujioka Takuya died from chronic kidney failure Friday afternoon at a Tokyo hospital. He was 76. He was best known for his role in the long-running TBS drama series “Wataru Sekken wa Oni Bakari”, but stepped down from the show after 16 years in February due to pneumonia.
• The 19th Tokyo International Film Festival kicked off on Saturday. In his opening speech, new Prime Minister Abe Shinzo (52) called it a “music festival” before quickly correcting himself. The festival will run until October 29 and features over 300 films.
Legendary manga-ka Matsumoto Leiji (68) has a bone to pick with pop duo Chemistry. It seems that some of the lyrics to their song “Yakusoku no Basho”, written by singer/songwriter Makihara Noriyuki (37), were lifted without permission from Matsumoto’s famous manga “Ginga Tetsudo 999” (Galaxy Express 999). The phrase used is not exactly the same, but is almost identical to the famous line which translates as, “Time does not betray a dream as long as the dream does not betray time.” Makihara’s agency deny any attempt at plagiarism and are discussing the matter with their lawyers. Matsumoto said, “I’ve been using this phrase in speeches to cheer up young people for more than ten years. I don’t want to take the matter to court or anything, but I just want a sincere apology.” Matsumoto collaborated with French duo Daft Punk on the 2003 full-length anime feature “Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem”. The major club hit “One More Time” featured a video by Matsumoto (pic).
• Actor Ishida Junichi (52) and actress Sugimoto Aya (38) have teamed up to record an “adult” duet. Both are divorcees, twice in Ishida’s case, and renowned for flaunting their sex lives on TV variety shows. They have recorded “Gyaku ni, Sorette Ai Kamo Ne” (Then Again, That Could Be Love) in the style of the ballads popular in the postwar Showa Era. For Ishida, it’s his first recording since the album “Egoist” in 1992. He says they are aiming for an ivite to perform on NHK’s “Kohaku Utagassen” song spectacular on New Year’s Eve. The single, which is already being used in a TV commercial for throat lozenges featuring the pair, will be released on November 22. 11/22 is read as “ii fufu” in Japanese, which can also mean “good married couple”.
• Victoria Beckham (32) was in Tokyo yesterday to promote her original jewelry designs. She met the press at the Kita-Aoyama head office of popular brand Samantha Thavasa, for whom she has previously designed accessories.
Ichiro and Nakama Yukie are Japan’s most popular stars. Video Research yesterday released its twice-yearly rankings of the most popular celebrities on Japanese TV. Seattle Mariners center-fielder Ichiro (32) was the No.1 male choice for the third time, pushing perennial favorite, comedian Akashiya Sanma (51), into second place despite the fact that his TV appearances are limited mainly to commercials. Fellow baseball star Matsui Hideki (32) dropped from #7 to #17. This is largely due to his not playing in this year’s inaugural World Baseball Classic (where Ichiro led Japan to a heroic title) and missing most of the season through injury. Comedians and musicians made up most of the Top 20.
Actress Nakama Yukie (26) has starred in some of the most popular TV dramas of the last couple of years, but has made the No.1 spot for the first time. Also getting a big boost from the popularity of her drama roles is former Takarazuka star Amami Yuki (39), up from #12 to #3. Sandwiched between them is pop duo Dreams Come True, led by vocalist Yoshida Miwa (41).
• Comedian Kinashi Noritake (44) performed with his new soul band Ajisai in Tokyo yesterday. One half of the duo Tunnels, who have released quite a few big-selling singles, Kinashi had been performing with the musicians for two years before deciding to make them into a formal band. They performed their debut single “Futari Dake no Sekai” at an invitation-only event for 500 fans at the O-East live house in Shibuya.
Singer Hitomi (30) shares top billing with Matsuda Ryuhei (23) in the movie “Akumu Tantei” (Nightmare Detective). Directed by Tsukamoto Shinya, the supernatural thriller had its world premiere yesterday at the 11th Pusan Film Festival in South Korea. The movie’s synopsis reads like “Nightmare on Elm Street” meets “One Missed Call”. Detective Kirishima Keiko (Hitomi) tries to recruit a mysterious man (Matsuda) who can enter people’s dreams to help unravel unusual suicides whose victims are found to have dialled 0 on their mobile phones before their death. With the current boom in Japanese horror and an impressive cast that also includes Ando Masanobu and Osugi Ren, it is sure to be a hit. Hitomi is known for her revealing outfits in promo videos and her movie role is said to be no exception. Matsuda is the son of late legendary actor Matsuda Yusaku. “Akumu Tantei”, scheduled for theatrical release in Japan next January, has drawn interest from more than 25 countries.
“Vespa” was in Tokyo yesterday to promote “Casino Royale”, the latest in the James Bond movie series. Daniel Craig (37), the 6th actor to take on the role, was nowhere in sight but the movie’s director Martin Campbell and new Bond girl Eva Green (26) stood in for him. Green said fans hoping for steaming sex scenes between Vespa and 007 would be disappointed as theirs is a more “platonic” relationship. The film, which has received excellent pre-release reviews, opens here on December 1.