Actress Fujiwara Norika (35) and Yoshimoto comedian Jinnai Tomonori (32) have finally made their engagement “public”. Late Tuesday night, the pair appeared together in public for the first time since rumors of an engagement first surfaced more than a month ago, and yesterday Fujiwara acknowledged it for the first time on her blog. She also explained why they have chosen to get married at Ikuta Jinja shrine in Kobe. Both celebrities hail from the city and the shrine is where Fujiwara attended her high school graduation party. Jinnai is also an annual visitor to the shrine, which was rebuilt after it was badly damaged in the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995.
• Rock vocalist Matohara Naoto has revealed that he recently got married. The front man for rock quartet Under Graph announced his marriage on the band’s official website yesterday. He gave no mention of his new bride’s age or what she does, but said they had been together from the band’s indie days. The members started playing together in 1997, though Matohara and guitarist Asa Ryosuke have known each other since 1982 when both were in kindergarten, and they formed the band in 2000. They made their major label debut with For Life Records in 2004. Their first single, “Tsubasa”, made the Oricon Top 10 in its 20th week of release.
• Actor Fujiki Naohito (34) is a father. His wife gave birth to their first child in mid-December and they registered the birth yesterday. The couple married at the end of last year after a long relationship.
Legendary rock guitarist Hotei Tomoyasu (44) is to be just the fifth Japanese artist to appear on MTV Unplugged. His acoustic performance, to be recorded in Tokyo, will be shown on January 31. He will be joined by friends from the U.S. and the U.K., most likely including ex-Stray Cat Brian Setzer and possibly Jesus Jones. Starting with Chage & Aska in 1996, the only Japanese musicians to appear on the show are Utada Hikaru, Hirai Ken and Yaida Hitomi. Hotei became one of Japan’s leading musicians as a guitarist with legendary 80s rock band Boowy.
Veteran comedian Kato Cha (63) gave a press conference yesterday to talk for the first time about his recent brush with death. The media had covered his hospitalization since October 30, but there was no official explanation regarding the nature of the problem. Kato revealed that he underwent major bypass surgery, lasting almost ten hours, in November for Stanford type A aortic dissection, the circulatory condition that killed postwar showbiz icon Ishihara Yujiro. During the surgery, Kato’s body temperature dropped to just 23 degrees and his heart stopped for almost three hours. Kato was fighting for his life for two weeks and lost some 9 kilos while in the keio University Hospital. Often at his side was his ex-wife Suzuko (45), who he divorced in 2004 after 18 years of marriage. Kato is due to be released from the hospital on Friday and says he plans to return to work in the spring after undergoing extensive rehabilitation. Flanked at the press conference by two doctors, he did one of his famous sight gags and promised to return to his “baka” (idiotic) ways as soon as he was healthy.
Manzai duo Tutorial are the new kings of comedy. Yesterday, they won the M-1 Grand Prix, an annual knockout competition to decide the best up-and-coming comedy act in the country. After a series of events to whittle down the original 3,922 acts, the final was televised live from TV Asahi’s studios in downtown Tokyo. With Tokui Yoshimi (31) as the “boke” (funny man) and Fukuda Mitsunori (31) as the “tsukomi” (straight man), the duo debuted in 1998. Like many of Japan’s top comedy acts, they hail from the Kansai region and speak in the its distinctive Kansai-ben dialect. Among the panel of judges for the event was top comedian Shimada Shinsuke (50), who described the pair’s act as “perfect”. Equally impressed was Downtown‘s Matsumoto Hitoshi (43) who said they were so good that “they probably knew they were going to win”. The duo won ¥10 million in prize money and will undoubtedly see a lot more TV work coming their way.
• Talento Wakatsuki Chinatsu (22) returned to work on Saturday. She had been convalescing after suffering from exhaustion and stress due to a heavy workload. Also making a recovery is veteran comedian Kato Cha (63), who is due to leave hospital today. He had been undergoing treatment since the end of October, though the nature of his ailment has not been made public. Meanwhile, actress Tsuchiya Anna (22) came down with the nasty Norovirus over the weekend, causing her to cancel much of her planned work schedule. Though she has yet to recover fully, she attended seven different events to promote her upcoming movie “Sakuran”.
• The Tokyo home of singer/songwriter Furuuchi Toko (34) was broken into at the end of last week. Several watches and items of jewelry worth about ¥600,000 were stolen.
Sexy songstress Koda Kumi (24) has had an amazing year. And chart company Oricon have recognized that, awarding her the trophy for the artist with the biggest sales for 2006. With 12 consecutive Top 10 singles and her second greatest hits album, she amassed a whopping ¥12.7 billion in sales for the year. It proves that she is a real contender for the title of Japan’s top female artist. Her main rival remains Avex label-mate and sempai Hamasaki Ayumi, the last female artist to break the ¥10-billion mark in 2003. Koda is in the sixth year of her career, which started out in the club scene. She has built a reputation largely through branding herself as a sex symbol, helping create the new adjective “ero-kakkoii” (sexy cool).
• Visual-kei musician and producer Matsuura Tadashi (30) has been penalized for tax evasion by the Wakayama Prefectural District Court. Over the last three years he is said to have underpaid by ¥46 million in income tax. Performing under the stage name Kisaki, Matsuura is the leader of the band Phantasmagoria. He said in a statement that the band’s popularity has been on the decline, and he tried to avoid paying taxes to protect his financial future. With penalties, Matsuura has been ordered to pay ¥64 million to tax authorities.
• Hip hop group Rip Slyme performed a free concert for 10,000 fans at the Nippon Budokan yesterday. They were joined on stage by m-flo’s Verbal and rap group Schadaraparr, who took part in their latest album “Epoch”. Also making a comeback was member DJ Fumiya, who took a year off to recover from a nervous condition known as autonomic ataxia. Rip Slyme played a similar free gig at the venerable venue back in 2002.
It was revealed yesterday that veteran actress Kishida Kyoko recently died of a brain tumor at a Tokyo hospital. She was 76. Her ex-husband, actor Nakatani Noboru, died just last month. Kishida had been in hospital since January and was with her daughter and two grandchildren when she passed away last Sunday. One of the most versatile actresses of the postwar era, her most famous roles were as the “Suna no Onna” (Woman in the Dunes, 1964) and the voice of anime character Moomin. The daughter of a playwright, she was a successful stage actress who appeared in memorable performances of “Macbeth” and “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”. Her final stage role was as recent as October last year. “Suna no Onna” earned her worldwide acclaim when it won the Grand Jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
Veteran celebrity and politician Aoshima Yukio died yesterday. He was 74. A graduate of Waseda University, he first showed his multiple talents in 1966, when he wrote, directed and starred in the movie “Kane” (The Bell). He won the literary Naoki Prize in 1981 and penned many hit songs, including Sakamoto Kyu’s often-covered “Ashita ga Aru Sa”. He was perhaps the first celebrity to enter national politics, becoming an independent Diet member in 1968. In 1995, he was elected Governor of Tokyo but in his four-year term his most memorable achievement was to cancel the planned World City Expo ’96. He ran for national office again in 2001 and 2004 but failed to be elected both times.
Comedian Nakajima Tadayuki died yesterday morning from leukemia. He was just 35. Together with “angry man” Takeyama Takanori (photo left, 35), he was just breaking into the big time in 2004 as the straight man of the duo Cunning when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He had only recently married, in April 2004, and become a father the following September. He was hospitalized in December 2004 and, as we reported here in January 2005, he was expected to be back at work in about six months. He underwent a bone marrow transplant this summer and left the hospital, returning only as a day patient.
Actor, SMAP member and Japan’s No.1 heart throb Kimura Takuya (34) will not be accepting his nomination for a best actor prize at the 30th Japan Academy Awards. Kimutaku stars in “Bushi no Ichibun”, the third in Yamada Yoji‘s trilogy of samurai movies. His decision means that the movie misses its chance to be represented in all 13 award categories. It is the first time an actor has refused a nomination, other than the rare occasion when it has conflicted with a work schedule. Johnny’s Jimusho, which represents Kimura, said he “doesn’t want to compete with other nominees”. The agency also refuses its stars’ nominations for Record Taisho awards as a matter of policy. “Bushi…” was only barely eligible for this year’s awards, opening on December 1, the last day for which movies could be considered. It’s been a big success, taking in over ¥1.7 billion at the box office. Several other of its stars have received nominations, including Dan Rei (35), Sasano Takashi (58), and Momoi Kaori (54). “Bushi…” is said to be Yamada’s last samurai drama, despite the huge success of “Tasogare Seibei” (Twilight Samurai, 2003) and “Kakushi-ken: Oni no Tsume” (Hidden Sword: Demon’s Talons, 2004).
Comedienne Tomochika (33) has a man in her life. The latest issue of women’s weekly magazine Josei Jishin revealed that she and funny man Nadagi Takeshi (36) are romantically involved. Tomochika recently won a top Yomiuri TV comedy award, while Nadagi and the other four members of manzai group Plan 9 have advanced to the finals of the annual M-1 Grand Prix competition. The couple were spotted leaving the recent semi-finals of the event in Osaka together and Tomochika spent the night at Nadagi’s home in the city. She has acknowledged the relationship, said to have started about five years ago, but says that they have no wedding plans yet. They are both doing well in their showbiz careers and plan on putting work before family life. The two will come together soon, as the pair are to team up as “Dylan & Catherine”, with Nadagi taking on Luke Perry’s character from the popular 90s TV drama “Beverly Hills 90210”.
• Sunday’s final of the Toyota World Club Championship got a respectable 20.5% audience rating, according to Video Research. The game featured the world’s top player in Barcelona’s Ronaldhino, though his heavily-favored team lost to a single late goal to Internacional of Brazil. The game got a higher rating than TV Asahi’s weekend broadcast of the Figure Skating GP Final. In that event, local favorite Asada Mao lost her Saturday lead to end up with the silver medal on Sunday.
TV Tokyo’s Ohashi Miho (28) had an announcement of a different kind on Sunday. She faxed the media to announce that she and Yakult Swallows infielder Shiroishi Noriyuki (33) got engaged on Saturday. The couple have been dating for about three years, and their relationship was revealed in one of the weekly magazines in 2004. They are expected to register their marriage early next year, but with spring training looming soon afterwards, a wedding is unlikely until after the baseball season ends. Ohashi, a former beauty queen at Sophia University, is a popular presenter on the TV Tokyo show “Sports Tamashii” as well as several variety shows. She worked as a reporter for the Athens Olympics as well as this year’s World Baseball Classic in the U.S. and the World Cup in Germany. She says she plans to continue working after marriage and is aiming to report on the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Shiroishi is a graduate of Aoyama University and joined the Nippon Ham Fighters in the 1994 draft. He was traded to Yakult in 1998. It almost seems like the default marriage partner for a pro babseball player is a popular TV announcer. Some of the more famous examples include Japan’s ace and newly-signed Red Sox pitcher Matsuzaka Daisuke and his wife, Shibata Tomoyo; former L.A. Dodgers pitcher Ishii Kazuhisa and Kisa Ayako; and Seattle Mariners star Ichiro and Fukushima Yumiko.
Just call them Tokyo Dynamite Body! This week’s issue of weekly magazine Friday has revealed the romantic relationship between popular G-cup porn star Aoi Sora (23) and rotund comedian Hachimitsu Jiro (32). Weighing in at over 100kg, the tubby, peroxide funny man is one half of the up and coming manzai duo Tokyo Dynamite. The management agencies for both celebrities have confirmed the relationship and it seems the couple are already living together. Tokyo Dynamite, made up of Hachimitsu in red and Matsuda Daisuke in white, are with Kitano “Beat” Takeshi‘s management agency, Office Kitano, and Takeshi himself rates them very highly. The agency said in a statement, “It might seem strange, but the combination of Hachimitsu’s masculine personality and baby face makes him very popular with the ladies. I guess they can feel safe with him.” Aoi made her AV debut at the age of 18 and her popularity has enabled to start making the crossover to TV and radio. She has appeared in several TV dramas and has become a semi-regular on the variety circuit. She placed second in the female celebrity category in Internet search rankings for 2005.