Perhaps the biggest showbiz story over the New Year came from NHK’s continuing struggle to revive its annual Kohaku Uta Gassen show on December 31. For several years, the show has seen its once-dominant audience ratings drop lower and lower despite ever-increasing appeals to younger TV viewers. Things were no better this year, with a live apology, the second-worst ever ratings, and tragedy striking the crew. The network was inundated with complaints about a naked DJ Ozma and his topless dancers – in fact, the singer was wearing a semi-realistic looking appendage and the girls were wearing costumes that made them look naked. But the fuss caused NHK to make an apology on air. The network later said they had not anticipated the incident as the performers had used different costumes in rehearsals, though it was the same performance Ozma had used during his recent nationwide tour. He and his dancers performed the same routine later that night on TBS, with no fuss. Meanwhile, tragedy struck earlier in the day, when a member of the NHK crew collapsed during final rehearsals. The 56-year old man had been filling the role of Olympic gold medalist Arakawa Shizuka during rehearsals when he collapsed. He died in hospital on New Year’s Day.
• It’s the standard practice for many Japanese celebrities to wind down from the hectic year-end schedule by spending a few days vacationing in Hawaii or other warmer climes over the New Year. Actress Fujiwara Norika (35) and comedian Jinnai Tomonori (32) returned yesterday from their short “pre-honeymoon” in Miami and were greeted by about 50 reporters at Narita Airport. The couple are set to have the biggest showbiz wedding of the year at Ikuta Jinja shrine in their hometown of Kobe on February 17. Already married are comedian Ogi Hiroaki (35) and Moriyama Naho (34), who were in Hawaii for a New Year honeymoon. Naho is the daughter of folk singer Moriyama Ryoko. Other celebrities in Hawaii included local ukelele player Jake Shimabukuro (30), who appeared on Kohaku, singer Koda Shin and comedians Kawada Hiroki, Ueda Shinya and Shibata Rie.
• Actress Kikuchi Rinko (26) has been nominated by the Screen Actors Guild for a Best Supporting Actress award for her role in “Babel”. The nomination follows similar recognition last month from the National Board of Review and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.
• Popular actress Amami Yuki (39) and rock singer Kikkawa Koji (41) have split up. The pair had been dating since 2003, and their relationship became public in the summer of 2004. They are said to have grown apart and broke up on good terms. Though it’s probably nothing to do with the split, Kikkawa is the only celebrity to have acknowledged his former relationship with actress Ishihara Mariko (42) following her publication late last year of a book about her romantic involvement with 13 famous stars. He’s also the only one Ishihara says she thought she could have married.