Yon-sama Still Big in Japan

You may think the craze for Korean actor Bae Yong Joon (35) has faded in Japan, but he’s still raking in the cash. Looking at the latest tax records, he is the biggest showbiz taxpayer in his home country. But 90% of his earnings originated in Japan, from “Yon-sama” goods, TV commercials and other media tie-ups. It was revealed this week that in the 2005 tax year he made about ¥4.2 billion. Last year he didn’t appear in any TV dramas or movies, but even in 2005 the popular movie “Shigatsu no Yuki” (April Snow) and commercials accounted for only about 20% of his earnings. The other 80% came from merchandising. The whole Yon-sama boom was started by the 2004 TV series “Fuyu no Sonata” (Winter Sonata), with huge crowds of mostly middle-aged women becoming fanatical about him. And in those three years he has milked that popularity to the tune of almost ¥8.5 billion. The flame may be reignited later this year, with a new drama series due to air on TV from the spring. Though “Taio Shishinki” is likely to be hugely successful here, his management say they don’t want to focus too much on Japan at the expense of his fans in Korea and China. Meanwhile Sanrio, the company behind Hello Kitty, have agreed to start licensing Yon-sama goods. Details of the agreement with media contents company Key East have not been announced, but are thought to include an original “Joon Bear” character – designed by Yamaguchi Yuko, the women behind Kitty – as well as a host of products featuring his likeness.

• Singer Hitoto Yo (30) is having an afair with producer Kobayashi Takeshi (47), according to the latest issue of weekly magazine “Friday”. Hitoto is best known for the 2002 hit “Morai Naki”, while Kobayashi has worked with such major stars as Mr. Children and Southern All Stars. He has been married to former My Little Lover vocalist Akko (34) since 1996 and they have two children.

• Comedian Matsumoto Hitoshi (43) is to make his debut as a movie director. He appeared this week at a PR event for “Dainipponjin”, due to hit theaters in June, at the Tokyo Prince Hotel Park Tower. The more intellectual half of the hugely popular duo Downtown, he has also been a successful writer. He has set his sights on outdoing fellow comedian turned director Kitano “Beat” Takeshi (60), though he says his movie will be completely different to Kitano’s vibrant but often violent style. Other than saying that the movie will be basically an extension of what he’s been doing on TV for years, he didn’t elaborate on what the movie is about.