Monthly Archives: March 2007

Sanada the Sunshine Boy

The latest movie project for actor Sanada Hiroyuki (46) sees him captaining a spaceship. In “Sunshine 2057” he plays the captain of a ship that sets out to re-ignite the dying sun 50 years into the future. The movie is directed by Danny Boyle, of “Trainspotting” fame, and written by Alex Garland. The pair teamed up previously on the movie adaptation of Garland’s novel “The Beach”. Sanada appeared at a PR event in Tokyo yesterday along with co-star Cillian Murphy (32), who praised the cooking and guitar skills that Sanada displayed during the making of the movie. Another major Asian name among the ensemble cast is actress Michelle Yeoh.

• British rock band The Police are coming to Japan for the first time in 27 years. Drummer Stewart Copeland (54) was in Tokyo yesterday promoting his documentary “Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out”. He announced that the band, recently reformed 30 years after their debut and 23 years after they split, will play dates in Japan next February. The shows will be at the tail end of their upcoming world tour, due to start in Vancouver on May 28.


A Galactic Battle

The court battle has begun between legendary manga-ka Matsumoto Leiji (69, photo left) and songwriter Makihara Noriyuki (37, right). Their lawyers met yesterday at the Tokyo District Court with both parties prepared to fight the charges of plagiarism and libel. Back in October of last year, Matsumoto claimed that some of the lyrics to the song “Yakusoku no Basho” were lifted without permission from his famous manga “Ginga Tetsudo 999” (Galaxy Express 999). The phrase used 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.” Matsumoto said last year, “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.” But Makihara’s agency deny any attempt at plagiarism and have called Matsumoto’s continued claims libelous, and are seeking ¥22 million in compensation. The next hearing will be held in mid-May. The “Ginga…” manga dates back to 1977 but many TV and movie spinoffs have been put out over the years. Recently, 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.

• Also looking to fight it out in court is actor Hayashi Yoichi (65). He held a press conference in Tokyo yesterday to explain his case against Toto Maintenance. Back in January, the company carried out three days of work on the bathroom of his family’s 4LDK apartment in Osaka. But the whole apartment became filled with dust and family members came down with respiratory infections. Hayashi, his wife and four children have been living in hotels since.

• Yesterday actor Emori Toru (63) made his first public appearance since being hospitalized following a stroke a month ago. He attended the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Bungakuza theater company, with whom he had been rehearsing when he had a cerebral hemorrhage in 2005. His latest hospitalization forced him to drop out of a planned TV drama series and give up drinking, but he says he is suffering no after effects. He will begin rehearsal for a new theater production next month.


Farewell to a Funny Man

Ueki Hitoshi, one of Japan’s top postwar comedians, died yesterday morning of respiratory failure ata Tokyo hospital. He was 80. He worked up until last November, making a guest appearance in the movie “Maiko Haaaan!!!”, and his final public appearance was at the funeral of writer, talento and former Tokyo governor Aoshima Yukio in December. Aoshima wrote the lyrics for “Suudarabushi”, the best-selling song that launched the massively successful career of Ueki and the band Crazy Cats (photo, Ueki center). From 1961, the comic band made more than a dozen hit movies with vocalist Ueki playing an irresponsible salaryman in a Japan at the peak of its economic confidence. But Ueki could also play a serious role, as he did in Kurosawa Akira‘s “Ran” in 1985. In 1993 and 1999, he was officially recognized with purple-ribboned medals awarded for scholarly or artistic achievement. The Crazy Cats marked their 35th anniversary in 1990 with an appearance on NHK’s annual Kohaku Uta Gassen song spectacular, getting a top audience rating of 56.6%.

• Former Morning Musume member Kago Ai (19) has finally thrown it all away. Caught up in a second scandal she’s been dropped by her management and will retire from showbiz. The latest issue of weekly magazine “Shuukan Gendai” published a story about an overnight trip she took to Kusatsu Onsen resort with 37-year-old Ishimoto Haruo, a cafe owner. And to make matters worse, it included photos of her smoking (the age limit is 20) in Ishimoto’s car. Kago fessed up and, after consulting with her parents, her management at Up Front Agency decided to cancel her contract. Already confined to her Nara home since being caught smoking at the beginning of last year, she had only been allowed to return to work in Tokyo in January. Even then she was not allowed to perform and restricted to office work. Last month she expressed her desire to return to singing. With her baby face, Kago was one of the more popular members of Morning Musume and the Hello! Project, and was also active in spinoffs Mini Moni and the duo “W”, with fellow member Tsuji Nozomi (19).


Ultra Variety Movie

Yesterday saw the unveiling of the official poster for the 13th movie by Kitano “Beat” Takeshi (60). “Kantoku Banzai”, due for release on June 2, is billed as an “ultra variety movie” and combines a whole host of cinematic and television styles. In that sense it reflects the multi-faceted nature of Kitano’s career – he has worked as an emcee in a strip club, a manzai comedian, a talk show and variety show host, a writer, an actor and a movie director. Asked about the new movie, he said, “People will either get it and be laughing all the way through or they’ll just be stumped.” Kitano has always pushed at the boundaries of taste and his latest project is bound to offend some. He sees it as being equal to or even better than the often ultra-violent movies that earned him international fame and respect but doubts that it will be seen that way. And he admitted he would be a bit embarrassed to show it at a film festival like Cannes.


Nakatani Miki Wins Best Actress Award

Actress Nakatani Miki (31) was the only big Japanese winner yesterday at the first ever Asian Film Awards. The event was held last night in Hong Kong to coincide with the opening of the 31st Hong Kong International Film Festival. Nakatani won the best actress award for her starring role in “Kiraware Matsuko no Isshou” (Memories of Matsuko), based on Yamada Muneki’s novel of the same name and adapted last year as a TBS drama. She beat such prominent nominees as Gong Li, Zhang Ziyi and Miyazawa Rie, nominated for her role in “Bushi no Ichibun” (Love and Honor). The movie, the third in a trilogy of samurai dramas directed by Yamada Yoji, was nominated for best film but lost out to Korean hit “The Host”. That movie’s star, Song Kang-ho, beat out Watanabe Ken, who poignantly played a middle-aged Alzheimers sufferer in “Ashita no Kioku” (Memories of Tomorrow).

• The Tokyo home and office of controversial kyogen actor Izumi Motoya (32) has been seized by the tax authorities, it was revealed yesterday. According to the “Shuukan Bunshun” weekly magazine, the two-storey building in Itabashi Ward was seized last year following large scale local and national tax evasion. The Izumi Souke company, run by the actor’s domineering mother Setsuko (64), allegedly evaded some ¥150 million in taxes over five years. The company has appealed the imposed penalty.


Next Up for Miyazaki Hayao

The first details have been revealed of the next project for master animator Miyazaki Hayao (66). “Gake no Ue no Ponyo”, his follow up to 2004’s “Howl’s Moving Castle”, will be drawn entirely by hand and is scheduled for release in July 2008. An original story that draws on the classic tale of the Little Mermaid, it tells of the relationship between a mermaid princess who longs to be human and the 5-year-old Sousuke. The inspiration for the story came to Miyazaki in 2004 when he and Studio Ghibli employees took a company trip to a small town on the Seto Inland Sea. Miyazaki ended up spending two months in the town. The character of the young boy is said to be modeled after Miyazaki’s own son Goro (40), who made his directorial debut with last year’s “Gedo Senki” (Tales From Earthsea). The elder director is following his usual unorthodox style, and so far has drawn out a story board for about the first hour of the movie, with the remainder yet to be decided. Fans of the animator in Japan will be able to watch a rare documentary on his creative process on NHK’s “Professional” on March 27. The show documents the first several months of the development of his latest project.

• Actor Funakoshi Eiji died on Saturday night of a brain hemorrhage at a Shizuoka Prefecture hospital. He died on his 84th birthday. One of the leading actors of the Daiei movie studio in the 1950s, he made his real breakthrough in 1959’s “Nobi”, directed by Ichikawa Kon. After a career of some 200 movies and high-profile TV drama roles, he retired from acting in 1999. His eldest son is the actor Funakoshi Eiichiro (46).


Red Hot Chili Peppers Dotakyan!

The Red Hot Chili Peppers have suddenly cancelled their Japan dome tour. Due to start at the Kyocera Dome in Osaka today and move to Tokyo Dome on March 22-23, the sold-out tour was called off on Saturday. The reason given was that vocalist Anthony Kiedis (44) has come down with bronchitis. Disappointed fans will have to wait to hear from promoters Smash about ticket refunds and any rescheduling of dates. For now they say they are aiming to reschedule the shows for the autumn. Kiedis has been told to take 10 days rest, which would mean the band’s tour of Australia should go ahead as planned. The 9-date tour is due to start in Adelaide on April 7.

• The Cannes golden boy and the Oscar nominee are to make their anime debuts. Actor Yagira Yuya (16) and actress Kikuchi Rinko (26) will provide their voice talents for the anime omnibus feature “Genius Party”. The pair will play the young couple at the center of a segment called “Baby Blue”, directed by Watanabe Shinichiro. The movie is scheduled to open here in July, and will be shown at the Japan Festival in New York next February. Yagira became the youngest ever winner of the best actor award at the Cannes International Film Festival in 2004 for his breakthrough role in “Nobody Knows”. While Kikuchi’s role in “Babel” earned her a nomination for this year’s best supporting actress Oscar.

• Actress and singer Koizumi Kyoko (41) made her first concert appearance in three years on Friday. She performed three songs at an environmental event in Tokyo at the request of Kobayashi Takeshi, who produced her first million selling hit. And Koizumi is to make her radio comeback after 19 years. “Kyon-Kyon”, as she is know to fans, will host the Nippon Housou show “All Night Nippon” for one night only on March 26. She was the first-ever idol singer to host the show, which she did for two and a half years during the peak of her popularity in 1986-88. Marking her 25th anniversary in showbiz, this week she will also release a greatest hits album “K25 – Koizumi Kyoko All Time Best”.


Morning Musume Goes International

Call it a new era in Japan-China relations. The man behind Morning Musume has decided to give the group a more international look, and producer Tsunku (38) announced yesterday that the latest addition to the lineup will be two Chinese teenagers. The first audition was held in Beijing last year and included those who failed to qualify for the local “Super Girl” auditions. Chosen from that group was Li Chun (19, photo left), known as “Jun Jun”. 16-year-old Qian Lin (photo right) has been appearing on Chinese TV since she was in elementary school and was introduced to Tsunku through a friend. She has already appeared as a backing dancer on the Hello! Project national tour in January and is nicknamed “Lin Lin”. Both girls need to take dance, vocal and Japanese language lessons, but judging from their photos, they will blend easily among the Japanese members. They will make their first appearance on the “Hello! Morning” show on TV Tokyo on March 18. Officially part of the 8th version of the lineup, which also includes the recently added Mitsui Aika (14), they will perform in front of fans for the first time at the May 6 concert which will mark the “graduation” of leader Yoshizawa Hitomi (21).

• Academy Award nominated actress Kikuchi Rinko (26) is living with a handsome Argentine talento, according to the latest issue of weekly magazine “Friday”. Her agency refused to comment on the story, but it was confirmed by the management of Aletta Federico (26), who also said he accompanied Kikuchi to last month’s Oscar ceremony. The two are said to be sharing an apartment in central Tokyo. Kikuchi, who received widespread praise for her role in “Babel”, is currently in Europe filming her next project. Aletta speaks Japanese, English and Italian as well as his native Spanish.

• Actress Hara Fumina (25) and former J-League soccer player Nakanishi Tetsuo (37) are to get married next week. Their management agencies made the announcement yesterday, in Hara’s case including a mention of the fact that she is not pregnant and that she plans to continue working. The couple met in 2002 on a soccer program but didn’t start dating until January of last year, and Nakanishi proposed last Christmas. Hara made a name for herself in last summer’s TBS drama series “Taiyou no Uta”, while Nakanishi is now a soccer commentator. He started his J-League career with his hometown team of Nagoya Grampus Eight, later moving to Kawasaki Frontale. While on the bench for a Grampus game, he had the dubious distinction of being the first J-League player to receive a red card without even setting foot on the pitch. He retired in 2000.


Star of Psychedelic Era Dies

Singer and actor Suzuki Hiromitsu died yesterday of liver cancer at a Tokyo hospital. He was 60. He made his name in the late 1960s as the vocalist of The Mops, a band that was part of the “group sounds” era and introduced psychedelic rock to Japan. They managed to survive longer than any other group of their genre, breaking up in 1974. The members kept in touch after the split, but had not seen each other for some years. The band’s songwriter, Hoshi Katsu (58), visited Suzuki in hospital just the day before he passed away. In the 70s Suzuki became a successful character actor and TV talento and appeared in a series of movies and TV dramas. He was found to have cancer just three months ago.

• Actress Daichi Mao (51) is getting married again, and this time is going for a younger man. The former Takarazuka top star announced her engagement to interior designer Morita Yasumichi (39) on her official homepage yesterday. The couple met at the end of last year and plan to hold a wedding ceremony in August. Daichi was married to actor Matsudaira Ken (53) for 13 years until their divorce in December 2003 (best known for his serious samurai roles, after the split Matsudaira went a bit wild, reinventing himself as the sparkling kimono-wearing “Matsuken” and recording a smash hit samba record. He remarried in 2005). Morita, also a divorcee, designs shops and restaurants both in Japan and abroad and his trademark is his shoulder-length brown hair.

• In Tokyo yesterday promoting their latest movie were Hollywood stars Cameron Diaz (34) and Jude Law (34). “The Holiday”, directed by Nancy Meyers and also starring Kate Winslett and Jack Black, opens here on March 24.


Kumi the ¥20-Billion Queen of J-Pop

Pop singer Koda Kumi (24) was Japan’s best-selling artist again last year. She was in Tokyo yesterday to receive the 21st Nihon Golden Disk Award, given to the artist with the most sales during the year. Koda amassed 2006 sales of 3.5 million albums, 2.41 million singles, 140,000 music videos, and 12 million downloads, giving her a total in the region of ¥20 billion. The singer, whose sex appeal has always been central to her success, said she lost two kilos for yesterday’s presentation. And she was showing lots of skin as usual in a bright emerald green dress. The award makes it two years in a row that Koda has easily eclipsed the sales record of fellow Avex star Hamasaki Ayumi. But she’s not resting on her laurels and today sees the release of a new single, the love ballad “But/Aishou”.

• 2,500 Chinese fans got a chance to see some of Japan’s top young pop stars in action yesterday. Former Morning Musume member Goto Maki (21) and other J-pop stars performed at the “Nicchu Super Live” joint Japanese-Chinese concert in Beijing. The show was held to kick off a year of sports and cultural events that marks the 35th anniversary of the normalization of relations between Japan and China. Also on stage were singers Hirahara Ayaka (22) and Atari Kousuke (26), boy band w-inds, and local artists Ji Minjia (24) and Han Xue (24). The day before, about 1,000 screaming fans caused a mass panic at the airport as they awaited the arrival of the three members of w-inds. The arrivals area echoed with fans singing the group’s debut song “Forever Memories”, and some tried to chase the group’s car in a taxi after they left the airport. Yesterday’s concert will be broadcast on NHK satellite on April 12.