Monthly Archives: August 2007

Iijima Natsuki Biopic Screened in Waikiki

Iijima Natsuki6,500 people packed Waikiki Beach on Wednesday for its first-ever screening of a Japanese movie. the biopic about a. “Life – Tengoku de Kimi ni Aetara” is based on the novel by world famous pro windsurfer Iijima Natsuki (1966-2005), who spent his final years surfing on the Hawaiian coast. The top Japanese in his sport, he appeared in the World Cup for eight years running and lived in Hawaii and Guam. He was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2002 and returned to Japan for a transplant. As treatment failed to fend off the cancer, he turned to writing. “Tengoku…” was published in July 2004 and became a best-seller, as did a publication of his blog writing and a second novel. Among those watching Wednesday’s screening were Iijima’s widow Hiroko (39) and their four children. As the movie came to its climactic scene, rain began to fall. Hiroko said, “Those were Natsuki’s tears of happiness falling from heaven,” bringing real tears from the movie’s star Osawa Takao (39). Also there for the free show was singer Nakashima Mika (24), who happened to be in Hawaii on vacation with her family.

• Young singer-songwriter Ayaka (19) helped launch the latest Final Fantasy VII game software yesterday, performing the theme song “Why” (on sale September 5) at a PR event in Tokyo. In a change from her usual tied-up hairstyle, she let her hair down, and also revealed that she and FF share the same birthday, as the software was first released on December 18, 1987.

• Popular NTV announcer Abe Akiko (28) is to quit the network at the end of September. She joined NTV in 2001 after graduating in International Marketing at Yokohama National University. She worked on variety and sports shows, and since April she has been a co-presenter of the “Sukkiri!” morning show with comedian Kato Koji (38) and talento Terry Itoh (57). She revealed on the live show last November that she planned to marry an employee of the rival TBS network who was based overseas.

Koike Eiko Marries Wrestler Sakata Wataru

Koike Eiko and Sakata WataruActress Koike Eiko (26) has married pro wrestler Sakata Wataru (34). She will give a press conference today to make the formal announcement, but Sakata was already spotted leaving a municipal office last night after he registered their marriage. The couple tied the knot after a relationship of five years, a period which has seen Koike develop from being just another busty pin-up girl into a multi-faceted career as an actress and talento. She first displayed her comic talents on the edgy Fuji TV show “One Night Rock ‘n’ Roll”, and has shown a more serious face on the TV Tokyo talk show “Kamburia Kyuden” (Cambrian Palace), which she co-hosts with novelist and social commentator Murakami Ryu. She worked as a ringside commentator and spokesperson for Japan’s PRIDE Fighting Championships from 2000 to 2006, where she met Sakata. He is now a member of the popular Hustle wrestling promotion managed by Takada Nobuhiko. Koike is said to have been very close to her grandfather, who passed away in August of last year, and she wanted to wait until after the anniversary of his death before getting married.

• The six-girl Osaka-based group Oreska Band have wrapped up their 7 dates on the “Warped Tour”, a major punk festival event on the U.S. west coast. The schoolgirl ska-punk sextet were a big success at the Anime Expo in July and are staying in California till the end of the year to work on an upcoming Hollywood movie. The as-yet unnamed project is by the same team that put together the hit TV show “High School Musical”.

• The 64th Venice International Film Festival kicked off yesterday. Japan’s contender for the Golden Lion award is “Sukiyaki Western Django”, Miike Takashi’s take on the festival’s theme: the spaghetti western. Today, director Kitano “Beat” Takeshi will become the first winner of the new “Glory to the Filmmaker” award, named after his own recent release, “Kantoku Banzai!” The 2003 Golden Lion winner said, “I’m really grateful. I’m delighted that my name will live on in the form of this award.” Also representing Japan is Aoyama Shinji’s “Sad Vacation”, which opens the festival’s Horizons section for cutting edge cinema.

Sonin Lands Miss Saigon Lead

Sonin in Miss SaigonSinger and actress Sonin (24) has landed the lead role in the latest theater production of the musical “Miss Saigon”. Auditions began almost a year ago, with the original Broadway producer Cameron Mackintosh taking part in the selection process. Video of Sonin performing some of the songs from the show was sent to the U.S. and she was finally given the part of Kim in June. The production will start its run at the Imperial Theater in Tokyo next July. Miss Saigon, a love story set at the end of the Vietnam War, was last performed in Japan four years ago. The part of Kim has previously been played by such stars as Matsu Takako (30), Chinen Rina (26) and the late Honda Minako. Sonin started her career as one half of the duo EE Jump in 2000 under the guidance of Morning Musume creator Tsunku (38). After a strong start the duo split when partner Yuuki (21, younger brother of Goto Maki, a member of “MoMusu” at the time) was dropped for underage drinking and hanging out at hostess clubs. Sonin has determinedly built up a musical and dramatic career since then. She is to play the female lead in a stage production of “Petenshi to Sagishi” (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) next January.

• Young actress Nagabuchi Ayane (19) showed off her showjumping skills yesterday while filming her first movie role. She stars in “Sanbongi Nougyoukou Bajutsubu”, the true story of a high school girl and the blind horse she encounters in her school’s equestrian club. The eldest child of rock singer-songwriter Nagabuchi Tsuyoshi (50) and former actress Shihomi Etsuko (51), Ayane studied ballet from the age of four and had her first lead role at the age of 11. She attended the Kanto International High School, where she was a member of the equestrian club, and entered the Faculty of International Studies at Meiji Gakuin University in April. Filming is set to continue on “Sanbongi…” until next February, and the movie is scheduled to open in the autumn of 2008.

• Actor player Tanaka Ken (56) has become a father again. His wife, former actress Chikage (38), gave birth to a baby girl at a Tokyo hospital yesterday. The couple married in December of last year. Tanaka has a 19-year-old daughter from his previous 14-year marriage to actress Kotegawa Yuuko (48), which ended in 1999. Chikage is a distant relative of actress Kaga Mariko (63). Tanaka is also known as a performer of the quena, the traditional flute of the Andes.

Luna Sea to Make One-Night Stand

Luna SeaPopular visual-kei rock band Luna Sea are to get back together for a one-off concert, the first since the Christmas of 2000. The “God Bless You – One Night Dejavu” show is scheduled for December 24 at Tokyo Dome. That’s the venue where seven years ago almost to the day they announced that they had come to the end of the road. The fact that they were at the peak of their success at the time only added to their legendary status and ensured that their “Slave” fan club has kept going strong to this day. Sources say the five members have no plans to continue performing together after the Christmas show. They have all pursued careers as solo artists or producers, with vocalist Kawamura Ryuichi (37) being the most successful. The band, made up of Ryuichi, Sugizo and Inoran on guitars, J on bass and drummer Shinya, formed in 1989 and made their major-label debut in 1992. They had their first No.1 single in 1994 with “True Blue”. They had two million-selling albums and, with their well-regarded musical skills, were considered the leaders of the visual kei scene. One of their most famous episodes was when they went ahead with an outdoor show for 100,000 fans just two days after the stage had been destroyed by a typhoon. The breakup in 2000 came as less of a surprise due to the fact that the band had previously taken all of 1997 off to rest and pursue solo projects. Today’s timing for the official announcement of their reunion show is due to the fact that Japan will be enjoying a lunar eclipse tonight.

• A trio of top actors appeared at a PR event yesterday for TV Asahi’s remake of Kurosawa Akira‘s classic movie “Tengoku to Jigoku”. Known in English as “High and Low”, the 1963 thriller is regarded as one of the master’s best works. For the TV drama version, due to be broadcast on September 8, the setting has been changed from Yokohama to modern-day Otaru in Hokkaido. Sato Koji (46) will take on the lead role of business executive Gondo, played by the late, great Mifune Toshiro. The cast also includes Abe Hiroshi (43) and Suzuki Kyoka (39). The drama is in the capable hands of veteran director Tsuruhashi Yasuo (67).

Gackt Leads Army into Battle

Following up his appearance in this year’s NHK taiga drama, the enigmatic Gackt led a historical parade in Joetsu City, Niigata Prefecture on Saturday. Dressed as medieval warlord Uesugi Kenshin (1530-1578) in full armor and riding a white stallion, Gackt led the parade of about 450 people wearing samurai and other period costumes. The Kenshinko Matsuri festival is an annual event that centers around the famous warrior, most recently portrayed by the rock singer in “Fuurinkazan”. The event, started in 1926 and held this year for the 82nd time, is based around the famous battle of Kawanakajima between Kenshin and Takeda Shingen. The lead up to the battle is also the climactic scene of this year’s taiga series and, though yet to be aired, was already filmed earlier this month. A much larger crowd than usual, the 50,000 spectators were impressed with the touch of “authenticity” Gackt brought to the event, and he returned the compliment by encouraging them in their recovery from the recent earthquake that caused heavy damage to the region.

• Fashion model turned actress Yamada Yu (23) did some cleaning up in a Shibuya park on Sunday. For the “Shibuyamada Beauty Fiesta”, she and 50 other volunteers, including comedian Haraguchi Akimasa (31), painted over graffiti in Miyashita Park near the capital’s youth mecca. The urban beautification project also included the nearby Yoyogi Park.

Orlando Bloom in First TV Commercial

Orlando BloomBritish Hollywood star Orlando Bloom (30) will make his first ever television commercial appearance tonight on Japanese TV. Billed as a one-night-only event, a 2-minute version of the commercial for Shiseido’s men’s cosmetics brand Uno will air on three networks around midnight (see Shiseido’s website for details). Each network will have a different keyword after the CM, with all three needed to enter for a prize draw. The CM features the “Pirates of the Carribbean” star in a futuristic setting – in the year 2019, his character Neo is being pursued by unknown forces and uses the “New Fiber Neo” hair gel to disguise himself. The soundtrack is an “Uno” reworking of the Quincy Jones classic “Ai no Corrida”.

• Comedian Nagai Hidekazu (37) is leaving his wife and 2-year-old son behind to pursue his dream of studying in New York. He plans to spend a year in the Big Apple studying English, and not just aiming for conversational level but in order to be able to perform in English. Nagai made his breakthrough in 2003 with his catchphrase “Machigainai!”

Kimura Takuya Tackles First All-English Role

With a major domestic film about to be released in a few weeks, SMAP‘s Kimura Takuya (34) had some other big news this week. In what will be his first appearance in an English-language movie, he has been named to an all-star international cast for the latest project by renowned Vietnamese-French director Anh Hung Tran (44). “I Come With the Rain”, Tran’s first movie in eight years, stars Josh Hartnett (29) as former L.A. cop turned private eye, Kline. Hired to find Shitao (Kimura), the son of a Chinese billionaire, he travels to Hong Kong where he teams up with an old friend and local cop (Shawn Yue). His search leads him to the gangster Su Dongpo (Korean star Lee Byung Hun) and his druggie mistress (Tran’s wife, actress Tran Nu Yen Khe). But he is haunted by memories of the serial killer Hasford (Elias Koteas) whose crimes almost drove him insane and made him quit the LAPD. The movie is scheduled to open in the autumn of 2008, with a possible screening at next year’s Cannes Film Festival. Director Tran is best known for 1993’s Academy Award nominee “The Scent of Green Papaya”. Meanwhile Kimura’s “Hero”, the movie version of Fuji TV’s most successful ever drama, hits the big screens on September 8. He is joined by co-star Matsu Takako (30) and a host of major names.

• It was revealed yesterday that Fuji TV announcer Sano Mizuki (35) got re-married recently. His new bride is described only as 24-year-old A-san, an “ippanjin” (“ordinary person”, or someone not in show business). They have registered their marriage and plan to hold a wedding ceremony later this month. And in October they will have an even bigger upheaval as Sano is to be transferred to New York. He was previously married to Shizuoka TV announcer Totsuka Kikuko (34) from 2000 to 2004.

• Talento Mitsuura Yasuko (36) is to return to live braodcasting today after her hospitalization last month for a cerebral aneurysm. She will resume her regular slot on an afternoon radio show and has already started doing studio recording for her many TV variety show appearances.

Reggae Brings Infinite Love for Suzuki Sarina

Talento Suzuki Sarina (30) really seems to have found her way in the world of reggae. It was revealed yesterday that Suzuki, who in addition to her regular TV variety show appearances is a reggae singer, is engaged to be married to Tela-C (photo top left), a member of the reggae duo Infinity16. The couple, who have visited Kingston, Jamaica several times together, have been living together for the last two years and are planning to get married next spring. Tela-C formed Infinity16 in 1994 and was joined by Desem two years later. After several years in New York and Jamaica, they starting performing in Japan in 2002. This March, they won first prize at the “International Cup – Garrison Showdown” World Reggae Soundclash competition in New York. With five independent label albums under their belt, in April they made their major label debut with a collaboration number “Dream Lover” with other reggae acts including Shonan no Kaze and Minmi (32). The song made the Oricon singles chart Top 10, a first for a debut by a reggae artist. Suzuki debuted as a pop singer in 1997 but switched to reggae using her real name, Kanako, in 2003. She changed that to her family name, Munehiro, in 2005.

• The Japan Today website included the following quote translated from the Shukan Gendai/Mainichi: “She’s appeared in several dramas and the evaluation of her performances has been pretty much unanimous: she can’t act.” The quote, attributed to a “Fuji TV drama production crew member”, refers to top model Ebihara Yuri but let’s face it – it could just as easily apply to any number of talentos, male or female. But according to the article “Ebi-chan,” who turns 28 in October, is considered past her “use-by” date in Japan’s showbiz world and now finds her career at the crossroads.

The Comedian and the Badminton Beauty

Two rising stars from quite different worlds have been romantically linked. It was revealed yesterday that handsome comedian Tokui Yoshimi (32, photo top left) is dating top badminton cutie Shiota Reiko (23, photo bottom left). Tokui is the boke half of the duo Tutorial, who took the comedy world by storm when they won the annual M-1 Grand Prix and ¥10 million in 2006 while still relative unknowns. Together with partner Fukuda Mitsunori (32), he is now a regular face on TV. He is expected to go far not only because of his looks but also his comic ability, and he was runner-up in this year’s R-1 Grand Prix for solo comedy acts. Shiota and doubles partner Ogura Kumiko (24) have been Japan champions for the last three years running, and just last weekend they won the bronze medal at the World Badminton Championships. The pair are known as “OguShio” are are popular as much due to their good looks as their medal-winning ability. Shiota is due to publish a photo book next month, a relative rarity for sports stars. The badminton pair and the comedy duo met when they were teamed up for a double date on a TV show in February 2006. Though the date was only meant to be for entertainment, it led to one real-life romance after a somewhat drunk Tokui expressed his feelings for Shiota. It’s just a shame the word “shuttlecock” doesn’t have the same comedy potential in Japanese!

• The weekend saw a new audience ratings record fr NTV’s annual 24-hour charity telethon. As reported here yesterday, the broadcast centered around the 70km run by veteran comedian Hagimoto Kinichi (66). While the 18.6% average rating for the show, which actually ran for 26 hours and 24 minutes, was just short of 200%7s record of 19%, the peak rating was a whopping 43.9%. The viewing audience peaked at the end of the show as Kin-chan, who was the emcee for the first ever NTV telethon 30 years ago, reached his goal at the Nippon Budokan on Sunday night.

• Yamaguchi Sayoko, who in the 1970s was the first Japanese fashion model to achieve global fame, died yesterday of acute pneumonia. She was 57. Following her debut in 1971, she took part in collections in Paris and New York wearing clothes by designers such as Takada Kenzo and Yamamoto Kansai. Newsweek magazine named her as one of the Top 6 models in the world. She later worked in movies, contemporary dance and fashion design.

• Actress Minakaze Yoko died of pancreatic cancer at at a Yokohama hospital yesterday. She was 77. A graduate of the Takarazuka theatrical troupe, she joined the Mingei (Public Theater) company in 1959. She became a top star playing such roles as Kate Keller in “The Miracle Worker”. She also worked on TV and in movies. She is survived by her husband, director Wakasugi Mitsuo, and daughter, actress Wakasugi Tami.

• Actor Nishimura Kazuhiko chose yesterday, his 41st birthday, to reveal that he is to become a father. He announced on his blog that his wife Yumi (28) is expecting their first child, believed to be due next January. The couple married in May of 2006. Yumi is an established shodouka, or calligrapher.

At 66, Kin-chan Runs 70km Charity Marathon

The TV highlight of the weekend was NTV’s annual 24-hour telethon. And as usual the centerpiece of the marathon broadcast was the charity marathon run by a celebrity. This year’s runner was veteran comedian Hagimoto Kinichi (66), who took over 26 hours to complete a 70km course from Kanagawa Prefecture to the Nippon Budokan in central Tokyo. “Kin-chan” completed his run at 9:05 on Sunday night, ten minutes after the scheduled end of the broadcast, having fought off the humid summer heat and intense pain in his legs and feet. From Sunday afternoon his left leg was numb and, with just 10km left to go, his suffering was such that he could no longer put a brave smile on his face. But Tokyo residents lined the streets to cheer him and somehow he found the strength to carry on. He, the audience and presenters were all in tears as he struggled the last few meters down the Budokan’s steps to the stage. The theme of this year’s show was “The Moment that Changed My Life”, and Kin-chan’s hope was that his completion of the run would inspire other senior citizens to fight on. In another segment, comedian Kazama Kampei (58) completed a decathlon and set a new Japan Masters record for the 1500m. In its 15th year, the show had raised a record ¥363 million by the end of the broadcast.

• Popular TBS announcer Kaiho Chisato (31) revealed during her regular appearance on the live “Hanamaru Market” show this morning that she is engaged to be married. She will be quitting the network at the end of September and joining her new husband in the U.S., where he currently works.

• SMAP member Nakai Masahiro (34) and sexy pop star Koda Kumi (24) refused to comment over the weekend on rumors of their romance. A big Yomiuri Giants fan, Nakai was in New York to report live on a New York Yankees game. And on Saturday, Koda was among the major artists taking part in the “J-Wave Live 2000+7” event at the Yokohama Arena.