Monthly Archives: October 2007

Former Idol Singer in Drug Bust

Japanese star Akasaka AkiraActor and former Johnny’s Jimusho idol singer Akasaka Akira (34) has been arrested for drug possession. He was found with a gram of methamphetamine stimulant drugs in the early hours of Sunday morning when stopped by police on the street in Tokyo’s Toshima Ward. Akasaka was a member of the hugely popular 1980s roller-skating idol group Hikaru Genji, for whom current superstars SMAP were backing dancers. After the group broke up in 1995, Akasaka became an actor, working mostly in theatrical drama and musicals. Johnny’s announced to the media by fax that they had fired him from the agency as of Monday.

• Rakugo-ka Sanyuutei Enkou was discovered dead at his Tokyo home on October 26, police revealed this week. He was 58. Neighbors reported to his apartment caretaker that they hadn’t seen him in some time, and he was found on the floor of his bedroom. He’s believed to have died of heart failure around October 11. The traditional comic storyteller was single and lived alone, and had been experiencing health problems for some time.

Goto Maki Leaves Hello! Project

Goto MakiFormer Morning Musume member Goto Maki (22) has left the Hello! Project. She announced the decision as she finished her nationwide tour on Sunday, saying the recent arrest of her younger brother is causing “meiwaku”, or hassle, for other members of the musical collective.

Hello! Project is a loose and often interconnected collection of girl groups which grew out of the massive success that the Svengali-like producer Tsunku had with “MoMusu” in the late 1990s. Goto joined MoMusu in 1999 and of the several “graduates” who have continued with solo careers, she is the most successful. Largely thanks to her fame, her brother Yuuki (21) had a brief career as one half of the duo EE Jump but his wayward behavior quickly got him into trouble. He was arrested earlier this month on charges of leading a gang of young thieves whose modus operandi (a member rented a getaway truck in his own name) made them seem like teenage delinquents rather than hardened criminals. But Maki could hardly avoid being tainted by the scandal and her move is seen as the only way to atone for it. When the time came for her first “talk break” at yesterday’s show at Omiya Sonic City, she simply bowed deeply to the audience as a sign of apology. She held the bow for so long that fans fell into an eerie silence before breaking into warm applause. Also said to be a factor in her decision is that she is aiming to build a solo career along the lines of Beyonce or Janet Jackson and so felt somewhat hampered by being one of a large group of idol singers. As she entered her 20s, she has been creating more of a sexy image.

• Another former MoMusu member, Abe Natsumi (26), was apologizing to fans yesterday, too. At a show in Osaka that kicked off her latest tour, she said she was sorry for “worrying” fans with the trafic accident she caused earlier in the month. Meanwhile, the news is brighter for the current MoMusu lineup. A 10th anniversary collection of the group’s hits has made No.1 in the latest Oricon album chart. With 11 albums now having made the Top 10, they share top spot for a female group with top 1980s band Princess Princess.

• Taking the No.1 and No.2 spots on the Oricon singles chart are Bump of Chicken with “Hana no Na” and “May Day”. It’s the first time an artist has held both the top two spots since Rag Fair did it more than five years ago.

• Talento Rinka (34) is reaching out to all those Japanese women with a broken heart. She was chosen to record a cover of Blondie’s 1999 song “Maria” as the theme tune for the Japan release of Korean movie “200 Pounds Beauty”. The movie is based on a Japanese manga by Suzuki Yumiko, “Kanna-san Daiseikou Desu!” Producers say they chose Rinka because of her popularity among young Japanese women and her “dramatic life”. The recently revealed breakup with her boyfriend of six years no doubt influenced Rinka as she wrote her own Japanese lyrics for the song. Blondie keyboard player Jimmy Destry also took part in the project. “Maria” goes on sale December 12 and the movie opens in Japanese theaters on December 15.

Terry Collins Smooth as…Silk?

Terry Collins SilkOrix Buffaloes manager Terry Collins (58) didn’t have a good first season in Japanese baseball but he did find love. In a recent meeting with pitcher Miyamoto Daisuke (26) at fall training, the divorcee acknowledged his relationship with Yoshimoto Kogyo talento Silk (44, real name Kasatani Ayako). It was the first time he had spoken about the relationship since it was first rumored back in June. A former manager of the Houston Astros and the Anaheim Angels, Collins arrived in Japan in January on a 3-year contract to manage the Buffaloes. They ended the season in the Pacific League cellar. Miyamoto married another Yoshimoto comedienne, Unabara Yasuyo (31), in 2005 and is currently making a return from the Orix farm system. He continues to recover from a condition known as ossification of the yellow ligament, a problem that has ended the career of many players.

• The 20th Tokyo International Film Festival wound up Sunday with “The Band’s Visit,” a joint French-Israeli production directed by Eran Kolirin, taking the Tokyo Sakura Grand Prix and $50,000 prize money. It tells the tale of an Egyptian police band that gets lost while visiting a small town in the desert in Israel and of the members’ exchanges with the local people. Other winners: the Special Jury Prize – “The Western Trunk Line”, directed by Li Jixian; Best Director – Peter Howitt for “Dangerous Parking”; Best Actress – Shefali Shah in “Gandhi My Father”; Best Actor – Damian Ul in “Tricks.” The Audience Award went to “Leroy” by director Armin Voelckers.

Johnny’s Jimusho veteran Masahiko Kondo (43) became a father for the first time earlier in the month, he revealed last Friday. He and his wife Atsuko (41) married in 1994, and had been through years of miscarriages and infertility treatment. They finally had an addition to the family at a Tokyo hospital on the afternoon of October 8. Kondo, who has largely swapped singing for a career as a racing driver and team owner, rushed to the hospital from a pre-scheduled traffic safety event on the day, but missed his son’s arrival by less than five minutes. They named him Gousuke, using a kanji that is made up of three “cars”. The boy was born two months premature and is in an incubator – his father has yet to have a chance to hold him – but is said to be developing well.

Uchino Masaaki, Ichiro Maki Hold Wedding Ceremony

Uchino Masaaki Ichiro Maki

Actor Uchino Masaaki (39) and former top Takarazuka star Ichiro Maki (42) held their wedding reception at a historical Tokyo restaurant yesterday. Helping them celebrate was their 1-year-old daughter Rio, and the guest list included a host of theatrical and TV celebrities. The couple first started dating when working together on the stage musical “Elizabeth” in 2000. They announced their engagement in May 2006 and registered their marriage the following July. Ichiro left the all-female theatrical troupe in 1996 and has performed on stages around the world. She and Uchino met when they played together in the musical “Elizabeth” in 2000. Ichiro appeared in the 1997 NHK taiga historical drama, while Uchino is playing the lead role of medieval warrior Yamamoto Kansuke in this year’s production, “Fuurinkazan”. His busy schedule working on the series was the main reason for the delay in holding their reception. The event was held at the Ogasawara Hakushaku-tei, a 75-year-old Spanish villa-style addition to what was the home of the Count Ogasawara in the Edo Period.

Umezu Kazuo’s Striped House Hits Another Hurdle

Manga Umezu KazuoEccentric manga artist (aren’t they all?!) Umezu Kazuo (71) is having a hard time realizing his dream house project. Famous for always wearing red and white stripes, he wants to build his new house in the Tokyo suburb of Kichijoji in the same style. Not only that, but with a design that incorporates a likeness of Makoto-chan, one of his most famous characters. His new neighbors in the residential area have been up in arms, though they failed in an earlier legal attempt to have the project cancelled. Construction went ahead as planned but now two neighbors have appealed to the Tokyo District Court to stop the house being painted in red and white.

• Actress Kikuchi Maiko (33) revealed on her blog this week that she is expecting her first child next spring. She married a 39-year-old businessman in July. She made her name as the heroine of the NHK morning drama series “Futarikko” in 1996. Her co-star, Iwasaki Hiromi (30), married last April and is expecting her first child in December.

• Globe vocalist Keiko (35), the wife of producer/musician Komuro Tetsuya (48), announced her new solo project set to begin early next year. She will use the stage name KCO, both as a singer and a TV personality. Part of the new image is to chnage her dyed blonde hair her to brown. Her first single as KCO, “Snow Story” goes on sale on January 23. Not surprisingly it’s produced by hubby Komuro.

• Shogo(27), vocalist of rock band 175R, already has a new woman in his life, according to this week’s issue of women’s weekly “Josei Seven”. Shogo and former Speed member Imai Eriko (24) divorced only a month ago but had been separated since the spring. And it seems that Shogo lost no time dating pin-up idol Kosaka Yuka and they have shared apartment keys for several months.

Chikushi Testsuya Steps Down

Chikushi TetsuyaChikushi Testsuya has formally announced his retirement as main anchor on the TBS “News 23” show, and a replacement has been named. Current Kyodo News managing editor Goto Kenji (58) is expected to take over the role within the year. The program’s official name will remain as “Chikushi Tetsuya News 23” for the time being and Chikushi (72), who is still undergoing treatment for lung cancer, will make occasional appearances as a “special anchor”. After 18 years hosting the late-night news show, he announced that he had cancer in mid-May and it was almost five months before he appeared on the screen again on October 8. He looked leaner and admitted to wearing a hairpiece. Goto, who joined Kyodo in 1973, spent about a year as a guest commentator on TBS news shows from the spring of 2005 before being promoted to managing editor at the major news agency. He will quit on October 31 and plans to take on his new TV role in December.

• Iwabori Seri (30), a model and the wife of Glay leader Takuro (36), gave birth to their second child, at the beginning of the month. She announced the arrival the baby girl on her blog yesterday. The couple married in 2004 and had a boy in 2005.

• Veteran comedian Haruno Piichiku died of lung cancer at a Tokyo hospital yesterday. He was 82. Real name Naoi Toshihiro, he made his debut as a manzai comedian with the late Ohsawa Mitsuru in 1953 and they renamed themselves Haruno Piichiku-Paachiku in 1959. After they split in 1973, Piichiku started a caricature-based solo act. He was performing on stage as recently as October 6, though his cancer was discovered in early September.

The Return of X Japan

X JapanLegendary rock band X Japan took a major step towards their long-awaited comeback yesterday, recording the promo video for their new single. Ten years after they split, the four surviving members of the band were on the Tokyo waterfront to record a live performance on the rooftop of the Aqua City Odaiba mall. The ¥42 million production used helicopters and fire trucks to create artificial rain. Some 10,000 fans gathered to watch the performance on a large screen monitor set up in a nearby car park as leader Yoshiki on drums, Toshi on vocals, Pata on guitar and bassist Heath performed “I.V.”, the all-English theme tune for the Hollywood horror movie “Saw IV” which opens in the U.S. this weekend. The track includes previously un-released guitar tracks made by former lead guitarist Hideto “hide” Matsumoto, who died in a suspected suicide in 1998. Yoshiki was characteristically topless as he showed that he hasn’t lost his frantic drumming style. There had been plans to meet with fans in a nearby hall after the recording, but the crowd was just too big. Speaking to fans via the monitor, Yoshiki remembered hide, “What I really wanted was for us to make our world debut with hide. But seeing as you’ve all taken the trouble to come here tonight, we’re going to play a concert in Tokyo next spring!”

• Health problem have once again forced singer songwriter Yoshida Takuro (61) to cancel a string of concerts in his nationwide tour. He postponed 8 shows from the end of August after coming down with asthmatic bronchitis, but was thought to have made a full recovery and played six shows up to October 17. But he was told by his doctor that he has acute bronchitis and a lung infection and needs to rest for three months. This means calling off the remaining 19 shows, which had been scheduled between today and January 23.

• Police have sent the recent traffic accident case against former Morning Musume member Abe Natsumi (26) to prosecutors. She hit a motorcyclist while pulling out of a car park on the evening of October 7, causing minor injuries to the 33-year-old rider.

• Yamada Shinji, a singer and movie star during the 1950s and 60s, died yesterday of pneumonitis at a Tokyo hospital. He was 70. He had his biggest hit with “Aishuu no Machi ni Kiri ga Furu” in 1959.

• Talento Aoki Sayaka (34) is engaged to be married to a 31-year-old dancer. She made the revelation in an interview in today’s issue of women’s weekly “Josei Jishin” and has written about the romance in her autobiography “34”, which goes on sale this week. Aoki made her name in the last few years as a solo comedienne with a short fuse and is now one of the most familiar faces on the variety show circuit.

• Actor Tamaki Hiroshi (27) and singer Shimatani Hitomi (27) are the latest young showbiz couple. Their romance was also revealed in today’s “Josei Jishin”. They have both worked with the same record label and are said to have started dating at the beginning of September. Tamaki’s agency made no comment on the story, but Shimatani’s management acknowledged the relationship.

• Mihimaru GT vocalist Hiroko (23) has teamed up with breakthrough reggae singer Kusuo (28) on the new single “Tegami”. The two friends co-wrote the song, which will be released on iTunes tomorrow. Kusuo raised his profile this summer when his mini album “Koi ga Ore Desubai”, released in June, held the No.1 spot on the Oricon indie chart for five weeks.

Goto Maki’s Brother Arrested

EE JumpGoto Yuuki (21, photo right), the troubled younger brother of former Morning Musume member Goto Maki (22), has been arrested. Said to be the leader of a group of young thieves, he was arrested by police in Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward on charges of stealing ¥1 million worth of electrical wiring from a construction site in mid-July. The group were spotted leaving the site with the stolen materials in a 2-ton truck. When confronted by a police officer, they abandoned the truck and got away on foot. But the truck had been rented by one of the members and was quickly traced to him. Goto reported to the Komatsugawa police station with his lawyer on Saturday and admitted to all the charges. Goto made his showbiz debut at the age of 13 after he was scouted while attending a Momusu concert. He was teamed with female singer Sonin (24, photo left) in a duo called EE Jump. But within a year, his tendency to stay out all night got him into trouble with his management and he started missing work. After a 5-month forced break, he returned to work but was back in trouble again within three months: photos of him at a hostess club (he was still only 15) were published in a weekly magazine and EE Jump was disbanded. He married in December 2005, at which point his bride was already seven months pregnant.

• As if the recent divorce of former sumo champion Hanada Masaru (36) and former flight attendant Mieko (38) hadn’t already grabbed enough headlines, it now turns out she had an affair with a young actor. Today’s issue of weekly magazine “Shuukan Gendai” includes a story about the 6-month affair in 2004 with handsome actor Aoki Kenji (27). Hanada visited his ex-wife yesterday afternoon and they drove somewhere with their three children, returning in the evening. A couple of hours later, he sped off on his motorcycle, and neither made any comment to the waiting reporters. Aoki, a member of the quartet Jack Jack, spoke to the media after an event yesterday, saying there had indeed been an affair. Last night he updated his blog and apologized to his fans for all the fuss. The media have since been taking the stance that the whole thing was probably timed as a publicity stunt by Aoki.

Natsuki Mari to Marry After All

Natsuki MariThe epitome of the cool single woman, singer/actress Natsuki Mari (55) is engaged to be married. She announced yesterday that she and percussionist Saito Nobu (56) plan to tie the knot next spring. It is Natsuki’s first marriage, while Saito is divorced. The couple met in spring of 2006 when Saito was a session musician for Natsuki’s new band Gibier du Mari and they started dating this summer. She is scheduled to attend a press event today for the launch of her new book. She is famous for shunning Japan’s more conservative values and was widely believed to have no interest in marriage. Real name Nakajima Junko, she started out as a sensual jazz singer, and has often shocked Japan with her sexuality, appearing nude in the 1983 Kinji Fukasaku move “Satomi Hakkenden” (Legend of the Eight Samurai). Twice nominated for a Japanese Academy Award, she voiced the character of Yubaba in Miyazaki Hayao’s Oscar-winning anime “Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi” (Spirited Away, 2001). Saito is one of Japan’s top session musicians and has recorded with artists as diverse as Matsutoya Yumi, B’z, Gackt, and Morning Musume.

• Talento and former Olympic swimmer Michiko Kihara died yesterday of a brain hemorrhage at a hospital in Kanagawa Prefecture. She was 59. Kihara achieved fame when she swam for Japan at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964 and went on to become a popular television personality. She was popularly known by her nickname “Mimi”.

• Eight Japanese films will be showcased over the course of the British Film Institute’s annual London Film Festival which opened Wednesday. With a selection of seven Japanese features and one short making it through the shortlist for a place in the prestigious 16 day program, directors including Yamashita Nobuhiro, Kitano Takeshi and Sori Fumihiko will be given the opportunity to air their works. “There are some highly creative people in Japan and the films are obviously testament to their ideas and their skills and I think that they enrich the festival by providing aesthetic pleasures which you don’t perhaps get from other films,” said program adviser Tony Rayns. The titles include Kitano’s “Kantoku Banzai!” (Glory to the Filmmaker!), Suo Masayuki’s courtroom drama “Soredemo Boku wa Yattenai” (I Just Didn’t Do It), “Mogari no Mori” (The Mourning Forest) which won the Grand Prix at Cannes this year, and the anime fantasy feature “Vexille”.

Jodie Foster, Matt Damon in Tokyo

Jodie Foster in JapanA couple of Hollywood stars have been in town this week. Jodie Foster (44) attended the Japan premiere of “The Brave One” at the Roppongi Hills complex in central Tokyo last night. She took her time with TV interviews and signing autographs for fans, taking 20 minutes to walk the 100m carpet, which was yellow rather than red. She told the 700 fans, “I’ve been to Tokyo many, many, many times. Since I was 13. The first time I came, I fell in love with Tokyo.” (By the way, the photo shows Foster at a press conference, flanked by Toda Natsuko. Toda interprets for most visiting Hollywood stars and does the subtitles for many of the big movies). The movie opens on October 27. Meanwhile, Matt Damon (37) flew into Narita Airport on American Airlines yesterday, and was met by about 150 fans who sang him a belated Happy Birthday (his birthday was October 8). He’s here to promote “The Bourne Ultimatum”, which has it’s premiere tonight and opens in theaters on November 10. It’s his first visit in almost three years, the last time being to plug “Ocean’s 12”.

• Tickets will be like gold dust for two shows by British rock band The Police, who announced their Japan concert schedule yesterday. We reported here on Japan Zone back in March that the band are coming to Japan for the first time in 27 years (they canceled a 1983 show at Nippon Budokan), and they will play Kyocera Dome in Osaka on February 10 and Tokyo Dome on the 13th. Recently reformed 30 years after their debut and 23 years after they split, their world tour started in Canada in May. Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland are performing without any backing musicians, but will be supported in Japan by Fiction Plane, with Sting’s son Joe Sumner (30) on bass and vocals.

• Talento Sakakibara Ikue (48) recently had her bag stolen from her car, according to police. She had parked her car outside a friends house in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward on Tuesday evening, and was dumb enough to leave the window open. Her bag, containing ¥60,000 in cash, was gone when she returned half an hour later. One of the top idol singers of the early 1980s, she is married to actor Watanabe Toru (46).