Monthly Archives: February 2008

Kando Uno Marriage of Convenience?

Kanda UnoIt didn’t take long for the rumors to start flying around Kanda Uno’s recent marriage. Kanda (32) and pachinko company president Nishimura Takuro (38) held a hugely expensive and flamboyant wedding ceremony last October, with over 700 guests and at an expense of about ¥600 million. But rumors of constant bickering have hounded them ever since, even as they headed off for their honeymoon in Dubai last month. Last week, the weekly magazine “Flash” hinted at an affair when Kanda and resort company president Sadakata Kunisuke (40) were spotted sharing a flight to Paris. This week, with Kanda off working in Italy, it’s Nishimura’s turn. Today’s issue of the magazine “Friday” has a story about him galavanting around Hokkaido with a top Tokyo hostess. They were among a group of three men and five women who visited an onsen in Hakodate last weekend. Nishimura and the 28-year-old “A-san”, described as the No.1 hostess at a Roppongi club, are said to have a “relationship” that dates back five years. Japan Zone isn’t surprised to see Kanda end up in this kind of situation, as it’s always been clear that money and celebrity were her true loves. She’s made a small fortune herself in the fashion and entertainment businesses, but it pales in comparison with her husband’s wealth.

• “Friday” also reports that singer-songwriter Moriyama Naotaro (31) is living with a girlfriend, but perhaps not for long. The two have reportedly been going out for some time and vacationed together in Fiji last summer. But although she is said to resemble beautiful actress Matsushima Nanako, Moriyama has told friends he is considering ending their cohabitation arrangement. Not to end their relationship but so he can concentrate on his music career and come up with another mega-hit to match 2003’s “Sakura”.

• Singer Wada Akiko (57) is renowned for her tough talk when it comes to misbehaving celebs. Her target yesterday was sumo grand champion Asashoryu (27), who’s latest scandal involved him verbally abusing a newspaper reporter who snapped photos of him in Honolulu airport. Unhappy about being seen in an aloha shirt and shorts, he told the reporter to “Drop dead!” By the time he arrived back in Tokyo he’d changed into a kimono more befitting a yokozuna. Wada said “He’s bad by nature. I’d like to have a month with him. I’d take him on too, if I were a bit stronger.” She said he could learn a lesson from African-American enka debutant Jero (26) and his humble manner.

• With a sparkler on her left ring finger, busty talento Megumi (26) attended a movie PR event in Tokyo yesterday. Asked whether she and Dragon Ash vocalist Furuya Kenji (29) have any plans for marriage, she said “I’ll let you know when the time comes, so I’d be delighted if you’d just let us be.”

• Idol group AKB48 have canceled a promotion for their new single following complaints from fans and fears that it conflicted with the antitrust law. Fans who bought a copy of “Sakura no Hanabira-tachi 2008” at their stage venue in Tokyo’s Akihabara were to be given one of 44 posters featuring members of the group, and anyone who collected all the posters would be invited to a live event. This led to complaints among even the most dedicated fans about having to shell out for 44 CDs. Defstar Records announced yesterday that the plan had been canceled, saying it was in danger of being labeled an “unfair business practice.”

Fred McQueen in Japanese War Crimes Drama

Fred McQueenThe offspring of Hollywood legends seem to be finding their place in Japanese movies these days. Yesterday we reported on the first Japanese feature starring Shirley MacLaine’s daughter. Today it’s the turn of Fred McQueen (51), son of the late Steve McQueen, who spoke recently to the SanSpo newspaper about his second Japanese movie role in “Ashita e no Yuigon” (Best Wishes For Tomorrow). The film is based on the novel “Nagai Tabi” (Long Journey) about a Japanese Class B war criminal who sets out to take responsibility for the execution of American airmen. Veteran Fujita Makoto (74) plays Lieutenant General Okada Tasuku, Fuji Sumiko (62, mother of actress Terashima Shinobu) his wife, and Robert Lesser (69) had the difficult role of defense counsel Featherstone. McQueen was drawn to the powerful story and, a huge fan of the late Kurosawa Akira, was particularly nervous given that Kurosawa protege Koizumi Takashi was directing and many of the Master’s production staff were involved. McQueen, who only took up acting in 2003 after working as a firefighter and pastry chef, beat out 200 others for the role of tough prosecutor Burnett. He says that though he spent a lot of time researching for the role of a military officer, nerves made him forget his lines and positioning. It’s just his third movie role, and the second in Japan after the 2005 submarine drama “Lorelei” (though his name doesn’t appear in the credits). “Ashita…” opens in theaters on March 1.

• Pin-up idol Koizumi Maya (19) has lost the court case against her former high school. While a senior at a girl’s high school operated by Toho Gakuen in the Tokyo suburb of Chofu in 2006, she released a photobook and did a swimsuit photo shoot for a weekly magazine. The school expelled her several months later saying she had broken a rule that prohibits students working in the entertainment business. She took the case to court last year hoping to be reinstated so she could graduate. But yesterday the Tokyo District Court dismissed the suit, ruling that Koizumi had blatantly ignored the school’s policy and that the school had acted reasonably.

• Some big names have been announced behind the scenes of an upcoming TV Tokyo drama series. Prolific movie director Miike Takashi is to be the main man behind “Keitai Sousakan 7”, while some of the show’s 51 episodes will be taken on by other top directors such as Oshii Mamoru (Ghost in the Shell) and Kaneko Shusuke (Death Note). The series, which airs on Wednesday evenings from April 2, stars Kubota Masataka (19) as a high schooler who takes on an internet-based crime organization. The series’ gimmick is the keitai (mobile phone) robot of the title, and major phone operator Softbank Mobile will release a tie-up model in mid-April. Kubota admits to feeling “a lot of pressure” about working with such big names. The cast also includes Ito Yuko (33) and Tsuda Kanji (42), and the theme song is performed by Shimatani Hitomi (27).

• A monthly magazine published by Yoshimoto Kogyo runs an annual survey of the talent agency’s best-looking and ugliest comedians. Yamasato Ryota (30), Yama-chan of the duo Nankai Candies, has been chosen for the third year running as the ugliest star. The third award earns him a place in the Hall of Fame alongside 130R’s HonKon (44) and Football Hour’s Iwao Nozomu (32). Happier news for Inoue Satoshi (32) of the duo Jicho Kacho, who three-peated as Yoshimoto’s best-looking star.

Sachi Parker is the Witch of the West

Sachi ParkerAmerican actress Sachi Parker (51) has made her Japanese movie debut. In “Nishi no Majo ga Shinda” (The Witch of the West is Dead), she plays the title role, the English grand-mother of the young heroine Mai. Parker, the daughter of actress Shirley MacLaine and producer Steve Parker, has had roles in such major Hollywood movies as “Back To The Future” (1985), “Peggy Sue Got Married” (1986) and “Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael” (1990), but hasn’t appeared much since. As a child she lived with her family in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Uehara and attended the local International School. She once co-anchored a show called “Manhattan Express” for the Fuji TV network that introduced New York life to the Japanese audience. At yesterday’s event she spoke in fluent Japanese about how she had never dreamed of making a film in her old hometown, adding that she wanted her mother to see the movie. Directed by Nagasaki Shunichi and based on an award-winning children’s book, the movie’s cast includes newcomer Takahashi Mayu (13) as Mai, Takahashi Katsumi (47) and Kimura Yuichi (45). It opens in theaters in June.

Jero, Enka’s First African-American Star

Enka Singer Jero in JapanThe media is in a flurry over a young African-American by the name of Jero (26) who’s set to shake up the music industry. No, he’s not a visiting rap star, but the first foreign singer to make a name in the traditional world of enka for many years. And in a clever marketing move, the Philadelphia native’s heartfelt Japanese ballads are in stark contrast to his hip hop fashion. Real name Jerome White, Jr, he came to Japan in 2003 after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, determined to fulfill a promise to his late Japanese grandmother to become an enka singer and appear on the annual “Kohaku Uta Gassen” song show. He achieved the former with the recent release of his debut single, which is set to be the highest-ever pop chart entry by a solo enka singer. According to Oricon, “Umiyuki” will be ranked No.4 in next week’s general chart and No.1 in the enka-kayou chart. Though the song’s title translates as “Ocean Snow” and conjures up images of the Japan Sea, Jero admits the only ocean he’s seen was in California. But he is the real deal, with good looks, an excellent voice, and fluent Japanese, who tactfully includes natto and umeboshi among his favorite foods (both are commonly quoted examples of food that gaijin can’t eat). He studied for a time at the Kansai Gaidai University school of foreign languages, and performed on NHK’s “Nodo Jiman” amateur song contest in 2003, something that must have made his grandmother Takiko very proud. With his talent and marketability, his chances of fulfilling that second promise with a Kohaku appearance are looking good.

• Freelance announcer Itoh Rie (33) gave birth to her first child on Saturday. The news was announced yesterday on the TV Asahi early morning show “Yajiuma Plus”, from which Itoh is taking maternity leave. Meanwhile, railroad otaku idol Toyooka Masumi (25) is expecting a baby. Five months pregnant, she plans to retire and become a full-time mother from the end of March. She married a 35-year-old company employee last November.

X Japan Shows Sold Out in Seconds

X Japan ticketsThe final tickets for next month’s three X Japan shows at Tokyo Dome are said to have sold out in a matter of seconds. The final batch of the 150,000 tickets for the hugely anticipated March 28-30 shows went on sale at 10am yesterday. Demand has been heavy on ticket sources such as the official fan site of group leader Yoshiki and sites such as J Rock Revolution aimed at overseas fans. Through the pre-sale, Japan Zone was fortunate enough to get hold of four tickets for the March 28 “X Japan – Night of Destruction” show. The group performed together last October for the first time in ten years, shooting a live video for the song “I.V.” on the rooftop of the Aqua City mall in Tokyo.

• Talento and otaku favorite Nakagawa Shoko (22) apologized yesterday for a slip of the tongue. A regular panelist on the live TBS show “Sunday Japon”, she was talking about the recent accident in which a fishing vessel was accidentally sunk by a Japanese Aegis-class naval destroyer. A tearful “Shokotan” said during the show that the incident was avoidable and referred to the “unnecessary deaths” of the father and son crew members, though they are still officially listed as missing. She apologized briefly at the end of the show and again on her popular blog. She said she had got carried away by her emotions and hoped the two would be found soon.

• Hollywood actor Hayden Christensen (26) arrived in Japan yesterday to promote his latest movie. “Jumper” opens in theaters on March 7.

Remembering a Fallen Star

Dan IkedaIn 1985, the Japanese showbiz industry tried hard to make the world forget about Dan Ikeda. And until news of his death was revealed yesterday, a full two months after he had passed away, they succeeded. The musician died at a Tokyo hospital of respiratory failure on Christmas Day and a small funeral was held for him, presided over by his widow Setsuko. He was 72. In his heyday, Ikeda was a top session musician whose big band, “Dan Ikeda to New Breed”, accompanied artists every week on the hugely popular Fuji TV music show “Yoru no Hit Studio”. Ikeda worked on up to eight weekly shows and appeared 13 times on NHK’s annual “Kohaku Uta Gassen”. But in 1985, angered that “Yoru” was moved to a later time slot and that TV in general was switching from from live to pre-recorded broadcasts, Ikeda quit as bandmaster. That November, he published a racy autobiography and was bold enough to include the real names of such established stars as host Inoue Jun and top idols Tahara Toshihiko and Matsuda Seiko. Having broken one of the industry’s biggest taboos, Ikeda was unable to work on TV ever again and was forced to seek work at regional music events. Though he admitted to having been lonely, he insisted he never regretted writing about things that he considered “common knowledge.” Born Ikeda Keisuke in 1935 in Seoul, South Korea, he moved back to Japan with his family after WWII. While in high school he worked as a folk dance instructor, known as a “dan-suke”, which earned him the moniker that became his stage name.

• Hollywood star Nicole Kidman (40) was in Tokyo yesterday for the Japan premiere of “The Golden Compass”, which opens at theaters on March 1. Five months pregnant, Kidman thanked fans on behalf of her baby for their messages of congratulation. Also attending the event was actress and former model Tamaru Maki (29). Asked about the rumors of a split with Terada Kazumasa (42), the president of fashion brand Samantha Thavasa, she denied there was even any relationship.

• One of the longest-running shows on Japanese TV is approaching its 2,200th edition. At the Tokyo International Forum yesterday, Fuji TV’s Saturday evening show “Music Fair” recorded a series of four special episodes that will air from March 1. The show will reach the landmark figure on March 15. One the air for 44 years, the show regularly features the biggest names in the pop world. Singer Moriyama Ryoko (60) has appeared the most times (104) and yesterday performed a duet of her famous hit “Nada Sou Sou” with her son Naotaro (31). Other acts collaborating for the show included vocal group Gospellers and Ayaka (20).

• Defunct pop duo I WiSH got back together for a one-off concert last night. During the show at the CC Lemon Hall in Shibuya, Tokyo, pianist nao (27) announced that he and vocalist ai (22) got married in December and are expecting a baby in May. Yesterday was ai’s 22nd birthday. Though the duo split up in February 2005, they released a new CD on Valentine’s Day. “Love Songs 4 You” contains four songs, including a new recording that completes a “love cycle” started by their first three singles.

Taiyaki-kun is Back After 33 Years

Oyoge! Taiyaki-kunJapan’s best-selling single of all time wasn’t from B’z, Hamasaki Ayumi or even Koda Kumi. “Oyoge! Taiyaki-kun” is a kid’s song that was released 33 years ago and had total sales of 4.55 million singles, a figure that has now earned it a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. Of course, in 1975 there were no CDs, so on March 5 the song is to be re-released coupled with another old Showa Era favorite “Ippon demo Ninjin.” It will have the original sleeve design and coloring book, with the addition of a DVD featuring the animation that was shown on the “Hirake! Ponkikki” show.

The reason for the sudden revival? Last year Taiyaki-kun stuffed toys started appearing in UFO Catcher machines in game centers across the country and were an instant hit among people old enough to remember the character. The popularity spread to couples and youngsters, and the Pony Canyon record label saw they had a hit on their hands. They contacted Guinness in the UK about possibly having the song listed under a “Children’s Songs” or “Food Songs” category only to discover that it would be recognized as Japan’s No.1-selling single. Nobody had ever thought to submit it before. Pony Canyon declined to comment on the fact that the singer, Shimon Masato – now 64 and retired from showbiz – got a single payment of ¥50,000 and a white guitar for the recording. Though he had other hits, he hasn’t appeared in public since 1998.

• Former talento Haga Kenji (46), currently on trial for extortion, was released on bail this week after his fourth court appearance at the Osaka District Court. It’s not known who forked out the ¥20 million in bail money. On Tuesday evening, Haga returned to his Tokyo home with his wife Mayu (30), who he had seen only once in the eight months since his arrest last summer. He is due back in the Osaka court today for a hearing that is to include an appearance on the witness stand by actor Yoshikawa Ginji (42), who was arrested in the case last July but faced no charges.

Prime (Minister) Time for Kimura Takuya

Prime Minister Kimura TakuyaAny TV drama series that stars Kimura Takuya is sure to be popular and almost guaranteed the best time slot. But in the upcoming spring series from TBS, Kimutaku not only has the prime 9pm Monday slot, he even gets to be Prime Minister. The as-yet untitled series tells of an elementary school teacher who gets thrown into the political arena and becomes Japan’s youngest ever leader. After decades of political mismanagement, the Japanese people are likely to tune in in large numbers to see what the country’s top star can do when put in charge. The series once again joins Kimura with writer Fukuda Yasushi and the team who made “Hero” one of the most popular TV dramas ever, with all 11 episodes getting an audience rating over 30%. Last year’s movie spinoff was the most successful domestic feature at the box office.

Iwao Nozomu, Itoya MeiAs one half of the Yoshimoto duo Football Hour, comedian Iwao Nozomu (32) may be popular but he’s not supposed to get the girl. As the comedy agency’s No.1 “ugly” star for three years running, his romantic misadventures are part of his appeal and marketability. So his connection with a popular 24-year-old porn actress is all the more surprising. The weekly gossip magazine “Flash” photographed Iwao and Itoya Mei on a date at a Tokyo izakaya earlier this month, after which they spent the night at Iwao’s apartment. They have been spotted out together on several separate occasions, though their agencies say they are just friends. They met last year when Iwao cast Itoya in the segment he directed of a Yoshimoto omnibus movie. A junior college graduate, Itoya worked in a nursery before starting nude modeling and porn video appearances in 2006. She also has one of the AV (adult video) industry’s most popular blogs.

• Islandic songstres Bjork was at the Nippon Budokan yesterday for her first concert here in seven years. Wearing the same colorful face paint as features on the cover of her latest album “Volta”, she dispensed with talk intervals and costume changes, performing 19 songs for the 10,000 fans. She plays the same venue on Friday before heading to Osaka Castle Hall for one more show on Monday.

Life Begins at 69 for Mickey Curtis

Mickey CurtisTalento and sometime rockabilly singer Mickey Curtis (69) recently married for the third time, this time to a woman 33 years younger. His management announced the news yesterday, saying that the couple met in May of last year. Curtis was at an outdoor cafe when the woman’s dog approached him. By the time they parted, he had her email address and took things from there. He proposed last Chritmas and they tied the knot at the end of January. Real name Kachisu Brian, Curtis was married to model and actress Yoshimura Mari (72) in the early 1960s, but domestic violence brought an end to that marriage after just two years. He was married again from 1971 to 2002, with a drawn-out and messy divorce following the drug arrest of his musician son Yuujin (Eugene, 35).

• Hip hop producer Pharrell Williams (34) was in Tokyo yesterday to help launch auditions for Japan’s next R&B diva. The man behind hits for Beyonce and Usher and Madonna’s upcoming album has teamed up with friend and fashion design leader Nigo (37) to organize the “Star Bape Search” (Nigo is the man behind the popular Bape, or A Bathing Ape, brand). Singers aged 15 to 26 are eligible to audition, with three rounds leading up to a final decision in June. The winner will be go into the studio with Williams and Nigo and release a debut single within the year.

• Asano Tadanobu (34) is to attend the upcoming Academy Awards, where “Mongol” has been nominated for a best foreign film Oscar. Directed by Sergei Bodrov, the movie is based on the early days of the great Mongolian warrior Genghis Khan, played by the “Ichi the Killer” star.

Tokyo’s Celebrity Marathon

Tokyo MarathonThough he was far from his peak condition, Miyazaki Prefecture governor Higashikokubaru Hideo (50) drew perhaps the strongest crowd support at yesterday’s Tokyo Marathon. The former Takeshi Gundan comedian has been a strong runner for years, and had a personal best time of just under 3 hours and 6 minutes in 2004. But his hectic political and TV promotional schedule have left him with little time to train. A live TV appearance late on Saturday night meant that he ran the race on four hours sleep. He finished three quarters of an hour behind Diet member Suzuki Muneo (60) and five minutes after Tamabukuro Sujitarou (40) of the comic duo Asakusa Kid, a fellow Gundan member running the race for the second year. The best celebrity time was by actor Wada Masato (28) who finished one second under 2 hours and 58 minutes, while diminutive comedian Neko Hiroshi (30) also managed to finish in a respectable time of just under 3 hours 49 minutes. A dozen NTV announcers finished the race, started on a chilly morning by Tokyo governor Ishihara Shintaro (75), in times ranging from about 4 and a half hours to almost 7 hours. A total of 32,426 people entered the race.

  • Wada Masato (28, actor) – 2 hrs 57’59”
  • Neko Hiroshi (30, comedian) – 3 hrs 48’57”
  • Okushi Erika (27, talento) – 3hrs 50′ 54″
  • Suzuki Muneo (60, politician) – 3hrs 57′ 11″
  • Suzuki Takashi (33, NTV announcer) – 4hrs 27′ 33″
  • Tamabukuro Sujitarou (40, comedian) – 4hrs 37′ 44″
  • Higashikokubaru Hideo (50, politician) – 4hrs 42′ 27″
  • Nishioka Sumiko (33, comedian) – 4hrs 45′ 35″
  • Kawada Hiroki (35, comedian) – 6hrs 27′ 48″
  • Katsumata Kunikazu (42, talento) – 6hrs 34′ 04″
  • Cunning Takeyama (36, comedian) – 6hrs 49′ 09″
  • Matsuno Akemi Takeyama (39, talento) – 6hrs 49′ 09″

• Yamada Yoji (76) failed again to win the Golden Bear at the 58th Berlin International Film Festival, but Japanese features took several other lesser awards. Young countryman Kumasaka Izuru (32) took the event’s Best First Film award for his movie, “Asyl – Park and Love Hotel”. The jury said it was reminiscent of Kurosawa Akira’s classic “Ikiru” and that the film’s imagery had both “power and beauty”. Kumasaka was dressed in a parka and jeans as he accepted his award and €50,000 prize, which he said will finance his next project. Other awards went to “Megane” (Ogigami Naoko, Manfred Salzgeber Prize) and “United Red Army” (Wakamatsu Koji, NETPAC Prize and CICAE Prize). Yamada’s “Kaabee” (Kabei – Our Mother) was well received by local press but less so with critics. Star Yoshinaga Sayuri (62) had wanted to see her director lifted in the do-age victory celebration, but Yamada himself looked to the future, saying he wants to do more films set in postwar Japan. Meanwhile, Shochiku has confirmed the release of Kaabee in 17 countries.

• Though he doesn’t usually perform solo, Nadagi Takeshi (37) became the first comedian to repeat as winner of the R-1 Grand Prix on Saturday, winning ¥5 million in the annual contest for one-man comedy. A member of the Yoshimoto five-member comedy group Plan 9, Nadagi became popular last year with the “Dylan and Catherine” routine that he does with romantic partner Tomochika. The characters are based on the Japanese dub of the “Beverly Hills 90210” TV show.