Monthly Archives: June 2008

Big Weekend for Japanese Movies

The Magic HourIn a relatively rare occurrence, new live-action features from Japan’s three major movie studios opened on the same weekend. Toho released “The Magic Hour,” directed by Mitani Koki; Shochiku countered with “Tsukiji Uogashi Sandaime,” starring Osawa Takao and based on a popular manga; while Toei’s money is on “Kamisama no Pazuru,” directed by the prolific Miike Takashi and produced by the flamboyant mogul Kadokawa Haruki. The studios each release up to a couple of dozen movies a year, but it’s been a year and a half since they went competed directly against each other on an opening weekend. The timing is no doubt an attempt to keep the market lively during what is usually an off-peak time between Golden Week and the summer vacation. Hitmaker Mitani and his star Sato Koji (47) have been backing up a massive advertising campaign with appearances on 96 TV shows, 15 radio shows, and 47 newspaper and magazine interviews.

• Popular rock band L’Arc En Ciel finished up their “world tour” at the Kyocera Dome in Osaka yesterday. The name “L’7 Trans Asia via Paris” sums up the scope of the tour but it was a big enough project that it gets its own DVD. Along with the new single “Nexus 4/Shine,” it’s due out on August 27 and fans of the band’s live performance will have to make do with the DVD for some time. Guitarist ken and vocalist Hyde shocked yesterday’s audience when they said the band wouldn’t be playing live again until 2011, when they mark their 20th anniversary.

• NHK announced yesterday that they are to make a drama based on the Snow Brand tainted meat scandal that shook Japan back in 2002. The case was groundbreaking in that it was a rare incidence of a whistleblower exposing corporate wrongdoing. Mizutani Yoichi, president of a refrigerated storage company, exposed the fact that Snow Brand were relabelling foreign meat in order to qualify for government compensation for mad cow disease. The action led not only to resignations at the major food producer but also to the closure of Mizutani’s company. Only through extensive lobbying of public support did he get the business back on its feet in 2004. The new drama will focus on Mizutani’s story, with top actor Takenaka Naoto (52) in the lead role. The drama will air on July 30.

• Currently riding a wave of popularity, comedienne Edo Harumi is to have her first regular drama role. She will play a head nurse in the TBS medical drama “Tomorrow.” The drama series features top stars Takenouchi Yutaka (37) and Kanno Miho (32) together for the first time and will air on Sunday nights from July 6.

• Yoshiki, the leader of rock group X Japan, has suddenly canceled a planned trip to South Korea and Taiwan, it was revealed at the weekend. According to a Korean newspaper, he was due to arrive in the country yesterday. No reason was given for the cancellation and Yoshiki’s management refused to comment on the story.

• Former Morning Musume member Kago Ai (20) returned from Hong Kong on Saturday. She says she put on three kilos during the three weeks she was there filming her role in an action movie. Provisionally titled “Kung Fu Chef,” the movie stars Sammo Hung (56). It was announced last week that Kago and another former musume, Goto Maki (22), are to form a new pop unit called L&L (Lady and Love). Goto was Kago’s mentor when she first joined the group in 2000.

• Talento and former idol singer Yakumaru Hirohide (42) surprised his fellow “Hanamaru Market” presenters on Saturday morning when he announced that his wife had given birth to their fifth child. Herself a former idol singer, Ishikawa Hidemi (41) had the baby at the end of last week.

Mino is Mr. Busy, Again

Mino MontaTV’s hardest working celebrity is now working harder than ever. Mino Monta (63) this week received a Guinness World Records certificate as the world’s busiest live TV host, breaking the record he set himself two years ago. He was awarded the certificate at the NTV studio in Shiodome, Tokyo by a representative of Guinness World Records Ltd of Britain. Real name Minorikawa Norio, he began his career in radio back in 1967 and moved to television in 1979 as a freelance baseball reporter with Fuji TV. Last autumn, NTV’s long-running weekday afternoon show “Omoikiri TV” was reorganized to a new time and a 5-minute longer slot. That in addition to a daily morning show and another on Saturdays now has him working for 22 hours and 15 seconds of live TV time a week. He said, “The only day I have off is Sunday. Maybe it’ll help me drink less if I do a show on Sundays, too!”

Indy Jones Premieres in Tokyo

Harrison Ford, George Lucas in TokyoThe Japan premiere of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” was held yesterday at National Yoyogi Gymnasium in central Tokyo. In attendance were stars Harrison Ford (65) and Karen Allen (56) as well as executive producer-writer George Lucas (64). The 6,000-strong audience included such local celebrities as Rakuten Golden Eagles manager Nomura Katsuya (72) and his wife Sachiyo (76), K-1 fighter Masato (29) and his actress wife Yazawa Shin (27). The red carpet was laid for the event despite the threat of bad weather, with Ford saying a bit of rain wouldn’t keep him from meeting the fans. At a press conference earlier in the week, Ford described the Indy Jones series as “shamelessly made for the audience – not to pander to them, but to give them an exciting ride.” Lucas talked about the excitement of bringing Indy back to the big screen after a gap of 19 years. “It seems to happen on every movie, every Indiana Jones movie we do. There is this magic moment when Harrison appears on the set in his outfit and puts his hat on,” he said. “That just transports everyone into a magic place. I don’t know why. Even in ‘Star Wars,’ we don’t have an iconic figure who does the same.” The movie has had a hugely successful start worldwide, grossing over $313 million in its opening weekend alone. It will open in theaters in Japan on June 21.

• Speaking of hugely successful, vocal group GReeeeN are having a great week. Not only is their single “Kiseki” is No.1 on both the Oricon and the Billboard charts, but it’s also the first song to be downloaded more than 100,000 times in just one day on the “chaku-uta full” mobile phone service. It set the bar very high when it recorded 180,000 downloads when it was released on June 4. The song is the theme tune for the current popular TBS drama series “Rookies,” and the shorter “chaku-uta” ringtone version has been downloaded more than 1.5 million times since the series started on April 19. GReeeeN debuted in January of last year when all four members were studying dentistry. Three members – Hide (28), Navi (28) and 92 (27) – graduated in January, with Soh (27) still having a year to go. Their debut album “A, Domo. Hajimemashite,” sold over 700,000 copies last year. The follow up, “A, Domo. Ohisashiburi,” goes on sale June 25 and is sure to be a million seller.

• Former Fuji TV announcer Chino Shio (30) gave birth to twin boys yesterday. Known by the nickname “Chinopan,” she was one of Fuji’s most popular announcers until she quit the network to go freelance in 2005. In 2006 she married a securities company employee who just happens to be the nephew of Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo.

Yon-sama Draws Media Swarm to NHK

Bae Yong Joon in TokyoJapan’s national broadcaster got a taste of “Yon-sama” fever yesterday. NHK was so overwhelmed by media interest in the press event by the visiting Korean actor Bae Yong Joon (35) that they had to change the venue. Some 300 reporters from 150 Japanese and overseas companies crowded into the NHK studios in Shibuya, Tokyo, far more than turn out when Japan’s music stars announce the lineup for annual New Year’s Eve concert. Bae is in Japan to plug his latest TV drama series: “Taiou Shijinki” is a large-scale historical fantasy series, with Bae playing a king in ancient Korea. During filming, which extended over two years, he received serious neck injuries and a severed finger ligament during a sword-fight scene. The series aired in Korea at the end of 2007 and received very high audience ratings. A subtitled version was shown on NHK’s satellite channel, starting just before before the 24th and final episode aired in Korea. The dubbed version is currently airing on the main terrestrial channel at 11:10pm on Saturday nights. There is clearly still huge fan and media interest here in Bae – thousands turned out to greet his arrival in Japan – but it will be hard for the new series to match the incredible popularity and social phenomenon of “Winter Sonata.” The 2002 drama really ignited the Korean pop culture boom when it was shown here in 2004 and is still a big money spinner. Bae and co-star Choi Ji Woo are to reprise their roles in an upcoming anime version of the drama.

• American R&B star Usher is to perform a concert for just 100 lucky fans on his upcoming trip to Japan. His first visit in more than four years is to promote “Here I Stand,” his fifth studio album which recently entered the U.S. album chart at No.1. In Japan, where it was released on May 28, the album has topped the international chart and sold over 150,000 copies.

Jay’ed Plays First Post-debut Show

Jay'edNew Zealand-born R&B newcomer Jay’ed played the first concert yesterday since his recent CD debut. He performed five songs, including the single “Superwoman,” at the Daikanyama Unit venue in Tokyo. The single was released on the Toys Factory label on May 21 and has been used as the ending theme for a couple of minor TV shows. Currently it’s at No.95 on the Oricon singles chart. A singer-songwriter, Jay’ed is the son of a Japanese father and Kiwi mother. He traveled often between the two countries before settling in Osaka. When he was 17, he decided to get into music after watching American R&B duo K-Ci and Jojo perform at a local live house. He is described as having a unique sense of rhythm and timing.

• Popular singer Nakashima Mika (25) and female comedy trio Morisanchu are to team up as the rock band Mica 3 Chu. They will debut with the July 23 release of an all-English song “I Don’t Know,” described as an “upbeat angry rock song.” Nakashima said she hoped fans would “sing it out loud and get rid of their stress.” The idea for the band came about when the four appeared together on the TBS music/talk show “Utaban.” Oshima Miyuki (28) will play guitar, the recently married Murakami Tomoko (28) will play bass, and Kurosawa Kazuko (29) is on drums.

• NHK has announced the names of the principal cast members for next year’s taiga period drama. Tsumabuki Satoshi (27) is to play the lead role of military commander Naoe Kanetsugu (1560-1620) in “Tenchijin,” the 48th annual drama series. Tsumabuki will be supported by such names as Kitamura Kazuki, Tokiwa Takako, and the currently hot young actresses Nagasawa Masami and Aibu Saki. The drama is based on a novel by Hisaka Masashi. Naoe was the chief retainer to the powerful Uesugi clan between the end of the Sengoku Jidai (warring period) and the early Edo Era.

Yon-sama Fever Still Burning

Bae Yong Joon, Taiou ShijinkiThe popularity in Japan of Korean star Bae Yong Joon (35) doesn’t seem to have waned. Some 3,000 people turned out to greet him at Kansai International Airport on his arrival last Friday. He was visiting Japan for the first time in almost two years to promote the historical fantasy drama series “Taiou Shijinki.” The series has very high production values and makes extensive use of computer graphics. The TV drama is his first since “Winter Sonata” made him a superstar here five years (he’s set to reprise the role in an anime version now in the works) and set light to the “Yon-sama Boom” that set huge crowds of middle-aged women swooning and leaving their husbands and families behind to attend talk events or travel to Korea. So you can imagine the shock to those fans when, at an event in Osaka on Sunday, he told reporters that he thinks he’ll be married within three years.

• Talento Uganda Tora died of acute respiratory failure on Saturday. He was 55. He was hospitalized on May 10 when an existing diabetes condition worsened. Uganda made his name in the late 1970s as the drummer of comic band “Busy Four” with Gucchi Yuzo (56) and Moto Fuyuki (57), who are both still established stars. The band broke up in 1983 and the overweight Uganda made a name for himself with sayings like “karee raisu wa nomimono” (curry and rice is a drink). His management agency also revealed yesterday that he had been married, to a woman 15 years younger, from 1994 until last year. Real name Sato Shinichiro, he got his stage name due to a likeness to the late Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

• American band Weezer have recorded the BoA song “Merikuri” for inclusion on the Japan version of their latest release, “The Red Album.” The band are including covers of local favorites as bonus tracks in various countries. The BoA track was recommended by Kyoko Ito, the Japanese wife of Weezer vocalist Rivers Cuomo.

• Actor Yanagiba Toshiro (47) is a father for the second time. His management announced yesterday that his wife Yuko (35) gave birth to a baby boy on April 26. The couple married in Hawaii in 1997 and had a daughter in 2000.

• Hagimoto Tomi, the mother of talento Hagimoto Kinichi (67) died yesterday. She was 101.

Comedian Arino Hospitalized

YoikoComedian Arino Shinya (36, photo left) has been hospitalized with an abscess on his lung. Thought he condition was discovered early, he is expected to be in hospital for at least a month. According to his management agency, he underwent tests about a week ago after experiencing fever, exhaustion and loss of appetite, and was admitted to hospital on May 27. The other half of the duo Yoiko, Hamaguchi Masaru (36, photo right), is to step in for Arino on the six weekly TV and radio shows on which he is a regular. They include the popular Fuji TV comedy show “Mecha Mecha Iketeru!” On a recent edition, other cast members teased Arino about the huge amount of money he’s been making in recent years away from TV, mostly through video games and books.

• It seems the relationship between actress Kimura Yoshino (32) and actor Iseya Yuusuke (32) is over. The media has been reporting on their romance since May of last year. But at a PR event on Saturday, Yoshino described Isetani simply as a “wonderful co-star,” and said that work was her “first, second and third priority.” The pair started their relationship after appearing in the Miike Takashi movie “Sukiyaki Western – Django” in spring of last year, and they worked together in Canada for several months last year on the Hollywood movie “Blindness.” And they were both in Cannes recently when the movie opened the major film festival. Kimura next appears in the movie “Orochi”, which is due to open here in the autumn and received distribution offers from ten European and Asian countries at Cannes.

• 300 lucky students at Yokohama National University were the first to get a look at Oshii Mamoru’s latest anime feature. The famed director of “Ghost in the Shell” and “Innocence” also took part in a prolonged question and answer session and said he wanted young people to be the first to see “The Sky Crawlers,” his first movie in four years. Adapted from a series of five novels by Mori Hiroshi, the story tells of a group of young fighter pilots involved in dogfight warfare and struggling to discover the meaning of life. The voice cast includes top names such as Kikuchi Rinko, Kase Ryo, Kuriyama Chiaki and Tanihara Shosuke. The movie is due to open in theaters on August 2. A game version for the Nintendo Wii is also due to be released this summer.