Monthly Archives: July 2008

Revival, Revival

Kai BandA couple of old groups announced this week that they are brushing off the cobwebs. Legendary rockers Kai Band said that they are to embark on their first nationwide tour since they broke up 22 years ago. The group have since got back together on and off and did a brief tour in 2001, but at the end of last year there was huge fan interest in a re-release of the band’s back catalog, a hits album and a one-off concert in Tokyo. A ticket for that show was sold on an online auction site for ¥400,000. Prior to the October start of their Japan tour, the band will release a pair of concert DVDs. The band’s first ever video release, they will footage of a famous 1981 show at the Kintetsu Hanazono Rugby Stadium. The band was formed in 1974 by leader and vocalist Kai Yoshihiro (photo, with guitarist Tanaka Ichiro). Their biggest hits include “Uragiri no Machikado” and “Hero.”

• Pinkii to Kirazu (Pinky and the Killers) are a five-member group that formed in 1968. With their trademark bowler hats, they immediately broke through with the hits “Koi no Kisetsu” and “Namida no Kisetsu.” Last night in Tokyo they performed together for the first time since their 1972 breakup, when vocalist Kon “Pinky” Yoko decided to go solo. At a press conference to announce their temporary re-formation yesterday, Kon said of the breakup, “I was just 20 at the time and very full of myself. I was just a kid.” In recent years she has worked mainly as a TV and stage actress. The group will make a live appearance on an NHK concert in mid-September, and they say they are aiming for a slot on the network’s annual “Kohaku Utagassen” special on New Year’s Eve. They appeared on the show each year from 1968-71.

Japan’s Strong Contenders for Golden Lion

The Sky CrawlersJapan will have a strong presence at this year’s Venice International Film Festival. The latest works from Kitano Takeshi (61), Miyazaki Hayao (67) and Oshii Mamoru (56) have all been chosen to compete for the top prize. Miyazaki’s “Gake no Ue no Ponyo” (Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea), and Oshii’s “Sukai Kurora” (The Sky Crawlers) are the only animated features among the 21 entries. It’ll be the first visit to Venice for both anime directors in four years. Miyazaki’s “Hauru no Ugoku Shiro” (Howl’s Moving Castle) had its world premiere at Venice in 2004, winning the Golden Osella Award for Technical Achievement, while Oshii’s “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence” was entered in the main competition. Meanwhile Kitano will be hoping that his latest, “Akiresu to Kame” (Achilles and the Tortoise), can achieve the success of 1997 Golden Lion winner “Hana-bi.” All three directors are planning to attend the festival which runs from August 27 to September 6. Oshii will be accompanied by the main voice actors in his film, Kase Ryo (33) and last year’s Oscar nominee Kikuchi Rinko (27). Actor Odagiri Jo will also be on screen, appearing in Lik-wai Yu’s multinational film “Plastic City.”

• Hollywood stars Edward Norton (38) and Liv Tyler (31) were in Tokyo last night for the Japan premiere of “The Incredible Hulk.” Norton, who lived in Japan for several months in the mid-1990s, greeted the audience with, “Osaka no tomodachi, ookini,” which translates as “Hi to my friends in Osaka.” Directed by Louis Leterrier, the movie opens here on August 1.

The Dark Knight Japan Premiere

Christian Bale, The Dark KnightThe mood was a little tense at yesterday’s Japan premiere of “The Dark Knight.” The latest Batman feature has been a runaway success since it opened in the U.S., but the image of its star, Christian Bale, has been damaged by recent reports from London. Bale attended last night’s event at the Tokyo International Forum but his handlers ensured that questions from reporters did not broach the subject of his questioning by British police after his mother and sister filed assault charges against him. The actor is in Japan for the fourth time, accompanied by his wife and daughter, and is scheduled to give a press conference today. The movie opens here on August 9.

• Comedian Tamura Kenji (35) had to adopt a very different persona yesterday as he gave a press conference to apologize for an incident of food poisoning at one of his restaurants. Tamura, who performs in a loin cloth, aviator shades and carrying a dancing lion puppet, donned a gray suit as he apologized for the incident that led to the closure of the Nagoya branch of his Sumibi Yakiniku Tamura chain. Four customers suffered food poisoning and one was briefly hospitalized after eating at the restaurant, which was closed by Nagoya city authorities yesterday. Tamura apologized to reporters and TV cameras, bowing deeply and saying the incident was the result of his naivety regarding the hazards of serving raw food products during the hot summer months.

• Fuji TV announcer Watanabe Kazuhiro (32) used company funds to pay for an extra-marital affair, according to a weekly magazine. The story in today’s issue of “Shuukan Asahi” claims that Watanabe, who got married in July of last year, met the woman while on location in western Japan. He used his company expense account to pay for her to come to Tokyo. Fuji CEO Toyoda Kou, speaking at a regular press conference, said he had been informed that there was no basis for the story and that it wouldn’t affect plans for Watanabe to be sent to Beijing to cover the upcoming Olympics.

• Japan-based Brazilian stage actress Marcia (39) is to return to her recording career. She won a newcomer award following the success of her debut single, “Furimuke Yokohama” in 1989 and was one of the top ballad singers of the early 1990s. But she released her last single in 1998 and has since been working in stage musicals. The daughter she had with her ex-husband, actor Otsuru Gitan, is now 10 years old, and Marcia says she’s ready to get back to what she loves. She hopes to perform in Brazil and on NHK’s annual New Year’s Eve show “Kohaku Utagassen.”

When Will Mona Be Back?

Yamamoto Mona, Nioka TomohiroGame software Capcom have cut Yamamoto Mona (34) out of their latest TV commercial. The freelance announcer is suspended from work following a magazine story that claimed she was having an affair with baseball star Nioka Tomohiro (photo). Capcom’s ad for the PSP game “Monster Hunter Portable 2ndG” went on air on July 21 featuring Yamamoto and several other celebrities. But a re-edited version has been aired since last Thursday.

Meanwhile Kitano “Beat” Takeshi was in full comedy mode yesterday for the Fuji TV’s “FNS 27-jikan Terebi” telethon. He, the telethon’s main emcee Akashiya Sanma, and others recreated their 1980s TV heyday and all its associated mayhem as the broadcast came to a close. Takeshi is Mona’s main “sponsor,” as she is represented by his Office Kitano agency and he supported her through a similar scandal last year, and last night he finally spoke about the story, saying “The magazine said I was furious about the whole thing. The fact is I was delighted by the publicity, but I could hardly say that.” The reality is that Takeshi and Sanma are so popular and have so much influence that the rules are bent or even broken on their behalf. So it’s likely that Mona will be back on TV screens before too long.

• On Saturday Sato Yosuke (40) of the duo Coil suddenly dropped out of a music festival that was mainly a tribute to the artist. Sato took part in the opening ceremony of the 10th annual Augusta Camp event at the Seibu Dome in Saitama Prefecture, but was taken to hospital before he had a chance to perform. No details were given regarding his condition. The festival features acts that are with the Office Augusta agency, including such names as Yamazaki Masayoshi (36) and Kyoko (47). Sato had planned to be on stage with each act through the day, as this year also marks the duo’s 10th anniversary. Performing partner Okamoto Sadayoshi (42) performed a shortened set of Coil songs. All the artists performed together as “Fukumimi” and, together with the 30,000 fans, wished Sato a speedy recovery.

• Even as popular baseball drama “Rookies” drew to a close on Saturday, TBS announced that it is far from over. There will be a TV special sometime in the autumn, followed by a movie next spring. The series aired in a new time slot for dramas, 8pm on Saturdays, and got a respectable if not spectacular audience rating of 14.3%. But as an indication of the series popularity, more than 22,000 people turned out for a DVD launch event in central Tokyo on Saturday, hours before the final episode was aired. The original manga, which sold over 17 million copies, finished with the baseball team members as high school juniors. Next year’s movie will follow them through to graduation (via a trip to Koshien perhaps?).

• Tokyo police revealed yesterday that they recently arrested a man for making online death threats against comedian Ohta Hikari of the popular duo Bakusho Mondai. The man, identified as Saitama Prefecture native Ozawa Tadahito (32), said he wrote the threats on popular message board 2Channel in response to Ohta’s criticism of similar use of the Internet by the man who later went on a killing spree in Akihabara, central Tokyo last month.

• Rakugoka and talento Shufukutei Tsurubei (56) became a grandfather over the weekend. He announced the news during the Fuji TV 27-hour telethon. His son Suruga Taro (30), guitarist and vocalist with the band Sleepydog, got married in the spring.

Sakata, Koike Hold Wedding Ceremony

Sakata Wataru, Koike Eiko weddingProfessional wrestler Sakata Wataru (35) and talento Koike Eiko (27) held a lavish wedding reception in Tokyo yesterday. The event at the Prince Park Tower Tokyo hotel was attended by about 420 people. Koike wore a white dress by Japan’s top bridal designer Katsura Yumi, and showed off her 3-carat diamond ring by luxury Swiss brand Audemars Piguet. Among the celebrity guests were wrestling-showbiz couples Takada Nobuhiko (46) and actress Mukai Aki (43), and Masato (29) and talento Yazawa Shin (27). Though she got her start as a busty pin-up model, Koike later enjoyed considerable success on comedy and variety shows, and the wedding guests also included comedians such as Bakusho Mondai. Highlights of the event will be broadcast on TBS tomorrow evening. The newlyweds, who were first introduced by the late wrestler Hashimoto Shinya, actually tied the knot back in August of last year.

Anzai Hajime Forms Punk Band

Soramimi HourIllustrator and designer Anzai Hajime (54) is best known to Japan veterans as the “Soramimi Hour” presenter on the long-running late night TV Asahi variety show “Tamori Club.” He announced yesterday that he has formed his own punk band, and that the four-member Lastorderz will be the very first act on stage at the Summer Sonic festival on August 10. He says he used his connections at TV Asahi, who are one of the event’s sponsors, to get his unknown band in the lineup. After that morning appearance, the band will head across Tokyo to the World Happiness festival, which will also feature techno pioneers HASYMO (aka Yellow Magic Orchestra). With Anzai on vocals, the band currently has a repertoire of 11 songs. For almost two decades, Anzai has been known as the “soramimi-ist,” presenting overseas music clips with lyrics that sound – often hilariously – like Japanese to the delight of host, top comedian Tamori. The clips are shown with short videos that capture the humor of the mistranslation.

Ponyo Gets a Flying Start

Gake to Ue no PonyoThe latest anime feature from Miyazaki Hayao (67) has got off to a flying start. “Gake to Ue no Ponyo” was watched by more than 1.25 million moviegoers over its opening three-day weekend, making almost ¥1.6 billion at the box office. The numbers compare well with those for “Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi,” Miyazaki’s 2001 hit that still holds Japan’s box office record. Among this year’s domestic movie releases, so far “Hana Yori Dango Final” has been the biggest hit, making about ¥4.8 in the 24 days since it opened. “Sen to…” was also a major success overseas, winning an Oscar and the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. So international interest is sure to be high for “Ponyo.” Plans are currently underway for the movie to open in Asia within the year, with a U.S. release unlikely until next year. Meanwhile, the movie’s theme song, sung by 9-year-old Ohashi Nozomi and middle-aged duo Fujioka Fujimaki, has made No.1 in the latest Oricon daily singles chart. The single first went on sale in December, but sources say only eight copies had been sold by February! That all changed as the publicity machine got into full gear and the movie opened last Saturday.

• Breakthrough British songstress Leona Lewis (22) is hoping to catch a bit of culture on her latest trip to Japan. She was at the British embassy in Tokyo yesterday to help launch the “UK-Japan 2008” festival. With this year marking the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the countries, the series of events aims to promote cultural exchange in various fields. Lewis said she hopes to introduce some of Britain’s many talented musicians to a Japanese audience. She made her first visit to Japan in May, and she says she spent her free time shopping in the capital. This time around, she plans to visit Kyoto and says she hopes to visit again before the end of the year. In the last few months, Lewis has enjoyed massive success from her debut album “Spirit” and the mega-hit single “Bleeding Love.”

Kinki Kids Kick Off Summer Tour

Kinki KidsThe hugely popular duo Kinki Kids yesterday kicked off their first summer tour in eight years at the Tokyo Dome. The Johnny’s Jimusho duo of Domoto Tsuyoshi (29) and Domoto Koichi (29) usually play the 55,000-seat venue at the New Year, but yesterday they were celebrating the 11th anniversary of their CD debut in 1997. Those eleven years have seen them set multiple records for sales and consecutive No.1 singles. The next chart topper is likely to be “Secret Code.” Fans yesterday got their first listen to the song, which is the theme for Tsuyoshi’s upcoming Fuji TV drama series “33-pun Tantei.” The drama airs from August 2, while the single goes on sale August 27. It was also announced that Koichi’s recent movie The Sushi Prince Does New York will be out on DVD on October 1.

Fukuyama Masaharu (39) and Shibasaki Koh (26) are to provide the theme song for the upcoming big screen adaptation of the successful TV drama series “Galileo.” The pair are reviving their roles, as a physics genius and a detective who combine their skills to catch a variety of criminals, for the movie “Yogisha X no Kenshin.” And with both having established music careers, collaborating on the movie’s theme song was a logical decision. Under the name Koh+, Koh will sing the ballad “Saiai,” which was written, composed and produced by Fukuyama. Though he has a long-established singing and acting career, this film is actually his first movie starring role. Directed by Nishitani Hiroshi, the movie will be in theaters from October 4.

• On top of the latest singles chart is five-member Korean vocal group Dong Bang Shin Gi (known in Japan as Touhou Shinki) with the less than catchy title “Doushite Kimi wo Suki ni Natte Shimattan Deshou”. They became the first non-Japanese Asian artists to top the domestic chart back in January and now have three No.1’s. That makes them the chart’s most successful overseas artists ever. Meanwhile, at No.6 on the chart is the cute theme song to “Gake no Ue no Ponyo,” the latest anime feature from Miyazaki Hayao.

Japan Heads for the Beach

Today is the Umi no Hi, or Ocean Day, national holiday. The weather in most of the country is not great but it is hot and so you can expect to see scenes like the above at any major beach. Which is why I’m heading for the hills.

The first new movie from acclaimed anime director Miyazaki Hayao (67) opened nationwide yesterday. “Gake no Ue no Ponyo” is refreshingly free of computer graphics, having been animated entirely by hand. The story tells of a young female fish who yearns to be human so she can be with Sosuke, the 5-year-old boy she loves. Miyazaki is hoping for success similar to that of his last mega-hit, 2001’s “Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi,” which won him his first Oscar, was seen at Japanese theaters by some 23.5 million people and made over ¥30 billion.

Orange Range vocalist Ryo (22) revealed on his official website that he is married and a father. He says he got hitched in February and they had a baby girl in June, adding that he delayed the announcement because there was a danger his wife might lose the baby. Elder brother and OR bassist Yoh (24) got married in June 2007 and is also a father.

• Actress Oda Akane (29) also announced yesterday that she and a 37-year-old company employee had just tied the knot.

• Kudo Kankuro (38), the man behind such TV and movie hits as “Kisarazu Cats Eye” and “ping Pong” is to turn an award-winning stage production into a movie. The big screen adaptation of his 2005 hit “Donjuu” will star top actor Asano Tadanobu (34). Though “Kudokan” has directed several movies, it’s the first time for him to adapt one of his own plays.

Southern All Stars Still a Cash Cow

Southern All StarsNobody knows for sure whether Southern All Stars are splitting up for good or just taking an extended break. But their huge popularity shows no sign of abating. The band, who announced back in May that they will be taking an indefinite sabbatical after this year, have seen dozens of their hits make the Top 100 in the music download rankings. They released about 100 songs on KDDI/au’s “Chaku-uta Full” service on June 25, the band’s 30th anniversary, followed by later releases on NTT’s DoCoMo and Softbank Mobile. 30 of the band’s hits made the DoCoMo chart Top 100, with the highest rank of #9 for “Tsunami,” their biggest hit and the best-selling J-pop single of all time. Also to commemorate the number 30, the first pressing of their latest single “I Am Your Singer” was just 30,000 copies, and 30,000 fans will be able to see them live at an anniversary concert at the Nissan Stadium in Yokohama in August.

• Comedian Jinnai Tomonori (34) had to apologize to fellow presenters and guests on the “Narutomo!” show yesterday after he turned up late. The Yomiuri TV show is broadcast on weekday mornings, with three days a week being live. Yesterday was one of those days. Jinnai, who now lives in Tokyo with his equally hard-working wife Fujiwara Norika, was doing his regular commute across the country on the shinkansen with comedian Inoue Satoshi. But Inoue failed to wake him up when they reached Osaka and Jinnai awoke to find himself in Okayama.

• Actress Kawashima Naomi (47) and her patissier fiance are to hold their wedding in June of next year. The couple plan to get married in France or Italy and follow that up with a wedding reception at the Ritz Carlton in Tokyo on June 23.