Monthly Archives: September 2008

SMAP Reach 10 Million in Album Sales

Super.modern.artistic.performanceSMAP (profile) have broken the 10-million barrier with the strong sales of their latest album. “Super.modern.artistic.performance” is their 18th album and first in more than two years, and entered the latest Oricon album chart at No.1 with first-week sales of 214,000. It’s their fourth No.1 in a row and tenth overall. Their total album sales make them just the second Japanese vocal group (after Chage & Aska) to reach 10 million, while they reached that number of singles sold way back in 1997. The new album was released Sept. 24, the same day that SMAP started their latest concert tour at Tokyo Dome. They play the last of six nights at the 55,000-seat venue tonight, the most shows at the dome in one tour by any Japanese artist. Meanwhile on the singles chart, Morning Musume (profile) have seen their cover of the Pink Lady (profile) hit “Pepper Keibu” reach No.3, beating the No.4 rank of the 1977 original.

• X Japan’s Yoshiki is the latest person to have a go at the Sumo Association. He was at the Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo on Sunday to watch his Mongolian friend and yokozuna (Grand Champion) Hakuho wrap up his eighth “yuusho” (tournament victory). After the Emperor’s Cup and other awards were presented, Yoshiki was invited back to the dressing room for a photo session. Upon entering the room, which was packed with reporters and TV cameras, he was scolded by sumo staff for almost walking on the tatami flooring without removing his boots. Perhaps not realizing who the VIP guest was, staff also barked out orders such as “Hurry up!” and “Sit cross-legged here!” Though Hakuho later called and visited his friend to apologize, Yoshiki sent a fax of protest to the media and the Sumo Association. “I may have been living in the U.S. for a long time, but I know better than to walk on tatami in my shoes,” he said. “Doesn’t the Sumo Association know better than to treat its guests like this?” Sumo has already been beset by a series of scandals lately, the latest of which came just yesterday when young Russian wrestler Wakanoho gave a press conference and said that he would reveal details of bout fixing in an upcoming court case. Wakanoho (20) became the first ever active wrestler to be kicked out of sumo after he was arrested last month for possession of marijuana, and he is suing the Sumo Association for reinstatement.

• Taiwan-born talento Yinling of Joytoy (30) revealed yesterday that she and pro wrestling staffer Fujiwara Hayato (26) tied the knot on Saturday. The self-proclaimed “erotic terrorist” announced her engagement to the Zero1-Max employee back in April. A former soccer player, Fujiwara was Yinling’s minder when she joined the Hustle wrestling troupe. They started dating two years ago after Fujiwara left to join another wrestling troupe.

• Appearing at a PR event in Tokyo yesterday, actor Ishida Junichi (52) came clean about some compromising photos published in the weekly magazine “Friday.” One of Japan’s most renowned playboys, a drunken Ishida was spotted sleeping on the street with a “beautiful woman.” He said “Futoku no itasu tokoro,” the Japanese equivalent of “mea culpa,” adding that the woman had called him to apologize profusely.

• 15-year-old Kutsuna Shiori is the latest Pocky Princess, becoming the 50th image girl for Glico’s popular chocolate snack. Since 1967, the job has helped boost the careers of such stars as Matsuda Seiko (46, profile) and Aragaki Yui (20). Also helping on the PR side are rock band Orange Range (profile). The new Pocky TV commercials with “Oshare Bancho, feat. Soy Sauce” will air from today. Kutsuna grew up in Australia, where her father still works, and returned to Japan just two years ago. She won a special award at a national young beauty contest in 2006.


Gamarjobat Bringing Their Comedy Home

GamarjobatJapanese pantomime duo Gamarjobat are to tour their own country for the first time. Barely known at home, the pair have won awards worldwide for their silent comedy, including two years running at the major Edinburgh Fringe Festival (2004-05). They had a sold out tour of the U.K. in 2006 and recently completed a pilot program for the BBC. Last year they were included in Newsweek’s annual list of 100 prominent Japanese people. The tour will begin in Tokyo next February and then take the duo to 21 countries. Members Hiro-Pon (42, yellow mohican) and Ketch! (38, red mohican) formed in 1999 and had an eye on the international stage from the start – their name means “Hello!” in Georgian. British media have variously described their comedy as “Irresistibly, endearingly funny” (The Scotsman), “Utterly mesmerising” (The Telegraph) and “Astonishingly good” (Metro).

• Singer Onizuka Chihiro (27) has postponed her scheduled nationwide tour due to exhaustion. The tour, her first in six years, was to start in Hyogo Prefecture next month but a busy promotional schedule has affected her health. Following doctor’s orders, five shows between Oct. 12 and Nov. 24 have been postponed.

• Miwa Tetsuya (41), guitarist with the rock band Spitz, revealed to his fan club last week that he has been undergoing treatment for lung cancer. The cancer was discovered early, during a checkup in the spring of 2006. Miura also revealed that his own father died of lung cancer in February, when the band were on tour. They re-started their nationwide tour yesterday in Saitama and release a new single on Nov. 5. They recently announced their first arena shows, at Saitama Super Arean on Jan. 17-18 and Osaka Castle Hall on Jan. 24-25.

• Veteran actor Fujita Makoto (75) is returning to work, in the revival of one of his most famous roles. Seven months after undergoing surgery for cancer, he returns to his role as an assassin in an update of the popular 1970s TV Asahi drama series “Hissatsu Shigotonin.” Filming starts next month for the show, which will air on Friday nights from January for the first time in 17 years. The lead role is to be played by former Johnny’s Jimusho idol Higashiyama Noriyuki (41), who starred in a one-off revival in 2007. While he recovered from surgery, Fujita had to drop out of theatrical productions in June and September.

• British rock legends The Who have added an extra date to their upcoming Japan tour. With date in Osaka (Nov. 13), Yokohama (Nov. 14), Saitama (Nov. 16) and Nippon Budokan (Nov. 17) already sold out, they’ve added one more night at Budokan (Nov. 19). The first Budokan show was sold out in 10 minutes. Though they visited once to take part in a rock festival, the tour will be the band’s first and possibly last in Japan.

• Speaking of the Budokan, visual rockers Sid sold out the 13,000-seat venue in just two minutes even though they’re still officially an indie band. The Nov. 2 show is several days after they release “Monokuro no Kiss,” their debut major-label single on Ki/oon Records. They have clearly have built up a big following since they formed in 2003, and a single released late last year reached No.4 on the Oricon chart. They performed at Budokan in 2006 as well as other large venues, and are one of the country’s biggest indie acts.

• Busty pin-up girl Komukai Minako (23) may find her showbiz career over, after she was dropped by her management agency. On their website, the agency said that Komukai, who debuted in 2000 at the age of 15, has repeatedly failed to keep in contact with them. They said she’s been unable to overcome the health and psychological problems she’s been struggling with for several years and they are no longer able to support her attempt to make a comeback.

• Indian enka singer Chadha (56) has re-launched his singing career after a break of 30 years. After becoming the first ever non-Japanese enka singer in the 1970s, he retired in 1978 and returned to India to run an export business. He made a point of thanking Jero (27), the black American who has been the darling of the enka world over the last year. he releases a new single “Odoru Mahachadha” on Nov. 19.

• NTV announcer Mori Fumi announced during her regular slot on the “Tensai! Company” show that she’s taking maternity leave. Married since 2002 to a staffer from the “The Wide” afternoon show, she is expecting her first child in November.


New Release from Misora Hibari, 20 Years After Her Death

Misora HibariTwenty years after her death, legendary postwar singer Misora Hibari (1937-89) is to release a new song. Recorded in 1968, “Au wa Wakare no” is a sad ballad of separation that resembles one of her biggest hits, 1966’s “Kanashii Sake.” Misora’s son, and the president of the Hibari Pro company, Kato Kazuya (37) speculated that the similarity may have been the main reason it was never released. The song will be broadcast for the first time on a TV Asahi special tomorrow night. And it will be available only from the Kyoto Arashiyama Misora Hibari-za theater, where visitors can create their own customized CD of up to 20 tracks from the 559 singles Misora released over 40 years. From October 1, the newly released song will be added to the list, which extends from “Kappa Boogie Woogie” (1949) to “Kawa no Nagare no You ni” (1989). The music for “Au wa…” was written by Kouzu Yoshiyuki (76) and the lyrics by actress Nakamura Meiko (74), a couple who were among Misora’s closest friends. They wrote a total of 11 songs for her, of which this song is the only one never to have been released.

• Korean talento Yoon Sona (32) gave birth to her first child in Seoul yesterday. A regular on the Japanese variety TV circuit for several years, she married a Korean businessman in September 2006 and has lived in Seoul since. She plans to return to work within the year.

• Comedy duo Tunnels (profile) and singer DJ Ozma have teamed up to produce the new female trio Yajima Biyoshitsu. They announced yesterday that the trio is made up of Nevada native and former nude dancer Margaret (36) and her daughters Naomi (17) and Strawberry (11). The girls’ father is said to be a Japanese beautician by the name of Yajima, and the trio came to Japan in the hopes of finding him. They make their CD debut on October 29 with “Nihon no Mikata – Nevada Kara Kimashita.” A closer look reveals that the trio look remarkably similar to the producers…but Ozma insisted, “We scouted them in Las Vegas. They sing and dance even better than Exile and speak Japanese as well as (American enka singer) Jero.” Tunnels have a good musical track record, having released many hits as a duo and leading the group Yaen. But they caused a scandal back in 1991 when they appeared in underwear on NHK’s live New Year’s Eve show “Kohaku Utagassen.” Ozma’s main claim to fame is the even bigger scandal he caused when he and his backing dancers appeared on last year’s Kohaku wearing body suits that had the nationwide audience thinking they were on stage nude. Asked about his expectations for the new trio, he said “If it doesn’t sell a million, I’ll retire from showbiz!” The trio are set to make their first appearance on a “SMAPxSMAP” special and on TBS’s “Utaban” on September 29. Their debut song can be heard from today on the new TV commercial for Lotte’s Spash chewing gum.

• It was revealed today that NHK announcer Yoshiba Yumie (34) recently married an employee of a sports management company. Yoshiba is a presenter on NHK’s “Sunday Sports” show.


Judas, Cyndi, SMAP on Stage

Cyndi Lauper tourSome big names kicked off very different but all eagerly-awaited concert tours this week. Heavy metal pioneers Judas Priest launched their ninth Japan tour in Nagoya last night. They performed a 17-song set for the 2,000 fans, mixing hits with tracks from their first concept album, “Nostradamus.” They have two shows in Osaka, one in Yokohama, then the Nippon Budokan before finishing at the Tokyo International Forum on October 1. Cyndi Lauper (photo, 55), who started her “Bring Ya to the Brink” world tour in Osaka on Tuesday, checked the Nippon Budokan off her list last night and she’ll be in Nagoya tonight and back to Ebisu Garden Hall in Tokyo on Saturday. Meanwhile, the first SMAP (profile) tour in two years is on a whole new scale for them. Their tour started at Tokyo Dome last night and they will be the first Japanese artists to play six nights at the 55,000-seat venue. Then they’ll use about one hundred 11- and 20-ton trucks to move the elaborate stage show to the other four domes across the country. Last night, youngest member Katori Shingo (31) injured his right knee in a fall on stage. He suffered contusion and internal bleeding that will take two weeks to heal, but he promised to be on stage again tonight.

• Talento Adachi Yuri (51) unveiled the results of her 2-month, ¥6-million anti-aging regime yesterday. She spent the money on procedures such as breast enlargement and liposuction. Clearly happy with the results, she plans to publish “beauty Smile,” a book a nude photos. She’s also scheduled to have her first movie starring role in a project provisionally titled “Mebius” that is due to be shown at the Hamburg Film Festival next year. The mother of actress Adachi Yumi (27), she answered a question about media reports of trouble in her daughter’s marriage to comedian Itoda Jun (35) with the wry comment, “Separation? I suppose it could happen.”

• Comedians Bakusho Mondai made a donation of ¥10 million to their hometown of Osaka yesterday. The duo of Ota Hikari (43) and Tanaka Yuji (43), together with Ota’s wife and the manager of their Titan management agency Ota Mitsuyo (44), made the donation to Osaka governor Hashimoto Toru (39). A family lawyer, Hashimoto was represented by Titan when he became a TV celebrity and was a regular guest on the “Sunday Japon” variety show hosted by the comedians.

• X Japan leader Yoshiki yesterday launched a jewelry range inspired by his “world view.” Wearing a ¥1.2-million red and green diamond necklace at the event in Tokyo, he said, “I never really liked jewelry. It got in the way when I was playing the piano.” But he says he was converted when he saw the Yoshiki Jewelry lineup. Also on display were a piano and a drum set made of crystal and costing ¥20 million apiece. The 25-product range goes on sale at Takashimaya department stores nationwide from October 1.


Full Speed Ahead!

SpeedIt looks like the recent “one night only” reunion of J-pop idol group Speed was more like a setup. It was announced yesterday that the group are getting back together again for real, and have already been in the studio to record the theme song for an upcoming TV drama series. “Ashita no Sora” will be the theme for the NTV drama “OL Nippon,” which stars Arisa Mizuki and airs on Wednesday nights from October 8. The group had several million-selling singles in the late 1990s and in 1998 became the youngest ever artists to perform a concert tour of all of Japan’s four domes. They split up in March 2000 at the peak of their popularity and have temporarily reformed for charity events in 2001 and 2003. When they got together for a short medley of their hits on NTV’s 24-hour telethon last month, it was after an almost five-year break. The reason given was that member Imai Eriko (24) wanted her young son, who she revealed for the first time is deaf, to see her perform on stage. After the show, NTV were overwhelmed with telephone calls and emails from fans requesting the comeback of Speed. And surefire commercial success is as big a motivation as any group could want. “Ashita no Sora” is scheduled to be released as their 15th single on November 12. The song was written by producer Ijichi Hiromasa, the man behind many of their biggest hits. Their second single, “Steady,” became his first million-seller in 1996, a level of success that was matched by later Speed collaborations such as “White Love” and “My Graduation.”

• Renowned movie producer and publisher Kadokawa Haruki (65) is to get back into the directorial saddle. Fifteen years after his last effort, the cute dinosaur story “Rex,” he is directing the detective thriller “Warau Keikan” (The Laughing Policeman). Starring up and coming actor Ohmori Nao in his first major movie role, the film is based on the first of an ongoing series of novels by Sasaki Jou. The title is borrowed from one of the famous Martin Beck series of detective novels, which Kadokawa’s father’s company first published in Japan 40 years ago. Kadokawa was initially the producer of the big-screen adaptation, but took over behind the camera just three weeks before filming was due to start when Sasaki complained that the original director’s script had turned his drama into a “guns blazing” action flick.

Kadokawa is a larger than life figure in the Japanese movie industry. When he took over the family business in 1975, he saw the marketing potential of combining publishing with movies, and went on to produce over 60 films, many of them box office hits. He became what many people described as the savior of Japan’s struggling movie industry. That image was shattered in 1993 when he was arrested for smuggling cocaine from the U.S. and served two and a half years in prison. He returned to movies in 2005, as producer of the war epic “Yamato.”


Fukuyama, Kimura Still Top of the Heap

Fukuyama Masaharu, Kimura TakuyaA couple of milestones for two of Japan’s most popular and enduring male stars. Singer/actor Fukuyama Masaharu (39, profile) appeared yesterday at a post-production event for the big screen adaptation of last year’s successful Fuji TV drama series “Galileo.” The movie role is Fukuyama’s first in 20 years and his first ever lead. He reprises the role of physics genius Yukawa Manabu, who teams up with a detective (Shibasaki Kou, 27) to tackle puzzling crimes. The Fuji drama was based on a series of short stories by Higashino Keigo, while the movie is based on his Naoki Prize-winning novelization.

Meanwhile SMAP member Kimura Takuya (35, profile) has topped one ranking of Japan’s most popular men for a remarkable 15th year in a row. The annual ranking is done by women’s magazine “anan” and published in a special issue. In addition to being the Most Popular Man, “Kimutaku” was top once again in four other categories: Best Boyfriend (he’s married), Sexiest Man, Sharpest Dresser, and Man I’d Most Like to Sleep With. With SMAP about to release a new album and start a concert tour at Tokyo Dome tomorrow, there seems to be no limit to Kimutaku’s popularity.


Director Ichikawa Jun Dies at 59

Ichikawa JunMovie director Ichikawa Jun died last week of a brain hemorrhage at a Tokyo hospital. He was 59. Sources say that up until last Thursday night, he had been working with staff editing the movie “Suutsu wo Kau” (Buy a Suit) for the upcoming Tokyo International Film Festival. He later was out dining alone when he collapsed. Ichikawa made his name in the TV commercial industry, wining a top award at Cannes in 1985. He made his movie debut with “BuSu” in 1987 and won his first domestic award with “Tsugumi” in 1990. 1997’s “Tokyo Yakyoku” (Tokyo Lullaby) won him a director’s award at the Montreal World Film Festival. Over two decades he made 21 movies, many critically acclaimed but not commercially successful. He pulled off a rare big-screen adaptation of a story by best-selling author Murakami Haruki with “Tony Takitani” in 2004. It picked up three awards at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland and was entered at the Sundance Film Festival.

• Japan’s biggest rock band “came of age” yesterday, celebrating their 20th birthday. Twenty years to the day after they released “Dakara Sono Te wo Hanashite,” B’z (profile) played a 26-song set for 70,000 fans at the Nissan Stadium in Yokohama, kicking off with “Bad Communication,” the song that became their breakthrough single. Just like their 15th anniversary concert five years ago, the day was somewhat spoiled by heavy rain. The concert brought an end to their six-show anniversary tour.

• Kurosawa Akira’s classic movie “Rashomon” is to be remade in Hollywood. The project is planned as part of the “AK100 Project” in 2010, the 100th anniversary of Kurosawa’s birth. No director or stars have yet been named for the movie, but it is to be a joint Japanese-U.S.-Singapore project. The 1950 Oscar-winning original is still regarded as one of the best and most influential movies ever made. (Kurosawa Akira profile)

Johnny’s Jimusho idol Yamashita Tomohisa (23) has graduated from Meiji University a bit later than planned. A member of the pop group NEWS, he was scheduled to graduate in the spring but was six credits short. He announced at the March opening of his movie “Kurosagi” that he would have to repeat a year. He spent the summer studying while also starring in the Fuji TV drama series “Code Blue.” He took part in the fall graduation ceremony in Tokyo last Friday.


Jon Voigt to Head TIFF Jury

Echo of SilenceThere were some major announcements this week about the upcoming 21st Tokyo International Film Festival. Veteran Hollywood star Jon Voight was named as head of the jury, which also includes Chinese director Huo Jianqi (“Nuan”), U.S. producer Michael Gruskoff (“Young Frankenstein”), Brazilian cinematographer Cesar Charlone (“City of God”), Japanese actress Dan Fumi and screenwriter Takada Koji. The two Japanese entries among the 15 titles vying for the Tokyo Sakura Grand Prix at next month’s festival are Watabe Atsuro’s “Echo of Silence” (photo) and “School Days With a Pig” by Maeda Tetsu. They are also among the seven films having their world premiere at the event. The festival will open on October 18 with John Woo’s Chinese historical epic “Red Cliff,” and close with Disney/Pixar’s animated hit “WALL-E” on the 26th. The TIFFCOM market, set for October 22-24, will feature 172 exhibitors, roughly half of them overseas companies, giving the event are international flavor than in previous years. “TIFF is still in its early stages compared with more established festivals such as Berlin, Cannes and Venice, so we have a lot of growing to do,” said Takai Hideyuki, president of film industry lobby and TIFF organizer UniJapan. Among the wide selection of other events is the new Toyota-sponsored “natural TIFF” which screens “films that bring attention to the co-existence of men and nature.”

• Singer Hino Teruko died of lung cancer at a Tokyo hospital on Tuesday. She was 63. A popular singer of Hawaiian music, her biggest hit was the million-selling “Natsu no Hi no Omoide” in 1965.

• X Japan leader Yoshiki took his 4-country PR tour to Bangkok yesterday. He flew into the restless Thai capital amidst heavy security, but took time to meet the 1,000 fans who were there to greet him. He announced that X Japan will perform at the Supachalasai National Stadium on January 31.

• Kawabata Kaname (29) of the J-pop duo Chemistry announced yesterday that he is a father. His wife, model Takahashi Miki, gave birth to a baby girl on wednesday. The couple have been married since March.


Sugai Kin Waits 57 Years for Lead Role

Sugai KinSugai Kin has been a movie and TV actress for more than half a century and has worked with some of the greats, including Kurosawa Akira(1910-1998) and Naruse Mikio (1905-69). But only this year, at the age of 82, has she finally landed a starring role, and with it a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. She stars in the movie “Boku no Obaachan” (My Grandmother), which is due for release in December. Sugai attended a post-production event for the movie in Tokyo yesterday and was presented with a certificate by a Guinness representative. Sugai first appeared on stage in 1947 and made her movie debut in 1951. In the 1950s and 60s, she had supporting roles in several of Kurosawa’s best-known movies, including “Ikiru” (1952), “Warui Yatsu Hodo Yoku Nemuru” (1960) and “Akahige” (1965). She also had a regular role in the long-running “Hissatsu Shiokinin” series, playing the mother-in-law of assassin Nakamura Mondo (played by Fujita Makoto).

• Talento Nishikawa Kanako (34) is on the verge of divorce, according to the Sports Hochi website. The daughter of veteran comedian Nishikawa Kiyoshi (62), she and pastry chef Hayashi Shigekazu (54) have been married since April 2005 and had a daughter just last year.

• On the latest leg of his 4-country Asian PR tour, X Japan leader Yoshiki revealed that the group will have a sixth member for the upcoming “world tour.” As he flew by private jet from Taiwan to Hong Kong, he told reporters that he met the musician in Los Angeles in August. He declined to give a name, saying he has yet to speak with the other band members, but said the musician would play a similar role to the late guitarist hide. Luna Sea guitarist Sugizo joined the band for their reunion concerts at Tokyo Dome in March and is expected to again be the fifth member. Yoshiki told fans in Hong Kong that their chance to see X Japan will come on January 17 at the Asia World Expo. He also said he was in discussions to reschedule the show planned for Madison Square Gardens in New York, as well as a concert in Germany.


X Japan Lights Up Taipei Skyline

X Japan, Taipei 101X Japan leader Yoshiki was in Taiwan yesterday on the second leg of a 4-day Asian promotion tour. The visits to four countries are to promote a rescheduled “world tour,” planned for the summer but postponed due to Yoshiki’s injuries, and is costing ¥160 million. He flew out from Narita Airport on a private jet and was greeted in Taipei by 1,000 fans and reporters. At an event held at the Taipei 101 building, currently the world’s tallest, he said that a concert originally planned for August will take place on Valentine’s Day next year at the Taipei World Trade Center. He said the band planned to bring the same stage show that they put on at their Tokyo Dome reunion in March, which included the “virtual hide” hologram. Asked how he felt about finally embarking on a world tour but without the late guitarist, Yoshiki choked up and temporarily left the stage. “We really wanted to make our debut on the world stage while hide was still alive,” he said. “The Tokyo reunion was fun, but it was tough as well because it really brought home to me that hide is no longer with us. The reunion of X was something we struggled with for years and years, but what helped us was the fans around the world. We’re gonna put on a great show for all those fans who waited for us!” He later joined the crowd outside the building in a chorus of the fan’s famous “We Are X,” whereupon the 509.2m building was illuminated with a giant X.

• Musician Kiyokiba Shunsuke (28) has left the Avex Entertainment label and the LDH management agency and set up his own. He made his debut in 2001 as vocalist of the group Exile, using his nickname Shun. Following that group’s huge commercial success, he started a parallel solo career in 2004 and released his first solo album in 2005. He quit Exile at the end of March 2006 and had his first movie starring role in “Tengoku wa Matte Kureru” in 2007. He also has his own fashion label, “Eno Hundert Elf.”

• Talento Nakagawa Shoko (23) is clearly the idol most beloved of Japanese computer geeks. Her “Shokotan Burogu” website recently passed the 1.5-billion pageview mark, making it by far Japan’s most popular celebrity blog. Which makes her the ideal choice for computer security company Symantec as their new campaign girl for the Norton product range. She attended a PR event in Tokyo yesterday for the “Norton 2009 Series,” which went on sale earlier this month. Reinforcing her image as an idol that geeks can identify with, she said her latest thing is checking out online photos of other idols.