Actor and singer Kobayashi Akira (69) has been kicked off the Japanese pro golf tour following his recent partying with an organized crime boss. As reported here earlier this month, Kobayashi and four other top enka singers were revealed to have taken part in a golf event to celebrate the birthday of Goto Tadamasa, a top yakuza gang boss, and attended a party afterwards. The five have already been banned from appearing on public broadcast network NHK, and it seems the media are finally clamping down on the ties between celebrities and gangsters that have been known for decades but rarely mentioned. Kobayashi, a keen golfer for many years, was given an honorary PGA membership and officially became a pro on the senior tour last autumn. He took part in four events, but will not be allowed to do so anymore.
Queen guitarist Brian May (61) has contributed to a new memorial album of material by the late Honda Minako. Honda died after a very public battle with leukemia on November 6 2005, at the age of 38, and “Eternal Harmony” is due for release on the third anniversary. She and May were friends since 1986, when he wrote the music and lyrics for her song “Golden Days,” and after her death he referred to her as “a little angel.” Producers of the upcoming album approached the guitarist to see if he would be interested in producing a track and, despite the fact that he is working on an album of his own, he agreed. The track is a remix of her most famous recording, the song “Amazing Grace.” It features music and chorus by May, who played the toy koto for the first time since the classic 1975 Queen album “A Night at the Opera.” He said of the mix, “I made it as close as possible to acappella, so you can hear every breath, every enunciation.”
• This year’s ongoing NHK taiga drama series “Atsuhime” is said to have brought economic benefits worth over ¥260 million to the Kagoshima region where much of the story is set. The historical drama stars Miyazaki Aoi and tells the story of a princess in the late Edo Period.
• KAT-TUN member Akanishi Jin (24) and model Nishiyama Maki (22) have been spotted dating recently, according to this week’s issue of “Friday” magazine. The Johnny’s Jimusho idol singer was seen picking Nishiyama up at her Tokyo apartment and taking her for a night drive. The magazine said that the couple had also been spotted together a steak restaurant last month.
Kabuki actor Nakamura Shido (36) believes in putting his acting before anything else, but will today take time off to preside over a wake for his late father. Ogawa Mikio died of stomach cancer at his Tokyo home on October 11. He was 79. Nakamura has been appearing in the stage production “Kurobe no Taiyo” in Osaka and wasn’t able to be with his father when he passed away. He has continued his twice-daily appearances until today, which was a scheduled day off. In the show, he plays the lead role of legendary actor Ishihara Yujiro and said he was intent on putting everything into the role even if it meant separation from his ailing father. Ogawa was diagnosed with cancer at the end of last year and was in and out of hospital. Nakamura had to deal with that at the same time as a dragged-out divorce from actress Takeuchi Yuko, which finally ended in February. The son of kabuki actor Nakamura Tokizo, Ogawa was the first to take the stage name of Shido but quit at an early age to become a producer at the Toei movie studio. “Kurobe no Taiyo” is about the filming of the blockbuster movie of the same name in 1968. It is also the title of a Fuji TV drama re-make that stars SMAP (profile) member Katori Shingo (32). Filming started recently and the drama will air next spring as part of Fuji’s 50th anniversary celebrations.
Japan-based American idol singer Leah Dizon (22) revealed on the final night of her concert tour that she got married on October 10. She’s also pregnant and will be taking a break from work until after the baby is born, but says she plans to continue her career. her husband is described as a handsome Japanese stylist in his late 20s. Dizon burst onto the Japanese scene early last year after having made the move to build a showbiz career here. Though she has no Japanese blood, she has the fashion model look that has been popular with young women in Japan in recent years, and she put out enough risque photos to keep her growing male fanbase happy. Growing steadily more confident in her Japanese language ability, she launched a pop career in February 2007 and was surprisingly successful. She couldn’t contain her emotions when that success earned her an invitation to appear on NHK’s annual concert on New Year’s Eve. Marriages between showbiz couples are as prone to failure in japan as anywhere, but successful shotgun marriages are particularly rare. Japan Zone gives this particular one two years max.
Actor Minegishi Toru died on Saturday of lung cancer. He was 65. Born in Tokyo and raised by a mother who ran a Ginza restaurant, he wanted to be an actor in the mould of James Dean and Ishihara Yujiro. Real name Minegishi Tomo, he made his movie debut with the Toei studio in 1962 and changed his stage name several times before settling on Toru in 1975. A popular supporting actor, he appeared in over 60 movies and countless TV drama series. In 1986 he was in the media spotlight following the suicide of young idol singer Okada Yukiko. Just 19 at the time, Okada was said to have had an unrequited love for Minegishi, who said he thought of her more as a younger sister. In recent years, Minegishi developed an interest in triathlons and competed into his 60s. In April of this year, he dropped out of a planned theatrical production citing continual back pain from a hernia. In fact, during tests before his scheduled back surgery, he had been diagnosed with lung cancer in March. It wasn’t until July that he revealed that he had been undergoing radiation therapy. He appeared in four movies released this year, the most recent being the critically acclaimed “Okuribito” (Departures), which won the top prize at the Montreal World Film Festival.
• Miura Kazuyoshi, for many years a suspect in the 1981 murder of his wife in Los Angeles, committed suicide yesterday. He was found hanged in his jail cell less than 24 hours after being taken to L.A. to face trial on a charge of conspiracy to murder. The original murder led to several court cases, convictions, jail time and appeals in the U.S. and Japan before the Japanese Supreme Court overturned a previous guilty verdict in 2003. Miura then started something of a showbiz career, appearing on variety shows until he was arrested in Saipan earlier this year.
• Eric Martin (48), front man for the defunct U.S. band Mr. Big, is to release an English cover album of Japanese female vocalists. Tracks include Imai Miki’s “Pride” and Hitoto You’s “Hanamizuki.” Martin says he has mainly been a family man since the split of Mr. Big in 2002, but among his musical projects he has worked with Matsumoto Tak of B’z. And now that his twin sons are four years old, he’s decided to re-launch his career. He chose Japan to do it as Mr. Big were always very popular here. Recording of the album took place in San Francisco in August and Tokyo in September. It goes on sale November 26 and Martin will visit Japan earlier in the month. The track “Pride” will be available as a mobile phone download from this week. The concept of the album has already been proven in Japan – the three “Vocalist” albums by Tokunaga Hideaki (47) have sold over three million copies.
• After an absence of 27 years, the Imokin Trio comic band is to reform for one day only. The group, who had a mega-hit with “High School Lullaby” in 1981, were also the core of the hugely popular Fuji TV variety show “Kindon! Yoiko, Waruiko, Futsunoko” (1981-85). To promote the upcoming release of a DVD of the series, the trio will get together for a one-off event at Ikebukuro Sunshine in Tokyo on November 8. The trio are Yamaguchi Ryoichi (53), Nishiyama Koji (47), and Nagae Kenji (44).
• Young singer Aoyama Teruma (20) has teamed up with Dreams Come True (profile) to record a new theme tune for the long-running variety show “Ainori.” For the last ten years, the show has followed an ever-changing lineup of young Japanese as they travel around the world in a pink minibus. The aim is to develop a romantic relationship with one of the other travelers, and the show has produced 41 couples over the years. Aoyama’s song “Daikkirai, Demo Arigato” is the third ballad to be used on the show. DCT vocalist Yoshida Miwa (43) wrote the lyrics and co-wrote the music with bassist Nakamura Masahito (50).
The Yomiuri Giants’ late-season surge seems to have brought their fans back to life. The team, for decades the most popular in Japan, has seen nothing but declines in its TV audiences for several years even as they won the Central League pennant last year. Not so long ago, Giants games were shown live almost every night of the season, but now they are a rarity on the terrestrial networks. Then in September, the Giants put on their longest winning streak in 19 years and were suddenly serious contenders. Much of the credit goes to Venezuelan slugger Alex Ramirez (photo), who this season broke the record for the most hits in Japan by a foreign player. A win in Wednesday’s game against arch rivals the Hanshin Tigers, with Ramirez’s 43rd homer giving him the highest tally in the CL, finally put the Giants on top of the CL standings for the first time all season. The teams’ rivalry goes back a long way, with the most famous Japanese baseball game ever taking place between them, with the Emperor himself in the stadium, in 1959. Wednesday’s game was nowhere near as historical, but NTV’s live broadcast pulled in a 15.8% audience rating. That’s the highest for a Giants regular season game in almost three seasons. Despite the fact that the Giants can clinch the pennant with a win tonight against the Yakult Swallows, Fuji TV only plan to show the game live on their satellite and cable channels. Even if the Giants do manage to defend the CL pennant, as they did last year, they still have to negotiate the playoffs before getting a chance to win the first Japan Series since 2002. Last year’s Japan Series champs the Chunichi Dragons have clinched the third CL playoff spot.
• J-Leaguer Nagai Shunta (26) and talento Shiraishi Chiyo (23) announced yesterday that they got married on Tuesday. The Kashiwa Reysol midfielder broke the news on his club’s website, while Shiraishi let fans know via her blog. The couple registered their marriage together at the Kashiwa municipal office.
Public broadcasting network NHK announced yesterday that they have banned several popular singers from TV appearances after they were found to have associated with a known yakuza gang boss. According to this week’s issue of the “Shukan Shincho” magazine, the five enka singers – Hosokawa Takashi (58, photo), Kobayashi Akira (69), Matsubara Nobue (47), Kadokawa Hiroshi (54) and Nakajou Kiyoshi (62) – took part in a golf competition in Shizuoka Prefecture to celebrate the birthday of a Yamaguchi-gumi “kumi-cho” (gang boss) in mid-September. Apart from Nakajou, the singers also attended a party after the competition. After the story was published, NHK contacted the management agencies of the singers, who each confirmed that the story was true. The network then consulted with the agencies and record companies about how best to deal with the issue. NHK has already announced that it is looking for replacement artists for the December 13 show “BS Nihon no Uta.” An official said they have yet to decide on whether to allow the singers to take their usual place on stage at the annual “Kohaku Uta Gassen” live concert on New Year’s Eve. A statement said, “It was decided that it is not proper for a public network to be associated with an organization that stands in contravention to the public good.” In a related development, TV Tokyo announced that scenes featuring Hosokawa would be cut from a music show scheduled for October 13. Links between showbiz and the yakuza are not uncommon, though rarely made public, and the old-fashioned image of many male enka singers is not far from that worn by top gangsters who cast themselves as modern-day samurai.
According to Jake Adelstein, a former police reporter who has also written for Shukan Shincho and does consultation work for foreign firms in Japan, the kumi-cho in question is Goto Tadamasa (photo left, courtesy of japansubculture.com), head of the Goto-gumi, a Yamaguchi-gumi organized crime group with over nine hundred and fifty members. Goto is considered to be the wealthiest and second most powerful boss in the Yamaguchi-gumi, which with 40,000 members (National Police Agency [NPA] figures) is the largest organized crime group in Japan. He also obtained a liver transplant at UCLA in 2001, after making a deal with the FBI to share information in exchange for a visa.
Goto’s connections to the entertainment industry are well-known. In 2007, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department accidentally leaked onto a file sharing network a list of Goto-gumi’s front companies. Included in the list was Burning Productions, one of Japan’s biggest talent agencies and production companies. In December 2007, the NPA and the Organized Crime Control Bureau Section Three of the TMPD asked the National Association of Commercial Broadcasters to cease and desist relationships with organized crime members and affiliated entities. Burning Productions was not listed in the letter that was sent to the association but detectives in the TMPD assert that this was understood.
“NHK’s ban on singers who have associations with organized crime members represents a major change in the Japanese public’s attitude toward organized crime. NHK is a quasi-public entity, and the decision may also reflect the Japanese government taking more of a non-tolerance policy towards the yakuza and those that associate with them,” says Adelstein. Adelstein has posted an English translation of a NPA file which discusses Goto’s entertainment industry connections, on japansubculture.com.
• Rock band X Japan are said to be negotiating with Chinese authorities to hold a concert at the Olympic stadium in Beijing next spring. Once details have been finalized, leader Yoshiki plans to visit Beijing and hold a press conference. The so-called “Bird’s Nest” stadium can hold up to 80,000 people, which would make it the biggest concert ever for the band.
• NTV announcer Suzue Nana (28) and an advertising company employee (30) got married on Tuesday, the network said yesterday. The two have been friends since university and had dated for about a year and a half. Suzue is a regular on several shows, including “News Zero” and “Nihonshi Suspense Gekijo.”
• Actor Yagami Ren (22) was recently spotted spending the night a tthe Tokyo apartment of talento Ono Mayumi (27), according to this week’s issue of “Friday” magazine. The two are thought to have been dating since they appeared together in the April drama “Tokyo Ghost Trip.” Yagami is also a member of the pop group PureBOYS.
Condolences poured in from all over the Japanese show business world following the recent death of actor Ogata Ken at the age of 71 (earlier story). A small and private Buddhist funeral was held yesterday in Tokyo. His sons Kanta (photo right) and Naoto (photo right) gave a brief press conference afterwards and spoke of their father as an “immeasurably huge presence” in their lives, a man who was both “cool and warm.” They revealed that their father had been battling liver cancer for five years, though his continued dedication to his craft and busy schedule meant that few people outside his family knew of it. Even actor Tsugawa Masahiko (68), a close friend of almost 40 years, was shocked to learn of the cancer and rushed to his friend’s bedside. Ogata was hospitalized on October 4 when his condition suddenly deteriorated following a ruptured liver. He spent his last few hours with his family and Tsugawa, who described the closing act of his friend’s life: “For the last ten minutes he glared into space like a kabuki actor, as his breath grew shallower. He fought right to the end, gave everything he had. It was a wonderful end, worthy of a great star.” Ogata’s sons said their mother Norie (71) was still distraught and had cried constantly for the last three days. Ogata had been working in his last few weeks, and attended a post-production event for a recently finished Fuji TV drama series on September 30. Producer Nakamura Toshio said he had no idea Ogata’s illness and above all remembered his warm smile.
Veteran actor Ogata Ken died on Sunday, it was revealed yesterday. He was 71. He was widely regarded as one of Japan’s finest actors, whose dedication to his craft brought out the best in younger cast members. Real name Ogata Akinobu, the Tokyo native joined the now defunct Shinkokugeki theater group in 1958 and studied under Tatsumi Ryutaro (1905-89). He later married fellow member Takakura Norie and their two sons, Kanta and Naoto, are both actors. Ogata achieved fame on TV when he played the lead role of medieval warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the 1965 NHK taiga drama series “Taikouki.” In 1972-73 he played the lead role of a ninja assassin in the TBS period drama series “Hissatsu Shikakenin,” which led to many other “Hissatsu” spinoffs. A unique and versatile actor, he appeared in countless TV series and more than 60 movies. The best known of Ogata’s films include Nomura Yoshitaro’s “Kichiku,” Imamura Shohei’s “Narayama Bushiko” (The Ballad of Narayama, 1983) and the 2006 Yamada Yoji samurai drama “Bushi no Ichibun” (Love and Honor). Not only a star of Japanese cinema he also appeared in several overseas productions, including Paul Schrader’s “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters” (1985) and Peter Greenaway’s “The Pillow Book” (1996). Recent projects included the Japanese dub of “The Golden Compass” and last year’s manga adaptation “Gegege no Kitaro – Sennen Noroiuta”. He will appear in the Fuji TV drama series “Kaze no Garden,” which airs from October 9, and he attended a post-production event for the series at the end of September. Co-star Nakai Kiichi said of filming the final scene together, “It left me exhausted and feint, but Ogata-san put so much into it he couldn’t even stand.”
Actor Kase Taishu (38) has been arrested on drug charges. Acting on a tip, police visited his Tokyo apartment on Saturday evening. They found amphetamines in an envelope on his living room table and marijuana in the bedroom, as well as various drug paraphernalia. They also found 25 marijuana plants growing in a closet. Urine tests were positive for amphetamines and the actor was arrested for possession and use. Kase, real name Kawamoto Nobuhiro, made his movie debut in 1990 when he starred in the hit movie “Inamura Jane” and with his good looks soon had a legion of female fans. But the following year he was caught up in a legal dispute when he tried to change management, with his former agency claiming ownership of his stage name. Kase finally won the case at the Tokyo High Court in 1995, but his reputation was in ruins. He finally moved to Taiwan, where he established himself as an actor. He married in April 2000 but almost immediately afterwards it was revealed that he had fathered a child with another woman, and his marriage ended in December 2001. He has recently been appearing in the TBS afternoon drama series “Kippari!!” TBS immediately canceled the ongoing second season of the show, which was struggling in the ratings anyway, and are to rerun last year’s series.
• It was announced this morning that the latest big screen anime version of “Evangelion” is to be released in the early summer of 2009. The September 2007 release “Evangelion Shin Gekijoban: Jo” (New Theatrical Version: Beginning) was the first of a series of four movies to be directed by Anno Hideaki. The second episode, which features an appearance by popular character Asuka Langley Soryu, is entitled “Evangelion Shin Gekijoban: Ha” (New Theatrical Version: Destruction). The Evangelion franchise was born as a manga in 1995 and has become hugely popular, with a multitude of spinoffs in various media. The first three of the latest movie series are a retelling of the TV series and feature new scenes, characters, and more advanced CG technology. The fourth film will present a totally new ending to the story. The series is also meant to be more accessible to movie fans who are not familiar with the complex world of Evangelion.
• Hollywood actor Watanabe Ken (48, profile) is to take on his first Japanese TV drama role in two years. For the TV Asahi series “Hiratsuka Hachibe no Showa Jikenshi” he will play the real-life detective Hiratsuka, who was involved in many of the high-profile crime cases of the postwar period. The series is to air next year as part of the TV network’s 50th anniversary plans, though specific dates have yet to be announced. Based in Los Angeles, Watanabe has spent the last year and a half working on the movies “Cirque Du Freak” and “Shanghai.”
• Actress Sada Mayumi (31) got married on October 1, her management agency announced on Saturday. Her husband is said to be 35 and not in showbiz. Sada was previously involved with Hiro (39), leader of the J-pop group Exile and president of her agency. They split up last year and this March she was linked with Kiriya Kazuaki (40), the ex-husband of singer Utada Hikaru (25). Sada started her modeling career at the age of three and crossed over to acting in 2004. She has roles in two upcoming movies: the Ayase Haruka vehicle “Ichi” later this month, and the comedy “Handsome Suit” in November.
• Singer Ohshima Hanako (34) is pregnant with her first child, she revealed on a regular radio appearance on Sunday. She says she plans to continue working until a scheduled concert at the end of December, and the baby is due in March. Ohshima is the daughter of legendary singer Sakamoto Kyu, the only Japanese to have a No.1 hit in the U.S. She married the owner of a Brazilian jujitsu dojo in 2006.