Former talento Haga Kenji (47) and former world boxing champion Watanabe Jiro (53) have both been acquitted on charges of fraud and attempted extortion at the Osaka District Court. The two were arrested a year and five months ago on charges of swindling some ¥370 million from a private investor. They were accused of selling the man shares in a medical consulting company at a hugely inflated price and then threatening him when he tried to get his money back after the company went bankrupt. Prosecutors had sought a sentence of eight years and four months for both the accused. The court case began in January, with both men proclaiming their innocence, and ended in May. But lawyers succeeded in having the case reopened for further examination of witnesses, insisting that the alleged victim had known the true value of the shares he bought. In reading out the “not guilty” verdict on Friday, the judge said there had been reasonable doubt regarding the alleged victim’s testimony. On hearing the verdict, a tearful Haga turned to his wife Mayu (31) – the two were married only eight months at the time of Haga’a arrest. As Haga himself said to reporters after leaving the court, it is extremely rare for a Japanese court case to end in a verdict of not guilty. He is said to be in discussions with his former management agency about a possible return to show business.
Haga Kenji Arrested on Extortion Charges
Haga Kenji, Watanabe Jiro Extortion Case Starts
It was revealed yesterday that former Morning Musume (profile) member Iida Kaori (27) lost her baby son earlier this year. Iida and former 7 House vocalist Kenji (29) had a shotgun wedding in July of last year and Iida had a baby boy in January. What wasn’t widely known was that the boy suffered from medical problems that kept him hospitalized until April. He returned to live with his parents but his condition suddenly worsened in the summer and he died on July 27. The cause of death was given as chronic kidney failure. Iida spent the next couple of months in shock and mourning but recently has started to get back on her feet again. She sent a fax to the media on Friday to clarify the story and also say that she has decided to resume her singing career, which she ended after the Morning Musume 10th anniversary concert in September 2007. She plans to take part in a stage production featuring older members of the Hello! Project troupe in Tokyo from January 10. “Living a positive and cheerful life is my memorial to my son,” she said. “For his sake I want to live my life to the fullest.”
Publicity hound DJ Ozma held an “emergency” press conference in Tokyo yesterday and announced his imminent retirement from show business. His last single “Masurao” is due for release on December 3 and he will play a farewell concert at Yokohama Arena on December 13. Following the release of the album “I Love Party People 3” on December 31, he plans to call it a day. “I want to produce talented artists and do collaborative projects,” he said. “And next year I plan to travel a bit.” He presented a part-time video rental store worker as the new DJ Ozma. Very little is known about the man behind the Ozma character, the same guy who called himself Ayanokouji Sho as the frontman for “tsuppari” rock group Kishiden. But he has been able to ride a wave of popularity and controversy for the last couple of years. The success of his 2006 single “Age Age Every Knight” earned him a spot on the prestigious “Kohaku Uta Gassen” an annual live song contest shown on NHK every New Year’s Eve. But Ozma and his female dancers performed in body suits that made them look naked, causing a huge public outcry and apologies from Toshiba EMI. Yesterday he made one last appeal to NHK to allow him back on the show, though that is very unlikely to happen. Recently, Ozma teamed up with comedy duo Tunnels to “produce” a trio of “American” R&B female singers, claiming they were discovered in Las Vegas (it is actually the three men in drag).
New Year Roundup
Tunnels, DJ Ozma “Discover” Yajima Biyoshitsu
• Actor Murano Takenori (63) recently caused a minor traffic accident in the capital, according to a police report yesterday. On the afternoon of November 24 Murano ran a red light in Nakano Ward and hit a taxi, causing slight injuries to the driver. He is likely to be prosecuted for traffic law violation and accidental infliction of injury. “I was doing maybe 20 or 30km/h so I thought I’d managed to stop just in time,” the actor said. “But when I got out I saw scrapes on the taxi and my own bumper was dented.” Murano became hugely popular back in 1972 when he played a passionate teacher in the NTV school drama series “Tobidase! Seishun.” He was a reporter for several years on the Fuji TV cooking show “Kuishinbo! Banzai” and is a regular dubbing artist for roles played by Bruce Willis.
• Announcer Akae Tamao (33) revealed during her regular spot on the live TV Asahi show “Super Morning” that she recently got married. She and a fellow Asahi employee (36) tied the knot on November 23.
Comedian Nagai Hidekazu (38) has announced his return to Japanese show business. After an unsavory incident allegedly involving an underage prostitute in the Philippines last year, Nagai went to study English in the U.S. with the aim of being able to perform on the international stage. He held a press conference in Tokyo yesterday to announce his return, but what really grabbed the media’s attention was the revelation that he and his wife of nine years, Minako (33), have divorced. He didn’t clarify the exact cause, but his exploits while overseas no doubt had a lot to do with it. While visiting the Philippines in May 2007, Nagai obviously made the most of the nightlife but then found himself detained by local “police.” They accused him of having sex with a 17-year-old girl and demanded that he pay ¥11 million into two Shizuoka prefecture bank accounts to keep the incident under wraps. Nagai paid the money – he later said it was out of panic – but on his return to Japan he denied that he had done anything wrong and sued the banks for the return of the money. That case is still ongoing. Leaving Minako and their now 3-year-old son behind, Nagai headed to the U.S. in September 2007. But just a month later there were media reports of an affair with a Canadian woman (35). When Nagai returned to Japan earlier this month, Minako was waiting with divorce papers, which they have already filed.
The full lineup for this year’s “Kohaku Uta Gassen” was announced yesterday. The number of artists has been reduced from last year’s 58 to 53, the lowest number in the last ten years. The lineup features 14 names that are new to NHK’s annual New Year’s Eve song contest (see yesterday’s story). Irish singer Enya (47) is to be the first western artist to appear on the show since Andy Williams and Sarah Brightman back in 1991. Enya will perform as part of the environmentally themed “Save The Future” section of the show, along with singer and former vocalist of rock band The Boom, Miyazawa Kazufumi (42). For every chaku-uta download of “Trains And Winter Rains”, Enya’s first studio single accompanying her new album “And Winter Came,” the Mottainai environmental group has agreed to plant a tree. Big names such as Southern All Stars front man Kuwata Keisuke (profile), Takeuchi Mariya and rock giants B’z (profile) all turned NHK down but Mr. Children have been officially confirmed for the show after 15 years of persuasion by NHK. The group recorded the network’s theme song for this summer’s Beijing Olympics. Kohaku will also feature its youngest ever artist, the 9-year-old Ohashi Nozomi. She and duo Fujioka Fujimaki had a hit this summer with the theme to the anime movie “Gake no ue no Ponyo.” But Fujimaki Naoya (56) has said that health problems meant that his partner Fujioka Takaaki (56) was unlikely to appear on Kohaku.
• British actor Daniel Craig (40) and other cast member of the latest James Bond movie were in Tokyo yesterday to promote “Quantum of Solace.” Craig, Ukrainian Bond girl Olga Kurylenko (29) and Swiss-German director Marc Forster held a press conference to talk about the movie, which opens here on January 24.
• A newly released DVD which features a bikini beauty on a beach and in other locations around the city of Hachinohe in northern Japan has entered the Oricon weekly rankings at No.41. Nothing unusual about that except for the fact that “Love Navi Hachinohe” features Fujikawa Yuri (28), a member of the Aomori prefectural government. The DVD is the third-highest ever new entry in the chart by a female idol.
• Talento Wakatsuki Chinatsu (24) has reopened her popular blog. It was the most popular celebrity blog in Japan for nine straight months until she closed it down last New Year’s Eve. It is hosted on the same Ameba service as the blog of actor Kamiji Yusuke (29), which was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most popular in the world. That blog has recorded more than 13 million pageviews in a single day.
Veteran actor Matsukata Hiroki (66) reeled in a massive tuna at a fishing event over the weekend. The “Hagi Kuromaguro Tournament” takes place annually off the coast of the small island of Mishima, near Hagi City in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Matsukata, who often appears in fishing programs, was a guest participant in the event but he stands a good chance of winning it. It took him about an hour to reel in the monster fish, which weighed at least 300kg (the event’s scales only went as far as 300!) making it about six times bigger than anything he’d ever caught. He often fishes around Hagi but it’s his first time to take part in the annual event, which ends today. Matsukata is a veteran of TV and movies who often plays gangster or authority figures and is best known for the “Jingi Naki Tatakai” yakuza movies and the TV samurai drama “Toyama no Kin-san.”
• The lineup has started to take shape for this year’s “Kohaku Uta Gassen” on NHK. The annual New Year’s Eve song contest has been a TV institution for decades but recent years have seen a steady decline in audience ratings. NHK has tried various new approaches to reverse the decline but is currently trying to focus on the songs and the theme of old fashioned family ties. Emcee’ing the event this year are actress Nakama Yukie (29) and SMAP’s Nakai Masahiro (36). The two were paired for Kohaku in 2006 and more recently worked together portraying a married couple in the movie “Watashi wa Kai ni Naritai,” which is currently in theaters. It will be Nakai’s fifth time as Kohaku emcee, Nakama’s third. Several artists have been named to appear on the show for the first time. The biggest name is the band Mr. Children, who NHK have been courting for years and who finally gave their as-yet informal consent. Definitely making their debut are: African-American enka singer Jero (27), who will realize a lifetime ambition by appearing on the show; actor Mizutani Yutaka (56), who recently resumed his singing career after a 22-year break; popular singer and university student Aoyama Teruma (21); late-blooming singer Akimoto Junko (61), who recently topped the enka charts for three weeks with “Ai no Mama de…”; and the trios Shuuchishin and Pabo, both formed on the quiz show “Hexagon” and known mainly for their exceedingly low IQ’s.
Actor Takahashi Katsunori (43) was more than happy to strike a disco pose for reporters yesterday. The occasion was a post-production event for the big-screen adaptation of his popular TV Asahi late-night drama series “Tokumei Kakaricho – Tadano Hitoshi,” held at the Differ Ariake hall in Tokyo. The venue, which houses the first ever arena purpose built for mixed martial arts, was also home to a famous bubble-era disco. Yesterday Takahashi posed for the cameras under the giant mirror ball that still hangs from the ceiling. The TV series, which has run since 2003, is adapted from a serial manga in the Gendai Shukan magazine. The Tadano Hitoshi character, whose talents are sex and karate, works as a fixer at an ad agency run by a yakuza. The drama is known for its love scenes (it has often featured porno actresses) and putting out for the movie version is doctor-turned-talento Nishikawa Ayako (37), who said yesterday with her usual confidence, “Of all his bed scenes, I was the best.” Also at the event were DJ Ozma, who recorded the movie’s theme song “Masurao,” giant Korean kickboxer Choi Hong Man (28), and actressese Ebihara Yuri and Takizawa Saori (27). Asked for a comment on rumors of her romance with actor Watanabe Kunito (24), Takizawa insisted that they are just good friends. Directed by Ueda Hisashi, the movie is scheduled to open on December 6.
• Every Little Thing vocalist Mochida Kaori (30) is to make her debut as a solo artist. She opened a new official website yesterday and announced that she would release her first solo single on January 28, though she didn’t give a title. She says she looks forward to seeing what kind of music and encounters will come with the new direction, adding that she plans to continue performing as part of ELT.
The classic 1970 WWII movie “Tora! Tora! Tora!” is to be released on DVD including scenes cut from the original U.S. release. One of the biggest ever productions of its time, the $120-million movie was a joint Hollywood-Japan project and for the first two years of production it was directed by Kurosawa Akira and Richard Fleischer. After Kurosawa stepped down, the Japanese side was taken over by Fukasaku Kinji, who saw it through to completion. With a cast that included Martin Balsam, Joseph Cotten, Yamamura So and Mihashi Tatsuya, it’s a dramatization of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor told from both sides. The title is the code that was used by the Japanese to indicate that they had achieved complete surprise. By coincidence, the Tora of the title is also the name of one of Japanese cinema’s best loved movie characters. So it was fitting that actor Atsumi Kiyoshi, best known for his Tora-san role, had a part in the movie, but his comic scenes with Matsuyama Eitaro were cut from the U.S. release. Though the film was a big hit in Japan, it flopped at the U.S. box office and was slammed by critics like Roger Ebert. Its strength was in the action scenes and its almost perfect documentary accuracy, and over the years it has earned more respect from critics. The new DVD collector’s box set has three disks and includes documentary and behind-the-scenes footage. It goes on sale December 8 for ¥4990.
Director and actor Kitano Takeshi (61, profile) received an Honorary Golden Alexander award at the 49th Thessaloniki International Film Festival in northern Greece yesterday. His agency said that he is the first Japanese to receive the honorary award, though in the past Sugimori Hidenori’s “Mizu no Onna” (Woman of Water, 2002) and Takahashi Youichiro’s “Mizu no naka no Hachigatsu” (Fishes in August, 1998) have taken Best Film awards. Kitano is visiting Greece for the first time in order to present his latest film, “Akiresu to Kame” (Achilles and the Tortoise). He is also due to conduct a Masterclass today in which he will discuss his films and remarkable career as a director, actor and hugely popular television personality.
It was revealed yesterday that actor Ishigaki Yuma (26) was recently arrested for assault and interference with a police officer in the execution of his duties. A spokesman for the Tokyo Metropolitan Police in the busy district of Shinjuku said a drunken Ishigaki got into a fight at a local izakaya late on Saturday night. He hit a member of the staff twice after losing his wallet, and was taken by police to the Shinjuku station for questioning. He then got violent again before being subdued by officers. He will face prosecution but has been released on bail. He gave a press conference last night and bowed repeatedly as he apologized for his actions. Ishigaki is with the major Hori Pro management agency, who said he will follow the usual Japanese custom of reclusion after being caught breaking the law. He joined the agency after finishing runner up in their “21st Century Movie Star” audition in 2000. He has been a regular on the Fuji TV variety show “Junk Sports” and appeared in the popular drama series “Waterboys.” On his Hori Pro website, he is described as a taekwondo enthusiast.