Actress Sawajiri Erika (22) and her boyfriend, “hypermedia creator” Takashiro Tsuyoshi (44), are reportedly planning to tie the knot on New Year’s Day. The couple returned to Japan yesterday from an extended stay in London, where Takashiro is based. Sawajiri is said to have been studying English in order to enhance her global appeal. At Narita Airport, as reporters fired a series of questions about rumors of a January wedding, Sawajiri seemed surprised and said only “Who told you that?!” She was her usual uncooperative self and refused to give any answers, but Takashiro vaguely answered “Yes” to the question. Sawajiri’s mother Lila acknowledged the imminent marriage, adding that her daughter is not pregnant. Sources have said that the couple are likely to register their marriage on January 1, which is an auspicious “taian” day on the traditional Japanese calendar. After a wedding ceremony and reception sometime in January, they will return to London.
• The hype is building for this year’s “Kohaku Uta Gassen.” NHK’s annual song contest has been a New Year’s Eve institution for decades and every year the network tries to build up the expectation as much as possible. Among the highlights being touted this year: Irish singer Enya will perform two songs live by satellite; enka singer Hikawa Kiyoshi (31) will be the youngest performer in 25 years to perform the prestigious final song for the white team, while he will be up against veteran Wada Akiko (58) for the red team; J-pop diva Hamasaki Ayumi (30) missed yesterday’s final rehearsal but plans to perform despite having surgery on Christmas Day after injuring her hand in a fall; the highly anticipated first appearance by popular band Mr. Children will be broadcast from an adjacent studio, and the band will be supported by a 300-member chorus; singer Ishikawa Sayuri (50) will have support from former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman and baseball star Ichiro; and SMAP’s Kimura Takuya (36) will lead a tribute to the actor Ogata Ken, who died in October at the age of 71.
Management for actress Saito Keiko (47) announced yesterday that she and businessman Kimoto Hironori (51) have been divorced for several months. Saito said in a statement faxed to the media that she and her ex had parted amicably in May due to a “difference in values” and that neither money problems nor extra-marital affairs were involved. One of Japan’s most beautiful actresses, Saito was at the center of many a romantic rumors before she started a 7-year affair with the already married Kimoto. They eventually married in 1997 after he divorced his first wife. There were rumors of a split in 2000 when Kimoto’s business was in trouble. Saito has custody of their daughter Ayaka, born in 2000. Saito debuted as a Japan Airlines campaign girl in 1982 while still at university. She won a Japan Academy Award in 1994 as best supporting actress for her role in the movie “Shinonomero – Onna no Ran.”
• Singer Natsukawa Rimi (35) is engaged to get married, the Sankei Sports newspaper revealed yesterday. She formally announced on her website that she and percussionist Tamaki Masaaki (41) plan to tie the knot on New Year’s Day. The two met when Tamaki joined the band for Natsukawa’s 2007 concert tour. She is best known for the hugely popular Okinawan song “Nada Sousou.”
• Miura Yutaro (24), the eldest son of legendary J-pop idol Yamaguhi Momoe (49) and actor Miura Tomokazu (56), recently made his music debut as vocalist of the rock band Peaky Salt. Their debut single “Itoshi Setsuna Namida” had a relatively quiet release on November 26 but it being used in a TV commercial for the Uruoi Biritsu soft drink and may yet prove to be a hit. The band was formed when the members were in junior high school. They sent a demo tape to their current label, Vap Records, in 2006 and began performing more regularly in February 2007.
Police say that former talento Iijima Ai had been dead for about a week when her body was discovered on Christmas Eve (see link to earlier story below). Even after an administrative autopsy, they have been unable to establish the cause of death. They found Halcyon prescription sleeping pills in her apartment, so speculation as to whether or not it was a suicide will likely continue unless results of a more extensive autopsy are revealed. The management agency that represented Iijima until she retired from showbiz last year said they spoke to her by telephone about 10 days before her death was discovered. That would make it just a few days before she died, but they said she seemed in good spirits and wanted to meet to discuss setting up a new business. Iijima crossed over from a successful career as a porn actress to find even bigger success as a writer and variety show regular. She quit last year citing health problems but maintained a popular blog and was active in the campaign against AIDS. She was 36.
Iijima Ai Found Dead
• J-pop diva Hamasaki Ayumi (30) had to undergo emergency surgery after she injured her hand in a fall on Christmas Eve. Her agency didn’t reveal the extent of the injury but said she had surgery on Christmas Day. On doctor’s orders, she has had to cancel a scheduled appearance on today’s edition of the TV Asahi show “Music Station.”
• Talento Hamada Mari (39) has been married since the spring, it was revealed yesterday. She got hitched to a 51-year-old company employee and they now live in Tokyo with Hamada’s daughter from her previous marriage. She was married to Fuji Maki (43) of the rock band Soft Ballet from 1996 to 2005.
Talento Yamamoto Mona (32) is to make her return to showbiz in the New Year. She announced the news to the media by fax, apologizing for the scandal she caused and promising to be more careful in future. She’s been on extended leave since news broke in July of an affair with the married pro baseball player Nioka Tomohiro (32). Nioka was with the Yomiuri Giants at the time, but moved to the Nippon Ham Fighters during the off-season. No doubt he’ll be hoping to avoid the media spotlight a bit more up in Hokkaido. Yamamoto is represented by the Office Kitano management agency owned by entertainer and movie director Kitano Takeshi (61, profile), who is fiercely loyal to his proteges. The agency also issued a statement saying that Yamamoto has shown the required remorse and promised not to fall into the same situation again. She went through the same process back in 2006, when she was found to be having an affair with a politician. She made her comeback on a Takeshi-hosted New Year special variety show.
When Will Mona Be Back? (July 28, 2007)
Time for Mona to Don the Watermelon Again (July 17, 2007)
Mona’s a Jackass! (Jan 9, 2007)
Return of Mona (Nov 11, 2006)
• Actress and singer Hitomi (32, profile) announced on her blog yesterday that she gave birth to her first child on December 23. After a short maternity leave with her new daughter, she plans to release a single in the spring. She was first married in 2002 to a former rapper, a relationship which ended on their fifth wedding anniversary in November 2007. She married actor Haneda Masayoshi (32) at the end of June.
• The busiest man on Japanese television may be getting a bit of a breather. Mino Monta (64, profile) announced that he will be stepping down as host of the NTV afternoon show “Omoikiri Ii!! TV” from March. He has hosted the live weekday show (in its present and previous formats) for more than 21 years. One of his other long-running shows, the TBS animal-themed documentary “Dobutsu Kisou Tengai!” is also coming to an end in March. Mino has hosted that Sunday evening show since 1993, but it has been falling in the audience ratings.
Former talento Iijima Ai (profile) was discovered dead in her luxury Tokyo apartment yesterday afternoon. She was 36. A friend who had tried unsuccessfully to reach her for several days asked the building caretaker to let her in. They found Iijima lying face down on the floor of her living room. Local firefighters were on the scene minutes later and they reported that Iijima had been dead for several days. Police said there was no sign of a struggle and are investigating the death as either suicide or death from natural causes. The apartment is one of just four on the 21st floor of an office building minutes walk from the bustling Shibuya station. The area is a mecca for the young girls and women among whom Iijima became something of a cult figure in the 1990s. A former porn star, she made a successful jump to the regular TV variety circuit. But rather than try and hide her colorful past she turned it into the autobiography “Platonic Sex,” which sold over 1.7 million copies. In the book she revealed that she had suffered both abuse and rape. Royalties from the book and a movie spinoff, together with her regular TV appearances brought her considerable wealth. But she was plagued with health problems, which she cited as her main reason for quitting show business last year. In February she said she was taking medication for a “mild neurosis.” Through this and other occasional entries on her blog, “Porno Hospital,” she kept fans up to date on her life and business dealings. She is said to have been planning to start a new business focused on selling condoms to women. She wrote extensively about World Aids Day at the beginning of this month and attended a related Rotary Club event in Tochigi Prefecture on December 6. A spokesman expressed shock at the news of her death, saying she had seemed in good form.
Comedy duo Non Style are suddenly in huge demand. The pair won the annual “M-1 Grand Prix” knockout contest for up-and-coming comedy acts on Sunday and, like last year’s winners Sandwichman, they have since been deluged with offers of work. The final was broadcast live on the TV Asahi network and got an audience rating of 35% in the Kansai region, peaking at over 43% as the winners were announced. Those ratings easily beat even the final of the FIFA World Club Championship, which was being shown live on NTV. In the last couple of days Non Style have lined up more than 30 TV shows and 10 magazine interviews. Two of the TV job offers came from top comedian Shimada Shinsuke (52), who led the panel of M-1 judges and hosts several weekly variety shows. The duo officially had the day off on Monday but appeared on several live morning shows. Ishida Akira (28), who is the boke of the duo and always wears white, said he had been drinking all night in celebration of the win. And tsukomi Inoue Yuusuke (28) admitted they had neither slept nor showered before their appearance. It’s been reported that Inoue is dating porn actress Hasumi.
• Scriptwriter Yamada Taichi (74) says he has written his last drama series. He was speaking at a PR event for the upcoming series “Arifureta Kiseki,” which airs on Fuji TV from January 8. It stars Nakama Yukie (29), as a seemingly happy woman with a secret, who falls in love with a similarly damaged man, played by Kase Ryo (34) in his first drama series role. One of the top scenario writers of the 20th century, Yamada has turned out over 20 two-hour dramas in the last decade. But the new drama is his first series in 12 years and he says he’s getting too old to write stories about young people.
It’s been a while since we reported that staple of Japanese entertainment news – a marriage between a TV announcer and a pro baseball player. Well, today TV Asahi’s Kawano Akiko (30) sent a fax to the media announcing that she and Chunichi Dragons shortstop Ibata Hirokazu (33) have tied the knot. Kawano has been a regular co-presenter on the nightly news show “Houdou Station” alongside Furutachi Ichiro (54) for the last four and a half years. She plans to leave the show and quit TV Asahi at the end of March. She didn’t say if she plans to continue her career as a freelance announcer. A Golden Glove winner, Ibata was a fifth-round draft pick out of Asia University in 1997. He played for Japan at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and helped Chunichi win the Japan Series for the first time in more than 50 years in 2007.
• It was revealed yesterday that actress Sawajiri Erika (22) and “multi-creator” Takashiro Tsuyoshi (44) are planning to get married next month. The two, whose romance was first reported in September of last year, have been living together in London since April. Sawajiri has reportedly been studying English and plans to come back to Japan to resume her acting career. She largely dropped out of sight after some cranky public appearances brought a flood of bad publicity and a tearful apology in October last year.
Bitch or Bad Hair Day?
• Young Johnny’s Jimusho idol singer Uchi Hiroki (22) gave a tearful series of concerts for 75,000 fans over the weekend. His five solo shows at the Yokohama Arena marked his full comeback from the probation he’s been on since July 2005, following an underage drinking incident. Uchi made his debut with Johnny’s at the tender age of 12 and was a member of several groups, including Kansai Johnny’s Jr. and NEWS, and won a best newcomer acting award for a TV drama role in 2003. He is still officially a member of Johnny’s Jr. but hasn’t performed with them in over three years. The drinking incident, which came while Uchi was recuperating from surgery for a collapsed lung, was taken very seriously. But his youth and popularity meant he was given a chance to rescue his career. He has been making a gradual return to work, appearing in a theatrical production in the summer of 2007 and in a couple of TV dramas earlier this year. He is scheduled to give a series of solo concerts in his hometown of Osaka in early January.
• Tokyo Metropolitan police revealed this morning that former Morning Musume member Ishiguro Aya (30) recently caused a minor traffic accident. Her car collided with another, driven by an elderly man, at a junction in Setagaya Ward, western Tokyo, on Saturday afternoon.
• Singer Hirahara Ayaka (24) has said her brief acting career is over. She made the surprise announcement at a mini concert yesterday to promote her new album “Path to Independence.” With Tokyo Bay and the Rainbow Bridge as a backdrop, she performed seven songs for a small invited audience of 60 people. Hirahara earned praise for her acting in the recently completed Fuji TV drama series “Kaze no Garden,” in which she played a singer. But she said that she wants to concentrate on her music.
Rock band X Japan have announced an unusual but proven way to allow more fans to enjoy their scheduled New Year’s Eve concert. The show will be broadcast live from the Akasaka Blitz venue in central Tokyo to 13 Toho-operated cinemas across the country, in addition to the already announced broadcasts on Fuji cable TV and the Internet. The band sold out all 150,000 tickets for their three comeback shows at Tokyo Dome in March. So with Blitz only holding one hundredth of that capacity, and with the upcoming show touted as the kick-off for their world tour, tickets were at a huge premium. The tie-up with Toho will allow an additional 10,000 fans to enjoy the concert, which is scheduled to start at 10:30pm. Tickets for Blitz and the cinemas will be sold through Yoshiki’s mobile website and go on sale from midnight tonight. The “cinema/concert” idea was used earlier this year by fellow J-rockers L’Arc En Ciel, who broadcast their Paris show live to five cinemas in Japan in May.
• Actor Kase Taishu (38) was found guilty on drug charges yesterday at the Tokyo District Court. He received a 30-month prison sentence, suspended for three years. The judge acknowledged that Kase’s hardships had contributed to his drug use, but also said that it was long-term and habitual. Kase, real name Kawamoto Nobuhiro, has said that he will return to his family’s home in Hokkaido and start his life over.
Police Find Kase Taishu’s Drug Stash
Hollywood stars Keanu Reeves (44) and Benicio Del Toro (41) were in town this week promoting their latest releases. Reeves attended a press conference yesterday to promote his remake of the sci-fi classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Asked “If it were your last day on earth, what would you eat?” director Scott Derrickson (42) replied, “The sushi at the Imperial Hotel! Reeves gave a more orthodox answer, saying he’d have steak and salad, followed by a leisurely chocolate cake. Also attending were actress Jennifer Connelly (38) and Will Smith’s son Jaden (10). The movie opens in Japan tomorrow, December 19. Meanwhile, Del Toro was in Tokyo on Monday for the Japan premiere of the Che Guevara biopic “Che.” He and director Steven Soderbergh also teamed up with former pro wrestler and Diet member Antonio Inoki and model Michihata Jessica at a PR event to plug the movie, which opens here January 10.
• TV producer and talento Terri Ito (58) broke a bone in his back while on location for a live TBS show on Tuesday. The former college ice hockey player fell on an ice rink in the central Tokyo district of Akasaka immediately after he had finished presenting the show “Kimiha Break.” He has not been hospitalized but has already missed two of his many regular TV appearances. He is expected to need about two months to fully recover.
• Yukinari (30) has announced that he is quitting the hip hop/dance unit Da Pump. Remaining members Issa (30), who is recovering from a leg injury, and Ken (29) will relaunch the group next year with seven new back dancers.
Fashion designer Nigo (37) certainly had a good day yesterday. Not only did he announce his marriage to actress Makise Riho (see below), but he was also named one of the “GQ Men of the Year.” The 3rd annual awards from the men’s magazine also went to the multi-talented Kitano “Beat” Takeshi (61), comedian Sekai no NabeAtsu (39), Olympic medal-winning sprinter Asahara Nobuharu (36), Arashi member Matsumoto Jun (25), and artist Murakami Takashi (46). Nigo is the founder of the popular youth fashion brand A Bathing Ape (or BAPE) and is said to make ¥500 million a year. He’s also been active on the musical front, producing and performing at home and abroad with the Japanese hip hop unit Teriyaki Boyz. He declined to make any comment yesterday about his marriage but he wore a very gaudy “wedding ring” that looked more like a diamond-encrusted knuckle duster (photo).
Makise Riho, BAPE’s Nigo Get Hitched
They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity. But it seems that everything singer Yasuha (47) does only tarnishes her image. The eccentric daughter of a top rakugo artist, she recently ended a tempestuous 20-year marriage to rakugoka Shunpuutei Koasa (53). She has since had multiple outbursts on her blog and at press conferences during which she alternately insulted, apologized to, and praised her ex-husband. She recently made her performing comeback with an off-the-wall single and, in a sign of just how low she’s prepared to go, she announced that she will debut with the “Hustle Mania” pro wrestling troupe on December 30. The latest development is that she’s been sued by the president of a Kyoto kimono company and two others who say she verbally abused them over the telephone and slandered them on her blog. There is already an ongoing case at the Tokyo District Court between Yasuha and the businessman, who claims she failed to pay ¥20 million for kimonos he supplied to her production company.
An Unusual Press Conference