Popular fashion model Michibata Jessica (24) and British Formula One racing driver Jensen Button (29) are an item, according to today’s issue of the weekly magazine “Friday.” The magazine includes photos of the couple on a date last week at a Japanese restaurant in London. Last June, Michibata was romantically linked with DJ and musician Ohsawa Shinichi (41), but sources say they have since split up. Michibata, whose father is half-Argentine, half-Italian, and whose mother is Japanese, has been modeling since she was a child. She is the middle of three sisters, all of whom are fashion models. Jensen was with the Honda racing team last year, but they have announced their withdrawal from the F-1 circuit. The last big romance between a Japanese star and an F-1 driver saw popular actress Kumiko Goto (34) marry Frenchman Jean Alesi (44) in the mid-1990s.
• Pop duo Chage and Aska are taking an indefinite break from performing together. The pair made the formal announcement yesterday, after rumors circulated in the media that they were splitting up for good. They last performed together on Christmas Eve 2007 and have since been pursuing solo careers. Known as ChageAsu, the duo released their debut single in 1979 and became one of the best-selling J-pop acts of the 1980s and 90s, with such major hits as “Say Yes” and “Yah, Yah, Yah.”
• It was revealed yesterday that Shock Eye (32) of the reggae group Shonan no Kaze is getting married today. His new bride is described as younger and not in showbusiness. The couple are said to have been dating for the last nine years. Shonan no Kaze are to release a new single on February 25 – “Shinyu Yo” is the theme for the movie “Doroppu,” the directorial debut of comedian Shinagawa Hiroshi (36). The group will be touring from April.
• Meanwhile, actress Nomura Mami (44) chose her blog as the place to announce her recent marriage. She said she and her new husband, a TV producer (42), tied the knot on January 6 after a relationship of five years.
Singer Aoyama Takashi (photo left) died of liver cancer at a Tokyo hospital yesterday morning. He was 57. Lead vocalist of the idol group Four Leaves, Aoyama was one of the first idols produced by the now dominant Johnny’s Jimusho talent agency. Just last year the group made a comeback and they are currently in the middle of a concert tour. Aoyama first told his friends about his battle with cancer last October, but insisted on performing in between regular hospital visits for treatment. He had hoped to see the tour through to the end in March, after which the group were to break up for good. Aoyama is the second major music veteran to be claimed by cancer this week – Tempters drummer Oguchi Hiroshi died on Sunday at the age of 58.
Four Leaves “Taabo” Battling Cancer (Jan 19, 2009)
Oguchi Hiroshi Dies of Cancer (Jan 27, 2009)
The Pitt family arrived en masse at Narita Airport this week. The media got a rare chance to photograph Brad Pitt (45), Angelina Jolie (33) and all six of their children as the Hollywood stars came to town on Tuesday night for some PR work. Pitt attended an event in Tokyo yesterday to promote “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” for which he has received an Oscar nomination. Asked what kind of dramatic events he has experienced in his own life, he said, “I think it’s been well documented that I have six children. It doesn’t get much more ‘dramatique’ than that!” He had his own question for reporters, asking where he could take his family for a fun day out before tonight’s Japan premiere. Jolie has also been nominated for an Oscar, for her role in “The Changeling.”
• Talento Yamamoto Mona (32) has a new boyfriend – and this time he’s not married! She is said to be dating a 28-year-old president of a property investment firm headquartered in Tokyo. Both Yamamoto and her Office Kitano management agency have confirmed the relationship, saying they met around the Golden Week holiday last year. Her affair with married baseball star Nioka Tomohiro was revealed last July, so it does seem like she was active, to say the least.
Musician turned actor and fashion designer Oguchi Hiroshi died of cancer at a Tokyo hospital on Sunday night. He was 58. He first found fame as the drummer of 60s band The Tempters. The band were one of the leaders of the so-called Group Sounds movement and had a string of hits, including “Kamisama Onegai” and “Emerald no Densetsu.” After the band split in 1971, Oguchi and other members joined with singer Sawada Kenji (60) to form the supergroup PYG. Oguchi later focused on acting, appearing in such movies as “Kita no Zeronen” and “Nihon Chinbotsu.” He married actress Shingyoji Kimie (49) in 1983, watched his fashion company go bankrupt in 1991, and published a book of nude photos of his wife in 1997. They divorced in 2005 and Oguchi married an acquaintance of his ex-wife the following year. Sources say that Oguchi, a heavy smoker and drinker, had battled C-type hepatitis for several years and was undergoing treatment to prevent it leading to liver cancer. But when his health deteriorated about a year ago, tests revealed that cancer had developed. He was in and out of hospital throughout 2008 but was well enough to put on an exhibition of his art in December. His condition worsened suddenly on Christmas Day and he never left hospital again. The movie “Kafuu wo Machiwabite,” which he filmed in Okinawa last April, is set to open next month.
• Actress Aso Yumi (44) and actor Nagasawa Toshiya (47) divorced last June, according to today’s issue of weekly magazine “Shuukan Josei.” The couple first met on the set of an NHK morning drama in 2001 and married in March 2004, when Aso was several months pregnant. She has custody of their son, now 4.
• Rock band Kishidan announced on their website yesterday are getting back into action after a break of more than two and a half years. They will be playing two nights at the Nippon Budokan at the end of April and there is also a new album in the works from the Avex label. The six-member band are led by Ayanokoji Sho, who over the last couple of years has been active as his alter ego DJ Ozma. He “retired” that character at the end of last year. Most recently, he released a single as part of the trio Yajima Biyoshitsu with comedy duo Tunnels.
Former pinup girl Komukai Minako (23) has been arrested for possession of stimulant drugs, following an investigation last summer into a former boyfriend. He told police that they had used drugs together and they began their search for her. She has no fixed address and police couldn’t locate her until an officer spotted her in a miniskirt on a freezing cold Roppongi street last Thursday night. She has denied any knowledge of the drugs. The former boyfriend has been missing since he was released on bail. Komukai made her debut at the age of 15 and became popular on the bikini model circuit. She went on a diet in an effort to switch careers to acting after she turned 20, but she was struggling with physical and mental health problems. Last September her management agency let her go, saying she was in no condition to fulfill her contractual obligations. As a result, Komukai also lost the Tokyo apartment the agency had provided her. Last November, she was interviewed by a weekly magazine and broke an industry taboo when she spoke about the plastic surgery and virtual prostitution that is pervasive in the “gravure idol” world.
• “High School Musical” stars Zac Efron (21) and Vanessa Hudgens (20) were greeted by hundreds of screaming teenage fans when they arrived at Narita Airport yesterday. Surrounded by a group of hefty Japanese minders in black suits, the pair – who are a couple off screen as well as on – posed for photos and took a few of their own. They’re in Tokyo for the next few days and will attend the movie’s Japan premiere on January 28. There will also be a fan event at Tower Records in Shibuya the following day. Efron was in Japan in 2007 to promote another musical, “Hairspray,” while it is the first visit for Hudgens.
• Also in Tokyo yesterday was Sean Lennon (33). Promoting his new album and first ever kids’ picture book, “Chodo Ii Hon,” he attended a PR event at the Tsutaya store in Roppongi Hills. He also posed for photos with his girlfriend, model and musician (and some would say, gold digger) Charlotte Kemp Muhl (21). Her musical claim comes from having sung on Lennon’s new album, “Chimera Music Release No.0.” The Japanese media fawned over the couple, with the inevitable comparisons to Lennon’s parents.
The movie “Okuribito” (Departures) has been given the Oscar nod. One of Japan’s critical successes of last year and a hit at international festivals, the movie has been chosen as one of the five nominees for the best foreign film at this year’s 81st Academy Awards. No Japanese movie has ever received the prize. Directed by Takita Yoji (53) it is a moving and often humorous drama of human dignity and family bonds. Motoki Masahiro (43) plays an out-of-work cellist who leaves Tokyo to return to his hometown to become an undertaker, ritually cleansing and placing the deceased into coffins at funeral ceremonies. Okuribito, which also stars Hirosue Ryoko (28) and veteran Yamazaki Tsutomu (72), has so far won 34 awards both domestically and overseas. It won the Grand Prix of the Americas at the Montreal World Film Festival last year, and Motoki won the best actor award for the second time at last week’s 51st Blue Ribbon awards. He and other cast and crew are planning to attend the awards ceremony, to be held in Los Angeles on February 22. This year’s only other Japanese Oscar nominee is “Tsumiki no Ie,” an animated short by Kato Kunio (31).
Okuribito Takes Chinese Movie Awards…Maybe (Sep 15, 2008)
Japanese Win Big at Montreal Film Festival (Sep 3, 2008)
• Popular Johnny’s Jimusho idol group KAT-TUN are to become the first artists to play seven straight nights at the Tokyo Dome. The concerts will be during the baseball season, so they had to fit into the schedule of the Yomiuri Giants who are based at the venue. With four days of preparations and rehearsals, the venue will be taken over for 11 days. The seven shows, on May 15-21, will feature a different theme each night, probably in the hope that repeat attendance will help shift the 385,000 tickets. The one-week run will extend the record of four consecutive nights held by Sting (in 1988) and KAT-TUN themselves. The six-member group are all in their early 20s and age-wise they are one step behind fellow Johnny’s artists Arashi.
Also in town yesterday was Hollywood star Meryl Streep (59), her to promote the ABBA-based musical “Mamma Mia!” On her first visit to Japan in 12 years, she also got to meet Empress Michiko, who attended the movie’s premiere.
• Paris Hilton (27) was – as usual – fashionably late for the 11am opening of a new boutique in central Tokyo yesterday. She kept everyone, including former baseball star Shinjo Tsuyoshi (36), waiting 45 minutes at the Bliss Boutique on Omotesando boulevard. Her excuse was that she overslept.
Talento Yamamoto Mona (32) finally returned to work yesterday. Ending a forced leave of absence since an affair with a married baseball star was revealed last July, she appeared in her old live radio slot, supporting Ohtake Makoto (59) on his weekday afternoon live radio show on Bunka Housou. She spoke for about 18 minutes at the start of the show and apologized to listeners, fans and those involved. About 100 emails and faxes arrived during the show, with some 80% of them being supportive of Yamamoto. 10% said she shouldn’t have been allowed back on the show, while the other 10% were upset about the departure of talento Nakajima Miwako (32), her replacement for the last six months. The radio network initially refused to allow the media in to interview Yamamoto after the show, but her management agency decided to let her talk to reporters. She said she hopes to return to her busy TV schedule as soon as offers of work arrive. She was also clear about one thing – she understands that after two strikes, a third similar scandal would mean the end of her showbiz career. Her previous affairs were with a National Diet politician in and Yomiuri Giants player Nioka Tomohiro (32), who since transferred to the Nippon Ham Fighters.
• The copyright fraud case against music producer Komuro Tetsuya (50) started at the Osaka District Court yesterday. Komuro has made it clear he will not contest the charges, which are likely to land him in prison. He is accused of trying to sell the rights to more than 800 of his songs to a Hyogo prefecture investor for ¥1 billion in July 2006, though the rights already belonged to the Avex music label. The following month, claiming that his ex-wife was after his royalty income, he received ¥500 million from the investor. Also on trial in the case is Kimura Takashi (57), auditor for the Tribal Kicks production company of which Komuro is a director. The high profile case drew a lot of public attention, with more than 1,000 people applying for the 61 courtroom gallery seats.
Komuro Tetsuya Faces Arrest For Fraud (Nov 4, 2008)
More Details on Komuro Arrest (Nov 5, 2008)
It seems that singer Kahara Tomomi (34) is still battling her demons. It was revealed yesterday that she was taken to a Tokyo hospital last weekend after a suspected drug overdose. She got into a taxi at Kinshicho station about 3am on Saturday but was too incoherent to give any directions to the driver. He took her to the nearest police station, where they called for an ambulance. Kahara told police she had taken an overdose of prescription tranquilizers and doctors diagnosed her as having a mild case of acute medicinal poisoning. One of the top J-pop performers of the mid-1990s, Kahara’s downward spiral started after her romantic relationship with producer Komuro Tetsuya (50) ended. She tried to gas herself at home in January 1999 and a few months later was found collapsed outside her home. There were signs of a comeback a few years ago but she proved to be unstable and was let go by her management agency in June 2007.
• And of course Komuro is having troubles of his own. Arrested last year for ¥500-million copyright fraud, his first court appearance is scheduled for tomorrow. The weekly magazine “Flash” reports in today’s issue that his family’s ¥100-million home in the western Tokyo suburb of Fuchu has been put up for auction. Komuro is said to have defaulted on payments of the ¥50-million mortgage he took out ten years ago to refurbish the house, first bought by his father in 1967, and it was seized by the bank in December.
Happier news for actress Sawajiri Erika (22) and “hypermedia creator” Takashiro Tsuyoshi (44), who held a traditional wedding ceremony at Meiji Jingu shrine in Tokyo yesterday. About 1,000 fans and onlookers clambered for a look at the couple, who made use of a corridor inside the shrine’s main building rather than the usual pathway outside. Both families had placed restrictions on media access and there were about the same number of security staff as usually handle the popular sumo-related events that take place at the shrine. After the ceremony a group of ten men, some clearly bodybuilders, wearing Erika-sama masks appeared at the shrine, though what their purpose was remains a mystery. When reporters asked if they were fans, they replied simply “Betsu ni,” the notorious phrase used by the actress during a grumpy PR appearance in 2007.
Celebrities in Damage Control Mode (Oct 2, 2007)
Singer Aoyama Takashi (57, photo left) is currently battling liver cancer, it was revealed on Friday. The announcement came from Egi Toshio (56, photo right), a fellow member of the idol group Four Leaves, who are currently on tour and enjoying a revival. Egi met with reporters on Aoyama’s behalf on Friday and said that his friend had been diagnosed with cancer last October and had told the other members before a concert at the end of November. Aoyama, known by the nickname Taabo, is currently undergoing treatment in hospital but insists on checking out as necessary to take part in the group’s ongoing concert tour. Egi says that his friend puts on a brave face but is having a difficult struggle. In particular he wants to live “even one second longer” for the sake of his daughter, who is now 10 years old. “I’ve told him time and again he should just rest,” he said. “But if I said he couldn’t appear on stage, I fear he’d lose the will to live.” The concert tour is scheduled to continue until March 29. One of the earliest Johnny’s Jimusho (profile) idol groups, the popular singing and dancing quartet debuted in 1967 and made the first of seven straight Kohaku appearances in 1970 before splitting up in 1978. Egi was arrested on drug charges in 1999 but the group reformed in 2002.
It seems that Osaka District Court prosecutors are not going to let the Haga Kenji case go away quietly. The home of a key witness in the case was recently searched and the man questioned, it was revealed yesterday. A former popular talento and renowned playboy but with a history of financial problems, Haga (47, photo left) was arrested in 2007 and tried last year on charges of fraud and attempted extortion. He was accused of selling unlisted shares in a medical consultancy to a business acquaintance at a hugely inflated price. He and his fellow defendant, former world boxing champion Watanabe Jiro (53, photo right), were also accused of making threats of violence against the man when he sought his money back after the company folded. Both men were widely expected to receive prison sentences. But in a surprise development, and a rare judgment for a Japanese court, they were found innocent of all charges last November. The judge said the main reason for the acquittal was doubts about the reliability of the plaintiff’s testimony. Those doubts resulted from the evidence given by a witness for the defense, a former dentist and friend of Haga. He said he had spoken to the plaintiff and questioned whether he should buy the shares at such an inflated price but was told that the investment would more than pay off once the company went public. This revelation that the plaintiff was aware of the true value of the shares ultimately undermined the whole case. Osaka prosecutors visited the former dentist’s home and he voluntarily submitted to questioning.
Haga Kenji Arrested on Extortion Charges (Jul 2, 2007)
Haga Kenji, Watanabe Jiro Acquitted (Nov 29, 2008)
The trial of actor Shimizu Kentaro (56) began with a surprise yesterday at the Tokyo District Court. Prosecutors are seeking a 10-month prison sentence for a hit and run incident in October of last year, which led to Shimizu’s latest arrest. They brought up another traffic accident dating back to 1973, before he began his acting career, in which a woman died and Shimizu was fined for professional negligence. Four other arrests have been for drug-related offenses. In an effort to present the actor in a better light, his lawyers called a woman to the witness stand. Described by the Sankei Sports newspaper as a “long-haired beauty of 36” she pleaded with the judge to let Shimizu off with a fine, adding that they are living together and plan to get married. She is said to have paid the ¥3-million bail in the current case. Shimizu has been married and divorced twice, to an American model (1985-91) and actress Mori Kanako (2002-04). His first drug arrest put an end to a blossoming singing career and the third in 1994 led to an 18-month prison sentence. Support from friends in the V Cinema (direct to video) industry helped him make a comeback, usually playing the role of a yakuza gang boss such as in the “Don e no Michi” series. But yet another drug arrest, shortly after his divorce from Mori in 2004, led to a prison sentence of two years and four months. But his cult following is such that he formally relaunched his career at the beginning of last year.
Earlier story: Shimizu Kentaro Arrested in Hit and Run (November 3, 2008)
• Management for actress Igawa Haruka (31) announced yesterday that she is expecting a baby this summer. She and fashion designer Matsumoto Atou (46), the son of former Pioneer chairman Matsumoto Kanya (78), married in November 2006. Igawa recently finished shooting the movie “Dear Doctor,” which is due to open in June. She plans to continue TV commercial and fashion magazine work as long as her condition allows.
• With “Okuribito” (Departures) now one step away from an Academy Award nomination, Japan’s awards season is already in full swing. The movie’s star Motoki Masahiro (43) and his mother-in-law, actress Kiki Kirin (66), are among the winners of this year’s 51st Blue Ribbon awards, announced yesterday. Motoki won the best actor award for the second time, while Kimura Tae (37) won best actress for her role as a grieving mother in “Gururi no Koto.” Kiki won best supporting actress for “Aruitemo Aruitemo.” Sakai Masato took best supporting actor honors for roles in “After School” and “Climber’s High,” which won the best movie award. “The Dark Knight” got the nod as best foreign film. The Blue Ribbon award ceremony will be held in Tokyo on February 3.
• Actress Asaoka Yukiji (73) yesterday acknowledged recent reports that she and actor Tsugawa Masahiko (69) are separated. She said they are selling their Tokyo house, which is in her name, in an attempt to help his struggling toy company “GranPapa.” They plan to live together again once they settle on a new home.