It looks like J-pop princess Utada Hikaru (26) has named her latest album well. Released on the iTunes Music Store on March 25, “This Is The One” has entered the store’s rankings at No.19, becoming the first album by a Japanese artist to break into the Top 100 in its five-year history. Utada has spent the last month making appearances across the U.S. promoting her second release there. Her management say they have chosen to focus on the U.S. market rather than at home, where the album was released on March 14. Utada is a well established star in Japan, with the five albums under her full name selling over 17 million. She put out the 2004 release “Exodus” both at home and overseas under just her family name and, though it was predictably a million seller in Japan, efforts to promote it in the U.S. made barely a ripple. The new album goes on sale on CD in May, but the latest iTunes ranking may earn it a place in the April 9 Billboard Chart.
Six people are to be prosecuted for flaming the blog of talento Smiley Kikuchi (37). Four men are accused of libel, while another man and woman are accused of making threats against the minor celebrity. The problem began in April of last year when old Internet rumors resurfaced saying that Kikuchi had been the perpetrator in a murder case. The case dates back to 1989, when a high school girl was kidnapped, confined, raped and finally murdered by a group of youths in Tokyo. Her body was later found in a park, encased in concrete in an oil drum. The case was made into a movie in 2004, bringing it back into the spotlight, though rumors connecting Kikuchi with the case have been circulating on the Web for around ten years. In the latest case, several of the accused wrote hundreds of comments on his blog calling him a murderer and saying that there were many people “out to get” him. Kikuchi’s management agency got the police involved earlier this year and the case reached the media in February. Kikuchi started his comedy career back in 1993 but never achieved much fame until he started impersonating popular Korean actor Bae Yong Joon in 2004.
Comedian Shoji Tomoharu (33) and idol singer Fujimoto Miki (24) announced their engagement yesterday. Their management agencies sent the news by fax to the media, saying the couple have been dating for about two years and are planning to get married in July. Shoji, one half of the popular Yoshimoto (profile) comedy duo Shinagawa Shoji, has been unusually open about their relationship on variety shows, saying that he hoped they would marry someday. But Fujimoto, who is with the Hello! Project and is popularly known as Mikiti, was expected to follow the idol singer protocol and be a lot more demure about matters of the heart. She had just become leader of the hugely popular idol group Morning Musume (profile) when their relationship started. The group were on tour when she and Shoji were spotted out on a late-night date, considered unfitting behavior and a bad influence on younger members of the group, so she voluntarily left the group in June 2007. She largely dropped out of sight until April of last year, when she re-launched her career as a solo singer. She plans to “graduate” from Hello! Project at the end of this month. In yesterday’s statement, she said she plans to continue working after marriage. Also, as is usual in these situations, it was made clear that she is not pregnant.
In the most tense and hard-fought game of the tournament, Japan beat arch-rivals South Korea 5-3 to retain their crown as World Baseball Classic champions. Team leader and batting phenom Ichiro was once again the key, getting on base time after time, stealing bases and finally driving in the winning two runs. Japan got strong support from right-handed starter Iwakuma Hisashi, who pitched seven and two-thirds innings and got the win. Down by a run from the third inning, the Koreans repeatedly allowed Japan’s batters to get on base but managed to keep the run count at one apiece until the seventh and stayed just within reach of Hara Tatsunori’s team. They drew level 3-3 with two out in the bottom of the ninth with an RBI off Darvish Yuu, sending their supporters – an overwhelming majority of the 54,846 fans – into a frenzy at Dodger Stadium. In just the second game of the tournament to go into nail-biting extra innings, it began to look like the Koreans might just have the edge. But Ichiro, whose batting form has been up and down over the last week, was once again inspired and gave Japan the lead for good with a two-run double of reliever CY Lim. Darvish then managed to strike out the side for the win.
• Comedian Jinnai Tomonori (35) held a press conference to formally announce his divorce from actress Fujiwara Norika (37). News of the divorce surfaced last week and today a somber and black-suited Jinnai confirmed the rumors that the cause was his extra-marital affairs.
Japan has just defeated the United States 9-4 in the second semi-final of the World Baseball Classic to set up yet another clash against their Asian arch-rivals South Korea. The Americans had won four in a row against Japan, including the bronze medal game at the Beijing Olympics. Japan starter Matsuzaka Daisuke was less than dominant but remains unbeaten at the WBC, where he was named MVP in 2006. Japan and Korea will face each other for the fifth time in this tournament, where they have a 2-2 record. Last Friday’s matchup pulled in a huge audience rating that peaked at over 48% in the Kanto region. It helped that Friday was a national holiday and that Japan managed to beat the Koreans again to set up today’s semi-final game against the U.S. Despite Friday’s loss, the Koreans already had one of the other spots in the semis, where they easily defeated Venezuela on Saturday. (photo: AP photo)
• Yesterday’s Tokyo Marathon was a good day for some of the 35,000 runners, but not so for others. 65-year-old Kusuda Akinori set a new Guinness World Record in the event, though not by actually winning it. His amazing feat was to have completed 52 marathons on consecutive days. His record-breaking run began on January 30 when he finished a 42.195-kilometer run in his local park. Friends and fellow joggers helped him keep track of his ongoing feat over the course of nearly two months.
Meanwhile the event also featured many celebrity runners, of whom comedian Matsumura Kunihiro (41) probably had the worst day. The overweight impersonator suffered cardiac and respiratory arrest after the 10km mark and was resuscitated by paramedics, who took him to hospital. He is said not to be in a life-threatening condition. Matsumura, a popular figure on the variety show circuit, was taking part in the race for a show on the local-access Tokyo MX TV. A company staffer was running alongside him as he ran in his third marathon attempt – he dropped out at the 35km mark last year as he went over the time limit. Among those who did finish the race were newscaster Miyane Seiji (45). But he didn’t manage to beat his target time of four and a half hours, so he now has to keep a promise and shave his head. In a matchup of politicians, Miyazaki governor Higashikokubaru Hideo (51) finished ahead of Diet member Suzuki Muneo (61).
All the media buzz over the last 24 hours has been about the divorce of actress Fujiwara Norika (37) and comedian Jinnai Tomonori( 35). Fujiwara is currently on location in Africa, so the spotlight has fallen squarely on Jinnai. In a statement yesterday, he flatly denied a rumor that the cause of the split was domestic violence. Insisting that the blame lay completely on his shoulders he said that they were trying to patch things up. Speaking to reporters, Fujiwara’s mother was in tears as she her daughter had made every effort to make their relationship work, changing her schedule to suit her husband’s and even cooking his favorite food. Then she dropped a bombshell when she said that Jinnai had been having affairs for about the last year. She refused to go into further detail, telling reporters they should ask him directly. She did say, “She’s an entertainer’s wife, so she could put up with two or three (affairs). She’s a generous type.” But after Norika finished a stage production last month, she returned to her family home in Kobe and said to her mother, “Mom, I’m sorry. I tried to keep it all secret, but I just can’t take it anymore.” The divorce has not been formalized yet, but both parties are said to have stamped their seals on the paperwork and it simply needs to be registered at the municipal office. Fujiwara will no doubt have come under intense media attention on her arrival back from Africa.
Jinnai, Fujiwara Marriage to End After 2 Years (Mar 19, 2009)
Just two years ago they were billed as one of the “super couples” of Japanese showbiz, but it looks like Fujiwara Norika (37) and Jinnai Tomonori (35) have come to the end of the road. According to the Sports Hochi website, the couple have both stamped their seals on divorce papers and it’s just a matter of days before they make the decision legal. Fujiwara is currently visiting Kenya in her role as a Red Cross ambassador. Their relationship is said to have taken a turn for the worse last autumn. Up until that time Jinnai had been commuting several times a week between their home in Tokyo and a TV studio in Osaka for the live morning show “Narutomo!” It was speculated that he quit the show in September so he could spend more time with his wife. But Jinnai is said to have been the one to obtain the divorce papers. Fujiwara made up her mind to add her seal when a stage production came to a close at the end of last month. From the start there were those who said theirs was a mismatched marriage, referred to in Japanese as “kakusakon.” A former Miss Japan, Fujiwara is a successful actress and one of the business’s biggest earners with a string of commercial contracts, regular TV and stage roles, and also active in charitable causes. Jinnai has established himself as a TV regular over the last few years but is still mainly seen as a “pin-geinin” or solo comedian. They held their elaborate traditional wedding on February 17, 2007 at the Ikutajinja shrine in Fujiwara’s hometown of Kobe, with hundreds of reporters and thousands of fans craning for a glimpse outside. They invited 600 guests to the Hotel Okura the following April for a wedding reception that cost over ¥500 million. The event was broadcast live on TV and had a high audience rating of 40% in the Kansai region. With both stars juggling intensive work schedules, it wasn’t until the following New Year that they got to take their honeymoon in Africa.
Happier news it seems for another comedian-actress couple. A significant age difference doesn’t seem to prevented romance from blossoming between talento Imada Koji (43) and actress Kato Rosa (23). The two were recently spotted out on a date, with photos appearing today in the latest issue of weekly magazine “Friday.” A former comedian, Imada is one of the most established names with the major Yoshimoto Kogyo agency, who declined to comment on the story. He is a regular on the variety show circuit, often acting as emcee. Kato has seen her career take off in the last couple of years, landing commercial contracts and a string of leading roles on TV and the big screen. She and Imada first worked together on the NTV drama “Africa no Tsume” in 2004.
• British rockers Oasis kicked off their latest Japan tour in Nagoya last night. They played a set of 20 songs, including their upcoming release “Falling Down,” for 8,000 fans at the Nihon Gaishi Hall. The new single, set for release in May, is to be their first anime tie up. It will be used as the theme song for the new Fuji TV series “Higashi no Eden,” which airs from April 9. The band will also make their first live appearance on Japanese TV on a 3-hour special edition of TV Asahi’s “Music Station” on March 27.
Haga Kenji (47) had better enjoy his freedom while he can. The former talento and renowned playboy no doubt thought he was home free last November when he was acquitted on charges of fraud and attempted extortion. The not guilty verdict – a rarity in the Japanese court system – at the Osaka District Court came after Haga and former world boxing champion Watanabe Jiro (54) had been held in detention for almost a year and a half. A key element in securing that verdict was the testimony of a former dentist and friend of Haga. But doubts surfaced about the reliability of his testimony when prosecutors questioned that man and searched his home in January. And yesterday they finally arrested him, which means the chances are high that Haga and Watanabe will find themselves in the courtroom again in the near future. If they end up in an appeal trial, the pair will be again facing possible prison sentences of up to eight years.
Haga Kenji, Watanabe Jiro Acquitted (Nov 29, 2008)
Haga Kenji Case Goes On (Jan 16, 2009)
Nippon Television (NTV) president Kubo Shintaro (64) announced his resignation yesterday – twice. The announcement came as he sought to take responsibility for the broadcast of a fabricated news story last year, but he clearly thought he could keep the whole thing low profile. Only one reporter from each network was admitted to the late-afternoon press conference and no cameras were allowed. Kubo made the briefest of apologies and said his resignation was explanation enough. This led to scuffles between NTV staff and reporters from other networks, who gathered in the lobby of the NTV headquarters. Eventually another press conference, with cameras allowed, was hastily arranged at 7pm. The TV program in question was the Sunday evening show “Shinsou Houdou Bankisha!”, whose title translates roughly as “truthful journalist.” Last November the show featured a construction company executive who claimed that the Gifu Prefectural government was operating a secret slush fund. An investigation by the regional government showed that the claims were fabricated and representatives from NTV apologized last month. Kubo said yesterday, “This matter was caused by a serious negligence in our supervisory procedure. I want to take the blame for failing to supervise” the TV program. Denying claims that the program had been deliberately fabricated or the executive paid for his interview, Kubo said, “Our reporting wasn’t to blame. We were simply deceived.” The executive was arrested earlier this month over the incident. Kubo has come under fire since NTV reported its first semi-annual losses in 37 years last September. The network also failed to secure broadcast rights to the ongoing World Baseball Classic. The Japanese team is coached by Hara Tatsunori, who also manages the NTV affiliated Yomiuri Giants. Kubo will stay on as an adviser to NTV, while current chairman Hosokawa Noritada (68) will take on the additional role of network president.
• It has been announced that SMAP member Katori Shingo (32) is to be the last person to take on the mantle of Zatoichi on the big screen. The role of the blind swordsman will always be most closely associated with the legendary Katsu Shintaro (1931-97), though a Kitano Takeshi revival in 2003 was well received. Katsu portrayed the fictional hero in 26 movies and over 100 TV dramas. Katori knows he has very big shoes to fill and has spent the last ten months honing his swordsmanship. Filming began on Sunday under the directorship of Sakamoto Junji (50) and the movie is expected to open next year. Producer Nakazawa Toshiaki, who holds the film rights to the character, has said that this will be his last on-screen incarnation.
On Saturday, hip hop trio Funky Monkey Babys were the first Japanese artists to perform an in-store live show in China. The group, known to fans as Fun-Mon, pulled in a crowd of 3,000 at the Aeon Jusco mall in the city of Qingdao (famous as the home of Tsingtao beer). “The crowd had like a big question mark hanging over them at the start,” said MC Funky Kato (30). The show began with an intro from DJ Chemical (26), who took the stage dressed in a table tennis outfit. Complete with a racket, he did a quick parody of popular young player Fukuhara Ai, who has based herself in China, and that seemed to have the right effect on the audience. The group then played a short set of four songs, including their latest release “Sakura.” In between numbers, Kato chatted with the audience showing off the bit of Chinese he learned recently. The show in China was an extension of their touring at home, playing in dozens of Aeon-run malls across Japan. In their third year, it may not sound like they’ve hit the big time. But they saw their third album enter the Oricon charts at No.1 earlier this month, and they have a couple of nights lined up at the Nippon Budokan in mid-June. MC Monkichi (30) said, “At regular live shows, the audience comes for the music. But at in-store events we’re playing to shoppers who aren’t expecting a show, and this has really helped up hone our act.”