Monthly Archives: June 2009

Is Jasmine the Next Big Thing?


She’s often referred to as the next Utada Hikaru, but not much else is known about her. The nationwide media has shown barely a glimpse of young singer Jasmine (20), but her single “Sad to Say” has already topped the digital download charts. It’s being reported as the first time an artist has reached No.1 on the charts before making their official debut, which Jasmine did a week later on June 24. The song hasn’t even benefited from a TV commercial tie up, and its success has been mostly through online viral marketing and the comparisons with Utada. She also wrote her own songs from the start and did all her pre-debut promotions only on the radio. Jasmine says she considers Utada a big influence but was first inspired to become a singer at the age of 13 after seeing a gospel choir perform at the US military base in Yokota. She dropped out of high school in the tenth grade and passed an audition with Sony Music a year later. She has since performed in clubs and appears every Thursday on the J-Wave radio station. No doubt we’ll be hearing a lot more from this young singer.

Komukai MinakoFormer pinup idol Komukai Minako (24) finished her controversial run at the Rock-za strip theater last night. She gave a tearful press conference on the stage where she removed her clothes four times a day over the last few weeks. She told the audience of about 300, “There were many problems, but thanks to everyone’s support I made it to the last day. It’s given me a lot of confidence.” Arrested last year for drug possession, the invitation to appear as part of the theater’s anniversary came as a welcome chance to revive her career. But her former management agency filed a lawsuit in an attempt to stop her appearing, saying it was in breach of an agreement not to pose nude or move to the porn industry. There was a lot of “will she, won’t she” on June 5, the opening day, and she missed two of the four scheduled shows. As the run came to a close yesterday, some less enthusiastic fans complained that Komukai had put on weight and hadn’t developed any finesse as an exotic dancer.

Avex Brushes Off Scandals

Avex Shareholders Meeting

Major music company Avex held its annual meeting and concert for shareholders at the Saitama Super Arena yesterday. Attendance at the event was 9,679, said to be the biggest ever gathering of shareholders in a Japanese business. Despite being hit by several scandals, the company was able to announce record income of ¥117.8 billion for the financial year which ended in March, the highest since the Avex was founded in 1988. This obviously took some of the heat off company management, who had to deal with questions about recent problems. Regarding the arrest and trial of musician and producer Komuro Tetsuya (50), president Matsuura Masato (44) said that the ¥30 million that Avex paid for his bail bond had been repaid. He said that he personally had paid back the ¥500 million that Komuro had swindled from an investor, plus the roughly ¥150 million in damages and fees. There was no mention of the financial implications of a recent guerrilla marketing event for top artist Hamasaki Ayumi that was held without prior police approval. Matsuura said, “We will be doing our best to educate staff and keep moving forward.” Hamasaki is currently on tour and didn’t perform after the meeting, but shareholders got to enjoy a concert by ten Avex artists, including Koda Kumi (26), Otsuka Ai (26), Mizutani Yutaka (56) and Blue Man Group. US singer Elliott Yamin (30) was the first foreign artist to perform at the annual show.

Earlier stories:

Komuro Gets Off With Suspended Sentence (May 11, 2009)

Guerrilla Event Lands Avex, Tokyu in Trouble (June 10, 2009)

A Sad Day

Naturally, the Japanese media are giving massive coverage to the death of Michael Jackson at the age of 50 and, to a lesser extent, Farah Fawcett from terminal cancer at the age of 62. Nothing really to add here, except to say that we hope MJ has found the peace that so eluded him in the last 20 years; and thank you to a Charlie’s Angel for all those teenage memories. RIP.

Otsuka Chihiro, Nishikawa Takanori, Tashiro Sayaka

Singer Nishikawa Takanori (38, photo) acknowledged yesterday that he and actress Otsuka Chihiro (23, photo left) have split up. Appearing at an event in Tokyo yesterday, he said that he is now single and looking. The two were first reported as a couple in June 2007. Nishikawa, who has performed as TM Revolution and as vocalist for Abingdon Boys School, was previously married to Puffy’s Yoshimura Yumi from 1999 to 2002.

• Pinup idol Tashiro Sayaka (23) is expected to need five months to recover from a severed tendon, it was reported yesterday. She suffered the injury during a recent futsal game at Akasaka Sakasu in central Tokyo. She usually plays in goal for a team made up of fellow members of the major Hori Pro talent agency. The diminutive idol, who is also an able hip hop dancer, was dribbling the ball outfield when she twisted her leg and heard something snap. The game was called off and Tashiro was taken to hospital, where she underwent surgery for three hours. She’s expected to leave the hospital this weekend and insists she will attend a fan event in Akihabara on Sunday to promote her latest DVD.

Koda Kumi Sings Opera

Kamui Gaiden, Kamui the Ninja

J-pop diva Koda Kumi (26) has taken her first bash at classical music, kind of. She recently recorded a new song that is based on an aria from Handel’s Italian opera “Rinaldo.” With original Japanese lyrics by Koda, “Alive” is the theme for “Kamui Gaiden,” Sai Yoichi’s big screen adaptation of the 1960s anime “Ninpu Kamui Gaiden” (Kamui the Ninja). It stars the currently red-hot Matsuyama Kenichi (24, photo) in the title role of a ninja who becomes a fugitive from his former clan. While filming last summer, Sai was listening to a favorite aria, “Lascia ch’io pianga” (Let me Weep), and felt that it captured the theme and atmosphere of the movie. With a melody by Iwashiro Taro (44), who wrote the movie’s score, Koda recorded the song over three days at the end of May. It will be released as a single in the autumn. The movie provides yet another high-profile role for Matsuyama, who has made a name for himself in such films as “Death Note,” “Detroit Metal City” and the upcoming “Norwegian Wood.” The all-star cast of “Kamui…” also includes Koyuki, Ito Hideaki, Sato Koji, and Tsuchiya Anna. The movie is scheduled for theatrical release on September 19.

• Pop group Arashi are to be the first ever artists to play three consecutive shows at the National Stadium. Yesterday’s announcement came together with news of the August 19 release of the hits album “All the Best! 1999-2009.” The Johnny’s Jimusho group are celebrating their 10th anniversary and the album will contain all 26 of their singles (plus 5 double-A sides). Shortly after the album goes on sale, they will play three nights at the National Stadium on August 28-30. Last year Arashi became only the third musical act to perform a solo show there (the others were SMAP in 2005-06 and Dreams Come True in 2007). From the autumn they will embark on a concert tour of Japan’s five major domes.

Celebrity Daughters’ Time to Shine

Akimoto Kozue, Kimura Hikari

A couple of celebrity daughters made the news yesterday. The name Akimoto Kozue (above, left) may not ring any bells, but the 21-year-old who made her debut as a model drew plenty of media attention as she is the daughter of sumo legend Chiyonofuji (below, right). Now known as Kokonoe Oyakata, his muscular figure dominated sumo in the 1980s, when he was popularly known as The Wolf, and he is regarded as one of the sport’s finest ever yokozuna (grand champion). The media ran through all the sumo metaphors to describe his daughter yesterday as the university senior launched a career of her own. The fashion show event, to promote TV Tokyo’s airing of American TV show “The Hills” from next month, was appropriately held at the Roppongi Hills complex in central Tokyo. Akimoto showed no nerves as she took to the catwalk, her waist-length black hair accentuating her slender figure. Like her father, she is above average height but not a towering figure. In January she signed with the LesPros Entertainment agency, which represents such stars as Aragaki Yui and Yoshikawa Hinano.

Yokoyama Yasushi, Nishikawa Kiyoshi, Chiyonofuji

Meanwhile Kimura Hikari (28, top right) remembers clearly her new fiance’s shock when she told him who her late father was. Yokoyama Yasushi (1944-96, above left) was one of the most famous, but also troubled stars of Japanese comedy. He and his partner Nishikawa Kiyoshi (62) created a manzai boom that helped Yoshimoto Kogyo (profile) become one of the most powerful forces in showbiz. Alcohol derailed his career and killed him at the age of 51, but his tragic end didn’t stop his daughter from following in his footsteps. Kimura is one half of the manzai duo Sayumi Hikari, and she plans to continue her career after marriage. Her mother died a year ago yesterday and, according to custom, she waited until the first anniversary before getting engaged. She and her fiance, a Buddhist monk (30), held a formal engagement ceremony at her family home in Osaka.

• American pop-punk musician Scott Murphy seems to have found his niche in Japan. The Chicago-based former member of ALLiSTER and The Get Go performed in Tokyo yesterday in support of his latest album of Japanese pop covers “BattleGround.” Murphy’s previous three cover albums have sold a combined 500,000 copies here and he has toured with some prominent local musicians including members of Ellegarden and Polysics. The new album includes high-energy covers of Ozaki Yutaka’s “15 no Yoru” and Makihara Noriyuki’s “Donna Toki Nimo.” Murphy is scheduled to play at Shibuya Ax on July 21.

Another Fallen Johnnys Idol

Enamoto Yuta

Johnny’s Jimusho (profile) churns out so many young male idol singers that some are bound to fall through the cracks, usually only seen again in “Where are they now?” features. Well, the current location of Enamoto Yuta (28) is a police holding cell in Sugamo, Tokyo. The former Johnnys Jr. member was recently arrested for fraud, it was revealed yesterday. He has admitted to the charges of claiming unemployment benefit, based on a salary from what turned out to be a fictional company, from the Shibuya public employment exchange. Though he received about ¥600,000 between August and November 2007, Enamoto is thought to have got only about ¥30,000, with the rest going to a man identified as restaurant worker Nishida Itsuki (37). Nishida is one of 15 people arrested since last August for running the scheme for several years in and around Tokyo, netting about ¥47 million from 120 claims. Enamoto joined Johnny’s Jimusho in 1994 and appeared in several popular TV shows in the mid-90s, including the long-running high school drama “3-nen B-gumi Kimpachi Sensei.” He graduated from Horikoshi High School and Teikyo University. After leaving Johnnys in 2000, he became vocalist of the group Circle and from 2006 got involved in multi-level marketing. The most recent updates to his official website date back to October of last year.

Jessica, Jenson Gearing Up for Marriage?

Michibata Jessica, Jenson Button

With British racing driver Jenson Button (29) racing into a commanding lead after eight races of the Formula One season, fashion model Michibata Jessica (24) may have decided she needs to stake her claim now. As Japan Zone reported back in January, the pair have been a romantic item for a few months now. But in recent interviews, Michibata has started talking about a possible proposal should Button manage to win the F1 championship. With six wins out of eight races, he is certainly the current odds-on favorite to take the crown from fellow Briton Lewis Hamilton, possibly well before the last race in Abu Dhabi on November 1. Michibata told one English magazine, “He has told me he wants to get married – he said he is the marrying type. If Jenson wins the title in November we will celebrate a lot and it will be by him getting down on one knee.” She added, “I know he is the one for me and he has told me I am the one for him. I hope he means it.” Things looked a lot different for both stars last year. Michibata was romantically linked with DJ and musician Ohsawa Shinichi (41) in the summer but they later split up. Button was with the Honda racing team last year, and after the Japanese maker withdrew as sponsor, it was bought out and renamed Brawn GP. Michibata, whose father is half-Argentine, half-Italian, and whose mother is Japanese, has been modeling since she was a child, though the western media has gone a bit overboard in describing her as a “supermodel.” She speaks fluent English and Japanese, as well as Spanish and some Italian. In terms of role models, the couple can look to French former F1 racer Jean Alesi (44) and the gorgeous actress Goto Kumiko (34). They married in the mid-90s and now live an idyllic life in France with their four children. Though popular, Alesi only ever won a single F1 race and was never a championship contender.

Earlier story:

The Model and the Speed Racer (Jan 30, 2009)

Another Million Seller for Greeeen

Greeeen, Shio Kosho

The latest release from J-pop group Greeeen has become their second consecutive million-selling album. Universal Music announced at the weekend that “Shio, Kosho” broke the one-million barrier just ten days after it went on sale earlier this month. That’s a full week faster than it took DCT’s “Do You Dreams Come True?” the year’s only other album to reach that level in sales. Greeeen owe some of their success to the theme songs they provided for the popular TBS drama series “Rookies” (“Kiseki,” included only on the first edition of the album) and its hit spinoff movie “Rookies – Sotsugyo” (“Haruka”). The group have applied to Guinness World Records to have “Kiseki” recognized as the world’s best-selling digital download. To date, the single has been downloaded 5.9 million times.

Billy Blanks, wedding

American talento Billy Blanks (53) and his new bride Tomoko (40) held their wedding ceremony and reception at the Ritz Carlton Osaka on Saturday. Blanks made his name in Japan a couple of years ago thanks to the hugely popular “Billy’s Boot Camp” exercise DVDs. He and his American wife divorced last year and at the end of the year he and Tomoko, who had been his interpreter, had a baby daughter. They registered their marriage in January and Blanks has applied for permanent residency status. He plans to open his Billy Blanks International Studio in Osaka next month. During Saturday’s reception, a couple were giving a ballroom dancing performance when Blanks took off his tuxedo and turned it into one of his famous Tae Bo aerobic workouts. A 7-time world karate champion, he also changed into his karate gi and split a few tiles and planks for the assembled guests.

Ozawa, Anne Make a Statuesque Couple

Watanabe Anne, Ozawa Yukiyoshi

Actress/model Anne (23, 177cm) and actor Ozawa Yukiyoshi (34, 183cm) are both tall by Japanese standards. But media attention on their romance is just as much about the stature of their parents. Ozawa is the son of world famous conductor Ozawa Seiji (73) and former model Irie Miki (64). He was born in San Francisco but educated in Japan and holds Japanese citizenship. He’s built a solid acting career over the last decade. One of his earliest roles in the late ’90s was in the TV drama “Saigo no Samurai.” There’s no connection, but that is the Japanese translation of “Last Samurai,” the Hollywood movie that earned an Oscar nomination for Watanabe Ken (49)…who just happens to be Anne’s father. She went out of her way to hide the fact when she began modeling for the magazine “Non-no” at the age of 15. But by the time she made her acting debut in 2007, in the Kurosawa Akira tribute drama “Tengoku to Jigoku” (Heaven and Hell), her family background was no longer a secret. It was also on the set of that TV Asahi drama that she first met Ozawa. Recently the two have been seen together regularly at the Tokyo bar-restaurant run by Ozawa’s family, according to this week’s issue of women’s magazine “Josei Seven”.

• Korean actress Bae Doo Na (29) was late for a movie PR event in Tokyo yesterday. Her excuse? Her flight from New York was delayed by a volcanic eruption in Russia’s Kuril Islands. Bae finally arrived about three hours into the screening and post production press conference for Koreeda Hirokazu’s “Kuuki Ningyou” (Air Doll). The movie, shown recently in the Un Certain Regard category at Cannes, is an adaptation of Goda Yoshiie’s manga about an inflatable doll (Bae) that becomes sentient.

Romance for Tamaki Hiroshi, Yoshitaka Yuriko

Tamaki Hiroshi, Yoshitaka Yuriko

Romance has blossomed between actor Tamaki Hiroshi (29) and actress Yoshitaka Yuriko (20) according to today’s issue of weekly women’s magazine “Josei Seven.” The pair, who first worked together during the TBS drama series “Love Shuffle” in January, were spotted vacationing together in Aomori Prefecture earlier this month. Tamaki is currently starring in the movie “Manatsu no Orion” (Midsummer Orion), while Yoshitaka is appearing in the Fuji TV series “Shiroi Haru” (White Spring). Management for both stars refused to comment on the relationship, with Tamaki’s office saying only, “He’s almost 30 so we leave such things to him.”

• NHK are always thinking well ahead when it comes to their annual taiga drama series. Yesterday they announced the first details of their 50th yearlong historical drama, to be aired from January 2011. Titled “Gou – Himetachi no Sengoku,” it will be based on the life story of Gou, official wife of Tokugawa Hidetada (1579-1632), the second shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty. Gou was related by either blood or marriage to the three key warlords (Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu) of that tumultuous period of Japanese history. The series will be scripted by Tabuchi Kumiko, who also wrote last year’s taiga “Atsuhime.”