Monthly Archives: July 2009

Tsukamoto Taking Tetsuo Nightmare to Venice

Tetsuo the Bullet Man


Tsukamoto Shinya’s latest update of his most famous movie has been chosen to compete at the upcoming 66th Venice Film Festival. “Tetsuo the Bullet Man” is the renowned director’s second sequel to his now 20-year-old cult movie “Tetsuo” (Tetsuo: The Iron Man) and his first English-language work. It’s not due for release until next year, but movies fans got the first 10-minute peek at the Comic-Con event in San Diego earlier this month. The original 1989 arthouse classic is regarded as one of the most groundbreaking and influential cyberpunk movies to have come out of Japan (or anywhere). Disturbing and nightmarish, it makes use of stop motion, a hardcore industrial soundtrack, and brutally stark imagery so that sitting through the relatively short 67 minutes is quite a challenge. The first sequel, “Tetsuo: Body Hammer,” was released in 1992. The lead character in the new movie is played by American actor Eric Bossick and all the dialog is in English, but the setting is once again Tokyo, which Tsukamoto describes as “a true cybercity – the most cyberpunk city in the world.” Though there are parallels that can be drawn with the 1988 cult anime movie “Akira,” Tsukamoto (49) has said his films have no connection with that movie’s Tetsuo character.

Snowblood’s Excellent review of the original “Tetsuo”.


Sazae de Gozaimaaasu!

Mizuki Arisa as Sazae-san


Japan’s most famous cartoon housewife is coming to life once again. As part of its 50th anniversary celebrations, Fuji TV has announced a live-action version of perennial favorite “Sazae-san.” The anime, based on the late Hasegawa Machiko’s manga, has aired on Sunday evenings for 40 years. Though its audience rating peaked at a massive 39.4% in 1979, the show has maintained solid numbers in the high teens or low 20s ever since. Taking on one of Japan’s best-loved roles is Mizuki Arisa (32), and done up with Sazae-san’s distinctive hairstyle she certainly looks the part. “It’s an honor for me,” she said. “We’ve been discussing it for several years, so I think I’m ready to play the part.” A Fuji producer said of the star, “She’s probably Japan’s No.1 comedy actress and, because she’s loved by audiences of all ages, she perfect as Sazae-san.” The role has been taken on by several actresses in the past – about once every decade – with the most recent being Asano Atsuko (48) in 1992-96. The first, on TBS and starring the late Eri Chiemi, was in 1965-67 and actually predates Fuji’s anime version. The new drama, which will air in the autumn, will follow the anime’s 3-story omnibus format, though it will run to two and a half hours.

• A couple of TV networks got their wrists slapped this week. NHK received a letter of complaint from the Osaka Bar Association about details of its drama series “Konkatsu, Rikatsu,” which aired in April-May. The show featured several scenes in which a notary public gave legal advice in a divorce case, though the profession is restricted solely to the preparation of legal documents.

Meanwhile, NTV became the first network to receive a formal criticism from the Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement Organization (BPO) since it was established in 2007. The BPO recommended that the network air a program to explain how falsified testimony became the basis for a report on the “Bankisha!” news show last November about alleged slush funds within the Gifu prefectural government. NTV issued an on-air apology several months later and the network chief resigned in March. The man who made the false statements was arrested and recently received a guilty court verdict.


High Speed Boyz Slow Things Down

High Speed Boyz


A cynical observer would dismiss it as just another publicity stunt but Victor Entertainment insist otherwise. In an unprecedented move, the release of the debut single by new band High Speed Boyz has not only been postponed, but the choice of single itself has been changed. “Bad City” was released as a digital download last month and made the “chaku-uta” chart Top 10. But the song was remarkably similar to the sound of currently hot J-pop band Greeeen. And at the end of last month it was discovered that not only is HSB vocalist Jin the elder brother of Greeeen singer Hide, he’s also the group’s producer. The bands and record label had intended to keep these facts secret, but once the cover was blown they decided it was better to put some musical distance between the artists. So HSB will debut with the hard rock single “Childhood’s End” and the release date will pushed back from August 19 to September 9. A Victor spokesman said, “Normally if a debut single is changed, the release date is pushed back indefinitely. But our company and music stores have very high hopes for this band.” The lineup is (l-r) Yusuke, Junchi, Kensuke, Michael, Jin. The members of Greeeen, who never reveal their faces, were recently recognized by Guinness World Records for the biggest-selling digital download single.

• Finally realizing one of his ambitions, actor Sorimachi Takashi (35) has landed the lead role in a samurai drama. He will play the role of Edo Period samurai Yagyu Mitsuyoshi (1607-50) in a New Year drama on TV Tokyo, one of the first broadcasts for the network’s 45th anniversary. Popularly known as Yagyu Juubei, the master swordsman is one of the most romanticized figures of his time and has been the subject of dozens of novels, manga, movies and TV dramas.

• Talento Aoki Sayaka (36) is expecting her first child next spring, it was revealed yesterday. She married a dancer (33) in October 2007.


Kawamura Kaori Dead at 38

Kawamura Kaori


Rock singer Kawamura Kaori died of cancer yesterday morning at a Tokyo hospital. She was 38. Kawamura was born in Moscow to a Japanese father, who worked for a trading company, and a Russian mother. She and her family moved to Japan when she was 11 and she was subjected to repeated bullying. perhaps as an escape, she soon got into the local music scene. She made her debut with the album “Zoo” in 1988. In 1990 she had a hit with “Kamisama ga Oritekuru Yoru” and the following year with the often-covered “Tsubasa wo Kudasai.” That year she made the first of several movie appearances in “Tokyo Kyujitsu.” From the mid-1990s, she split her time between New York and Japan, and got involved in the club scene in the late 90s. She and guitarist Motoaki married in 1999 and had a daughter in 2001, but were soon separated. In 2004 Kawamura was diagnosed with breast cancer, which had claimed her mother a few years earlier, but following a mastectomy she returned to work the next year. She and Motoaki divorced in 2007. In October 2008 she wrote on her blog that the cancer had returned and spread to her bones and lungs. Though – or perhaps because – she knew her time was limited, she had a busy schedule this year, performing concerts, publishing a book and releasing “K,” her first original album in 13 years.

• TBS announcer Kimura Ikumi (36) and former tennis pro Sugisawa Shuichi (41) have divorced after just three years, it was revealed yesterday. The two met through a mutual friend in 2006 and were married four months later. Kimura spent several years living in Germany and the U.S. before she graduated high school and studied literature at the prestigious Gakushuin University. Sugisawa went to the U.S. after high school to become a pro tennis player. He later became a coach and set up the Team Scandinavia sports management agency that included former Olympic team member Miyagi Nana.


Cancer Claims Yamada Tatsuo at 53

Yamada Tatsuo


Actor Yamada Tatsuo died at a Tokyo hospital on Sunday of stomach cancer. He was 53. A versatile actor, Yamada made his movie debut with the starring role in the rock-and-roll biker flick “Crazy Thunder Road,” described by the IMDB as “bizarrely compelling.” The 1980 movie was the directorial debut of former punk musician Ishii Sogo and has been compared, both in terms of its imagery and its spirit, to “Mad Max” (George Miller, 1979) and Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” (1982). Thus began a career that included more than three dozen movies. One of the most recent was last year’s award-wining “Okuribito” (Departures), whose director Takita Yoji was an old school friend. Yamada’s final film was “Shizumanu Taiyo” (Never-setting Sun), which is scheduled to open in October. Yamada was first discovered with cancer in June 2005 and he underwent surgery to have his stomach removed. But at the end of last year, the disease was found to have spread and he was hospitalized again.

• Actor Matsuda Ryuhei (26) announced on his website yesterday that his wife, model Ota Rina (21), gave birth to their first child on July 4. The couple married in January after an 18-month relationship. Their new daughter is the first grandchild of Ryuhei’s father, legendary actor Matsuda Yusaku (1949-89).

• Veteran actor Ono Takehiko (66) had a brush with the law late Sunday night. According to Metropolitan police, Ono’s car hit a police car as he made a left turn at an intersection in the Setagaya district of Tokyo. The incident is being treated as a relatively minor “traffic accident resulting in property damage.” Ono is best known in recent years as the police division chief in the “Odoru Daisosasen” (Bayside Shakedown) movie series.


Chara Sings of Split With Asano

Asano Tadanobu, Chara


Anyone looking for clues as to why singer Chara and actor Asano Tadanobu have split up might want to listen to her latest single. Chara (41) and Asano (35) both announced on their respective websites on Saturday that they had ended their more than 14 years of marriage. Considered to be a close couple, and with two children of 14 and 9, their divorce announcement came as a surprise to media commentators. A source said that Chara has custody of the children and she herself said in her statement that she and her ex plan to stay in touch. But one cause of the split is said to be his extra-marital affair, something that is clearly hinted at in Chara’s latest single “Broken Hearts.” She performed at the weekend’s Fuji Rock Festival, an event also attended by Asano, though the DJ show he was scheduled to appear in late Friday night was canceled due to heavy rain. The festival pamphlet featured sketches by various artists. Chara’s, which was drawn about a month ago, speaks volumes. The lyrics include such lines as “You say you can continue loving only me…really?” and “I wish I had magic power to read your heart. Even things I don’t really want to know.” The pair married shortly after working together on the 1994 movie PiCNiC.” Chara was several months pregnant at the time. The two were together at last year’s Academy Awards, where the movie “Mongol,” in which Asano played Genghis Khan, was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film oscar.

• X Japan drummer and leader Yoshiki is to undergo emergency surgery, he announced yesterday. He said on his official fan site that he will go under the knife at a hospital in Los Angeles today to treat a herniated disk of the cervical veterbra, a condition that has plagued him for some time. Doctors say that after the operation he will need several weeks of complete rest followed by at least a month of rehabilitation. If his condition hasn’t cleared up after several months, he will need further surgery. X Japan are scheduled to perform in France on October 10.


The Show Doesn’t Go On for Yoshida Takuro

Yoshida Takuro


Yoshida Takuro may have to finally put a period to his on-again, off-again farewell concert tour. The popular folk singer (63) has been struggling with various health problems since he underwent surgery for lung cancer in 2003. The latter half of a tour in 2007 was canceled after he came down with asthmatic bronchitis and pleurisy. Realizing he was reaching some kind of limit, he said this year’s tour would definitely be his last. But another bout of chronic bronchitis earlier this month forced him to cancel a show in Osaka at the last minute. He was determined to recover in time for a show tomorrow at Tsumagoi in Shizuoka Prefecture, venue for his famous all-night concert in 1975. He was on his way there for rehearsals last night but his condition deteriorated and he ended up in the hospital instead. He released a statement apologizing to fans and saying that he plans to rest at home until he has made a complete recovery.

• Matsuyama Kenichi will have a rare double chance at winning an award at this year’s 34th Montreal World Film Festival. The actor (24) stars in two movies that have been entered for the event, which opens on September 10. “Kamui Gaiden” (directed by Sai Yoichi and due for release here on Setember 19), in which he plays a fugitive ninja, will be shown in the Special Presentation category. While in “Ultra Miracle Love Story” (directed by Yokohama Satoko) he plays an agriculturalist from Aomori who falls for a Tokyo girl (Aso Kumiko). The movie, which opened in Japan earlier in the summer, has been entered in the Discovery category. It will be return visit to Montreal for MatsuKen. His “Detroit Metal City” won crowd approval, though no awards, last year. The last Japanese winner of the People’s Choice award was Kitano Takeshi’s “Zatoichi” in 2003.


RIP Abe Futoshi (TMGE Guitarist)

Thee Michelle Gun Elephant


Abe Futoshi, guitarist for the defunct J-rock band Thee Michelle Gun Elephant died this week, his management said on their website yesterday. He was 43. The cause of death was given as an acute epidural hematoma, a rare condition rare that is most commonly caused by a head injury. TMGE, who were also known to fans simply as Michelle, formed in 1991 when all four members were attending Meiji Gakuin University. Abe (photo right) joined as guitarist in 1994. Usually seen wearing mod suits, they played a straightforward amalgam of punk and pub rock behind the rasping vocals of Chiba Yusuke. The band’s distinctive name was born when a friend of Chiba’s made a fumbling effort to read the title of the Damned album “Machine Gun Etiquette.” They made their major label debut with the single “Sekai no Owari” (The End of the World) in 1996 and went on to headline several major rock festivals. The band released a total of 16 singles and 8 albums before they split in 2003. After an extended break away from music, Abe later pursued several solo projects.

Yamamoto JojiIt was revealed yesterday that enka singer Yamamoto Joji (59) is undergoing treatment for a tumor found in his right ear. The singer held a press conference yesterday to talk about his condition. With his usual deep tan and sharply dressed, he looked as healthy as always. But he said that he has lost most of the hearing in his right ear since late May. He underwent surgery to remove fluid from his ear, but further MRI scans revealed a growth. Though the tumor turned out to be benign, his doctor said it is likely to grow in size from its current 5mm but did not advise radiation treatment as it could damage his facial nerves. Shocked by the news, Yamamoto’s initial reaction on his blog was, “I don’t need this useless right ear. I’ll carry on with just the left one!” But fans encouraged him not to give up hope and seek further medical advice. Encouraged, Yamamoto said he will see a specialist in early August. He insisted also that he didn’t want to let the condition affect his career and he plans to continue his ongoing 35th anniversary concert tour.


Nishikawa Ayako Finally Meets Her Match

Nishikawa Ayako


It seems that Nishikawa Ayako (38) has finally met a man who meets her famously high standards. The former beauty queen, doctor and talento is renowned for saying that money is more important than love. In fact, she has built her whole showbiz image around her obsession with wealth. She has said she could never marry a man who made less than ¥40 million a year. Well, she finally seems to have found that Mr. Right. Her romance with Fukumoto Asia (35), a director of a welfare company, was first revealed in one of the weekly gossip magazines in September of last year. He finally proposed on July 7, the day of the romantic Tanabata festival. They plan to get married next spring. The daughter of a plastic surgeon, Nishikawa was Miss Japan in 1996 while studying medicine at St. Marianna University.

In other marriage news, Asahi Housou announcer Kotera Yuko (32) is engaged to marry a fellow company employee (33), the network said this week. The couple plan to tie the knot and hold a reception at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka in November.


Oda, Amami Warmly Received in Rome

Amalfi: Megami no Hoshu


Oda Yuji (41, profile) and Amami Yuki (41) were back in Italy this week to promote the new movie “Amalfi: Megami no Hoshu.” One of Fuji TV’s 50th-anniversary projects, the movie is directed by Nishitani Hiroshi and is the first Japanese feature film shot entirely on location in Italy. Oda plays a diplomat based in the World Heritage coastal town of Amalfi who learns about the abduction of a Japanese girl in Rome. He launches an investigation, but finds himself falling in love with the girl’s mother (Amami). The cast also includes Sato Koichi, Toda Erika, Sano Shiro, Fukuyama Masaharu, and singer Sarah Brightman in a cameo role. Though his movie career spans 23 years, Oda is taking part in an overseas film festival for the first time, as the movie was screened this week at the L’isola del Cinema. The venue was the scenic Tiberina Island in the Tiber River, which runs through the center of Rome. The audience of 600 gave the movie and its stars their rapturous approval. The citizens’ festival usually features hit movies from the previous year and it’s very rare to show a movie before it premieres. “Amalfi…” is scheduled to open in Japan on Saturday.

Sakamoto RyuichiOscar-winning musician and composer Sakamoto Ryuichi (57) has been honored by the French government for his cultural contributions. At a ceremony held at the French Embassy in Tokyo yesterday, he received the Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur (National Order of the Legion of Honor) and was awarded an Officier (officer) medal. Sakamoto said, “Through my music, I hope to repay the debt I owe,” referring to the influence on his career of such French luminaries as composer Claude Debussy and movie director Jean-Luc Godard. As a member of Yellow Magic Orchestra, Sakamoto was a pioneer of electronic pop music in the late 1970s and 80s. He received an Academy Award for his soundtrack to the movie “The Last Emperor” in 1988.

• Popular idol group SKE48 have canceled a series of scheduled performances due to health problems. A total of six shows, including one on Wednesday of this week, were officially canceled as a growing number of the members have been having unspecified health issues. A decision has yet to be made about the July 22 show. The group was formed by producer Akimoto Yasushi in Nagoya in 2008 following the success of his AKB48 group, which is based in Tokyo’s Akihabara district. The SKE48 name is based on the Sakae district in central Nagoya and, like AKB48, the group perform regularly at a single venue, the Sunshine Sakae building. The dozens of members mainly hail from Aichi and surrounding prefectures and are divided into Team S, Team KII and Trainees. Most are in their teens, though some are as young as 12.