Monthly Archives: August 2009

A Triple Marathon Weekend

Imoto Ayako

Though the national election (and Minshuto’s historic landslide victory) was the real story of the weekend, on the entertainment side the big show was NTV’s 24-hour charity telethon. The main event of the annual show is an endurance run by a celebrity, with their arrival at the studio timed to bring the show to a climax. This year it was the turn of up-and-coming talento Imoto Ayako (23, photo left), who faced the grueling task of running three full marathons in 24 hours. But by the time of her arrival at the Tokyo Big Site studio at 9:12pm, the show had been over for 15 minutes and the network had switched to live coverage of the election results. They briefly showed a video of Imoto’s arrival and tearful reception from the assembled celebrities. To be fair to Imoto, she approached the capital at the same time as Typhoon No.11, and the wind and rain washed away her trademark thick eyebrows. The 126.585km she ran in 26 hours and five minutes beat the 113km record for a female runner set last year by comedienne Edo Harumi.

• Actor Karato Ryo (44) was recently arrested for a drunken outburst at a Saga Prefecture police station, it was revealed at the weekend. Best known for his role as Kamen Rider G4 in a 2001 movie, Karato kicked in the glass door of the station in Otsu City at around 2am on August 23. He acknowledged the offense, saying that he was very drunk at the time, and was released the next day. According to his management agency, Karato is a licensed kick boxer. And of course the masked Kamen Rider action heroes are known for their famous Rider Kick (photo top right).

• Following his prosecution for drug use, actor Oshio Manabu (32) is to be released on bail this morning. Though prosecutors challenged the decision, saying Oshio had repeatedly changed his testimony and tried to conceal evidence, the Tokyo District Court approved the bail last Friday. The ¥4 million in bail money has been paid by an entrepreneur friend of the actor, who is said to be planning to live at his father’s apartment in the western Tokyo suburb of Tama.

• Sun Music have said they will bear the financial burden caused by the recent drug arrest of actress/singer Sakai Noriko (38). The management company released Sakai last week as she faced prosecution for possession of amphetamines. But CEO Aizawa Masahisa (60) says that the company will take responsibility for compensating commercial sponsors, record companies and others who have suffered financial losses totaling around ¥500 million. Sakai’s fee for commercial appearances were around ¥30-40 million, and she had two at the time of her arrest earlier this month (Toyota and pharmaceutical company Arax). Victor Entertainment have shelved the September release of a greatest hits CD and DVD, at a loss of about ¥50 million each. Sakai starred in a movie made as PR for the new lay jury system, and about 190,000 copies have been withdrawn from regional courtrooms and legal office nationwide at an estimated cost of ¥70 million. The biggest loss is thought to have been incurred by trading company Itochu, who handled Sakai’s fashion brand “PP rikorino.” They removed a range of some 150 items from stores at a loss of about ¥250 million.

• Popular rock band Ulfuls played what might be their last ever concerts at the weekend. The band, who announced in July that they were taking an indefinite break, played two shows for 36,000 fans in Osaka at the memorial park of the 1970 World Expo. They performed 25 songs, including their biggest hits “Guts da ze!!” and “Banzai – Suki de Yokatta.” Those songs helped the quartet, formed in 1988, make a breakthrough in the mid-1990s. They remained popular largely due to their charismatic frontman Tortoise Matsumoto (42, photo bottom right), who released his first original solo album last month.

Shinboru Entered at Toronto, Pusan Fests


Comedian-turned-director Matsumoto Hitoshi (45, profile) appeared at a special preview screening of his latest movie yesterday. He appeared on stage at the Piccadilly cinema in central Tokyo in the same wig and polka dot pajamas his character wears in “Shinboru,” and introduced himself as the “charismatic comedian Matsumoto.” It was revealed that the movie, the first since his debut “Dai Nipponjin” in 2007, will be entered at the International Film Festivals in Toronto (September 10-19) and Pusan, South Korea (October 8-16). The movie is scheduled to open in theaters here on September 12. Asked if he planned to attend the Pusan event, he said “That’s the time when ‘this’ will be appearing, so it’s not good timing,” referring to the fact that his wife is expecting their first baby in October. Matsumoto and former talento Ihara Rin (26) got married in May.

The IMDB website has the following summary of Shinboru: “A Japanese man wakes up alone in a brightly illuminated white room with no windows or doors. When he presses a mysteriously phallic protuberance that appears on one wall, a pink toothbrush materializes from nowhere, clattering to the floor and setting in motion a genuinely bizarre chain of events. Soon the imprisoned man is engaged in absurd and hilarious attempts to escape the gleaming room, releasing random objects from the walls, creating a life sized mouse trap game in which a rope, a toilet plunger and an earthenware jug full of sushi might just be the keys to his escape. Meanwhile, in a dusty town, a green masked Mexican wrestler known as Escargot Man prepares for an important match. His family gathers around him, worried about his seeming impassivity before battle.”

Ueto Aya Target of Grenade Threat

Ueto Aya, Son Masayoshi

Threats of a bomb attack against a popular celebrity were posted on the Japanese version of Wikipedia, according to a police statement issued today. The poster wrote that a hand grenade would used to kill people at a concert featuring talento Ueto Aya (23) on August 31. Ueto is scheduled to perform at the “Happy Magic” event at Zepp Tokyo on that date, her first concert in about two years. Police at the nearby Tokyo Wangan Station issued a warning to organizers and requested that security be beefed up for the event. They are also investigating the incident as a possible criminal case. Such online abuse is common Wikipedia, which allows anyone to update it’s millions of information pages. The organization has recently begun looking at enforcing a change that would require editorial approval for all changes to pages about living people. A popular actress in TV dramas and commercials, Ueto is a former idol singer who is most often seen these days as the face of the Softbank mobile phone network (photo: Ueto and Softbank CEO Son Masayoshi).

Jero on First Japan Tour

Jero, Sakai Noriko, Yamamoto Yoichi

Japan’s only African-American enka singer kicked off his first nationwide concert tour this week and played Nakano Sun Plaza in Tokyo last night. Jero (27) has some support from fellow enka stars Fuji Atako (48) and Sakamoto Fuyumi (42) as he performed a 21-song set for 2,000 fans. He wore a white suit set off as usual with a black baseball cap. The tour will take in 35 venues and continue until December 2. jero will also be making many in-store appearances in support of his upcoming album, “Covers2,” due for release September 23. The first single, “Tsumeato,” went on sale August 19.

• The line “I bought from a foreigner” is almost a cliche of drug arrest reports, but it seems that at least in the case of actress/singer Sakai Noriko (photo top right) and her husband, it’s true. Among the numbers stored on the phone of an Iranian arrested earlier this year, police found that of Takaso Yuichi, Sakai’s husband arrested August 3 for possession of amphetamines. Meanwhile, the latest issue of weekly magazine “Shuukan Shincho” has details of Sakai’s turbulent early life, provided by the first of two step-mothers. Born to a yakuza father, she was abandoned as a baby when her mother eloped with a younger man. With her father in prison at the time, she was left at a temple in her father’s home prefecture of Saga until she was taken in by her father’s sister and went to live with her in Saitama Prefecture. When her father remarried, the pre-teen Sakai moved back with him and her step-mother in Fukuoka. Shortly afterward, a baby boy was born (he grew up to became a member of the Yamaguchi-gumi crime syndicate and was arrested on drug charges in July) and later a baby girl. At that time, Sakai’s father was having an affair and the marriage soon ended in divorce. He took Sakai with him when he remarried for a second time, and it was with this step-mother (62) that Sakai went on the run after her husband’s arrest.

• Actor Yamamoto Yoichi (40, photo bottom right) is said to have “miraculously” recovered from his recent heart failure. Having visited a local clinic on August 7, he was diagnosed with mild pneumonia and given medicine. However, when his condition didn’t improve, he visited a larger hospital two days later, where he was rushed to intensive care and treated for fulminant myocarditis. The uncommon condition is an inflammation of the heart muscle, caused by infectious agents, toxins, drugs or for unknown reasons. It can require aggressive treatment, even including a heart transplant. But Yamamoto has already recovered to the point where he is in a regular hospital ward and has begun rehabilitation. He will continue top be observed for any side effects on his liver or kidneys.

Avant Garde CEO Arrested

Ogura Yuko

The special investigation department of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office yesterday announced the arrest of Makino Masaya (42), CEO of the former Avant-Garde talent management agency, on charges of tax evasion. The company is said to have hidden earnings of almost ¥1.2 billion over a period of three years up to the end of 2006, and evaded taxes to the tune of ¥345 million. Makino set up the company in 1989 and it became known as one of the largest stables of young, pretty, and largely disposable female talent. The dozens of girls and young women on its books would appear in magazines and manga, as pinup “idols,” race queens and a multitude of other decorative functions. In recent years the company represented such established celebrities as Ogura Yuko (photo, 25) and Manabe Kaori (28), and manipulating the increasing revenues generated from their growing popularity was done using an affiliation of paper companies. Over the last couple of years, the business underwent several changes of name in a game of cat and mouse with the tax authorities and is currently known as Ichi Estate Corporation.

Oshio Manabu Prosecution Begins

Oshio Manabu

The prosecution of actor Oshio Manabu (31) on drug charges began yesterday at the Tokyo District Court. He is reported to have acknowledged and apologized for lying to police about his drug use. It was also revealed that Oshio may have disposed of the the mobile phone belonging to the woman whose body was found dead in a Roppongi Hills apartment. Police found the phone in shrubbery near the apartment. Though Oshio was with the woman when she died, he has yet to to be charged in relation to her death. Like the actor, she was also found to have used MDMA (ecstasy). The timeline of that evening has been established as: the woman passes out and Oshio administers heart massage (6:30pm); Oshio calls his manager (7pm); the manager arrives at the Roppongi Hills apartment (7:45pm); the manager calls the police (9:20pm). Oshio left at this time and moved to another apartment in the same building, both owned by a friend. In a related development, movie distributor Astaire said that they had decided to shelve the movie “Dakara Oretachi wa, Asa wo Matteita.” The movie, which was scheduled for release in February 2010, stars Kato Kazuki (24) but Oshio played a key role which couldn’t be edited out.

Takaso Yuichi Re-arrested

Takaso Yuichi's house in Katsuura

Sakai Noriko’s husband has been re-arrested in the couple’s ongoing drug case. The new arrest follows the discovery of amphetamines at Takaso Yuichi’s villa in the Chiba Prefecture beach town of Katsuura. It will likely lead to a stiffer prison sentence and puts extra pressure on Sakai to come clean. It has become increasingly clear that she was trying to destroy or conceal as much evidence of her drug habit (avoiding a urine test, cutting and dyeing her hair, destroying her mobile phone) before turning herself in to police several days after they issued a warrant for her arrest. Since that time, her statements to police have conflicted with those of her husband, who was arrested six days before her. Though the couple have been living separately for some time, they continued to share their drug habit. Sakai has admitted that they did drugs on their visit to Amami Oshima island last month to watch the solar eclipse, a trip on which they were accompanied by their 10-year-old son. Sakai is known to have visited the Katsuura home several times. The house, which has become a tourist attraction, was painted with the obscure grafitti “BLES” over the weekend.

• Veteran rock ‘n’ roller Uzaki Ryudo (63) is likely to face prosecution for causing a minor traffic accident at the weekend. Uzaki was driving in the Tokyo suburb of Setagaya on Sunday evening when he into the back of a car waiting at a traffic signal. Two women sitting in the rear of the car suffered minor neck injuries.

Knockdowns and Comebacks

Mizushima Hiro, Ayaka

Singer/songwriter Ayaka (21) was forced to drop out of a scheduled concert appearance at the weekend due to her ongoing medical problems. She has suffered from Graves’ disease, an immune disorder of the endocrine system known in Japan by the less common name of Basedow’s disease, since shortly after her debut. She and actor Mizushima Hiro (25) announced their marriage earlier in the year (photo) but Ayaka has been on an extended sabbatical as she continued her battle with her illness. She was to perform on Saturday in Tsugaru City in northern Japan at the Dream Summer Live in Chikyumura but canceled at the last minute on the advice of her doctor.

Earlier story:

Mizushima Hiro, Ayaka Married (Apr. 4, 2009)

• Several members of Akihabara idol unit AKB48 missed out on the group’s first ever shows at Nippon Budokan at the weekend after they came down with influenza. In all seven members were forced to miss the two shows at the 15,000-seat venue, but there was still not much room to move on stage. Backed up by the members of Nagoya-based SKE48, in all there were 74 singers, who performed 33 songs including their latest release “Iiwake – Maybe.” The flu also hit the popular all-female Takarazuka theatrical revue. Two members of the Star Troupe came down with a fever last week and had to drop out the show currently on at the Tokyo theater in Yurakucho.


Headlining the “a-nation” show at Ajinomoto Stadium west of Tokyo on the weekend were top Avex artists like Hamasaki Ayumi and Koda Kumi. But grabbing the headlines was the return of Komuro Tetsuya (50). At the center of a major court case earlier this year, the musician/producer received a suspended prison sentence in a ¥500 million copyright fraud case. The case has left him with huge debts and the only way he knows how to pay them back is by promoting his music. So it was that he, his wife Keiko and bassist Marc Panther were reunited onstage as globe, the J-pop group that had a string of hits in the late 1990s, and who joined the event as surprise guests. Dressed in a white suit and sitting at a piano center stage, Komuro began playing a medley of his many hits. Only when the big screens showed him up close did the 50,000 fans realize who it was. Then he and Keiko bowed and apologized for all the fuss and bother they had caused. Globe, who last performed at the same venue last year, played a couple of songs and were warmly applauded by fans. Komuro also performed with TRF, the pop/dance group for whom he wrote many hits. Komuro recently set up a new management agency and signed a contract with Avex. He is said to have demos of more than a dozen new songs.

Earlier stories:

More Details on Komuro Arrest (Nov. 5, 2008)

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

Another Drug Arrest Revealed

Shofukutei Komatsu

A former rakugoka is at the center of the latest drug arrest revelation. Ka Togan (52), who performed under the stage name Shofukutei Komatsu, was arrested at the end of June for use of amphetamines, it was revealed yesterday. He admitted to the charges and has already been tried at the Kyoto District Court. Ka first entered the world of traditional comic storytelling in 1972 but was kicked out in 1977. He spent several years as a manzai comedian before returning to rakugo in 1982. In 1997 he underwent surgery for stomach cancer and drew national attention as he walked the length of the country, performing in support of fellow cancer patients. He was arrested for stimulant drug possession later that year, but with the support of the popular Shofukutei Tsurube, he was able to return to performing. Financial problems surfaced in 2006 and he was let go by his management and effectively exiled from rakugo. The Kamigata Rakugo Association said that his erratic behavior had continued for several years. An ethnic Korean, Ka was born in Shiga Prefecture.

• Meanwhile it is becoming increasingly apparent that actress Sakai Noriko made calculated efforts to avoid the law up until her arrest on drug charges. Even as she went on the run following the arrest of her husband on August 4, her public image was such that the public had trouble believing that she could be a drug user. But as the facts of the case slowly emerge, it’s becoming clear that she not only lied to police but also took deliberate actions to hide or destroy evidence. The fact that she turned herself in 6 days after her husband’s arrest, which she blamed on a state of panic, ensured that a urine test was negative for drug traces. A later test on hair samples was positive, despite the fact that her hair was noticeably shorter than a week earlier. This is believed to have been in an effort to hide the length and regularity of her drug use, which she has claimed was infrequent and started just last summer. And her mobile phone, which she said she had thrown away after it broke, was found by police. They believe it was deliberately destroyed, and they are seeking her phone records from the mobile network operator.

TM Network

TM Network guitarist Kine Naoto (51, photo right) was recently involved in a minor hit and run accident, it was revealed yesterday. The musician was driving in Minami Aoyama district of Tokyo on August 10 when his wing mirror hit a pedestrian. Kine said, when he went voluntarily to police on August 15, that he didn’t stop because he thought he had hit a lamppost. TM Network, made up of Kine, Komuro Tetsuya (left) and Utsunomiya Takashi (center), were a major pop band in the 1980s.

Yazawa Eikichi Keeping it Fresh

Yazawa Eikichi, Oshio Manabu, Sakai Noriko

Rocker Yazawa Eikichi (photo left) may be on the verge of turning 60 but he’s trying to keep things fresh. Yesterday he performed the first ever in-store live show of his 34-year solo career at Tower Records in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo. With a huge and loyal following, Ei-chan has no trouble filling the biggest venues – indeed he has a show lined up next month at Tokyo Dome. But as part of the promotion for “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” his first new album in four years, he chose to play for 300 fans on the roof of the record store. The album is the first released on the Garuru Records label that Yazawa set up in May 2008 after 20 years with EMI Music Japan. Yesterday’s 30-minute show, which he described as like a “second debut,” included the new single “Cobalt no Sora.” Though Yazawa has his landmark “kanreki” (60th birthday) on September 14, he drew an audience made up mostly of people in their 20s and 30s. Similarly, he chose to play last month’s “ap bank festival”, an outdoor rock event organized by Mr Children vocalist Sakurai Kazutoshi (39) and appealing to a younger crowd.

In the ongoing celebrity drug cases – a former Tokyo club hostess has said that actor Oshio Manabu’s sex and drugs lifestyle goes back well beyond his recent arrest. She told the weekly magazine “Friday” that she had visited Oshio (top right) in the U.S. where he was based. She said she had feared for her life when she passed out after several days of drug-fueled sex at his hotel. She claims that Oshio supplied the drugs and that she took them at his insistence. This runs contrary to his already inconsistent testimony following his arrest for use of MDMA (ecstasy). He has variously said that he got them from a friend, and that they were supplied by the woman who was later found dead at the Roppongi Hills apartment that Oshio regularly used as a “play spot.”

Meanwhile, in the case of actress/singer Sakai Noriko (bottom right), tests on hair samples have revealed traces of illegal drugs, though not enough to determine the length or regularity of her habit. She has already admitted to drug use, but she says it was infrequent and only started about a year ago. Her arrest on August 8 came after she had been missing for several days, by which time a negative urine test was inconclusive.