Comedienne Ima Kuruyo (62, photo left) collapsed during a performance at a theater in Osaka yesterday afternoon. As it happened in the middle of her comedy routine, the curtain was dropped as medical assistance was administered. Yoshimoto Kogyo issued a statement saying that the cause of her collapse, during the second of four shows, was as yet unknown but that she had been admitted to hospital. All immediate work engagements have been canceled. One half of the veteran manzai duo Ima Ikuyo-Kuruyo, she had seemed in good health when she performed in Tokyo the day before.
Ai has finally topped the album charts with her greatest hits collection. “Best Ai,” which includes her hits from the last nine years, is the latest No.1 on the Oricon album chart. Real name Uemura Ai Carina (27), she was born in Los Angeles and is quarter Italian on her mother’s side. Her family returned to Japan when she was three, but her mother encouraged her to attend Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. She later became the first female artist signed to Def Jam Japan. She has performed only rarely on the world stage beyond Japan, but her vocal range and versatility have elicited comparisons to Alicia Keys and Beyonce Knowles.
• Actress Yamamoto Mirai (34) is to be a mother for real. The daughter of the famous fashion designer Yamamoto Kansai (65), she and actor Shiina Kippei (45) are expecting their first child. Yamamoto, who plays the role of a mother in the current Fuji TV series “Otomen,” is five months pregnant. The couple have been married for six years but started dating back in 1995 when they appeared together in the TV Asahi drama “Black Out.” Shiina is currently appearing as warlord Oda Nobunaga in the movie “Katen no Shiro.”
Stars often appear all over a network for a day to promote a new movie or album, but Johnny’s Jimusho idol group Arashi are to take over NTV for a whole week. The group are celebrating the 10th anniversary of their debut in November. To mark the occasion, various members of the group will appear on an estimated 50 hours of programming during a seven-day period. They’ll make live appearances on the network’s most popular variety and news shows and will perform their hits during a special live concert. The final dates have yet to be announced.
With the members of fellow Johnny’s group SMAP now all into their 30’s, Arashi have a strong hold on the teenage and young adult fan base. But although they have a string of No.1 hits, it was only with the recent release of a greatest hits album, “All the Best, 1999-2009” that they had their first million seller. The upcoming “hijacking” of the NTV network is to show that they are now established as major stars and, perhaps more than anything else, make it clear to corporate sponsors that they are the group of the moment. The five members of Arashi have also maintained a clean image, unlike that of SMAP, which has become a little tarnished by incidents over the years. Arashi are Ono Satoshi (28), Sakurai Sho (27), Aiba Masaki (26), Ninomiya Kazunari (26) and Matsumoto Jun (26).
• The Katsuura, Chiba Prefecture villa of Sakai Noriko and Takaso Yuichi was destroyed by fire yesterday morning. The home is believed to be one place where the couple used drugs and it had already been searched by police in their ongoing investigation. Neighbors said they saw people they believed to be members of Takaso’s family removing items from the house in the days before the fire. Both Takaso and Sakai were released on bail last week.
The world of anime has lost two veteran figures this week. The body of a a man, believed to be manga-ka Usui Yoshito (51), was found in the mountains bordering Gunma and Nagano Prefectures by a climber on Saturday morning. The body was found at the foot of a cliff on Arafuneyama mountain, where Usui said he was headed when he was last seen a week ago. Usui is the creator of the popular manga and anime “Crayon Shinchan” (image right). The manga first appeared in 1990 and the anime has been shown weekly on TV Asahi since 1992. There has also been a big-screen version every spring during that time, indicating the continuing commercial success of the franchise. But while popular with kids, the character has always been one that parents hope they won’t emulate and the show has long ranked highly among those that parents won’t let their kids watch.
Crayon Shinchan Creator Missing (Sep. 16, 2009)
• Meanwhile, veteran voice actor Kamiya Akira (63, photo left) says he is stepping down from his signature role. In a post on his blog on Friday, his 63rd birthday, he said he will no longer be the voice of Mori Kogoro in the long-running NTV anime series “Meitantei Conan.” He didn’t go into detail but the blog post suggested that he had been fired due to a contract dispute. The September 26 edition of the show will be Kamiya’s last. Over the years, Kamiya has provided the main voices in such major anime as “Kinnikuman”, “City Hunter” and “Hokuto no Ken.” he first ook on the Kogoro role in 1996.
• Happier news for singer/actress Tsuchiya Anna (25). She announced on her blog on Saturday that she is pregnant. The father is her 28-year-old stylist. Tsuchiya has a boy from a previous marriage.
The country got its first look at actress/singer Sakai Noriko in 40 days yesterday. Sakai (38) was released on ¥5-million bail from the detention center at Tokyo Wangan police station and was greeted by a wall of camera flashes and reporters. There were fans and supporters amongst the crowd, with one group holding a banner that said “Omedetou” (Congratulations). Dressed in a simple dark pants suit, Sakai addressed the cameras directly, bowing and apologizing for the trouble she caused with her drug arrest. She was then taken to a downtown hotel where she gave a press conference two hours later together with her lawyer and executives of her former management agency and record company (both of whom canceled her contracts after her arrest).
The conference lasted just ten minutes and no questions from the more than 500 reporters (photo) were answered. As expected there were tears and promises never to touch drugs again, and also skeptical media comments that the whole thing was no more than another performance from someone used to the spotlight since her mid-teens. One report questioned what happened to the star-shaped tattoo that was visible on the middle finger of her left hand at the time of her release but gone by the press conference (one photo showed clearly that it was concealed with foundation). Sakai’s husband, released on related charges the day before, went so far as to wear gloves to hide his multiple tattoos. His trial begins at the Tokyo District Court on October 21, Sakai’s on October 26.
In the meantime, after the press conference Sakai was admitted to the Tokyo Medical University Hospital in Shinjuku, which is said to have a state of the art drug rehabilitation facility. Sakai’s stepmother is currently undergoing treatment for lung cancer at the same hospital.
Takaso Yuichi Out on Bail (Sep. 17, 2009)
Noripi Turns Herself In (Aug. 8, 2009)
Noripi’s Hubby in Latest Drug Arrest (Aug. 4, 2009)
Takaso Yuichi, the husband of actress/singer Sakai Noriko, was released on Wednesday evening after posting ¥5 million for bail. Dressed in somber gray and black, Takaso (41) left the Shibuya police station wearing a baseball cap with the somewhat inappropriate “Punk” emblazoned on it. He removed the cap and made a brief apology to the gathered reporters for his and his wife’s ongoing drug cases. “This whole matter is entirely my responsibility. I am at fault,” he said. “I apologize to everyone for the trouble I’ve caused.” Takaso has been charged with both possession and use of amphetamines. He is due to appear at Tokyo District Court on October 21.
Sakai’s bail application was approved on Monday but she has yet to leave detention. In a rare case, only half of her ¥5-million bail was paid on Tuesday, the other half expected to be paid prior to her release on Wednesday. There was speculation that she hoped to time her first public appearance since her arrest to coincide with Wednesday’s change in government, but she never showed.
A hot new young showbiz couple is born, according to Sports Hochi. The website says that Yamashita Tomohisa (24) of the Johnny’s Jimusho idol group NEWS has been dating half-Canadian model Kagami Seira (22) for the last three months. NEWS are one of the hottest male acts today, and in typical Johnny’s fashion, its members appear in a wide range of roles. “Yamapi,” as he is known to fans, already has ten years of TV starring roles under his belt but also found time to attend Meiji University. Kagami, whose father is Canadaian and mother Japanese, made her modeling debut at the age of 12. She appeared in teen magazines such as CUTiE, Seventeen, and Zipper and did her first TV commercial in 2001. She took a break from the entertainment industry to enrol in the University of Toronto, returning to Japan and her career in 2006. She has released several singles which have had TV anime tie-ups.
The creator of the popular “Crayon Shinchan” has gone missing, it was revealed yesterday. The family of manga-ka Usui Yoshito (51) asked police in his hometown of Kasukabe in Saitama Prefecture to start a search investigation on September 12, saying they had been unable to contact him since the previous day. Police have asked the surrounding prefectures to assist in the search.
Usui first published “Crayon Shinchan” in Futabasha’s “Weekly Manga Action” in 1990, and it continues to appear in the company’s “Manga Town.” It was adapted into an anime in 1992 and has since run on TV Asahi on Friday evenings and has been broadcast in many countries worldwide. Based around the adventures of 4-year-old pre-schooler Nohara Shinnosuke, the character’s lewd and foul-mouthed behavior has made him hugely popular with kids but widely despised by parents. A big screen version is released every year to coincide with the Golden Week spring break and consistently makes over ¥1 billion at the box office. Crayon Shinchan was officially made a citizen of Kasukabe (a right denied many real, but not Japan-born, residents) in 2004.
Comedian Yasuda Hiromi (35) gave a press conference in Tokyo yesterday to formally announce his engagement to talento Iwata Sachi (27). As Yasuda underwent emergency surgery in July to save a twisted testicle, reporters yesterday focused on whether he was able to have a normal sex life. In no uncertain terms, he reassured them that he is, “It was about a week after the surgery. It hurt a bit but felt pretty good!” The dancho (leader) of the comedy trio Yasuda Dai Circus, he and Iwata met two years ago at an event in Nagoya. Kansai TV planned a special show featuring Yasuda cycling 550km from Osaka to Tokyo to propose to Iwata at the end of August.
Baseball superstar Suzuki Ichiro (36) set another milestone yesterday as he became the first Major League player ever to record 200 or more hits in nine consecutive seasons. In the second inning of the second game in a doubleheader against the Texas Rangers, the Seattle Mariners leadoff man hit one of his trademark infield singles to reach the 200 landmark. And this in a season where injury and a stomach ulcer forced him to sit out 16 games, as many as he missed in the last eight years combined. The hit allowed Ichiro to pass the record held by Wee Willie Keeler for more than a century. At home, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper published a special edition headlined, “Ichiro breaks Major League record.” Baseball legend Oh Sadaharu was quoted as saying, “Sometimes we forget how difficult it is to accomplish these things amid a baseball schedule which is much tougher in the U.S. than in Japan. It’s hard to find the words to describe what he has accomplished.”
• But expect the Japanese media frenzy to be distracted elsewhere today if actress/singer Sakai Noriko (38) is released on ¥5-million bail in her ongoing drug possession case. Her bail was approved yesterday, while it was refused for her husband, Takao Yuichi (41). A legal expert said this was most likely to ensure that the couple cannot “compare notes” on their upcoming trials. Takaso is scheduled to appear at the Tokyo District Court on October 21, and Sakai five days later.
Talk about an interesting choice of venue. J-rock supergroup Vamps finished off their world concert tour with a show on a ship – not just any ship but the USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The battleship was where the official surrender agreement was signed between Japan and the Allies in Tokyo Bay in September 1945. It was decommissioned in the 1990s and is now a museum. Yesterday’s concert was the first major music event to be held on board. Interestingly, the event doesn’t seem to have drawn any attention from the mainstream U.S. media.
Flanked by the ship’s 16-inch guns and with the stars and stripes flying behind them, the band performed 20 songs, including the upcoming release “Sweet Dreams.” About 600 fans paid $150 each to see the unique show. Vamps was formed in 2008 around L’Arc en Ciel frontman Hyde and Oblivion Dust guitarist K.A.Z. The lineup also includes bassist Ju-ken, who has performed with Gackt and X Japan’s Yoshiki. They have released one album and three singles. The tour took in 60 shows in Japan and the U.S. and finishing off in Hawaii, which is in more than one way the meeting point between the two countries, was heavily symbolic. Hyde said, “I think it’s great that an instrument of war can be used to send out a message of peace like this.”
Kitano Takeshi (62, profile) is returning to the movie genre that established him as one of the world’s top directors. It was revealed at the weekend that he started filming last month on his first violent action movie in seven years. During that time he has turned out several introspective and quirky works which have puzzled audiences and received mixed reviews from critics. “It’s been a long time, but violence is interesting,” he said. The title and plot have not been revealed but Kitano’s 15th movie is said to center around a yakuza character, a device he last used in 2000’s less than successful “Brother.” The strong, and so far all-male, cast includes Miura Tomokazu (57), Shiina Kippei (45), Kase Ryo (34) and Kitamura (71) all in yakuza roles, and Kohinata Fumiyo (55) as the sole detective. All the actors are working with Kitano for the first time. Well established at the time as one of Japan’s top comedians, Kitano made his directorial debut 20 years ago with the self-explanatory “Sono Otoko, Kyobo ni Tsuki” (Violent Cop). 1993’s “Sonatine” gangster flick won multiple awards and made the BBC’s Top 100 best movies of the 20th century. In 1997, “Hana-bi” earned Kitano the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival and a whole new level of respect at home. His last violent movie was his interpretation of the blind samurai tale “Zatoichi” in 2003.