Monthly Archives: September 2009

Matchy the Iron Man of Japanese Showbiz

Kondo Masahiko, Hagiwara Kenichi

Singer Kondo Masahiko (45, photo left) looked a bit battered at a press conference yesterday. With his right arm in a sling, “Matchy” said he had fractured his shoulder blade while participating in the Sado Island Long Distance International Triathlon last weekend. He has a long history of participation in sports and endurance events, and took part in the triathlon privately. After swimming 2km, and 10km into the cycling stage, he braked for a water stop and fell off his bicycle. “Though I noticed some pain,” he said, “I never thought about giving up.” He continued the race, finishing the 105km cycling and 20km run for a total time of 7 hours 13 minutes, well within the 8-hour target he had set for himself. Yesterday’s press event was for the La Festa Mille Miglia 2009 classic car rally, scheduled for October 10-13. The 1,000-mile (1,600km) race starts and ends in central Tokyo. Kondo says he still plans to take part for the full four days.

• Actress/singer Sakai Noriko says she has no wish to apply for bail just yet. Currently at the Tokyo Wangan police detention center, she was formally charged with the use of amphetamines yesterday, in addition to the earlier charge of possession. She and her husband, Takaso Yuichi (41) have admitted using the drugs while on a visit with their young son to Amami Oshima island in July. Sakai says she doesn’t want to cause a media frenzy and wouldn’t be able to see her son even if a bail application was approved. Her trial is set to open at the Tokyo District Court on October 26.

• Getting his life back on track recently is actor/singer Hagiwara Kenichi (59, photo right). He was back in the recording studio yesterday for the first time in seven years. He recorded the famous “Jidai Okure,” released by the late Kawashima Eigo (1952-2001) in 1986. The single will be available on online and mobile services from November 4. Popularly known by the nickname “Shoken,” Hagiwara started out as vocalist for hugely popular band The Tempters back in the late 1960s. He later went on to an award-winning acting career, but he is almost as renowned for his legal problems as his performing. He was first arrested in 1983 for marijuana possession. He was given a suspended jail sentence in 2004 for attempted blackmail in connection with a canceled movie role. Earlier that year he was fined for causing a traffic accident, and he was later caught speeding. He got divorced in March 2006.

• Singer Nishino Kana (20) is to be the first Japanese to promote Maybelline New York’s mascara. The company spotted her in a promo video and decided she was a good match with their young market. She appeared at a PR event in Tokyo yesterday and also performed her latest song, “Motto,” for the first time. The single is due for release on October 21.

Can Japan Repeat at the Oscars?

Dare Mo Mamotte Kurenai, Nobody to Watch Over Me

The Japanese movie industry has chosen its candidate to defend the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Looking to repeat this year’s success of “Okuribito” (Departures), the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan yesterday named Kimizuka Ryoichi’s “Dare Mo Mamotte Kurenai” (Nobody to Watch Over Me). The powerful 2-hour drama focuses on some of the more troubling aspects of modern Japanese society. The story revolves around a detective (Koichi Sato), who is assigned to protect a 15-year-old student (Mirai Shida) from public outrage and the media after her elder brother is arrested for the senseless murder of two young girls. As well as directing the feature, Kimizuka wrote the screenplay, for which he won an award at last year’s Montreal World Film Festival. “Daremo…” is his 14th movie and he is best known as the director of “Odoru Daisosasen” (Bayside Shakedown), Japan’s biggest ever box-office earner, and a series of sequels and spinoffs. As with those movies, the backing came from Fuji TV. The overseas Academy Award candidates will be whittled down to five in January and the awards show will be held in March.

Earlier story:

Japanese Win Big at Montreal Film Festival (Sep 3, 2008)

Eita, Kaela Find Romance

Eita, Kimura Kaela

Romance has blossomed between two of Japan’s up and coming young stars, according to this week’s issue of the weekly women’s magazine “Josei Seven.” Management for actor Eita (26) and singer Kimura Kaela (24) have acknowledged their relationship. The magazine captured the couple on film last Saturday, the night after Eita returned from the Montreal World Film Festival, where he had been promoting the movie “Dear Doctor.” The couple both worked on the 2006 movie “Kiraware Matsuko no Issho” (Memories of Matsuko) but they never shared the screen. They finally met through a mutual friend in August and the flame was lit. Kimura had recently broken up with Su (35) of the hip hop group Rip Slyme. Considered one of the most talented young actors, Eita started out as a model in 1999. He made his TV drama debut in Fuji TV’s “Sayonara Ozu-sensei” in 2001. His breakthrough came in the hugely popular Fuji series “Waterboys” in 2003. He made his theatrical debut this summer. Kimura, whose father is British, also got into the entertainment business as a model, for the teen fashion magazine “Seventeen” in 2001. She made her CD debut with “Level 42” in 2004. She had her first Oricon chart No.1 with her third album, “Scratch,” in 2007 and she performed solo at the Nippon Budokan the same year.

A Bad Week for Yoshimoto

Live Stand, Maeda Goro

Not such a good week so far for Yoshimoto Kogyo (profile). The major comic talent agency has canceled its biggest event of the year and has been threatened with a lawsuit by one of its veteran performers. The decision to cancel the “Live Stand 09 Osaka” event, scheduled for November 21-23, was made in an effort to avoid contributing to the anticipated spread of influenza this winter. A similar 3-day event held at the Makuhari Messe convention center in July drew 60,000 comedy fans.

Meanwhile veteran manzai-shi Maeda Goro (67) has threatened to sue Yoshimoto for slander. Maeda was suspected of involvement in threats and violence against fellow comedian Nakata Kausu (60), largely due to similarity between his handwriting and that in threatening letters sent earlier this year. He has not worked since May and was questioned by police in July, but he has not been charged with any crime. His lawyer says that Maeda’s handwriting has been expertly analyzed and was not a match for that in the letters. He said that he had written to Yoshimoto president Osaki Hiroshi (56) twice asking for a meeting but received no reply, “They won’t meet with us, so we decided to take the matter to court.” If the case goes ahead it would be in civil court, and Maeda is said to be seeking in the order of ¥100 million in damages as his career is effectively over. Sakata Toshio (67), his comic sidekick in the duo Comedy No.1 for more than 40 years, announced last week that he would be going solo.

Earlier stories:

End of the Road for Comedy No.1 (Sep. 3, 2009)

Maeda Case No Laughing Matter (May 26, 2009)

Negishi Wins Best Director Award at Montreal Fest

Viyon no Tsuma

Negishi Kichitaro (59) has won the best director award at the 33rd Montreal World Film Festival for the film “Viyon no Tsuma” (Villon’s Wife), distributor Toho Co. announced today. The Film Festival focuses on various kinds of films from all over the world but features few if any produced in Hollywood. The directorial awards marks a second consecutive good showing by Japanese movies at the event – last year, the film “Okuribito” (Departures) won the grand prize. Based on several short stories by the famous Dazai Osamu (1909-1948), “Viyon no Tsuma” was made in commemoration of this year’s 100th anniversary of his birth. With a strong cast led by Matsu Takako and Asano Tadanobu, the movie tells the story of the wife of a novelist who leads a catastrophic life. It is scheduled for release in theaters here on October 10.

Sayonara Once Again for Ishihara, Tamaki

Tamaki Koji, Ishihara Mariko

It seems it just wasn’t to be after all for singer Tamaki Koji (50) and actress Ishihara Mari (45). Their long and strange relationship, which saw them finally married in February, is rumored to have ended. A spokesperson for Tamaki’s management agency said on Saturday, “I’ve heard they split up, but we don’t know any more than that.” Ishihara said on her blog, “Only the two of us know the truth of the recent story and we are not prepared to talk to the media.” The couple registered their marriage in February, some 24 years after their relationship began. Back in the early 1980s when he was a huge star, Tamaki was married but became besotted with the young Ishihara, sending her a set of red underwear as a sign of his love. Their affair was exposed in the media in 1985, and Tamaki divorced the following year but the couple broke up soon afterwards. Over the years, Ishihara had relationships with a host of celebrities, but largely disappeared from Japanese show business. She was back in the limelight in 2006, when in her autobiography she broke a showbiz taboo by naming many of those celebrities. About a fifth of the book was about her relationship with Tamaki, and she went into great detail about how she contemplated suicide when their affair was exposed. She also revealed that in February 1986 she was hospitalized for more than a month with a broken vertebra after he had beaten her. The book was later made into a movie. Ishihara changed her stage name from Mariko to Mari earlier this year. One of Japan’s most recognizable music stars, Tamaki formed the rock band Anzen Chitai in 1973, though it wasn’t until the early 80s that they had their major record label debut and achieved stardom.

Fujiwara Norika Ready to Deliver

Fujiwara Norika, Sanfujinka no Onnatachi

Actress Fujiwara Norika (38, profile) has been busy getting herself back in the game since her divorce from comedian Jinnai Takanori (36) in the spring. She was recently featured in some particularly revealing “Cabaret” style photos, but we can assume that she will be dressed a bit differently for an upcoming TV role announced yesterday. In her first TV drama series appearance in two years she’ll have the starring role as a gynecologist in NTV’s “Gyne – Sanfujinka no Onnatachi.” The role is described as a serious, even cold-hearted one, and Fujiwara is said to be getting into it. As part of her preparation, she recently attended a birth by cesarean section. A producer of the series said, “This could well be the role that defines her career.” The strong cast also includes Itaya Yuka (34, photo left), Matsushita Yuki (41, photo right), Nakamura Hashinosuke (44) and Yashima Norito (38). The series will air on Wednesday nights from next month.

Earlier story:

Jinnai, Fujiwara Marriage to End After 2 Years (Mar. 19, 2009)

• Well, we’re into September and I saw my first Christmas tree of the year the other day, so it must be time for…Kohaku Uta Gassen announcements. NHK’s annual New Year’s Eve concert may not be the compulsory viewing it once was but it’s still one of the TV highlights of the year. And, always in search of a new gimmick, this year NHK have decided to start five minutes earlier than last year. So starting at 7:15pm and ending at 11:45pm, with a five-minute news break, the 60th edition of the show will be the longest yet. The theme for this year’s show is “the infinite power of song.”

Sato Ryuta, Hugh Jackman

Hollywood star Hugh Jackman (40) was in Tokyo yesterday for the Japan premiere of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” Local guests at the event included actress Kawashima Naomi (48) and actor Sato Ryuta (29). As Japan is said to have been decided as the location for the next X-Men movie, Sato made sure to put his bid in for a role.

End of the Road for Comedy No.1

Comedy No.1

Veteran Yoshimoto Kogyo (profile) duo Comedy No.1 have split up after performing together for 41 years. The decision was announced yesterday, several days after the duo had discussed their future. Sakata Toshio (67, photo left), the boke or funny man of the duo, is to go solo. Popularly known as “Aho no Sakata” (Sakata the Idiot) he vowed to be “I will work hard to be known as the No.1 idiot in Japan.” But the split most likely brings an end to the career of Maeda Goro (67, photo right), the duo’s tsukkomi or straight man. He’s been on sabbatical since May, when the handwriting in threatening letters sent to fellow Yoshimoto comedian Nakata Kausu (60) was found to be very similar to Maeda’s and he was questioned by police. Nakata, who in 2007 was rumored to be linked to a yakuza crime syndicate, was also the target of a violent attack back in January. Maeda has denied any involvement in either incident. A popular comedian, Nakata is known for his sharp tongue and the most common target of his verbal jabs in Sakata.

• Pro fighter Yamamoto “Kid” Norifumi (32) and model Malia (26) have divorced, they announced on their respective blogs yesterday. Yamamoto said that the blame lay entirely with him, that he had been too focused on hanging out with his friends while his wife was left to raise their three children. He added that he still only has eyes for his ex and hopes they will re-marry someday.

• Trial dates have been set for the two major ongoing celebrity drug cases. Takaso Yuichi (41), the husband of actress/singer Sakai Noriko, is set to appear at the Tokyo District Court on October 21. He is charged with both possession and use of amphetamines. A trial date has yet to be set for Sakai (38), who as yet has been charged only with possession. The couple are also thought likely to face each other in court in what would probably be an acrimonious divorce. Meanwhile, actor Oshio Manabu (31), released on bail on Monday, will be in court on October 23. At the moment he is charged only with the use of MDMA (ecstasy) and not in relation to the death of the woman he was with at the time.

Sun Music Execs Step Down in Shame

Aizawa Masahisa, Yamashita Tomohisa, Nishikido Ryo

The father and son who built Sun Music Production into a major talent management agency are stepping down from their posts as a sign of repentance. The decision, announced at a hastily arranged press conference yesterday by president Aizawa Masahisa (60), comes in the wake of the recent scandal caused by the drug arrest of top star Sakai Noriko. Aizawa will become company vice-president, while his father and company chairman Hideyoshi (79) will be an advisor. Both men and other company directors will also take salary cuts. Aizawa Snr. established the company in 1967 and his son took over in 2004. He became a substitute father figure for Sakai after her own father died shortly after she became a star. Sun Music moulded her first into a top idol singer and, after her marriage in 1998, into a squeaky clean Mama-san role model – an image shattered by her arrest. Aizawa Jnr. gave repeated pres conferences when Sakai was on the run and said he had no clue about her drug habit. Sun Music has launched the careers of other such stars as singer Matsuda Seiko, actress Adachi Yumi, comedian Kojima Yoshio, talento Becky, and actor turned Chiba Prefectural governor Morita Kensaku.

Related story:

Noripi Taken to Court (Aug. 10, 2009)

• Two Johnny’s Jimusho stars are the latest celebrities to be laid low by influenza. Yamashita Tomohisa (24, top right) and Nishikido Ryo (24, bottom right), both members of the pop group NEWS, were both diagnosed with the flu and have been forced to take a break from filming TV drama series. Yamashita is the star of the TBS basketball series “Buzzer Beat – Gakeppuchi no Hero,” while Nishikido is filming “Orutorosu no Inu” for Fuji TV. NEWS were among the main presenters of NTV’s 24-hour telethon over the weekend, which no doubt both worsened their condition and helped the virus spread among the many people who appeared on the live broadcast.

Oshio Manabu Out on Bail

Oshio ManabuAs actor Oshio Manabu (31) was released on bail yesterday, the media was critical of both his attitude and his dress sense. Though he has only been charged with drug use, his case involves the death of the woman with whom he took the drugs, so he is expected to show a degree of remorse in keeping with the gravity of the case. But when he left the Mita police station yesterday evening, he was casually dressed in a plaid shirt, khaki pants and – shock! – sandals. He bowed deeply and gave a brief statement of apology to the assembled reporters, but refused to answer any questions before being bundled into a waiting car. That car then led dozens of reporters and paparazzi on a 4-hour, 110km “chase” through the streets and expressways of the capital. It wasn’t until the car arrived at the home of Oshio’s lawyer that reporters confirmed that Oshio had been the person who hopped out at Kotake-mukaihara station and taken the subway.

Earlier stories:

Oshio Manabu Faces Drug Arrest (Aug. 4, 2009)

Yada Akiko Divorces Oshio Manabu (Aug. 8, 2009)

• It’s hardly a surprise that the latest single from SMAP (profile) is yet another No.1. “Sotto, Kyutto/Superstar” has sold 105,000 copies in its first week of release, helped by its tie-in with the Kusanagi Tsuyoshi Fuji TV drama series “Jinkyo Helper.” It’s the group’s 11th consecutive chart topper since “Freebird” in May 2002, and their 22nd in all. All 44 of their single releases have made the Top 10, tying for the record with J-pop queen Hamasaki Ayumi (30).