Monthly Archives: October 2009

Sanyutei Enraku Dies at 76


Sanyutei Enraku (photo center front), the man who for a generation was the face of rakugo, died at his son’s Tokyo home on October 29 of lung cancer. He was 76. His death was announced the following day by his son, Hiroie, who is also president of the Wakatake Company management agency which represented his father. Real name Yoshikawa Hiroumi, he suffered from pneumonia and TB as a child and this had a long-term affect on his health. Ten years ago he suffered from kidney failure and required dialysis three times a week ever since. He was found to have stomach cancer in November 2007 and underwent surgery for lung cancer in April 2008. The lung cancer reappeared in May of this year. When he started out as a rakugo-ka, he decided he would quit if he didn’t get promoted to the rank of “shinuchi” or star performer by the age of 30. With the stage name of Sanyutei Zensho, he managed to do it with just three buy prednisone online. At that time he succeeded to the name of Sanyutei Enraku V. From the time it first went on air in 1966, he was part of the weekly rakugo show “Shoten.” He was on and off the show over the next few decades before becoming the main presenter in 1983. Health problems forced him to retire from the show in 2006.

Wake Held for Minamida Yoko

Minamida Yoko's Wake

A wake was held yesterday for the late actress Minamida Yoko, who died on October 21 at the age of 76 following a brain hemorrhage. About 500 people attended the wake at the Koshoden Hall at Zojoji temple in central Tokyo. They included her husband, actor Nagato Hiroyuki (75, photo bottom left) and her brother-in-law, actor Tsugawa Masahiko (69, bottom center). Nagato went to the wake straight after finishing the last show in a run at the nearby Meiji-za theater. The two were considered one of the closest married couples in Japanese showbiz, and in recent years Nagoto had taken care of his wife as she battled dementia. Sources said that some of Minamida’s favorite photos, along with a kimono and obi were placed with her in her coffin. It was surrounded by thousands of freesias, her favorite flower, and the hall was filled with the song “Maui Waltz,” a favorite of Minamida and her husband.

Earlier story:

Sayonara, Minamida Yoko (Oct. 22, 2009)

• The Tokyo apartment belonging to Sakai Noriko (38) is likely to be put up for auction or rent, according to the Sports Hochi news website. The disgraced former top idol singer is said to be planning to study welfare and nursing care and will give up her 140sq.m. Minami Aoyama apartment to pay for it. The luxury apartment would have sold for over ¥100 million when new and can still command a rent of around ¥400,000 per month. Renovation of the apartment was recently completed and it is said to be completely empty.

Though there has been no official announcement, Souzou Gakuen University in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture is considered the most likely place for Sakai to study. The university has a social work department and facilitates e-learning, which would help prevent the star’s enrollment from disrupting campus life.

Nakamura, Maeda Have Big Heavy Wedding

Nakamura Kantaro, Maeda Ai

Kabuki actor Nakamura Kantaro (27) and actress Maeda Ai (26) held their wedding ceremony and reception at the Hotel Okura in central Tokyo yesterday. The couple’s relationship began in 2001 when they appeared together in the NHK drama “Hikari no Teikoku.” Yesterday’s event was attended by more than 640 guests, including all the major kabuki names and many stars of showbiz and sports. At the wedding ceremony, Maeda’s father carried a portrait of her mother, who died in January of last year, while the groom’s father, actor Nakamura Kanzaburo (56), talked sentimentally about how he and his wife also married in the Hotel Okura 30 years ago.

Maeda wore an elaborately designed kimono said to have been restored from one made more than 400 years ago in the Momoyama Era. “This kimono is really heavy,” she said. “I guess I’m taking on a pretty ‘heavy’ responsibility today.” Entering the world of traditional Japanese theater is always viewed as tough for those not born into it, even if they are moving across from the regular showbiz community. Over the next couple of years, she’ll be expected to support her husband as he prepares to take the venerable stage name of Nakamura Kankuro VI in 2012. Yesterday’s event was heavy with traditional features, including the breaking of a sake cask and wadaiko drummers. The newlyweds gave a press conference after the reception, showing off their rings and saying they plan to honeymoon next month at an onsen resort. Meanwhile, the father of the groom had a bit too much to drink and canceled his planned press conference.

Earlier story:

Nakamura Kantaro, Maeda Ai to Marry (Jan. 7, 2009)

• Also looking beautiful yesterday was actress Kuroki Meisa (21, photo right), who was among the guests at the Japan premiere of the Michael Jackson documentary “This Is It.” Also attending the event at the Roppongi Hills Arena in central Tokyo was the legendary Lionel Richie (60) and many other local stars. Not among them was SMAP member Nakai Masahiro (37), but that was because he was the only celebrity invited from Japan to the U.S. premiere in Los Angeles (X Japan’s Yoshiki was there too, but he lives in L.A.). He appeared live on the “SMAPxSMAP” variety show via satellite hookup.

Kurosawa’s Art Director Dies at 85

Muraki Yoshiro, Kurosawa Akira

Muraki Yoshiro, art director on most of Kurosawa Akira’s classic movies, died on Monday night of heart failure at his home in Setagaya, Tokyo. He was 85. Muraki first worked with the cinematic master on “Yoidore Tenshi” (Drunken Angel) in 1948 and was on occasion his production designer, art director and sometime costume designer. In total, the four-time Academy Award nominated Muraki worked on 19 of Kurosawa’s 30 films. His Oscar nominations were: three for Best Art Direction for his work in the films “Tora Tora Tora” (1970), “Kagemusha” (The Shadow Warrior, 1980) and “Ran” (Revolt, 1985); and one for Costume Design for his work in “Yojimbo” (The Bodyguard, 1961). “Kagemusha” shared the Palme d’Or at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival. Muraki was also involved in 1999’s samurai drama “Ame Agaru” (After the Rain), a homage to the late Kurosawa which used his script and was directed by his closest collaborator, Koizumi Takashi.

Aftermath of the Sakai Noriko Trial

Sakai Noriko, Ito Misaki

As someone who was molded into a starlet from her mid-teens and has lived her life in the media spotlight, Sakai Noriko (38, photo left) will always have to contend with preconceptions. Once considered one of the “purer” idols, the arrest of both her and her husband on drug charges has come as a major shock. The authorities no doubt see it both as a blow to their anti-drugs efforts and also as a chance to send a strong message.

So, Sakai is saying and doing the right things, unlike the evasion and mixed stories that followed the initial arrest of her husband, Takaso Yuichi, in early August. At his trial last week, Takaso said he hoped he can once again live with his wife and their son, just as a good family man should. But the media not to subtly portrayed him in a bad light, as he if is the only real villain in the case. Yesterday Sakai said that divorce might be best, showing that she’s prepared to sacrifice her marriage if it helps keep her and her husband off the drugs. The orchestrated questions from prosecutors and Sakai’s autocue answers about the dangers and addictiveness of drugs made yesterday seem less like a trial than an anti-drug campaign message.

Aizawa Masahisa (60), the man who has been like a father to Sakai during her entire career, stepped down as president of Sun Music in September to take his share of responsibility for the case. The company terminated Sakai’s contract and Aizawa said that that he had agreed to be a character witness at the trial only because Sakai’s step mother was unable to do so. She is currently in rehabilitation following cancer surgery, which ties in with Sakai’s claim that she wants to study nursing.

And media comments about Sakai’s court appearance yesterday have been predictably harsh. Producer Terry Ito (59) said about her testimony, “She gets full marks for delivering her speech like the actress she is. It was clear that she had rehearsed it well.” He added, “This case will be remembered for years, and it will be really tough for her to bounce back from it. It’s going to be hell for her.” Manga-ka Yaku Mitsuru (50) said, “If she gets saddled with the financial costs of what she’s done, she’ll be deeply in debt. She can no longer afford to be choosy, and should be ready to pose nude if need be.”

Earlier stories:

Sakai Noriko Out, Gives Brief Press Conference (Sep. 18, 2009)

Police Issue Arrest Warrant for Noripi (Aug. 7, 2009)

• Despite denials by her management, popular actress Ito Misaki is expected to announce soon that she’s getting married next month. A story appeared in today’s issue of women’s weekly magazine “Josei Jishin” saying that Misaki (32, photo right) and pachinko company president Enomoto Yoshinori (40) were to tie the knot in Hawaii on November 24. The story said that Misaki planned to wear a dress designed by her friend, model turned fashion designer Kanda Uno (34). The two started dating after they met a year ago at the Hawaiian wedding of talento Uematsu Mami. Misaki’s Ken-on management agency say that the two are just friends and that they have received no notification from Misaki of any wedding plans. But the couple have been spotted together several times over the last year, including on a trip to the Yufuin onsen resort in March.

Don’t Be Cruel!

Beckii Cruel

The latest focus of Japanese otaku types is a 14-year-old English girl who calls herself Beckii Cruel. The Isle of Man native has developed a growing fan base from the videos that she started posting on YouTube in March. Most of them feature her dancing in her bedroom to J-Pop and anime tunes. Media hype here has compared her to another recent import, Leah Dizon (though their looks and otaku appeal are about the only similarity), and her videos on the local NicoNico Douga site have been viewed over 3 million times. She recently performed at the Enta Matsuri in Tokyo’s otaku mecca of Akihabara (photo), with some 600 fans turning up to show their support. Not one to miss out on a commercial opportunity, a DVD (“This is Beckii Cruel”) is due for release on December 19th. Judge for yourself: Beckii Cruel’s YouTube channel.

• There were no major new revelations today at the trial of former top idol singer Sakai Noriko (38). The huge media and public interest in the case was clear from the long lines of people waiting in the rain to get one of the 20 public gallery seats at the Tokyo District Court. The number was reported as 6,615, making it the second highest ever, after the almost 12,300 who tried to see the trial of Aum Shinrikyo cult leader Matsumoto Chizuo in 1996. Sakai admitted to all the charges against her – possession and use of amphetamines – and said she had been using the drugs once or twice a month for the last four years. She said she thought she and her husband, Takaso Yuichi (41), would probably have a better chance of rehabilitation if they divorce. Takaso was tried last week on the same charges, and they have a 10-year-old son. Asked about how she planned to return to society, Sakai said she hoped to study nursing. Prosecutors are seeking an 18-month prison sentence. The verdict will be handed down on November 9.

Bulgarian Movie Takes Top TIFF Prize

TIFF, Eastern Plays, Kamen Kalev

The Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) came to a close on Sunday with the big winner being “Eastern Plays.” A Bulgarian film directed by Kamen Kalev (photo center), it tells the story of two brothers dealing with racial intolerance in Eastern Europe. The movie won the Sakura Grand Prix award as well as Best Actor for Christo Cristov. Jury president Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (director of “Babel”) commented, “I was looking for films that generated emotions and reflections in me and ‘Eastern Plays’ did this,” he said. “This film has a truth that stands out – it has clear intentions and the director achieved that until the end. I’m not looking for reality but truthfulness. The film has a solid and strong exposure of the truth.” Other winners included Julie Gayet, who won Best Actress for the French drama “Eight Times Up”; Sebastián Cordero, who took the Special Jury Prize for the Spanish romance “Rabia.” Jacob Tierney was given the Audience Award for the Canadian comedy “The Trotsky.” The Japanese Eyes: Best Picture Award went to director Matsue Tetsuaki, who shot his film “Live Tape” in the western Tokyo suburb of Kichijoji.

• All media eyes will be on the Tokyo District Court today for the trial of former top idol singer Sakai Noriko (38). All the networks are planning to provide live coverage from outside the court. Charged with possession and use of amphetamines, the focus of the case is expected to be on just how heavy a user Sakai was. Her husband, Takaso Yuichi (41), had a one-day trial on the same charges last week and will receive his verdict next month.

Earlier stories:

Sakai Noriko Out, Gives Brief Press Conference (Sep. 18, 2009)

Police Issue Arrest Warrant for Noripi (Aug. 7, 2009)

Oshio Manabu Appears in Court

Oshio Manabu at the Tokyo District Court

Yesterday Oshio Manabu (31) was the latest celebrity to appear at the Tokyo District Court. The singer-actor was arrested in early August and charged with the use of MDMA (ecstasy), and prosecutors have sought an 18-month prison sentence. Reading from his testimony, they revealed that he had admitted taking ecstasy several times over the last couple of years, usually while on frequent visits to the U.S. Oshio was also implicated in the death of a woman with whom he took the drug on August 2 at the Roppongi Hills apartment of a friend. At the time, Oshio called not for an ambulance or the police but his manager, in an attempt to figure out a way to conceal his own drug use. He then moved to another apartment in the building before police and paramedics arrived. He has not been formally charged in relation to the death of former Ginza hostess Tanaka Kaori (30) and he has insisted that she was the one who provided the ecstasy. But the fact that the situation was not reported to the authorities until several hours after the estimated time of death has left open the possibility of criminal or civil charges being filed. More than 2,200 people waited outside the court today hoping for a chance to get one of the 20 public gallery seats. The court’s verdict is due to be handed down on November 2.

Earlier stories:

Oshio Manabu Prosecution Begins (Aug. 25, 2009)

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

Glay Win the Day


Rock band Glay got the verdict they were looking for at the Tokyo District Court yesterday. The court instructed the band’s former management company, Unlimited Group, to return the copyright on 147 songs and pay a total of ¥670 million in contract fees and royalties to the four band members. Glay first signed with Unlimited in 1998 and the contract stipulated that copyright on their songs belonged to the company, who would pay the band royalties. With Glay being one of Japan’s most commercially successful bands, that meant a serious amount of money was involved.

The band have had more than their share of legal and contractual problems, though they have largely remained “taboo” for the media (it has been speculated that this is because of connections with organized crime). Unlimited had originally won the band’s master license and joint control in a court case against Burning Productions (a company said to be owned by the yakuza). Financial problems with Unlimited came to a head in May 2005 and Glay terminated the contract. They were supported by Amuse, the office of Southern All Stars’s Kuwata Keisuke, in 2006 until new management was established by band founder Takuro. At the head of the new company, Lover Soul, was Inoguchi Hirohiko, the band’s former manager and executive producer at Unlimited, and right hand man to chairman Mashita Yukitaka. Mashita sued the band for the rights to their music (we can’t find any record of the result of that case). We can only hope that the latest court ruling will finally bring the saga to an end and the band can get back to focusing on their music.

Takaso Yuichi on Trial

Takaso Yuichi trial, Kato Natsuki

Yesterday saw the trial of Takaso Yuichi (41), husband of former top idol Sakai Noriko, at the Tokyo District Court. More than 1,500 people lined up in the morning (photo left) hoping for a chance to get one of the 20 seats in the public gallery, though even more are expected to turn out next Monday for Sakai’s trial. Both are charged with possession and use of amphetamines. Takaso arrived in court looking a lot smarter – in a gray suit and with his hair no longer dyed brown – than when he was released on bail on September 16. But the media pointed out several things that indicated his attitude wasn’t repentant enough. Though food and drink are prohibited in the courtroom, he walked in with a bottle of barley tea in his hand. He was described as alternatively dozing off and crying during his father’s testimony. When questioned, he said that the inconsistencies and lies in his early questioning by police had been to cover for his wife, who was on the run at the time but not yet the subject of an arrest warrant. He also said his lawyer had told him to say that he used the drugs in a public toilet rather than at his Tokyo apartment. The trial was wrapped up yesterday, with prosecutors seeking a 2-year prison sentence for Takaso, and the verdict is due to be handed down on November 22.

• Talento Kato Natsuki (24, photo right) is suing her management agency and former boyfriend for ¥30 million she says was stolen from her. Between May 2006 and February of this year, she was dating her manager who she says claimed he was putting the money into a savings account for her. Kato took the matter to the Tokyo District Court in August, where both the man and the agency have denied the charges.