Management for actor Higashiyama Noriyuki and actress Kimura Yoshino formally acknowledged the couple’s relationship for the first time on Saturday. A fax sent to the media, issued in response to a story in the tabloids, said that the two were in a “serious relationship.” Higashiyama (43), a member of the former Johnny’s Jimusho idol group Shonentai, has been at the center of romantic rumors before, but the statement is a first, indicating that a marriage announcement may be just around the corner. His previously reported partners include actress Uchiyama Rina (28) and TV Asahi announcer Takeuchi Emi (33). But he doesn’t have the image of a player and is described as one of the most professional stars in the Johnny’s stable. In fact, he is said to be the right-hand man of agency boss Johnny Kitagawa (78).
Higashiyama and Kimura (33) started dating after they appeared together in a stage production in March 2008. He was just out of a 2-and-a-half year romance with Uchiyama, and Kimura had just broken up with actor Iseya Yusuke (33), with whom she appeared in the 2006 Hollywood movie “Silence.” As for possible wedding plans, the pair will probably wait until the spring, as they have a busy couple of months ahead. Kimura is appearing in the Fuji TV drama series “Nakanai to Kimeta Hi” from January and Higashiyama will be preparing for a stage role in “Curtains” that starts in February.
• A small fire caused the cancellation of last night’s scheduled preview screening of the movie “Rambling Heart.” There were no injuries at the Yamano Hall in Tokyo, where the fire broke out in the morning and burned the screen. Authorities are investigating the cause of the fire. Just the night before, actor Kiriyama Ren (24) had pulled out of the event with the flu.
Takaso Yuichi (41), husband of former actress and top idol Sakai Noriko (38), got his sentence at the Tokyo District Court on Friday morning. Like his wife earlier this month he was found guilty on charges of possession and use of amphetamines, and like her he got the sentence sought by prosecutors. In Takaso’s case that was a 2-year prison sentence, suspended for four years. The verdict was somewhat more harsh than the 18-month sentence, suspended for three years, received by Sakai. This was no doubt because Takaso was the heavier user and introduced Sakai to drugs in the first place. Prosecutors said, “He has admitted to his drug addiction, to having a regular habit, and was found in possession of a quantity equivalent to 300 fixes. He was the one who obtained the drugs so the chances of re-offending are high.” Takaso and Sakai are expected to initiate divorce proceedings as soon as the law allows, which will be next month.
Sakai, meanwhile, has enrolled in a university course to become a social worker and appeared in a video promoting Souzou Gakuen University. The video, uploaded to YouTube featured stills from Sakai’s recent orientation at the school and her speaking about her encounters with other students.
Talento Kameyama Fusayo (photo left) died at a hospital in Kanagawa Prefecture on Monday after suffering from cardiac arrest at her home. She was just 42. Kameyama joined the Yoshimoto Kogyo talent agency in the mid-1980s and performed as a solo comedienne. In 1989 she formed a manzai duo with Satomi Masato, her Yoshimoto mentor and formerly one half of the popular duo The Bonchi. The duo won the Kamigata Manzai Taisho award in 1999 but split up after Kameyama married and became pregnant in 2001. She later worked as a TV commentator and gave talks about sex education.
• Visual-kei pop duo Hangry & Angry got to hang with visiting Canadian rockers Nickelback yesterday. Former Morning Musume members Yoshizawa Hitomi (24) and Ishikawa Rika (24) presented the four members of the band with traditional yukata at their show at Studio Coast in Shin-Kiba, west of Tokyo. The duo, formed last year, will start their first nationwide concert tour in January.
• Itoh Misaki (32) had a wedding ceremony in Hawaii yesterday, this time for real. The last time the actress was at the Calvary by the Sea church in Honolulu, it was to film a scene for the movie “Life – Tengokude Kimini Aetara” in which she played the wife of surfer Iijima Natsuki (1966-2005). But yesterday she walked down the aisle for real, wearing a wedding dress designed by her friend, talento Kanda Uno (34). Itoh and Enomoto Yoshinori (42), CEO of major pachinko company Kyoraku Sangyo, registered their marriage in Japan last week. But they decided to hold their ceremony in Hawaii, where they first met a year ago as bridesmaid and best man at the wedding of actress Uematsu Mami (32). They were joined yesterday by about 100 family and friends.
The drug-related arrest and trial of former top idol Sakai Noriko (38) is being made into a movie, it was revealed yesterday. The story was the biggest celebrity scandal in years and is still unfolding, as midnight last night was the deadline for an appeal of Sakai’s 18-month, 3-year suspended prison sentence. After her trial she enrolled at a university and will study to qualify as a social worker. She and her husband, who was also found guilty of possession and use of amphetamines, are said to be planning to divorce.
The case was extensively covered in the media over the last few months, so it’s unlikely that anything new will come out in the movie. It is an adaptation of the book “Sakai Noriko – Kakureta Sugao” (The Hidden True Face of Sakai Noriko) by showbiz reporter Nashimoto Masaru. Filming has already started under the direction of Kasahara Masao, with a former Takarazuka star playing the role of Sakai. To be titled “Setsuna,” a Buddhist word for the briefest moment in time, it is scheduled for release in January.
• Up and coming actor Ichihara Hayato (22) has switched from baseball to boxing. Having played the long-haired ace pitcher in the high school baseball hit “Rookies,” he has shaved his head and hit the gym for the role of a talented teen fighter in “Box!” Under the guidance of former Japan champion Tabata Noriyuki (45), he has getting into shape before filming starts in the New Year. The movie is being produced by the same Toei Studios/TBS team that made Rookies into the biggest domestic box office hit of the year (it made ¥8.5 billion). The cast also includes Kora Kengo (22), Kashii Yu (22) and Kakei Toshio (47).
• The government said Tuesday that it will decide within the year on whether to give the People’s Honor Award to the late Morishige Hisaya. The renowned actor died of old age on November 10 at the age of 96. He would be the 18th recipient of the award, which was most recently received by actress Mori Mitsuko (89) in July. Morishige would be just the third artist to receive both the People’s award and the Order of Cultural Merit.
The PR campaign for this year’s Kohaku is picking up steam. NHK is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its annual New Year’s Eve song contest “Kohaku Uta Gassen” and wanted to get some big names on the bill. As we previously reported, they have singer-actor Fukuyama Masaharu, who will appear via satellite hookup from Kochi. That’s the hometown of the legendary samurai Sakamoto Ryoma, the role Fukuyama will play from January in the year-long taiga drama series on the public network. They also have reunited folk group Alice, who’ll be on the show for the first time in nine years. And over the weekend, NHK announced the artists who’ll be making their debut on the show.
But the biggest name is that of Arashi (photo left), the Johnny’s Jimusho idol group who are celebrating their 10th anniversary this year. The invitation will culminate a great year for Arashi (translates as “storm”), who have the two best-selling singles of 2009, a million-selling greatest hits album, and whose five members are in movies and all over the TV schedule. With SMAP appearing on Kohaku for the 17th time, Tokio for the 16th, and newcomers NYC Boys, there will be four Johnny’s acts on the bill for the first time in 21 years. SMAP member Nakai Masahiro will again be co-presenter with actress Nakama Yukie.
The other debutants this year are: Remiromen, Flumpool, Funky Monkey Babys, Kimura Kaela and Mizuki Nana. Kamiji Yusuke will appear solo, though he was a member of the trio Shuchishin last year. Meanwhile, pop group Exile will follow up their recent performance for the Emperor with their fifth Kohaku appearance. But they have a long way to go before they catch up with the likes of Wada Akiko (33rd time), Mori Shinichi (42nd) or Kitajima Saburo (46th).
• Japan has lost another of its greatest postwar lyricists. Oka Toshio (photo right) died of kidney failure last night at a Tokyo hospital. He was 92. He took up a writing career at the age of 18 and became a reporter for the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper in 1942. After WWII he joined Nippon Columbia as a lyricist. Over the next three decades he turned out dozens of hits including “Koukou Sannensei” and “Tokyo no Bus Girl.” He also wrote the popular children’s song “Neko Funjatta” and the themes to several popular anime. He was honored with an Order of the Sacred Treasure medal from the Emperor in 1988.
Playboy kabuki star Ichikawa Ebizo (31) is on the verge of finally settling down. He and freelance newscaster Kobayashi Mao (27) spoke yesterday for the first time about their relationship and said they plan to get engaged in the near future. Ichikawa spoke to reporters in front of his home in Tokyo shortly before 11pm last night. “When I first met her last December I had a feeling this would be the person I would be with.” He said he proposed at the end of June, adding “I will love her forever.” Renowned as a playboy after relationships with such actresses as Yonekura Ryoko (34), Sato Eriko (27) and Takaoka Saki (36), he refused to be taunted when a reporter asked, “Is it time to pay the piper?” He replied by saying simply, “She’s a wonderful person, so I guess it is.”
Meanwhile Kobayashi was the one who started the media buzzing with a brief mention at a PR event yesterday afternoon, before making a formal announcement on the TBS “News Zero” show last night. She first met Ichikawa while interviewing him for the show on the subject of “an encounter that changed your life.” An ardent kabuki fan, she watched Ichikawa perform every night for a week after that interview and is a regular visitor to the Kabukiza theater in Tokyo. The speed of the marriage plans has caused the usual speculation as to whether Kobayashi is pregnant but it’s been reported that she’s not. Ichikawa’s father, Danjuro XII (who previously performed under the Ebizo stage name), is performing this month and both father and son have performances scheduled for January, so a formal engagement is likely to be held in December.
Ichikawa, formally Ebizo XI, is one of the “princes” of kabuki, coming from a long theatrical lineage. Together with other handsome young stars such as Nakamura Shido, he has helped keep kabuki popular with younger audiences. They regularly appear in movies and TV dramas – Ichikawa played the lead in NHK’s yearlong taiga drama series “Musashi” in 2003. And their off-stage antics have helped keep them in the gossip columns.
Kobayashi, on the recommendation of her older sister Maya (30), also a freelance TV announcer, first made a name for herself on the Sanma-hosted NTV variety show “Koi no Karasawagi” while a student at Sophia University. She became a weather reporter for Fuji TV in 2003 and the following year had a part in a late-night drama. From 2005 she started appearing regularly in dramas on several networks. She joined the News Zero team when the show was launched in October 2006.
Management for actress Itoh Misaki (32) announced yesterday that she got married to Enomoto Yoshinori (42), CEO of major pachinko company Kyoraku Sangyo. Two met last November when they were bridesmaid and best man at the Hawaii wedding of talento Uematsu Mami (32), and started dating in January. They plan to also tie the knot in Hawaii, with a church wedding and reception planned for Oahu on November 24. Yesterday, after they visited Itoh’s family home in Fukushima Prefecture, Enomoto registered their marriage at the municipal office. Itoh became one of the most widely seen faces in Japan a few years ago after appearing in successful TV dramas and movies such as “Densha Otoko” and “Umineko” and a seemingly endless string of TV commercials. She has no drama roles scheduled for the rest of this year but is said to be planning to continue her acting career. In 1988 Enomoto entered the pachinko business started by his father in 1952. He was made a director in 1998, vice-president in 2005, and he took over the business in 2006.
Sakai Noriko (38) started to get her life back on track yesterday, ten days after she was found guilty on charges of drug possession and use and received a 3-year suspended sentence. Sakai, described in the media these days as a “former actress,” visited the campus of Souzou Gakuen University in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, where she has enrolled in the social work department. She toured the campus, about an hour north of Tokyo on the shinkansen, chatting with other students and even enjoying a tea ceremony in the school’s tearoom. She was soberly but fashionably dressed in dark blue and her hair, which was black for her trial last week, was again dyed brown. She was accompanied by an entourage that included Aizawa Masahisa (60), the former president of her management company, Sun Music, who demoted himself from the post over the scandal. Aizawa has been like a substitute father for Sakai since recruiting her as a teenager. Speaking on her behalf yesterday he said, “We had planned for her to attend the school about once a month, but from December on she will be focusing on online learning.” He added, “She is smiling like she’s just returned to her school days.”
• Singer-actor Fukuyama Masaharu (40) has been named to the lineup for this year’s “Kohaku Uta Gassen.” It will be his second appearance on NHK’s annual New Year’s Eve concert, and the first since he sang “melody” in 1993. The appearance is undoubtedly tied to the fact that Fukuyama is playing the lead role in next year’s taiga drama. In the 2010 yearlong historical drama series, “Ryomaden,” he will play the legendary 19th century samurai Sakamoto Ryoma. Usually the following year’s taiga star appears on Kohaku as a judge, and in fact Fukuyama will be the first solo artist to do so as a performer. His popularity is such that an on-stage appearance is likely to give the show a needed ratings boost. In his 20th anniversary year, he performed at Nippon Budokan for the first time; went on a 4-month nationwide concert tour; released two singles in the same year for the first time since 2000; and released his first original album since 2001.
Singer Moritomo Arashi is making a comeback 10 years after the breakup of one of the country’s major rock bands. The former vocalist of defunct rock band T-Bolan, Morimoto (44) said yesterday that he is releasing a solo single later this month. “Kizuna,” due out on November 26, is his first release since T-Bolan split up at the end of 1999. At the time, the band members said the split was due to musical differences, but then Moritomo revealed that he was suffering from psychogenic dysphonia. The medical disorder is a loss of voice caused by stress or emotional trauma. Moritomo underwent a couple of years of rehabilitation before becoming a radio presenter in 2001. In August 2006, he sang the national anthem before a hugely anticipated WBA boxing world title match that drew a TV audience rating of over 41%. He is scheduled to perform for 2,000 lottery winners at a “fan meeting” in Shibuya, Tokyo on Christmas Day. The roots of T-Bolan go back to 1987 and the band made their major label debut in 1991 with the single “Kanashimi wa Itaiyo.” They followed that up with a string of hits and had combined single and album sales of over 15 million. Their final live performance was in Osaka in 1996.
• Rakugo-ka Shunputei Shocho (56, photo right) was arrested in September for filming up a woman’s skirt with his mobile phone while riding an escalator in the Tokyo district of Shinjuku, it was revealed yesterday. Officially he has been said to be off sick since missing a performance on September 12. Shunputei entered the world of rakugo, traditional comic storytelling, while a student at Meiji University in 1975. He progressed rapidly through the ranks and became a headliner in 1985.
Just how popular is Johnny’s heartthrob Yamashita Tomohisa (24) right now? Well the media are making a lot of the fact that he already has another prime time drama scheduled for January, just two seasons after his latest headliner. He played the lead role of a basketball player in the summer Fuji TV drama series “Buzzer Beat – Gakepuchi no Hero,” which aired in the “golden” Monday 9pm time slot. Oguri Shun now occupies the autumn slot with the drama “Tokyo Dogs,” but will hand over to the second series of Fuji’s “Code Blue – Doctor Heli Kinkyu-kyumei” in January. This is described as the first time it has happened since the time slot became a fixture for the most popular drama series in 1987. And the return of Code Blue, in which “Yama-P” plays a medical helicopter pilot cadet, is in itself an indication of the popularity of its star. The show also has some hot young female stars, including Aragaki Yui (21), Toda Erika (21), and Higa Manami (23). But perhaps the biggest indicator of Yama-P’s popularity is the fact that his image barely appears on the Fuji website for the show. A Google search reveals only distorted images from the original series or scans of DVD covers and the like. That’s how protective Johnnys are of their hottest properties.
Shiina Ringo (30) is one of the more talented singer-songwriters in Japanese pop. With a strong independent spirit, she has maintained a rare non-populist and uncommercial approach to her career as a solo artist and as vocalist of the band Tokyo Jihen. Until now. From today she is appearing in her first ever TV commercial, for the Glico product Watering Kiss Mint gum. She doesn’t speak in the CM but does a neat bit of moonwalking, and it features the latest Tokyo Jihen song “Nodoteki Sanpunkan.”
Watch the CM here.