Monthly Archives: January 2010

Ebizo, Mao Announce Engagement

Ichikawa Ebizo, Kobayashi Mao

Kabuki star Ichikawa Ebizo (32) and freelance announced Kobayashi Mao (27) held a press conference yesterday to formally announce their engagement. The pair got engaged in December, but yesterday’s event was their first time together in public. Speaking to dozens of reporters and TV cameras at a hotel in central Tokyo, they said they will probably be holding a wedding ceremony and reception in July, though Ichikawa said they have yet to decide the exact date and venue. Kobayashi is scheduled to step down from her job as a presenter on the NTV show “News Zero” at the end of March, but plans to continue her career.
Earlier story:
Ebizo, Mao on the Verge of Marriage (Nov. 20, 2009)

From K-1 Fighter to Techno Star

Sudo Genki, World Order

Former K-1 fighter Sudo Genki (30) has reinvented himself as a techno musician and it seems to be paying off. A video featuring his new “performance unit” World Order has been viewed more than 125,000 times on YouTube and the eponymously titled song is now available as a digital download from the Recochoku service. Sudo wrote the words and music for the techno tune and also choreographed the robotic dance moves. Check out the video below.

Divorcee Celebs Go for Younger Men

Mihara Junko, Umemiya Anna

A couple of stories today showing that it’s not just the guys who go for younger partners. Actress Mihara Junko (45, photo left) may soon be tying the knot yet again, according to today’s issue of weekly magazine “Friday.” Her management has acknowledged that she is in a serious relationship with theater director Suenaga Yoshihiro (38). They said that romance started after she appeared in one of his stage productions in Tokyo last October.

Mihara married a racing driver in 1990, but they divorced in May 1999. Six months later, she was married to comedian Happy Happy (42). That marriage also ended in divorce in 2007. Mihara has suffered several miscarriages and had her womb surgically removed in 2008 after she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Suenaga is also a divorcee and has custody of a young daughter, who has been seen referring to Mihara as “Mama.”

• Meanwhile, talento Umemiya Anna (37, photo right) has acknowledged her romance with top American Football player Nakajima Yu (28). Returning from a location shoot in Australia, she spoke with reporters at Narita Airport yesterday. She said the relationship started just last December so it was too early to think about marriage. Umemiya has an 8-year-old daughter from a previous short-lived marriage. Nakajima is a wide receiver for the Kirin Beer Silver Star team in the X League and has represented Japan.

Ebizo, Mao to Meet Press
Kabuki star Ichikawa Ebizo (32) and freelance TV announcer Kobayashi Mao (27) are scheduled to give a press conference today to formally announce their engagement. The couple’s relationship was first revealed last November and their engagement ceremony took place at the Hotel Okura in Tokyo in December. But today’s event, also at a Tokyo hotel, will be their first appearance together in public.

Arashi NTV’s New Face of Saturday Night
NTV’s comedy showcase “Enta no Kamisama” is coming to the end of the road, and is being replaced by a variety show featuring Johnny’s Jimusho idol group Arashi. “Enta…” helped launch the careers of several comedians over the last few years but has been canceled from the end of March. Taking over the Saturday 10pm slot will be the five members of Arashi, currently riding a wave of huge popularity, in a show tentatively titled “Arashi ni Shiyagare.” The format will be such that the members film each show without knowing the details or who their special guests will be.

A Good Year at the Cinema
The box office numbers are in for 2009, and it was another good year for Japanese movies. There was an increase in total receipts for both domestic and overseas titles. But while 34 Japanese movies made over ¥1 billion, an increase of 6 over 2008, only 23 overseas movies passed that mark. The big Hollywood blockbusters were sequels (“Angels and Demons,” “Terminator 4”), and western movies made a total of ¥88.7 billion (+12.3%), while local productions made ¥117.4 billion (+1.3%). The box office total of ¥206 billion was the second highest on record, behind 2004’s ¥210 billion.

Blue Ribbon Award Winners Announced

Kimura Daisaku, Shofukutei Tsurube, Eita, Ayase Haruka

The winners of this year’s Blue Ribbon movie awards were announced yesterday. Kimura Daisaku (photo left) took the best movie award for “Tsurugi Tennoki” but at the age of 70, he said he was “a bit embarrassed” to receive a best newcomer award. Though he was regarded by the great Kurosawa Akira as Japan’s finest cinematographer, the movie marks his debut as a director. It has won several awards but this was the first time it was chosen as best movie. Asked about his next project, Kimura said, “I’d love to work with Takakura Ken.” The two worked together on 1999’s “Poppoya.”

The main acting awards went to Shofukutei Tsurube (58, “Dear Doctor,” photo center) and Ayase Haruka (24, “Oppai Volley,” photo right). Tsurube, a rakugoka and popular TV presenter, made his movie debut more than 30 years ago and has now accumulated six awards for his first starring role as a country doctor. His co-star Eita (27, photo center) won the best supporting actor award.

Ayase, who has recently played off-the-wall characters like a cyborg in “Boku no Kanojo wa Saiboogu” and a blind swordswoman in “Ichi,” said she was happy to return to a “normal” role for her latest movie. But she was less than happy about the title, which translates as “Titty Volleyball.” She said, “When I heard the title, I thought it was a dirty movie. Even when I realized it was a movie about youth, I really wanted them to change the title.” The best supporting actress award went to Fukada Kyoko (27) for her role as the villainess Doronjo in the live action adaptation of the “Yatterman” anime.

The 52nd Blue Ribbon awards, given out by a group of seven Tokyo-based newspapers, will be presented on February 16.

Natsu Yuusuke Dies of Cancer
Natsu Yuusuke, Shibasaki Kou, Takuya

Actor Natsu Yuusuke (photo left) died yesterday morning of stomach cancer at a Tokyo hospital. He was 59. He became ill last autumn and underwent surgery at the end of the year. Real name Taura Hisayuki, Natsu started out in Osaka as the keyboard player in a band that featured the young Wada Akiko (59) as vocalist. When Wada went to Tokyo to make her pro debut, Natsu went with her. He joined the band Ox, who were part of the popular “group sounds” scene. He later moved to acting and was best known for a supporting in the popular 1980s detective drama “Tokuzosai Zensen,” where he also met his wife, actress Ito Megumi (60). Their daughter is top Takarazuka actress Aika Chisaki.

Shibasaki Kou, Tatsuya Split
Actress-singer Shibasaki Kou (28, photo center) and Uverworld vocalist Takuya (30, photo right) have split up, it was revealed yesterday. The couple’s relationship started in the autumn of 2008 and was made public shortly afterward, and they were often spotted out on the town together. But sources say that they have both been so busy with work that they drifted apart and finally broke up at the end of last year. 2009 was a particularly busy year for Shibasaki, who made the movie “Shokudo Katatsumuri” (in theaters from February 6), the Fuji TV special drama “Wagaya no Rekishi” (on air this spring) and went to Scandanavia to shoot the photo book “0805.” This year she’ll be working on the big screen adapatation of the “Ooku” period drama and embarking on a nationwide concert tour. Uverworld, who spent six months touring last year, will be on the road again in 2010, their 10th anniversary.

Love Lost, Love Found

Utada Hikaru

Some news on the relationships front. J-pop star Utada Hikaru (27) has broken up with the older artist (35) she had been dating for some time. In the last few months she had been busy planning her first overseas tour, her first concerts in three and a half years. Sources close to the singer say that the revival of her music career led to the couple spending less and less time together and eventually drifting apart. She updated her blog for the first time in three months on January 19 – her 27th birthday – and celebrated not with a romantic dinner but with a concert in Los Angeles, which she said was a bit “embarrassing.” The current tour, which started in Honolulu on January 15 and ends in London, takes in a series of small venues of 800-1,500 capacity.

Utada (profile) became a teen J-pop sensation in 1999 when her debut “First Love” became the best-selling Japanese album of all time. She took the media by surprise when she married film maker Kiriya Kazuaki in September 2002, but they divorced in March 2007.

Amuro Tops 5 Asian Charts
Another J-pop divorcee, Amuro Namie (32), is the first Japanese female artist to top the weekly pop charts in five Asian regions. Her greatest hits album, “Best Fiction,” made No.1 in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong when it was released last July. But her latest release, “Past-Future,” has done better still, adding the Singapore chart to the list. The album stayed at No.1 for six weeks in Hong Kong, a first for a Japanese artist, and has so far chalked up four weeks at No.1 in Singapore. Amuro is currently preparing for a massive 8-month nationwide tour that starts on April 3 and will see her perform 73 shows. Despite some rumors to the contrary, she says her recently revealed romance with comedian Tamura Atsushi (36) is going just fine.

Marines Star, CanCam Model an Item
Nishioka Tsuyoshi, Tokuzawa Naoko

Romance has blossomed between Chiba Lotte Marines infielder Nishioka Tsuyoshi (25) and fashion model Tokuzawa Naoko (25), it was reported yesterday. The two have been spotted out together in Tokyo and Nishioka has publicly acknowledged the relationship. The handsome baseball star was previously linked with talento Sakura (26) and pro golfer Koga Miho (27). Tokuzawa is a model for the “CanCam” fashion magazine and has been called the “Post Ebi-chan,” following in the footsteps of the hugely popular CanCam model Ebihara Yuri (30).

Tsuka Kohei Battles Cancer

Tsuka Kohei, Kuroki Meisa, Oshio Manabu

Management for Tsuka Kohei (61, photo left) announced yesterday that the renowned playwright is currently in hospital undergoing treatment for lung cancer. The latest production of one of his most famous works, “Hiryuden 2010 – Last Princess,” is already well into rehearsals and is set to start as scheduled on February 3 at the Shimbashi Enbujo theater in central Tokyo. Tsuka is following rehearsals by videotape and issuing his directions from a hospital bed, and is confident that the production is “almost perfect.”

Casting for the show was completed last summer, with the lead role going to up-and-coming actress Kuroki Meisa (21, photo center), who joined Tsuka’s theater group when she was 15. She and fellow cast members, including Tokushige Satoshi (31) and Azuma Mikihisa (40), only learned of Tsuka’s condition yesterday, though he himself was diagnosed in November. When he pulled out of a PR event on December 9, he said simply that he had a “fever caused by a cold.” He began chemotherapy from January 6 but continued to visit the theater for rehearsals.

An ethnic Korean whose given name is Kim Bon Un, Tsuka was born in Fukuoka Prefecture. He became involved in the theater while a student at Keio University. He uses all kana characters for his pen-name, an idea he said was inspired by manga-ka Chiba Tetsuya. A famously heavy smoker, his medical condition has forced him to quit the habit.

• Former actor Oshio Manabu (31, photo right) is to become the first celebrity to receive a jury trial in Japan. He is already serving a suspended prison sentence for drug use, and yesterday prosecutors filed a supplementary indictment at the Tokyo District Court in relation to the drug-induced death last August of 30-year-old bar hostess Tanaka Kaori (see earlier stories below).

The jury system was only introduced in Japan last year. Up to the end of last October, there had been 47 such trials and all ended in a guilty verdict. 32 of those accused received prison sentences between 3 and 20 years. Regarding the Oshio case, lawyer and former public prosecutor Osawa Takayuki said, “The case will focus on two points – whether Oshio gave drugs to Tanaka, and whether his failure to call for medical help led to her death.” He added, “In a similar case in 1989, the accused was given an 8-year prison sentence. I imagine the verdict in this case will be about the same or even a bit more severe.”
Earlier stories:
Oshio Manabu Arrested Again (Jan. 4, 2010)
Oshio Manabu Gets Suspended Sentence (Nov. 2, 2009)
Oshio Manabu Faces Drug Arrest (Aug. 4, 2009)

Mother of Gomaki in Apparent Suicide

Goto Maki

More tragedy has befallen J-pop star Goto Maki (24), who found her mother dying on the street in front of her home in Edokawa Ward, Tokyo late Saturday night. Goto Tokiko (55) was rushed to hospital but declared dead two hours later. She is reported as having been drinking and fell – or jumped – from a third-floor window. No suicide note was found but police consider it highly likely that the death was not accidental.

“Gomaki,” as the former Morning Musume star is popularly known, told police that she and her elder sister were at home when her mother returned drunk at about 10:30pm on Saturday. She went upstairs mumbling to herself about committing suicide, and less than half an hour later Maki heard a loud noise. Running upstairs she found a window open and her mother’s bloodied body on the street below.

Tokiko raised four children alone after her husband died in a fall while mountaineering on Nantaisan in 1996. She ran a bar near her home, but it was closed in the summer of 2007. Neighbors and friends say she never recovered from the loss of her husband and drank and smoked heavily. The family’s financial support came mainly from Maki, who joined the second lineup of Morning Musume in 1999. Her pop success allowed her to buy a house for her mother in 2002, which they shared with her two elder sisters and a brother-in-law. Her younger brother Yuuki (23), whose own brief pop career was cut short by underage drinking in 2002, was arrested in 2008 for robbery and assault and is currently serving a five-and-a-half-year prison sentence.

• Hyogo police say they have arrested a 37-year-old man for swindling a female former high school classmate out of ¥2.6 million by pretending to be Barbee Boys vocalist Konta. The suspect is said to have known the woman was a fan and claimed he could introduce her to the singer via a friend. He then sent a series of emails to her pretending to be Konta and repeatedly asking her to make bank transfers. Barbee Boys were active from 1983 till they split in 1992. They made a few one-off appearances over the last decade before going on a brief four-city tour last year.

Toshi Back From the Brink

Toshi, Becky

X Japan vocalist Toshi (44, photo left) said yesterday that he was recently on the verge of giving up singing and becoming a company employee. In an interview with the Sports Nippon newspaper, he said that the stress of his long relationship with his estranged wife and the Home of Heart cult had made him lose his voice and driven him to financial ruin. Earlier this week he announced his divorce and bankruptcy, and he apologized to fans and other victims of the cult, which organized self-improvement seminars.

Toshi said that he intended the recent filming of promo videos with X Japan in Los Angeles to be his final work as a musician. But during the course of the weeklong shoot he and Yoshiki discussed the matter in great depth. “There have been a lot of problems. But we decided to get back to our roots and carry on with the two of us at the core of the group. I decided I wanted to continue with music after all.” He has also announced that he will hold a farewell “solo” concert on February 24, though it’s being produced by X Japan drummer and band leader Yoshiki and will be an X show in all but name. “The theme is ‘Samurai’ – I’m in danger and the other members come to my rescue with guitars and piano. That’s the image. It’s a new start for me and then we’ll be ready to take on the world.”

• NHK is to use a celebrity presenter in its Olympic coverage for the first time. For the upcoming Vancouver Winter Olympics they chose Becky (25, photo right), who has a long history of appearing on the public network and has a wide appeal across all ages and sexes. “I love, love, love the Olympics, so this is a huge honor for me,” she said. Chosen as the most popular female TV personality in a survey last August, Becky will appear mainly in the prime time “Best Selection” digest show every evening from February 14-28.

With NHK’s “serious” image in mind, she said, “I tend to get carried away easily, so I hope to keep my emotions under control. I mean, this is NHK so I have to present in a relaxed and grown up way.” Just in case, she’ll be working alongside veteran sports presenter Kudo Saburo (56), though he said, “High tension is fine!” Referring to such young medal hopefuls as 15-year-old speed skater Takagi Miho and popular figure skater Asada Mao (19), Becky said, “It’s amazing to see these athletes younger than me competing on the world stage.”

• Meanwhile, another “haafu” talento has announced that she is getting married. Sheila (37) notified the media yesterday that she and a 35-year-old real estate company president are going to tie the knot on their 11-year relationship. They have already visited her mother’s home of Cuba to break the news. No wedding date has been set.

Comedian Injured in TV Stunt


TBS announced yesterday that popular comedian Kasuga Toshiaki (30, photo right) fractured his leg during a recent variety show shoot. The accident happened on Tuesday during filming for the show “Oretachi! QuizMan” in Sagamihara, near Tokyo. Kasuga was doing some stuntman basic training on a suspension wire when he landed badly on a jump from a small hut. He is expected to bounce back in about a week to 10 days.

Kasuga created a unique comic character as the preening “boke” half of manzai duo Audrey, with his partner and high school friend Wakabayashi Masayasu (31, photo left). With his pink vest and techno-cut hairstyle, his arrogant manner has made him a favorite among recent breathrough acts. Off-stage he is quite different – a penny-pinching bachelor who lives in a small apartment with no bath; high school American football star who was ulled from a game for wearing indoor shos on astroturf; and he won a celebrity free diving competition with a record of 92m.

Matsuyama Kenichi, Koyuki, Onyanko Club

Actor Matsuyama Kenichi (24, photo left) yesterday acknowledged for the first time his relationship with actress Koyuki (33, photo center). He was appearing at a preview screening of the movie “Darekaga Watashini Kiss Shita.” Though the movie is a domestic Toei Studios project starring Horikita Maki (21), it is directed by Hans Canosa, the director of “Conversations with Other Women,” and already has distribution deals in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Negotiations for Europe and North America are underway. When asked by reporters if his romance with Koyuki was going well, “MatsuKen” nodded and said simply “Yes, yes.” The two worked together on last year’s movie “Kamui Gaiden” and rumors of romance first appeared last spring.

• Members of the legendary idol group Onyanko Club were recently reunited for a TV commercial. Of the more than 50 members of the 1980s all-girl group eleven – including Kokusho Sayuri (43), Watanabe Marina (40), Nitta Eri (41), Jonouchi Sanae (41) and Ikuina Akiko (41) – got together to shoot a commercial for Suntory’s can coffee brand “Boss Zeitaku Bito.” The CM takes place in a bank and features actor Ito Atsushi (26) and, in a move that will drive a lot of middle-aged otaku wild, the Onyanko ladies singing and dancing to their infamous hit “Sailor-fuku wo Nugasanaide” (Don’t Take Off my Sailor Uniform, photo right). The CM will air from January 23.

Onyanko Club (literally “Kitten Club) debuted in 1985 and only lasted for two years, but their huge popularity and ever-changing lineup helped pave the way for the likes of Morning Musume and AKB48. Many members, such as those mentioned above, have gone on to build solid showbiz careers. Kudo Shizuka (39) married SMAP heartthrob Kimura Takuya (37), while Watanabe married comedian Nagura Jun (41).

An Iconiq J-Pop Star


Expect to see a lot of Iconiq. With her big eyes and shaved head, visually she’s the Sinead O’Connor of J-pop, and she’s so new on the scene that she doesn’t even have a Japanese Wikipedia page yet. But just over a month after her debut single release, she was yesterday announced as the new face of Shiseido. It marks the first time the cosmetics giant has used anyone other than an established actress to promote its MAQuillAGE line. Her first single – a duet with Atsushi of Exile, currently the hottest J-pop act of all – did well on the download charts. And the new single, “Change Myself,” will get lots of exposure as it’s tied up with her new role for Shiseido. So who is she anyway?

Her official website doesn’t give too much away but little investigation shows that Iconiq (25) is the new creation of a Korean pop singer who originally performed under the name Ayumi Lee or Ahyoomee. Though she grew up in Japan as Ito Ayumi, she debuted in her parents’ native country in 2002 as part of the K-pop group Sugar. A couple of solo singles, including a 2006 cover of the classic anime theme “Cutie Honey,” drew criticism for having an overly-Japanese influence. Three years later, and after some time spent in Los Angeles, she reappeared with her flowing locks shaved off and was “reborn” in her adopted country.