Monthly Archives: February 2010

Joji and Takeshi Ham it Up

Tokoro Joji, Beat Takeshi

When the likes of Tokoro Joji (55) and Kitano “Beat” Takeshi (63) get together, you can expect some mayhem. For his first album in three years, Tokoro enlisted the services of his old friend. Though Takeshi is not credited on any of the songs – which range from rock to pop, enka to folk – the less than tuneful vocals on some tracks can be assumed to be his. The two often appear together on variety shows and are credited as chief editor and assistant editor of “Famoso,” described as a “fiction spoof magazine.” The cover photo for Tokoro’s new album, “Kokekokko,” is in keeping with that style. It’s the first time for Takeshi to appear on another artist’s album cover.

The pair have both had multi-faceted careers, including serious acting and directing, but they share the same comedy roots. Takeshi is said to visit his friend on a weekly basis and has sought his expert advice on buying and modifying cars.

The Other Mao
Japanese media attention is almost totally fixed today on the Olympic exploits of figure skater Asada Mao (19). But yesterday, another Mao had her moment in the limelight. Actress Inoue Mao (23) attended a post-production event for the upcoming movie “Darling wa Gaikokujin,” adapted from the popular manga by Oguri Saori (43). It is based on her day-to-day life with her American journalist husband Tony Lazlo, famously depicted as something of a Japanese language otaku. The big screen adaptation, directed by Ue Kazuaki, stars Inoue and Jonathan Sherr as the couple and also features other Japan-based gaijin talent such as comedian Patrick Harlan and Dante Carver of Softbank CM fame. The movie is scheduled to open on March 3.

X Japan’s Toshi Breaks Away

Toshi, X Japan

X Japan vocalist Toshi (44) held a “breakaway” concert at Akasaka Blitz in Tokyo last night. The show was largely to promote his newly released solo album “Bushi Japan,” but he was joined on stage by the other four members of X Japan and the emotional show also represented a symbolic break from Toshi’s troubled past. He recently divorced Wanku, the former idol singer Moriya Kaori and his wife of 12 years, though for much of that time she lived with the leader of a “self improvement” group that siphoned off all of Toshi’s earnings. The stress of that relationship caused him to lose his voice on occasion and even consider giving up music altogether. He will no longer perform solo or with Wanku and will concentrate on X Japan’s expansion into the U.S. market.

Last night’s show was a simple acoustic affair in front of about 1300 fans. In addition to songs from the new album, they performed X Japan standards such as “Endless Rain” and “Forever Love.” X Japan are due to perform at the Lollapolooza festival in August, but drummer and band leader Yoshiki dropped a hint that there may be a “warm up” show in Los Angeles. No further details were given.

Arashi Rule the J-Music World


Arashi took just about every prize going at the 24th Gold Disk Taisho awards yesterday. Including the top honor of being named as Artist of the Year, the Johnny’s Jimusho idol group won a total of 10 categories, the most ever. Other awards included Album of the Year (“All the Best! 1999-2009”), Single of the Year (“Believe/Kumori Nochi Kaisei”) and Best Music Video (“Arashi Around Asia 2008”). Members Ohno Satoshi, Aiba Masaki and Matsumoto Jun were on hand to pick up the 10 trophies. Aiba joked that there were so many that they should give them away to fans in a lottery. The awards are given out annually by the Recording Industry Association of Japan, and are based on sales figures. In 2009, Arashi sold 2.45 million singles, 1.77 million albums, 1.14 million videos/DVDs, and 3.07 million downloads for an accumulative total of 8.42 million. The New Artist of the Year, for the top-selling artist who debuted in 2009, went to the band Hilcrhyme.

The main award in the overseas music category went to The Beatles, based mainly on last year’s sales of their remastered albums, while Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” was Album of the Year. Guitarist Slash took Single of the Year for the song “Sahara,” which featured B’z vocalist Inaba Koshi.

Odoru Daisosasen 3 – Set Them Free!

Odoru Daisosasen The Movie 3

The hype buildup continues for the blockbuster movie of the summer. At a PR event at the Fuji TV headquarters in Tokyo yesterday, director Motohiro Katsuyuki and the cast of “Odoru Daisosasen The Movie 3” were on hand to talk up the project. Almost all the regular cast members are back, with Oda Yuji again in the staring role, supported by Yanagiba Toshiro, Fukatsu Eri, Yusuke Santamaria, and Mizuno Miki. Ikariya Chosuke passed away in 2004 but Itoh Atsushi has been added to the cast to play his character’s nephew. The other major additions are Oguri Shun, as an elite bureaucrat, and Uchida Yuki, in a revival of the role she played in the original TV series.

Oda said yesterday that the movie’s themes are “nakama” (friends, colleagues) and “ikiru” (to live) and that audiences would leave theaters feeling good. Asked to reveal details of the plot, he simply said “blood will flow.” The only other veil lifted from the project was its subtitle, “Yatsura wo Kaihoseyo!” (Set Them Free!). Filming started at the beginning of the year and is currently about two-thirds complete. The movie will be in theaters from July 3.

Odoru3 is the second sequel in the most successful live-action film franchise in Japanese movie history. The first movie in 1998 took in ¥10.1 billion at the box office, while the 2003 follow-up made ¥17.3 billion, still the highest gross of any Japanese live-action movie. A couple of spinoff movies have filled in the gap and done reasonably well commercially over the last seven years. Odoru3 will acknowledge the time elapsed since the last movie, with Oda’s renegade detective character Aoshima Shunsaku newly promoted to section chief.

Abe Koji is Top of the Heap

Abe Koji, Miyamoto Emilee
Abe Koji (35) has made it at last to the top of the comedy world. Last night he was named the winner of the “R-1 Grand Prix,” an annual contest to pick the country’s best solo comedian. It was Abe’s seventh time to enter the contest and sixth time to make the last knockout round, and he was in tears when he finally came out on top of a record 3,539 contestants. He took home the prize money of ¥5 million, but perhaps more importantly the win will give his career a big boost. In a final where everyone else performed skits, Abe stuck with his plan to perform a monologue. After the win he said, “At long last I’ve graduated R-1. I don’t want to fight any more!” He added that he’d like to try his hand at music or acting in an afternoon soap opera.

Violin Beauty to Join News Zero
With presenter Kobayashi Mao (27) leaving to marry kabuki star Ichikawa Ebizo (32), NTV yesterday announced a new addition to its “News Zero” lineup. Taking Mao-chan’s place as presenter of a weekly culture corner is violinist Miyamoto Emilee (26). Though born in Tokyo, she grew up moving back and forth between Japan and Germany. She picked up the violin while in Japan at the age of seven and went on to study music in high school and university. She joined a classical quartet Vanilla Mood in 2003 and released her debut album in 2007. Her music has been featured in commercials, TV shows and movies, and she made an appearance on last year’s “Kohaku Uta Gassen” on NHK. Though she has a show on the J-Wave radio station, News Zero will be her first gig as a TV presenter.

Ishida, Higashio Already Hitched
The upcoming California wedding of actor Ishida Junichi (56) and pro golfer Higashio Riko (34) has received plenty of media attention. But it was revealed yesterday that the couple have already married. They registered their marriage on December 12, an auspicious “taian” day on the traditional Japanese calendar, and are living together in Tokyo. They will hold their wedding ceremony at a Napa Valley winery on June 8 and a reception at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo on July 12. Higashio used her maiden name when registering for next week’s Daikin Orchid Ladies tournament in Okinawa.

Golden Couple Team Up for Twitter Drama

Eita, Ueno Juri

Actor Eita (27) and actress Ueno Juri (23) are to co-star in the first major-network “Twitter drama,” it was revealed yesterday. Fuji TV’s “Sunao ni Narenakute,” which will air on Wednesday nights from April, is the story of five men and women who meet through the social networking and microblogging service. Between movies and TV dramas, it is the eighth time for Eita and Ueno to work together. They are being referred to as the “Heisei no ougon kappuru,” the golden couple of the Heisei era. Their last collaboration was 2008’s spring-season drama “Last Friends,” also on Fuji, which covered serious topics like domestic violence and transgender issues. The new series is based in the Tokyo youth mecca of Shibuya and has a somewhat softer edge. It was written by Kitagawa Eriko (48) and is her first series for Fuji since 2002’s “Sora Kara Oriru Ichioku no Hoshi.”

Eita’s character finds himself questioning his dream of following in the footsteps of his war photographer father as he understands the trauma caused by the job. And Ueno plays the role of a part-time teacher at a private high school who is frustrated by her own immaturity. Though not a direct translation, the title of the drama is the also the Japanese title of Chicago’s 1982 hit “Hard to Say I’m Sorry.”

Record Breaking Toho Shinki
Korean dance vocal group Toho Shinki finally have a No.1 album in Japan. Not only that but the 413,000 initial sales figure announced for “Best Selection 2010” is a new record for an overseas artist, beating the 379,000 of Bon Jovi’s 1995 release “These Days.” The Korean quintet put out their first hits collection five years after they debuted in Japan. During that time they have had a series of major hit singles and sold out concerts, so it’s a bit of a surprise that it’s taken this long to become the first Asian male artists to top the Oricon album chart. The group will appear on Fuji TV’s “Music Fair” on Saturday and have a DVD and a new single (“Toki wo Tomete”) coming out in March.

Meanwhile, on top of the Oricon singles chart are J-pop idol group AKB48. The initial sales of 318,000 copies of “Sakura no Shiori” marks the first time a female group has broken the 300,000 barrier since Morning Musume’s “Mr. Moonlight – Ai no Big Band” in 2001.

Itoh Sakiko Remarried
Singer Itoh Sakiko (51) recently remarried, it was revealed yesterday. She and a company employee in his late 40s tied the knot earlier this month. Itoh retired from showbiz after she married an businessman in 1989. But she returned to work in 2004 and the marriage ended in 2007.

Yamada Yoji Honored in Berlin

Yamada Yoji, Berlin International Film Festival

Following up yesterday’s story on Terajima Shinobu’s success at the Berlin International Film Festival – director Yamada Yoji (76) received the Berlinale Camera, a special award given to a film personality or an institution to whom the film festival feels especially attached. Yamada was at the festival with “Otouto (Little Brother), his seventh entry since “Downtown Heroes” in 1989, and the first Japanese movie to close the event. On receiving the award, the normally cool Yamada was clearly overwhelmed by what he called “a great honor.” He said he’d like to share it with Yoshinaga Sayuri (64), the actress who has starred in his last two movies and who joined him in Berlin. Yamada is the third Japanese recipient of the award, joining fellow iconic directors Ichikawa Kon (1915-2008) and Kumai Kei (1930-2007). It was while attending Berlin with Yoshinaga to promote “Kabei” (Our Mother) in 2008 that he heard the news of Ichikawa’s death. That prompted them to come up with the plan to do a remake of the master’s 1950 original of Otouto.
Earlier stories:
Terajima Shinobu Wins Silver Bear in Berlin (Feb. 21, 2010)

Terajima Shinobu Wins Silver Bear in Berlin

Terajima Shinobu, Yoshinaga Sayuri, Yamada Yoji

Japanese women made a strong showing at the Berlin International Film Festival, which closed on Saturday. Actress Terajima Shinobu (37, photo left) won the Silver Bear for Best Actress for her role as Shigeko in “Caterpillar.” Directed by Wakamatsu Koji, the film is based on the 1929 short story of the same title by mystery writer Edogawa Rampo. Terajima is the first Japanese to win the best actress award in 35 years, and follows in the footsteps of Hidari Sachiko (1964) and Tanaka Kinuyo (1975).

The festival came to a close with a screening of Yamada Yoji’s “Otouto” (Little Brother). Yamada (78, photo right) and star Yoshinaga Sayuri (64, photo center) were in attendance and said it had been a “great honor.” Reporters questioned the choices made by Yoshinaga’s character, a woman who gives everything to support her family, sacrificing any kind of a life for herself. But the quintessential Japanese actress replied, “The heroine makes a choice to support her children and younger brother. I think it’s admirable.” Also shown at the festival was Nakamura Yoshihiro’s “Golden Slumber,” which starred Sakai Masato, Takeuchi Yuko, and Yoshioka Hidetaka.

Dr. Watson Braves Tokyo Cold

Jude Law at Sherlock Holmes premiere

British Hollywood star Jude Law (37) braved the wintry cold of Tokyo yesterday. He was at the Toho Cinema in the Roppongi Hills complex for the Japan premiere of “Sherlock Holmes.” As he walked the red carpet, he greeted 100 invited fans, though he had made them wait half an hour in the 4°C cold snap that hit Tokyo in the last couple of days. While director Guy Ritchie was well wrapped up, Law wore just a gray suit over a white t-shirt. Later, from the stage, he told the audience that he had brought his family with him this time, his sixth visit to Japan.

Law plays Dr. John Watson, faithful companion to the 19th century sleuth, who is portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. (44). Law described his co-star as “the most interesting man I’ve ever met.” He also talked enthusiastically about the possibility of a sequel: “I don’t know if it’s been 100 percent confirmed but it looks pretty good. We always said, if enough people enjoy this…then we would happily make another. And it looks like that’s going to be the case.” The latest take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic story is set to open in theaters here on March 12. Since it opened in the U.S. on Christmas Day it has made over $300 million worldwide.

Fujita Makoto Dead at 76

Fujita Makoto, Nakamura Mondo

Japan Zone was greatly saddened today to hear of the death of actor Fujita Makoto, one of Japan’s best-loved actors. He died yesterday of a ruptured aortic aneurysm at a hospital in Suita City near Osaka. He was 76. Though perhaps best known as screen assassin Nakamura Mondo, Fujita started out in 1952 as a singer and comedian. But acting was in his blood – he was the son of silent movie actor Fujima Rintaro – and he made his TV debut in 1957. His talent for humor made him a household name by the early 1960s. So when Nakamura starred as assassin-for-hire Mondo in the TV Asahi series “Hissatsu Shiokinin” in 1973, it was a total change of image. He went on to play the role for many years on both the small and big screen. In the late 1980s, he started another signature role as a detective in the “Hagure Keiji Junjoha” series, again on Asahi. In his career, he made over 50 movies – most recently in 2008 – and was an accomplished singer with nine albums to his credit.

Fujita suffered health problems in the last couple of years, and was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2008. He recovered from surgery and returned to the Mondo role for a Hisatsu revival later that year. He had more health problems last year but had made enough of a recovery to return to narration work in January, and was expected to make a full return to work in March.

Oguri Shun Joins Odoru Cast

Oguri Shun, Odoru Daisosasen 3

Another young star has been named to the cast of the summer’s big blockbuster movie. Oguri Shun (27, photo right) will play an elite bureaucrat in the second sequel to “Odoru Daisosasen” (Bayside Shakedown). The most commercially successful franchise in Japanese movie history has produced only spinoffs since 2003, so Odoru3 will be getting massive hype over the next few months. Oguri’s character is described as something “completely new” to the series, though it’s not clear if he will be an ally or an enemy of Detective Aoshima Shunsaku (Oda Yuji, 41, photo left). Odoru started out 12 years ago as a Fuji TV drama series and producer Kameyama Chihiro (53) said, “We wanted to have a bureaucrat character that was younger than Aoshima. And we thought Oguri could bring real style to the role.” Oguri himself said, “I’ve been watching this series since I was a kid, so I just didn’t want to mess it up!” His popularity will certainly add more fuel to the Odoru fire when the movie is released on July 3.