The many Japanese fans of Korean star Park Yong Ha are in shock today as news came out of his apparent suicide. Early this morning, the 32-year-old actor was found by his mother at their home in Seoul, where he appeared to have hung himself using a power cord from a mobile phone. He is said to have been helping care for his father, who has been diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer.
Park made his acting debut in 1994 but only found fame in 2003 with the hit TV drama series “Winter Sonata.” That series sparked a massive boom in Korean popular culture in Japan and made household names of its lead stars Bae Yong Joon and Choi Ji Woo. Park, who played the love rival of Bae, first visited Japan in 2004 and for the next couple of years focused on his singing career here. In 2007 he was named as a Best Asian Artist at the Nihon Gold Disc Taisho awards. Just this month, he released his 5th studio album and started a nationwide concert tour on June 19. His last show was in Saitama Prefecture on Saturday and he was scheduled to perform at the Kobe International House on Friday.
It’s a Wrap for Odoru3
Oda Yuji (42) was one of 23 cast members to appear at preview yesterday of “Odoru Daisosasen The Movie 3.” Some 4,000 fans came to the Tokyo International Forum to get an early look at the third installment in Japan’s most successful ever movie franchise. The movie is scheduled to open in theaters this weekend.
Itoh Misaki is a Mother
Actress Itoh Misaki (33) gave birth to her first child in Tokyo on June 27, her management announced yesterday. Itoh married Enomoto Yoshinori (41), CEO of major pachinko company Kyoraku Sangyo, in November of last year. There has been no announcement regarding her return to work.
Itoh Misaki Marries Pachinko CEO (Nov. 19, 2009)
Suzuki Honami (43, photo left rear) is to make an overdue return to acting in next year’s NHK taiga drama. Making her first public appearance in 11 years yesterday as she was named as one of the stars of “Gou, Himetachi no Sengoku,” she said she was “very nervous.” The historical drama series, which will air every Sunday evening throughout 2011, focuses on the younger sister of medieval warlord Oda Nobunaga (1534-82). The main female cast members were announced yesterday, and the lead role will be played by Ueno Juri (24), while Suzuki will play her mother. Other stars include Ohtake Shinobu (52), Miyazawa Rie (37) and Mizukawa Asami (26). Filming will begin in August.
One of the most popular actresses of the late 1980s and early 90s, Suzuki married comedian Ishibashi Takaaki (48) of the duo Tunnels in 1998 and retired when she became a mother the following year. Like the character she will play in the taiga drama, she is now the mother of three girls. Her last public appearance was in September 1999, at a PR event for her last movie, “Ichigen-san.”
Mattchan Laid Up for 2 Months
Comedian Matsumoto Hotoshi (46) is taking the next couple of months off as he undergoes hip surgery, according to Yoshimoto Creative Agency. The major comedy management agency announced by fax yesterday that “Mattchan,” one half of the veteran duo Downtown, is to undergo surgery to deal with a problem that has been causing him pain for the last six months. The announcement explain why he suddenly pulled out of a scheduled TV appearance last Thursday.
Matsumoto is currently resting at home and won’t be able to receive treatment for about a month. He will then spend about a week in hospital and a further few weeks recuperating. During his expected two-month absence, comic partner Hamada Masatoshi (47) will fill in for him.
The Yokohama District Court has placed a restraining order on right-wingers protesting against controversial Hollywood documentary The Cove. The court issued a decision temporarily forbidding the Tokyo-based group (not named in stories but widely known to be Shuken Kaifuku wo Mezasu Kai) from staging its noisy protests outside or within 100m of the Yokohama New Theater. Members of the group are also forbidden to enter the cinema without the permission of its management.
According to Unplugged, the Japanese distributor of the movie, the decision is effective as of June 24. A spokesperson for the company said, “It is a natural decision, as the protests to stop the screening of this movie are malicious. There are no plans to change the screening schedule.” The Yokohama cinema is one of six that recently announced they would screen the Academy Award-winning movie from July 3.
Controversy surrounding the movie peaked over the last two weeks during a promotional visit to Japan by Ric O’Barry, the dolphin activist at the center of the movie. The documentary portrays the annual slaughter of thousands of dolphins in the small fishing town of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture and the sale for consumption of the dolphin meat though it contains dangerously high levels of mercury and other toxins. While extremists have claimed that the movie is an attack on Japanese culture, O’Barry has repeatedly stressed that neither he nor the movie are anti-Japan, and that the Japanese people are entitled to see the movie and decide for themselves.
J-pop star Nakashima Mika (27) has a new man in her life, according to today’s issue of weekly women’s magazine “Josei Seven.” The singer lives in the same apartment building as guitarist Tanaka Yoshito (36), and last week they were spotted dining with Nakashima’s mother. The couple are believed to have started dating last summer. Nakashima’s management agency refused to comment on the story, saying that it was a private matter.
A producer and session musician, Tanaka has worked with some of the top stars in J-pop. He has produced work by such names as Moriyama Naotaro (34) and Suga Shikao (43) and has been a studio guitarist for Hirai Ken (38) and Imai Miki (47). He first played on tour and in the studio with Nakashima in 2002. In 2006, he was briefly married to Wyolica vocalist Azumi. Nakashima ended a 5-year romance with actor Nagase Masatoshi in 2008.
Nakashima is soon to appear in her first starring role in a TV drama series. She will appear alongside Tokio member Nagase Tomoya (31) in “Unubore Keiji” on the TBS network from July 9.
A date has been set for what will probably be the final trial of Oshio Manabu (32). The former actor has been arrested several times since August of last year, and in November he received a suspended prison sentence for drug use. But he was rearrested in January for his involvement in the related death of a Ginza hostess is more likely to lead to actual prison time. Tanaka Kaori was found dead and naked in a luxury Tokyo apartment on August 2 and Oshio and his manager later admitted that they had failed to seek medical help for three hours after Tanaka passed out from the use of MDMA (ecstasy). Prosecutors have insisted that there was an 80% chance of saving her life if a doctor had been called to the scene quickly.
At the Tokyo District Court yesterday, it was announced that Oshio’s trial would be held on September 3 and that a verdict would be handed down on September 17, which will be his eighth court appearance. Nihon University Law School professor Itakura Hiroshi commented, “I think prosecutors will ask for a 10-year prison sentence, and he will get about 8.” Oshio, currently occupying a 3-tatami mat cell in a Tokyo detention center, will be the first celebrity to have his fate decided by a citizen jury.
It was announced yesterday that six movie theaters across the country have confirmed they will screen the controversial documentary “The Cove” early next month. The Academy Award-winning movie documents the annual slaughter of thousands of dolphins in the town of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, and the fact that the dolphin meat is sold for public consumption despite containing dangerous levels of mercury and other toxins. The film has been the focus of protests and threats from radical right-wingers, which has led to several cinemas canceling plans to show it.
But this in turn has led to protests from prominent journalist and movie makers who have insisted on the right of the Japanese public to see the movie and make up their own minds. Even the prominent nationalist Suzuki Kunio has criticized the actions of right-wing groups as an attack on the freedom of speech in Japan.
Dolphin activist Ric O’Barry, who stars in the movie and has spent the last two weeks in Japan speaking to students and the media (photo), has said, “This is not North Korea. It’s not China and it’s not Cuba. It’s a democratic society. There’s a very small minority of radicals who are going to theater owners and threatening them. They don’t want people to see this film.”
In a press conference in Tokyo yesterday, movie distributors Unplugged announced that six cinemas (in Hachinohe, Sendai, Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto and Osaka) will screen the movie from July 3, with another 16 set to do so on later dates.
Japan’s World Cup Fever Not So Hot
TV Asahi must be disappointed with the audience rating they got for Japan’s recent World Cup clash against Holland. Having won their first game against Cameroon, the nation’s first World Cup victory on foreign soil, the mood going into the second game was good, even if it was against the heavily favored Dutch. And the studio coverage of the game was hosted by SMAP member Katori Shingo.
But while NHK’s coverage of Japan’s tournament opener averaged around 45%, that figure actually dropped to 43% for the second game. The peak rating was 55.4% as the final whistle blew at 10:19pm Japan time. It’s likely that the final scoreline – a 1-0 victory to the Dutch – played a part. The crucial last group game against Denmark kicks off at 3am on Friday, so the NTV network is just hoping to match the 28.5% rating for the match against Brazil in the 2006 tournament in Germany, which had the same kickoff time.
A quick roundup of some other interesting stories from last weekend.
Ex-Wink Star Retires After Scandal
Former aidoru star Suzuki Sachiko (41) has announced her retirement from showbiz after a scandal blew up over the weekend. Last Thursday’s issue of the magazine “Shukan Bunshun” reported that she had admitted to having a 4-year affair with married stage actor Tsuda Eisuke (39). Tsuda denied the affair in his blog on Friday, insisting that Suzuki was his sempai at their management agency and nothing more. As one half of the duo Wink, Suzuki was a major star from the late 1980s to the mid-90s.
New Poster Featuring Leo, Ken
A new poster was released yesterday for Watanabe Ken’s latest Hollywood venture. He stars alongside Leonardo DiCaprio (35) in the sci-fi thriller “Inception,” directed by Christopher Nolan and due for release here on July 23. The new poster also features Joseph Gordon-Levitt (29) and Ellen Page (23). Watanabe (50) previously worked with Nolan on “Batman Begins” (2005).
Mori Shinichi Tags with Komuro Tetsuya
Enka star Mori Shinichi (62) announced on Sunday that his new single will be produced by none other than J-pop guru Komuro Tetsuya (51). Both are major stars who have had a difficult couple of years. Not long after a messy divorce from his wife of 19 years, Mori got caught up in a scandal surrounding the use of unapproved lyrics in his signature song “Ofukuro-san,” which led to a very public dispute with the songwriter. Meanwhile Komuro is trying to rebuild his career and his life following his 2008 arrest and trial for the fraudulent sale of the copyrights to hundreds of his songs. In their first collaboration, Komuro has produced “Nemurenai Love Song,” a single released to commemorate Mori’s 45th year in showbiz.
KAT-TUN’s Akanishi Performs in LA
Akanishi Jin, a member of the Johnny’s Jimusho aidoru group KAT-TUN, became the agency’s first artist to perform solo in the US with a couple of shows in Los Angeles over the weekend. During the “You & Jin USA” shows it was announced that there will be more dates in the autumn in cities including New York and Las Vegas.
Enka singer Mizuki Mai (36) announced on her blog yesterday that she and hugely popular wrestler Kobashi Kenta (43) are to be married in the autumn. The couple are said to have been dating for about 10 years, during which time both their careers have undergone some major upheavals. Mizuki debuted as an aidoru singer in 1992 using her given name of Hosoe Mayuko. She had moderate success and released half a dozen singles, before taking on a new name and image as an enka singer in 2004.
At that time Kobashi was one of the top figures in the professional wrestling scene. But in June 2006 he was diagnosed with kidney cancer and underwent surgery. He was at the Nippon Budokan six months later to announce that he would return to the ring within a year. He was true to his word, but in September 2008 he dislocated both elbows and was sidelined for another six months. And in January of this year he pulled out of a tour following yet more trouble with injuries. Kobashi is vice-president of the Pro-Wrestling NOAH troupe, a position he took on shortly after the sport was devastated by the death of his boss, Misawa Mitsuharu, in the middle of a bout.
Mizuki and Kobashi are expected to speak with the media today about their plans for a wedding ceremony and reception in Tokyo on October 2.
Enka singer Fuji Ayako (49, photo left) is taking a break from work due to health problems, it was revealed on Monday. She is suspected of suffering from cataplectic hearing loss. She attended an event at her art gallery on May 30 but noticed a problem the following day. A hospital checkup indicated that stress and overwork may have led to the condition which if left untreated could threaten her career. She was told to take complete rest for the time being. She withdrew from an NHK concert show on June 1 and has canceled all appearances since.
Ginpunchou Breaks Rib in Stage Fall
Actress Ginpunchou (58) is making a speedy recovery from a broken rib suffered during rehearsals. The injury happened after she fell from a 2m-high set on the stage at the Tokyo Geijutsu Gekijo theater. She was taken to hospital but is now resting at home. The show is scheduled to run from June 20 to August 8. Takahashi Keiko (55) will stand in until Ginpunchou makes a full recovery, which she is expected to do after June 25. The production of “Za Character” stars Miyazawa Rie (37) and is produced by Noda Hideki (54).
Anime Company Sues for Noripi Fallout
A Tokyo animation company has sued the Sun Music Production for business losses suffered due to last year’s drug arrest of former actress Sakai Noriko (39, photo right). Noripi voiced the lead character in “Dai-chan, Daisuki,” an anime feature that was released in June 2007. At the Tokyo District Court on Monday, the anime company sought ¥21 million for lost revenue from TV and DVD distribution of the movie.
Police Issue Arrest Warrant for Noripi (Aug. 7, 2009)
Kaela Finally Reaches No.1
Better news for popular singer Kimura Kaela (25). “Ring a Ding Dong,” her first single since the announcement of her engagement to actor Eita (27), has become her first ever No.1 on the Oricon chart. The song has spent a record 19 straight days at the top of the daily rankings of the Chaku-Uta digital download service.
Tokyo police said today that they had arrested a 27-year-old Hiroshima Prefecture man on suspicion of sending threatening letters to members of popular aidoru group AKB48. Nishimoto Yoshinobu, described as unemployed, is accused of sending the hand-written A4-size letters, which included disposable razor blades, to the group’s management office in Tokyo at the end of April. In a less than smart move, he signed the letters “From N.Y.” and included his name and address on the back of the envelopes. He is said to have confessed to the crime.
NHK Drama Takes Monaco Prize
An NHK drama has taken a top prize at the 50th Monte Carlo Television Festival. “Hi no Sakana” (Goldfish, photo left), which aired on the network in March, won the Golden Nymph award for Best TV Movie, the first time in 26 years that a one-off NHK drama has won the award in that category. The drama was made by NHK Hiroshima and was filmed against the beautiful backdrop of the Seto Inland Sea. It tells the story of Murata, a successful but gruff novelist, who has moved back to his small native island after a playboy youth in Tokyo. But even a decade later, his only social connection is with his pet, a large goldfish. That is until a young female editor comes from Tokyo to collect his manuscripts.
Sacchi Sues Over Yakuza Slur
Nomura Sachiyo (78, photo right), talento and wife of baseball legend Nomura Katsuya (75), has sued a magazine that recently ran an article suggesting she had connections with organized crime. The weekly “Suukan Shinchou” magazine published a story in its June 10 issue that said Sacchi watched the May Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo in the company of a female member of a yakuza group. Seeking ¥3.3 million in libel damages, Sacchi said she didn’t know the woman who sat next to her.