Monthly Archives: July 2010

Band Manager Killed in Crash


The manager of visual-kei rock band Vistlip was killed in the early hours of this morning in a car crash. According to Nagano Prefecture highway police, a van carrying members of the band and staff hit the wall inside a tunnel on the Joshinetsu Expressway. Band manager Sakakibara Asako (31) was thrown out of the vehicle and died on the spot. The vehicle belonged to vocalist Matsushita Tomo (24), who along with the other six passengers suffered minor injuries. The band were returning from a show in Kanazawa city. Vistlip had a minor hit last year with “Ozone,” the ending theme for the anime series “Yugioh.”

Ebizo, Mao Hold Wedding and Huge Reception

Ichikawa Ebizo, Kobayashi Mao wedding

Kabuki star Ichikawa Ebizo (32) and freelance announcer Kobayashi Mao (28) held their wedding ceremony and a massive reception in Tokyo yesterday. The couple, who registered their marriage back on March 3, held a Buddhist-style ceremony at the Prince Park Tower Tokyo hotel in Shiba Koen with about 20 family members. It included making their vows in front of a statue loaned – for the first time ever – by the Narita-san temple, to which the Ichikawa stage family have been attached since the 17th century.

More than 1,000 guests were invited to the hotel for a reception that cost about ¥500 million. The guest list included political figures, sports stars and just about every major name in showbiz. Of course all the big names of kabuki were there, including those of Ebizo’s generation who have helped revive the popularity of the traditional theater. Ichikawa Somegoro (37), Nakamura Shido (37) and Nakamura Kantaro (28) each poured a glass of wine for the groom. Shido got a laugh when he said he’d been told not to make a speech as it was bad luck – he is divorced from actress Takeuchi Yuko (30).

Ichikawa Ebizo, Kobayashi Mao wedding

Among the other celebrants were former prime ministers Mori Yoshiro (73) and Koizumi Junichiro (68), and singer Hirahara Ayaka (26), who performed her hit “Jupiter” in a live satellite hookup from Shimonoseki, where she was performing in concert. One surprise of the evening was a video of Ebizo’s secret visit to Vietnam, where he dug up a ruby that was used to make a necklace for his bride, ruby being her birthstone. The reception also featured a 2m-high wedding cake.

Between the morning wedding ceremony and the drawn-out, elaborate reception, the happy couple were on the go for a full 11 and a half hours.

Japan’s Venice Hopefuls

13 Assassins

Japan has a couple of strong contenders in the running for this year’s Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival, as the lineup for the competition was announced yesterday. “Noruwei no Mori” (Norwegian Wood), the first ever adaptation of Murakami Haruki’s cult novel, is the high-profile choice. With Vietnamese-born French director Tran Anh Hung at the helm, it stars two of Japan’s most highly rated young actors in Matsuyama Kenichi (24) and Oscar nominee Kikuchi Rinko (28).

It will be up against the latest movie from popular director Miike Takashi. “13-nin no Shikaku” (13 Assassins) stars the always solid Yakusho Koji (54) and is a remake of a 1963 samurai drama that is famous for its 30-minute climactic fight scene. The chambara style of movie (even with its weird choice of “Desperado” by The Eagles as its theme tune) might have an edge with a festival jury that is headed by American director Quentin Tarantino.

2010 marks the 67th year of the Venice event, the oldest film festival in the world. To date there have been three Japanese winners of the grand prix: Kurosawa Akira‘s “Rashomon” (1951), Inagaki Hiroshi’s “Rickshaw Man” (1958), and Kitano Takeshi‘s “Hanabi” (1997).
Related stories:
Matsuken, Rinko Land Choice Roles (May 15, 2009)

SAS Singer Diagnosed With Cancer

Kuwata Keisuke

Management for Kuwata Keisuke (54) yesterday announced that the popular singer has been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. They said that the condition had been discovered at an early stage and would most likely respond well to treatment. Kuwata will undergo surgery and further treatment, so the release of a new solo album that had been scheduled for October 20 has been canceled, as have all the dates of a concert tour that was to run up to New Year’s Eve. However, his new single, “Honto wa Kowai Ai to Romance” will go on sale as planned on August 25.

On his official website, Kuwata apologized to fans in the typically humble Japanese fashion, “At this time, I’m very sorry for the worry I have caused. And I want to sincerely apologize to everyone who was looking forward to this year’s events. I will do my utmost to get back to good health and deliver the album that is in progress as soon as possible.””

Kuwata is the charismatic frontman for the hugely successful band Southern All Stars (profile). He has performed solo on and off over the course of his career, but SAS announced in 2008 that they were taking an indefinite break from performing together. Kuwata is married to SAS keyboard player Hara Yuko.

Other celebrities who have revealed their battles with esophageal cancer in recent years include actor Fujita Makoto and conductor Ozawa Seiji.

East Meets West

Angelina Jolie, House, Black Jack

Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie (35) is in Tokyo this week on her latest PR trip. She and her four children flew into Narita Airport on Monday, but dad Brad Pitt (41) was left at home this time. At a press conference held in a central Tokyo hotel yesterday, Jolie said she took the kids to a toy store to pick up some of their favorite Ponyo and Totoro goods. She was joined on stage by local actress Kuroki Meisa (22), who presented her with a bouquet. She later said she had been too nervous to look the Hollywood star in the eyes.

Jolie was in town to promote “Salt,” directed by Phillip Noyce, an all-out action thriller in which she plays a former CIA agent who just may be a Russian double-agent. The movie opens in theaters here on July 31.

In Blackjack the House Always Wins
To promote the DVD release of season 4 of the popular U.S. medical drama series “House,” marketers have teamed up with none other than the Father of Japanese manga. TV commercials and posters for the DVD feature “House” star Hugh Laurie (51) and manga physician Black Jack, one of the most popular creations of Tezuka Osamu (1928-89). It is the first ever collaboration between a Tezuka character and an overseas drama. The commercials will air from August 4.

NTV Announcer Jumps to Death

Yamamoto Masumi

NTV announcer Yamamoto Masumi was found dead in front of her high-rise apartment building in Sendai early yesterday morning. She was just 34. A suicide note addressed to her family was found and Miyagi Prefecture police are treating the death as such. Yamamoto’s death came as a shock to those who knew her, particularly as she married last year and had her first child in February. She took maternity leave last August and had done mainly narration work since her baby was born. It is not known whether motherhood or its effect on her career was connected to her suicide.

A graduate of the prestigious Gakushuin University, Yamamoto joined NTV in 1999 and worked as an announcer on a variety of sports and news shows. She was a reporter in Turin for the Winter Olympics in 2006 and was considered one of the few joshiana who could also handle the job of sports announcer. She also had a scuba diving license and it was through that hobby that she met her future husband.

America Gets Ready for X Day

Yoshiki in the LA Times, Taiji

With X Japan gearing up for their long-awaited U.S. concert debut, the Los Angeles Times has put its spotlight on the rock band. The cover of its Arts & Books supplement on Sunday featured the headline, “America, Meet Yoshiki” and a photo of the band leader and drummer. The article – the kind of exposure the band needs if it is to have a chance of breaking into the U.S. market – gave a potted history of the band and compared their January rooftop video shoot in downtown Hollywood to similar stunts by The Beatles and U2. It included several quotes that confirmed Yoshiki’s ambitions for overseas success (“People say, ‘You cannot get to the moon.’ I want to get to the moon! The moon being the American market.”), but also others that revealed his band mates may not quite share that level of enthusiasm.

And the reason for the sudden attention to a band that formed in 1982? X Japan are scheduled to become the first ever Japanese artists to perform at the Lollapalooza festival in Chicago on August 8, and then they kick off their North America tour on October 1 in support of their first original album in 14 years. For the J-rock and visual-kei pioneers, it really is a make or break opportunity in the U.S.

In related news that is hugely meaningful to die-hard fans of the band, it was revealed yesterday that the two shows at Yokohama Nissan Stadium on August 14/15 may well have a very special guest. Bassist and original member Taiji is said to be enthusiastic about the idea of performing on stage with his old friends for the first time in 18 years. He posted on his blog about meeting them for drinks recently and sharing stories about the old days, back when the band was known simply as X. The news of a possible reunion will make a quick sellout of the 150,000 tickets all the more likely. Tickets go on sale July 31.

Hakamada Yoshihiko to Wed Pin-Up Girl

Hakamada Yoshihiko, Kawanaka Ai

Hakamada Yoshihiko (37) is having a good year. The popular actor was recently announced to the cast of next year’s NHK taiga drama, and yesterday it was revealed that he is engaged to young “guravia aidoru” (pin-up model) Kawanaka Ai (25). According to a source close to the couple, they met through mutual friends about two years ago but only started dating this spring. Hakamada is said to have proposed about a month ago.

The couple plan to get married on August 8. But with Hakamada now in preparation for his key role as Toyotomi Hidenaga (1540 – 1591) in “Gou – Himetachi no Sengoku,” which starts filming in September, it’s likely that they won’t have a wedding ceremony or reception until next year.

Button, Jessica an Item Again

Michibata Jessica, Jenson Button

It seems that romance is back on for British racing driver Jenson Button (30) and fashion model Michibata Jessica (25). The couple’s relationship was first reported at the beginning of last year and there were rumors of marriage last summer. Michibata claimed that a proposal was in the works if Button won the Formula One championship, but that title came and went without any news of wedding bells. Then in May things were said to be on the rocks due to the pressures of separate careers and a long-distance relationship.

But recently there was media speculation of a reunion when they were spotted dining out in London after the British Grand Prix earlier this month. Confirmation came over the weekend after qualifications for the German Grand Prix as Button told reporters he would be joined by Michibata at next week’s event in Hungary. She also posted to Twitter that she and friends had been cheering on her boyfriend at a sports bar in Tokyo.

Button has a new team this year but is currently in second place and in contention to defend his championship title. Michibata, whose father is half-Argentine, half-Italian, and whose mother is Japanese, has been modeling since she was a child, though the western media has gone a bit overboard in describing her as a “supermodel.” She speaks fluent English and Japanese, as well as Spanish and some Italian.

Saotome Ai Dies at 51
Former actress Saotome Ai has died of multiple organ failure in Seattle, it was reported today. She was 51. Saotome made her acting debut in the 1974 movie “Ai to Makoto” and she went on to make over 60 movies and TV dramas. In the mid-1980s she broke with her popular image to appear in a soft porn movie and published a photo book that included several nude shots. From that period on, she tended to play more villain parts. Her last movie role was in “Shin Jinjinaki Tatakai” in 2000, after which she quit showbiz and went to live with her family in the U.S.

Nishioka, Tokuzawa to Tie the Knot
Chiba Lotte Marines leadoff batter Nishioka Tsuyoshi (25) and popular fashion model Tokuzawa Naoko (25) both updated their blogs at the weekend to formally announce their upcoming wedding. The couple plan to tie the knot on July 27, which sees the start of the second half of the baseball season and is also Nishioka’s birthday.

Cage Casts His Spell on Tokyo

Nicholas Cage, Jerry Bruckheimer

With Leonardo Dicaprio and Watanabe Ken in town the day before, Tokyo is having a bumper week with Hollywood celebrities. Nicholas Cage (46) was the latest arrival, visiting the Cinema Mediage complex in Odaiba for the premiere of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” He was joined on stage by producer Jerry Bruckheimer (64) and Mickey Mouse, the star of the 1940 animation feature “Fantasia” from which the new movie is derived. Directed by Jon Turteltaub, the movie opens in theaters here on August 13. Both critically and, so far, commercially the movie has proved to be the fourth disappointment in a row for the Bruckheimer-Disney dream team.

It’s Cage’s 7th visit to Japan but his first in three years. So he took his time greeting the 350 or so fans who lined the 30-meter red carpet. Over the course of half an hour, he shook hands, signed autographs and even gave the occasional hug. During his two-day visit, Cage also took time to visit the Hie Jinja shrine in Akasaka.

Japan’s Chanson Pioneer Dies
Ishii Yoshiko, Japan’s leading singer in the French style of chanson, died of liver failure at a Tokyo hospital on July 17, it was announced yesterday. She was 87. She entered hospital about a month ago but until last week was hoping to recover enough to return to work. The daughter of a leading politician, she went against her parents’ wishes to become a jazz singer after WWII. But after she encountered chanson while vacationing in France, she moved to Paris where she lived for six years. From 1963, she produced an annual “Paris Matsuri” in Tokyo. And in 1990, she became the first Japanese singer to take the stage at the Paris l’Olympia theater.

Former J-Pop Star in Mistress Fraud
Former J-pop singer Uehara Azumi (26) has become involved in organized fraud, according to today’s issue of the weekly “Shuukan Bunshun” magazine. The story reports that a crime group swindled several men out of about 6yen;20 million through so-called “aijin keiyaku” (mistress contracts) using Uehara as the bait. In one case, she maintained a relationship, mostly through online contact, with a married man and received ¥2.5 million. The magazine says the relationship was consummated only once, following which Uehara cut off all contact with the man.

Uehara found overnight success as a 17-year-old when her debut single was used as the ending theme to the “Meitantei Conan” anime series. She went on to release 8 singles and 2 albums, but is said to have been emotionally unstable. She hadn’t worked as a singer since the October 2006 release of her second album. Uehara’s management agency said they had been unable to contact her, but they terminated her contract on Monday.