Monthly Archives: September 2010

Higashi to Play 2nd Fiddle in Genji Flick

Ikuta Touma, Higashiyama Noriyuki

Johnny’s Jimusho veteran Higashiyama Noriyuki (43, photo right) is to play a key role in the latest big screen adaptation of the Tale of Genji, Japan’s and perhaps the world’s earliest novel. The Shonentai member was given the lead role of Hikaru Genji in a similar TV adaptation about two decades ago, but this time will be playing second fiddle to young star Ikuta Touma (25, photo left) as the powerful courtier Fujiwara Michinaga. In other big casting announcements, Nakatani Miki (34) will play the role of the novelist Murasaki Shikibu, while Kubozuka Yousuke (31) will play the mysterious court diviner Abe Seimei.

Directed by Tsuruhashi Yasuo (70), the movie started filming yesterday. Budgeted at over ¥1 billion, it is due for release sometime next spring.

Another Tokio Baby
Another Johnny’s Jimusho star has become a father for the second time, it was announced yesterday. Yamaguchi Tatsuya (38) of the group Tokio and his former model wife got married in March 2008 and had their first son the following May. They now have two boys, though they didn’t announce any names or further details.

Hide’s Wedding Day
Meanwhile Hide (30), vocalist of the mysterious J-pop group Greeeen, has tied the knot. He made the announcement on his blog yesterday that he and and his ippanjin bride got married on September 18. The four members of Greeeen are all practicing dentists and have never revealed their faces or true identity in public. Despite, or perhaps helped by, the mystery they have achieved major chart success over hte last couple of years. They are planning to release a new single early next year.

Kobayashi Keiju Dies at 86

Kobayashi Keiju

Japan lost another of its favorite veteran actors yesterday when Kobayashi Keiju passed away of heart failure at a Tokyo hospital. He was 86. Over a career that spanned almost seven decades, he appeared in about 260 movies and TV dramas playing everything from the prime minister in “Godzilla 1985” to detective Muta Ichiro in a long-running TV series. His lifetime achievements and cultural contributions were recognized by the nation in the form of medals of honor from the government. His final public appearance was last November, at the funeral of actor Morishige Hisaya, with whom he did some of his most famous work.

Kobayashi made a couple of propaganda movies after joining the Nikkatsu studio in 1942, before moving to the Daiei studio. With his man-next-door personality, he became popular in the 1950s starring in a series of “salaryman” (company employee) comedies for the Toho studio. In the “Shacho” (company president) series of more than 30 movies between 1956-71, he played the serious secretary to Morishige’s less than serious boss. The series more than any other shaped the image of the corporate warriors who rebuilt Japan from the ashes of WWII. Most of his award-winning work was in the late 1950s or 60s, but he continued to work in movies and on TV until recent years.

Oshio Manabu Gets Two and a Half Years

Oshio Manabu

The verdict is finally in on Oshio Manabu (32). At the Tokyo District Court yesterday, the “former” actor was handed a 30-month prison sentence for negligence resulting in the death of Ginza hostess Tanaka Kaori last year. Prosecutors had sought a 6-year prison term, insisting that Tanaka could have been saved if medical help had been sought soon after she passed out from taking MDMA (Ecstasy). Some experts had expected Oshio to get 6 years or longer due to his continued refusal to accept his guilt. His lawyers insisted that Tanaka died within minutes of becoming unconscious and couldn’t have been helped, asking for a suspended sentence. In handing down his verdict, the judge said that Oshio had been found guilty of negligence but that there was a question about whether this was directly responsible for Tanaka’s death.

Among the witnesses who appeared in court were Tanaka’s parents and the friend of Oshio who supplied him with the drugs. The trial was the first celebrity case to be decided by a jury of lay judges. At a press conference afterward, Oshio’s lawyers said that he had trouble understanding some of the verdict as it was read out. “Do I have to go to prison? Or is it a suspended sentence?” he is said to have asked them. He has decided to file an appeal.

Uchino Masaaki in Double Scandal

Uchino Masaaki

Actor Uchino Masaaki (42) has got himself into a double scandal, and on his birthday no less. More than 100 reporters waited outside the Le Theatre Ginza yesterday to ask about photos published in this week’s issue of the weekly magazine “Friday” that allegedly show him drinking and driving on more than one occasion, and in a romantic clinch with a married woman. The magazine says that, on his way back from rehearsals for “Ilias,” his current stage production, he stopped at a convenience store and downed a can of “happoshu” (low-malt beer) before continuing home. On another occasion he allegedly drove home after eating and drinking alone at a Chinese restaurant. Management for Uchino released a statement saying that he had a driver at the time. And without any way to test his blood alcohol level now, the actor will not face any police investigation. But just last summer the drink-driving law was strengthened so this incident will not be treated lightly.

Meanwhile, Uchino will have a harder time wriggling out of the other scandal. It was reported earlier this year that he is separated from Ichiro Maki (45), his wife of four years, with whom he has a 3-year-old daughter. But the other woman in the magazine photos, taken in mid-August, is also married.

Uchino is a highly regarded actor who made his stage debut while a research student at Waseda University in 1995. His popularity grew the following year after he appeared in an NHK morning drama series. Other major roles on the conservative network came in “Semishigure” (2003) and the 2007 taiga drama “Fuurinkazan” (photo).

Tashiro Masashi Has Blown It Again

Tashiro Masashi

Talento Tashiro Masashi (54) has allowed drugs to destroy yet another attempt to get his life back on track. According to the Kanagawa Prefectural Police, the once hugely popular star was arrested again in the early hours of this morning, this time for possession of cocaine. It is at least the fifth arrest on a variety of charges for the former singer, comedian and TV regular.

Police said that Tashiro was arrested on the spot at 2:10am when he was found in possession of two bags containing cocaine in a parked car in Akarenga Park, Yokohama. The area has increased security as it will be the venue for the APEC summit in November. Also arrested, for possession of stimulant drugs, was a 50-year-old beauty parlor owner Arai Chieko. Tashiro told police that he had bought the cocaine from a DJ about 3 months ago, adding that he had come to Yokohama to enjoy the night scenery and discuss work with Arai. She gave a different account, saying that she had supplied the cocaine to Tashiro.

A juvenile delinquent in school, Tashiro became an overnight star when he and the blackface doo-wop group the Chanels had a chart hit with “Runaway” in 1980. After several years of pop success, Tashiro switched to TV comedy, becoming a sidekick to Shimura Ken. Throughout the 1990s he was one of the most popular stars on TV.

But things started to change in 2000, when he was sent to the prosecutor’s office for filming up a woman’s skirt with a camcorder. He received a fine for that offense and spent about six months away from showbiz before asking for forgiveness. But within six months he was in trouble with the law again, this time for peeping through the bathroom window of a neighbor’s house. A police search of his home turned up stimulant drugs and his arrest led to a suspended prison sentence. Another period away from TV was followed by a more subdued attempt to get back to work, this time as a video director.

The next slipup was a traffic accident he caused in June 2004, injuring a young motorcyclist after making an illegal U-turn. A few months later he was arrested again, for possession of a butterfly knife, stimulants and marijuana. This led to three and a half years in prison. During this time, he was subjected to a media blackout, with his image and voice removed from old recordings and the very mention of his name became taboo.

Since his various scandals first emerged, Tashiro has been something of an anti-hero for the online underground. This support plus jobs on radio and cable TV seemed to be enough to allow him to get some semblance of a career going again after his release from prison in June 2008. He recently published a book that included messages of support from various public figures.

For some celebrities, a stint at a drug addiction treatment facility just doesn’t work for them.

Living High on Royalties

Takahashi Joji, Terry Ito

Producer and TV regular Terry Ito (60, photo right) appeared at a PR event in Tokyo yesterday to promote his latest movie project. “10-okuen Kasegu” (Earn ¥1 Billion” is a documentary about Ito’s efforts to make a fortune from royalties. The movie will be released in Tokyo cinemas on November 20.

Ito started out with ¥3 million (about $36,000) in funds for his project. Deciding to invest it in the cartoon character business, he had an unknown designer come up with an original character design and then set out to sign licensing agreements. By August, the pink bat Nanity was the basis of 16 contracts with Japanese companies and another 11 overseas.

A special guest at yesterday’s event was musician Takahashi Joji (52, photo left), guitarist and vocalist with the rock band The Trabryu. The band made their breakthrough with the mega-hit “Road” in 1993. The single sold 2.2 million copies, earning Takahashi about ¥1.6 billion in royalties. He said that he spent most of that money in the space of a couple of years. But he still earns ¥7 every time someone sings the song at karaoke. And it adds up, as he reckons he makes about ¥12 million a year in royalties alone. Takahashi is married to actress Mifune Mika (28), daughter of the screen legend Mifune Toshiro (1920-1997).

Onitsuka Chihiro Victim of Assault

Onitsuka Chihiro

Tokyo police have issued an arrest warrant for a man who is believed to have assaulted singer-songwriter Onitsuka Chihiro (29), the Sankei Sports newspaper reported yesterday. According to information from the Shibuya police station, the incident happened early in the morning of August 18 at Onitsuka’s Tokyo apartment. It was not reported until that night, when a building caretaker called the police.

Onitsuka was assaulted by a male friend and left with injuries that required a month to heal. The man’s whereabouts since the incident are unknown.

Onitsuka won a Virgin Tokyo Artists Audition while still in high school and her debut album “Insomnia” topped the Oricon chart in 2001. But subsequent years saw modest chart success mixed with health and personal problems. She had surgery for polyps on her vocal chords, admitted to an eating disorder, and talked about a suicide attempt in 2004.

Tani Kei Dies at 78

Tani Kei, Crazy Cats

Comedian and actor Tani Kei died of a brain contusion early Saturday morning at a Tokyo hospital. He was 78. According to a source, he was rushed to hospital on Friday evening after falling down the stairs of his Mitaka home. He had been suffering from health problems in recent years and hadn’t appeared in public for some time. His swansong was, appropriately, last year’s 20th and final movie in the long-running “Tsuri Baka Nisshi” (Diary of a Fishing Fool) series, of which he appeared in every one. Real name Watabe Yasuo, Tani’s stage name was a tribute to the Hollywood star Danny Kaye. Married since 1958, he and his wife Kazuko had four children.

The multi-talented Tani was one of the best known stars of the post-war era. Born in Tokyo, he was raised in Hiroshima and Yokohama. He started playing trombone in junior high school and first played professionally while in college. He performed in groups such as Sharps & Flats and Frankie Sakai’s City Slickers in the early 1950s before joining the legendary jazz/comedy band Crazy Cats in 1956. With their roles in the “Musekinin” comedy movies and the TV shows “Otona no Manga” and “Shabondama Holiday” they were among the biggest stars of their day. The late Hana Hajime and Ueki Hitoshi were the two most popular members of that band, with Tani a close third, and their lyrics were written by Aoshima Yukio, who would go on to become governor of Tokyo. Among Tani’s many other contributions to pop culture were catchphrases like “Gatchon!” and “Buhyo-Buhyo” and the Japanese voice of Charlie Brown.

Anzen Chitai Tour Chaos

Tamaki Koji, Aota Noriko

Rock band Anzen Chitai gave up on last night’s concert halfway through due to problems with its frontman. Vocalist Tamaki Koji (52) seemed to be drunk as he got into arguments with audience members, forgot lyrics and finally collapsed on stage. People were already walking out of the show at the Fukuoka Sun Palace Hotel and Hall when organizers brought it to a halt. Kyodo Nishi Nihon announced on their website that tickets would be fully refunded. Today is Tamaki’s birthday and there are concerns about whether he will appear at tonight’s scheduled show in Kumamoto. The September 7 Anzen Chitai show in Osaka was cut short when Tamaki complained of health problems.

One of the more colorful characters on the rock music scene, Tamaki recently got a lot of media exposure following his relationship and recent marriage – his fifth – to talento and former pin-up girl Aota Noriko (42). This week’s “TV Bros” magazine, celebrating its 600th issue, features a photo spread of the couple naked in bed at their Tokyo home.

Kikuma Yukino Passes Bar Exam

Kikuma Yukino, Taylor Swift

Former Fuji TV announcer Kikuma Yukino (38) has passed the bar exam at the second attempt. The Ministry of Justice yesterday announced the names of those who had passed the exam, which along with the exam for certified public accountants is considered the most difficult in Japan. Up to 2006, the pass rate was as low as 3% and in order to deal with a shortage of lawyers nationwide the exam system was revamped. The pass rate this year was a little over 25%, the lowest under the new system. At a reception to honor those who passed this year’s exam, Kikuma said, “I learned that if you make the effort and do your best, good things will happen. I’m even more delighted than when I was recruited to enter Fuji TV!”

While still working on TV, she attended Omiya Law School but the intense schedule led to stress and health problems. She quit Fuji TV in 2007 to focus on her studies. After she failed the exam last year, she started getting up at 6am every day and putting in 16-17 hours of study a day before the exam in May. She will undergo legal training from November.

One of Kikuma’s most famous episodes came while she was a presenter on the “Mezamashi Terebi” show in 1998. On the live show, she fell from a 5th-storey window while demonstrating emergency escape equipment and ended up in the hospital for three months. Another infamous case was where she was involved in an underage drinking incident with a member of the Johnny’s Jimusho boy aidoru band NEWS.

Taylor Swift to Kick Off World Tour in Japan
Universal Japan announced yesterday that Grammy Award-winning country music singer Taylor Swift (20) is to start her first world tour in Japan next February. The first show in the 18-country tour will be on February 13 at the Osaka Castle Hall. That will be followed by two shows at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo and then another 80+ shows worldwide. Commenting on the plan to kick off the tour in Japan, she said, “It’s my Valentine’s Day present.” Swift performed in Tokyo on Valentine’s Day this year. Her 2008 debut album “Fearless” spent 11 weeks atop the US charts.