Japan has lost its oldest living actress. Nagaoka Teruko died of old age at her home in Tokyo in the early hours of October 18. She was 102. Best known for her role in the hugely popular NHK drama series “Oshin,” she had an eight-decade career as a theatrical producer, stage and TV actress and narrator.
A native of the northern city of Morioka, she went to study in Paris in 1928 after graduating from the Toyo Eiwa Women’s University. On her return to Japan two years later, she and her first husband formed the Teatoru Comedie theater group. Her husband died in 1937 and amidst growing militarism Nagaoka was forced to close down her theater group. She later joined the Bungaku Company, where she produced plays including those written by the up-and-coming Mishima Yukio. While continuing to produce, she made her formal debut as an actress in 1951 and made most of her 30+ movies in the 1950s. She left the theater group in 1971 and focused on stage readings of the Bible and the works of Miyazawa Kenji (1896-1933). She continued this work until recently.
Written by Hashida Sugako, “Oshin” was a massive TV hit from April 1983, and told the life story and struggles of a farm girl in northern Japan. The role of Oshin was played by three different actresses, including Tanaka Yuko (55) and Otowa Nobuko (1924-94), while Nagaoka played her employer. Aired for a year in the morning time slot, the series had an average audience rating of 52.6% – unthinkable today – and peaked at an even more impressive 62.9%, both records for a drama series that will probably never be broken. The series has been shown in dozens of countries worldwide and is considered Japan’s most successful ever drama export.
Actress Sawajiri Erika (24) is once again doing what she does best – getting the media excited and confused. It’s been several months since the media started speculating about her imminent divorce from hypermedia creator Takashiro Tsuyoshi (46). Sawajiri’s attitude and comments seemed to suggest that she had decided to formalize the split. But the couple were spotted together yesterday at Taoyuan International Airport in Taiwan. Sawajiri was there for a cosmetics company PR event but canceled at the last minute claiming she had a high fever. The Sankei Shimbun newspaper speculated today that the trip might have been an attempt at reconciliation by the couple. If it turns out that the trip is being used for private reasons at the expense of prior professional commitments, it could have a serious impact on her already poor image in the entertainment industry.
Once considered one of the most promising young actresses in Japan, Sawajiri seemed to have given it all up as her behavior became increasingly erratic after a famously moody PR appearance in 2007. Her marriage to the much older Takashiro took people by surprise, as did their decision to spend most of their time overseas (photo above). When Sawajiri finally made the move back to Japan earlier this year, pundits wondered whether the industry would even want her back, though she still had a loyal young female fan base. It seemed she had made a breakthrough when she started negotiations with the major Avex management company. But Sawajiri’s divorce is also said to have been one of the prerequisites of the contract, and negotiations are now reportedly stalled as the company has not been able to reach her since the beginning of this month.
Talking to reporters camped outside the family’s Tokyo home, Sawajiri’s mother denied that her daughter had been avoiding her responsibilities, adding that she spent some time in hospital last month and has recently been resting quietly.
Erika-sama Headed For Divorce? (Apr. 26, 2010)
Showbiz Bad Boys (and Girls) on the Comeback Trail (Mar. 4, 2010)
Bitch or Bad Hair Day? (Japan Forum, Oct. 3, 2007)