Monthly Archives: November 2010

Kohaku Gets a Headliner

Kuwata Keisuke

NHK have managed to snag at least one headline-worthy act for this year’s “Kohaku Uta Gassen.” When the lineup for the 61st annual New Year’s Eve song battle was announced last week, it was noticeably short of surprises or “medama” (“standout,” lit. eyeball) artists. But yesterday it was announced that Southern All Stars vocalist Kuwata Keisuke (54) would appear, just six months after he underwent surgery for esophageal cancer. It will be his first time to perform on the live concert as a solo artist. He is being billed as a “special guest,” as was legendary rocker Yazawa Eikichi (61) last year, in what will be his first public appearance since a concert by his wife and fellow SAS member, Hara Yuko (53), on July 4.

Warrant Issued for Ebizo Assault

Ichikawa Ebizo

An arrest warrant has been issued for a Tokyo man following last week’s assault on kabuki star Ichikawa Ebizo (32). The 26-year-old man is said to have beaten Ichikawa, leaving him with facial injuries including a broken cheekbone and a lost tooth, after they got into an argument at a bar in the central Tokyo district of Nishi Azabu in the early hours of Thursday morning. The actor’s wife, talento Kobayashi Mao (28), called police after her bloodied husband returned home shortly after 7am. He was taken to hospital and a formal complaint was filed with Tokyo police on Sunday. A kabuki production that was scheduled to start today at the Minamiza theater in Kyoto has been postponed.

No specific details has yet been released on the alleged assailant, except that he is said to look like hulking former NFL player and K1 fighter Bob Sapp. It is widely assumed that he is a member of the yakuza, or Japanese mob. Ichikawa had been out drinking all night with several kabuki colleagues before ending up at the Nishi Azabu bar. There he drank a mob boss – who he says he met for the first time but is refusing to name – under the table, at which point the trouble started. Police found blood spattered on the wall and emergency stairs of the building where Ichikawa was dragged down eleven flights of stairs.

Singer Silvia Dies of Lung Cancer


Singer Silvia died yesterday afternoon of lung cancer at a Tokyo hospital. She was 52. Real name Matsuda Rieko, the Osaka native made her singing debut in 1979 when she was scouted to be the first vocalist for the group Los Indios. Success was immediate as they had a million-selling hit with their debut single “Wakaretemo Sukina Hito.” While with the group and later as a solo performer, Silvia often paired up with male singers and was known as the Queen of Duets. She and Sugawara Yoichi (77) had a hit with “Amant” in 1982.

Silvia was diagnosed with lung cancer in May 2009 and was told that her condition was already too advanced to be helped by surgery. She was given six months to live, but continued to perform while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment. She released a single, which was to be her last, in October 2009. As recently as August she was on stage for an event in Hiroshima. But she was re-hospitalized in September and was in a coma for the last two months. Her ex-husband and teenage son spent almost every day at her bedside.

TBS Shelves North Korean Spy Docu-drama

Kim Hyon Hui

The TBS network announced yesterday that they are postponing the airing of a docu-drama on the famous 1987 bombing of Korean Air Flight 858 by North Korean agents. The decision was made following Tuesday’s artillery attack by North Korea on the South. The 2-hour show was scheduled to be aired on November 29. It includes an interview with one of the bombers, Kim Hyon Hui (48, photo), who was given the death sentence in 1989, but was pardoned by the South Korean president. The show also includes a dramatic recreation of the 1987 incident, in which all 115 passengers on a flight from Baghdad to Seoul were killed, based on Kim’s account.

The interview was carried out this summer when Kim, author of the book “The Tears of My Soul,” visited Japan under heavy security. She also met with relatives of Japanese citizens who were kidnapped by North Korean agents during the 1970s and 1980s. The visit – which required special government clearance as Kim is still a criminal due to her use of a false Japanese passport – and the VIP treatment given to Kim was heavily criticized by the media.

No.3 for Miho, Izam
Talento Yoshioka Miho (30) and singer Izam (38) sent a fax to the media yesterday to announce the arrival of their third child, a baby boy. The former cross-dressing vocalist of visual-kei rock band Shazna, Izam is now a variety show regular. He’s usually the butt of jokes about the abuse he takes from his younger but domineering wife.

Ebizo Hospitalized with Head Wound

Ichikawa Ebizo, Kobayashi Mao

Kabuki star Ichikawa Ebizo (32) was taken to hospital this morning with a reported head wound, according to the Sankei Sports newspaper. His wife, talento Kobayashi Mao (28) called for an ambulance around 7:20 this morning saying her husband was bleeding from an injury to the side of his head. Police from the Meguro station near the actor’s home in Tokyo said the call came after Ichikawa had returned home. They are planning to question him about the nature of the injury, suggesting it might have been the result of violence.

Ichikawa just yesterday cancelled a press conference scheduled for today to announce a kabuki show at the Le Theatre Ginza next January. The eldest son of kabuki veteran Ichikawa Danjuro (64), he was given te stage name Ebizo XI in 2004 and is considered the brightest young star in the traditional theater world. He married Kobayashi in an elaborate showbiz wedding in March, but was long considered one of Japan’s biggest playboys.
Related stories:
Ebizo, Mao Hold Wedding and Huge Reception (Mar. 30, 2010)

NHK Announces Kohaku Lineup

Kohaku Uta Gassen

The lineup for this year’s 61st “Kohaku Uta Gassen” (Red-White Song Battle) was announced yesterday. The annual concert on New Year’s Eve has traditionally been one of the most watched shows on TV, though ratings have been in decline for some years. The red and white teams will be made up of 44 acts this year, down from last year’s 50. And there will be only 5 newcomers appearing for the first time, matching the lowest number ever. Among them is singer Uemura Kana (27, photo front row, 2nd right), who had a breakthrough hit this year with “Toire no Kamisama” (God of the Toilet). In spite the title, the song is dedicated to Uemura’s late grandmother. At 9 minutes and 52 seconds, it will be longest song ever performed on the show.

Although K-pop acts continue to be very popular in Japan, there will be no Korean artists on the show this year. There are no big surprises or gimmicks in the lineup like last year’s appearances by Susan Boyle (49) and Yazawa Eikichi (61). It includes the usual Johnny’s Jimusho artists like SMAP (profile), Tokio and Arashi, who will be on emcee duty along with actress Matsushita Nao (25). Arashi drew a peak audience rating of 42% on last year’s show, while Matsushita was the star of the year’s most popular NHK drama series “Gegege no Nyobo.”

Getting the call up for the first time in 9 years will be 1980s idol Go Hiromi (55) and 60s idol Kayama Yuzo (73), who is celebrating his 50th year in showbiz. Rockers L’Arc En Ciel, who recorded the theme song for NHK’s coverage of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, will appear for the first time in 10 years. And making his record-stretching 47th appearance on the show will be enka veteran Kitajima Saburo (74, profile). Kohaku will air on NHK from 7:30pm on December 31.

Norwegian Wood Premieres

Norwegian Wood premiere

The Japan premiere of “Norwegian Wood” was held on Tuesday, a national holiday. Director Tran Anh Hung (47, photo rear left), stars Matsuyama Kenichi (25, front 2nd left) and Kikuchi Rinko (29, front 2nd right) and other cast members arrived at the event, the first ever of its type held on the campus of Waseda University, in a vintage Cadillac. They walked the red carpet and signed autographs for the 1,00 or so fans who turned out. Speaking about the film, Matsuyama said, “It’s a wonderful work, almost too good to express in words. Though I say so myself, I think the acting is perfect.” It is the first big screen adaption of Murakami Haruki’s international best-seller, which has been translated into 36 languages. Waseda is Murakami’s alma mater and also a location in the movie.

The movie, which received a 3-minute standing ovation at the Venice International Film Festival in September, opens in Japan on December 11. It also features the acting debut of model Mizuhara Kiko (20, front left).
Related stories:
Matsuken, Rinko Land Choice Roles (May 15, 2009)
Norwegian Wood to Use Beatles Original (Jul. 14, 2010)

Hirosue Expecting Again
Meanwhile, management for actress Hirosue Ryoko (30), who married candle artist Candle June (36) last month, announced on her website yesterday that she is four months pregnant. The statement also said that she hopes to get back to work as soon as possible after having the baby. She is the mother of a 6-year-old son from her marriage to model/designer Okazawa Takahiro (35), which ended in March 2008. She was also five months pregnant at the time of her marriage to Okazawa in December 2003.

Utada Just Wants to be a “Normal Adult”

Utada Hikaru

J-pop star Utada Hikaru (27) yesterday spoke publicly for the first time about her recent decision to take an indefinite break from her music career. Appearing on the J-Wave radio station in Tokyo, she talked with DJ Chris Peppler on his “Tokio Hot100” show.

He jokingly referred to her comment that she wanted to engage in more “human activities,” to which she replied, “I want to take a step away from musical activities, to return almost to zero.” She also said she’d like to spend more time getting to know her father, with whom she has had a mostly working relationship for the last decade, and doing volunteer work overseas. She went on, “I didn’t want to be a woman in my 40s and 50s who can’t do anything for herself without the help of a manager. I guess I never really grew up.” A mega-star since her mid-teens, she said, “I didn’t know what my rent was. I never had to think about basic things like paying my utility bills or balancing a bank book. That may be cute in a 15- or 16-year-old, but I thought it was pretty uncool to become that kind of adult.” She used the phrase “itai otona,” which literally means “painful adult” and it just might catch on with the Japanese media and public.

The show also featured Utada’s new single “Goodbye Happiness,” which is included on the hits album “Single Collection Vol.2” that goes on sale Wednesday. She referred to it as an “antithesis to today’s pop music.” Utada directed the promo video, which has already been viewed over 1.2 million times on YouTube. Done in the style of a computer video chat, it appears to have been done in one take and includes references to earlier videos she has made. Utada will perform two concerts at the Yokohama Arena on December 8 & 9 before going into early “retirement.”

Promo video for “Goodbye Happiness”:

Ron Weasley Back in Tokyo

Rupert Grint, Evanna Lynch, Bonnie Wright

Young British actor Rupert Grint (22) was in Tokyo yesterday to promote the latest installment of the “Harry Potter” movie series. On his first visit to Japan since 2004, Grint was accompanied by actresses and fellow redheads Evanna Lynch (19) and Bonnie Wright (19). He expressed his sadness and emptiness now that filming of the movie series has ended, saying it has been his whole life for the last decade. He added that he had hoped to have chance to catch some sumo while he was in town, but his busy scheduled didn’t allow it. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1” opens in Japan today while the closing installment is scheduled for a July 15, 2011 release.

A Dramatic First


TBS announced yesterday that it was planning to re-broadcast the popular and critically lauded drama series “Jin.” And in what is described as a first for any network, it will air the repeat showing during prime time. The series, which with 30 top awards has won more domestic and international recognition than any other TBS drama, was originally aired in the autumn season of last year. A “director’s cut” of the full 9-hour series will be re-shown in two parts from 7pm on December 27-28. A sequel is planned for next year’s spring season.

“Jin” is the story of a brain surgeon (Osawa Takao, 42) who finds himself transported back in time to the late 1860s and the end of Edo era. Last December’s final episode of the series had an average audience rating of 25.3% in the Kanto region, the highest figure for a drama series in 2009. Last month it won four of the top prizes, including best serial drama, at the Tokyo Drama Awards. It also took a top prize at the Seoul Drama Awards in September and a Buyers Award at Cannes last month.

Young Actors Get Big Break
Young actors Toda Erika (22) and Miura Haruma (20) have been named to the lead roles in an upcoming Fuji TV romantic drama series. The pair will play the roles of young school teachers in “Taisetsuna Koto wa Subete Kimi ga Oshietekureta,” which will air in the highest profile prime time spot, Monday nights at 9pm.