Monthly Archives: January 2011

Hazama Kanpei Completes Earth Marathon!

Hazama Kanpei Completes Earth Marathon

Japan Zone takes its hat off to Hazama Kanpei (61), who yesterday completed his mammoth Earth Marathon. The Yoshimoto Kogyo comedian ran and sailed around the entire globe, more than 41,000km in all, over the course of 766 days, and finally crossed the finish line at the Nanba Grand Kagetsu theater. The arrival was televised live and his family and Yoshimoto colleagues – many in tears – were on hand to welcome him. Along the way, Hazama learned that he had been diagnosed with cancer, in what he yesterday described as the most difficult part of his journey. Asked who he would like to dedicate his feat to, he gave the name of musician Iwamano Kiyoshiro, who wrote the theme song for the Earth Marathon but passed away in May 2009, just months after it began.

Hazama Kanpei Completes Earth Marathon
Hazama, already an experienced endurance athlete, came up with the idea for the Earth Marathon in 2006. He joked at the time that he was going to live as long as it took to complete it. When that joke came back to haunt him and he learned of the cancer a year ago, he said “If I’m going to die, I want to die running!” The following April he traveled to the US with his wife Mitsuyo (53) to undergo radiation therapy. Yesterday, he thanked her profusely for her immense support throughout the journey – she traveled eight times in all to meet him in various parts of the world.

Read more on Japan Zone about this amazing feat

Kokuhaku May Get Oscar Nod


The Matsu Takako revenge flick “Kokuhaku” (Confession) is the only Asian movie to have been shortlisted this year for an Academy Award. The movie was announced yesterday as one of nine candidates for the final five nomination slots that will be announced on January 25. The Oscar award ceremony is scheduled for February 27. If chosen, Kokuhaku will likely be up against the Danish film “In a Better World,” which recently won a Golden Globe. And if it actually takes the Oscar, it will be following in the footsteps of the 2009 winner “Okuribito” (Departures).

Kokuhaku was adapted from the 2009 bestselling mystery novel by Minato Kanae, which won the year’s Honya Taisho award. Released here last June, the movie took in a decent ¥3.8 billion at the box office and has drawn the attention of overseas studios interested in doing a remake. It won a slew of domestic awards, including a Best Actress nod to Matsu (36) at the Japan Academy Awards that further enhanced her reputation as one of the best actresses of her generation. She plays a junior high school teacher who, after her infant daughter is found dead, seeks revenge against the two students that she believes carried out the murder. The plot evolves through a series of confessions and the movie also addresses some heavy social themes such as HIV, “ijime” (bullying) and “hikikomori” (social withdrawal). With Nakashima Tetsuya directing, the movie has the visual flair of his other films, which include “Kamikaze Girls” and “Memories of Matsuko.” In a first for a Japanese production, alternative Brit rockers Radiohead contributed the track “Last Flowers” as the theme song for the movie.

Watch the trailer for Kokuhaku on YouTube.

Somewhere in Tokyo

Sophia Coppola, Stephen Dorff

Hollywood director Sophia Coppola (39) and actor Stephen Dorff (37) were in Tokyo yesterday promoting their latest movie project. “Somewhere” isn’t due for release in Japan until April 2 even though it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival last September. Coppola says the story, about a self-absorbed movie star (Dorff) whose life changes through his relationship with his daughter (Elle Fanning), was influenced by the birth of her own baby girl shortly before she started writing the script for the project, which she also produced. And of course, the story owes a lot to her relationship with her own father, director Francis Ford Coppola (71).

NHK to Cut Back on Sumo Broadcasts
NHK announced yesterday that after the spring tournament ends in March it will no longer broadcast live sumo on its BS2 satellite channel. From the May tournament, the network will only show sumo on its general channel. The decision is mainly because the current lineup of three satellite channels will be reduced to two (BS1 and BS Premium) from April 1. NHK currently airs live sumo from 1pm to 6pm, allowing it to broadcast the junior bouts all the way up to the grand champion(s) whose bouts round out the day’s schedule. From May only the bouts featuring “makushita,” or upper ranked wrestlers, will be shown.

Beady Eye
Beady Eye to Tour Japan
Beady Eye, the rock quartet formed by Oasis vocalist Liam Gallagher (38), are to play their first Japan shows in May, it was announced yesterday. They will play five shows at the Zepp venues in Osaka, Nagoya and Tokyo. The 2,000-capacity live houses are a big step down from the kind of venues Oasis played here before they split in 2009. And making the tickets even more rare is the fact that the band’s tour will only take in 13 shows in the UK and Europe.

Speed’s Uehara Lands Lead Role

Uehara Takako (28, photo left), a member of the J-pop group Speed, has landed her first movie starring role. Though she has appeared on the big screen, with and without her fellow group mates, her role in “Koi Tanibashi – La Vallee de L’Amour” marks a significant change for her. She plays an employee at a Tokyo design firm who returns to her family’s country home after being laid off. Back in the onsen (hot spring resort) town of Misasa in Tottori Prefecture, she dons a kimono to take over the role of “okami” or proprietress of the family inn. During the 3-week location shoot, she had to carry out one local tradition – paying homage at the Nageiredo temple, precariously perched on the 900m cliffs overlooking the town.

Uehara had her first movie role with Speed in 1998, her solo debut was the main supporting role in 1999’s “Dreammaker,” for which she won a Best Newcomer prize at the Japan Academy Awards. She has had a handful of dramatic and narration movie roles since. TV drama parts have been more plentiful and she has also appeared in a couple of stage productions.

Miyagawa Daisuke a Dad At Last
Popular comedian Miyagawa Daisuke (38, photo right) has finally become a father. Married for 13 years, he announced yesterday that his wife gave birth to a baby boy back on December 2. The late announcement was due to the fact that the baby was born premature and Miyagawa waited until he was released from hospital.

Wada Ben Dies of Cancer

Wada Ben

Renowned producer and director Wada Ben died of esophageal cancer at an old people’s home in Kawasaki yesterday. He was 80. Known for his hearty laugh, which earned him the nickname “Gahaha no Ojisan,” the Mie Prefecture native joined NHK in 1953 after graduating from Waseda University. He became one of the network’s most successful directors, working on such popular taiga historical drama series as “Ryoma ga Yuku” (1968), “Amagigoe” (1978), and “Ashura no Gotoku” (1979).

Wada’s work was frequently recognized at festivals, to the extent that he was referred to as the “Arts Festival Man.” He retired from NHK in 1987, and went on to make such movies as “Harimao” and the first of the “Kanzen Shiiku” (Perfect Education) series in 2001.

Kuwata Keisuke to Release Solo Album
And speaking of stars battling with esophageal cancer, Southern All Stars vocalist Kuwata Keisuke (54) gave the first glimpse of his upcoming solo album, his first since announcing his cancer last summer. “Music Man” is scheduled for release on February 23 and is being touted as his “kaiki iwai,” or celebrating recovery from illness. The first run of the CD will include a 104-page book and a DVD documenting the recording of the album. The DVD will also include music promo videos for the first time in Kuwata’s career, including his 35 years with SAS.

Hosokawa Toshiyuki Dies After Fall

Hosokawa Toshiyuki, Kinomi Nana

Multi-talented actor Hosokawa Toshiyuki died on Friday after injuring his head in a fall earlier in the week at his home in Tokyo. He was 70. Known for his cool image and for taking his craft very seriously, Hosokawa was a popular supporting actor on stage and TV and in movies. He is survived by a daughter from his failed marriage to actress Ogawa Mayumi (71). In 1974, he got remarried to former Takarazuka actress Fujimoto Norie.

A native of Fukuoka Prefecture, Hosokawa dropped out a student at Gakushuin University in 1964 to join the Bungakuza theatrical troupe. His best known stage success was the musical “Show Girl,” in which he co-starred with actress Kinomi Nana (64, photo right) for a 15-year run. Hosokawa’s popular screen roles include the hit 1994 NTV drama series “Ienakiko,” alongside child prodigy Adachi Yumi (29), and the 1997 comedy movie “Rajio no Jikan” (Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald). He also worked as a radio disc jockey and as a professor at Osaka University of Arts.

Shido Looking to Get Shackled Again?

Nakamura Shido, Saeko

Kabuki star Nakamura Shido (38, photo left) may be on the verge of getting married again. Today’s issue of weekly magazine “Friday” includes a report on the actor and his girlfriend recently buying an engagement ring together. Reporters confronted Nakamura last night after a performance in Tokyo and he took the time to acknowledge his new relationship, removing his sunglasses for that extra bit of sincerity. The new love in his life is described as a 27-year-old “office lady,” who is a graduate of the prestigious Waseda University and has appeared as a model in fashion magazines. The couple, who are said to have met at a party last summer, are living together at Nakamura’s apartment in the Pacific Ocean town of Shonan, Kanagawa Prefecture.

After his February 2008 divorce from actress Takeuchi Yuko (30, with whom he has a 5-year-old son, Nakamura was romantically linked with a younger actress bombshell, Kuroki Meisa (22). He is currently appearing at Le Theatre Ginza, in a production that replaced the scheduled show starring troubled fellow kabuki “prince” Ichikawa Ebizo (33).

Welcome Back, Mrs. Darvish
In what’s most likely an attempt to get her career back on track before she ends up as the ex-Mrs. Darvish, talento Saeko (24, photo right) has filmed her first professional TV appearance in more than three years. Yesterday she did the PR for her role as “navigator” for the upcoming airing of Hollywood comedy flop “Due Date” on the CS Movie+ cable/satellite channel. The wife of Darvish Yu (24), the highest-paid player in Japanese baseball, hasn’t worked on TV since their November 2007 shotgun marriage, though she has appeared in magazines and done some fashion promotion.

The couple have two young sons but are currently in divorce negotiations. And the financial pie they’d be slicing up recently became much bigger. Earlier this month it was announced that the Nippon Ham Fighters star pitcher had received a hefty pay raise and will receive a whopping ¥500 million for the 2011 season. But the couple’s marital problems date back to last year, when the media speculated about rumors of his extramarital affairs and disagreements over their finances.

Rag Fair Call it a Day, For Now

Rag Fair

Popular acappella group Rag Fair formally announced on their website yesterday that they will be taking an indefinite break from performing from late March. The group’s six members, now in their tenth year as pros, plan to pursue solo careers after finishing a concert tour that will take in Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka between February 19 and March 20.

Rag Fair formed in July 1999 while the members were all at Saitama University. There was growing interest in acappella in Japan at the time, and the group got their break following an appearance on a Fuji TV variety show hosted by the comedy group Neptune in 2001. “Hamonepu” – a combination of the Japanese for “harmony” and “Neptune” – was a segment where young singers competed in a knockout format. In June 2002, six months after they signed with a major record label, they released two singles, “Koi no Mileage” and “SheSide Story,” and saw them go to No.1 and No.2 on the Oricon charts. That success earned them a place on NHK’s popular “Kohaku Uta Gassen” concert at the end of 2002.

Nishina Akiko Remarries
Following yesterday’s wedding announcement by actor Nishina Masaki (28) and actress Takigawa Hanako (22) comes the news that Nishina’s mother has remarried. Nishina Akiko (57), herself the daughter of a kabuki actor, was married to popular actor Matsukata Hiroki (68) until their divorce in 1998. She raised their two children, who have also entered showbiz. So it is quite a change for her to tie the knot with a manager at a major advertising firm. He is also a divorcee with a grown son.

Japan’s First 3D Drama Series
A PR event was held in Tokyo yesterday for the country’s first 3D TV drama series. “Tokyo Control,” which focuses on the air traffic controllers who maintain order in the skies above the capital, will air on the Sukachan 3D169 cable/satellite channel from January 19. But perhaps in an indication of the experimental nature of 3D television or the show’s production costs, it will air every other Wednesday night. It stars Kawahara Ayako (39) and 3D veteran Tokito Saburo (52), who appeared in last year’s “The Last Message Umizaru,” the last in a series of action movies about the Japan Coast Guard. At yesterday’s event, Tokito joked, “I’ve established my position as the 3D actor guy. Using this opportunity, I’ve set up the Japan 3D Actors Association, with myself as the chairman!” He expressed his confidence in the new show by saying, “I think it’s even better than Avatar.”

2nd Generation Actors Wed

Nishina Masaki, Takigawa Hanako

Actor Nishina Masaki and actress Takigawa Hanako officially tied the knot yesterday, they announced on their blogs and by fax to the media. Nishina (28) is the eldest son of actor Matsukata Hiroki (68) and actress Nishina Akiko (57), while Takigawa (22) is the daughter of the late actor Achiha Shinsuke (1940-2007) and actress Takigawa Yumi (59). The younger couple’s relationship was first reported in January of last year when they traveled to Guam, and they announced their engagement back in October.

Comedy Creator Yokozawa Dies

Yokozawa Takeshi, Beat Takeshi, Akashiya Sanma

Yokozawa Takeshi (photo left), the man who created some of Japan’s best-loved comedy shows, died yesterday at a Tokyo hospital of pneumonia. He was 73. A native of Gunma Prefecture, he joined Fuji TV in 1962 after graduating from the prestigious Tokyo University. He worked in a variety of divisions before moving to TV production in 1974. In 1980, he was a leading force behind the show “The Manzai,” which led to a boom in the double act form of standup comedy that remains so prevalent to this day. He later went on to produce two legendary shows – “Oretachi Hyokinzoku,” which made superstars of Kitano “Beat” Takeshi (63, photo center, profile) and Akashiya Sanma (55, photo right, profile), and “Waratte Iitomo,” the vehicle for the comedy and hosting talents of Tamori (65, profile) which has been on the air every weekday afternoon for 28 years.

In 1990 Yokozawa also took on the post of president of Virgin Japan, and he quit Fuji TV in 1995 to become president of the Tokyo branch of Yoshimoto Kogyo (profile), the major talent agency that represents most of the top comedy acts in Japan. He also worked as a professor at Kamakura Womens University and as a media commentator.