Monthly Archives: January 2012

Ishii Two Times Lucky

Lasar Ishii

Happy news for comedy talento Lasar Ishii (56) who is getting married not once but twice this year. And not only that but in both cases it’s to a woman younger than his own daughters! Ishii is currently appearing in the NHK drama series “Carnation” in which his character just last week married a much younger woman, played by “Kill Bill” star Kuriyama Chiaki (27).

And on last night’s edition of the “Odoru! Sanma Goten!!”, hosted by comedian Akashiya Sanma (56), he revealed that he and his 24-year-old ippanjin girlfriend plan to tie the knot soon. It’s been a year since Ishii divorced his wife of 32 years after a 15-year separation. As we reported at the time, it was reported that he had been spotted on a Christmas Eve date with a woman in her 20s and also that she had dumped him soon after he resented a ring. But it is believed that his fiancee is the same woman, who is 32 years younger than the star and younger than both of his daughters.

UPDATE: It turns out that Ishii and the young lady in question are already married, having tied the knot on January 11. And she is not the same person he broke up with around the time of his divorce. He and his new bride met in September and Ishii proposed just a month later. She is currently a university student.

An AKB48 Scandal

Hirajima Natsumi, Yonezawa Rumi

It had to happen. With its dozens of teen and young adult members, it was only a matter of time before someone in AKB48 got themselves in trouble. It was announced on the group’s official blog at the end of last week that Hirajima Natsumi (19, photo left) and Yonezawa Rumi (20, photo right) are to be kicked out. The reason? Being photographed semi-naked? No, that was approved. Singing rubbish songs badly? No, that was the whole point of the group. Photos circulating on the web of members hanging out with boys? Yer outta here!

AKB48 Scandal
The photos, posted to Twitter, were not exactly hardcore. The one above – Yonezawa is far left, Hirajima far right -showed the two stars having a typical night out with friends some of whom were male. But it is standard practice in the world of disposable Japanese pop aidorus – where devoted adoration by legions of male fans is the key to commercial success – to be prohibited from having boyfriends, even if they have come of age. And truth be told, neither Hirajima not Yonezawa were among the more popular members of the huge AKB48 troupe. Hirajima performed on only 3 of the group’s A-side singles, the last in February 2008, while Yonezawa never even got one call up.

Group leader, or captain, Takahashi Minami (20) posted a comment on the incident on her blog yesterday. “It may be just a regular thing for regular girls, but we are AKB48, aren’t we? We can’t change the reality of the situation.” She wished her two friends well in their new journey through life. Like Takahashi, Hirajima has been one of the group’s original members since 2005, while Yonezawa joined in the third round of auditions in 2006. Their final appearance as AKB48 members will be a fan meet-and-greet on February 5.

Money Problems No Laughing Matter

Othello, Nakajima Tomoko

Comedienne Nakajima Tomoko (40, photo left), currently on an extended break due to health problems, is having serious financial problems as well, according to today’s issue of weekly magazine “Flash.” She is said to owe some ¥6.6 million in back rent on her luxury Tokyo apartment and her nearby management office in a posh area of Tokyo’s Shibuya district. A curious angle on the story is that her landlord is none other than popular actor Motoki Masahiro (46) and his wife, actress Uchida Yayako (35). Legal proceedings have already started to recoup the six months rent owed on the ¥450,000-a-month office. Rent on the ¥650,000 apartment is outstanding for the same period. One source says that Nakajima is currently sharing the apartment with a fortune teller who guides her every decision. Her family is said to be so worried about her that they consulted with Tokyo police last autumn.

Nakajima is still formally one half of the duo Othello, so named because she was permanently tanned while partner Matsushima Nahomi (40, photo center) was very pale. The pair have been regulars on the buy sedative zoloft circuit from the mid-1990s. Nakajima is a former college beauty queen and her dramatic weight gain in the last couple of years has been the subject of much media speculation. She had four weekly TV slots until poor health forced her to take time off last April. Officially she still has those slots, though others have been filling in for her for almost a year so she is not currently receiving any salary. Meanwhile, Matsushima has maintained a strong solo career and became a mother in December.

The Ace and the Idiot

Tanaka Masahiro, Satoda Mai

They make quite a couple – he’s one of the young stars of Japanese baseball, she made her name as a bit of an idiot. Rakuten Eagles ace pitcher Tanaka Masahiro (23) and talento Satoda Mai (27, right photo, center) announced their engagement to the media by fax yesterday. The pair said that they plan to tie the knot at the end of March before the start of the baseball season. They mentioned no plans for a wedding ceremony and Satoda said she plans to continue her showbiz career as long as it does not impede her ability to be the ideal housewife.

The two first made their romance public on their blogs in November 2010 and they were seen visiting Bali together the following month. Tanaka first entered the national spotlight as a teenager, when he was on the losing end of an epic pitchers’ duel in the final of the 2006 National High School Baseball Tournament (commonly referred to by the venue, Koshien) against Saito Yuki (23), now the ace for the Nippon Ham Fighters. In 2007 he was named rookie of the year, and in 2011 Tanaka had his best season to date as a pro, with a 19-5 record and his first Eiji Sawamura Award. Satoda got her start as a member of the Hello! Project group Country Musume and is now one of TV’s so-called “o-baka kyara,” which refers to celebrities whose perceived role on the variety show circuit is basically to be dumb. Together with the similarly intellectually challenged Kinoshita Yukina (24) and Suzanne (25) she was a member of the pop trio Pabo. She broke with something of a trend by marrying someone younger – Kinoshita married comedian Fujimoto Toshifumi (41) in 2010, while Suzanne got hitched to baseball rehabilitation coach Saito Kazumi (34) just last month.

The Beautiful Ones

Akanishi Jin, Kuroki Meisa

Two of Japanese showbiz’s “beautiful people” are now an item. It was revealed yesterday that Johnny’s Jimusho aidoru Akanishi Jin (27) and actress Kuroki Meisa (23) have recently started dating. The pair have known each other for a few years but became closer after working together last autumn, and the relationship got serious in the New Year. They were spotted together on a date at Tokyo Disney Sea on January 22. It comes as no surprise to Japan Zone that the news of their relationship comes on the same day as the release of “Sun Burns Down,” Akanishi’s second single in the U.S.

Both stars have a solid track record of romances with others in the industry. Akanishi has been linked with former Speed member Uehara Takako (29), actress Kato Rosa (26) and models Rina (31) and Nishiyama Maki (26). And Kuroki is no slouch, already having notches for musican Ken and kabuki star Nakamura Shido (39), and as recently as last November was seen visiting an onsen (hot spring) resort with Formula One racer Kobayashi Kamui (25).

Akanishi, a former member of the Johnny’s group KAT-TUN, is trying to become the first Japanese star in recent years to make it big in the U.S. He made his performing debut there in 2010, performing a 5-city concert tour, and released his U.S. debut single, “Test Drive,” last November. He will appear later this year in the Keanu Reeves vehicle “47 Ronin,” a Hollywood adaptation of Japan’s most famous samurai story. Kuroki is said to have a similar desire to become a Hollywood action star.

A Tiger Reunion

The Tigers

Legendary band The Tigers had a one-night-only reunion last night on the 41st anniversary of their farewell concert at Nippon Budokan in central Tokyo. The event was the final show in a nationwide concert tour by vocalist Sawada “Julie” Kenji (63, photo 3rd from left). He was joined on tour by drummer Hitomi Minoru (65), guitarist Morimoto Taro (64), bassist Kishibe Ittoku (65, photo left). And last night also saw an appearance by Kishibe’s younger brother Shiro (62, photo 2nd from left), who has had difficulty walking since suffering a stroke in 2003. In what he described as “like a dream,” he took part in a performance of the Bee Gees song “First of May,” the first by the band’s five members since they split in 1971. The only absentee was founding member Kahashi Katsumi (63) and Sawada said he hoped to see a full reunion in the near future.

The Tigers were one of the most successful rock and roll bands in the so-called “group sounds” scene of the 1960s and were the first band to play the Budokan, then the biggest indoor arena in the country. It has since become something of a mecca for both Japanese artists and top acts from overseas.

Japan a No-Show at Oscars
After a few years of nominations and Academy Awards, there won’t be any Japanese representation at this year’s Oscars, to be held in Los Angeles on February 26. It looks like the only nomination with a Japanese angle is the documentary feature, “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom.” Directed by Lucy Walker, the critically acclaimed film is described in IMDB as “Survivors in the areas hardest hit by Japan’s recent tsunami find the courage to revive and rebuild as cherry blossom season begins.” It has been nominated for Best Documentary Short Subject.

There were hopes that Taiwanese historical drama epic “Seediq Bale,” which features actor Ando Masanobu (36), would get a nomination but it wasn’t chosen in the Best Foreign Film category. And the talk of this year’s awards is “The Artist,” the black and white tribute to old Hollywood which earned a nod for Best Picture and is the first silent movie to be nominated in 83 years.

The Rape Scandal That Wasn’t


Police in Osaka yesterday arrested a woman on libel charges after she posted a false rape allegation against comedian Yamane Yoshiaki (35, photo left) on the internet. Kawamoto Junko (33), a self-described part-time worker from Kobe, filed a criminal complaint with police at the Yodogawa station last August saying she had been raped, and posted the details on a bulletin board in September. Management for Yamane in turn sued the woman for libel at the Osaka District Court. Yodogawa police reported their findings to the court earlier this month, saying they found no evidence to support the claim.

Yamane is the “boke” half of the comedy duo Ungirls, whose selling point point is their gangly awkwardness. They made their TV breakthrough in 2004, leading to the creation of the term “kimokawaii” (gross cute). Management for the duo said of the libel case, “It has been proved that there was not a shred of evidence to question (Yamane’s) legal liability.”

Yet Another Showbiz Shotgun Wedding

Wakatsuki Chinatsu

Here at Japan Zone we try not to be too cynical, but this one always seems like the template for how not to get married. Talento Wakatsuki Chinatsu (27) announced on her blog last night that she got married yesterday. She also revealed that she is currently five months pregnant and that she plans to continue her showbiz and fashion careers. She said she and her husband met three years ago and dated for about 15 months, and described him as a Tokyo company employee and several years older than herself. No mention of whether he looks anything like soccer star David Beckham (36) or baseball ace Darvish Yuu (25), both of whom she has admitted being besotted with.

Like many female stars, Wakatsuki was scouted as a teenager on the streets of Shibuya and got her start as a pinup bikini model. The following year she made her CD debut and was soon becoming a regular on the variety show circuit. The main thing that makes her stand out from the herd is her success as a blogger. In 2007 she launched the quirkily named “Mahbodofu wa Nomimono” on the Ameba-hosted service, and her frank writing style soon made it the country’s most popular showbiz blog. But at the end of that year she announced that she was quitting showbiz as it was messing with her head. She faded in and out of the public eye over the following years, and established her own fashion brand in 2009.

Meanwhile comedian Yasuda Kazuhiro (44) also got hitched yesterday, joking that the announcement would be lost amidst Wakatsuki’s and Hamasaki Ayumi’s divorce news. Yasuda is one half of the comedy duo Dangerous, and his comic partner Nocchi (46) has been busy the last few years with his impersonation of Barack Obama.

Speed Divorce for Ayu

Hamasaki Ayumi, Manuel Schwarz

International marriages are on the increase in Japan, and that has to be a good thing for such an insular country. But yesterday saw the all-too-sudden end of one such high profile marriage, as J-pop diva Hamasaki Ayumi (33) announced to her fans that she and her Austrian husband are getting divorced today. Ayu posted a message to her online fan club shortly before midnight last night, saying that she and Los Angeles-based actor Manuel Schwarz (31) were calling it quits after being married for a little over a year. A lawyer for the singer is to file the divorce papers in Las Vegas today. Sources say there will be no alimony payments or divorce settlement.

One of the reasons given for the divorce in the Japanese media is that Hamasaki, who initially agreed that the couple should live in the US, has felt a strong desire to stay in Japan in the aftermath of last March’s earthquake and tsunami disaster. Her fund-raising efforts, such as the sale of specially designed t-shirts, have raised tens of millions of yen for disaster relief. Hamasaki spent a week in Hawaii earlier this month, with no sign of her husband, and is said to be currently working overseas.

Last year was something of a roller coaster ride for Hamasaki. She wore a white wedding dress for her appearance on NHK’s “Kohaku Uta Gassen” on New Year’s Eve, 2010, where she sang “Virgin Road,” the Japanese expression for walking up the aisle. The very next day she flew to Las Vegas to get hitched in a small wedding chapel. In September she was forced to drop out at the last minute from a planned appearance in the 25th anniversary special of TV Asahi’s “Music Station” when she suffered a bout of acute pharyngitis in the US.

Ever the professional, Hamasaki has tried to put a brave face on things for her fans. On January 14, she posted a hint of what was to come on Twitter, saying “B thankful 4 the bad things in life. 4 they open my eyes 2 the good things I wasn’t paying attention before;)” and later “Tabidachi no junbi dayo. I’m on my way to future.” Two days later it was her husband’s turn as he re-posted a tweet from guitarist Slash, a famous quote from legendary British prime minister Winston Churchill, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Showbiz News Update

Miyane Seiji, Shimada Shinsuke, Date Mikio

It’s been a fairly quiet start to the year in the Japanese entertainment world. On the scandal front, up-and-coming presenter Miyane Seiji (48) revealed just over a week ago that he has a 4-year-old child born outside of his marriage. His Japanese Wikipedia page now lists his family as one daughter, one lover, one “kakushigo,” the term used to describe a child hidden or kept secret. Meanwhile, moves seem to be afoot to restart the showbiz career of the more thoroughly disgraced master emcee Shimada Shinsuke (55). Yoshimoto Kogyo management agency CEO Ohsaki Hiroshi (58) has publicly expressed his desire to see one of Japanese TV’s biggest stars back at work after his career was derailed last year following the exposure of his yakuza connections. Soon afterwards it was revealed that his voice will appear in the upcoming debut movie by Yoshimoto comedian Nagahara Seiki (47), who himself appeared in Shimada’s 1991 movie directorial debut, “Kaze, Slowdown.” Coming just four months after Shimada’s very public early retirement last August, such a speedy return is only possible for someone of his earning status and connections within the industry. But it also undermines the police’s concerted efforts to rid showbiz of its ties to organized crime.

Though the new year saw the loss of a few from the older generation of stars, some showbiz couples have welcomed new additions to their families. One of the most recent additions is the baby girl born at the end of last week to comedian Date Mikio (37) and freelance announcer Kumagai Maiko (41). Date blogged that work had kept him away from the delivery, and also revealed that Kumagai had suffered a miscarriage about a year ago. The couple married last September. Date is one half of the manzai duo Sandwichman, and his comedy partner Tomizawa Takeshi (37) also became a father last April.

Recently married is comedian, Inomoto Takafumi (33) of the manzai duo License. The Yoshimoto management agency announced yesterday that he and his ippanjingirlfriend of 10 years registered their marriage at a Tokyo municipal office on Saturday. Inomoto has ranked 4th for the last several years running in a Yoshimoto poll of its most handsome stars, while his still single comedy partner Fujiwara Kazuhiro (34) ranked No.1 for the last three years.