Happy news from actor Yamamoto Taro. For the last year or so, Yamamoto (37) has received much more attention for his anti-nuclear campaigning than anything else. His very public stance is very rare among Japanese celebrities and while it has earned him widespread public support, it is much less appreciated within the industry and would no doubt have ended the career of a lesser-known actor. He was forced to quit his management agency and saw his income drop by 90%. But now Yamamoto has one more very important supporter – his new bride, as evidenced by the photo of their marriage registration document that he posted to his Twitter account yesterday. He and his ippanjinbride reportedly tied the knot after a whirlwind one-month romance. The couple became acquainted about two years ago but only started dating after they met up again in April. The woman is described as younger than Yamamoto and a “home helper” who regularly does volunteer work at hospitals.
Yamamoto got his showbiz break while still in high school when he and his friends appeared on the hugely popular “Dansu Koshien” segment of Kitano “Beat” Takeshi’s legendary variety show “Tensai! Takeshi no Genki ga deru Terebi.” He became a regular on the show and on the variety circuit. He won a best supporting actor award for role in the 2003 movie “Moon Child.” Since the Great East Japan disaster of March 2011 he has been actively campaigning for an end to nuclear power in Japan and for greater truth and government action regarding the still ongoing Fukushima nuclear crisis.
A couple of stories today that prove just how dominant a commercial force AKB48 are. Their latest single, “Manatsu no Sounds Good!” has not only entered the Oricon charts at No.1 as expected but has set a new record for release-day sales. The single sold a whopping 1.171 million copies on its first day alone, beating the group’s own record of 1.046 million sold by “Kaze wa Fuiteiru.” It is also their seventh straight million-selling single. One gimmick that helped boost sales of the new single is that every copy entitles the owner to one vote in the upcoming “election” to choose members for the next project. That event will be held at Nippon Budokan on June 6.
And the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers (JASRAC) today published its annual ranking of the most successful royalty-generating hits of last year. The figures are based on revenues generated not only by music sales but also from karaoke and other commercial uses. And not surprisingly the girl group with the ever-changing lineup claimed all the top spots and had five of the top 10 places. The biggest money spinner of last year was the appropriately titled “Heavy Rotation,” followed by “Ponytail to Shushu,” “Beginner” and “Everyday no Kachusha.” Pop rock band Ikimono-gakari grabbed a bit of the limelight with “Arigatou” in 5th place, followed by AKB48 again in 6th with “Aitakatta.” The guru behind the group, Akimoto Yasushi (56, photo center), is also the producer and lyricist for all five of those major hits, meaning he is making some very serious Yen indeed.
Meanwhile, the top 10 most commercially successful Japanese songs overseas were all from popular anime, led by “Doraemon BGM.”
Just about every major Japanese celebrity turned out yesterday for a memorial service for Nagara Jun, who died in an accident on a Hawaii golf course on May 2 at the age of 74. Known as the “Don” of the entertainment world, he was the chairman of the Nagara Productions talent management agency. He is credited with building some of the best-known showbiz careers of the last half-century, particularly in the world of enka music. Some 5,000 people made their way to Aoyama Sougisho funeral home in central Tokyo.
Born in the downtown Tokyo district of Asakusa in 1938 the son of a traditional naniwabushi storyteller, Nagara’s real name was Kanbayashi Yoshitada. He entered the world of showbiz in 1958 and became manager of some of the major stars of the day, setting up his own agency in 1964. He went on to groom a great many celebrities who would become household names, such as enka singers Mizumori Kaori and Hikawa Kiyoshi, and actors Umemiya Tatsuo, Nakamura Tamao and Gucchi Yuzo. He also produced many hits by A teary-eyed Hikawa (34) said yesterday, “The chairman’s spirit will live on in my heart forever. I will strive to repay my debt to him and become a fully developed singer.”
Japan Zone normally has a lot of time for outspoken comedian-actor-director Kitano “Beat” Takeshi (65), and we certainly wish him well as producers tout his upcoming movie at the Cannes International Film Festival. But his latest controversy, which will likely not get much attention from the mainstream Japanese media, is a disappointment. Kitano was a guest on the TBS current affairs show “Joho 7 Days, Newscaster,” commenting on the groundbreaking statement by U.S. President Barack Obama in support of same-sex marriage. After watching footage of gay rights activists celebrating the news, Kitano said, “If you support same-sex marriage, then eventually you would support a marriage to an animal.” He also speculated jokingly that the children of gay couples would be bullied.
Coming from a celebrity known for challenging Japan’s more straitlaced social mores, the comments upset campaigners but the controversy was mainly confined to social rather than mainstream media. A statement by Tokyo Disneyland this week that it would allow gay couples to hold ceremonies on its grounds gave the issue renewed momentum and drew fresh attention to Kitano as a representative of Japan’s old guard.
Among those pushing the issue via Twitter is Ishikawa Taiga, Tokyo assembly member and Japan’s first openly gay politician, who was among those shown celebrating in the TBS program. According to several overseas news outlets, he thought the remark was unbecoming for someone of Kitano’s global stature. “He is a world famous film director. It is disappointing that such an influential figure made that kind of negative comment. As a movie director, he must be a person with a great sense of imagination. I wish he had been able to put himself in the position of gay and lesbian people in society.”
Meanwhile, any online search for news about Kitano this week brings up only reports that producers are in Cannes seeking buyers for “Outrage Beyond,” his as yet unfinished sequel to 2010’s “Outrage.” The movie started filming in April and is due to wind up at the end of June. It’s scheduled to be in theaters on October 6.
It was a busy day yesterday at the Sensoji temple, a popular draw for tourists in the old downtown area of Tokyo. Celebrity couple Azuma Takahiro (42) Max and Yasu Megumi (30) held a traditional wedding ceremony at the temple, while several kabuki stars held ceremonies to commemorate their succeeding to new stage names.
Azuma, popularly known by the nickname Azumax, was born and raised in Asakusa and it was also where his late father, comedian Azuma Hachiro (1936-88), established his career. For the wedding ceremony at the Sensoji Denbouin, veteran comedian Hagimoto Kinichi (71) stood in for his old teacher and friend. Azuma and Yasu registered their marriage on December 20 last year. They plan to hold a large reception n July.
Meanwhile, actor Kagawa Teruyuki (46) visited Sensoji to pray for success with his upcoming succession to the kabuki stage name Ichikawa Chusha IX. Along with his son and several other members of his family he will take on the new stage name at the June Grand Kabuki at the Shimbashi Enbujo theater. He was joined yesterday by his son (8), who will make his kabuki debut as Ichikawa Danko, his brother Ichikawa Kamejiro (36) who will succeed to the name Ichikawa Sarunosuke IV, and his father (72) now using that name, who will become Ichikawa Enou II.
A successful and popular TV and movie actor, Kagawa is making the unusual move of entering the traditional theatrical world in middle age, while many of his contemporaries have made the move in reverse. He said he is feeling immense pressure and realizes that kabuki is many times more difficult than the acting he has done so far, but he vowed to fulfill his responsibility to carry on the family tradition.
The audience figures for the Sunday night Fuji TV drama series “Kazoku no Uta” (Song of Family) continue to get worse. The series has seen its ratings decline to what could be an all-time low for the most coveted primetime slot of 9pm. The first episode only managed a rating of 6.1%, and that has steadily declined to last night’s 3.1% rating for the fourth episode, all bad news for the powerful Fuji network and the star of the series, Odagiri Jo (36, photo top). The show’s cast also includes (photo bottom, l-r) Yusuke Santamaria (41), Kanjiya Shihori (26), Tortoise Matsumoto (45) and Ohtsuka Nene (43).
Part of the problem has been the competition from the other networks. Over on TBS, the rival drama series “Ataru” – which started its run with a strong 19.9% – managed to pull in 13.8%, while the NTV variety show “Gyoretsu no Dekiru Horitsusodanjo” got 14%, and TV Asahi had the strongest figure of 19.1% for its broadcast of the movie “Aibo 2.” An NHK documentary about children living in the aftermath of last year’s Tohoku disaster and a TV Tokyo family reality show also managed noticeably better figures than Fuji.
A Fuji spokesperson identified one possible cause of the bad ratings. “There have been claims that the show is very similar to the 1987 series “Papa wa Newscaster” and this led to criticism circulating on the internet.” Fuji currently plan to broadcast the full 11 episodes of the series. So far they have not announced any plans for “tekoire,” a word to describe adding new cast members, making dramatic shifts to the storyline, carrying out mass-media promotion, or other ways of boosting a flagging show.
Veteran Comic to Wed
Comedian Nakamoto Koji (70) has set the date for his third walk down the aisle, as it was announced yesterday that he and his much younger fiancee are to tie the knot on July 14 at the Shin Takanawa Prince Hotel in Tokyo. Enka singer Midai Junka hasn’t revealed her actual age but she is said to be in her early 40s.
Nakamoto’s first wife died in 1981 and his second marriage – to a woman 25 years younger – lasted from 1991-2004 and they had three children. His close friend, and fellow member of comedy troupe The Drifters, Kato Cha (69) married a woman 45 years younger just last summer and they held their wedding reception in March.
Kato Cha Reveals Young Bride (Mar. 2, 2012)