Category Archives: Entertainment News

Farewell to Another Screen Legend

Sugawara Bunta

Just weeks after the death of Takakura Ken, Japan has lost yet another of its screen legends. It was announced this week that Sugawara Bunta died of liver cancer on November 28. He was 81. He started acting in 1954 and made his screen debut two years later. He changed studios several times over his early career, even being fired once for turning up late for filming after a night of heavy drinking. Like Takakura, Sugawara made his name as a stoic tough guy during a golden age of Japanese hard boiled cinema in the 1960s. But he only became a major star in the 70s when he starred in Fukasaku Kinji’s five-part yakuza epic series “Battles Without Honor and Humanity” (Jinjinaki Tatakai), one of the major influences on the work of Quentin Tarantino.

In the popular Torakku Yaro comedy series, Sugawara mixed the tough guy image with comedy and in later years he continued to appear in increasingly diverse roles, including a voice role in Miyazaki Hayao’s anime classic “Spirited Away” (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, 2001).

In 2012, following an illness and deeply affected by the tragedy of the Great East Japan Earthquake the year before, he announced his retirement from acting.

Sayonara Takakura Ken, a True Screen Legend

Takakura Ken in The Yakuza

Japan sadly bid farewell to one of the true giants of modern cinema when it was revealed today that Takakura Ken died of lymphoma on November 10 at the age of 83. Takakura made his name as the stoic star of gangster movies in a career that had many comparing him to a Japanese version of Clint Eastwood. The two never appeared together but Takakura did achieve western recognition alongside other Hollywood stars, notably Robert Mitchum in “The Yakuza”, Michael Douglas in “Black Rain” and Tom Selleck in “Mr. Baseball.” He continued making movies – over 200 in all – well into his later years, playing softer and more nuanced roles right up to 2012’s “Dearest” (Anata e) in which he starred with Kitano “Beat” Takeshi, a man whose own successful carer owes much to the trail blazed by Takakura.

A man who always seen to embody the samurai spirit of honor and chilvary, Takakura was one of the few remaining icons of a bygone age in Japan. He received the Order of Culture from Emperor Akihito in 2013 for his contribution to the arts.

Profile: Takakura Ken

Tokyo has Won Halloween!

Halloween in Tokyo 2014

Halloween in Tokyo used to be a strictly gaijin affair, with a few hundred of us hijacking a Yamanote Line train for one trip around the city. But these days, the Japanese have taken full ownership of Halloween. They’re sexy, scary, and incredibly creative. This almost 10-minute video was all shot in one location, Shibuya Crossing and Center-gai, and features a bewildering array of costumes.

Blink and you’ll miss Voldemort, R2D2 and even Jesus. If you can get even close to all the cultural references, you’re a true otaku!



Hard rock band MAXIMUM THE HORMONE are headed to the United States again for a solo show at New York’s Best Buy Theater on October 27 following their appearance at KNOTFEST on October 25. The one-man live in New York will be a rare opportunity for American fans to see this powerful band best known in the West for their contributions “What’s Up People?!” and “Zetsubou Billy” for the hit anime series Death Note.

Notorious for sold-out shows and high-voltage stage antics, MAXIMUM THE HORMONE’s latest album (their 5th) “Yoshuu Fukushuu” made the number 1 spot on Japan’s Oricon Weekly Chart for 3 weeks straight after its release in 2013. Their concerts are in such high demand due to their insistence on smaller venues that a lottery system determines tickets for the sometimes 30,000+ applicants per show.

In support of the latest release, the band embarked on a 56-show tour across Japan spanning 2013-2014, and also made an appearance at Ozzfest 2013. Other recent tours include a sold-out headlining tour of Europe (France, UK, Belgium, and Germany) and co-starring events with Korn and Dropkick Murphys.

Yoshuu Fukushuu (translated by the band as “Our Merciless Home’war’k”) was released in a 156-page manga package with 5 outrageous, adult-themed stories written by Maximum the Ryo-kun about his school days and teenage musical/sexual adventures. The album itself features extreme lyrics, heavy metal guitar, and death-voice, screaming vocals to match the persona of Japan’s premiere hard rock band.

Tickets for MAXIMUM THE HORMONE at the Best Buy Theater are available now.

Check out this video of Yoshuu Fukushuu (Note: you may think you have the wrong video at first!)


Akina’s Back, Again

Nakamori Akina

Veteran J-pop idol Nakamori Akina (49) is making another comeback, four years since her last attempt ended in hospitalization. In and out of hospital since 2010, reportedly for stress and other unspecified problems, Akina still commands legions of fanatical fans who have remained loyal to her since her heyday in the 1980s and early 1990s. Enough so to justify the release of not one but two box sets of DVDs featuring old TV appearances.

TV Asahi reported that she will release “Sweet Rain,” an original medium-tempo number that was recorded in Tokyo at the end of last month, on August 6. The song will undoubtedly be a tie up with a TV drama or some such. The single will be followed by an album that includes a cover version of the Showa era song “Koi-no-dorei,” (Slave to Love). Never one to miss an opportunity to cash in, Universal Music will issue two versions of the album, a “Best Version” and a “Cover Version.”

And for the benefit of any doubters, an unnamed music industry pundit raved, “Akina’s voice has not changed, and it’s 100% amazing. The songstress is back.”

Related story: Nakamori Akina Beset by Health Problem (October 28, 2010)

Japan’s Latest Internet Sensation

Nonomura Ryutaro crying

The latest Japanese web sensation isn’t a J-pop group but a politician caught with his hand in the public cookie jar. Nonomura Ryutaro, a member of the Hyogo Prefectural government, gave a press conference this week to apologize for his embezzlement of some ¥3 million (about $30,000) for almost 200 “business trips” to several hot spring resorts. Nothing unusual or sensational there, you might think. But this was more like watching a 3-year-old hysterical temper tantrum than the usual display of remorse.

The tears and screams were accompanied by random, seemingly unrelated comments that sounded like excerpts from a stump speech – Nonomura ranting about wanting to change the world, or Japan’s aging society. All very bizarre. The predominant debate is over whether this is genuine remorse and anguish or an attempt to fake it in the hope of winning over public sympathy. Either way, we can only suggest that the guy get psychological help and should soon be leaving the world of politics. For a career in TV soaps, perhaps.

Below is a news report with excerpts from the press conference.

The Taiji Saga Heads to Court

Ric O'Barry in Tokyo

Dolphin conservationist Ric O’Barry just doesn’t know when to stop. The 74-year-old is back in Japan for the umpteenth time in his ongoing effort to bring an end to the dolphin slaughter and capture in the small fishing town of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture. This time he has decided to take a new tack – suing the Taiji Whale Museum for recently refusing to allow him entry.

Speaking at a press conference in Tokyo yesterday, O’Barry said he was attempting to monitor the condition of a baby albino bottlenose dolphin captured in January, that activists worldwide have nicknamed Angel. “They don’t want people like me to go into the Taiji Whale Museum to monitor Angel,” O’Barry said. Museum head Hayashi Katsuki defending his policy, saying, “We just politely refuse those kinds of people. They demand we free the dolphins.”

Japan Zone has accompanied and supported O’Barry in Taiji in the past, with owner Mark McBennett inspired to get involved after watching the 2009 Academy Award-winning documentary “The Cove”. The film documents the history and shocking nature of the annual dolphin hunt, which locals and Japanese media and officials defend as tradition. The controversial issue has remained in the spotlight ever since, with activists and locals equally entrenched and no sign of compromise in sight.

The Taiji aquarium says the albino dolphin, which they have named Supika, is healthy, eating herring and swimming with the other dolphins. The aquarium also sells whale and dolphin meat, a fate that staff admit may well have befallen Angel’s family after the January capture and slaughter.

“Hundreds of thousands of dolphins have died there, in the most brutal way imaginable,” said O’Barry. “Angel is the symbol of all of that. That is why she is so important.”

It’s Been a Long… 48-year Wait

Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono

Beatles fans who didn’t manage to see their idols perform at the Nippon Budokan way back in 1966 will finally have a chance to see, well one quarter of the Fab Four. Paul McCartney is to play the iconic venue in just over a week’s time, on the Japan leg of his “Out There” world tour.

While ticket prices for the May 21 show range all the way up to the unsurprisingly ridiculous ¥100,000, at least a few younger fans won’t get ripped off. 100 seats are being sold to people under the age of 25 for the price of ¥1,500, the same ticket price charged back in 1966. And McCartney will also play at Tokyo’s National Stadium on May 17-18 and at Yanmar Stadium Nagai in Osaka on May 24.

In a video message clearly meant not to get Japanese fans too excited ahead of the shows, McCartney said: “Hey, everybody in Japan, hello again. Come on. Let’s rock.”

Japan: a journey between tradition and modernity


Short but evocative, this video is a must-see for anyone who has either spent time in Japan or has always dreamed of going.

Produced by AmnesiArt, a film and Fine Art photography production created by Nick Arcivos and Ryan Earl, this film gives you the opportunity to explore the country through Tokyo, symbol of modernity, Nara, and Kyoto, the cultural capital.

A first stay in Japan has allowed them to discover its rich culture, its fascinating architecture and friendly people. They propose to provide more information on their production and share their feelings.

“The idea behind this film was thought out in two steps: The first took place a few years ago, after discovering this beautiful country and the desire that gave them to capture the special atmosphere of Japan. The second, more recently, is the shooting which lasted two weeks from Kyoto to Tokyo, through Nara.”

They wanted to let people discover the wonders offered by this country through its gastronomy, architecture and culture. They wanted to show the harmony of coexistence between tradition and modernity. Although Japan is well-known for its technological advancement, it has retained much of its traditional appearance.

They had in mind to seduce not only fans of Japan, but also people who don’t know this wonderful destination. Through genuine moments of Japanese lifestyle, they wanted to represent the atmosphere so unique to this fabulous country.

“We are very pleased with the quality and number of feedback we have received from all over the world. A large number of people have expressed their feelings after watching the film, which exceeded our expectations.”

Amnesiart has been featured by the major photography/film brands such as Canon, Carl Zeiss…and major blogs like Photography Blogger, Compétence Photo, and Camerapixo.

You can visit their website: and follow them on Facebook: and Twitter @AmnesiArt.

Sakura on the way

Sakura, Cherry Blossoms, Mt. Fuji

The Japan Weather Association has announced the news that’s eagerly awaited across Japan every winter – the expected arrival of the “sakura kaika”, or the opening of cherry blossoms. The sakura is of course Japan’s national flower and its arrival also marks the coming of spring. The fact that the often dramatically beautiful display of color only lasts a week or two is considered both an opportunity to consider the beauty and transience of life itself and a chance to party and get blind drunk under the falling blossoms.

So when should you plan to visit Japan or hold your hanami party? For the Tokyo area and most of central Japan, the sakura are expected to peak around the end of March and beginning of April. Southern parts of the country will see it about a week earlier, and the sakura front will move north of Tokyo over the period of a month and a half until early to mid-May.

See the map below for the expected dates when you can see various parts of the country at their most beautiful.

Sakura, Cherry Blossoms