J-pop superstar Utada Hikaru (31) is getting married again. The singer-songwriter posted yesterday on her Hikki’s Website that she and her Italian fiance will be tying the knot on May 23. Media reports describe the lucky guy as a 23-year-old barman working in a London hotel but originally from the small town of Fasano in southern Italy.
Utada is still in the traditional one-year period of mourning for her mother, Fuji Keiko, who died at the age of 62 last August after jumping from her 13th-floor Tokyo apartment. But she decided to go ahead with the wedding, saying that when she spoke last year with Fuji about her new partner she saw her mother “happier than I’d seen her in years.” The couple had planned to keep their church ceremony in Fasano a secret but news leaked out to the media.
The marriage will be Utada’s second – her previous 5-year marriage to photographer and director Kiriya Kazuaki (45) ended in 2007, with the couple citing personal changes, different viewpoints on the future of their marriage, and lack of communication due to the nature of their jobs. The failure of a subsequent romance, also with an older man, was also reportedly due to Utada’s busy work schedule.
It’s almost a decade since her career peaked and she has been on an extended hiatus for the last several years, releasing only an occasional hits collection or commercial tie-up single.
Read our profile of Utada Hikaru
A Japanese TV institution is coming to an end. On the Tuesday afternoon edition of “Waratte Iitomo” (It’s Okay to Laugh) comedian host Tamori (real name Morita Kazuyoshi) confirmed rumors that the live studio show will air for the last time next March after 32 years on the Fuji TV network. The show is broadcast with a live (and almost entirely female) audience from Studio Alta next to Shinjuku station in Tokyo every weekday, with highlights and outtakes shown on Sundays.
The show features regular celebrity co-hosts who rotate during the week. On Tuesday, they included SMAP member Nakai Masahiro, who brought up the rumors and had them confirmed by Tamori.
The very first show was aired on October 4 1982, when the special “Telephone Shocking” guest was pop legend Sakurada Junko. The show is what established Tamori as one of the best known faces in the nation.
On April 5, 2002, Tamori set the Guinness World Record for the longest continued hosting of a live television program with the show’s 5000th edition. Tamori, with his trademark sunglasses (worn to conceal an eye injury suffered many years ago) is one of Japan’s trinity of top television comedians, along with Kitano “Beat” Takeshi and Akashiya Sanma.
See the Japan Zone profile of Tamori.
After all the updates on the damage being caused by the biggest typhoon to hit Japan in 10 years, today’s morning variety shows discussed the sad loss of animator Yanase Takashi. He died of heart failure on Sunday at the ripe old age of 94. Energetic and optimistic until hospitalized with liver cancer in August, Yanase was the creator of some of Japan’s best loved anime characters.
“Soreike Anpanman” was first broadcast in 1988, when Yanase was already a veteran at the age of 69. Starring a superhero with a head made of anpan (sweet bean bun) the central theme of the show for young children was justice, compassion, and self scrifice. Anpanman was regularly called upon to help those in need, when he would invariably let them eat a chunk of his anpan head. Yanase has said that the theme grew out of his harsh experiences serving in the Imperial Army in China during WWII.
Soreike Anpanman featured a never ending cast of characters, and was recognized by Guinness Book of World Records in 2009 for the record 1,768 different characters who had appeared on the show. After northeastern Japan was devastated in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the show’s theme song was often played in the region to cheer up survivors.
Actress Toda Keiko (56) spoke of her sadness, “Mr. Yanase was the Anpanman. He embraced us gently and taught us to share. We’ve lost a precious guiding post.”
Yanase became a cartoonist after a more traditional career at a newspaper company and the Mitsukoshi department store. In 1961 he gained fame as the lyricist of the popular kids song, “Te no hira wo taiyo ni”.
One of the biggest reasons why the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles are solid favorites this season to finally win the Pacific League is ace pitcher Tanaka Masahiro (24). No surprise there. But yesterday he set a phenomenal new record in professional baseball with his 21st consecutive win of the season. Carrying on from the end of last season, he’s actually now a mind-blowing 25-0. That’s one more than the Major League Baseball mark set by Carl Hubbell of the New York Giants way back in a period between the 1936 and 1937 seasons.
Yesterday Mah-kun gave up two runs over the distance but got more than enough batting support to beat the Orix Buffaloes 6-2. Tanaka hasn’t lost a game since Aug. 19, 2012. His team are currently leading the Pacific League by 7.5 games and would have to be strong favorites to go all the way to the Japan Series.
Tanaka first appeared in the limelight as a high school junior in 2005, and over the course of two years his epic pitching duels with rival Saito Yuuki in the national championships was one of the major sports stories. His very last pitch of the 2005 summer tournament was clocked at 150 km/h (93 mph), the first time a pitcher had ever clocked that speed as a junior in the history of the event. In 2006 his school finished runners up but Tanaka was a first-round draft pick by the Eagles, while Saito went on to play ball in college before turning pro.
Tanaka is likely to be the subject of intense interest from the MLB after the end of this season.
Japanese TV’s Don, Mino Monta (69, photo left) has been having a rough week. First he was embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal (see photo below). And now Tokyo police have announced that they recently arrested his son for attempted theft. They say that on August 13 Minorikawa Yuto (31, photo right) was spotted by a convenience store CCTV trying to use a cash card stolen earlier from a drunken office worker sleeping on the side of the road in the Minato-ku district of Tokyo. Minorikawa works in the sports department of the major NTV network, located close to the scene of the crime. Upon his arrest, he refused to speak to police except in the presence of his lawyer. His father made a formal statement of apology to the media yesterday.
It was previously rumored that Mino’s uncharacteristic second one-week “holiday” from “Asa Zuba!”, his regular early morning variety show on TBS, was due to the recent “sekuhara” scandal, in which he was spotted touching up fellow Asa Zuba! announcer Yoshida Akiyo (25). But news of his son’s arrest helps explain the absence from the air of the hardest working TV presenter in the world (as recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records). He is expected to return as scheduled on September 16.
Read the Japan Zone profile of Mino Monta.
In a huge shock for anime fans, it has been announced that Miyazaki Hayao (72) is to retire. Which means that “Kaze Tachinu” (The Wind Rises), his first film in five years, will be his last. The film is now competing at the Venice Film Festival, but Miyazaki is not attending and is expected to hold a press conference in Tokyo. The news was announced at the festival on Sunday by Hoshino Koji, head of Studio Ghibli.
“Kaze Tachinu” tells the story of World War 2 fighter plane designer Horikoshi Jiro, who as a child dreamt of becoming a pilot and went on to design the famous Mitsubishi Zero fighter. “This is the first of Miyazaki’s films that has as its protagonist a real historical figure,” Hoshino told reporters. The film paints a vivid portrait of many of the key historical events in early 20th-century Imperial Japan as well as the evolution of airplane design. It doesn’t entirely forsake the fantasy of Miyazaki’s other works, with dream sequences allowing the protagonist to fly in fantastical airplane designs. The theme will be familiar to Ghibli fans, as planes and flying have been central to such films as “Kurenai no Buta” (Porco Rosso) and “Kaze no Tani no Nausica” (NausicaÃ¤ of the Valley of the Wind).
Miyazaki is sometimes described as the Walt Disney of anime, as his works have won legions of fans and scores of awards worldwide. “Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi” (Spirited Away) was the first anime to win an Academy Award in 2003. Miyazaki’s began his animation career in 1963 working on “Wanwan Chushingura” (Watchdog Bow Wow), while his first feature-length film was “The Castle of Cagliostro” in 1979). Among his other best known features are “Mononokehime” (Princess Mononoke) and “Tenku no Shiro Laputa” (Castle in the Sky).
Read the Japan Zone profile of Miyazaki Hayao.
The onetime hugely popular comedienne (she was one half of the duo Othello) Nakajima Tomoko (42) went completely off the rails a few years back when she was brainwashed by a “mystic”, ran up millions of yen debts, and put on a huge amount of weight. We most recently reported on her situation back in February 2012 when she failed to show up for a scheduled court appearance.
Now, like some other fallen idols before her, she is getting back into showbiz via the porn industry. She held a press conference in Tokyo this week to talk about “Hachigatsu no Umi” (August Sea) her directorial debut for the female-oriented porn channel Girl’s CH. Geddit? Girls See Etchi!
Nakajima has a bit of a history, having done nude scenes and published books of nude photos and generally making a living from her better than average looks.
Keiko Fuji, a former enka legend and the mother of J-pop superstar Utada Hikaru, died yesterday after falling from the 13th-floor balcony of her Tokyo apartment. She was 62. Police are treating the case as an apparent suicide, though no note was found at the scene.
Fuji was the daughter of musicians and led a nomadic lifestyle as a child. She became a breakthrough star following her 1969 debut in the world of enka ballads. Her first single “Shinjuku no Onna” was typical of her dark and melancholy songs about women of the night, and her debut album of the same name spent 20 weeks at the top of the charts. The immediate follow up, “Onna no Blues” was also a huge hit, topping the charts for 17 weeks. No one has since broken that record of 37 consecutive weeks atop the chart.
Fuji married enka singer Maekawa Kiyoshi in 1971 but they were divorced the following year. Fuji’s musical decline began after she underwent surgery for a throat polyp in 1974. She went through a series of comebacks but never reclaimed her former glory. She announced her retirement in 1979 and moved to the US until making a comeback in 1981. She married producer Utada Teruzane (65) in 1982 and their daughter Hikaru was born the next year. The family formed a self-managed trio under the name U3 in 1995 and released a single on their own label.
Hikaru of course went on to become a huge star in her own right, but the family continued to be plagued by misfortune. Fuji and Utada divorced in 2007, a year after Fuji was held at JFK airport after more than $400,000 of cash were found in her luggage (the money wasn’t returned to her until 2009).
Japan Zone profile of Utada Hikaru
The world of kabuki has recently lost not just one but two of its major stars. The death on Monday of Ichikawa Danjuro XII (photo left) at the age of 66 follows the loss of Nakamura Kanzaburo XVIII at 57 in December. Both men died after prolonged illness. Ichikawa had been battling leukemia since 2004 but was able to continue his career until last December, when he was hospitalized with pneumonia. He was among the performers who brought kabuki to the stage of the Paris Opera House for the first time in 2007. Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide praised the late actor as a “pillar of the kabuki world” who deserved much of the credit for bringing Japan’s traditional theater to international audiences. That accolade must be shared with Nakamura, who also worked hard to bring kabuki to younger and overseas fans. Among his innovations was a collaboration with alternative rock musician Shiina Ringo. He died of respiratory failure in early December and, like his contemporary, he had battled cancer for some time. Both actors are survived by sons who have continued the family tradition and become major kabuki stars in their own right.
One sad aspect to the recent deaths is that neither actor will see the much anticipated re-opening in April of the Kabukiza theater in Tokyo.
More than 1,000 people attended today’s funeral for the late movie director and screenwriter Shindo Kaneto (photo left), who died of natural causes on May 29 at the age of 100. At the Zojoji temple in Tokyo, actor Tsugawa Masahiko (72) was among those reading messages of condolence. He recalled working with Shindo on “Ichimai no Hagaki” (Postcard), his final movie project which was released last year. It was selected as Japan’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar but did not make final nominee list.
In 1934 he realized his dream of entering the movie world, joining the film developing department of Shinkō Kinema. It would be another 17 years working as an art director and aspiring screenwriter before he would make his directorial debut. One of his early mentors was the great Mizoguchi Kenji, and one of the features their works have in common is what one critic called a “worship of womanhood.” A native of Hiroshima, Shindo’s work was greatly influenced by the city’s atomic bombing in 1945.
In 1950, Shindo and actor Taiji Tonoyama set up Kindai Eiga Kyokai, an independent production company. In 1953, the controversial “Genpatsu no Ko” (Children of Hiroshima) – which starred his regular leading lady Otowa Nobuko as a young teacher who returns to several years after the bomb in search of her former students – was a critical success when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. 1960’s “The Naked Island” was an international hit starring Otowa and Tonoyama, and its commercial success saved their company from bankruptcy. It was awarded the Grand Prize at the 1961 Moscow Film Festival.
Over a 7-decade career, Shindo directed 48 films and wrote 238 scripts. His other best known films as a director include “Onibaba,” “Kuroneko,” and “Kousatsu” (The Strangling). All starred Otowa who, though he was married, was Shindo’s lover from the early 1950s. The two finally married in 1978, a year after Shindo’s wife died. The multiple award-winning “A Last Note” was Otowa’s final film, and she died in 1994 of liver cancer.