There’s life in the old dog yet. In the last few years the media and marketing machine known as Morning Musume (profile) has been largely eclipsed by the new kids on the block, AKB48. But they certainly haven’t gone away. MoMus, currently in their 15th year, have been around since before nearly half of of the current members were even born. No doubt it’s that ever-changing lineup that helps the aidoru group maintain a young fanbase, and they can certainly still shift a few singles. Their latest release, “Renai Hunter,” has entered the Oricon weekly singles charts at No.3, making it the group’s 49th consecutive Top 10 single. Despite their longevity and massive sales achievements, this is the first time for them to have sole possession of a major record, and it also means they’ve knocked J-pop diva Hamasaki Ayumi (33) out of her share of first place.
The new single will be the last to feature current group leader Niigaki Risa (23) who, although she joined at the time of the fifth lineup change in 2001, is the oldest and longest-serving member. She will be “graduating” from the group on May 18.
Elsewhere in the Oricon rankings, male aidoru group Sexy Zone are on top of the singles chart with “Lady Diamond” and Domoto Tsuyoshi (33) of the duo Kinki Kids is atop the album chart with “Shamanippon.”
Rockers X Japan were named as this year’s Best International Band at the Golden Gods Awards yesterday. Started in 2009 by the rock magazine Revolver, the awards were held on Wednesday night at Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles. Not only were X the first Asian artists to be nominated for the award, they beat a lineup of established names familiar to anyone into the heavy rock genre: Rammstein (Germany), Sepultura (Brazil), Lacuna Coil (Italy), Behemoth (Poland), and Meshuggah (Sweden).
Drummer and band leader Yoshiki was on hand to receive the award from the members of Anthrax, one of whom quipped “You know this is a setup” before reading X Japan’s name among the nominees. Yoshiki didn’t respond to (or didn’t understand) the underhand comment and made a simple acceptance speech. “Thank you Revolver, it’s hard to pronounce. Re-vol-ver, right?” he said. “Some people might have heard of us, we’re from Japan. Our band name is X Japan. We toured North America in 2010, and did our first world tour last year… We are planning on doing another world fucking tour.” He finished up by thanking the band’s fans, saying, “We’re going to keep on rocking. And we fucking love you.”
But while X have a cult status at home and a fanatical international fanbase, imagewise they will probably always struggle to find acceptance among mainstream rock listeners. That was evident from the subdued applause given to the hair-flicking and characteristically effeminate Yoshiki. And someone should tell him that throwing a few F-bombs into your speech isn’t going to help much.
Actress Saito Keiko (50) remarried at the end of last year, the Sports Hochi newspaper revealed today. The former Japan Airlines campaign girl tied the knot with the president of an advertising company last November and are living together in Tokyo with Saito’s 11-year-old daughter from her previous marriage.
While studying psychology in the education department at Kumamoto University in 1982, Saito’s bronzed body and good looks helped her beat 800 hopefuls for the high-profile job of JAL Okinawa Campaign Girl (photo left). This break gave her a chance to get into showbiz, and by the following year she was appearing on TV as the “solutionist” on the TBS show “Quiz Derby.” She went on to be come a regular face on the variety show circuit and established herself as an actress in movies and dozens of TV dramas. In 1994 she was named the year’s Best Supporting Actress at the Nikkan Sports Movie Awards. In July 1997 she married a businessman and they had a child in 2000, but the marriage ended in 2008.
Funky Monkey Wedding Also recently married is DJ Chemical (29) of the J-pop trio Funky Monkey Babys, who broke the good news on his blog yesterday. His family run a Buddhist temple and he chose April 8, the birthday of Buddha, to tie the knot. His described his bride only as “a 30-year-old former musician.”
He was the voice of Chibi Maruko’s doting grandfather, Tomozo (top right), among many other anime roles. Actor Aono Takeshi died at a Tokyo hospital on Monday afternoon of multiple brain hemorrhages following surgery. He was 75. He previously underwent heart bypass surgery in 2010.
Aono was a native of Hokkaido and his strong accent caused him to miss out on many TV roles when a young aspiring actor. After an acclaimed performance in a theatrical production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” in the early 1960s, he landed the lead role in a dubbed version of the U.S. western show “Bronco,” dubbing the voice of Ty Hardin. Over the years he made occasional appearances on screen, including in the 2001 NHK taiga historical drama series “Hojo Tokimune,” and he was chairman of the Gekidan Geikyou theatrical troupe. But his stock in trade was his many established roles as a voice actor, often voicing the roles of villains or old men. He regularly dubbed the voice of “Back to the Future” star Christopher Lloyd. His vast range of anime characters included Kamisama (Dragonball Z), Nurarihyon (Gegege no Kitaro) and Sanada Shiro (Uchuusenkan Yamato, bottom right). Until health problems forced him to step down from many roles in 2010, he was working on such popular animes as Naruto, One Piece and Gintama.
Things Get Ugly for Sacchan Enka star Kobayashi Sachiko (58) yesterday made her first public appearance since the recent scandal concerning her management agency, performing as a guest at the 60th birthday celebration concert by singer/songwriter Sada Masashi (60) at the Saitama Super Arena. Kobayashi recently fired Sekine Yoshie, her long-time friend and president of Sachiko Promotions for more than 30 years. The decision came reportedly at the suggestion of her new husband – she married the CEO of a medical company (50) last November – who was angry about the lavish and wasteful expenses on Kobayashi’s often hugely extravagant stage costumes. The result looks like being an ugly legal battle that is currently dominating the entertainment news wide shows. Related stories: More Wedding Bells and Babies (Nov. 16, 2011)
Yasuoka started a rock band with friends while a high school student in 1963. A third dan in karate and 2nd dan in judo, he became a kickboxer in 1969. The following year he was recruited by actor Umemiya Tatsuo (74), star of the “Furyo Bancho” yakuza movie series, to play the supporting role of Apache in several of the movies. Yasuoka’s height and heavy build meant that he would forever be typecast in those kinds of roles. He certainly didn’t mind, adding to his own legend with catchphrases like “I love drink, women and fighting” and he was said to drink 20 beers and 4 bottles of whiskey a day. But he was able to show his lighter side, going very much against type as the character Hotateman (Clam Man) in the hugely popular 1980s comedy show “Oretachi Hyokinzoku.” His face may be familiar to western movie audiences through his supporting role in Itami Juzo’s 1985 classic “Tampopo” and Ridley Scott’s 1989 thriller “Black Rain.”
Sakamoto Ryuichi (60, photo left) is the latest high-profile celebrity to take up the cause of ridding Japan of nuclear power. The Yellow Magic Orchestra veteran and Academy Award winner announced yesterday that he would be participating in the No Nukes 2012 music festival at Makuhari Messe conference center in Chiba Prefecture on July 7-8. So far the event lineup has 18 artists including YMO, Asian Kung-Fu Generation, Brahman, and singer-songwriters Hajime Chitose and Saito Kazuyoshi. All profits from the event will go to an organization that aims to collect 10 million signatures to the “Sayonara Genpatsu” petition to end nuclear power in Japan. Currently only one of over 50 nuclear plants is in operation, though the government wants to restart many of them after maintenance and safety checks.
Sakamoto has attended many meetings and events since the natural disasters of March 11, 2012 led to the nuclear nightmare situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Almost 80% of respondents to a recent Tokyo Shimbun poll said they were in favor of or leaned toward the country ending its reliance on nuclear power.
Speaking at a press conference in Tokyo along with Asian Kung-Fu Generation member Goto Masafumi (35, photo right) yesterday Sakamoto said, “I hope we can use music to get people to think and care about the issues. We want to express our feelings about not just nuclear power but also nuclear weapons.”
Deserved happy news for Dreams Come True vocalist Yoshida Miwa (46, photo left) who recently got married, it was revealed yesterday. And not only has she found true love but her new husband is a full 19 years younger than her! Okinawa native Juon (27, photo right) is the vocalist and guitarist of the trio Fuzzy Control. The two are said to have registered their marriage on March 8. The date was auspicious because not only can it be read in Japanese as “miwa” but it is also Juon’s birthday. The couple don’t have plans for a wedding ceremony or reception, but the new DCT single is appropriately titled “Time to Shine.”
Fuzzy Control made their debut in 2003 and first collaborated with DCT on the February 2009 single “Goodbye My Schooldays”. They have since performed as their backing band and written songs together. Fuzzy Control have released a dozen singles and five albums to date, with moderate success. They are scheduled to perform in Tokyo on March 25, while DCT’s next scheduled live appearance is on May 23. They are currently recording in New York.
We say that Yoshida’s happiness is deserved because in 2007 she lost her common-law husband, visual director Sueda Ken, to a brain tumor. He was just 33. The couple married in May 2004 but never registered their marriage. Yoshida’s musical partner in DCT, Nakamura Masato (53), married former High and Mighty Color vocalist Maaky in June 2008 and they have a 2-year-old daughter. Related stories: DCT’s Yoshida Miwa Loses Husband (Oct. 1, 2007)
Japan’s leading heartthrob Kimura Takuya (39) seems to have gotten a little too into his TV role as a race driver. The SMAP member and star of the 2005 Fuji TV drama series “Engine” (photo left) has been fined twice in recent months for speeding, it was revealed in today’s issue of the weekly “Shuukan Bunshun” magazine.
The article says highway police in Chiba prefecture caught him doing 120 kilometers an hour in an 80 kph road last September. He and his wife, singer Kudo Shizuka, were on their way to do a bit of surfing in their Chevrolet Astro. Kimura was nabbed again in Tokyo in January, this time on a Tokyo street, and his license was suspended for a second offense. Management at Johnny’s Jumusho have been forced to come clean on the matter, publishing a statement in local newspapers. They said, “As a member of society, Kimura is deeply ashamed of his actions and has promised not to let it happen again.”
Kimura has a long history of commercial tie-ups with Toyota, most recently appearing in their Corolla Fielder ads since last October (photo right), and for a lesser star those ads would be off the air faster than a speed camera could catch. But KimuTaku is such a player that the car maker has decided to continue showing the ads. Under the slogan “Fun to Drive, Again,” the ads also feature veteran comedian/director Kitano “Beat” Takeshi (65). A Toyota spokesperson said today, “(Kimura) has been warned from our side to obey traffic rules. We will enforce this strictly.”
White Day may be an entirely commercial holiday, but it’s romantic enough for one young showbiz couple. Actor Oguri Shun (29) and actress Yamada Yu (27) sent out a handwritten fax to the media last night announcing that they would be tying the knot on March 14. The day, which is an auspicious “taian” on the traditional calendar, also marks the fourth anniversary of when the pair started dating. Sources close to the couple say they are already living together but have no plans for a wedding ceremony, reception or honeymoon. They also answered the first question asked when marriage is announced – Yamada is not pregnant. It was rumored that they would get married last July, but the Great Eastern Japan quake and tsunami in March would have forced them to postpone plans.
The two stars, both rightly considered among the best looking in showbiz, worked together as voice actors on the animated film “Surf’s Up” in 2007 (photo). They are said to have become close after working together on the 2008 NTV drama “Binbou Danshi – Bonbimen,” which featured Oguri’s first leading role in a drama series. Their relationship was revealed in May of 2008 and, unlike many showbiz couples, they have been open about it since. In New Year of 2010 they traveled together to Hawaii, but soon after their romance was said to be on the rocks several times due to Oguri’s womanizing.
Both are enjoying success in their careers – Oguri is currently in China filming a movie (so the marriage registration will not be the most romantic occasion), while “Uchuu Kyodai,” in which he co-stars with Okada Masaki (22), is due to be on screens in May. Yamada recently received very positive reviews for her theatrical debut in last November’s “Villa Grande Aoyama.”
Yesterday was a day of commemorative events across the country as Japan marked the first anniversary of the triple disaster that hit Tohoku at 2:46pm on March 11, 2011. Among the many celebrities helping to mark the occasion and raise funds for the tens of thousands of displaced and the devastated region were Johnny’s Jimusho stable of male aidorus and AKB48 and their assorted sister groups.
SMAP were among the top billers of the 180 or so Johnny’s stars who took the stage at Tokyo Dome for the 12-hour “Marching J” event. The lineup included youngsters of Johnny’s Jr., who have yet to make their debut, to veterans like Higashiyama Noriyuki (45) and Kondo Masahiko (47). The event was attended by an estimated 170,000 fans. Johnny’s has raised about ¥826 million over the last year, and the money is to be donated to Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima, the three prefectures worst hit by last year’s earthquake and tsunami. One of the more outlandish plans supported by the funds is the transfer of a panda from China to Yagiyama Zoo in Sendai.
Meanwhile, a total of 282 young female starlets joined together behind the lead of AKB48 to perform at several venues across the country. AKB48 appeared at their home base in Tokyo’s Akihabara, and were joined by SKE48 (Sakae, Nagoya), NMB48 (Namba, Osaka) and HKT48 (Hakata, Fukuoka). Needless to say there were lots of tears, with AKB48 member Maeda Atsuko (20, photo center) carried off stage at one point, but the emphasis was definitely on the upbeat and happy sound of J-pop.