Japanese News 9/7

Southern All Stars Farewell

Popular Japanese rock band Southern All Stars played its final concert at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama August 24 before 70,000 ecstatic fans, many of whom were moved to tears.

Earlier this year, the band’s charismatic leader, Keisuke Kuwata, announced the group would be taking an indefinite hiatus at the end of the year, its 30th in the business.

However, the four-night stand at Nissan Stadium seemed to be the group’s last hurrah. They played 46 songs over the course of three-and-a-half hours in pouring rain.

Kuwata, much to the delight of the crowd, remained at the edge of the stage for most of the evening, which means he was as drenched as the audience. It seemed to only add to the drama.

The entire show was broadcast live on a local satellite TV channel.


A Musical Discount

Japan’s largest musical theatre company, Gekidan Shiki, announced September 1 it would slash admission prices across the board.

Shiki, which is celebrating its 55th anniversary this year, operates eight theatres throughout the country and stages more than 3,000 performances a year. It has the exclusive license to put on many popular foreign musicals in Japan, including “Cats,” “Phantom of the Opera,” and “The Lion King.”

In full-page ads in major newspapers announcing the discount, Shiki says it is cutting ticket prices because the company has done very well in the past few years despite a worsening domestic economy.

“We have seen how difficult people’s lives have become due to the economic situation,” says the ad, “and as a result are resolved [to cut ticket prices].”

The message doubles as a recruitment ad by announcing auditions and interviews for actors, singers, dancers and technical crew.

It has been reported that the actors and technicians of many theatre companies in Japan are aging rapidly and there are not enough skilled young people to replace them.

Some companies, including Shiki, have gone abroad to China and Korea to recruit new talent.


Che’Nelle Shakes Shibuya

The R&B singer known as Che’Nelle gave a free mini-concert August 28 in front of the 109 building, a landmark in Tokyo’s youth mecca Shibuya that houses dozens of hip clothing boutiques.

Che’Nelle and her dance troupe did the performance in their underwear as the show was a promotional stunt for the Japanese lingerie maker Peach John. Che’Nelle provides the theme song for the company’s TV spots.

The performance also marked the rerelease of Che’Nelle’s album, Things Happen for a Reason, which first came out in Japan about a year ago and spent two weeks atop the Oricon foreign artist album chart.

The singer was born in Malaysia to a Chinese father and an Indian-Dutch mother. When she was about 10 years old, the family moved to Australia.


Dion Not Just Bi-Lingual

Celine Dion will sing the theme song for the upcoming Japanese blockbuster “Maboroshi no Yamataikoku,” which will open nationwide later this fall.

An English version of the song, “A World to Believe In,” is featured on Dion’s Taking Chances album, but the version for the movie will feature Dion singing in Japanese. She has also recorded a duet version of the song with Japanese singer Yuna Ito, which was released in Japan last January.

Dion met with Japanese reporters in Montreal in late August to talk about the project.

She said she was very proud to be involved with the movie, which is about one of Japan’s most iconic figures, Himiko, a legendary queen who ruled over the ancient kingdom of Yamataikoku in the third century A.D.

Veteran actress Sayuri Yoshinaga, who is often referred to as the “face of Japan,” will star in the movie in a double role as the wife of a blind man searching for the ancient kingdom and as Himiko herself.


Jero’s Homecoming

Jero, the young African-American singer who became a superstar in Japan overnight last February when his enka (Japanese ballad) single went straight to the top of the charts, made a triumphant return to his hometown of Pittsburgh August 27.

The singer, whose real name is Jerome White, performed at his alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh, in front of 500 people who, according to one Japanese wire service report, “went wild.” Several of Jero’s hometown friends acted as backup dancers.

Though enka is considered music for older people in Japan, Jero has imbued his versions with an American R&B style perfectly suited to the melodramatic lyrics characteristic of the genre.

His first album, released in June, is a collection of enka classics the singer says reflects the influence of not only enka giants like Hiroshi Itsuki, but also Marvin Gaye and LL Cool J.