United International Pictures (UIP) brought in actor Matt Damon to promote the remake of the action film, “The Bourne Identity.” He spent what little free time he had at the sumo matches. UIP also brought in actor Edward Norton, director Brett Ratner, producer Dino de Laurentis and his wife Martha to promote “Red Dragon.” Ed brought his buddy, actor Woody Harrelson (TV’s “Cheers”). Sorry he couldn’t bring his beautiful girlfriend, Salma Hayek, but she was busy on a new project. Hopefully she will come to Japan to promote her film, “Freida.” Ed, Brett and Woody dropped by the Lex one night, but unfortunately it was a weekday, raining, and there wasn’t a whole lot happening. They did have a bottle of champagne and Ed, with his naturalness and ability to speak Japanese, really impressed the club’s staff.
After two and a half years of hard work and dedication, Chid Waller has stepped down as President of Refugees International Japan. I know Chid’s successor, Ann Alkire, a dynamic lady who I’m sure will do a good job. Chid will remain on the board as adviser, and “along with her colleagues is looking forward to working with Ann.” Chid’s husband Richard is with Apple Computer, and Ann’s hu band John is with Morgan Stanley.
Many have marveled at the wonderful window decor at Goto’s Florist Shop near Roppongi Crossing. I was walking by there a few months ago when I saw a foreigner setting up the new display and went to talk with him. His name is Laurent Borniche, he’s French and often comes to Japan for the Goto displays. He also said there are several Dutchmen who specialize in artisan floral and come in from time to time to do the displays. It’s nice to see the decision-makers at Goto are internationally minded.
Ran into Mary Stavonhagen, daughter of the legendary Nancy Ma, recently at Tokyo American Club. Mary, whose husband heads Lufthansa operations in Beijing, is now in the antiques business and works as an adviser for China Guardian Auctions.
After 17 years with UIP, President and CEO Kiri Inomata has retired. Kiri’s really been a good friend over the years, and through her I got to meet and become friends with Robert DeNiro, Charlie Sheen, Dolph Lundgren and many others. She also invited me to a very interesting dinner at Inukaya with Anthony Perkins (“Psycho”). Thanks, Kiri, for many things and all the best in your retirement.
UIP President and COO, former Tokyoite Andrew Cripps, announced the appointment of Paul Takaki as President of UIP Japan. I know Paul through his 13 years with Warner Brothers, and he has the background and experience to do a good job for UIP.
During January and February things usually slow down a bit, but that just hasn’t happened this year. On Jan. 27, I joined sumo champ, now entertainment personality Konishiki, and 35 super kids from his old neighborhood in Hawaii he had flown in for a week packed with all kids of worthwhile activities, at a sayonara party at the Marriott Hotel. What an inspirational and emotional night that turned out to be.
I got back from Manila on Jan. 25 and, when I went through my mail, was not happy to see an invitation to a sayonara party hosted by Ecuadorean Ambassador Marcelo Avila and his wife Maria Teresa at their residence on the 29th. Ecuador’s got a new president and, as often happens, there have been a lot of changes. This was Marcelo’s second posting here, just two years this time, and the Avilas’ many friends were really sad to see the hard working, professional, personable, outgoing and very popular couple leave. I’m especially indebted to the Avilas. During their first posting here, they invited me to visit their beautiful country. It was a great two weeks of adventure that included island-hopping in the Galapagos and five days on a floating hotel on the Amazon.
There was glamor galore at the glittering evening Aston Martin hosted in the ballroom at the Hilton Tokyo. The program included a gourmet dinner and a special screening of the new James Bond film, “Die Another Day.”
Also at the Hilton, Michael Nigitsch, Vice President, Japan and Korea and Hilton Tokyo General Manager, hosted a birthday party in the hotel’s Presidential Suite for former Sony Chairman Norio Ohga. It was Norio’s 73rd birthday on Jan. 29, and that same day, he announced his retirement from Sony. He’s an exceptional man. We wish him all the best in his retirement.
It was, as always, a butt-bumping crowd at the Swedish Embassy for their annual Christmas Bazaar. From the noise and looks of things, I can safely say everyone there had a good time. The highlight was the traditional Lucia performances with the Queen of Light and her attendants singing Christmas carols. There was glögg with ginger cookies, smorgasbord and hot dogs, beer and snaps. Home baked goods and Swedish handicrafts sold out. That was nice, as proceeds went to several worthwhile causes. I appreciate the chance to meet new Swedish Ambassador Mikael Lindstrom, and his wife Kerstin. They’re a very pleasant, outgoing couple who I’m sure will be active and very popular here.
The last time I saw the Ballet Folkloric de Mexico was four years ago in Mexico City. It’s a fantastic show, and I was really happy when I read that Min-On concert Association was bringing the highly acclaimed group for a series of performances around Japan. I was even happier when I received an invitation from Mexican Ambassador Carlos de lcaza Gonzalez and his wife Luisa, not only for the show, but also for a reception to meet and mingle with the 60 dancers and musicians. The show was spectacular with its authentic and colorful costumes, sets and a young, good-looking and talented cast. The highlight for me was Jorge Torres Chavez’s interpretation of the Yaqui Indian Deer Dance. I spent considerable time with two families in a Yaqui village near Phoenix, Arizona. They have a unique history and culture and, if you ever have the opportunity to see the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico, don’t miss this great entertainment experience.
It was an exciting evening at the German Embassy when Ambassador Henrik Schmiegelow and his wife Michele were joined by visiting Senator for Economics, Labour and Women for the State of Berlin, Herrn Harald Wolf, in hosting a reception on the occasion of the Day of German Unity. The area in front of the residence was artistically illuminated, and there was a colorful display of BMW prestige products, as well as the vela taxis. These are the environmentally friendly, funky vehicles you see hauling passengers in the Harajuku area. Once guests congratulated the hosting couple who had set up the receiving line in the entrance to the residence’s magnificent garden, they moved around chatting with friends and enjoying the German food and wines. Knowing Germany’s strong business relations with Japan, I wasn’t surprised to see so many big company kaicho and shacho there. l had other commitments, so couldn’t stay for the live musical presentation, but the Schmjegelows and their staff had gone all out to make the celebration a special event.
At a crowded reception hosted by Turkish Ambassador Yaman Baskut and his wife Filiz to celebrate the 79th anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey, they also were able to bid sayonara to many friends they made here. Once again, I had to leave early but did have time to talk with U.S. Ambassador Howard Baker and thank the Baskuts for their friendship. After four years in Japan, Yaman and Filiz have returned to Ankara.
The next evening joined a group of Japanese VIPs at the Imperial Theater for Johnny Kitagawa’s exciting musical, “Shock.” Fujisankei Communications Chairman Shigeaki Hazama, TV Tokyo’s Director/General Manager Yoshiharu Inukai and Director/Senior GM Hiroji Misawa and I had the four best seats in the house. About 3,000 teenage girls, fans of stars Koichi Domoto, Jun Akiyama and many of the younger soon-to-be Johnny’s Jimusho pop idols, surrounded us.
Attended a special screening of the film version of one of my all time favorite Broadway musicals, “Chicago,” and I tell you, that’s entertainment at its best. Kinda dating myself, but I first saw the musical in Chicago in 1975. It starred two of the greatest hoofers of all time, Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera. I’ve seen the show six times since then with different casts all over the world and enjoyed it every time as much as the first. One of the world’s hottest choreographers, the late Bob Fosse, liked the show so much, he used one of its top songs, “All That Jazz,” as the title of his semi-autobiographical movie.
The film’s been a long time in actually getting made and stars such as Madonna, Goldie Hawn, Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Gwyneth Paltrow were all considered for the leads as Roxie and Velma. Casting really was right on when they decided on Renee Zellweger as Roxie and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma. The two beauties can really sing and dance in what may well be Oscar-winning performances. Richard Gere is also very good in the role of the smooth con lawyer Billy Flynn. I talked with Richard when he was here recently to promote “Unfaithful” for 20th Century Fox. He told me he came from a musical family and was in several musicals including “Grease” early in his career. I was also happy to see they gave veteran dancer Chita Rivera a part in the film. Gaga Communications will release “Chicago” in Japan Apr. 19. The film is up for 13 Academy Awards.
*First published at the Tokyo Weekender