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Raiders of the lost SMAP


Did anyone see Harrison Ford being wined and dined by pop group SMAP on Fuji TV last Monday night? During the popular program, “SMAP x SMAP,” which runs from 10 p.m., guests appear on the BistroSmap segment where the boys cook for their visitor and perform silly skits and parodies, usually of the movie that the star is in Japan to promote.

Ford was good-natured about it all. First they asked him what he would like to eat. He requested robata cuisine, and while his dinner was being cooked, he engaged in idle talk with maitre d’ Masahiro Nakai. To keep him entertained, Shingo Katori, in Indy Jones get-up, spoofed “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and in particular, that scene where Indiana Jones is chased by a big boulder through a cave. It must have been a walk down memory lane for the 65-year-old Ford as they also showed film clips from his “Star Wars” days, the first three Indiana Jones films and “The Fugitive,” before introducing his latest film, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” Finally, it was time for dinner, and Ford – with the help of veteran interpreter and screen subtitler Natsuko Toda – dug in, pronouncing the food “very good” over and over. At one point, Katori cracked his whip after asking a startled Ford what he thought of the food.

It’s interesting watching the reactions of the various stars when they appear on “SMAP x SMAP.” They are obviously briefed on what to expect, but some handle it differently. Will Smith had the best time of all, clowning around and helping to cook, while others like Richard Gere and Catherine Zeta-Jones have to be coaxed into having a good time. Madonna, on the other hand, was not amused when she appeared on the program a few years ago. Notoriously fussy about what she eats, she sat there in silence for most of the program, with a look on her face that seemed to say “What am I doing here? Someone will pay for this.”

Appearances on TV programs like “SMAP x SMAP,” Tamori’s midday show “Waratte Iitomo” and Saturday morning’s “Osama Brunch” are almost mandatory now for visiting celebrities. Having covered movie stars’ visits to Japan for 20 years, I find it amusing to see how they each handle the schedules in different ways. Clearly, most stars find their visit to Japan a necessary evil. They don’t enjoy it very much because they are cloistered in their hotel rooms, sometimes doing 30 or 40 10-minute interviews in a day.

In many cases, the interviewer is an airhead announcer on some variety program. It starts with her waiting outside the hotel room, where she tells the camera she is “doki doki” (nervous). The door opens and in she goes to meet the star, offering a greeting in unintelligible English. In 10 minutes, there is barely time for one or two questions before closing with the obligatory message to fans in Japan. Then it is out and in with the next. Sometimes, the star gets a change of scenery and alternates between two rooms.

The stars would be a lot happier if they could spend a private week in Japan, as Tom Hanks did two years ago, before getting down to work. Many have remarked over the years how they would love to go walking around the city and eat where the Japanese eat. Instead, it is usually dinner at Gonpachi or some fancy restaurant in the hotel. I remember Leonardo DiCaprio telling me once (before he was a superstar) that what he wanted to do most of all in Japan was go up north and see the monkeys in the open-air onsen.

For many stars, it is in their contract that they visit Japan, which is the second biggest movie market in the world, so they have to squeeze it into their schedules in between films. That means a quick private jet trip to Japan and then sayonara. Johnny Depp, one of the biggest stars in Japan, rarely stays more than 36 hours. He’ll do the press conference, attend the premiere at Roppongi Hills and then he’s off into the night. Even the press conferences are becoming scripted. PR staff for many distributors frequently select reporters in advance and give them questions to ask – and the reporters, of course, oblige.

One star who I do give kudos to is Tom Cruise. More than any other star, Cruise knows how to please his fans. His last visit in 2006 for “Mission: Impossible 3” was a PR masterstroke. He arrived by speedboat at the Japan premiere, then took a bullet train full of fans to Osaka. He has a ball because nobody in Japan cares about Scientology or his personal life. Will Smith is great fun, too. He likes to rap whenever he gets a chance and loves clowning with photographers, often grabbing a camera and taking photos of them. Meanwhile, members of the entourage linger in the background. It always amazes me how many execs from HQ back in LA feel the need to come to Japan with the star. I’ve known as many as 50 people to accompany stars to Japan.

Some day, I think it would be interesting to see the star’s reaction when he or she is given a list of the schedule for activities during their stay in Japan. Sylvester Stallone had to take part in a punching contest in which he had to judge which Japanese actress had the best punch (it was Haruka Ayase). It must be trying on an actor's patience when they have to stand there pretending to look amused while they are given a supporting role as some Japanese celebrity is trotted out and gets all the questions from the media.

At the "Cloverfield" press conference, comedian Sumiko Nishioka kept badgering producer JJ Abrams to cast her in his next film. Eventually, Abrams said yes (to shut her up probably), before being told by his interpreter what he had just agreed to you. Then he hastily added "we'll see." Even worse, this year’s best supporting actor Oscar winner Javier Bardem had to suffer through annoying comedian Harumi Edo doing her stand-up comic routine that had him standing there looking rather perplexed. I kept waiting for him to bring out the slaughterhouse air-gun his character used in "No Country for Old Men" in the hope it would chase Edo off the stage. Anyway, there is one entertainer who is never upstaged in Japan and that's Robin Williams. He could take on SMAP, Nishioka, Edo, Ultraman, Godzilla and the Kano sisters at the same event and still emerge the winner.

In the meantime, memo to Edward Norton, Will Smith, Jodie Foster, Christan Bale, Robert Downey Jr and Billy Joel -- who are all scheduled to visit Japan in the next few months. If you are reading this, could you please tell us what you'd like for dinner and we'll pass it on to SMAP. Joel, of course, might have to sing a duet with one of the boys for his supper.

© Japan Today

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Edward Norton lived in Osaka and worked with customs or something down near Osaka port before going to Hollywood. He speak Japanese well enough that he easily answers reporters questions in Japanese.

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According to Madonna's personal chef (who is Japanese, and was interviewed on another SMAP-connected program, Katori Shingo's "SMA-Station"), she loved the food they cooked for her, and still requests some of the dishes be included in her regular diet. I agree she did look a bit frosty during her first appearance, but she seemed to warm up a bit, at least with Shingo, in later promotional outings with the "boys". In terms of star power, of course, they look at her as being practically from another planet, which is maybe why their shtick always feels a bit more forced than usual when Madonna is around.

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I don't know about their singing or acting ability but the SMAPsters do seem to be pretty good cooks. I wonder if they actually do all the cooking themselves on the show.

As for how foreign stars react when they are in Japan, it reflects their personality, I think. I can imagine that Will Smith has a great time, no matter what is schedule calls for, whereas if someone like Madonna appears aloof, it is probably because that's her nature.

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The star I was most impressed by during his tour of Japan was the guy from the Harry Potter movies. I saw a TV show with him visiting a Japanese high school and he really looked like he had a good time. The girls (I think it was an all-girl high school) had decorated the school for him and practiced magic tricks and he appeared (he may have been acting) genuinely surprised and it looked like he had a great time and he claimed it would be a life-long memory.


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The star I was most impressed by during his tour of Japan was the guy from the Harry Potter movies.

I saw that. The show is Gakko e ikou.

It is also, apparently, the only show Johnny Depp also not only agreed, but requested to be on the last time he came, because he enjoyed meeting Japanese kids, rather than wasting time with Japanese celebrities.

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Tom Cruise had a blast on Gakkou e Ikou too...top show.

Anyway, nice article.

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They should have had Spielberg and Lucas along with Karen Allen on this show. Why single out Harrison Ford? Of course, then SMAP would have had to start intellectualizing about Kurosawa's "Japanese influence" on the American directors' films. Yeah, I saw Ford being the perfect gentleman that he is. I'm glad that Kimutaku lost again. He seems to has lost a little of his gourmet punch of late, or perhaps the other SMAP chefs have honed their culinary skills.

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"the guy from the Harry Potter movies" = Daniel Radcliff?

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Great article thanks!

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Interesting article. I find it a little hard to share the pity that the writer seems to offer these celebrities. Its their job to promote their movies, and Japan is a HUGE market. Respect the fans. Oh! the poor gajillinaires have to spend 400 minutes giving interviews from their 5 star hotel suites..."A necessary evil"? Japan? Give me a break. They sit in the lap of luxury here. Be thankful North Korea isnt a huge international market for movies.

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Kaptain: I agree with you but the problem is that the interviewers here ask pathetic, predictable questions and just aren't professional. Just watch the d*ldos named SMAP and you'll understand. Do we always have to have tarentos doing the interviews (and hogging the limelight)?

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Daniel Radcliff it is! Thank you Zanza.


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Caught Ford's appearance last Monday night. What I found interesting was he never once addressed any of them by their names. Like they weren't even specks in his universe. Just goes to show that the SMAP guys are big fish in a little pond.


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The questions tend to be the same world over. The 10 minute segments that interviewers have are also done world over - they're called press junkets and most of the time the stars have to sit through and do a good number of them a day, sometimes up to 60-80 of them in one sitting.

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efftta: I beg to differ. Questions like what do you think of Japanese food, what do you think of Japanese this, Japanese that, etc. (substitute Japanese with your favourite nationality) are not the sort asked the world over.

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My fav. visiting celeb in local Tv was David Beckham a few years back sitting in on Tunnels show in that corner where they have to eat 4 foods and one of them is something they don't like... Beckham is such a simple guy with nothing much to say, and my guess is that he hadn't even seen a tape of the show's format so he looked very very bemused by the whole thing and the program was rescued from a complete nosedive by the other celeb, an English-speaking Japanese actress or singer.

Dinner with Beckham...err...no thanks...

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I respect your point pukey. The culture of comedy here is pretty whacked if you arent used to it. And Efftta I agree with you that idiocy is homogeneous to the entire world, but my point is, they cash the check so they should shut up and like it. To think of the monkey hoops i jump through daily, hours at a time for 2000 yen an hour, I dont feel sorry for celebs making their rounds.

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I think the author is wrong about Madonna on SMAPxSMAP. The last time she was on it she was great... giving back as good as she gets and casting Shingo in the role of her biatch. Very funny.

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I hate Shingo. Everytime I see his weasely little orange powdered face I want to smack it, hard.

Harrison Ford came across as irritated by the whole ordeal.

Japanese tv is so unprofessional, its surreal

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"Will Smith is great fun too."

He sure had fun kissing Yumiko Shaku numerous times.

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I'm trying to compile videos of foreign stars on Japanese TV . You can watch most foreign guests on Smap X Smap on my website www.smokyo.com/blog. Ford is on it if you missed it...

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