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Asian films at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival

  January 27, 2015  
The 2015 edition of the Berlin International Film Festival, to be held from February 5th to 15th, has announced its full lineup, with a number of Asian films in its ranks.

Three Asian films are to be screened in competition: up-and-coming Vietnamese director Di Phan Dang's Vietnamese-French-German-Dutch co-production, Big Father, Small Father and Other Stories, Chinese actor-director Jiang Wen's period comedy Gone with the Bullets and Japanese director Sabu's fantasy romance Chasuke's Journey.

Screening in the Panorama section are Josh Kim's Thai-American co-production How To Win At Checkers (Every Time), Anucha Boonyawatana's The Blue Hour, Chang Tso Chi's Thanatos, Drunk, Yoon Je Kyun's Ode to My Father and Doze Niu's wartime drama Paradise in Service.

The Forum section will see Kim Dae Hwan's family drama End of Winter, Takahashi Izumi's Dari Marusan, Jia Zhangke-produced Chinese-UK co-production K, Yamamoto Masashi's The Voice of Water, Funahashi Atsushi's Nuclear Nation II and three restored prints of films by the eminent Ichikawa Kon.

Finally, screening in the Generations section are Sonthar Gyal's Tibet-set River, Matsui Daigo's Wonderful World End, Li Rui Jun's River Road and Kongdej Jaturanrasmee's documentary on Buddhism, So Be It.

Text / Frood

J Soul Brothers, Takeuchi Mariya top Japan Record Awards

  January 20, 2015  
The EXILE Family and Takeuchi Mariya took the top awards at the 56th Japan Record Awards, held late last month in Tokyo.

EXILE vocalist Atsushi won the Best Vocal award for his performance on his two albums and two singles. His fellow EXILE Family group Sandaime J Soul Brothers' hit single R.Y.U.S.E.I. won one of the ten Song of the Year awards and the Japan Record Award Grand Prize. It is the pop-dance group's first Grand Prize win at the Japan Record Awards.

Fashion model-turned-singer Nishiuchi Mariya won the Best Newcomer award, beating out nominees Oohara Sakurako, Solidemo and Tokunaga Yuki. Nishiuchi released her debut single Love Evolution in August.

Trad, the first album in seven years by veteran singer Takeuchi Mariya, won the Album of the Year award. Disney's Frozen won the Special Film Music award, and enka singer Itsuki Hiroshi won the Special Ballad Award.

Golden Bomber vocalist Kiryuin Sho won the Best Songwriter award for the band's two 2014 singles, and Kitajo Makoto received the Best Lyricist award.

Text / Rockman

Southern All Stars, J Soul Brother, Sekai no Owari benefit from "Kouhaku Effect"

  January 20, 2015  
Each year, the most popular performers on NHK's annual Kouhaku Uta Gassen show benefit from a bump in sales in what is called the "Kouhaku Effect." This year was no exception.

Southern All Stars, who made an unscheduled appearance with a live performance from their concert, experienced the biggest bump. Peace to Highlight went from outside the Oricon chart to 69th place, and Tokyo Victory went from 84th place to 30th place. Their performance was also the most talked about because Peace and Highlight was implied as the band's criticism towards Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo.

J Soul Brothers, who won an award for R.Y.U.S.E.I. a few days prior at the Japan Record Awards, saw the award-winning single go from 39th place to 12th place on the Oricon chart. Following their first appearance on Kouhaku, Sekai no Owari's single Dragon Night rose from 41st place to 24th place.

As always, theme songs for NHK's morning drama also returned to the spotlight after they were performed at the show. Nakajima Miyuki's Massan theme song Mugi no Uta went from 45th place to 16th place, and Ayaka's Hanako to Anna theme song Niji-iro went from 119th place to 36th place.

Text / Rockman

NEWS member Kato Shigeaki's debut novel to be made into film

  January 16, 2015  
Kato Shigeaki of Johnny's Entertainment group NEWS has written three novels to date, and it has been announced that his 2012 debut novel Pink and Grey will be made into a film. To be helmed by acclaimed director Yukisada Isao (Crying Out Love In The Center Of The World), the film will star Kato's labelmate Nakajima Yuto of Hey! Say! JUMP in his first big-screen role, Suda Masaki (Daily Lives of High School Boys), Kaho (Tokyo Girl), Kishii Yukino (At the Last Stop Called Ghost Chimney) and Yagira Yuya (Unforgiven).

Pink and Grey, which Kato has said contains semi-autobiographical details, tells the story of two childhood friends who decide to enter the entertainment industry as highschoolers. As time goes on, the ups and downs of the industry begin to take their toll on the friendship, forever changing the boys' relationship.

Filming is set to begin in mid-January 2015, and the movie is expected to be released in Japan in 2016.

Text / Frood

EXO and Tae Yang win Grand Prizes at 29th Golden Disc Awards

  January 16, 2015  
Recognizing the best physical and digital K-pop releases of 2014, Korea's 29th Golden Disc Awards were held abroad in Beijing on January 14 and 15. Continuing their best-selling streak, EXO claimed the Album Grand Prize for the second year in a row with Overdose. Tae Yang won the Digital Grand Prize with "Eyes, Nose, Lips."

EXO, APink, B1A4, BTS, CNBLUE, Girls' Generation, Infinite, Super Junior, Tae Min, Taetiseo and VIXX all picked up Album Awards, while Digital Album Awards went to Tae Yang, Ailee, AOA, BEAST, Epik High, Girl's Day, HyunA, K.Will, Sistar and Soyou and Junggigo. Girls' Generation, BEAST, Tae Min and Toheart were named the Most Popular Artists, and Winner, GOT7 and Red Velvet won the New Artist Awards.

Though BEAST was unable to perform as scheduled for the ceremony due to visa issues, the group was on hand to win the Male Group Best Performance Award. Their labelmate APink took the Female Group Best Performance Award.

In the genre categories, Epik High was awarded for Best Hip-Hop, Hong Jin Young for Best Trot and Huh Gak for Best OST. Special awards were also presented to Soyou and Junggigo (Trend of the Year), CNBLUE (CeCi Asian icon, iQIYI Most Popular Star and China Goodwill Star), GOT7 (China Goodwill Star), BESTie (Next Generation Award) and Tasty (Next Generation Award).

Text / Sanwei

Fruit Chan's Midnight After named Best Film by Hong Kong Film Critics Society

  January 13, 2015  
The Hong Kong Film Critics Society recently announced the winners of their 21st Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards. Fruit Chan's post-apocalyptic horror-comedy The Midnight After was named the Best Film of 2014, and he also received the Best Director Award for the second time, following his win in 1997 for Made in Hong Kong.

Lau Ching Wan won Best Actor for the fourth time for his role in Alan Mak and Felix Chong's surveillance thriller Overheard 3. He previously won for 1997's Full Alert, 2001's La Brassiere and 2011's Life Without Principle. Vicki Zhao edged out Sara's Charlene Choi and Overheard 3's Michelle Yip and Zhou Xun to win Best Actress for her portrayal of a rural mother whose child gets abducted in Dearest. Peter Chan's heartrending drama also shared the Best Screenplay Award with Johnnie To's romantic comedy Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2.

Besides Midnight After, the HKFCS's Recommended Films are Dearest, Overheard 3, Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2, Ann Hui's period biopic The Golden Era, Donnie Yen action thriller Kung Fu Jungle, John Woo's period epic The Crossing: Part 1, Dante Lam's psychodrama The Devil Within, Amos Why's indie drama Dot2Dot and Herman Yau's psychological thriller Sara.

Text / Sanwei

Cast announced for Monkey King sequel

  December 30, 2014  
As production for the sequel to fantasy epic The Monkey King begins in China, the film's production company has announced details about its main cast.

The biggest surprise is the absence of action star Donnie Yen, who played the titular character in the first film. Instead, Aaron Kwok, who played the villainous Buffalo Demon King in the first film, will don the monkey suit to play the legendary Monkey King in the film, based on another chapter of the Journey to the West saga.

Kwok is not the only major member of the original cast to play a different character in the sequel. Him Law, who had a small role as Muzha in the first film, will have a major supporting role as Sha Wujing, one of the three disciples who follow monk Xuanzang on his pilgrimage to the west. Xuanzong will be played by William Feng (Young Detective Dee), and comedian Xiao Shen Yang will play the monk pig Zhu Baijie.

Finally, Gong Li is set to play the villainous White Bone Demon, the shape-shifting creature who tries to eat Xuanzong's flesh.

Again directed by Soi Cheang, the Monkey King sequel is set to be released in cinemas during the Lunar New Year holiday in 2016.

Text / Rockman

AKB48 and Arashi continue reign on 2014 Oricon charts

  December 29, 2014  
AKB48 and Arashi continue reign on 2014 Oricon charts The fans have spoken with their wallets! AKB48 and Arashi are once again the most popular pop acts in Japan as they topped the 2014 Oricon yearly charts.

Not only did AKB48 have the top single of the year for the fourth consecutive year, the ultra-popular girl group's four 2014 singles and their late 2013 single Suzukake no Konomichi de... took up the top five spots of the yearly singles chart. All five singles sold over one million copies each.

The rest of the top ten on the singles chart are occupied by Arashi (with Guts and Bittersweet at sixth and seventh place, respectively), Nogizaka46 (with Nandome no Aozora ka and Kizuitara Kataomoi at eighth and tenth place, respectively) and EXILE TRIBE (The Revolution at ninth place). This is the first year that Nogizaka46's singles have reached the Oricon yearly top ten.

With the exception of EXILE TRIBE at ninth place, all of 2014's top 25 singles are by AKB48 (and its subgroups) or Johnny's Entertainment artists.

After Arashi took back the album chart last year with Popcorn, its 2014 album The Digitalian dropped to third place with 785,000 copies sold. Instead, AKB48 – who did not release a full-length album in 2013 – is the sole million-seller of 2014 with Tsugi no Ashiato. One of the highest-grossing films ever in Japan, Disney's Frozen was so popular that its original soundtrack was the second best-selling album of 2014 with 980,000 copies sold.

While last year's album chart was dominated by compilation albums, this year's top ten spots only include two-and-a-half compilations: Amuro Namie's Ballada (fourth place), J Soul Brothers' The Best/Blue Impact (sixth place) and Kis-My-Ft2's Hit! Hit! Hit! tenth place).

As always, Arashi took the top of the music DVD/Blu-ray chart. This year, their National Stadium Tour 2013 and Live Tour 2013 Love ranked first and second place on the chart, respectively. The group is also the overall best-selling artist of 2014, with their products grossing a total of 13.8 billion yen in revenue. They're followed by AKB48, Kanjani8, Kis-My-Ft2 and TVXQ.

Text / Rockman

The Attorney wins Best Film and Actor at 35th Blue Dragon Film Awards

  December 18, 2014  
Korea's 35th Blue Dragon Film Awards were held in Seoul on December 17. Courtroom drama The Attorney, which had led in nominations, triumphed over tough competition to take Best Film as well as Best Actor for Song Kang Ho and Best Supporting Actress for Kim Young Ae. Record-breaking historical blockbuster The Admiral: Roaring Currents missed the top prize, but it did win Best Director for Kim Han Min.

In the night's most surprising win, breakout actress Chun Woo Hee tearfully accepted the Best Actress award for her performance in the indie sensation Han Gong Ju. The film also garnered director Lee Su Jin the Best New Director award. Crime actioner A Hard Day continued to do well this award season, winning Best Supporting Actor for Jo Jin Woong, Best Screenplay and Best Editing

Following the Daejong Film Awards and the Korean Association of Film Critics Awards, Park Yoo Chun picked up another Best New Actor trophy for Haemoo. The high-seas thriller was also recognized for Best Art Direction. One of Korea's top child stars, 14-year-old Kim Sae Ron won Best New Actress for A Girl At My Door.

Period action thriller Kundo: Age of the Rampant picked up three technical prizes - Best Cinematography, Best Lighting and Best Music - while seafaring adventure The Pirates won for Technical Effects. The Popularity Awards went to Kim Woo Bin, Song Seung Heon, Im Si Wan and Shin Se Kyung.

Text / Sanwei

Ueno Juri takes on first Korean film role

  December 17, 2014  
Japanese actress Ueno Juri is set to join her first Korean film, The Beauty Inside, the directorial debut of Baek Jong Yeol.

Inspired by the Emmy Award-winning web series of the same name, The Beauty Inside is about a man who wakes up everyday with a different body, though his mind remains the same. Ueno will play one of the man's 20 appearances in the film. Actors playing the man's other consciousness include Park Shin Hye, Lee Bum Soo, Han Hyo Ju, Kim Sang Ho, Lee Jin Wook, Lee Dong Wook, Ko Ah Sung, Kim Joo Hyuk and Yoo Yeon Seok.

Ueno is best known in Korea for her performance in the live-action adaptation of Nodame Cantabile, which was also adapted into a Korean television drama this year.

The fantasy drama is expected to complete shooting in February for a theatrical release in the first half of 2015.

Text / Rockman

Line Walker wins top prizes at 2014 TVB Anniversary Awards

  December 16, 2014  
TVB, Hong Kong's leading broadcaster, held their annual TV Awards Presentation (TVB Anniversary Awards) on December 15. The biggest winner of the night, crime suspense drama Line Walker clinched five awards including Best Drama as well as Best Actress and My Favorite Female Television Character for Charmaine Sheh, who plays an undercover officer. This is her second time sweeping both top actress awards following her double win in 2006 for Maidens' Vow. Veteran actor Benz Hui won My Favorite Male Television Character for his role as a triad boss in the series.

Roger Kwok was crowned Best Actor for the third time for his antagonist role in Black Heart White Soul, matching Wayne Lai and Gallen Lo's records for highest number of wins. Best Supporting Actor and Actress went to Come On, Cousin's Rams Chiang and Tomorrow is Another Day's Josie Ho, while Most Improved Actor and Actress went to Louis Cheung and Priscilla Wong. Jinny Ng's "The More Difficult, The More I Love" for Line Walker was selected as the Most Popular Drama Theme Song.

The variety program Walk The Walk, Talk The Talk hosted by Wong Cho Lam and Nancy Sit scored double wins for Best Variety Program and Best Television Presenter, and Guardians of Life 2 was named the Best Infotainment Program.

This year's Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to 80-year-old actor Tam Bing Man. Veterans Walter Chu Wai Tak, Ceci So Yan Chee, Steve Lee Ka Ding, Law Lok Lam and Rams Chiang were also recognized with Professional Actor Awards. Bosco Wong and Charmaine Sheh were voted the Most Popular TVB Actor and Actress in Mainland China.

Per usual, the My Favorite Male and Female Television Character Awards were selected 100% by viewer voting, while the Best Drama, Best Actor and Best Actress Awards were determined by both viewer voting and judging panel. This year, 185,779 votes were cast in total. Of that, Charmaine Sheh received 75,171 votes for Favorite Female Character, while Benz Hui received 62,705 votes for Favorite Male Character. Charmaine Sheh and Roger Kwok led for Best Actor and Actress in both public votes and judge votes. For Best Drama, Line Walker received 41.6% of judge votes and 20.3% of public votes.

Text / Garden
Translation / Sanwei

Takahashi Minami announces graduation from AKB48

  December 15, 2014  
At a live show commemorating their theater's ninth anniversary, AKB48 member and General Director Takahashi Minami announced that she is graduating from the idol group in 2015.

Born in 1991, Takahashi was one of the idol group's 24 founding members along with Maeda Atsuko, Itano Tomomi and Kojima Haruna. In 2009, she was named the captain of Team A. Known for her elder sister persona, Takahashi was promoted three years later to General Director of AKB48 and its sister groups.

At the announcement, Takahashi also announced that current Team A captain Yokoyama Yui will take over as General Director after her departure exactly one year later.

Consistently one of the ten most popular members at the group's annual Senbatsu Election, Takahashi released a solo single in 2013.

Text / Rockman

Library Wars to return with sequel in 2015

  December 5, 2014  
A sequel has been announced for the film Library Wars, originally released in Japan on April 27, 2013. Based on the popular light novel series by Arikawa Hiro, Library Wars attracted over 250,000 viewers in its first three days of release and eventually went on to earn over ¥330 million at the box office. The film was directed by GANTZ director Sato Shinsuke and starred V6's Okada Junichi, Eikura Nana, Kuriyama Chiaki and Fukushi Sota, all of whom are slated to return for the sequel, Library Wars –The Last Mission-.

Set in a lightly dystopian near-future version of Japan, where the government has banned books it deems dangerous, Library Wars follows Kasahara Iku (Eikura Nana), a new recruit of the Library Defense Force, which was created to defend libraries and more broadly, the freedom of expression from the violent attacks of the government-armed Media Betterment Committee. Kasahara navigates through this dangerous world under the tutelage of her stern supervisor Dojo Atsushi (Okada Junichi), whom she eventually falls for.

Library Wars –The Last Mission- is scheduled to be released in Japan in October 2015.

Text / Frood

Kanjani8's Shibutani Subaru to make solo debut

  December 4, 2014  
Johnny's Entertainment has announced that Kanjani8's Shibutani Subaru will be making his solo debut with upcoming double A-side single Kioku/Kokoro Odoreba. Shibutani is the ninth Johnny's artist to make a solo debut while in a group and the first of Kanjani8 to do so.

The two songs on the single will serve as the theme songs for the film La La La at Rock Bottom, which will be released in Japan on February 14, 2015 and features Shibutani in his first solo big-screen starring role. Set in Osaka, the movie has Shibutani playing a gifted singer with amnesia who's taken in by a young band manager played by actress-model Nikaido Fumi. As the two get to know each other while living together, hints of the amnesiac singer's past emerge.

In support of the movie and the single, whose release date is yet to be determined, Shibutani will embark on a cross-country solo concert tour from January 18 to February 25, 2015.

Text / Frood

NHK announces Kohaku performers for 2014 edition

  November 28, 2014  
NHK has announced the performers for the 2014 edition of the Kohaku Uta Gassen New Year's Eve show. This year's list includes five performers making their Kohaku debut – two in the white team and three in the red team.

New in the white team are rock band Sekai no Owari and Johnny's Entertainment group V6. The former released three top ten singles in 2014, performed the theme song for Princess Jellyfish and is performing the set song for the middle school division of the 2015 NHK Nationwide School Chorus contest.

In the red team, HKT48 will join the rest of the AKB family on stage for the first time. May J., who released a series of hit cover albums in the past two years, will also make her debut on the Kohaku stage along with legendary idol Yakushimaru Hiroko. Even though Yakushimaru was on the show last year as part of the Amachan performance, this year marks her first solo appearance.

While performers often come and go over the years, this year's list sees the exclusion of Hamasaki Ayumi and aiko, who have appeared on the show for 15 years and 12 years, respectively. However, Hamasaki will hold her annual Countdown Live concert in Tokyo on the same night, as she has done since 2000.

Returning performers include Ayaka (7th appearance), Ikimonogakari (7th appearance), Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (3rd appearance), miwa (2nd appearance), EXILE (10th appearance), SMAP (22nd appearance), Tokio (21st appearance) and Porno Graffiti (13th appearance).

This year's show is hosted by Arashi (6th appearance) and Yoshitaka Yuriko, the star of this year's hit NHK Morning drama Hanako to Anne.

An annual tradition since 1951, the Kohaku Uta Gassen ("The Red and White Song Battle") features Japan's most popular musical acts (split into red and white teams) in a friendly competition that involves performing hit songs for viewer votes. The Kohaku remains one of the highest-rated television programs on Japanese television, and it's still the preferred New Year's Eve pastime for most Japanese families. The show can also have significant impact on music sales, as certain songs would experience an increase in sales after being exposed to a nationwide audience on the show.

Text / Rockman

35th Blue Dragon Film Award nominations

  November 27, 2014  
Nominations for Korea's 35th Blue Dragon Film Awards were announced on November 27. Acclaimed courtroom drama The Attorney again leads the race with ten nominations. Kim Han Min's historical blockbuster The Admiral: Roaring Currents, which just won the top prize at the Daejong Film Awards, and Kim Seong Hoon's action thriller A Hard Day follow with seven nominations each. Hwang Dong Hyuk's comedic blockbuster Miss Granny and Lim Soon Rye's Whistle Blower join the aforementioned on the shortlist for Best Film.

Kim Han Min, Kim Seong Hoon, Hwang Dong Hyuk and Lim Soon Rye are also all nominated for Best Director along with Pirates helmer Lee Suk Hoon. Best Screenplay nods go to A Hard Day, The Attorney, Miss Granny, Lee Su Jin's record-breaking indie Han Gong Ju and Shim Sung Bo's high-seas thriller Haemoo, which garnered six nominations in total.

Park Hae Il (Whistle Blower), Song Kang Ho (The Attorney), Lee Seon Gyun (A Hard Day), Jung Woo Sung (The Divine Move) and Daejong winner Choi Min Sik (Roaring Currents) will compete for Best Actor honors. In the Best Actress race, Son Ye Jin looks to repeat her Daejong win, but this time she's nominated for the crime suspense drama Blood and Ties instead of Pirates. The other nominees are Kim Hee Ae (Thread of Lies), Jeon Do Yeon (The Way Home), Chun Woo Hee (Han Gong Ju) and Shim Eun Kyung (Miss Granny).

Kwak Do Won (The Attorney), Yu Hae Jin (Pirates), Lee Kyung Young (Whistle Blower), Lee Sung Min (Kundo: Age of the Rampant) and Jo Jin Woong (A Hard Day) are nominated for Best Supporting Actor, while Kim Young Ae (The Attorney), Ra Mi Ran (My Love, My Bride), Jo Yeo Jeong (Obsessed), Honey Lee (Tazza: The Hidden Card) and Han Ye Ri (Haemoo) are up for Best Supporting Actress.

The Best New Actor category lines up popular young stars Kim Woo Bin (Friend, The Great Legacy), Park Yoo Chun (Haemoo), Im Si Wan (The Attorney) and Choi Jin Hyuk (The Divine Move), as well as Ahn Jae Hong (The King of Jokgu). For Best New Actress, the nominees are Kim Sae Ron (A Girl at My Door), Kim Hyang Gi (Thread of Lies), Ryu Hye Young (My Dictator), Esom (Scarlet Innocence) and Lim Ji Yeon (Obsessed), who won at the Daejong Film Awards.

The 2014 Blue Dragon Awards will be held in Seoul on December 17.

Text / Sanwei

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