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Sunday, Feb. 25, 2007

MEDIA MIX

Women who give a rise to the man below them; it must be love


The big show business news last weekend was the wedding of model-actress Norika Fujiwara to comedian Tomonori Jinnai at a shrine in Kobe. The press were not permitted to attend the Shinto ceremony, but Fujiwara and Jinnai did come out a few times in their costumes to talk to reporters, which was nice of them.

The relaxed, joking mood of these impromptu press conferences seemed to indicate that the Jinnais expected the media to hang around even though they had asked them not to. One might even assume that they actually encouraged it. The wedding has been seen as a boost for Jinnai's career. "I have to try harder," he said to the reporters, though it wasn't clear what he was referring to -- being a better partner of his now-wife or being a funnier TV personality.

Jinnai is a minor, regionally-based comedian with Osaka's powerful Yoshimoto talent agency, while Norika Fujiwara is one of Japan's most popular and recognizable women. Discovered as a magazine model back in the '90s, Fujiwara has a statuesque silhouette that helped set the aesthetic standard for full-figured women who previously weren't much appreciated in Japan except as objects of adolescent-minded lust.

Fujiwara's professional success is mainly based on her one-time ubiquity in TV commercials and print ads. She rarely appears as a tarento on variety shows and her acting skills are so under-developed that she even seems amateurish when working next to the latest callow idol. Occasionally, she'd get a prestige job, such as hosting the Oscar telecast, but it was clearly a panda-bear position since she isn't much of a conversationalist or commentator.

Much of her positive reputation is based on the respect of her peers. Show-business reporters and fellow celebrities characterize Fujiwara as a genuinely warm and considerate person who never takes advantage of her position. Last year, she went to Afghanistan as a photographer to help draw attention to the dire situation in that country. Usually, such gestures are self-serving PR gambits, but in Fujiwara's case it was something she really wanted to do.

Lowering herself

Nevertheless, she isn't as ubiquitous as she used to be. The advertising and acting offers are drying up, and the women's weeklies say she wants to have children. Marriage doesn't mean she's retiring, just settling down. But because she's so well-regarded, the man she marries is going to be thoroughly scrutinized, and her choice of Jinnai, with whom she worked with last year on a TV drama, has been met with puzzlement, if not downright derision. He's younger, makes less money, and is even shorter than Fujiwara. Given that Norika has dated some very famous male celebrities in the past, the general feeling is that she's lowering herself to marry Jinnai. There can only be one explanation: true love.

Consequently, Fujiwara's reputation has grown even more, but that doesn't mean Jinnai's has. When he appeared as a guest on Shinsuke Shimada's legal-advice variety show last Sunday, Jinnai had to endure some nasty jokes regarding his fitness as a husband to such royalty. Shimada kept calling him "Mr. Fujiwara" and referred to the already well-known fact that Norika was moving out of her palatial digs to live with him in his more modest condominium. When the discussion turned to a theoretical alimony case, Shimada told Jinnai, "Now pay attention, this may apply to you someday."

There's little doubt that Jinnai and his management are encouraging such attention. Right now he is being featured in a Tokyo Metro campaign whose catch phrase is norinori, a word that implies riding the subway comfortably, but also references his bride's name.

Jinnai isn't the first male showbiz personality to get a sudden career boost from the woman he married. Joji Takahashi, an aging, second-tier rock singer with the band Tora Bu Ryu, saw his profile rise considerably when he wed Mika Mifune, the daughter of the late actor Toshiro Mifune and his mistress. The 24-year age difference (she was 16 when they got married about 10 years ago) was more topical than Mika's parentage, but in any case Takahashi and Mifune became a fixture on variety shows, though it isn't clear if he's sold more records as a result.

'Opposites attract'

It even works for the other half. Professional wrestler Jaguar Yokota didn't need to marry Dr. Hirokatsu Kinoshita to boost her career, but she has become arguably one of the most sought-after tarento, not to mention a best-selling author, since she did. The reaction in the media was similar to that of the Jinnai-Fujiwara union, though the details are very different. Yokota has a cartoon image of a tough, violent woman, while her husband is a meek, bespectacled physician: What could they possibly see in each other? But, of course, the "opposites attracts" aspect is irresistible: they must be in love. Things only got better for the couple when Yokota, at the age of 45, gave birth to a son in Hawaii last December and announced her return to the ring in March, thus making her not only the oldest competing female wrestler in Japan, but the only one who is also a mother.

The difference is that Yokota and Kinoshita always appear together on TV, but that doesn't seem to be the plan for Fujiwara and Jinnai. Most show business couples have no problem maintaining separate careers, but Jinnai's work has become inextricably tied to his status as the spouse of one of Japan's most glamorous women. It's hard not to think of Kevin Federline, the one-time back dancer and failed rapper who suddenly has a career being Britney Spears' ex-husband. In that regard, Jinnai has the advantage in that he's a Japanese comedian. He's already well-trained in the art of being humiliated.



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