Tsuyoshi Kusanagi in his first Taiga drama role

Tsuyoshi Kusanagi will have his first Taiga drama role with next year’s Seiten wo Tsuke. The NHK drama stars Ryo Yoshizawa as Eiichi Shibusawa, the “father of Japanese capitalism.” Tsuyoshi will play Yoshinobu Tokugawa, the last shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate who forms a deep relationship of mutual trust with Eiichi Shibusawa for the entirety of his life.

Comment from Tsuyoshi

I’m very happy to be able to perform together with all the actors announced today. I can really feel the energy from the script I received, it’s a powerful story to develop one’s senses acting, and I want Yoshinobu Tokugawa to leave a deep impression in everyone’s memories. I believe my role as Yoshinobu will have a huge impact on my life. I want to take on this challenge with full strength.


Tsuyoshi Kusanagi in La Strada

December 8 through December 28, 2018, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi became Zampano for the stage play adaption of the 1954 Italian film, La Strada, at the Nissay Theater in Tokyo.

I was lucky enough to watch the play. Here’s what I thought.

The Play – Short Version

Tsuyoshi Kusanagi took the role of Zampano, a traveling strongman who is a cruel human being. He purchases a young girl at the beginning of the play to help with his performances.

This young girl is Gelsomina. She’s innocent, a bit slow and half living in her own world. Throughout the play, she encounters Il Matto, another performer who is more of a comedian and in many ways, the exact opposite of Zampano. He teaches her about the importance of life and provides her with a chance to escape.

Gelsomina finds her purpose to be by Zampano’s side. Zampano, a cruel, abusive, selfish man, whose cares are limited to money, booze, and women. He trains Gelsomina to perform with him (mostly limited to announcing his appearance on stage) and we watch as Gelsomina sticks by his side, yet he never changes.

Il Matto and Zampano are somewhat enemies, where Il Matto takes pleasure in being intellectually superior and eggs Zampano on during every encounter. He teases Zampano about being a one trick pony, using brawn because he has no brains, and is friendly with Gelsomina sometimes to the point to just annoy Zampano. Il Matto’s behavior eventually leads Zampano to (accidentally) kill him. This breaks Gelsomina’s mind and Zampano can’t deal with her like this and leaves her to die on a cold, winter road.

A few years later, Zampano is wandering around the coast and hears a song Gelsomina would play. He learns that she did die and he finally realizes what he’s done and the impact on his life where he’s all alone.

The play doesn’t take too many liberties with the original source material. If you watch the film, you have a good idea of what happened in the play.

Initial Impression

My first reaction after getting out of the theater was… well, that was horrible.

Here we have a cruel man who buys a young girl. He’s abusive yet she stays with him even after given multiple opportunities to leave. In the end, he doesn’t change even when they tease that just maybe he’s about to. This pretty much results in her death and years later, Zampano ends up alone and finally realizes the impact of his actions and has a breakdown revealing some emotional vulnerability.

Guess what? I don’t care. I never liked Zampano. He never did anything to redeem himself. And years later, when he finally realizes he did wrong, I’m supposed to feel for him? Nope. Sorry.

Reading the the Japan Times interview with Tsuyoshi about the play was likely a mistake, because I was waiting for a moment to feel for Zampano.

[…] but I hope they’ll gradually come around to being fond of such a really human person.

Japan Times interview

No fondness felt on my behalf. If the intent behind the play was to somehow have the audience feeling sympathy for the protagonist by the end, they missed the mark horribly.

That all being said, I understand the play wasn’t supposed to be some feel-good happy affair. It’s about a twisted up “love” that doesn’t quite manifest itself in ways that are healthy or happy or anything anyone would want for themselves.

No thank you.

It Wasn’t All Bad…

Don’t misunderstand. The cast was great. Tsuyoshi nailed Zampano’s cruelness and amazingly bulked up enough to bring the stage presence of a ridiculous circus strongman. Aju Makita fully brought Gelsomina’s innocence that contrasted so much with Zampano’s cruelty. Naoto Kaiho brought such playfulness and mischievousness to Il Matto.

The entire supporting cast was also great and really brought the circus scenes to life. The costumes were great.

The music may have gotten a bit repetitive and transitions between scenes also felt a bit jarring at first, but I came to appreciate how they were done by the end.

But really? My main problem was the story and the pacing.

I knew going in I likely wouldn’t enjoy the play because of the subject (even though I did enjoy the film.) I figured Tsuyoshi would do an amazing job (he did) and I’d hate him as Zampano (I did,) so I went in with low expectations.

There were even some good scenes on their own, but everything together just couldn’t hold my interest.

That’s okay though. Because…

Shirtless Tsuyoshi

Yes, a section dedicated to shirtless!Tsuyoshi. The play definitely wouldn’t have had any redeeming qualities if we never got him out of his clothes. (I’m only half joking about that?)

Tsuyoshi beefed up. Had a mighty fine back and arms yet kept half his body hidden underneath a small, dirty tank top.

Considering how much I didn’t really enjoy the play, I have no problem in saying the real climax was when Tsuyoshi finally took off that tank top.

It had to be my favorite moment of the play. Not because the shirt finally came off (which we knew had to be coming, there was no way he’d workout that much and not treat us to a full view), but because the moment that shirt started coming off, these older ladies sitting in front of me started bringing up their binoculars.

We were close enough to not need binoculars.

It. Was. Hilarious.

Then Tsuyoshi Zampano “dives” onto a blue sheet that represents water and goes for a swim in a very… interpretive dancing way. He’s writhing on the floor, without his shirt, on a blue sheet.

I almost started laughing.

Water as a motif. Got it.

But I still couldn’t really figure out a reason for that scene. He had just gotten out of jail, Gelsomina was there, loyally waiting for him, and he admits out loud that she could’ve just left him. They transition to the beach, he offers to take her back home, she says her home is with him. And he just decides to go for a swim. He almost opens up to Gelsomina about his past, so it could’ve been the start of rebirth or something, but he clammed up right away so it felt kind of wasted.

Or maybe it was to represent another one of the endless opportunities to change and bad choices made, but depicted more artfully.

I’m just going to go with they wanted him to be shirtless.

Curtain Call

The curtain call at the end was probably the next highlight next to shirtless!Tsuyoshi.

It was a chance for us to see Tsuyoshi and not Zampano. Tsuyoshi pretty much came running out for the curtain calls as his normal energetic Tsuyoshi self.

It was so damn adorable and I’m so glad he did that so I didn’t walk out hating him. =)

Theater Experience

I’m hating a lot on the play, but it definitely was an experience I’m glad to have. I was super lucky and successfully balloted for an onstage seat directly through Umeda Arts Theater and a friend was able to get tickets on the first floor, so I got to experience the play in different ways.

Being onstage was exciting. The opening circus scene was so exciting and of course when Tsuyoshi appeared as Zampano for the first time in his tiny little tank top with perky nipples and sexy back and beefed up arms… That was worth the 2000 yen for the Umeda Arts Theater membership!

That being said, while being onstage was a worthwhile experience, you did miss most of the action since you saw the back of the play. It might’ve been more fun if the onstage audience was more into the performances, treating it as being part of the play, clapping enthusiastically when there were circus performances going on… But the audience just wasn’t that into it. Even when the performers were playing to the onstage audience…

Yes, Tsuyoshi even came up and put on his Zampano show a few times directly towards us on stage and that was kind of breathtaking. But the first dozen rows in the first floor likely provided a better view of the entire play. If given only one choice in the future – I’d rather see the play from the normal audience.

Final Thoughts

  • What were they really thinking with that swimming scene!?
  • The actor who played Il Matto was super cute.
  • The flutist was also super cute.
  • Tsuyoshi has one sexy, sexy back.

Maybe I’ll do a more detailed summary of the play later. I feel a bit unfair to not do one and harshly review it like this, but I really didn’t enjoy it and can’t bring myself to spend much more time on it at the moment.

But I’m really glad I could see Tsuyoshi again. Multiple times even. Even if I’d rank his play earlier this year (Ballyturk) 1000x better.

Still, this play proved once again that Tsuyoshi Kusanagi is a damn fine actor.

Tsuyoshi Kusanagi’s Surprise Appearance at U Fes

On November 11, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi made a surprise appearance at U-FES.2018 Premium Stage, a festival for YouTube creators.

He performed Ame agari no Step with Ndaho and Peketan from Fischer’s and joined in for the closing ceremony.

Notable was Toshimitsu from Tokai On Air (a fellow SMAP fan) completely losing it just by being on stage with Tsuyoshi.


Tsuyoshi Kusanagi’s appearance at U-FES and performance with Ndaho and Peketan.

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Atarashii Chizu, A Year Later

The Launch of Atarashii Chizu

On September 22, 2017, an ad appeared in the nation-wide Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun and in Tokyo Shimbun. It was a simple ad that spanned across two full pages. The focal point being a reversed compass rose and the Japanese for new map (atarashii chizu in Japanese) in the bottom right corner. In tiny, almost unreadable print was the URL for atarashiichizu.com and the names of three SMAP members: Goro Inagaki, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, and Shingo Katori.

Atarashii Chizu launch ad
Atarashii Chizu launch ad

Now, typically a print ad for a fan site isn’t really noteworthy news, but add in the context of the ad, the situation at the time, and what the ad is a response to… This ad attracted a lot of attention from not only SMAP fans but the entertainment and advertising industry.

The Significance

It’s hard to talk about the significance of the ad without discussing who SMAP are and the circumstances surrounding SMAP’s disbandment. This could go on for pages and pages, but considering most people reading this at least know who SMAP is, I’ll skip that part.

I will touch on the disbandment, as there are a number of new fans who discovered SMAP during this time. It’s a difficult subject to cover since there is no credible reporting and the speculation could go on forever. Instead, I’ll do my best to try to summarize the struggle fans went through.

2016 was supposed to be the year SMAP and SMAP fans celebrated the group’s 25th debut anniversary. That didn’t happen. Instead, SMAP’s life-long manager resigned and they started the process to leave with her. For whatever reason, they didn’t leave and fans watched as members were publicly humiliated on TV as punishment. It was stated they weren’t going to disband. However the year only got worse as fans watched as SMAP was slandered all over the media, all chances to even see SMAP live were taken away, no live performances… You get the picture.

So despite an official statement that SMAP would not disband, the atmosphere said otherwise. The flurry of activity from fans that followed showed fans did not believe SMAP would be SMAP much longer. Fans desperately tried to do anything they could think of to keep SMAP together.

Fans resorted to CD buying campaigns to show support, taking out ads in Tokyo Shimbun during member’s birthdays, sending postcards of support to TV shows and radio shows, started a petition gathering signatures to not disband, even contacting the Japanese consumer protection agency to go against SMAP’s company. Fans were doing anything they could think of to tell SMAP we support them and to please not disband.

It didn’t matter what fans wanted. The disbandment announcement came anyways. SMAP would be disbanded by December 31, 2016.

It wasn’t a surprise for many. The bigger surprise was that SMAP members were staying with the company that fans grew to hate. A company that fans felt disrespected SMAP and all those that cared for SMAP. A company that fans felt forced the disbandment of SMAP.

Fans could do nothing else. Fans had already sent letters and postcards of support, but there was still one thing left. Fans raised 39,925,936 yen for a black-and-white, 8-page ad in Asahi Shimbun.

8-page ad fans took out for SMAP in Asahi Shimbun

To SMAP who has always given us so much love and courage —
We strongly believe in the future.
From now on, let’s hold hands.
We will not let go.
We will be by your side from now on.
We Love SMAP Forever
Can’t Stop!! -LOVING-
Even though what we can do as individuals is minuscule,
we realized if we gathered together we become much stronger.
We hope these feelings reach you somehow.

The ad even closed with a call for aid for earthquake victims, repeating the SMAP call for aid that SMAP continued to make. Despite it being years after the earthquake disaster in eastern Japan, despite it slipping from the media and public minds, SMAP never forgot. Fans stated they’d continue to call for aid, just as SMAP did.

We Hope These Feelings Reach You Somehow

We hope these feelings reach you somehow.

Fans came together in 2016 to show support to SMAP. SMAP never acknowledged fans’ efforts. It would’ve been impossible for them to have missed fans efforts, especially the multi-page ad, yet we faced silence from a group we loved.

It was hard wondering if they heard us and became easier to question if they cared as the silence continued.

At least until the ad for Atarashii Chizu was published in Asahi Shimbun. The ad was not only the launch of Goro Inagaki, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, and Shingo Katori’s new careers as independent talents, but a long-awaited acknowledgment to fans saying: we heard you and thank you.

An amazing brand movie was also uploaded to YouTube, promising  more to come on October 16.

Let’s run away from what binds us
Let’s cross borders
Let’s rewrite
Loving freedom and piece, our weapons are ideas and charm
It’s okay if they make fun of us
Wholeheartedly, we’ll touch others hearts
Now, let’s go with openness
We’re Atarashii Chizu

The ad, the video, the message… Fans felt we had SMAP back.


Now, it probably felt like SMAP was back because of the creative team behind the ad. The three creative directors, Taku Tada, Takaaki Yamazaki, and Naruhiro Gonpa, had all previously worked with SMAP and poured their everything into creating the ad.

“We’d take most of the responsibility if they failed at the start. We’d feel guilty.” – Taku Tada in the July 2018 issue of Nikkei Trendy.

So the ad was made with a creative team that knew SMAP and wanted these three to succeed. They did it. They captured SMAP’s spirit and blatantly included the name SMAP.

  • The compass is reversed, except for the S.
  • The compass spells out NEWS.
  • Atarashii Chizu translates to new map.
  • NEWS + map = New SMAP?

With the disbandment of SMAP, the name SMAP disappeared from all but one radio show.  Some girl’ SMAP became Nakai Masahiro’s ON & ON AIR. STOP THE SMAP became Editor-in-Chief Inagaki Goro. SMAP Power Splash became ShinTsuyo Power Splash. Fans were angry about this. They felt that SMAP is SMAP, and they were robbed of their name.

After leaving their former company, fans have never herd Goro, Tsuyoshi, or Shingo even say the word SMAP anymore. Fans assume they are legally bound to never mention their name or their music again, but if true, that didn’t stop them from making their fan site name Atarashii Chizu, or NEW MAP.

In all its 2-page glory, the Atarashii Chizu ad was a long-awaited reply to fans and a statement they’d always be SMAP.

A Day We’ll Never Forget

For 21 months, SMAP fans were treated to silence from the men they’d supported over the years. It was a struggle as a fan, and many of us questioned if our support was hurting them or helping them.

The ad said we did the right thing.

“The three of us will not forget that time [the ad was published]. I believe all our fans that support us will never forget that day either.”
Goro Inagaki, 2018/07/12 at Asahi Shimbun’s 66th Advertising Award Ceremony

Goro said it best at the Asahi Shimbun’s Advertising Award Ceremony. Fans will NOT forget September 22, 2017. And I think this long winded post proves at least one fan won’t.

Tsuyoshi Kusanagi’s 44th Birthday Twitter Post Collection!

Happy (belated) birthday to the most wonderful SMAP member (to me), Tsuyoshi Kusanagi!!

Due to travel, I was unable to properly celebrate, but plenty of his more dedicated and loyal fans did. I’ve gathered links to as much of the wonderful fan art posted over the last two days celebrating.  😀

I’m sure I did miss art…. but you can see more and some of the fun parties people had on Twitter under #草彅剛44回目誕生祭_0709.

Warning: LOTS of images behind the cut. Continue reading “Tsuyoshi Kusanagi’s 44th Birthday Twitter Post Collection!”

ParaSports Donation & 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Goodwill Ambassadors

On July 8th at Tokyo-Daiba Nippon Foundation Para-Arena, Goro, Tsuyoshi, and Shingo presented the donation from the sales of the ParaSports charity support song, Ame Agari no Step (in English: A Step after the Rain.)

Goro Inagaki, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, and Shingo Katori presenting charity donation to Paralympic Support Center
(c) modelpress

The sales were from the digital release on sale from March 19 through June 30th. The song was downloaded 99594 times, and they raised 23,006,214 yen.

All three were also presented with the opportunity to become 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Goodwill Ambassadors, to which all three agreed and accepted.

Continue reading for words from the three men, including comments from Shingo for those impacted by the flooding in Western Japan.

Continue reading “ParaSports Donation & 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Goodwill Ambassadors”

Shingo Katori as BMW Brand Friend

On April 16th, the sale of BMW’s new model SAV X2 began in Japan. At the product launch, Shingo Katori was a surprise guest and inaugurated to be BMW’s Brand Friend.

The meaning of the X2 UNFOLLOW concept is to “always carve out your own path.” By leaving his former talent agency and going independent, Shingo is breaking barriers and traveling the road not traveled, despite challenges. BMW wanted to capitalize on that. Continue reading “Shingo Katori as BMW Brand Friend”

Ameagari no Step — ParaSports Charity Song

Today, March 19th, is the digital release of Ameagari no Step, the ParaSports support charity song by Goro, Tsuyoshi, and Shingo. I only typed out their names because of their insistence that they aren’t a group. All proceeds will go to the Nippon Foundation Paralympics support center charity. This is 231 yen from every 250 yen sale, after the government gets its taxes.

The charity sales stop June 30th, and the amount raised will be announced on the July 1st broadcast of Atarashii Betsu no Mado on abema.tv.

Lyrics to the song are by Tetsurou Asou, who also wrote Gift, Sakasama no Sora, Sotto Kyutto, and Dear WOMAN for SMAP.

Music arrangement and composition are by Yoko Kanno, who also composed Song of X’smap, not alone~shiawase ni narou yo~, Sakasama no Sora, gift, Theme of gift-prologue-, Theme of gift -epilogue-, and Joy. Plus lyrics and composition for Jazz.

Continue reading “Ameagari no Step — ParaSports Charity Song”

Shelved Monster Strike CM. Successful Suntory CM.

I told myself I would avoid more of the gossipy articles, but there’s no denying they’ve been a huge part of being a SMAP fan since the disbanding uproar in 2016.

Shelved Monster Strike CM for Tsuyoshi

Shinchou Weekly originally reported Tsuyoshi Kusanagi had a commercial for the popular game, Monster Strike. The CM was to air in December, however it has since been shelved.


It turns out SMAP’s former company opened a criminal investigation into TicketCamp for copyright infringement. TicketCamp facilitates the selling of concert/play/etc tickets between parties. TicketCamp belongs to Hunza, whose parent company is Mixi. Mixi just happens to also be the parent company of XFlag, which is responsible for Monster Strike.

It’s speculated that SMAP’s former company decided to bring up criminal charges against TicketCamp due to the timing of Tsuyoshi’s Monster Strike commercial.

An anonymous entertainment reporter says the events and jobs for the three (Goro, Tsuyoshi, and Shingo) have to be kept in complete secrecy as a precaution from J&A interference. If the news is leaked beforehand, the chance of that the former company will interfere is high.

A representative of SMAP’s former company denied any interference on their part.

Source: Thanks to Former Company, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi is without a CM (Japanese)

Source: Wikipedia – Mixi (Japanese)

Personal Comments

True or not, this paints the picture for other companies to not work with Goro, Tsuyoshi, or Shingo. Sure, that former company denied it… but considering they said that they wouldn’t interfere with the ending of any of Goro/Tsuyoshi/Shingo’s shows and allow the shows to continue if they as individuals wanted them to… and then we lost SmaStation. I mean, Shingo went on live apologizing to everyone they all wanted (himself included!) the show to continue, except it couldn’t since he picked a new path…

I’m not going to believe a representative from a company that has consistently lied.

Successful Suntory CM deal for Shingo & Goro

Daily Shinchou spoke with the someone from Suntory PR department about the new All Free commercial starring Goro and Shingo. Quotes from the interview are below.

What is your reason for choosing those two?

The contents and design underwent a major renovation. With the All Free message of taking a new step forward, we found it appropriate to select Mr. Katori and Mr. Inagaki, who are also taking new steps forward.

Did you not select Tsuyoshi Kusanagi due to him still having the image of a drunk since the 2009 incident? (Daily Shinchou assumed that Suntory PR would say ‘I cannot talk about the specifics of the contract,’ but the rep did not say that.)

No, no. It’s because Tsuyoshi Kusanagi is working with a rival company, Asahi Group.

Mr. Kusanagi has been appointed to “Ippon Manzoku Bar” since 2010, and it’s continued since leaving Johnny’s & Associates in September of last year. Since the Yamasa “Kombu Ponzu” contract ended last June, when it became known that the “Ippon Manzoku Bar” [deal] would continue, Asahi heard the approving voices of SMAP fans. Nonetheless, it looks like the continuation of the contract has greatly perplexed Dentsu.

Appointing them is a risk to Suntory, why do it?

For Suntory, we have sharp ideas without thinking about the good or bad. For example, in 2015, there was an uproar about Sanoken (Kenjiro Sano) and plagiarism over the Olympic emblem. Even so, we used him the next year without fearing viewers. Hikaru Utada became a topic in the Suntory Spring Water advertisement. That’s why even now, we acted without caring about criticism from Johnny’s. I feel we do a good job too with another product using [Johnny’s] Kondo Masahiko.

Source: Daily Shincho