The "Banned"
Pikachu Short

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Dogasu's Backpack | Movies & Specials Guide | Lord of the "Unknown" Tower ENTEI

Sakai Noriko in 1998

By the time the third film came around OLM and everyone else involved with the movie franchise more or less knew what they were doing. You release a main feature showing off some legendary pokemon in a story that's on a much bigger scale than what the standard episode of the TV series could provide and you pair it up with a cutesy Pikachu short for the younger kids in the audience. These Pikachu shorts would feature almost no humans and would instead rely on a narrator to help move the story along.

One of the things Japan did - and continues to do today - is cast famous female celebrities as the narrators. These narrators, some of whom were actors and some of whom were singers, didn't normally do animation voice-over work but were big enough names to attract attention. They are also all exclusively women. The narrator in anything related to Pokemon is a pretty much a nothing role but hey, it's another famous name to put on all the movie's promotional material so why not?

For the first Pikachu short, Pikachu's Summer Vacation, OLM got TV and film actress Satou Aiko to provide the narration. For the second Pikachu short, Pikachu's Exploration Party, TV and film actress Satou Tamao (no relation) provided the narration.


For the third Pikachu short, Pichu and Pikachu, Sakai Noriko (酒井法子) was the narrator.

About Sakai Noriko

Sakai Noriko is both an actress and a singer. She was born in 1971 in Fukuoka and made her singing debut in 1986 at the age of 15 when the talent agency Sun Music saw her at a beauty pageant the year before. Her debut single, Otoko no Ko ni Naritai (男のコになりたい), or "I Want to Become a Boy," peaked at number six when it was released in 1987. She continued to appear in various pageants, music competitions, television shows, and even had a short stint as a manga artist for the girls' magazine Sho-Comi.

"Nori-P," as she would eventually be known to her fans, started performing overseas and enjoyed success in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Back at home, she also started an acting career. She starred in the TV drama Hoshi no Kinka (星の金貨) and provided the show's theme song, Aoi Usagi (碧いうさぎ) or "Blue Rabbit." Aoi Usagi was Ms. Sakai's first million-seller and is her best-selling single to date. She was big enough to be invited to perform on NHK Kouhaku, the New Year's Eve countdown show that's basically the Japanese equivalent of Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve, in 1995. She married pro-surfer Takasou Yuuichi (高相祐一) in 1998 and the two of them had a son the following year.

Aoi Usagi Husband and Wife
Left: Sakai Noriko's biggest hit "Aoi Usagi"
Right: Ms. Sakai with her husband on the cover of Surftrip Journal magazine in 2007

Sakai Noriko was a big star. So it was only natural that OLM would come knocking on her door to have her be the next in line to narrate 2000's Pikachu special Pichu and Pikachu. Ms. Noriko also provided the short's ending theme Tomodachi Kinenbi (ともだち記念日) or "Friend Anniversary."

Ms. Sakai gets arrested

For a number of years after the release of Pichu and Pikachu things were going fine. Sakai Noriko continued to release singles, continued acting, and started her own fashion brands.

Meanwhile, Pichu and Pikachu was shown on TV and released on VHS and DVD multiple times. It was released overseas where it was shown a countless number of times as well. Back in Japan, future Pikachu shorts continued the tradition of using well-known actresses and singers to provide the narration. So far, so good.

And then Sakai Noriko went and got arrested in 2009 for drug possession. Wikipedia has a much more detailed breakdown than I have space to provide here, but the short version of the story is that her husband was arrested in August 2009 for using amphetamines in public. Sakai Noriko was asked to come to the police station for questioning but instead of showing up as promised she made a run for it. Ms. Sakai dropped her son off with a friend, bought large amounts of food and toiletries, and essentially went missing for a few days. Meanwhile, police searched her apartment (she and her husband were living separately at the time) and found amphetamine wrapped in foil along with an inhaler containing her DNA on it. An arrest warrant was issue for Ms. Sakai.

Newspapers all over the country covered the scandal, from the issuing of an arrest warrant to her release.

She eventually turned herself in on August 7th, 2009. She pleaded guilty to possessing the drugs and was sent to jail with additional time being added to her sentence as new evidence was found. She was released on September 17th, 2009 after posting bail. It was a huge scandal at the time.

It also essentially cost her her career.

The aftermath of her arrest

Drug use is no joke in Japan. While we in the West see drug use as a recreational activity at best and a debilitating illness at worse, Japan sees drug use as one of the worst sins a person can commit. Japanese celebrities don't get up on stage and brag about doing party drugs when they were in college and there aren't comedy movies out there about groups of stoners getting into wacky shenanigans.  If you use drugs in Japan then that's it, you're done. No more career, no more fans, nothing. You are basically garbage and you don't deserve to share the title of "human being" with the rest of us.

Japan also tends to throw drug addicts into the same facilities as the mentally ill.

Knowing this might make it easier to understand how the Japanese media treated Ms. Sakai's arrest. Their response is the same no matter who it is and Justin Sevakis over at Anime News Network offers a great summary of the whole thing:

STEP 1: It's almost unheard of for the talent in question to fight the charge. Things will proceed as if they are completely guilty. If they're famous enough, there may be a press conference, in which they will apologize for letting down all of their fans, and cry a lot.

STEP 2: The talent's management agency, record label(s), and any and all companies contracting that person to do work or appearances will immediately drop them from their rosters. Stores will remove their music, merchandise, and other media bearing their name from their shelves. Their listings will be removed from websites.

STEP 3: Time passes, usually at least a year. The discs and merchandise that were pulled earlier quietly get put back on store shelves (and, presumably, streaming services). The talent works through the legal system, and once their debt to society is paid (any jail time, house arrest, or probation ends), the artist is free to try and restart their career, or go work at a convenience store. The artist is not re-instated at their old agencies, but is free to try again somewhere else and make a new start.

So let's look at Sakai Noriko's case:

Step One: Sakai Noriko gets up in front of the press, cries, and tells everyone that she will stop using drugs, divorce her husband, and leave the entertainment industry to study nursing.

Step Two: 
Both her talent agency, Sun Music, and her record label, Victor Entertainment, immediately suspended their contracts with her.  Victor Entertainment pulled her CDs and music off of iTunes, which led to this rather amusing story:

So when Sakai Noriko was arrested for amphetamines in August, her record label Victor Entertainment — as is the convention — took all of her albums out of distribution. And in this digital age, Victor also had to remove all her songs from iTunes. But here’s where the label messed up: they forgot to remove Sakai songs that showed up on compilation albums.

Horror! There were free-floating Nori-P songs out there on iTunes. Surely the Japanese people — who we are told again and again have a low moral tolerance for drug use — rose up in outrage against Victor, Apple, and Sakai for the oversight. Or maybe in more predictable Japanese style, everyone just ignored these offending tracks.

Actually, that’s not what happened at all: Sakai’s 1995 hit “Blue Rabbit” (「青いウサギ」) was the number one song on iTunes for the week.

If anything, this proves the old adage that “all publicity is good publicity.” Surely the arrest made a lot of casual fans think about Sakai for the first time in years. They thought, “You know what I want to hear? ‘Blue Rabbit.'” So they went to iTunes and bought it. There was likely nothing particularly complicated about their motivations.

A number of advertisers who had been collaborating with Ms. Sakai severed all ties with her as well. A Toyota ad campaign featuring Sakai Noriko at the time was pulled and her clothing line PP Rikorino, which featured over 150 items, was pulled from stores as well. Ms. Sakai was also part of an anti-drug campaign when she was younger. She was obviously pulled from that as well.

PP Rikorino Anti-Drug
Left: The Toyota ad, Center: An ad for her clothing line PP Rikorino, Right: Her anti-drug poster

Step Three will be covered a bit later, but before we get into that let's look at how all of this affected Pocket Monsters.

Pichu and Pikachu's Pseudo-Ban

All things Sakai Noriko were verboten throughout Japan at the end of 2009. Pokemon was no exception.

Here's what Japan ended up doing. They don't pretend like Pichu and Pikachu never existed. The short is still listed on both the official website for the franchise in general as well as the official website for the movies in particular. Printed movie guides, like the Pocket Monsters Best Wishes! Perfect Guide ~Satoshi's and Pikachu's Adventure Log~ released in 2012, bring it the short as if nothing happened. The art gallery exhibit held in Tokyo to celebrate the movie franchise's fifteenth anniversary back in 2014 covered Pichu and Pikachu just as much as it covered all the other shorts.

And music from the short continued to be used after her arrest as well. A piece of background music that was basically an instrumental version of the song she sang for the film, Tomodachi Kinenbi, was still being used in the TV series despite its (loose) association with a convicted felon. Other music from the short appeared in later episodes as well.

Compared to, say, "Electric Soldier Porygon" or "The Rocket-Dan vs. The Plasma-Dan," Pichu and Pikachu have it pretty good.

At the same time, however, the people behind the movie have no intention of ever letting you see the short ever again. The movies were re-released on DVD back in 2011 as a celebration for the film series' 15th anniversary and Pichu and Pikachu was conspicuously absent from the Movie 3 re-release. The packaging was redesigned accordingly.

Original Release
2011 Re-release
The 2001 DVD release (left) vs. the 2011 re-release (right). Click on each image to view a larger version.

A massive Blu-ray box set was released in Japan in 2012 that had the first thirteen movies and all the Pikachu shorts - except Pichu and Pikachu.

Blu-ray Disc Package
The Blu-ray set has all the Pikachu shorts...except one.

Kids' Station, the cable network that airs reruns of the Pocket Monsters TV series and movies, has also removed Pichu and Pikachu from its lineup. This ad below, taken from the Pokemon Fan issue released in November 2015, shows the second and fourth movies paired with their respective shorts but not the third one.

Kids Station

GyaO, an online streaming service run by Yahoo! Japan, also removed the short from the site shortly after Ms. Sakai's arrest.

The only way you can watch Pichu and Pikachu in Japan post-2009 is to track down one of the older, out-of-print DVDs that came out before the short's narrator got arrested and watch it that way. They're fairly easy to find on the second-hand market though so it's not that big a deal, but still.

I also can't help but wonder if the line in the very first Best Wishes! episode about Satoshi still being ten years old was, in some weird way, an attempt to retcon this short out of the show's history? As anyone who's seen Pichu and Pikachu knows, Satoshi throws a party for his and Pikachu's "friendship anniversary" which, as we all know, also doubles as an 11th birthday party. But since the narrator very clearly states that Satoshi is ten-years old in Best Wishes! then does that mean they're casually trying to pretend like this short never happened? Or was this just the first in a line of many, many screw-ups made by the Best Wishes! writers?

The future

Earlier I talked about the three steps of celebrity scandals in Japan. Well, in Sakai Noriko's case, Step Three involved her returning to Japanese TV in 2010 and joining the talent agency Office Nigun Niiba in 2012. Her official profile on their website can be found here.

Sakai Noriko today

Sakai Noriko's trying to make a comeback. It's an uphill battle for her and she'll likely never go back to being the household name she was before her arrest but she's trying regardless. You gotta give her credit for that at least.

However, it's been over five years since Sakai Noriko's arrest and Pichu and Pikachu is still banned. And it seems like TV-Tokyo / ShoPro / OLM / whoever else you want to blame has no intention of ever lifting said ban either. Other entities seem to have forgiven her - I noticed how Anpanman, a show that skews even younger that Pocket Monsters does, is listed on her Office Nigun Niiba profile and yet Pichu and Pikachu is still missing - but it seems like the Pokemon people are going to hold this against Ms. Sakai forever.

I personally think the whole thing is ridiculous and wish the Pokemon people would just get over it already, but I'm also an American born and raised in the U.S. And while I might look at Japan's reaction to Sakai Noriko, or Chage & Aska, or Takabe Ai, or anyone else convicted of a drug crime in Japan, at the end of the day it's not our place to tell Japan what they should and should not do. If they want to make examples of celebrities who do drugs, and if they want to treat meth users the same way we treat pedophiles, then that's their prerogative. we think they overreact while they, on the other hand, probably look at the U.S. and think that we underreact. It's all a matter of perspective.

The most important thing in all this is that Sakai Noriko continues to stay clean, continues to stay busy, and continues to help others. Compared to that the omission of a 23-minute short, while unfortunate, is really not that big a deal.




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