Out of Japan: The wrestler, his coach, his fiancee and her mother

TOKYO - Japan's most highly publicised, bodice-ripping romance was smashed to pieces last week with all the drama of a latter-day Gone with the Wind.

Ever since they announced their engagement three months ago, the sumo wrestler Takahanada and the actress Rie Miyazawa have been the number one news item in papers, magazines and television chat shows. Last week Rie, on assignment in Washington for a Japanese television station, met President Clinton, while Takahanada was promoted to the second-highest ranking in the sumo world. It seemed they could reach for the stars. How sadly it has all ended.

Rumours that the glamorous 'beauty and the beast' couple were not seeing eye-to-eye started just after Christmas. But Japan did not want to believe that the 20-year-old sumo superstar and the 19-year-old actress, singer and nude model were not made for each other. It took separate press conferences from Rie and Takahanada - who has recently changed his name to Takanohana to celebrate his promotion - to persuade their fans the dream was over.

Of the two, Rie's performance was more deserving of an Oscar. In heart-rending tones she told her audience - 200 journalists - that 'there was a time when I truly cared for him - it was a very powerful feeling . . . But now my feelings have changed'.

She then went on to criticise subtly her beloved and his trainers for not allowing the couple to meet for the past month until that morning, when she finally returned the engagement ring: 'I felt as if I was seeing a different person. If we had had enough time to talk to each other, we could have resolved the problems. We couldn't do so because it was not on his mind.'

But, she hurried to add: 'I never wanted to be a heroine of a tragedy' - a statement that seemed difficult to reconcile with her behaviour.

Several hours later, Takahanada responded at his own press conference in true Rhett Butler style, telling Rie that, frankly, he didn't give a damn: the reason for the break-up 'is because my love died'. According to Takahanada, he wanted Rie to stop working as an actress and singer and adopt the traditional low profile of sumo wrestlers' wives. This she was unwilling to do.

So much for the main characters. But the media were keen to dig deeper and discover what was really pulling the strings behind the romantic drama. The idea that the young couple acted of their own accord was too boring an explanation.

First suspect was Fujishima, Takahanada's father and the master of his wrestling stable. The Sumo Association was unhappy with the frivolous media attention Takahanada was attracting - his fiancee was famous for posing nude for a photo book, which sold a million copies. This hardly suited the dignity attached to a sumo wrestler. So, the theory went, some stern advice from his father made Takahanada change his mind.

But for the magazines the real hate figure was Rie's mother, Mitsuko, who has been pushing her daughter's career with the aim, according to the scandal sheets, of boosting the family's income. It was the mother, they claimed, who persuaded her to go nude, and who negotiated her advertising contracts: currently she stars with Arnold Schwarzenegger in a drink commercial. According to the 'stage mother' theory, Mitsuko did not want the wedding to go ahead because Rie would be forced to stop working - and earning.

The ultra-cynical theory is that the whole affair was a put-up, designed to boost Rie's image and get her picture on as many magazine covers as possible. Sitting in front of reporters this week looking as if butter would not melt in her mouth, it was hard to see Rie as a Japanese Scarlett O'Hara. To drive home the point, she even blurted out that she had already ordered her wedding dress. It was enough to make a grown man cry - if it were not for the extraordinary publicity and the strong background smell of money. Anyway, that's all been blown away now, gone . . .

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