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Sunday, Sept. 30, 2001

MEDIA MIX

Finding redemption under the surgeon's knife


One of the less memorable show biz scandals of 1998 involved the 48-year-old actress Ayako Sawada and her 36-year-old manager/husband Yukihide Matsuno. The pair had been married only a few years, but Sawada wanted out. She accused the dour Matsuno of physical and mental abuse, not only of herself but of her daughter, the product of an earlier nonmarital liaison.

Matsuno refused to grant the divorce and even tried to sue Sawada for defamation of character. He implied that he had married the actress to save her honor, and this was how she paid him back. Eventually, Sawada and her daughter moved out of the house, which was in her name. Matsuno, hurting and nave, opened the door to any tabloid reporter who knocked on it and let the self-pity flow.

It was a pathetic spectacle, but since there wasn't much in the way of scandal going on at the time the wide shows had a grand time making fun of Matsuno's defensiveness and his sad-sack countenance.

After the divorce finally went through, the press grew tired of the story, and Matsuno, left to his own resources, had to get a real job. He used his battered celebrity to gain employment in a "host club," pouring drinks for other middle-aged women who perhaps liked to think they were just as good as Ayako Sawada. Occasionally, he would show up on one of those variety talk shows where they discuss family and marital problems, but mostly he was forgotten.

That is until a few weeks ago, when he appeared on Asahi TV's wide show, "Super Morning," with a new smile. Matsuno had undergone plastic surgery, and was appearing on the program to show off his new face.

"Your skin is so smooth!" cooed the political pundit, whose comments are usually limited to the latest LDP developments. Matsuno described how he had had a facelift and his teeth fixed.

"I did it for my job," he said, "and though it's great right now, as time passes I'll probably have to get a tune up every so often." The prospect of a lifetime of nipping and tucking didn't seem to faze him. He was clearly overjoyed with the results.

The difference, however, was more than physical. In fact, Matsuno didn't really look that different at all, but he was cheerful and radiated self-confidence -- quite unlike the bitter, paranoid individual who entertained wide show audiences in 1998.

Matsuno isn't the only person who has gone on TV recently to announce their redemption through plastic surgery. On a recent installment of TV Asahi's "Mokugeki Dokyun," a talk show in which groups of celebrities are presented with the challenges of "real people," there was a young woman who claimed that, prior to having her eyes and nose done, she "couldn't even look at people when I talked to them."

The panelists oohed and aahed over her new face and gasped at the before-and-after shots, even though the distinction had less to do with altered physiognomy than with improved lighting and makeup. The point was that the young woman herself felt "improved," so who had the nerve to tell her that she looked fine before?

In the past, people did not talk about such operations because having cosmetic surgery smacked of vanity and -- in the case of body reform that could have been achieved simply by going to the gym -- laziness. But in our postmodern consumer society, the physical and the spiritual have merged to the point where they are virtually indistinguishable: Beauty is not only skin deep. Granted, we still have a way to go before actors and tarento start announcing every tummy tuck and crow's-feet erasure they undergo. Show-biz people are by definition facdes and the reason they maintain the facade is to make the public believe that what it is looking at is exactly what nature intended.

But as more and more "real people," young and old, men and women, avail themselves of the services of plastic surgeons, society as a whole comes closer to resembling show business. Realistically, celebrities should be able to talk about their operations in public.

And, like Matsuno, some already are. The careers of the notoriously pneumatic Kano sisters are based on their cosmetic surgery. What's impressive about the Kanos is not their sex appeal, but the way their appearance commodifies every cliche the modern world has come up with to describe sex appeal. Their bodies are literally unbelievable.

Actress Etsuko Nami's career received a huge second wind after she sued a plastic surgeon who she claimed had botched a breast job several years ago. Apparently, Nami wanted to have her nipples made smaller, but the doctor got a little carried away and hacked one of the poor things off -- or so Nami maintained.

"My nipples are my life," she famously declared at a press conference to announce her malpractice suit, which she eventually won. Friends, however, stated anonymously that, glimpsed in the flesh, Nami's negated nipple looked just fine.

In a world where anyone can look like a Hollywood star, other people's opinions become meaningless. All that counts is how you feel. Matsuno became a better person through plastic surgery and Nami thought she was disfigured, even if everyone else thought they both looked pretty much the same afterwards. Uniqueness isn't what it used to be.



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