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Friday, June 4, 2010

News photo
Working out: Meisa Kuroki gets into the groove with her accompanying dancers at Tokyo's Yoyogi National Stadium last month. SAMI NOIRI

ENTERTAINMENT SPOTLIGHT

Meisa gets high fives all round

Okinawa-born singer, actress and model talks about her career and new single '5-Five-'


Special to The Japan Times

Halfway through the first-ever Girls Award fashion show at Tokyo's Yoyogi National Stadium last month, 22-year-old Meisa Kuroki strides down the catwalk, glistening in a sleeveless gold dress and black stockings while delivering her pulsing dance tune "Shock."

News photo
Can't stop the music: Okinawa-born Meisa Kuroki says her new single, "5-Five-," is a party anthem for the summer. SWEET POWER

The face of a hundred magazine covers and countless TV dramas then blasts the 10,000-strong audience with her new single, "5-Five-," her confidence belying that fact that this is her live debut.

She looks unflustered and delighted as she leaves the stage to be congratulated by her managerial team.

The move from actress-cum-model to pop singer has rarely looked so effortless.

"As an actress, stress tends to build up while playing different roles and pretending to be someone else; I started to feel I was losing my own personality," Kuroki says during an interview at TBS's Akasaka offices.

"I release those tensions in a wild outburst via music, which lets me convey my thoughts and feelings to others."

Okinawan-born Kuroki's live show also featured some high-energy dance moves: "I love dancing: I used to dance on the street, which worried my parents, so I decided to go to school (to learn)," she says.

Despite her nascent music career, however, Kuroki continues to pursue a busy acting and modeling career that entails working with many of Japan's leading TV and film firms in addition to serving as the face of both Armani and French cosmetic brand L'Oreal.

The busy multitasker currently can be seen playing reporter Ami Aoyama in the TBS crime TV show 'Shinzanmono" ("Newcomer").

"Whether it's doing movies, TV dramas or stage plays, the common factor is that I'm playing a character that isn't me. But by making music I can express myself and my thoughts," she says.

Kuroki — the youngest of four sisters — grew up in the north of the main island of Okinawa, living "in the middle of nowhere," as she puts it. "There were no convenience stores, no trains; only buses," she explains. "I was always with my family, or friends or people I knew from my very small community, so I rarely met strangers, which means I'm not very good with new people. It was really hard to get used to meeting lots of people almost every day when I came to Tokyo."

Living with three sisters gave Kuroki the confidence to stand up for herself, but she admits she only reveals her true colors when she has gotten to know someone.

"As sisters we quarreled all the time! So though I might appear to be somewhat timid at first, when you get to know me, I can be very competitive!"

Kuroki, who is one-quarter Brazilian, says her first encounter with international entertainment was seeing Janet Jackson on U.S. TV channels.

"She was a big influence on me," she admits. "I loved her dancing so much that I've been watching her videos and trying to copy her dance moves since I was about 10."

Kuroki's big break came unexpectedly. Her manager, of the Sweet Power management firm, said, "We'd heard a rumor about this beautiful girl, so we sent a scout team to Okinawa." Kuroki was initially dubious when the team turned up on her family's doorstep, however.

"I had strong doubts, as I was only 14. I thought about what to do for about a year. Then I was invited to Tokyo to see the shooting of a TV drama."

Moving to Tokyo the following year, Meisa initially modeled for girls fashion magazine JJ while rehearsing for theater plays.

The aspiring actress made her stage debut at Kita-ku Tsuka Kohei Gekidan Butai, which she says was a sobering experience that inspired her in more ways than one.

"I was really nervous as it was my first time on stage, and though there was only a small audience, some of them were actually sleeping, so I tried to act in a way that would wake them up! I thought I needed to try harder to encourage more people to attend the play.

"The play was only staged in Tokyo, so I wanted to improve to the point I could appear on TV, so my family in Okinawa could see me — given that we're so far apart," she said.

Her family offers her support from afar, and Kuroki reveals that while on the phone to her sisters, they casually say things like, "Oh, we saw you in that drama," but they actually take a quiet pride in their younger sibling, avidly recording all of her work.

Her modeling work continued to increase, too, and in 2006 she worked with renowned photographer Kishin Shinoyama on a photobook, alongside fellow Sweet Power-actress Maki Horikita.

"(Shinoyama) was kind of mysterious and weird person," Kuroki says. "He talked continuously, not only giving directions but also about seemingly irrelevant things, so I was very confused! I couldn't get a handle on him at all, as I had no idea what he was thinking. It was the first time I'd ever met someone like him!"

In 2009, Armani came calling, and soon many Tokyo billboards sported her image.

"I'm simply happy to be an Armani model, because I love fashion, and I've long glanced up at the Armani billboard in Omotesando," she says. "There was no pressure, and I simply jumped at the chance. I got to see the Milan Collection and meet Giorgio Armani, who has a kind of aura around him!"

Despite featuring on numerous magazine covers and appearing in various advertising campaigns, Kuroki still feels comfortable walking down the streets of her new hometown. "I love strolling about, and I just wear a cap or something," she says.

This year, she tackles two very different roles in an already varied movie career that has seen her play such roles as a beast-killing hunter in Mamoru Oshii's "Assault Girls" and a ballet dancer in Chi-Ngai Lee's "Dance, Subaru!"

She currently can be seen in "Yazima Beauty Salon — The Movie," a comedy starring Takaaki Ishibashi, Noritake Kinashi (both of comedy duo Tunnels) and DJ Ozma in full drag, in a story that revolves around a Las Vegas-based singing group.

"I always liked the (other actors) as comedians, and they asked me to appear in their film," she says. "They're quite popular among children, and (one of) my sister's kids love them."

Come December, Kuroki can be seen in "Space Battleship Yamato," playing the role of the iconic Yuki Mori. The only significant female character in the 1974 animation, Mori is a well-known character.

"It was really difficult for me," she admits. "Yuki has many male fans, so lots of guys were asking me to play the role properly, and expectations are high. Many of them said they were 'counting on me,' so it's the scariest role I've done. What's more, it was shot in front of a blue screen, so I've no idea how it'll turn out!"

Touching upon her music career again, Kuroki expresses hopes that her single will help liven people up in the summer.

"I wanted it to be heard by a lot of people, so I made it a real party tune," she says. "The accompanying video has a clublike atmosphere to convey the bright, primary color-based image I was after."

She sums up, "For me, performing live is what's it's all about: It lets me show off my true personality."

Meisa Kuroki's new single "5-Five-" is out June 6 on Sony Music Records.

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