Asian News 5/26

Cyndi In Japan

Cyndi Lauper remains a pop force to be reckoned with in Japan.

Her latest album, Bring Ya to the Brink, is her first studio effort in seven years and is being released in Japan more than a week before anywhere else.

She did a full round of promotional appearances on TV and in the interviewee’s chair for publications, in addition to a free concert at Tokyo Station in the center of the capital, where she banged out four songs and, according to reports, spent most of the brief concert in the crowd rather than on the stage.

The audience of 100 was invited, though about 2,000 passers-by could enjoy the show on the fringes. Lauper said she will probably return to Japan in the fall for a tour.


Breaking Up The All-Stars

Rumors have been circulating that Japan’s No. 1 pop-rock band, The Southern All Stars, are breaking up following a report in the tabloid newspaper Tokyo Sports on May 12.

The paper said the band, which formed in 1978, was planning to call it quits sometime early next year after completing its 30th-anniversary concert tour.

Victor Entertainment, which releases the group’s records as well as the solo efforts of charismatic leader Keisuke Kuwata, released a statement saying the purported breakup was "pure conjecture," though it said the band would soon clarify the matter in an official statement.


Robot Conducts Orchestra

ASIMO, the pokey little robot developed by Honda Motor Co. that is already a well-known TV commercial talent in Japan, made his music debut in the United States May 13.

ASIMO didn’t sing or play an instrument, however. It conducted the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in a rendition of "The Impossible Dream" from the musical "Man of La Mancha."

It was the first time a humanoid machine had ever conducted an orchestra, according to a Honda representative. No one challenged him.

Bassist Larry Hutchinson told Kyodo News that the robot’s arm movements were "fluid." The concert also featured world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, though no reports said that Ma played with the robot. However, he did shake ASIMO’s hand afterward.

Tickets sold out well in advance, though no one ventured a guess as to whether the draw was ASIMO or Ma.

Honda helps fund the Detroit Symphony’s music education program for young people.


Critiquing Records Business

In a recent editorial in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, music journalist Daisuke Tsuda took Japan’s music industry to task for its negative outlook on business.

Tsuda says that the major record companies and their allies tend to dwell too much on CD sales as an excuse for keeping the price of music high and ask for stricter copyright laws that hurt consumers in the end. He says that with more imagination, the industry can make a lot of money, but that they are basically being lazy.

He pointed mainly to the concert business as proof of Japan’s healthy pop music culture. While CD sales have dropped from 588 billion yen in its peak year of 1998 to about 327 billion yen last year, during the same period the number of tickets sold for pop music concerts nationwide increased from 14.3 million to 19.8 million.

In addition, the emergence of new media in the past 10 years, including music-related DVDs and ringtones, have kept most license owners – i.e. record companies – in the black even if CD sales have fallen by the wayside, he said.

Nevertheless, the industry has taken on a siege mentality vis-a-vis music fans, mainly by withholding or delaying the release of songs to download sites like iTunes and not allowing retailers to set prices.

CDs for domestic artists, for instance, are still a uniform 3,000 yen ($30) per disc. An import CD of a top foreign artist costs half that amount in some stores. Even DVDs of new Hollywood movies are cheaper – and they’re not bootlegs.