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BIG IN JAPAN
Shazna

ShaznaYes, that pouting, winsome face actually belongs to a man, and it' the face of Izam, lead singer of Shazna, the latest sensation sweeping Japan's pop/ rock world and the spearhead of the "visual-kei" movement. Visual-kei bands such as Shazna, Luna Sea and Malice Mizer dress in gorgeous, effeminate costumes and play guitar-based power pop with occasional techno flourishes. It represents, say the record companies, an original, dynamic direction in Japanese pop music.

Except, of course, it isn't. Anyone who was around in the 70s and 80s will remember glam rock, the New Romantics, and Culture Club. They may also remember that those bouts of self-seeking escapism were born at time of gloomy economic depression.

To be fair, Izam has always acknowledged that Boy George has been a major influence in his life. Also, Shazna seem to be a step ahead of the other visual-kei bands, in content and in the behavior of their fans. Shazna concerts are overblown stadium affairs reminiscent of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with the fans (mostly female) copying Izam's flamboyant dresses and make-up. Daughters have been known to bring their mothers along as well-both knitted out as Izam look-alikes.

Shazna consist of Izam, A.O.I on lead guitar and Niy on bass, adding session musicians whenever necessary. The bad formed when Izam and A.O.I first met in 1993. Through a lucky break with a promotion company, they managed to avoid the live-house hell that most amateur bands have to go through, performing in bigger venues as their reputation grew. They released their first single "Dizziness" on the independent label Lachesis early in 1996, quickly following up with three mini-albums, Sophia, Melty Case and Raspberry Time.

1997 began with a move to Sweetheart Records, the release of the album Promise Eve, and a sell-out tour of Japan. This brought them to the attention of the major labels, and in the summer they signed to BMG. Three singles were released in the latter half of the year, and January 1998 saw their first album for BMG, Gold Sun and Silver Moon. To cap things off, they also received the Yusen Taisho award for best new band of 1997.

In 1998, the 22-year old Izam seemed to be branching out on his own, releasing a solo single which he also mixed and produced. The song was featured in the autumn NHK samurai drama series "Shin, Ude ni Oboe Ari." If Shazna and sword fighters seemed an odd combination, Izam explained it by saying he watches samurai dramas when he's putting on makeup before a show.

So, what does the future hold? There seems to be little chance of Izam attracting the controversies his idol, Boy George, bravely battled through. For one thing, he's definitely heterosexual; in 1998 he started going out with Hinano Yoshikawa. For another, he purposely plays it safe; adopting no causes, taking the easy path of snack food and drink CMs, spouting the usual trivia in interviews. Also, Japan has historically been very tolerant of cross-dressers, thanks to the traditions of Kabuki and the androgynous characters in shojo manga (girl's manga) stories. There's not much likelihood of the perfectly groomed and packaged Shazna ever being perceived as dangerous.

Pretty costumes, pretty makeup, pretty tunes: pretty vacant.


John Paul Catton

BIG IN JAPAN:
299: Nakamura Kankuro
Arizona lover and Kabuki actor
298: Miura Yuichiro
The Man Who Skied Down Everest
297: Iron Chef
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296: "Katte wa ikenai"
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294: Enoki Takaaki
An artist who acts
293: Glay
Japan's reigning pop princes
292: Akebono
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291: Issey Miyake
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290: Murakami Ryu
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279: Nakamura Kichiemon
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278: Oe Kenzaburo
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251: Rie Miyazawa
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250: Shazna
Visual-kei band

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