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

299: Nakamura Kankuro
Arizona lover and Kabuki actor
298: Miura Yuichiro
The Man Who Skied Down Everest
297: Iron Chef
Gourmet cuisine battles
296: "Katte wa ikenai"
"Don't buy these products"
295: Oda Yuji
The dancing detective
294: Enoki Takaaki
An artist who acts
293: Glay
Japan's reigning pop princes
292: Akebono
Hawaiian Sumo wrestler
291: Issey Miyake
Fashion designer
290: Murakami Ryu
Radical writer
289: Oshima Nagisa
Movie director
288: Takakura Ken
Crime film actor
287: Miura Kazuyoshi
Soccer player
286: Suzuki Koji
Author of the horror, Ring
285: Tezuka Osamu
God of Comics
284: Yuming
283: Anpanman
Bean-powered superhero
282: Yamaguchi Takashi
Immersed in traditional Japanese music
281: Nasubi
280: Doi Takako
First female Speaker of the House
279: Nakamura Kichiemon
Retiring Kabuki actor
278: Oe Kenzaburo
Nobel prize winning author
277: Kimura Takuya
SMAP member
276: Utada Hikaru
Teenage pop phenomenon
275: Bando Tamasaburo
Kabuki female role impersonator
274: Otomo Katsuhiro
Akira creator
273: Dreams Come True
Premier recording artist
272: Dango San Kyodai
Surprise hit of 1999
271: Banana Yoshimoto
270: Matsuzaka Daisuke
Baseball player
269: Moritaka Chisato
Model and singer
268: Mukai Chiaki
Female astronaut
267: Natto
Traditional Japanese health food
266: Hiroaki Kikuoka
Shamisen player
265: Chikamatsu Monzaemon
Japan's most revered dramatist
264: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Oscar-winning musician
263: Shigeo Nagashima
Japan's Mr Baseball
262: Ayako Totsuka
Pioneer careerwoman
261: Yatsuhashi Kengyo
Koto player
260: Chiyotaikai
Sumo wrestler
259: Pocky
Japanese snack food
258: Itsuki Hiroshi
Enka singer
257: Pocket Monsters
Conquering the world
256: Classified ads
New concept in Japan
255: Chara
Japanese pop star
254: Pink Lady
1970's singing duo
253: Takashi Sorimachi
Japanese heartthrob
252: Ennosuke Ichikawa
Kabuki actor
251: Rie Miyazawa
Model and actress
250: Shazna
Visual-kei band

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Issues 349 - 300/1
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