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Forgiven but not forgotten

by Steve McClure

A standard and horribly cliched J-pop ritual is the public confession of guilt by performers who have done various naughty things — much like politicians who temporarily drop out of sight after being found on the take or caught rigging elections. The most recent example is SMAP member Goro Inagaki, who has apparently been “rehabilitated” after taking a leave of absence from the male idol group.

Inagaki became a semi-unperson (he didn’t perform with the group during their summer 2001 tour, for example), following an incident last year in which he allegedly resisted arrest and bumped a policewoman with his car when she tried to give him a parking ticket. After taking time off to reflect on his miscreant behavior and making various public statements of heartfelt remorse, Inagaki is now back on TV shows such as “SMAP×SMAP,” that extraordinarily curious program in which the members of the group cook up a meal for a celebrity guest each week. Will they make him eat crow on air? Maybe just humble pie . . .

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Following her recent high-profile appearance in an NTT DoCoMo ad campaign, R&B chanteuse Hikaru Utada is branching out into another medium: video games.

“Hikki” has written a new song, “Hikari,” for a new video game titled “Kingdom Hearts,” which is being produced by Square Soft and Disney. The single is due out in March. It’s an interesting comment on the huge popularity of video games that an artist of Utada’s stature should write and record a song for a product like this. But as Neil Bogert, Casablanca Records’ legendary late supremo used to say, “Whatever it takes . . .”

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Comeback Dept.: Namie Amuro, whose star has not exactly been in the ascendant of late, may be headed for a career revival following recent reports that she will be coming out with a new single (“I Will”) next month, to be followed in April by an album comprising previous single releases.

Amuro’s most recent release was “Lovin’ It,” a single she recorded with m-flo rapper Verbal as part of Avex’s “songnation” charity singles series.

Indie band Syrup 16g’s fantastic debut album, “Copy,” was one of my fave releases of 2001. And it gets better with every listen. Jack Matsumura, Nippon Columbia’s new president, is of the same opinion, which is why he decided to sign a contract with the band.

Syrup 16g’s first release on the label will likely contain a fair amount of previously released tracks, but given the rate at which the band comes up with powerful, beautifully crafted songs, I imagine there will be some strong new material on the set as well.

Syrup 16g are just one of the many great bands to have come out of the fertile Shimokitazawa music scene, specifically the U.K. Project group of labels. Other cool bands signed to U.K. Project include Drumkan, Condor 44 and the Spindles, while bands such as the Polysics and Bump of Chicken got their start there before signing major-label deals. The funky western Tokyo neighborhood (which has seven live houses within just a few square blocks) is crawling with record-company talent scouts these days and was recently chosen as the most desirable place to live in a poll of Japanese youth.

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Speaking of Nippon Columbia, that company last week announced a radical plan aimed at reviving its flagging fortunes. The label says it will create a new A&R and marketing team by April 2002, while in the United States, Nippon Columbia has formed the Savoy Label Group — a new U.S.-based jazz and classical division featuring the excellent catalogs of Savoy and Denon. And in a radical move that underlines just how difficult a situation it faces, the company is introducing a “Preferred Retirement Program,” in which employees as young as 30 years can leave Nippon Columbia in exchange for lump-sum cash payments.