(Fukuoka Prefecture, 1962- )
When Japanese hear the term burikko, the first person that comes to mind is Matsuda Seiko. Describing an adult woman who acts cute and girlish, usually to appeal to men, the word captures the essence of how many Japanese women have traditionally acted to attract the man of their dreams. In the case of Seiko-chan, the target wasn't a guy but stardom, and buckets of it. Often compared (in Japan anyway) to Madonna, Matsuda does have one thing in common with the queen of pop - the ability to manipulate the media and ride the storms of criticism that periodically come her way.
Born Kamachi Noriko in a small town in Fukuoka, southern Japan, she had the same dreams of becoming a pop singer as her schoolfriends but also had enough ambition to do something about it. She beat out 4,500 fellow 16-year olds to win a regional CBS-Sony sponsored talent contest but her civil-servant father refused to let her go to the nationals. But encouraged by a record company executive, she continued taking singing lessons and travelled alone to Tokyo in 1979 to audition, successfully, for the Sun Music talent agency. CBS-Sony gambled on the newly named Matsuda Seiko with a huge 70 million yen campaign that included her face and debut single on a TV commercial spot. Sales of over a quarter of a million copies for that single alone and revenue of over 8 billion yen in her first year proved the gamble to be a wise one.
During her peak, and the heyday of the idols, in the '80s Matsuda racked up an amazing 24 consecutive No. 1 singles. As her fame grew so did the number of burikko girls across the country, causing a lot of consternation among feminists but at the same time becoming a defining phenomenon of the decade. Matsuda, meanwhile, was also pursuing the man of her dreams, fellow idol Go Hiromi. The media was abuzz for several years with rumors about when this 'couple of the century' were going to name the day. But Go was a traditional country boy who expected the hugely ambitious Matsuda to give up working after marriage. Eventually, in 1985, she married actor Kanda Masaki, who proved to be more ready to make sacrifices for his wife's career.
During their 12 years of marriage, it was Seiko who constantly grabbed the limelight, though for unexpected reasons. Rather than settle into married bliss, she got involved with reportedly dozens of men. Also, long determined to make it in America she crossed the ocean alone 1988 only to fail miserably. But with her new-found freedom and perhaps in imitation of Madonna, she developed a whole new persona, that of the straight-talking, independent woman. But after her reported affair with popular star Masahiko Kondo led Kondo's girlfriend and number one Seiko-rival Nakamori Akina to attempt suicide, her stock was in serious decline. She started a long affair with out-of-work actor Jeff Nichols and was even seen in public in Tokyo with him, her mother and young daughter Sayaka. A later breakup led to Nichols publishing several tell-all books. Another media frenzy grew of her affair with dancer Alan Reed but when her husband defended her and their marriage in a press conference the effect was startling. Suddenly Seiko was a victim of the media and increasingly a heroine of the growing women's movement. A well-timed saucy TV commercial put her in the headlines and her star was rising again.
Further attempts to break into the US market included an album on Mercury Records in 1995 and a blink-and-you'll-misss-it appearance in the blockbuster Armageddon. Her divorce from Kanda in 1997 was followed by a short-lived marriage to a dentist (who conveniently also has a clinic in the US) and a make-up duet with Go Hiromi, on a comeback trail of his own. It's been a long time since Japan experienced 'Seiko fever' but this model of pure ambition will be with us for some time to come. Her daughter Sayaka made her official singing debut with Sony Music in early 2002, having already caused a media flurry by appearing in a TV commercial in Summer 2001. The media speculated about the legend would carry over to another generation, but as with so many showbiz families, it wasn't so simple. Sayaka has had a few regular gigs, including one hosting a show on the local Disney Channel. But after a spat with her mother in 2005, she put her career on hold.
Meanwhile, Mom continues to look and act like she's the young idol, wearing shocking pink mini-skirts and doing long shows for her still-impressive legions of fans. The photo above was taken during a June 2006 concert, with Seiko still strutting her stuff at 44.