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Taking some time out of his busy schedule, Jun Matsumoto traveled all the way from Tokyo to promote his latest film, The Hidden Fortress: the Last Princess. APA gets a little glimpse into the world of one of Japans biggest pop stars.
In the Japanese idol world, you know you've hit the big times when your picture gets replaced by Hello Kitty.
Anyone who follows the Japanese pop scene knows what Jun Matsumoto really looks like, but when your whole image and persona belongs to a talent agency like Johnny's and Associates, you're bound to a long-ending list of strict policies -- including a restriction on your image appearing on any sort of website. (Although, if you're really curious to what he looks like – just Google "Jun Matsumoto" and you'll find your answer.)
However, this article isn't about the portrait rights of famous Japanese pop stars. It's about the E-L-I-T-E known as Jun Matsumoto. Or in typical Japanese fashion, shortening birthnames, fans affectionately refer to him as MatsuJun.
In 1996, Jun got his start with the elusive Johnny's and Associates, Japan's biggest talent agency who has been producing boy band and solo artists since the 1960s. After sending in his application, Jun was immediately called upon by Johnny Kitagawa (the agency's founder) to enter the agency -– something that happens rarely for hopefuls. Most are called into auditions, but as of today, he is one of only three who skipped the audition process and entered as trainees, otherwise known as Johnny's Juniors. (The others being SMAP's Masahiro Nakai and Shounentai's Noriyuki Higashiyama.) Some like to call this process: taking awkward Japanese boys and turning them into to hip-swiveling and hair-flipping idols. By graduation, these fine boys are ready to take on the world, or at least an army of girls with raging hormones.
In 1999, Matsumoto joined the boy band Arashi (Japanese for "storm") with other Juniors Sho Sakurai, Satoshi Ohno, Kazunari Ninomiya (Letters from Iwo Jima's Saigo) and Masaki Aiba. The group announced their debut on a cruise ship in Hawaii, declaring their entry into the pop world as a severe weather disturbance. They were a force to be reckoned with. No girl would come out alive of this Japanese storm.
Nearly a decade later, Arashi has become one of Japan's biggest pop acts, releasing top-selling singles and albums, hosting close to a dozen television shows, all starring in box-office hits and performing to packed domes, arenas, and stadiums. In addition, each have gone on to do successful solo work. Kazunari and Jun have been recognized for their performances in their own television dramas and films; Sho, Masaki and Jun all have their individual MC duties; and the group's leader, Satoshi, recently had his first art exhibition featuring 150 works in the forms of drawings, figures, photos, and graffiti. And that's just a very brief summary of their achievements.
However, Matsumoto sits right at the healm. Even though he's the youngest of all the members, he's considered to be the most popular of the group. "Jun-bait" is the term often used, as he's drawn in a massive amount of Arashi fans from his television dramas, such as Kimi Wa Petto, Gokusen, Hana Yori Dango and Bambino!. More often than not, he's at the center of all group portraits and performances because of this heightened popularity. He's also the most decorated of the group, receiving multiple awards from the Television Drama Academy Awards for supporting roles in the HYD series, Gokusen and his lead role in Bambino!.
Asia Pacific Arts recently got a chance to interview the megastar, and we were hoping The MatsuJun would come a little less polished than how he appears in magazines, music videos and on-screen. You know, without the make-up, trendy attire and blown-out flippity hair. The MatsuJun, in the raw. People don't look flawless all the time, right?
Just-stepped-out-of-an-An-An-photoshoot good. Complete with his hair ready to be flipped, flipped, flipped anytime.
He walks in with grace, dressed in fashionable gear and wearing the best accessory of all: a bright smile on his face.
"Hi! I'm Jun!"
A heartbeat. Do all pop stars have gentle handshakes?
In situations like this, you can't help but return the smile. The MatsuJun is an idol for a damn good reason and somehow, it'd be wrong to reject the sunshine illuminating off his face. Or his really, really perfect hair.
The MatsuJun made a public appearance at the Los Angeles premiere of his latest film The Hidden Fortress: the Last Princess along with Gainax co-founder Shinji Higuchi and C-3PO's actor Anthony Daniels. You can guess what the majority of the audience wanted to see: the MatsuJun in the flesh. With the large turnout, it's more apparent than ever that the Japanese pop industry has definitely reached a global market -- or at least, many, many young, screaming fangirls all over the world.
Between our private interview and his presence at the event, he carried two very different personas. He's known in the industry for being able to switch on and off, given the situation. In private, he holds a serious persona, paying close attention to the questions at hand and answering them in a careful, thoughtful manner. He's a soft-spoken idol with a gentle laugh and bears no hint of nervousness.
However, when you're in a room full of fans who pretty much worship the ground you walk on, what would you do? Provide fan-service, of course. Any pop star knows it's all about giving the ladies what they want. During the Q&A session following the screening of The Hidden Fortress, he was asked if he placed himself in the role of Takeza. In response, he said that they were not his actual lines and then he beamed, "I'm shy!" Cue squealing from audience.
The bright smile he had at the interview turned into a blinding smile that probably knocked most of the fangirls in the audience. Luckily, some people managed to escape, unscathed.
So who is The MatsuJun really? Is he a stand-offish kind of guy or does he really spread sunshine and rainbows everywhere he goes? And does he always have perfect hair?
It's difficult to decipher The MatsuJun, but does it really matter? Pop stars are branded a certain way to appeal to young girls everywhere. No one wants to idolize a jerk, but rather someone you can bring home to mother. The image he's cultivated over the years is always in question, but one thing for certain is that his talent is something that should not be overlooked. There's a reason why Johnny Kitagawa immediately hand-picked him from a large group of hopeful young boys, and there is definitely a star quality that draws fans by the truckloads, of all ages.
Underneath it all, he's still just a human being. He's not channeling a saint, god or anything. It all boils down the fact that he's a grateful, intelligent and hard-working young man. He doesn't take every offer on the table and makes calculated choices about what roles he should take on. During the interview, when asked about his future, he expressed a deep generosity to his fans and supporters and acknowledged a deisire to communicate more with them during Arashi's 10th year anniversary as a group next year.
He's turning nearly a quarter of century old and has a rising career. Although he hasn't exactly reached a status as high as fellow Johnny's star Takuya Kimura, he's at the age where he knows he needs to develop as an artist, to become a better actor, dancer and singer. It's easy to speculate that he's still got a long way ahead of him, but where exactly will he be? His bandmate, Kazunari Ninomiya made a name for himself in Hollywood, but further success doesn't mean crossing over to America as a Japanese star. He observes the sharp contrast between Hollywood and the Japanese film industry: Japanese films are not made on an international level, but rather for just the local audience. Despite his interest in Hollywood, he probably still has a few years ahead of him until he can pursue projects in Hollywood. He does realize he's not quite at the top of his game yet.
Nevertheless, perhaps he will eventually take on the world, one country at a time, with or without Arashi. Here's to The MatsuJun, who lives up to his elite status, who (despite the irrelevant photo we are forced to use) is more than just than just some kitty imported directly from Japan. He's a normal person like you and me, but undeniably, with more perfect hair.
Date Posted: 5/2/2008