Will Japan's Top Hit Maker Become Asia's Too?

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For a man whose last name means small room, music producer Tetsuya Komuro has big ambitions. Best known for cultivating a constellation of Japanese pop stars, Komuro has turned his eyes in recent months toward the rest of Asia, where his slick packaging and tireless promotion are helping energize local music scenes. Komuro's fingerprints have appeared all over the region since he teamed up three years ago with media magnate Rupert Murdoch to form TK News, a talent-search effort dedicated to scouting young singers in Greater China. Although the venture went sour after personality conflicts between the two moguls, Komuro has nevertheless deepened his roots in Asia. To celebrate a quarter-century of normalized relations between China and Japan in 1997, he staged massive multimedia concerts in Beijing and Shanghai, even visiting the disputed Diaoyu Islands to promote the star-studded event. In 1998, the impresario wrapped up a TV star search in Taiwan that plucked Ring, the 12-year-old daughter of a baker, out of the crowd. After being groomed by Komuro into a nubile idol, she debuted last April with a single that topped Taiwan's pop charts for five weeks. Almost simultaneously, Komuro was busy fashioning 19-year-old Hong Kong native Grace into a local singing sweetheart. I'm into Asia, says Komuro, whose gaunt features are framed by straggles of hair. I'm on a mission to connect directly and positively in places where people of other nationalities like what we do. Back home, Japan's wealthiest entertainer continues to steer reigning idols Ami Suzuki, Tomomi Kahala and Namie Amuro. He's spending the coming months touring as guitarist and keyboardist with his own techno-band Globe, which has performed in Taiwan, Hong Kong and the U.S. Then there are the occasional radio and TV shows that Komuro produces to showcase his young stars. If that's not enough, he also composed the theme song to action film Speed II: Cruise Control, produced the official album of the 1998 soccer World Cup and is currently writing advertising jingles for Ford cars in Japan. Komuro's jam-packed schedule prompts concern that he's overextended and that his vast musical empire is becoming unmanageable. But the ambitious producer only plans to expand further. In January, Komuro unveiled a giant disco in the heart of Shanghai, which he hopes to use as a touring venue for his top artists. I want to create an entertainment complex for Asians, says Komuro of the Shanghai venture. It will be a place not just for Japanese or Chinese, but for Asians as a whole. I foresee music as a way to hold the continent together. Musical diplomacy may well be the hitmaker's next mission.