“I don’t want to look back,” Shizuka Kudo says as we chat in a secluded area of an Ebisu café. “The past is the past and I don’t want to hang around!”
One of the most popular idols of the 1980s and ’90s, Kudo has enjoyed a phenomenally successful career, with 11 No. 1 hits, including eight in a row from 1988-1990. Where other idols simply drift into obscurity, she’s maintained a high profile, and today, at 38, she’s as high-spirited and talkative as ever.
In a rare interview with a foreign journalist, she opens up in surprisingly fluent British English. “A British accent is much easier, because you don’t have the ‘r’ sound like the Americans,” she explains. Her excitement and celebrated desire to succeed are evident throughout our discussion as she scribbles down new vocabulary and rattles through the questions in no time at all, eager for the next one.
The occasion for our meeting is the release of the double A-side “Night Wing/ Yuki Gasa,” Kudo’s first single in more than a year and a return to her winning partnership with singer-songwriter Miyuki Nakajima. “We couldn’t decide — I wanted a slow song but also something up-tempo, so she wrote both,” Kudo says. Indeed, “Night Wing” sounds like a bombastic ’80s classic, while “Yuki Gasa,” a soothing ballad, “is perfect as we head towards autumn,” she claims.
With 21 million records sold, Nakajima has written songs for numerous artists, but it was her collaborations with Kudo that really caught the public’s attention. The combination of Nakajima’s poetic, heartfelt lyrics with Kudo’s aching, affecting voice brought them five No. 1 singles.
“But we are not that close,” Kudo lets on. “We have a nice distance. If it’s too close, it’s too much for me. Sometimes when I hear her music, it scares me. Her voice has a lot of vibrato, but I especially like her passionate lyrics.”
Kudo began her career at just 14 when she joined all-girl group Seventeen Club “just to have fun.” But she first came to prominence with Onyanko Club, a precursor to Morning Musume that had some 52 official members in its short-lived, two-and-a-half year run.
“It was a great experience, with good, bad and really dirty things,” she says. “At that time, I didn’t have someone that I wanted to be like, and I could only learn not to copy the others.” Asked if she missed out on a regular education and childhood, she says, “I survived, so it’s OK. I didn’t want to live off my parents. I wanted to be successful and feed myself. I was very ambitious; I think it’s unusual to be like that at a young age.”
The producers of Onyanko Club gave Kudo a shot at a solo record, and it was during the recording of the song “Subetewa Sorekara,” for her first album "Mysterious," that she finally found what she wanted to do among the many tasks that Japanese girl groups are asked to perform. “I was really tired at that time, but all of a sudden it happened and I realized — I like to sing!”
If that recording had been the first turning point in her career, then the second happened in 2000 when she married Japan’s most eligible bachelor, SMAP member Takuya Kimura. “Everything changed,” she exclaims. “Before I got married, the priority was always me, I was the first. But now, there are our two kids, my husband, then me and my three dogs.”
Kudo’s new life has no doubt changed her outlook, but when it comes to musical influences, marrying a fellow singer hasn’t affected her style. “His work is his work and mine is mine, we don’t talk much about it.”
Looking to the future, Kudo’s hunger for music is unquenched. “Now my kids are 5 and 7, so I can leave them alone easier. It’s tough to keep going, but to keep singing is my goal.”
Kudo will sing at Shinagawa Prince Hotel on Dec 24.
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).© Japan Today