The View from Japan
Torii Gate



Pink Lady

by Tim Young

(originally published in Eye-Ai, May 1999)

Pink Lady performing 76.11.25Like a beam of warm light on a Japan chilled by the oil shock of the mid-'70s, two 18-year-old girls attracted the attention and admiration of the nation from the moment they burst onto the scene in August 1976. To a TV audience used to sweet young girls who swayed back and forth as they sang gentle melodies, Pink Lady's sexy outfits and peppy, whimsical tunes were something completely new. Soon kids around Japan were religiously learning the dance routines to "Pepper Keibu," "SOS," "UFO" and the rest of their incredible string of hits.

Nemoto Mitsuyo (Mii-chan) and Masuda Keiko (Kei-chan) first appeared on TV in February 1976 on the audition program Sutaa Tanjou (Birth of a Star), where they took first place. Their performance style on that show was nothing particularly unusual, but after they signed with the T&C Agency, they were fitted with the act and image that took Japan by storm when they reappeared as Pink Lady six months later. Gone were the bib overalls worn on Sutaa Tanjou,replaced by short white one-strap dresses--somehow recalling both American football cheerleaders and 1920s flappers. Instead of swaying to the music, they now had energetic precision dance routines.

"One of the producers (at T&C) had long been looking for the right kind of duo to try the idea of a group like Pink Lady," Nemoto recalled when I interviewed both members of the group recently. She credits songwriter Tokura Shun'ichi with choosing their name. "We wanted a name that was a little sexy," she explains. "The color pink has a rather sexy image in Japan, and there's also a cocktail called a pink lady. So the name seemed cute and sexy."

I found both women to be very pleasant and talkative. Nemoto, 41, sports longer brown hair than she did in her Pink Lady days, speaking in a firm alto voice and with a twinkle in her eye, like your favorite teacher in elementary school. Masuda, with wavy black hair cascading down to her shoulders, and a smooth, comforting face, looks at least as beautiful as she did twenty years ago. She makes being 41 into something to be, not dreaded, but aspired to.

Pink Lady made a strong impression on '70s Japan, Masuda says, primarily because "we weren't doing it to make a lot of money, get nice houses, or anything like that. We were doing it simply because we enjoyed singing and dancing and being on stage. It's because of that pure feeling that, even today, I'm told, if video footage of Pink Lady comes on TV, kids stop playing and go over to watch us. Perhaps it wasn't just that we fit the times, but also because our act had the charm to move children."

Nemoto and Masuda, who share a strong admiration of Diana Ross ("Her voice seems like a goddess' voice," says Masuda), both say that becoming professional singers was their main goal in life at the time they appeared on Sutaa Tanjou. The Shizuoka natives met at a Yamaha music school, where they both studied for three years. Perhaps it was their obvious love of singing and dancing that helped them to win Star Tanjou, and to be recognized as the right duo to be Pink Lady.

What did they like best about being in Pink Lady? "I love being on stage, just singing and dancing," Masuda says. "And recording. Always in the middle of the night. Maybe from 11p.m. until 3 or 4 o'clock." Why? Because, between concerts, TV appearances, shooting commercials--in all, maybe a dozen engagements every day--it was the only open time in their schedule.

For exactly that reason, Nemoto cites traveling overseas as her favorite aspect. "In Japan we had a lot of different things to do, but if we were overseas, we could concentrate on just one job!" she points out. The lack of time was the downside of fame. "What I wanted to do was take more lessons. We were always busy, and there wasn't much time for learning." Because lack of sleep (sometimes as little as one hour a night) kept them constantly sleepy and took its toll on their health, "it was really tough to always seem happy and energetic in public, like people expected us to be," Nemoto recalls.

"Every morning, when took a shower," Masuda confides, "I felt sick. Even now, sometimes I have to get up early, and when I take a shower, I have the same feeling. Still now." Her least favorite aspect of being in Pink Lady? "Morning!"

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Copyright 2003 This page last updated November 1, 2002 . E-mail Tim