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Saturday, November 12, 2005

Asian Beauty:Minako Honda | Japan will miss its Miss Saigon(Her Story)

Minako Honda managed to achieve what so few other Japanese celebrities have been able to do -- a successful performing career after being judged a wash-up while still in her teens.
Tragically, Josei Seven (11/24) notes, Honda passed away on Nov. 6 after a valiant fight against leukemia.
Honda was born in Shibamata -- the humble Tokyo district made famous by Japanese cinema legend Tora-san -- on July 31, 1967.
With her dad putting in the long hours typical of Japanese workers of his generation, her mother basically raised Honda and her sister alone.
Honda wanted to become a singer from childhood. She adored the flamboyant Sachiko Kobayashi and yearned for a career singing enka, the mournful Japanese ballads popular amongst the middle-aged.
But, it was the world of pop that snared Honda, when she was scouted off the streets of Tokyo's trendy Harajuku district at age 17. She released her debut single the following year and 1985's "Satsui no Bakansu" made her a household name. She was one of the country's biggest teen idols and gave her first concert at the Budokan, undoubtedly Japan's premiere venue.
Honda was then as well known for her looks and appearance as she was for her singing. In '80s Japan, when it was still common and most socially acceptable for women to wear long skirts and bobby sox, Honda shocked when she flashed around her navel in daring fashions that were still a few years away from being okayed. By 1986, Honda's meteoric rise saw her included among the ranks of the top artists in the country.
But, just as she climbed quickly, Honda vanished in what seemed like a flash. As the '80s became the '90s, she still couldn't eke out another hit. In 1990, she formed Minako with Wild Cats, an all-girl band that eventually failed to make the grade. As her career fell into a slump, she also copped a blow in her private life as her parents divorced

"When Minako's work dried up, she was living with her mom, who went out and got a part-time job to make sure they could get by," a close friend of Honda's family tells Josei Seven. "Minako and her mom are really, really close friends. Minako used to call her mom by her first name, Mieko."
Watching her mom go out and work prompted Honda to re-think her career path. She turned to the stage.
"On the day after she made that decision, applications for auditions for a part she was interested closed," an entertainment beat reporter tells the women's magazine. "It was truly Minako's last gasp chance."
The part Honda went after would become her signature role -- Kim in the Japanese version of "Miss Saigon." She beat out 15,000 competitors to snare the plum job, but it didn't take long before critics were sniping, saying that she had only been accepted because her past life as an idol would give the foreign-origin play some badly needed name value.
Satoshi Kishida, Honda's co-star in "Miss Saigon," brusquely dismisses suggestions that she was used only because of her profile.
"All the auditions were watched over by Americans who'd run the Broadway version of the play. Everybody who had anything to do with deciding parts was a foreigner. None of them knew who the hell she was," Kishida tells Josei Seven. "She got the part on her own."
Honda's career on the stage flourished and she became one of the country's top musical thespians. By 2003, she had moved another notch further up the culture ladder when she released "Ave Maria," a CD filled with classical songs, showing a range unthinkable for one whose roots lay in the world of '80s bubble gum J-pop.
This year was supposed to be a busy one for Honda in a professional sense. Marking her 20th anniversary as a performer, she signed on for "Les Miserables" and "Claudia," another popular stage play. She was going to release a new album in the autumn.
All that changed in January. After feeling a little down, she underwent a thorough medical check-up, which revealed she had leukemia.
Honda bravely battled through her chemotherapy treatment, moving in and out of the hospital while she did so. As summer progressed, her condition improved. She was released from the hospital on July 30, one day before her birthday, so she could recuperate from home.
Things looked good for a while, with Honda -- forbidden from leaving the home because of her drastically reduced immunity courtesy of chemotherapy - happy despite all the pain she was in.
Then, Honda received a shock; her leukemia had broken out again. On Sept. 7, she re-entered the hospital and underwent radical treatment using drugs brought in from the United States. The therapy worked and she was allowed home again.
"Even though she still wasn't allowed out, she was really happy at home, using her dumbbells to work out," a friend of the singer's tells Josei Seven. "She wanted to make sure she'd be fit to return to the stage as soon as possible."
It was not to be. She was returned to the hospital for more treatment. She had been deemed healthy enough to return home for the first weekend in November, but instead complained that her lungs hurt. Her condition rapidly deteriorated. By last Saturday, Honda had moved onto the critical list. She briefly improved, but then suddenly slipped into a coma from which she would never awake. At 4:38 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2005, Honda was declared dead, Josei Seven notes.




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