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An inside look at Erika Sawajiri

September 1, 2010 @ 8:16 am
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She’s often the center of controversy, but Erika Sawajiri has earned the right to be called “Comeback Queen”, and she recently took the time to explain her ups, downs, and how the Japanese entertainment industry needs to change.

In her first ever English-language interview (with CNNGO), Erika Sawajiri explains her background growing up, the faxes that were sent to media publications earlier this year, and her disapproval of the Japanese ways in the entertainment industry.

"Restricting talented people is the biggest problem in the entertainment business in Japan," says 24-year-old Erika Sawajiri. "This is the 21st century and it has to change."

We all know the reputation that the model/actress has earned: hard to work with and a diva. Fans call her Erika-sama, and because of all the stories that have been told about her, it’s hard to say that she hasn't garnished more antis than actual fans.  Her "Japanese way" is not openly accepted by the industry, but some of us think that "her way" is the better way.  Of course, the way she thinks might have something to do with her background.
"My mum was born in Algeria, but she moved here from Paris when she was 24 or 25, then met my father and stayed. My grandparents died earlier, and I never met them, so I have no contact with my mom's side, but she has six brothers and sisters that I met when I was a child," she explains.

She was born to a Berber (indigenous North African) mother and a wealthy Japanese father. She grew up in large houses that had stables with plenty of horses to ride. She didn’t go to any international school, and she considers herself a “totally” Japanese person. She grew up listening to Arabic music and Gypsy Kings, so as you can already tell, she did not have the typical upbringing that every Japanese child has.  That, of course, includes the burden of not being full Japanese and feeling excluded by society. That’s all changing a bit now as some of Japan’s current top artists are mixed, with Crystal Kay, Thelma Aoyama, Kimura Kaela, and Namie Amuro being among them.

As far as beginnings go, Erika started at the ripe age of 13 and had two #1 singles early into her career.  Still, she admits, "Actually, I was not really happy because I wasn't satisfied with those songs. In fact, I don't know how they could possibly reach #1. I thought everyone must be crazy to buy them. I didn't like those songs, it was just pop."

In fact, Erika openly admits that she was completely happy when her world was allegedly crashing down around her.

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Erika has been fighting a long fight, professionally and personally. She confirms what many who aren't in the industry have speculated on for a while now. As a talent, you’re a "normal employee" with a stipend. Your every move is being watched as if the FBI is hunting you, and you are no longer in control of your own life. When you sign on that dotted line to a management company, you essentially turn your life over to them. You are forced to work long hours and appear on shows that you would never choose yourself. Fellow actress, Aya Ueto, has even admitted to being, “severely burdened emotionally by the system.”

"It was hard in Tokyo before I left, every day was work and I couldn't sleep. I would get just three hours of sleep, so it was hard every day," says Sawajiri. "I just stopped and went to London, I wanted to live a normal life as a girl. I had to learn English, and that was tricky, but it was a really good experience. I just went to school, and after class, we went to a pub to talk or drink beer."

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In 2007, she was forced to give an apology to the media by her agency, and it's something that she regrets. Some of you may remember a press conference she did for the film, Closed Note. Well, she disliked her role in the film, and at the conference she gave short answers that everyone deemed disrespectful and not of proper Japanese etiquette.
"That apology was a mistake!" says Sawajiri. "My agency told me I had to apologize, I kept refusing, I absolutely didn't want to do it. I told them, 'this is my way'... but in the end I surrendered, and that was my mistake."

And how about those six faxes that she apparently sent from Spain?  She says that was the work of her ex-husband, which represented a time in her life that she now regrets.
"It was not me and I never knew about it!" exclaims Sawajiri. "The truth is that those six conditions were my husband's idea. I believed him and trusted him, but he did me wrong."

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With everything going on in her life, Erika has managed to do what most in the industry deemed impossible. She’s fighting the “Japanese management system” and she's doing it solo, with her own handpicked parts and photoshoots.

"I want to cope with the entertainment business of Japan by setting up my own office," she says. "We live in the 21st century, so it's time to get up to date."

Since her return, Erika has done multiple photo spreads, is the spokeswoman for a German cosmetics brand in Japan, and was chosen by Leslie Kee for "MUSE OF TOKYO".  I'd say she's doing plenty well without any 'management', and her 2010 comeback seems like just the start of her quest to outshine all challengers.
What does Erika say about the structure of Japanese management?

"I think [restricting talent from having normal lives and expressing opinions] is a problem with the entertainment world in Japan.  In fact, it's the biggest problem. I think the whole system is so old. The managers themselves are old, but we have to change this situation."

Source: CNNGO
Photos: Gui Carvalho

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