What a wacky guy Junichiro Koizumi is. When he's not battling bureaucracy or trying to revive the ailing economy, Japan's unprecedentedly popular prime minister likes nothing better than to chill out and listen to the music of the King: Elvis Presley.
Junichiro Koizumi poses with his dead idol, Elvis. In keeping with his self-described henjin (eccentric) personality, Koizumi has taken the unusual step of lending his name to a collection of his fave Elvis tunes.
"Junichiro Koizumi Presents My Favorite Elvis Songs" has been a steady seller since its release by BMG Funhouse on Aug. 22. The 25-track album is rapidly approaching its sales target of 150,000 copies. Proceeds from the album's sales are going to support the charitable activities of the Central Community Chest of Japan.
"Since I took office [as prime minister], I have been so busy that I have practically no time for sleep," Koizumi wrote in a recent message to the Elvis Presley Fan Club's Japan Web site. "But on weekends, when I find time to go back to my private home, I listen to Elvis songs. His voice eases my fatigue."
While some suspicious minds may think that Koizumi is merely using Elvis to broaden his popular appeal, the PM is a bona-fide, longtime Elvis fan who says he wants Japan's young people to discover the man from Memphis and his music.
"Elvis will be remembered forever, and so will his songs," Koizumi writes. "We should share this legacy with many more people, not just Elvis fans. We should especially teach the younger generation about this '50s singer who was our hero."
Says BMG Funhouse strategic marketing manager Katsumi Miyata, who oversaw the album project: "He's our most human and popular prime minister. As far as I know, he's the only Japanese prime minister ever to admit that he's a rock 'n' roll fan."
Koizumi -- whose birthday, Aug. 8, is the same as Presley's -- says he's been hooked on Elvis' music ever since hearing "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" as a teenager. Along with his brother, Masaya, he's been a leading member of the Japanese Elvis fan club and has been involved in various Elvis-related activities in Japan over the years.
In 1987, he represented Japan's political world at the unveiling of a bronze statue of Elvis in Harajuku, and in 1999 he wrote the liner notes for the Japanese edition of the "Artist of the Century" compilation. Koizumi also wrote the liner notes for "Junichiro Koizumi Presents . . ."
The curious thing about the compilation is that it doesn't include well-known Elvis hits such as "Hound Dog," "Heartbreak Hotel" or "Don't Be Cruel." Instead, Koizumi's selection tends toward emotional, karaoke-friendly ballads such as "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You," "That's When Your Heartaches Begin," "Can't Help Falling in Love," "The Impossible Dream" -- and even a cover of "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Further proof that Koizumi really is a henjin.
So why all the big soppy ballads, which bring to mind images of the Vegas-era "fat Elvis"? Maybe it's down to the fact that Koizumi and his wife went their separate ways in 1982 after an apparently contentious divorce.
"We had wanted him to do some sort of Elvis-related project, but it didn't seem to have much popular appeal," says Miyata. "But when he became prime minister, things changed and there was a lot of pressure from the fan club for Koizumi to do something [to publicize Elvis' music.]" As if Koizumi didn't have enough on his plate.
The project got rolling in June, thanks in large part to Masaya Koizumi's liaison work. BMG Funhouse took care of getting the necessary clearances through its offices in the U.S. and Germany, including an OK for the album's cover art, which features a photo of a smiling Koizumi superimposed next to an image of Presley dating from 1960.
It's a really strange image, and I'm sure I'm not the only person to have done a double-take on seeing the ad for the album. I mean, what's next: "George W. Bush Presents His Favorite Buddy Holly Songs?" (That's not such a crazy idea -- they're both from Texas.)
Or how about former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, one of the leading opponents of Koizumi's reform efforts? With his greasy pompadour, Hashimoto certainly looks the part of a '50s-style rocker.
BMG Funhouse President/CEO Hidehiko Tashiro has even written a letter to Bush, asking the president to give his "blessing" to the Elvis/Koizumi project, describing the album as a unique milestone in U.S.-Japan cultural relations. It's hard to imagine what the King would have made of it all.