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A former fashion model turned singer, hitomi has been riding high in the Japanese pop charts since debuting in 1995. While hitomi's success has not been as all-conquering as that of her contemporaries Hikaru Utada and Ayumi Hamasaki -- she's yet to score a mega-hit on the scale of either of those two divas -- she has nevertheless been a consistent hitmaker, selling more than 8.5 million singles and albums combined. That she's done so for more than a decade, a period longer than that of the average shelf life of a J-pop idol, is a result of a perennially youthful image (Hitomi is looked upon as a fashion idol by her teenage fans), and because her music has never strayed too far from the winning uptempo dance-pop formula of her label, Avex, albeit with a vocal delivery far less mannered than many of her labelmates. As well, hitomi's lyrics have struck a chord with a rising but significant demographic in Japan: young females with disposable income to burn.
Like many Avex artists, musical Svengali Tetsuya Komuro shaped hitomi's early career. The songwriter/producer's dance-pop template did much to define the J-pop sound to listeners inside -- and outside -- Japan. Komuro had already penned hits for globe and Namie Amuro in the mid-'90s by the time he discovered hitomi (born Hitomi Furuya on January 26, 1976, in Tochigi Prefecture) at a modeling audition. Despite Komuro being at the helm, hitomi's first two singles flopped, and it was only after her third single, "Candy Girl," was picked up in a Kodak camera commercial that she scored her first hit, entering the Top 20 of the Oricon charts in April 1995. Hitomi's debut album, Go to the Top, followed in September of the same year. As expected for any J-pop artist, Avex wasted little time in putting their latest starlet back in the studio, and barely a year after her debut, hitomi had re-emerged with her second album, By Myself, which went to number one and preceded a national tour.
Despite this success, hitomi was still behind other Komuro-produced artists in the pecking order, such as Sony artist Ami Suzuki, Amuro, and Komuro's own group, globe. This factor, and hitomi's own desire to gain more control of her career, meant that she ended her creative partnership with Komuro after her third solo album, the reflective pop/rock of Déjà Vu. Hitomi's next album, 1999's thermo plastic, reached number two in the charts, laying to rest fears that she would struggle without her onetime mentor.
Shortly after completing her "huma rhythm" live tour in June 2002, which finished up with a show at Nippon Budokan, hitomi informed members of her fan club that she was to marry. Within a year she had given birth to twins, both named after characters in Haruki Murakami novels. As a result, hitomi spent much of 2002-2004 out of the limelight, although the period wasn't all about domestic bliss: she completed a university degree in health and environmental science and also learned to play the guitar.
Hitomi resurfaced in September 2004 with the hit album Traveler, an album that took her closer to the electronica-influenced pop of her idol Madonna, and a successful arena tour, succeeding where many Japanese female idols have failed in making a successful comeback after starting a family. Hitomi released her eighth album, Love Concent, on her own Love Life Records imprint, created for her by Avex as a "thank-you" for being on the label for more than ten years. As hitomi entered her thirties, she strove to carve out a niche for herself beyond the narrow confines of a pop idol and received warm reviews for her portrayal as a troubled detective in the movie Akumu Tantei (Nightmare Detective), screened at the Rome, Pusan, and India film festivals and at the American Film Market in Los Angeles. Akumu Tantei was released in Japan in January 2007. ~ David Hickey
- 26 Jan 1976