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29 October 2009

Rise and fall of little voice

By Sophie Elmhirst

Pop star, actress, care worker for the elderly. This, it seems, will be the professional trajectory of Noriko Sakai, the Japanese starlet who has been on trial in a Tokyo courtroom for drug use and possession. Sakai has had a grisly few months – going on the run after her husband was arrested and enthralling the nation in the process.

After disappearing for a week, 38-year-old Sakai turned herself in to the police. Now, she finds herself in court in front of an enraptured audience (6,000 people queued for 20 seats in the courtroom). “I must correct myself. I feel miserable,” she said. Correcting herself apparently involves turning her back on a glamorous whirl of fame and fortune, and turning to the slower life of caring for the elderly.

It will be a far cry from her former incarnations. Sakai first launched her career with the single “I Want to Be a Boy”, aged 15. She was a hit – a beautiful, adored “girl next door” who made the coveted leap from singer to actress, appearing in a hugely popular family drama, Hitotsu Yane no Shita (Under the Same Roof). She was, if you like, Japan’s Cheryl Cole – a face that had beamed into every home, a character that people felt
they knew, a name spoken in its shortened form – Nori-P.

But how the mighty fall, and how, as the courtroom queues suggest, we, the public, like to watch them go.

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