Virtual pop idol drives men wild

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The Independent Online
Yoko Ono notwithstanding, Japan's female icons are not noted for their throbbing sensuousness and gritty humanity. Sadako Ogata, for all her good work as the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees, is no Madeleine Albright. The public appearances of Masako Owada, the Crown Princess, are so exaggeratedly demure as to make Princess Diana look like Bet Lynch. But even by these standards, Japan's latest pop star, Kyoko Date (rhymes with "satay") is an exceptionally pristine specimen.

Despite the success of her debut single ("Love Communication"), despite the fan mail from her male fans ("You look so cute on your Internet home page," ran one lust-struck letter), and the success of her CD-Rom, Kyoko lacks several ingredients usually considered essential to pop success. Formally known as DK96, she is a computer animation - a Virtual Totty.

"Most teenage pop idols have their songs written for them, their voices electronically altered and their images pre-packaged," says Ms Date's "manager", Yoshitaka Osawa, "so there's no reason why a computer animation can't do the job." Since its recent release, "Summer of Love" has become one of the most closely-watched singles in the Japanese charts, and TV talk shows and commercials show the buxom starlet strutting (virtually) through New York and Tokyo.

Kyoko's popularity has less to do with the innate appeal of digital women than with a brilliant marketing profile designed to push all the right psycho-social buttons among young Japanese. Made flesh she would be 5ft 4in tall, and a fashionably anorexic 95lb. Her sport of choice is soccer, recently popularised by Japan's nomination as co-host of the 2002 World Cup. Even her name sounds suspiciously like a pastiche, a cunningly calculated chime of the American verb "to date" and the name of Japan's finest female tennis player, the recently retired Kimiko Date.

Sociologists would find plenty to chew on in the fictional biography provided for Kyoko by her creators, the music publishers, Hori Productions. Her father is a sushi vendor, an endearingly working-class profession for a young starlet, and most intriguing, her family home is in a town best known for its proximity to a large US military base.

The pleasures traditionally pursued by young women in such bases are not ones with which squeaky-clean teen idols would traditionally want to be associated, however interactive.