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With her crazy shock of hair, baby doll pout, mature lyrics, and distinctive voice -- somewhere between a lispy squeak and a husky groan -- Chara is one of the most interesting female vocalists working in Japan, whose music has stood outside the two main trends of her country's music scene. Neither Jpop nor club pop or Jindies rock, Chara's style remains her own. Born in Kawaguchi-shi, Saitama county on January 13, 1968, Chara gained her nickname from an elementary school teacher when she was eight. Since then, she has been identified so closely as Chara that friends don't even know her real name. Before she could even talk, Chara was playing around on a toy piano, a habit that finally prompted her parents to buy her piano lessons when she was four. In junior high school, she became obsessed with the movie American Graffiti and borrowed her style from the retro-1950s chic of the film, going so far as to form an American-style cheerleading squad in a country not known for such things. In the meantime, she was growing up a child of '80s music, mostly the New Romantic scene, playing keyboards in the school band, and working on her vocals. In 1990, at age 22, she sent off a demo tape to CBS/Sony and got a contract with Epic records. After recording for a year, she debuted in a live appearance at the famous Tokyo club Quattro in September, 1991, followed by a single "Heaven" and an album, Sweet, in November. A cult following soon led to a standing room only return to club Quattro at the end of the year. Chara's popularity and media profile spread, earning her spots for her song and appearance in commercials for Suntory, Shiseido, Marui, and others. Her second album, Soul Kiss, appeared in 1992, her third, Violet Blue, in 1993, and her fourth, Happy Toy, in 1994. All were supported by successful tours. In 1995, she gave birth to her first child, a baby girl she named Sumire. In the time off, Sony/Epic released a best-of compilation with accompanying remix CD. Chara then took some time off in 1996 to film Swallowtail Butterfly, directed by Shunji Iwai. She starred alongside actor Tadanobu Asano, who she married later that year. The film went on to win her a Best Actress award at the Japanese Academy awards and spin off a soundtrack album by the film's imaginary group The 99 1/2, with Chara on vocals. Chara followed up on this with a wildly popular album, Junior Sweet. With production from Towa Tei and Ashley Ingram, the album went on to be a million seller, one of the best-sellers of 1997. In 1999, she released her follow-up, Strange Fruits, and gave birth to her second child, a boy she named Himi. She is still producing albums and touring, though no movie plans are in the works. ~ Ted Mills