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October-December 1998

Okinawa Actors' School

Namie Amuro, the super-idol whose fashion look caught on wildly among middle- and high-school girls in 1996, and who inspires religious adoration among teens. . . Speed, a group of four girls aged 14 to 17 that reigns supreme in the hearts of young people. . . Rina Chinen, who sings, acts, and appears in commercials. . . and Max, another four-girl group, whose wild dancing and singing captivates fans.

What do all of these people have in common? They are all popular female Japanese singing acts who came out of the Okinawa Actors' School, an entertainment academy established in 1983 in the city of Naha in Okinawa, Japan's southernmost prefecture. The school has already produced more than 30 popular professional singers, and is causing a sensation in Japan's world of entertainment.

So what is the school's secret to coming out with one popular performer after another? People ascribe its success to its unique teaching methods. Rather than adhere strictly to a given teaching method, the school instills confidence in children by respecting their sensibilities, and lets them do as they please--an approach that brings out each student's individual characteristics to the fullest.

About 450 students, ranging in age from 8 to 20, are currently registered at the Okinawa Actors' School. The headmaster, 57-year-old Masayuki Makino, devised the school's unique educational approach on the basis of his experience as the son and grandson of film directors. His daughter, Anna Makino, age 26, supervises the older students as they instruct the younger students in singing and dance. Dance lessons at the Okinawa Actors' School are not choreographed; instead, students sing and dance to the music as they please.

Until recently, the school accepted only students from the local region. But in the summer of 1998, by popular demand, the school held nationwide auditions. Some 53,000 boys and girls aged 8 to 20 from around the nation applied; after the final selection, held at the Budokan (one of the largest concert halls in Tokyo) in August, only nine remained. These nine were accepted to the school, where they have embarked on their singing careers. One can only wonder what kind of entertainers they will end up becoming!

Photo: Okinawa Actors' School students work on their dance moves. (Kyodo)