Big in Japan

NEW YORK — The lyrics of the Japanese female rock duo Puffy AmiYumi, at least when translated into English, can be completely absurd, if they make sense at all. In “Asia No Junshin,” a record that sold more than a million copies in Japan, they sing: “Take every panda/and line them all up/every single white one/Tonight the pure hearts/are shining so bright/about to burst into flame.”

Their Beatles-meets-Abba bubblegum melodies sung by Ami Onuki of Tokyo and Yumi Yoshimura of Osaka have made them a huge success, since 1995, in their native land — another big hit was called “Love So Pure” — but introducing them to American audiences has been more difficult. So, taking a cue from “The Yellow Submarine” and playing on the ardent following of Japanese animé, Cartoon Network has turned them into an animated series, “Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi,” which will debut Friday night.

During a 10-minute ride last month in the nondescript Puffy AmiYumi van from the Gramercy Park Hotel to Webster Hall, where they were playing their one New York area show, Ami, 29, and Yumi, 30, through a translator, say they love the Japanese master of animé, Hayao Miyazaki, and the Powerpuff Girls. But they never could have imagined they’d be turned into cartoons themselves.

“I’d think if I were a Powerpuff Girl, I’d be this one or I’d do this,” says Ami. “But I never thought of myself as a cartoon character.”

Aside from an Asian-looking band manager who recalls Charlie Chan, the cartoon characters on the show are quite Westernized. Mixing elements of “Josie and the Pussycats,” “Tiny Toon Adventures” and “Laverne & Shirley,” the show chronicles the trials and tribulations of touring as a rock duo. Save for the variety show-like segments that introduce their real-life counterparts with obvious English misfires, you might think this Ami and Yumi were Caucasian.

“I don’t think it’s a straight representation of ourselves, but as animation, it was really funny,” says Yumi. “It may have some essence, but it’s not exactly as we are.”Whether sung in English or in Japanese (most of their tracks are in the latter), their music, at least, is universal. The pair describe their sound as “just really fun.” “We don’t have a specific message,” Yumi says. “We don’t want to preach anything at all.”

“It’s not a genre,” Ami adds. “But if you listen to Puffy songs, they will make you happy.”

And sure enough, later that evening at Webster Hall, the crowd goes wild. Though there’s a sizable group of Japanese children with their enthusiastic parents, the louder members of the audience are older men who cheer excitedly when Yumi announces the Cartoon Network series in broken English.

Back in the van, Ami and Yumi say that they don’t see much of a difference between American and Japanese audiences. They are just disappointed that they don’t have more time to hang out in New York. (They will soon be off to Los Angeles and then San Francisco.)

“I want to get off the van right now and shop, shop, shop,” says Ami.

“It’s very sad,” Yumi adds about the time constraints. Still, she’s wearing three oversized fabric flowers she’d bought at Urban Outfitters the day before. “Right now I’m into brooches,” she says, gesturing to the flowers. “These things add an accent.” (For the evening’s show, she affixed a full-size mask of a leopard onto her T-shirt.)

Being from Japan, Ami and Yumi agree that their favorite designer is Jun Takahashi for Undercover, but they’re also into vintage things. Basically anything that’s comfortable, that they can “sit down on the floor in” or “sit on a chair in a nice restaurant.”

But their fashion obsessions can get them into trouble. “We don’t really share clothing,” says Ami, “but sometimes we go separately into the same store and buy the same things so we come to work wearing the same outfit.”
— Marshall Heyman

TOP SHOPS: As if these people don’t shop enough during the day, Wednesday night provided ample opportunity for the social and fashion sets to check out the merchandise at their favorite New York department stores.At Barneys New York, Alber Elbaz, “the utterly genius designer for the insanely chic,” as the invitation read, palled around with Sally Albemarle, Marina Rust and Behnaz Sarafpour, sporting a new spectacle-free look. “I just got Lasik surgery and this is the first time I’ve had my picture taken without my glasses,” she laughed while trying not to blink as the cameras flashed. A Lanvin trunk show began the following morning and women were already gathering in the dressing room during the party choosing pieces to buy. “It seems like everyone is happy it finally happened for me,” joked Elbaz of his burgeoning fashion-darling status. At the end of day one, Barneys had raked in more than $450,000.

A few blocks away, Eleanor Lembo, Ivanka Trump and Zani Gugelmann turned up at Saks Fifth Avenue in skin-baring Hollywould dresses — not exactly winter-clime wear — to support their friend Holly Dunlap’s new line.

Meanwhile, Latin fare was being passed to Natalie Cole, Nancy Jarecki and Eva Lorenzotti at Bergdorf Goodman’s cocktail party for Nancy Gonzalez. Host Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos stumbled to a dinner at Mr. Chow for the accessories designer on crutches and a single stiletto like a real trooper, nicknaming herself “Frankenfoot.” (Cole wasn’t the only celebrity at the store this week: Katie Holmes dropped in Tuesday for a book party for Carolina Herrera.)

With mojitos and Cuban sandwiches on the menu, the mood was equally Latin downtown at the Aid for AIDS gala at Capitale. Chelsea Clinton arrived an hour after her boyfriend Ian Klaus. “She’s late as usual,” mumbled Klaus to a friend, as he frantically checked his new, sleek Blackberry 7100t. Klaus was on hand to support Adriana Cisneros, daughter of Patty, a journalism student at New York University who volunteers with the charity. “The first year we did this it was at a friend’s loft,” Adriana explained. “Last year, we had a little more money so we did it at the Puck Building, and this year, we got a little more so we can do it here.”THE SLIPPER FITS: Sarah Uriarte Berry’s winsome personality and doll-like features make her a perfect Cinderella. Starring opposite Eartha Kitt and Dick Van Patten in the New York City Opera’s presentation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s production, Berry has appeared on Broadway as Belle in “Beauty and the Beast” and Eponine in “Les Misérables.” Ever the ingenue, she still has a soft spot for the underdog and wielded her influence in changing Cinderella’s stereotypical appearance. “At first, Cinderella was going to be blonde, but once I started rehearsing I wanted the message to be that she was kind of a normal person, not a fancy, glorious blonde beauty,” explains Berry. “I didn’t want her to look like Barbie.”

The production runs through Nov. 21 at the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center.

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