Asia's best Elvis impersonators converge on Tokyo

Saturday, August 17, 2002

TOKYO -- Decked out in rhinestones and pompadour hairdos, 13 Elvis impersonators from across Asia converged on Tokyo on Friday for an extravaganza concert to mark the 25th anniversary of the King's death.

"They call me 'The man with the King's voice,'" said H. T. Long of Malaysia, known for his trademark white baggy blazer and blue suede shoes. "You might think that's impossible because I look Asian. But listen, and you will be shocked."

The impersonators -- including seven from Japan and others from the Philippines, Thailand and Hong Kong -- will stage a five-hour "Elvis Forever in Asia" concert expected to attract 1,500 people on Saturday. The event, sponsored by Japan's 5,000-member Elvis Presley fan club, is the first of Asiaits kind here.

Friday night, the impersonators gathered for an informal round of Elvis karaoke songs before the big event.

"No one can replicate him. I just try to do justice to his songs," said Edgar Opida, of the Philippines, who wore gold-rimmed bubble-lensed sunglasses during a rendition of "All Shook Up" that was punctuated with pelvic thrusts.

"When he died, my whole world crashed," said Long, 51. "For a week, I just stayed in my room, looking at my posters and albums. I cried and cried."

Dedicated Asian following

Even in Asia, where Elvis never visited, the 25th anniversary of his death Friday drew out the King's dedicated following. In central Tokyo, fans flocked to a life-sized bronze statue of Elvis strumming a guitar and lay flowers and packs of cigarettes on its base in homage.

Corky Kitahara, president of the Japanese club, estimates that there are 500,000 Elvis fans throughout Asia. Among them is Japan's prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, who last year wrote to the fan club: "My birthday is Jan. 8, the same as Elvis. It's one of the things I'm so proud of."

Koizumi's name is engraved on the Elvis statue's donor's plaque: In 1985, when he was a member of parliament and a board member of the Elvis fan club, he helped raise money for the memorial.

But Koizumi, a self-described rock-and-roll addict, didn't show up to pay tribute. His spokeswoman Misako Kaji said the prime minister was on summer vacation.

But at the nearby Elvis memorabilia shop, Love Me Tender, the CD-compilation of Elvis songs picked by Koizumi was sold out. The 25-song disc, "Junichiro Koizumi Presents: My Favorite Elvis Songs," has been a hit since it was released last year, manager Yosuke Funabashi said.

The $17 collection includes such hits as "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You." Proceeds go to charity.

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