Let's see. Where to begin? Though I can't shed any light on what TAKAKO was like as a baby, I do know that she was born into a Niigata family as the youngest of three sisters who got along famously and were always singing together. (TAKAKO does some rare reflecting on this period in an interview on her recently released video, or DVD, "DOUBLE".) As is the case with most families, it was the oldest sibling who wielded the greatest influence on her younger sisters, SACHIKO and TAKAKO.

Music was certainly no exception. After spending some time studying in the United States, the eldest sister brought back a stack of rhythm and blues CDs by popular artists of the time. In fact, it was the eldest daughter who made sure that R&B music served as kind of the default soundtrack in the household.

TAKAKO's personal awakening to R&B, however, came not from listening to her sisters CDs but from watching music videos on TV. It was around 1992, the time of Mary J. Blige, TLC and En Vogue's breakthrough second album. It was only after the videos ignited in TAKAKO a passion for R&B that she remembered her sister's collection.

"Actually, if I hadn't seen the videos, I'm not sure whether I would've grown to like R&B at all," TAKAKO confesses. Which is why she's known as such a perfectionist when making her own videos. The premium she places on ensuring a high-quality integration of audio and visual content is evident in the aforementioned video biography, "DOUBLE."

TAKAKO soon found herself listening primarily to R&B and copying to a tee the styles of her favorite performers. Her sister, SACHIKO, had developed a superb musical ear after years of studying classical piano and the two sisters later began performing covers in local Niigata nightclubs. It was here in these clubs that their real music careers began.

The duo's big break arrived when they got the opportunity to audition for For Life Records, which brought them to Tokyo. The company booked them a regular gig at a club on Yokota Air Base. It was the first time in 27 years that Japanese artists had performed there. The gig started in October '97 and lasted through February '98, and demo takes from that period were later included in the album "Crystal Planet" (released Dec. '99).

Having cut their musical teeth on the live stage, TAKAKO and SACHIKO made their vinyl debut as DOUBLE on February 4, 1998 with the single "For Me" (lyrics by SACHIKO and music by Kyohei Tsutsumi). The song was included in the soundtrack of the television mini-series, "Tsumetai Tsuki" (The Cold Moon). With their first single now on the market, the two didn't waste any time. In May, they teamed with Tsutsumi again to put out a second single, "Desire." In September, DOUBLE released a 12-inch record, "BED" (File Records???), followed by their third single of the same name in October.

The two sisters' were maturing in their profession at a breakneck pace and were quick to grow into their new status as major performing artists. The sister act began drawing the attention and collaborative interest of leaders in the Japanese R&B and hip-hop scene. "BED" was a collaborative work with DOUBLE, MAESTRO. T and Kiyoshi Matsuo. The coupling tracks and remixes involved Keiichiro Mutoh, Mummy D and KOHEI. Soon after the release of "BED," the sisters kept the momentum going with their first tour of five major cities in Japan. Then, in March of 1992, they released their fourth maxi-single, "Shake," from the 12-inch vinyl record they'd issued the previous month of the same name.

"Nothing's gonna stop these super sisters," they chimed on this definitive track featuring closely intertwining harmonies and a genuinely soulful, hip-hop style. "Shake" put the two performers on the musical map, winning rave reviews from critics. TAKAKO, who had always insisted on direct involvement throughout the production process, including musical direction, gradually gained the experience, skills and confidence she needed to begin carving out her own R&B style. With SACHIKO as lyricist, the sisters took some clues from traditional styles of Japanese poetry to launch them in a new direction.

"The lyrics you'll hear be hearing from us now will be a complete break from the past," they warned me.

From March to May of '99, the period which saw the release of "Shake," DOUBLE toured eight cities nationwide, released another 12-inch record, "Make Me Happy," and put the finishing touches on what they coined their "prologue" album, "Crystal." They were also tireless promoters, responding to all the interviews and press exposure that came their way as they awaited the release of their first long-playing album. But then... On May 21, 1999, SACHIKO suddenly passed away.

When "Crystal" was released in June, it became an instant success (reaching number 2 on the Oricon music chart). December saw the release of "Crystal Planet," a CD and video package that included cuts from the duo's Yokota club days along with other previously unreleased tracks. It climbed to no. 5 on the Oricon chart. But TAKAKO wasn't anywhere to be seen. She had decided put some space between her and music.

Despite the tragic loss of SACHIKO, the story of DOUBLE did not end there. For the rest of '99, TAKAKO refused to listen to any music whatsoever. But her innate passion for music could not be denied indefinitely, and she eventually found herself humming again. TAKAKO then realized that music was her calling, no matter what happened. Now a solitary act, she chose to continue using the name DOUBLE. It was 2000, a new century, and TAKAKO felt ready to return to music. She made a guest appearance on ZEEBRA's second album, "Based on a True Story" (released in June). ZEEBRA had collaborated with DOUBLE on "Shake" and now TAKAKO was returning the favor as the featured singer on a track called "Platinum Date." She then traveled to work in New York to do her first solo recording, resulting in the release of two powerful singles that not only heralded her return but also gave her a fresh new start. The seductive "Handle" and the hard-edged "U" were two singles that marked her debut as a lyricist and rekindled the passion she brought to her work, as she personally sought out producers Bryan Alexander Morgan and Eddy F for them. Her thoroughness and uncompromising devotion to creating quality R&B music is eminently clear in these two tracks.

At the same time that she released the "Handle" and "U", TAKAKO returned to the stage as guest performer in every concert of ZEEBRA's national tour, and also took part in Ken Hirai's single, "Love or Lust", released in October. Her collaboration with various male artists had the added benefit of winning her a whole new fan base.

TAKAKO at this time also got to work on a full album. Issued in November 2000 following the release of the maxi-single, "Angel," it was named simply, "DOUBLE." It was TAKAKO's first album as a solo act, and poetically, her first "true" album being that "Crystal" had been labeled a "prologue." In addition to achieving the highest levels of sound production and vocals found in Japanese R&B music at the time, poignant and penetrating lyrics of ballads such as "Stay With Me" and "Angel" revealed a marvelous talent that quickly turned this "debut" album into a crowning achievement.

"DOUBLE" became a firm launching pad for two more releases on April 25, 2001. They were the English version of "DOUBLE," issued almost in tandem with the Japanese album, and a video (or DVD) also called "DOUBLE" that includes clips from the videos "Handle," "U" and "Angel", as well as interviews and production scenes.

On the basis of quality alone, DOUBLE (aka TAKAKO) has certainly positioned herself in the running for the moniker, "Queen of Japanese R&B." In May, the first nationwide "DOUBLE Club Tour 2001 with U" will get underway. Once she finishes demonstrating her talent - once again - to live audiences everywhere, you can be sure that DOUBLE will have a bevy of exciting new projects to show us. For DOUBLE and her fans, the best is yet to come.

Text by Junichi Uchimoto