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Japan?s newest star

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Move over Dana Carvey, there’s a new presidential impersonator making the rounds. His name is Jiro, a 7-year-old macaque monkey from Tokyo who made headlines last spring for his reenactment of President Bush’s vomiting episode at a Japanese state dinner in January. A major star in Japan, Jiro has been making TV ads for Sony, Fuji Film, and Hansei (a stomach medication, of course) for several years. He has his own GMC van (with driver). And along with his trainer, Taro Murasaki, they hope to visit the White House next month to perform for Bush himself. Though he doesn’t mimic Bill Clinton, other politicos have fallen prey to the enterprising simian: Murasaki, in fact, has been known to prompt Jiro by inquiring, ”Can you spell potato?”

However, like Bush’s, Jiro’s act has been receiving some criticism. Though Murasaki says, ”Jiro regards me as a partner. I take on whatever role that’s required of me to make him shine,” the ambitious trainer has drawn charges of animal abuse from activist groups. Steven Simmons, spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, says, ”The animal appears to be terrified, which leads us to believe (the trainer) uses negative reinforcements to perform.” PETA members plan to demonstrate outside New York’s Lincoln Center before Jiro’s Sept. 11 performance.

To be fair, Jiro’s act has its roots in sarumawashi, or ”monkey dancing,” an ancient Egyptian performance art that reached Japan in the 8th century. ”There is a level of acting before words are uttered,” Murasaki says. ”Through movement and expressions, Jiro will get the message across. That expression is something that all great artists try to achieve.” Is he kidding? No way. After the U.S. trip, they plan to return to Japan to perform — what else? — Hamlet.

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