Thursday, June 29, 2017

Tokyo Idols

For those who didn't know, there is a new documentary film that is now playing film festivals named TOKYO IDOLS.  The film was directed by Kiyoko Miyake, a Japanese woman who grew up in Japan but later moved to the U.K.  She made this film due to her curiosity about the phenomenon of Japanese idol culture.  In the film she profiles some indie idols who are working towards the possibility of becoming artists, but this film is also as much about the fans.  I haven't seen it yet due to it not playing anywhere in my area, but I am hoping there will be a DVD release in the near future.  Here is the film's trailer. 

I feel a film like this is one of the most important things to happen in the Japanese idol industry in some time.  While Japanese entertainment such as films and anime and certain types of music has become part of the mainstream in countries around the world, idol music is still not widely accepted.  Many mainstream idol groups already have several DVD and Blu-ray releases of their concerts and even documentaries that focus on their group, but an overview of the industry itself and indie idols in particular has not been done until now.  I am extremely pleased that the trailer features "Let's go out" by amorecarina as its opening song and has many clips of this group too.  I am proud of the fact that I was the first to write about amorecarina in English.  It seems as if this footage of amorecarina was shot in 2015 as the clips feature members in the group that have now graduated.  I really wish I could see this movie on a big screen since seeing amorecarina larger than life would be the biggest thrill for me!  I have never seen them in concert and since all of my favorite members are now gone, this film seems to be the next best thing for a fan like me.    

I have been reading reviews of the film online, and while they mostly praise the film itself, the reviews are written by people who are new to this music.  This means the reviewers are tossing around words like "disturbing" to describe the relationship between the fans and the singers.  While I certainly understand this reaction to a person exposed to this music for the first time, there is way more to this music than meets the eye.  The music of Japanese idols is generally meant to inspire happiness and good feelings among the fans.  We live in a world where dark, bleak entertainment is the new normal and anything lighthearted, cute or genuinely funny is dismissed as strange or old fashioned.  For me personally, I smile and feel good whenever I hear songs I like (from any genre) and idol music gives the feeling that something good and beautiful does exist in this world.  Music is what I need to heal and feel more comfortable with being alive.  Without music I feel hopeless and even more depressed than usual.  A good idol singer who is really giving her all to her performance makes me want to cheer her on.  I often wish I could meet them and shake their hands and tell them in their own language how much their songs mean to me.  Sadly, I have no way to talk to them since I have never learned Japanese and I have too many health problems now that I am incapable of traveling.          

Another thing discussed in the film and by the reviewers is gender identity in modern Japanese society.  The idols are being portrayed as male fantasy objects.  Again, I can see this.  I think a lot of this is being done by the companies who produce these groups to make them more appealing to males than females.  Idols have to look vulnerable and needy for their mostly male audience to feel comfortable enough to approach them.  Girls who look like they can take care of themselves are not in need of male protectors and may even intimidate the men.  So why are men the ones so interested in these younger girls and not the girls who are the same age?  Good question.  It may have to do with the way women in today's society are more independent and not in need of men, so the men look towards girls who are are not as independent.  Men want to be the provider and caretaker and this is being denied some men in modern society.  

I'd like to share some more videos with the director of TOKYO IDOLS.  I think she has a distinct vision of what this is all about and may be able to explain things even better than me.  


If you are lucky enough to be near a festival playing this film, then by all means try to see it! 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The End of Music

It's been over 19 months since I last wrote in this blog!  So what could possibly make me want to write in it again?  A few things, actually.  Unfortunately the first thing I want to discuss is not good news.  Which, as I have learned, will make certain people who no longer speak to me or never liked me in the first place overjoyed.  

I said on Facebook months ago that music has officially died.  I said that mostly because some of my favorite Japanese idol groups broke up and favorite members of other groups graduated.  I didn't think too many idol groups that were truly interesting were still around.  Then I learned in April of this year that even more favorite groups broke up.  If there ever was a reason to declare music is dead then 2017’s breakups solidified it.  If Japanese idol groups breaking up isn't a big deal to you, then one, I'd say you're not much of a fan of this genre, and two, consider the deaths of international music stars.  In 2016 we lost David Bowie, Prince and George Michael.  In 2017 we lost Gregg Allman.  We also lost a young idol in 2017, and that really makes me cry. 

2016 was a bad year, and 2017 so far is not any better.  At the end of March 2016 one of my favorite idol groups, NA-NA, broke up.  NA-NA was an ESSE Academy group that only had a few original songs including their first and most popular song, “Candy Machine ni Notte”.  NA-NA had seven members in the group in April 2011 when they formed.  The lineup changed a few times but they had a pretty solid lineup in 2012 and 2013 with five girls.  In June 2013 NA-NA was signed to T-Palette Records along with their “older sister” group Caramel Ribbon.  After a December 2013 graduation NA-NA continued as a quartet until Kimura Karin graduated on July 4, 2015. Unfortunately sometime in 2014 T-Palette dropped NA-NA from their roster.  I honestly think this contributed to NA-NA not gaining as many fans as they should have.  To make matters worse, Caramel  Ribbon was also dropped by T-Pallette sometime in 2016.  NA-NA will always be one of the cutest and most fun idol groups I have come across.  NA-NA’s slogan was “Cute, sweet and cheerful.  Like a fairy!”  Exactly!  

NA-NA in May 2015

NA-NA in 2016

Candy Kiss was another group beloved by me.  They debuted in February 2012 and started off with six members.  An early graduation resulted in a new member, Fukushima Kotoko, joining. This also resulted in two different covers for Candy Kiss’s first single, each with two slightly different six member lineups.  The second lineup with Kotoko lasted about two years and three singles.  My favorite member, Yamashita Honoka, graduated in March 2014.  An album was announced shortly after two more members announced they would graduate in April 2015, although there is a video I saw that featured the five members posing for a photo shoot in which the background music was the original mixes of that album’s songs with all five girls singing on it.  After becoming a trio Candy Kiss released the album “Parfait” in July 2015, and it is, in my opinion, one of the most innovative Japanese idol albums ever released.  In May 2016 it was reported on the Candy Kiss blog that the group would break up on August 11, 2016.  Candy Kiss will always be one of the best indie idol groups around because of their mature approach to singing and incredible album!  A DVD and Blu-ray of their final performance was announced in October 2016 but so far has not surfaced.  I certainly hope one day to see it.     

Candy Kiss in May 2016

Candy Kiss in July 2016 

Caramel  Ribbon formed in January 2009 with three members by ESSE Academy.  After a year one member graduated and Yoshinaka Aoi joined.  Caramel  Ribbon released a total of seven singles and contributed two cover songs for an anime song cover compilation over the course the next six years.  Every song they recorded sounded different from each other due to different songwriters and producers working on them.  Many styles of music were performed on each compact disc giving the girls the opportunity to show what they can do with different genres vocally. This kept Caramel  Ribbon fresh and exciting.  After being together for eight years and three months Caramel  Ribbon broke up on March 26, 2017.  Very few Japanese idol groups last over eight years and keep the same lineup for over seven years, but Caramel  Ribbon did exactly that.  Their refusal to do the same thing twice made them more innovative than most idol groups. They are the standard which all Japanese idol groups should aspire to be!  Aoi is continuing to perform solo lives as a member of ESSE Academy.   

Caramel  Ribbon in 2010

Caramel  Ribbon in 2017

Prizmmy formed as a trio in late 2011, although they were actually called Prism Mates.  After going up to the next level (this is hard to explain) Sema Ayami was added and they became Prizmmy☆.  They released their first single in March 2012.  A total of ten Prizmmy singles were released in the next two years until Ayami graduated at the end of March 2014.  In 2013 Prizmmyand their sister group Prism ☆ Mates combined together to form Prism Box. They released only three singles over the course of nineteen months.  In April 2014 Miyazaki Hina of Prism ☆ Mates joined Prizmmy.  Prizmmy☆’s releases became more sporadic until it was announced in December 2016 that both groups would break up on March 30, 2017.  I will always remember Prizmmyas being one of the best dance groups in the Japanese idol industry.  

Prizmmy☆ in June 2016

Prizmmy& Prism ☆ Mates in January 2017

I have everything I could get from all four groups, however, I only have complete collections of Candy Kiss and PrizmmyCDs and DVDs.  Well, except for some Prizmmy☆ “Dancer’s Party” instructional DVDs.  I truly wish I had everything by all four groups as they are the groups I continue to listen to whenever I am in the mood for good Japanese idol music.  

While groups breaking up and members leaving the group to do something else is sad enough, there are far worse things.  Such as death.  I’ve always tried to maintain a positive outlook when writing in this blog, even if a group broke up.  But I have never been able to deal with death very well.  On February 7, 2017 Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku member Matsuno Rina passed away from severe health problems.  I really don't know all the details except that her family called an ambulance but she was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.  This really makes me want to cry.  Rina was 18 when she died and she was always one of my favorite members.  R.I.P., Rina.   

Rina Matsuno in 2017

So these are a few reasons why I feel music is dead.  I love music as much as I love writing, which is why I’ll never give up either one.  But it’s hard keeping a stiff upper lip when so many bad things are happening and they only seem to get worse.  Little good has come from my attempts to start a writing career and no one seems to care about what I’m writing anyway.  No one cares for the same interests I have nor my opinions.  And I don’t have much confidence in all of these new artists.  If some of the best groups break up and some of the best singers die or simply leave the entertainment industry, what hope is there for music?  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Candy Kiss's Sweet "Parfait"!

This is the most original and innovative Japanese idol album of the past few years!  Do I have your attention now?

Here is something unique: a Japanese idol album that actually offers originality in at least two ways.  The first way is that none of the songs on the album have been previously released, either on a CD or as a digital download.  Although a few of the songs have been performed live sometime during the 20 months prior to the album’s release, none of these songs have been available in a studio version until now.  Furthermore, there aren’t any plans to release these songs on a single. The second way this album is original is the format in which the album is set up.   The whole album is made to sound like a Japanese radio broadcast.  It starts off with intro music and then a voice that speaks “FM Candy Kiss…Parfait”.  This is followed by the three members of Candy Kiss, Fukushima Kotoko, Yoshizawa Ruri and Oguchi Ryoka, introducing themselves while the sounds of soft guitar playing and waves hitting the beach are heard in the background.   There is a real summery feel to these “interludes”, as they are labeled on the CD packaging.  The girls talk a bit about the next three songs you are about to hear, mentioning the titles as well.  The next three tracks, of course, are the songs.  Then another “interlude” follows, with the girls continuing their talk, promoting their new album “Parfait”!  Introductions for the next three songs are included, followed by those songs.  This format is repeated a third time.  Finally, the thirteenth track is a wrap up, with the girls thanking the listener.  Outro music is heard with “FM Candy Kiss…Parfait” included, this time being sung rather than spoken.  The music fades and the album is over.

As for the songs themselves, they are all excellent!  The newer Candy Kiss material is more mature than past songs, and the group also has a more mature image now as well.  Highlights for me include track 4, “Hot Summer”, which is primarily sung in English.  Track 7, “Open Arms”, was originally performed live on November 23, 2013, and I had to wait for 20 months for this song to finally make its CD debut!  Interestingly enough, this studio version is 68 seconds longer and somewhat differently mixed.  I think I actually cried when I heard the studio version for the first time.  Track 8, “First Love”, is a sweet love song that was originally performed live by Shimoda Kaede and Yoshizawa Ruri on March 2, 2014.  The studio version is sung by Ruri with Fukushima Kotoko.  Track 10, “Bara no Maho”, is a beautiful flamenco song, something that Candy Kiss has never attempted before.  Tracks 11 and 12, “Kanashimi no Burning Love” and “ to Ai Shita Hito”, both have haunting instrumental openings that actually gave me goose bumps when I first heard them!  I could tell right away that these would be good songs, and they are.    

I’m not sure how unique it is to release a Japanese idol album that contains all new music.  I’m also not sure how rare it is to release an album with no singles or music videos in sight.  (At least on YouTube.  The DVD included with the album does have a music video, for the song “to Ai Shita Hito”, at the end.)  But I’d say it’s very rare, as most groups would not consider doing something like this.  Setting up an album like a radio broadcast also seems pretty unusual for an idol group. Therefore Candy Kiss gets points for trying something rare, or perhaps completely new.  Not many groups would throw caution to the wind and dare to be this different.  Candy Kiss have also made a progression since their first single, the ultra cutesy “Koisuru Candy Kiss”, released over three years ago.  “Parfait” features songs that are much more mature sounding than any other Candy Kiss song of the past.  This is not to say I dislike the older Candy Kiss songs.   Actually, I love them! However, it is nice to see a group progress rather than stay the same for their entire career.  In another unusual move, the credits on the CD packaging, and also the end credits of the DVD, have a special thank you to former members Sakurai Maya and Shimoda Kaede.  It’s pretty rare for an idol company to thank the graduated members of the group in the CD credits.  These are among the reasons why I have lots of respect for Candy Kiss.

Most pop and rock music groups release mere albums.  “Parfait” by Candy Kiss is an unforgettable life-changing experience!  “Parfait” is an genuine album, one that requires your rapt attention from start to finish.  This is not an album that you can listen to as background music, because not focusing on the songs will cause you to miss something good.  The music is excellent, with nine well-written and produced pop songs, and four interludes that tie the album’s concept together nicely.  “Parfait” is not a “concept album” under the generally accepted sense, but the “radio show” format is definitely unique.  While the album is somewhat short (38:45 in length, due to the shortness of some songs), it is something that keeps the listener entertained throughout and holds up to repeat listens.  This is not only the best Japanese idol pop music album of 2015, it is one of the best albums of any genre of music in the world!  

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Airu's Fundraiser Is Live!

Tomimoto Airu's Idol Matsuri fundraiser is now at Indiegogo rather than Kickstarter, and it is now live!  For the next 31 days you have the opportunity to help bring this talented young girl to Idol Matsuri for her first performance in the U.S.  All the details are here.  There's some great perks such as digital photos, an autographed cheki (a small instant photo, for the unintiated), an mp3 and even a personalized video message thanking you for bringing her to the U.S.!  

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Idol Matsuri Is Bringing Soloist Tomimoto Airu To The U.S.!

There’s exciting news for U.S. fans of Japanese idols as Idol Matsuri, the first Japanese idol convention in the United States, has just announced that their second Japanese guest for 2015 is Tomimoto Airu!

Tomimoto Airu (富本愛琉) is a young soloist who performs many Japanese idol cover songs.  She sometimes works with other indie idols for certain appearances, but primarily works alone.  Airu was born on February 11, 2005 in Hokkaido, Japan.  Her hobbies include singing, dancing, playing the Japanese drums and violin, and ballet.  Airu is signed with Actors Studio Hokkaido, STARGATE School.  She is a children’s fashion model and appeared in the magazine SHO-BOH #29, as well as on the accompanying “making of” DVD.   Airu’s favorite idols include Suzuki Airi of C-ute and the group Prizmmy☆ .

Here is Airu's intro video for Idol Matsuri.  Please turn on the closed captions for English subtitles.

In order for Airu to come to the U.S. she will need your help!  A Kickstarter fundraiser is coming
soon and has some exciting rewards for those who donate.   

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Worst Type Of Idol Fans

I need to talk about something that has been in my mind for several months now.  It's been bugging me a lot lately, and I need to get this off my chest.  I've come across certain people who claim to fans of Japanese idols that seem to be very close-minded.  These people are what I refer to as "elitist mainstream idol fans".

Elitist mainstream idol fans are those who only listen to mainstream groups and nothing but these groups.  They are the ones you'll find that say "I only listen to Hello! Project groups" or "I only listen to the *48 family groups."  Some of these fans may also listen to other mainstream groups such as Momoiro Clover Z or BABYMETAL, but they are ignoring many indie and underground idol groups. Now it might be because they haven't heard of some of these indie and underground groups, or it might be because they have an extremely bad attitude and just plain won't acknowledge them. These fans are some of the most close-minded people who are listening to music.  But it gets even worse sometimes.  I have read comments along the lines of "I wish this girl would leave her current group and join Hello! Project."  Now that is the most horrible type of comment an idol fan can make!  Don't understand why?  Let me explain.

If you say you like a certain idol singer in a indie or underground group, and you really want them to leave this group, then you are wishing this group would not be successful and possibly break up. If you actually got your wish and your favorite singer in an indie group left to join Hello! Project or the *48 family, then the group she was originally in will have a steep decline in popularity and this will anger many of the fans of the group.  They will resent the girl who left and caused this decline in popularity.  If the group breaks up because the most popular girl left, this will cause even more anger in some fans.  Even if some fans follow her to the H!P or *48 group she ends up in, they still might wish she would return to her original group so things will go back to the way they were before she left.

If you really love an indie or underground singer or group, please show it by supporting this singer or group.  Purchase their compact discs or other merchandise, if possible, and tell people how much you love the singer or group and why.  Be a proud fan and tell your friends about this non-mainstream idol you love and share their YouTube videos (or videos on other websites).  Spread the good word about these idols instead of wishing that the most popular member would leave the group to join a mainstream company.  Being an elitist, close-minded and mean-spirited mainstream fan just isn't very smart.            

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Candy Zoo Welcomes A New Member!

Indie idols Candy Zoo officially welcomed new member Katayama Yuara to the group on May 17, 2015, which was one day before their second anniversary.  Yuara actually made an appearance on stage on April 25 for the joint birthday celebration for Candy Zoo members Yamamoto Himiko (who turned 13 on April 19) and Nishisato Rina (who also became 13, but on April 28).  However, she did not perform with the group that day.  Yuara wrote in the Candy Zoo blog for the first time on May 18.  A photo posted on Twitter shows the current lineup of the group.  Yuara is the Green Meerkat of Candy Zoo.