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?