Tuesday, July 11, 2017
Tokyo Idols (2017) Japan Cuts 2017
Popular amongst idol-fans, Rio Hiragi is poised for mainstream crossover success. To breakthrough, she is working the idol scene hard. As the industry demands, she is in constant contact with her fans online and regularly meets them face-to-face at handshake events. These are exactly what they sound like: one minute of ostensibly innocent physical contact and fannish conversation. Miyake zeroes in on the sexual aspect of these events, which is certainly fair and pretty darned disturbing given some of the age differentials. At least Hiragi is maybe old enough to vote—and frankly seems rather together. It just gets creepy when we watch grown men cheering and chatting up fourteen- and twelve-years old idols.
As an expat who still returns to Japan semi-regularly, Miyake (who documented her lovely aunt’s resilience after the 2011 earthquake-tsunami in My Atomic Aunt) had the right balance of critical distance and common cultural references to do justice to her subject. She asks plenty of tough questions, getting many fans to admit they have given up on legitimate romantic relationships, preferring their brief intervals of chaste “girlfriend experience” with their favorite idols. However, she never directly drops the “p” word, even though it hangs in the air like a skydiving white elephant. Yet somehow, throughout it all, the audience will still find themselves rooting for Hiragi to make it to the next level up.
Frankly, based on the interactions and interviews Miyake captures, it is hard to say which are the more pitiable, the girls (and they really are still girls) who sacrifice their youth for the sake of fame, or the men who throwaway any hope of connecting with a woman in real time and in some cases, slavish devote all their disposable income to boosting their favorites’ careers. It is a fascinating and sometimes uncomfortable deep dive into Japanese pop culture. Highly recommended for fans of J-pop and anyone who wants to put the Japanese national psyche on the couch for analysis, Tokyo Idols screens Friday at the Japan Society in New York. For more information and tickets go here.