have done something beyond the powers of American pop and rock stars. They have
maintained a strong CD market. That is because Japanese idols are the crack
cocaine of cuteness and their addicted fans will purchase discs as another form
of collectible merchandise. Their bubbly school girl images are anathema to
most feminists, but the degree to which middle-aged Japanese men have used
fandom as a substitute for real relations might be even more problematic. British-based
Kyoko Miyake examines the phenomenon from the perspective of aspiring
performers and the men who “support” them in Tokyo Idols (trailer
which screens during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
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.
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 again tomorrow
(1/24) in Salt Lake and Thursday (1/26) and Friday (1/27) in Park City, as part
of this year’s Sundance.
Labels: Documentary, Kyoko Miyake, Sundance '17