Mirror, Magnifying Glass or FYI? “Tokyo Idols” at Sundance

This is really interesting, both in that it exists and in how it’s approaching its subject. Tokyo Idols is at the Sundance film festival (running through next Sunday!); here’s the trailer:

Tokyo Idols Teaser from EyeSteelFilm on Vimeo.


Folks are obviously going to have their own feelings about this, and they aren’t going to be in agreement. That’s okay.

This is probably one of those times when the trailer presents a fairly accurate version of the final, but, you know, we still haven’t seen the film and will probably only get a chance to when it’s on cable or Netflix or whatever. It’s also not exactly a secret that idol, more or less period, is built on a bunch of pillars, and between the trailer and this interview with the filmmaker, Miyake Kyoko, they all look like they’re covered. An awful lot of those pillars aren’t good things!

I’ll happily pass judgment on the unequivocably bad things in idol (we do it often enough [even when acknowledging that real/unreal is a very fine line]); I’ll leave a lot of the questions up to actual Japanese people (like the filmmaker, fwiw) and actual idols to judge. I’m personally interested in music and how it’s performed (and, like, very rarely the kinds of idols that get featured in these projects).

But you might be interested! Sort of regardless of where you fall on a lot of questions, it’s probably at worst an interesting look behind the curtain; it might help to put some things into perspective for you, too. I’m glad that these critical works exist.

10 thoughts on “Mirror, Magnifying Glass or FYI? “Tokyo Idols” at Sundance

  1. With IDOL being a catch-all phrase, I’m guessing not all the bases will get covered.

    Curious if this will be another “let’s look at the large rotating cast of XYZ48 and Kamen Joshi, et.al, with those interchangable girls being chewed up by IDOL, and ALL THINGS IDOL are misogynist by their very nature.

    That sort of thinking has some points, but misses the big picture that Idol is what Westerners would consider both an Entertainment AND Service business.

    Cheki- Pay for a picture with a performer you support, unthinkable in most places. Culturally, by that act, you are paying somewhat a gratuity/a percentage of their salary in some cases, and in other cases, filling out a customer survey. Same could be said of most other non-stage duties of an Idol. Nobody works for free, even as a part-timer, and the more devoted performers put A LOT of time off-stage (lessons, training) into improving.

    Westerners would in many cases NOT be shocked to pay a sum of money for an opportunity to get a Picture with/Autograph of some HIGHLY PAID sport celebrity, but handing a few dollars to an entertainer you enjoy is a creepy and somehow indicative of cultural decay? BS.

    I guess we’ll have to see what is actually in the Film, before we get overly emotional.

    I’m just angry because I work with someone who listens exclusively Anisong and Kpop, yet gives the stinkeye to IDOL because of the numerous hit-pieces that keep turning up about Idol. In fact, enjoys it until he discovers he was enjoying an Idol song. It’s a conspiracy I tell you.

    And Babymetal’s ever-changing zettai ryioki (just looked up the name) surely hasn’t helped perceptions much either. I know any number of cultures have girls dancing in skirts, and nobody blinks an eye, but wow, when putting kids on stage (they have been kids most of their careers) put your best foot forward, and at least try to err on the side of caution, Interesting (or telling) Koba has decided on full stockings at this point in time. Of course some guy on the internet telling girls I have no connection to whatsoever is very patriarchal as well so I’ll just shut up.

    • I was going to say re: hububbub’s comment before that I was curious how wide a net the filmmaker cast in terms of fans, performers, etc., and where the obvious storytelling choices were made to make it digestible.

      But yeah, to a lot of the narrowly focused criticism of idol, I just want to point at SMAP; it doesn’t make the negative stuff among the girls okay by any means, but it does put things in better perspective.

      • My view of the female side of the Idol business writ large is similar to my view of college football in the US. If I took the time to compare the pros and cons the pros would outweigh the cons, but not by a lot say something like a 60-40 split. One of the things I like about the more underground idols is there seems to be less exploitation overall and the small scale nature of it means the performers have more direct involvement at all levels making it more collaborative art than simply pre-packaged entertainment.
        As cringe worthy as some of the otaku/wota behavior can be towards the female idols it’s in many respects no worse that what occurs on the male idol side of things. It’s pretty much an open secret that Johnny Kitagawa has sexually abused the male talent controlled by his company and the female fans know it and ignore it.
        As much side as I may give Yasushi Akimoto side eye I don’t view him as an out and out criminal like I do Kitagawa.

  2. Paid meed and greets are not uncommon even for entertainers in the west, where did you get this “cultural decay” thing from?

    You should tell your K-pop listening friend that K-pop is pretty much all idols and their situations are often just as bad, and arguably worse, than what goes on with J-pop idols.
    To get started learning about it you could look up the term “healthy porn” and how it is used in K-pop…

    What is this about BABYMETALs costumes? I really don’t understand what your complaint/conspiracy theory around them are…
    BABYMETAL has worn full stockings at various times before, for example the Gimme Chocolate!! video which was filmed in 2013…

    • MisterMister, Just generalizing a whole lot of IDOL IS BAD stuff that pops up from time to time. Haven’t seen this movie, just hoping it’s not another hit-piece on my fav genre.

      I really know nothing about k-pop so really can’t make a decent comparison or argument regarding Idol/kpop. They seem really similar to me, except indie kpop isn’t much of a thing?

      With Babymetal, just trying to point to I suppose now that BABYMETAL is trying for global domination, the MR Babymetal is a little more conservatively dressed (by many western standards) than the TWEEN years BM, and the critics and haters love pointing that stuff out. Many of them are probably racists anyway, so no big loss. Anyone who can watch their choreo and whine about hemlines prolly isn’t going to “get” Idol anyhow.

      • It would be impossible to explain the similarities and differences in a comment but you should know that your friend has no ground to stand on criticizing the J-pop idol world if he is not also criticizing K-pop idols.

        BABYMETAL has been trying for world domination for a good while now. I really don’t think them starting to wear full stockings at this point has anything to do with that, it was just what their current tour costumes happened to have.

  3. This looks interesting. I remember the yellow journalism approach that VICE decided to do a few years back where they paired up the reporting of idols (Akishibu Project were the idols featured) with joshi kousei (high school girls) cafes and services offering enjo kosai (compensated dating) and osanpo (walking dates). They literally went straight from infamous “Schoolgirl Alley” in Akihabara to TwinBox, the live house. I was like “what?”

    I agree there is a degree of exploitation within Idol but I believe the extremities of it greatly depends on how the consumer accepts the product being marketed. It can be looked at as these are artists who present an awesome character and enjoyable music/performance. Or you can be that guy who takes advantage of the aesthetic and only wants to eye-rape young girls in short skirts and knee highs.

    Here is the VICE story I was talking about:

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