Wednesday, January 27, 2010

For Those About to AKB48, I Salute You!

I'm not sure what that video is. I was looking for another AKB48 clip with which to illustrate this post, and this was first. Pretty amusing. At first I thought it might be two AKB48 members giving a press conference, but now I believe it's a couple of girls comically riffing on the whole "idol" phenomenon. I can only understand about 5% of what they're saying, so I could easily be wrong. I like their little synchronized hand gestures, though.

AKB48 fans found my post about the group, and if any are still reading this blog, welcome. I checked out some AKB48 messageboards and was happy to see a few people enjoyed my post. It was fun to write, and I had no idea the group's popularity had penetrated the North American market already. Anything that gets people excited about Japan is fine by me. Well, amost anything; there are a few things here that deeply disturb me and I try not to think about them.

But if AKB48 is your gateway drug, then I'm all for that. Mine happened to be Ultraman, Pink Lady and Jeff and bands like Shonen Knife and Melt-Banana.

Anyway, here's a bit more about AKB48 and their impact locally. That is, in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka prefecture.

At the beginning of the week, I usually ask my students what they did over the weekend. Standard stuff, and they're no doubt bored as hell by it by now. One of my classes consists of three kids from three different local high schools. Here's what happened Tuesday, in a semi-screenplay format:

ME: And what did you do last weekend?

GIRL (big smile): I went to karaoke... with my friends.

ME: How many people went?

GIRL (thinks for a moment): Three people.

ME: Wow, cool, fun! What songs did you sing?

(A barely audible, all-in-Japanese discussion between the GIRL and the one GUY in the class ensues. She wants to know what I'm asking and this is the safest, quickest way to find out. The GUY explains.)

GIRL (smiling again, still not sure she understands, but willing to do her best to answer): AKB.

ME: AKB48? Do you like AKB48?

GIRL (laughing because she's surprised I know what AKB48 is and possibly because the answer to such a stupid question should already be obvious): YES!

Unfortunately for her, a quick quiz determined she was the only AKB48 fan in the room. But outside the classroom, she's not alone.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hot Tub Time with Pink Lady...

I must warn you. Should you choose to watch this video, it will blow your mind. Into a billion pieces. And there's no guarantee any amount of psychotherapeutic rehabilitation will restore your reasoning capacity to full function. As you journey deeper into it, your surroundings will become increasingly surreal, and you'll lose the reality you once knew and believed in so fervently, lost in a fog of the increasingly bizarre until like some dark secret the weirdness enters you and lives there in the shattered palace of your mind, a ruined king on a broken throne.

And yet I do recommend you watch it.

AKB48: They're Not the Coming Thing-- They're Now!

I don't really know a whole lot about these girls, but they're one of the hottest things going right now here in Japan. So hot, the Asahi Weekly English-language weekly tabloid made them the cover feature over New Year's.

Forgive me if my facts are a little hazy, but here's what I've gathered by a sort of psychic osmosis: AKB48 is an electrically energetic singing/dancing idol group that regularly performs sold-out shows in their own theater in Akihabara. There are approximately one thousand members of AKB48; 800 members and 200 "interns." Their plan is to assault the world with high-energy cuteness, conquer international pop culture and then reign supreme from a solid gold palace located directly atop the South Pole from which they'll broadcast messages of peace and moe.

On a no more serious but hopefully more accurate note, there are actually 51 members in the group's current line-up, in three teams-- A, K and B. Their producer and mastermind, Akimoto Yasushi, has written lyrics for Nakashima Mika and Exile, a couple of evergreen musical acts. Nakashima played Nana in the movie adaptation of the popular shojo manga of the same name. Yasushi began AKB48 in 2005 and they've really hit it big. And it's looking more and more as if 2010 will be their most triumphant year yet.

Because as I learned today, AKB48 is so popular with young people here in Japan several high schools in Hamamatsu now feature teams of girls who have assigned each other AKB48 roles and peform spirited imitations of the group during breaks between classes and at lunch. I learned this from some amused witnesses to the AKB48 phenomenon, which seems to have erupted here almost overnight. One guy told me some girls at his school begged him to write an AKB48-style song for them to sing. Since he's a man of musical integrity, he refused.

He did admit, however, he'd write one for the real AKB48 if they asked. I wanted to know why.

"Because I could write a better song than the ones they have now," he replied. I haven't heard any of his songs, but I agree completely. He also feels while all the AKB48 girls are cute, there are just too darned many of them.

The girls I talked to said they enjoy their friends' AKB48 imitations, but they themselves have no interest in participating. They also said they have no intention of ever auditioning for the real AKB48.

"It's not my kind of thing," one told me. The other is starting to get into Ozzy Osbourne, so I'm guessing she feels the same way.

Anyway, if you're a Japanophile, you're going to be hearing a lot about AKB48. You probably have already!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pink Lady and Jeff: A Retro Blast-From-the-Past Look Back at a TV Classic!

I still find it hard to believe this show even existed. I tell people about it here and they're like, "Get out of here! No-- get out of Japan and go back to America. Right now. Before I kill you."

First big mistake: "Welcome to Pink Lady... starring Jeff Altman." Second big mistake: mispronouncing Mie's name. Not a mistake: Blondie as a guest.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

What Does SMAP Fear? What Are We Listening to in Japan?

I don't know. According to this article in the Japan Times, it may or may not be Arashi. I know little about SMAP beyond Katori Shingo, who I think is a hilarious and talented comedian when he's not singing and dancing-- good enough to host America's long-running Saturday Night Live and blow its castmembers off the stage. And I know even less about Arashi except they're running ahead of the pack in terms of popularity when I ask my kid students who they like these days.

In fact, out of three kids Friday, Arashi got unanimous approval, the first time this has happened as far as I can remember. It seems in the past, Kat-Tun would garner a vote, or someone I'd never heard of at all, someone so mysterious to me, I'd be forced to just smile, nod and say, "Great!" in response because I wouldn't even know how to pronounce the group's name.

When I first moved here, I taught a lot of college students and they were all into Bump of Chicken.

Right now, it seems only one person would list SMAP as her favorite and she graduated high school two years ago and only comes to visit during her holidays, if she has time. We have one young woman who goes to every Glay concert she can with her mom. The high school girls seem to be mostly into Exile and the junior high kids and younger like Arashi. One guy likes Love Psychedelico.

No one's heard of any of the groups I'm into, which include 5678s, OOIOO, Boredoms, Melt-Banana, Spookey, Puffy, Blue Hearts, Shonen Knife, Electric Eel Shock and Asian Kung Fu Generation. We had one young rocker who likes American punk/pop-punk who started to get into Go!Go!7188, another favorite of mine-- but she's one of the very few people I've met in Hamamatsu who had even heard of them.

Everyone else seems to like J-Pop-- Hamasaki Ayumi remains on top, and sometimes people cite Amuro Namie as being "pretty" but don't seem too into her music-- or else hip-hop. Lots of young hip-hop fans in Japan. And every once in a while, someone will mention Southern All Stars.

So my expert advice to SMAP is to stay the course, guys. Especially you, Shingo.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Puffy News!

You may think of me as some kind of hardcore noise enthusiast, and that's certainly the case. But I also have a taste for... tasty pop-rock sounds. The Beatles, the Beach Boys, Kirsty MacColl and the like. Also Puffy, known in the US as Puffy AmiYumi because of legal issues with Sean "Puffy" Combs.

2011 will be Puffy AmiYumi's 15th anniversary, and to celebrate they're starting their first fan club. I think it's their first; I'm inferring such from Ami's blog entry about the club. It's hard to believe they would have neglected to form one before now, but them's the breaks.

Puffy AmiYumi also have a New Year's video message for you.