“If they were older it wouldn’t interest me. The selling point is that they’re not fully developed.”
If you’re single or have ever been in love then you’ll know what rejection feels like, and in the world of dating it’s a painful reality. Add the virtual element and people become disposable in an increasingly competitive environment. But what happens in a country like Japan where an emphasis on work culture dominates lifestyle?
Documentary Tokyo Idols explores the all-pervasive theme of loneliness, unrequited love and what it means to find emotional fulfilment in a society where karõshi (dying from overwork) is commonplace.
There are two sides to the film: the inside life of the girls who perform as pop star idols, and their die-hard male fans, who follow them from show to show.
There are around ten thousand girls and women in Tokyo who call themselves ‘idols.’ They’re part of a concept dreamed up to address an increasing cultural problem — an obsessive preoccupation with popular culture and computers to the detriment of one’s social skills.
For many lonely men these idols give them hope, allowing them to indulge in a fantasy where rejection doesn’t exist. And it’s strange to watch, as these men — some in their 40s or 50s — behave like school boys with a crush; it’s bewildering as they fill scrapbooks with pictures of their favourite idol and collect all kinds of paraphernalia. These men are so desperately lonely and it’s hard not to feel sorry for them.
The girls compete for a largely male fan base and exude a manga-esque form of innocence, highly prized by Japanese men. Dressed in school uniform-type costumes or outfits that border on cosplay the girls sing and perform cheesy choreographed dance moves — sometimes badly — all for the male gaze.
Rio is a young woman who features throughout the film. She’s bubbly and works hard to gain followers, but is yet to break in to the big idol scene where large-scale televised competitions take place. It’s like the Hunger Games, Manga-style, where throngs of fans vote for their favourite idol and top ranking girls become overnight stars.
If you’re a strong-minded, independent woman you’re likely to find the whole concept behind Tokyo Idols quite disturbing. These girls aspire to a life that relies on being objectified by men. It’s not quite like watching Britney Spears singing ‘Hit me baby one more time,’ — she was allowed to grow up.
Being cute, young and pure is an asset in the Tokyo Idol game. These women and girls are the equivalent of modern day Geisha: part of a constructed reality to solve a problem that has been created by their own disengaged society.
What’s even more horrifying is that some of these men idolize girls as young as ten. Putting children in the context of gawping middle-aged men really puts the idol culture into perspective.
“If they were older it wouldn’t interest me,” says a man in his twenties.
“The selling point is that they’re not fully developed.”
Director Kyoko Miyake does a great job at showing the various sides of this phenomenon, providing a slice of life that will have you questioning whether these women are empowered as idols, or whether they’re being exploited in a patriarchal society that reinforces the submissive role of women.
Would I recommend this film? Absolutely! Tokyo Idols is complex, engaging and thought-provoking and will leave you with plenty of questions long after viewing…
Make up your own mind when you check out the Documentary Edge Festival screening in Auckland and Wellington starting next week.