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Tokyo Idols

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Jennifer Macchi...
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Tokyo Idols

Tokyo Idols, directed and written by Kyoko Miyake, 2017.  Found through Kanopy in our local library system. 


This documentary focuses on Rio, a Tokyo idol, or pop star.  The library website added the subtitle "a Fascinating look at Sex and Gender in Japan" but I felt it fell far short of its potential. 

Idols are young women, some starting at age 8 or 9, that sing and dance in front of crowds of fans, usually middle-aged men.  The songs are J-pop - pretty light and fluffy, with lots of self-empowerment, but the costumes are all short skirts and versions of school uniforms.  The men are obsessed, supporting a billion dollar/year industry by buying concert tickets CDs, merchandise and meet and greets. The meetings are particularly ritualized.  Handshaking is as far as anyone gets, and if the meeting is with a group of idols, the men are kept to just a few minutes with each.  Rio, the main idol in the film, turns 21 at the end. She is about to age-out of her profession.  

There was occasional commentary by a pscyhologist talking about how men follow the idols instead of forming real relationships because the idols will always be nice and cheery and won't disappoint them.  The whole system reminded me of chivalry, with the unobtainable woman and her knights.  More disturbing was one man's comment about how he prefers the youngest girls: "Their selling point is that they aren't fully developed."  While the documentary mentioned nothing about fans going too far, the perpetuation of girls as nothing but "idols" to please men is disturbing. I was expecting more commentary on how this phenomona reflects poorly on Japanese culture, but the documentary was mainly positive.  Girls see becoming an idol as a worthwhile career; for some it's a stepping stone to other forms of acting or music.  I'm not actually sure what I was supposed to take away from this film. I feel sorry for the men who prefer idols to real relationship, and I wonder what the long term prospects are like to idols after they are too old.