The time has come to talk about the three-part English subtitled “Perfume – The Introduction” video recently upped to YouTube. While this 30-min “Behind the Music” styled piece, apparently adapted from a 2008 TV special on the rise of Japan’s reigning idol unit may not be essential viewing for those who don’t care for robotic Auto-Tune pop, or seem remedial for those who were introduced to Perfume a long time ago, advanced foot soldiers in the “Cool Japan Wars” may still find some genuine diamonds and pearls contained within. That’s mainly because “The Introduction” offers a glimpse inside an industry that few foreigners have been privy to before: the sort that sees three middle schoolers leaving the hinterlands of Hiroshima to fend for themselves in the harsh and uncaring show-biz climate of Tokyo where they are re-groomed by techno impresario Yasutaka Nakata as the perfect vehicle for his Daft Punk and Kraftwerk fantasies before finally hitting the jackpot via sold-out concerts, big sales, and (that ultimate barometer of success) Pepsi Commercials.
Also, this is the only place you’ll find translated quotes from subcultural superheroes like Rhymester Utamaru and Roman Porsche articulating the importance of Perfume to the Japanese music scene. Back before Perfume’s fame went supernova, these two influential j-pop pundits rightfully positioned the group’s Nakata-created sound and performance style as “the last real hope for idol music” at a time when a once mainstream genre was content to either target children or creepy post-adolescent males (and often disconcertingly, both markets at once).
What I find interesting about “Perfume – The Introduction” is that it also chronicles Perfume’s failed attempts to win over those audiences as well. Much of the running time is devoted to the girl’s Early Years of Bitter Struggle as they give thankless concerts on tiny local stages or are literally shoved in the corners of CD shops to be ignored by passing shoppers. “The Introduction” also reveals Perfume’s 2006 bid to become “Akihabara idols” complete with standing on Chuo street handing out concert fliers to disinterested gaijin tourists...
With trendy drama-ready levels of adversity and hopelessness on the table, one has to wonder what finally tipped Perfume to the top of the heap? Was it a ‘70s shojo manga maelstrom of “tears and hard work”? Was it the "borrowed" pop hooks embedded in Nakata electro-Svengali’s knob twirling? The missionary fervor of early adopters like Rhymester and Roman Porsche? Or was it merely that the group finally signed to a major label that had the resources to plug them into the all-powerful, all-controlling relentless media promotion machine?
Actually, the biggest questions I have now are with regards to the origins of this video itself. Who made it? Where did it come from? Who am I and what is the meaning of life? Well, Jay thinks the “The Introduction” is a fan-made production of some sort. But I’m willing to wager that this is a record company / agency inside job through and through. The text overlays are too well integrated for a fansub, and the rumpy English smacks of the sort of hasty corporate translation that I now spend most of my days trying to decode for a living. The stated goal is merely to introduce...
But whatever the case, let’s hope that it continues to spread the gospel of idol culture around before one of the Perfume girls becomes pregnant, gets caught smoking, or they are summoned to a US anime convention to start from zero all over again.
Richard Fukuoka of Japanese tech bible Weekly Ascii materialized in San Francisco late last week for the Apple World Wide Developers Conference. He’s here in the USA to promote Ascii’s latest endeavor, “Tokyo Kawaii Magazine”, a English language magazine for the iPhone, available in both free and paid versions, filled to the digital brim with – as the flier puts it – “Anime, Fashion, and Tokyo Topics”. My company jaPRESS is handling localization for TKM, and we’ve also been hired to oversee translation and rewriting of a Certain Ascii Media Works Manga That Shall Remain Nameless (for now, at least).
Although I wasn’t expecting anything more than a simple meet-and-greet with Richard, he whipped out his iPhone and iPad to show me two things that blew my mind wide open. Believe me, my facial expression did a complete 360 after I saw....
1. The “augmented reality” feature from Konami’s Love Plus game, in which a simple paper printout of a symbol (in this case, a plus sign and a heart mark) creates a 3-D image of a Love Plus character in the finished photo when taken with a webcam (see above). It even automatically adds the correct copyright information to any situation, whether you want it or not. Talk about a killer app...
2. The Hatsune Miku concert from March 2010, in which the virtual Vocaloid idol finally became as “real” as virtual idol can with the aid of state-of-the-art projection and a special curved screen. Finally, the holographic promise of anime pop concerts in Macross city (or Megazone 23, your choice) has been made manifest, and the only natural reaction to this alien lifeform, judging from this audience, is to cheer or scream...or both.
Maybe you've seen both of these examples before. Fuck, maybe you're even waving around a glow stick as I type this. Either way, what I saw gave me acute future shock. That's in part because philosophically, we're at a dead end. The simulations just keep getting better and better. But that's besides the point...As much as Japan pundits are now wringing their hands over the nation falling behind in the tech and gaming sweepstakes, here are two startling examples of Japan doing things that fall into no other category other than "magic" with emerging and existing technologies.
The precedents go back to the post-war era, when Japan pioneered the art of miniaturizing transistors and became a world leader in the consumer electronics racket. Japan didn't invent the TV or the radio or the cassette player or the computer game, but they sure managed to put a big old Made in Japan stamp on them.
So, at the risk of sounding really naive, I’d like to think that the ever-increasing Apple and Android-ization of our daily lives will give the guys in the lab (especially the really old guy who smells like an ashtray) another chance to hit a home run. Not saying they will, and all bets are off, but it's hard not to feel like there's at least another brass ring up for grabs...unless it too turns out to be a hologram.
The catch is that otaku desire and obsession seems to be in the driver’s seat this time, rather than the needs of the nuclear family (see also: anime). Lots will depend on whether the corporate owned tech that gives birth to Love Plus and Vocaloid will ever be developed beyond 2D fetishism. I don't know. Maybe otaku themselves should put down the doujinsji and figure out how to 3D laser-project? After all, military radar helped to create television, and World War I was the cradle of wireless radio...
As the combined power of TokyoScope, Pulp magazine, and the Tattooed Hit Man began to light fires in garbage cans all over the Kanto region, host Takeshi Kitano was heard to say, “being human is normal, and violent expression like yakuza movies is necessary as a catharsis”.
To which we quote Omar Epps in BROTHER, "I loooooves you aneeeee-keeeee!"
Carefully stoked by commercial interests and a new film on the horizon, nostalgic fervor for all-things TRON is now (predictably) at an all time high. Meanwhile, back in 2008, Japanese techno prankster unit Roman Porsche mounted an ambitious, detail accurate, and staggeringly strange mini-recreation of TRON’s eighties CGI look for their PV 神社建立 3001 (“Shrine Building 3001”), rapturously received in those days of yore by like three thousand and one people on YouTube.
Since then, Roman Porsche has abandoned the game grid to concentrate on live performance, DJ-ing, pop cultural commentary (member Okite Porsche was an early advocate of Perfume and co.) and starring in intriguing looking films such as Sukeban Hunters. Here’s hoping that Porsche's new record (possibly inspired by another eighties touchstone, below), soon connects with the cultural zeitgeist with the force of a laser guided Frisbee hitting someone in the forehead.