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I think you're being too hard on Pixar: Cars is by far the most merchandising- and crossover-friendly of their movies, and the one that critics never really liked.

I like Polyrhythm a lot too, but I think my problem is just that it's a bad fit with Pixar's formula, which is diametrically opposite of Perfume's post-humanism. Whether Disney's tween audience is ready for electro-pop in a foreign language is interesting, though.

Cars 1 has a 74% approval rating among "Top Critics" at Rotten Tomatoes. Cars 2 currently has 33%. I guess we will know more about how it's going to do after tomorrow's bean counting.

Cool post.
Being a fan of Perfume since 2007, you hit at some points that were aggravating me about the current Perfume.

All Jpop acts sell out but Perfume could make great music AND sellout.(2005 - 2008)

Now, their sound is just generic, better crafted but still generic

When I first moved to Japan in 2003, Capsule were kind of the "big thing" in the indie scene as they were on Yamaha and making a bunch of Pizzicato Five clones while giving guest appearances on the record "Cutie Cinema Replay" with all the other riding young neo-Shibuya-kei stars. Yamaha bought them out Marquee magazine every single month in an attempt to make them the next inevitable dominant force in that world. But it never really happened for them (that first record only sold around 2000 copies, which is very weak for a major label), even with all that media push.

Then a few albums later, Nakata switched to the Daft Punk formula and it just worked a lot better. Then once he did it for Perfume, that put Capsule back on the map.

As of now, Capsule has released 12 albums in 10 years, which must be some sort of record. They also win a prize for "most brickwall mastered tracks." Even their Pizzicato Five-era stuff is about 10x louder than anything else in my iTunes.

I try to remain positive about my Otaku/Jrock culture being tossed into the psuedo-limelight here. On the one hand its potential added success and fan-base my fave acts or anime etc etc which in turn makes it more accesible for all. And on the other hand I almost dont want to share with a group of undeserving uncultured narrow-minded people who will halfway pay attention and then dismiss what I c as poingnant and moving simply because its n another language...:sigh:. My only true issue with music trying to go mainstream here is when its dumbed down and Americanized i.e Boa's latest, the videos for Eat You Up specifically. I fail to c how its wise to alienate and virtually ignore the fan base an artist has here already by putting out crap to attract a new one. Why not simply expand the publicity, put them out there with what they are actually about and not try to turn them into some cookie cutter clone of what was in 5 minutes ago. Argh! Thoughts?

@Marxy: I know you're always down on Nakata's mastering, but it really does sound good when played at deafening volume in a club. Unfortunately, that's also the only place...

@LadyAri: Thanks for your thoughts.

@Pretty Much Everyone Else: I'll try and make this super easy for you. The point of this article is not (and I quote), "I was an original fan I'm so amazing and the band sucks now that they have popularity in other parts of the world." But rather, "That's cool that Perfume got this chance to reach a wider audience, but it's too bad they don't have any good new material do it it with." Opinions may vary, but I wish people knew how to read.

With Perfume these days, I think Nakata's kind of working with his hands tied behind his back. He told me that since all the songs are pre-sold to advertising campaigns before he's even written them, he has to sort of work on them with that in mind (I guess that means just having a big hit that lots of people would want to buy isn't enough -- he also has to please the chaps at Dentsu who are going to be screening every new submission). He also said this means he can't mix their stuff the way he would with capsule now, so that probably explains why he's shied away somewhat from the heavier, dancefloor-ready sound that Polyrhythm had, while capsule have gone into full-on nosebleed electro-house mode. When he plays Perfume tracks at his DJ parties, he seems to have beefed-up mixes ready.

That said, I strongly endorse Laser Beam. Best thing Perfume have done in ages, genuinely catchy and memorable, and with that lovely plinky plonky synth bit that makes me go all gooey and Popcorn.

Ian@: Thanks for the insider info. It sounds like Nakata has literally made a deal with the devil. Really depressing stuff.

Even though I came down kinda hard on him in the essay, I really do respect him as one of the leading lights of the electro scene in Japan. His accessibility via DJ-ing in clubs and releasing a flood of product (keep in mind that I'm also a fan of artists like Prince and Robert Pollard, who have a quality-quantity issues) shows a real commitment to the scene.

I really hope he's putting anti-Dentsu subliminal messages into his Perfume singles -- ala Phil Dick's Radio Free Albemuth -- but I somehow doubt it.

Not sure if this adds to the conversation but I shall mention it.

I remember Perfume said on a TV show that they around graduating high school around 2006, they ask their managers if they should apply for college since they had found some minor success at that point. Their manager recommend college and that disappointed them because he was saying that they were never going to find more success. Perfume was not expected to succeed and thus they enrolled in Yokohama University (I think.

Then Polyrhythm hit it big and the rest is history.
On the same show that I mentioned earlier, Nocchi actually said that she wanted to graduate earlier to concentrate on Perfume's career and Uni was too hard (ahhh,Japanese idols)

I guess, what I am trying to say is that Perfume had low expectations set on them and thus Nakata was able to experiment fully with the only caveat that he design a hit.

When Night Flight was used as CM for Pino, the decline set in. Maybe at that point Dentsu really really intervene into the management. There are some rumblings that Dentsu created the Perfume narrative since the early days but based on their discography, I will say the intervention happened around 2009.

I really like this article because it discusses a topic that's always been on my mind since I was 12: the crossover of Japanese artists into the U.S.

Taking a look at all of the major acts that have tried to release an album and failing miserably- Seiko in the early '90s, Kuraki Mai in the early 2000's, Puffy also in the early 2000's (and their cartoon show), Utada Hikaru in 2004 and 2009, BoA in 2009/2010 and so on......Americans who aren't already aware of the J-music scene here in the States just aren't ready for crossovers; why? because the artists aren't singing in english (except for Utada). It's sad to say, but Japanese artists may have a heavy influence on most U.S. fans, but the scene will always remain underground in the States, never mainstream, which is sad. It all boils down to ethnocentrisim for Americans.

If you want to see some kind of decent act in the States (most likely T.M.Revolution, Dir en Grey and Nami Tamaki), one might as well start hanging out at anime conventions.......

Buck-tick would never fly in the States.......

@Patrick: Cheers. I wouldn't call myself an insider exactly though; Nakata made those comments to me on the record and they're in the latest Japan Times piece I wrote about him. He went on to explain that the result was basically that he has to focus on just one main melodic idea or hook with Perfume nowadays and can't do more subtle things that reveal themselves gradually over multiple listens. In a way, that's just the difference between pop music and whatever the other kind is, but it does seem to chime in with what you say about Polyrhythm as compared to more recent Perfume songs.

Oh, and slightly off-topic, but:

"Q: What's wrong with this picture?"

What's wrong with it is that the version of the Union Flag in the background is the 1606 King James version that omits the St. Patrick's Cross motif from the design (the modern version appears in the corner of the Australian flag over the other side). Not only does Cars 2 suffer from "a lack of variety, originality, subtlety, clarity and plain old charm," but does it also have concealed terrorist sympathies? Yowzer!

"Taking a look at all of the major acts that have tried to release an album and failing miserably"

Dreams Come True is another. (Or was it just a tour without an album?) I remember being dragged to a concert at the 9:30 Club in DC around 1999-ish. The crowd was 99% Japanese expats and there was a distinctly desparate air around the whole enterprise (lead singer Miwa repeatedly and unsuccessfully exhorting the crowd to "Say my name! 'Miwa!' Say my name!" between numbers, etc.)

On the other hand, the year before, Ryuichi Sakamoto played the same venue and a grand total of maybe fifty people showed up. I couldn't believe it. But in spite of, or perhaps because of, the low turnout, that one was amazing. He quickly realized everyone who did show up was a nerd for him, and basically threw out the playlist for audience requests. ("Hey! Play 'Theme from Honneamis!'") That remains one of my favorite concert experiences because of the sheer intimacy of it all.

@Shidehara: Seiko sang in English, yet she didn't have much success, while Kyu Sakamoto's Ue wo Muite Arukou (known as Sukiyaki in the USA) was a smash hit in the US, and all around the world, selling more than 13 million copies, despite being sung in Japanese.

And it all started when
"Louis Benjamin, the head of Britain's Pye records, brought the song to English jazz musician Kenny Ball after hearing the song while in Japan on business in 1962. Since British DJs were not likely going to pronounce the real title correctly, Pye records released the single under the Japanese name "Sukiyaki", a Japanese dish consisting of thin beef strips cooked with onions, greens and soy sauce. A Newsweek music critic pointed out at the time that it was like releasing "Moon River" in Japan with the title "Beef Stew".

American DJ Rich Osborne of station KORD in Pasco, Washington, got a copy of Kyu Sakamoto's original version and played it on his show. Listeners began requesting the song, and the station started playing it regularly. Soon after Capitol Records picked up distribution rights and released it under its British title of "Sukiyaki". It became the second song sung in a foreign language to top the Hot 100 (the other was "Volare" by Domenico Modugno.)"
Source: http://www.rock-the-jukebox.com/2011/03/sukiyaki-ue-o-muite-aruko-1963.html

I think this shows the key to make Japanese music more popular is to get Japanese songs played on radio, so that people can hear them and request them, which might spur record labels to release them stateside, if they become popular enough.


@Patrick:
That's really common in the Japanese music industry, and not specific to Nakata though. When you're on a major record label, having your songs placed in an ad (or movie trailer, movie, or the theme song of a TV show) is really important for promotion, and doesn't have a bad reputation like in many Western countries. The best selling artists have tended to be the ones with the most tie-ins.

Although the Daft Punk influence on Perfume is clear, I find it much stronger in capsule's current sound, specifically in the album More! More! More! Halfway thorough, I found myself really wanting to listen to Discovery again just to hear it done better.

I'm surprised that Suzuki Ami and MEG (Nakata's work with them) weren't mentioned here, they are each sort of a go between sound from capsule to Perfume.

I'm a huge fan of Nakata (capsule, MEG, Perfume, Ami...), Daft Punk, and Number Girl... so this article was a really great read for me.

I totally agree with the sentiment about being worried about complete strangers wandering in and catching on to music we love that they normally wouldn't seek out (and pawing all over it with their grubby hands). Then it's sort of like coming home and there's this awkward stranger sitting on your couch. Though, I've been chastised in the past for being an "elite wanker" for saying things like that... so, glad to see someone else said it. lol

oh and a Pixies fan... how did I forget to mention that in my last comment. Ack.

@Natsuki: The quote in the article is, "I swear it's NOT merely a case of the fat hand of Hollywood taking a song I like..." In other words, it's not really a factor in this article. Bu thanks for reading and reminding me of the Suzuki and MEG catalogs.

@Patrick It is still irritating though when a gaggle of people (will potentially) flock around something for superficial reasons.

It's not that I'd want to bar anyone from enjoying something I enjoy. I quite like sharing things, especially music. I just cringe at the possibility (in situations that you described here... in a children's movie of all things) of the information and experience online being diluted, while at present it is still easy to find without all the mainstream "noise."

So the annoyance is in the risk that, if I google Perfume later on I might end up being inundated with twenty giggling schoolgirl websites about how "cute their makeup it" and how "I wish I was japaneseeeee! kawaaiiii!!!" before I get to the actual, worthwhile articles such as the one you've written here. :)

It's a taste issue, truly, I want to see articles like this, and they want to see "KAWAIIII" webpages, all's fair... but I'm still allowed to be irritated at having to wade through it in the aftermath. lol

Just wanted to explain my reasoning behind the sentiment.

But maybe I won't have to be worried; Being in the Matthew Broderick Godzilla movie for 5 seconds didn't really do much to set off L'Arc in America (but I suppose that is a poor example as they were left off the American version of the soundtrack... hmm).

@Natsuki Some of the current fans of Japanese culture, music, and anime are already like that though. If anything, the current fans are the ones who'll most likely to say "I wish I was japaneseeeee! kawaaiiii!!!", not the potential new ones who saw Polyrhythm in Cars 2. If anything, it would hardly interest them. I'm just saying that fanbase is already diluted and superficial and this new audience thing won't make it any worse than it already is.

Anywho, great article. I think I may have missed or misunderstood some of your points (that would be my own fault) but I CAN say I noticed Capsule's bizzare transition into this weird techno club funk. I haven't been keeping up with Perfume's music, however.

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