By BILL FOREMAN
Come for the idols, stay for the deeper conversation
Released in January 2017, Tokyo Idols is a documentary examining the popularity of idol-girl groups in Japan. An “idol” is a Japanese pop singer/dancer and is usually part of a larger group of women (sometimes men as well). The closest comparison to idols in the United States would be groups like One Direction or Destiny’s Child. The fan following for Idol groups is so popular in Japan that, according to the film, there are currently 10,000 teenagers in Japan who are working as idols, and even some preteens as young as 8 years old.
The film illustrates really well how devoted idol fans are to their groups of choice, to the point where it seems stalker-ish from a western perspective. Some fans dictate their entire lives around their favorite idol; spending thousands of dollars a month on concerts, hours upon hours coordinating and practicing chants and dance moves, and breaking off relationships with friends and family to do so. For me, the most memorable moment in Tokyo Idols is the story of three male fans biking over 186 miles to follow their idol on tour, biking just a few feet away from her out of camera range. The idols interviewed in the film say they have never felt uncomfortable or been physically attacked by their fans, but with how “involved” the fans can be, it’s hard to imagine that the line between fan and performer would not be crossed at some point.
The relationship between idols and their mostly male fans leads to a larger conversation of the population crisis in Japan. Majority of these fans are happy not being in a relationship. They prefer the illusion of a relationship with their Idols. Tokyo Idols argues Idols are one of the reasons for Japan’s declining population. The film also argues Idol culture keeps the agism and the idea of purity the dominant ideal in Japan. My one complaint with this documentary is I wish they had interviewed a former Idol. Allowing for a more open conversation about what it is like to work as an idol and their personal thoughts on the ideals idol culture preaches.
Tokyo Idols is fascinating documentary that looks beyond the smiling faces on stage and examines the effect that idol culture has had on Japan as a whole.
Tokyo Idols is currently streaming on Netflix in the United States.