Saturday, July 19, 2014

What is Japanese Idol Pop? From A.B.C-Z to…?

All I really wanted to do was read something thoughtful on Weird Al’s latest releases (“Tacky” completely captures the modern American ethos) but I should have known better than to venture over to prime American Media Nerd territory, the Onion AV Club. Before I could even begin to search for Weird Al, I was distracted by a link claiming to contain a beginners guide to Japanese idol pop, a link I wish I had never clicked on… for it did not link me to a beginners guide to Japanese idol pop. No, it linked to a woefully ill informed, hackily written piece that appeared to be more of a guide to what a online media outlet writer--in this case, one Abigail Covington--under a deadline could Google about Japanese idol music in 45 minutes or less and then regurgitate in heavy handed manner. I was so offended by the callous treatment of a topic I have been lovingly researching for a few years now that I was almost shaking in anger as I read through it.

Saturday, July 5, 2014


The Group Sounds era began when the Beatles touched down in Japan in 1966* and ended with the breakup of the Tigers in January, 1971. More than just a style of music, Group Sounds captured the spirit of a young, post-war generation who wanted to wear crazy clothes, grow out their hair, and dance, man! A wide range of bands are captured under the GS label but musically most of them can be filed in comfortably with their British and American contemporaries like the Turtles and the Kinks.

But unlike the Turtles and the Kinks, the GS bands entered into an entertainment system designed to handle pop idols, not rock bands. Although they could play their instruments and rock extremely hard, they also had to learn how to play the "cute" songs their management gave them, how to be funny on television, and sell trinkets with their face on them like the Monkees. (Although one could argue that the Turtles could have rocked a crazy Monkees style movie of their own.)

[The Tigers in an advertisement for Meiji Chocolates.]

As the Tigers’ Toppo (Kahashi Katsumi) said in a recent interview with Rock Jet magazine, “There was a lot of resistance to the cutesy songs. It was like, ‘This is fucking stupid’ and ‘What the fuck is this?’”**

Along with cutesy songs and chocolates with their faces on them, the top bands also got the chance to make more money for their management companies by making movies! None of these films ended up being classic cinema like A Hard Day’s Night but they are all delightful and strange in their own ways. The basic template appears to be taken from the school of wacky band antics as popularized by the Monkees, who were quite popular themselves in Japan, but filtered through Japanese cultural ideals. And like the best of American pop of the 1960s, the main goal was to push product. As long as it sold, the bosses didn’t particularly care about artistic content, a creative freedom that was absolutely taken advantage of.

I wanted to write this small series on the GS films--a genre I’m calling GSploitation--because I couldn’t really find anything substantial written about them (or, indeed, the bands themselves) in English. I managed to track down all three Tigers films plus four films from the next most popular band, the Spiders, and one from a band that could be English-ized as either the Jaguars or the Jaggers. Unfortunately none of the films has been subtitled into English or officially released outside of Japan, so I hope my little series will be helpful to anybody looking for information.

『世界はぼくらを待っている』(Sekai wa Bokura wo Matteiru, 1968)

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