Many music videos are released every month in Japan to promote the latest single or album coming out. Though we often talk about the music videos that accompany the music we review, some PVs slip through the cracks. This week we task our lovely writer with the difficult job of reviewing some of the recent vids to make their way all the way from Japan to our computer screens in the US.
Sakanction treats us to more of the trippy PV tricks that we’ve come to know and love. Yamaguchi travels through a round world carrying a potted flower, followed by a flower-person, confronting various obstacles. Oddly, the plot isn’t the oddest part of the PV. Sakanaction once again explores the repetitive nature of existence and the blur between a person’s inner and outer worlds, themes we’ve seen executed to incredible effect in “Rookie” and “Bach no Senritsu wo Yoru Kiita Sei Desu.” As usual they use low-tech solutions to create this bizarre inner world. Through the use of forced perspective, pantomime actor/dancers, and possibly even a revolving stage, the world shifts in size and and scope, growing and shrinking around Yamaguchi. The idea is beautiful, although the plot not as easy to follow as their previous PVs. Unfortunately, the part of this PV that should be the most arresting - the forced perspective sets that make Yamaguchi look either huge or tiny depending on his placement in them - falls flat because the “single-shot” camera work gives up the illusion as you watch him take long walks between the various parts of the sets. (The worst part about this is that there are cuts, but they aren’t well-placed to keep up the forced perspective illusion.) The real effects winner in this PV is the lighting, which is perfectly balanced to show you exactly what you need to see and shield you from what you don’t, helping direct the viewer’s focus and maintain that element of a disjointed unpredictable world. Although the PV isn’t as strong as some of those in the past, the song is gorgeous with sharp percussive elements contrasted with their usual atmospheric touches and a chorus full of longing and sadness; the chorus will get stuck in your head for sure.
Never before have I seen a PV that is on the one hand so incredibly epic, and on the other hand so incredibly fail. First for the epic. This PV must have about the same budget as a regular Japanese movie: the computer graphics are as crisp as in some Hollywood productions, the location is stunning, the props and sets believable (if a bit on the fantasy side), the camera work solid, the sound engineering approaches godliness, the lighting and color highlight the gritty tone of the other visuals. The choreography of the fight scenes is clean. They used at least a bushel of fireworks, and probably three bushels of extras. Technically speaking, this PV is remarkable. However, while my eyes are being treated to some of the most high-quality visuals I’ve ever seen in a PV, the ears are hearing light-hearted, buoyant pop full of lines like “We’re trying to find out who we are.” Umm....What? Although the music at the beginning of the PV (before “All Night Long” itself starts up) suits the visuals, the featured song is just off. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a perfectly good song. It’s an inoffensive pop number whose worst crime is trying to sweep some dubstep under the rug. But paired with the video it’s all wrong. Where’s the sense of world-changing epic battle? Where’s the struggle and strife, the conquest and the victory? Put it simply, I wanted something more along the lines of “O Fortuna,” and got “All Night Long” instead. In the end, I can’t rate the PV too highly. Matched with the right song, this PV could have been a powerful display of what pop can be when everything is perfectly executed. Instead, it’s a powerful reminder that all the money in the world can’t make a song fit an image that it just don’t have.
I had high hopes for this PV after seeing that the single wound up in the top 3 despite that I’d never heard of NYC. That’ll teach me to ever have high hopes for a boy band. “Haina” is a summer song, and by that logic it should be a fun, upbeat, energetic song. What we get instead is flat, bland, boring, passionless pop with some forced “Japaneezy” touches, and a PV to match. It’s insane how little charisma NYC has: about enough to make it through the first round of a “Japan’s Got Talent” competition, but not enough (I would have thought) to be signed to a major label. They form no connection with the viewer: every smile at the camera feels mechanical, and even the “cute” parts that are meant to help fans connect with how “real” and “sweet” the boys are (a brainfreeze, several lost carnival games) feel planned and overacted. The semi-traditional-style choreography is ridiculously simple and yet the performance is clunky. Although the summer festival theme could have been fun and interesting, the boys’ lack of charisma makes it feel forced, like the target demographic isn’t so much young girls as it is old ladies who want to see fresh-faced young boys having a wholesome good time “the Japanese way.” If there’s anything good about the PV, it might be the festival set. No, not the one where they’re dancing with a gaggle of girls big enough to make AKB48 blush; the actual festival where careful use of soft focus combines with bright-colored banners, red lanterns, and genuine child smiles to convey some actual emotion. Those parts are okay. Too bad they take up less than 30 total seconds of the PV. Rather than being so bad it’s funny, this PV is just sad. Someone should put it out of its misery.
Ah, the obligatory performance PV. We all know how much I hate these, right? Thankfully, Buck-Tick put a little effort into the editing and lighting so that it isn’t a total snooze fest. The basics are all what you’d expect from the thousands of performance PVs that are farted out every week. Huge featureless building: check. Several close-ups of each member: check. Band members dancing badly: double check. But instead of moving the camera around a lot, I’d be willing to bet that this entire PV was shot with only one camera setup. Without a lot of camera movement (or decent dancing) to keep up the visual interest, it falls to other elements to carry the weight of the PV. Cue the lighting and editing. Technically speaking, the different members are spaced out to take up about ⅕ of the screen each, and move closer or further away from the camera to a place in either the back, middle, or foreground. Through the magic of editing they appear to do so instantaneously, and in the time with either the drums or the bass. Thrown in for good measure are a lot of shots of the individual members, particularly Atsushi. With these shots the editing feels almost random, displaying emotions from sadness to anger to tranquility, creating a sense of turmoil. The lighting underlines this feeling by revealing more or less of the set. The play between light and shadow is interesting, if still a well-established and oft-used technique. Add it all together and the PV feels disjointed in a good way. The song itself is decent rock (I especially love what sounds like an electronic didgeridoo at the beginning), and adding it to the video creates a PV that has more substance than your average performance PV, though still not enough to make it really great.
When I first saw this PV, the disappointment I felt was probably palpable. I’ll bet you could just taste my confusion in the air, the pure anticlimax of it weighing on the room like a corpse. I should have known better. Ringo is just as known for her arresting, over-the-top PVs as she is for her subtle, understated PVs. I was hoping for “Honnou,” and got “Ariamaru Tomi.” So little happens I couldn’t help being a little put out. But what the PV lacks in plot, drama, and striking visuals it makes up for in technical prowess. The video is very simple: two projection screens, two projectors, two chairs, a handful of props, an amp, a tech, and a Ringo-analog. (Although I think the actress looks a lot like Ringo, she’s missing the telltale chin freckle; damn you, Ringo, for getting rid of your mole!) The beauty in the simplicity is that it clearly conveys the message of so many of her songs: breaking down barriers and finding true freedom. The projected world around her shifts and changes, she moves through it and interacts with it (as best as one can, when the world is just a projection). She chops off her hair, she tries to burn down the set, finally she runs away, back behind the screens, and tears it all down. All the while, staring directly at you, the truth of her gaze becoming uncomfortable. Although you can’t call this PV action-packed, it’s pretty hard not to get the symbolism once you get over the fact that Ringo isn’t grinding on any ladies or wearing bright-colored kimono. The song, of course, is magical: a return to her solid rock sound, “Jiyuu he Michizure” would sound at home on “Muzai Moratorium.” Put the raw sound together with the minimalistic video, and we have an understated winner.