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.
Verbal - BLACKOUT feat. Namie Amuro and Lil Wayne
I’m not gonna lie to you guys: I tried to find the deep, cultural meaning behind this video and totally failed. There are so many elements of this PV that scream “Japan,” but none work together coherently. At first it seems like Verbal is trying to be a komuso, but then you notice he has a staff instead of a shakuhachi... And what’s with Namie? Is she a ghost? A personified hitodama? My best attempt at interpretation is that komuso Verbal is being seduced by jorogumo Namie, who encourages him to ditch the boring path to enlightenment and embrace the exciting life he sees around him. Even that theory has plenty of flaws, though. What I can say for certain about this PV is that the visuals are interesting and engaging, and although I didn’t really think it was anything special when I first saw it, the PV has grown on me. Maybe it’s because deep inside I’m a drooling otaku who can’t watch Kurosawa-eqsue credits or anime-style sequences without a thousand girly screams, or maybe it’s because noticing and (somewhat) understanding the smaller details of the video make me feel like my Japanese degree wasn’t a waste of time. Or maybe it’s just because it’s simple but visually appealing, which is a difficult balance to strike. The song is great - very catchy with a good beat and some nice handoffs between Verbal and Namie. The only part that falls flat for me is the Lil Wayne section. Although Lil Wayne’s penchant for the fast, expensive life fits into the themes in “BLACKOUT,” the connection between his part and the rest of the song feels forced. In the end, this is the kind of PV that I think most people aren’t going to like just because they don’t get it; not getting it but liking it anyway: that’s the challenge.
If Ayu was just some girl living in Japan, without all the fame and chihuahuas, with just a camera and a YouTube account, “You and Me” would have been the video response she posted to Rihanna’s “We Found Love” video. “You and Me” is basically a blatant ripoff, but with more Japanese people and fewer drugs. No, seriously. The video is “narrated” from the point of view of sad present-day Ayu who’s broken up with the love of her life. But instead of expressing their desire for sensual experience through enough drugs and sex to turn their lives into a Keith Richards biopic, they hang at carnivals and the beach. And instead of breaking up because of legitimate issues around possession and obsession, they break up because Ayu...can’t stop splashing water on him? (It’s not really clear.) But other than that, the premise, editing philosophy, and even some of the scenes are basically identical. The worst part is that Ayu seems to have misunderstood the reasons behind the artistic choices in “We Found Love,” despite that it’s not terribly nuanced in the first place, making it even more obvious that “You and Me” is a soulless copy rather than a thoughtful comment. Although I’m sure that I’ll be instantly mobbed by the brainless Ayu Army for saying so, this video strikes me as just another step in her overall decline. Ayu used to set the trend for Japanese music, and was respected (and copied) by artists worldwide. That she’s fallen to the point where her new PV plagiarizes that of another artist is wrong. That she has a superstar budget and connections at her command but her version is worse than the original is sad and pathetic. I never thought I’d say this, but I wish Ayu would quit already. Seeing her sink this low is depressing.
If Kimura Kaela had Kumi’s budget when she created “A Winter Fairy is Melting a Snowman,” she probably would have created something very similar to “Watchu Waitin’ On.” This PV is color, sparkle, shine, and bass, with some LSD thrown in for good measure. Bubble letters appear out of nothing, shards of glass and enormous jewels fly around as Kumi waves her creepily long nails in every direction. Meanwhile Kumi continually demands to know “watchu waitin’ on,” as though the scary display should be enough to show that she’s ready, willing, able, and worth it. Although it’s easy to ignore this question as simply a device to create alliteration and catchiness in the song, I feel like she deserves an answer. So here you are, Kumi, the three things I’m waiting on:
1. A girl who doesn’t have spikes growing from her face,
2. A girl who doesn’t wear earrings that could eat my face off, and
3. A girl who doesn’t have face tattoos that could electrocute me.
I don’t think that’s too much to ask for, but unfortunately Kumi fails to meet any of those criteria, so I’m afraid that she’ll have be waitin’ on me. Or at least looking for someone else. But as crazy as the PV is, that’s how good the song is. It’s catchy, fun, and summery; just the kind of thing that you want to listen to on a beach trip. I wish that the video had been able to capture the summery essence of the song a little better, but I’m not sure how it could have, considering that Kumi would have had a very noticeable baby bump during filming. Still, this one is worth it for the novelty factor if nothing else.
Perfume take on the role of mostly emotionless automatons again in “Spending All My Time,” playing the part of adorable girls locked in a room, destroying things with their minds. The most striking part of this PV isn’t the premise (we saw “automatons locked in a room” in “Spring of Life”) or even the dancing (which approaches Korean levels of precision) but rather their ability to convey emotion while seeming emotionless. Although the girls appear placid, they have an air of confusion, sadness, and resigned patience. As always, they are the perfect blank canvas, creating an expanse of emptiness that reflects the artist’s intentions without adding their own influence. Equally impressive is the uncertainty around the reasons the girls are trapped in the room: are they being held and encouraged to destroy, or are they being held to protect others from their destructive tendencies? The video is cleanly shot and edited with an engaging premise that’s subtly and coherently plotted, and the song is just as infectious and fun as you could want from Perfume. My only problem with the PV is minor - a nitpicky detail, really. In last week’s interview with Excite, Kashiyuka mentioned that the director wanted to create a sense of discontinuity by making subtle changes to repeated scenes, presumably to create a trippy sense that the viewer’s perception of reality is faulty, like in Ajikan’s “Sore de ha, Mata Ashita” PV. Unfortunately, this doesn’t come through successfully “Spending All My Time” because the set and costumes are so uniform that the changing props can’t help but stand out clearly from them. It’s disappointing that this vision didn’t come through in the video - it would have added one last shiny veneer of awesome - but it’s the sort of thing that you wouldn’t miss if you didn’t know it was supposed to be there. (Which now you do, so you’ll always miss it. You’re welcome.)
This is one of the most frustrating PVs that I’ve ever had the displeasure to watch. Think of a “failed romance” PV (kind of like Ayu’s, but without all the plagiarism and disappointment). You know the drill: girl stares into space, recalling the memories of a relationship that the writer specifically crafted to be as generic and relatable as possible; a boy whose face is never shown so that the viewers can project their own memories onto him; an unseasonal focus on Christmas; a fight scene that’s never explained. Now throw in a car commercial. YUP. The car is shown so prominently and often that even Helen Keller would notice it’s presence. You can see the director trying to not-so-subtly show it off: “Look at this nice shiny paint!” “Check out this huge trunk, perfect for all your shopping and relationship-starting needs!” “The actors sure love lounging in the cushy seats!” “Ignore the actors’ unnatural blocking - we adjusted the camera focus just so that you could see that is a Honda hybrid!” The lighting of the present-day scenes is terrible for the actress - but good for highlighting the pinkish tones of the car. The flat, boring relationship does nothing to make us care about the characters - but it’s good for helping the target demographic imagine a world in which they already own the car. The song is boring and forgettable; imagine any given Kana ballad, and you’re more than halfway to knowing what this one sounds like. Despite all this, Kana’s getting the last laugh: this horrible PV works to sell records and cars, so she’s getting double the profit. Show her you know better by buying a Prius - I mean, have you ever seen a PV where Toyota hybrid owners break up at all?