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.
This is the PV for the tie-in song to the new Ultraman movie (“Ultraman Zero The Movie: Super Deciding Fight! The Belial Galactic Empire”) which celebrates the 45th anniversary of the franchise. The PV opens with the Ultraman characters fading into view against a black background. Yeah. I had absolutely no hope for this PV. But it’s my favorite, and not even in the “everything else really just sucked that bad” kind of way. Although there were about a hundred different ways for this PV to fail, it does not hit upon a single one of them. They don’t over-focus on the Ultraman characters; they don’t feature actual scenes from the movie; they don’t try to make the Ultraman characters do complex dance routines in their ridiculous costumes; they don’t make the characters do their overblown kabuki-style moves for the entire five minutes in lieu of actual dancing. Instead, the PV works hard to strike a balance, making sure the Ultraman characters appear, but also making sure they don’t look totally out of place. The set is highly stylized and the lighting colorful and flashy, which allows the Ultraman costumes to blend. In addition to the band’s performance, there is a set of dancers performing complex and beautiful moves that actually make the Ultraman moves (which are performed only very occasionally) look subtle in comparison. The music is also great, a good blend of rock and electronic that reminds me of Megumi Hayashibara. Is this the greatest PV of all time? No. But it works. It doesn’t shy away from the movie it’s trying to promote, and in fact does the movie a service by being enjoyable. GIRL NEXT DOOR deserves some kind of award for making it as good as it is. Watch at least once to marvel at how screwed up it’s not.
I think Kimura Kaela has confused the difference between Halloween and Christmas. This PV is colorful and energetic, but goes way overboard, delivering an experience that’s the visual equivalent of the Tilt-a-Hurl at a carnival. Although the video starts out coherent enough with windows lighting up in a cardboard town, it quickly dissolves into a bizarre acid trip with Kaela in the middle. Images and colors swirl around the screen nonsensically: drips of pink, purple, orange, green, and blue paint; rainbows; dots; unicorns with exploding heads; UFOs; Christmas tree rocket ships; shark-toothed-mouths eating spaghetti; floating eyeballs; carnivorous snowmen in witches’ hats. Yes, this PV has everything that you never imagined, and never wanted, from a music video. Combine the insane colors and bizarre images with jerky sped-up film of Kaela, and it’s a match made in the basement of your college dorm where you and your roommate experimented with shrooms. It’s like the director was aiming at the artistic prowess of the seizure-inducing Pokemon episode; it hurts my eyes and gives me a headache to watch. Despite the (literally!) dizzying array of sights that spew out of your monitor, there’s something about it that I like. Maybe it’s the fact that it could never be called boring, or maybe it’s because the song is just as energetic but less brain-melting. I really can’t put my finger on it. The instrumentation of the song is very minimalistic, with mostly electronic elements, and although the badly pronounced English of the chorus is repetitious and annoying, I can’t quite make myself dislike the song because of it. This is one you’ll have to decide on for yourself, because I can’t figure out whether I want to recommend or condemn. I will say, though, that you should take a peek if for no other reason than to get a look at the craziness that seems to happen in Kaela’s head.
I know this is an idol-group PV, but I still feel that’s no excuse. This PV is wretched. I’m not a huge fan of AKB48’s videos – they tend to be a little saccharine for me – but till now they’ve all had some kind of interesting or bizarre element to them that made them at least a little charming or unique: the dodged sexy moments in “Ponytail to Shushu,” the depressed girl eating the apple in “Baby Baby Baby,” the pillow fight and lingerie in “Heavy Rotation.” Although I’m not terribly impressed by any of it, I have to admit that their producer knows what will keep people’s eyes on the screen. But this vision seems to have slipped in “Chance no Junban.” Besides being saccharine as usual, the video is just flat boring. The girls are wearing (ugly) white dresses, dancing on a white set so that they nearly disappear; it seems as though disembodied heads and arms are flailing across the screen. And flail is accurate: the dancing is less well-choreographed and less well-performed than usual. Occasionally there are close-ups of the girls so you can watch them sing while they stare at you with their dead, dead eyes. Hooray. Only a tiny fraction of the video is even vaguely interesting: scenes of the girls in the Budoukan, squaring off in a rock-paper-scissors tournament to determine who would get to dance at the front during this PV. No really – they actually did that in real life. And my sympathies to the poor girl who won. Her name is Ucchi and she seems cute, but if this is the best PV they can give her, the fans (and therefore, the producers) must not like her much. Seriously, even if you’re an AKB48 fan, give this video a miss unless it’s to throw poor Ucchi a bone.
As boring as “Chance no Junban” is, it has absolutely nothing on “Eyes On Me.” Literally nothing happens in this PV: SUPERFLY lays on a wooden pallet surrounded by dried flowers, peacock feathers, and various other brick-a-brack. About twice we see water, and three or four times we see other things like cherry blossoms and a bridge overhead. Sometimes the lighting changes, presumably to “break up” the monotony. At the very end we find out she’s on a boat. The end. I’m not kidding. It’s like she took the concept of “A winter fairy is melting a snowman” but decided to substitute Kaela’s LSD with sleeping pills. Nothing about the PV is interesting, and I’d go so far as to call most of it flawed. The lighting, for example, vacillates between extremes and never looks good. When the lighting is dark, SUPERFLY looks like a corpse. When the lighting is bright, it’s so bright and from such an extreme angle that she looks ugly, the lighting highlighting flaws with her teeth and skewing the appearance of her facial bones. The set never changes, so your eyes naturally gravitate to SUPERFLY because her mouth is moving and her teeth look terrible, and at least that’s something. Although the concept of the video certainly suits the song’s title, you’d think she’d want people to have their eyes on her when she looks good. (Maybe the idea is “Look at me. Look how bad my teeth are. Buy my CDs so I can go to the dentist.”) The music is also boring and entirely too folky for my taste – it feels like the only thing keeping it from being enka is the Western singing style. If you’re really curious, watch the first 30 seconds after the music starts; after that, you can rest assured you’ve seen everything this video has to offer.
In contrast with the mind-raking boredom of “Eyes On Me,” “Tabidachi Graffiti” is somber but engaging. It follows a cast of characters that are getting ready to graduate from high school, stuck in the middle of studying and picking colleges, struggling with the complex emotions tied up in moving on and leaving their current lives and classmates behind. It’s a PV that’s been done a thousand times if it’s been done once, but FLOW does a good job with it. Through slow pacing, a not-quite-sepia color palette, a little bit of a love angle, and some decent symbolism in the form of paper airplanes, the video taps into the feelings of the characters so effectively that even those of us that grew up in America can still connect with them. The PV feels warm and comfortable and tugs at the heart strings a little, just like it’s supposed to. The song is exactly the same way – I could swear I’ve heard this song at least three or four times a year since I got into J-music. You know the one: the upbeat pop-rock in a minor key featuring synthesized strings and chimes. Because both song and PV have been done a thousand times, I’m not thrilled to see some of the more common elements, like Nerdy Camera Guy, but you have to remember that he was created to fill the specific nostalgia gap that he lives in. Although this PV and the song it promotes are just as forgettable as the hundreds of thousands of nostalgia songs and PVs that came before them, they’re both just like Nerdy Camera Guy: good at fulfilling their purpose of making the viewer feel a specific way. Still, despite that the PV is good at achieving what it’s designed to do, unless you like this style I don’t recommend it just because you’ve probably already seen it a hundred times before.