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.
Angela Aki - Tsugaru Kaikyou Fuyu Geshiki
Enka and Converse. Ah, a classic pair....Wait, what? “Tsugaru Kaiyou Fuyu Geshiki” was originally written and performed by enka artist Ishikawa Sayuri, and is a classic in Japanese music, so that at least explains the enka part. The rest of this video, however, has a lot of explaining to do. A piano appears on screen, playing what sounds like the intro music for a silent movie villain, then Angela appears in her typical monochrome top/jeans/sneakers combination with fake snow falling all around her. She’s singing beautifully, but you’d never guess by looking at her face the sadness of the lyrics coming out of her mouth. She alternates between bright, happy smiles and forced-looking frowns several times as she sings lines like, “Goodbye, my love. I’m returning to my home, far away. All that I carry with me are the tears welling up in my heart from the sound of the wind…” It’s as though she doesn’t understand Japanese – like she’s just happy to hear the sound of her own voice. I can practically hear the director screaming, “No, sad! Sad!!!” Although the vocals and piano are performed very cleanly, she shows no passion for the content and no respect for the song’s status as a classic that would really earn a home run. Even the piano comes off sounding more melodramatic than genuinely sorrowful. On top of that, the videography is lackluster and boring, incorporating such clichéd camera shots as “I’m so sad that I’ll lay on top of the piano” and “I’m too sad to show my eyes on camera.” Add all that to Angela’s hipster uniform and the sad bits of paper floating around her, and you have a video firmly in boring-as-hell-and-lame-to-boot territory. The only way this video becomes bearable is to become a hipster yourself and enjoy it ironically.
Fukuhara Miho – Get Up! feat. Akiko Wada
Yet another legend joins us in this PV: Wada Akiko, considered by some to be the Aritha Franklin of Japan. The video takes place in a club full of dancers and has a strong 70s vibe, complete with electric organs, bell bottoms, afros, and a zebra-print suit. Miho and Akiko are a pair of singing pimps that spend as much time standing in front of a mic as they do lounging in fedoras and fur coats. When not lounging, they dance a little, make funny faces at the camera, make funny faces at each other….then go back to lounging. For Akiko’s part, she does a lot of the two things she’s best at: singing, and being inhumanly androgynous. (It’s probably sacrilegious to say so, but my first thought upon seeing her in a solo video was “Dear God – it’s like Spock singing karaoke.”) The video has a lot of motion that helps keep the shots from getting static, and the editor cycles through shots at a quick pace to move things along, keep up the visual tension, and to match the fast tempo of the song. As a piece of videography work it’s solid, and the costumes are just 70s enough to give the right vibe but modern enough not to look hokey. Still, it’s hard not to laugh when you see Miho staring you down in her pimp outfit; she just doesn’t have enough of the badass vibe. Akiko, though, no way in hell I’d fuck with her – I can see in her eyes that she’d beat me with her pimp stick and not feel a drop of sympathy. The song is good, and the video is well-put together, but not even my fear of Akiko’s pimp stick can encourage me to watch it more than once – there’s just not enough going on.
DOUBLE – Tattoo
This is a confusing video for me, and not just because of the odd White-DOUBLE-versus-Black-DOUBLE dynamic or because everyone starts crying milk at the end. It’s because it starts out so good, then suddenly goes bad. The PV opens up with shots of two girls with blank faces wearing shiny leather bondage outfits embracing and moving with one another in slow motions, like a pair of sensual bondage androids. They bathe one another with flowers dipped in milk, then run tattoo guns over one another. Suddenly they see DOUBLE in a long red cape and proceed to very slowly remove it, revealing her naked back. They rub flowers on her, then run their tattoos over her, black lines growing and stretching over her skin. Meanwhile the song plays, just as slow and sensual as the video, enhancing the sexy atmosphere. Then all at once we see a shot of DOUBLE’s foot, clad in a shiny leather boot, and the bondage girls proceed to dress DOUBLE in her very own bondage outfit. Then Black DOUBLE looks at the camera…and the video falls apart. DOUBLE’s makeup and hair are so bad-80s that it’s startling, and it draws my attention to all the other bad-80s elements that come after it. From the bizarre Janet Jackson-esque chair dance, to White DOUBLE’s major overacting, to the synth strings forcing themselves to the front of the song, the last minute and a half of the video is painful. There are some good parts – the bondage androids’ choreography and dancing, for example – but the video has lost the sensual and sexy soul that had me watching in the first place. Add in the weird crying milk sequences, and by the end of the video I’m just disappointed and slightly grossed out. I’m not even sure if I should recommend it; watch at your own risk.
Tohoshinki – B.U.T. (BE-AU-TY)
There are those who would say that TVXQ is usually pretty gay, but this video takes the cake. The premise of prisoners fighting a big burly dude seems manly enough, but when you add in the prisoners’ choreographed dancing a la “Westside Story,” you start to wonder if they’re fighting this guy because they don’t want to be his bitch, or because they do. Of course, it wouldn’t do for TVXQ to have a video where someone is hotter shit than them, so at the end of the video Yunho replaces Burly Guy with a scream and a kick to the head. As Burly Guy falls to the ground, we all know who’s going to be King Bitch of the prison tonight. Gay jokes aside, though, I’m disappointed with this video. I have no love of Korean music or the manufactured super groups of passionless drones that perform it, but one thing that no one can take away from them is the quality of the dancing, and TVXQ is no exception. I don’t give a damn about their music – I’ve never liked it and probably never will – but even I get shivers when I see them dance. But the usual level of skill, the dancing quality that always makes their PVs bearable, is just not there in “B.U.T.” The choreography is absurdly bad: it looks like it’s been created for extra credit by a high schooler, for the “zany” drama teacher’s musical review of “Waiting for Godot.” The backup dancers moves aren’t as tight as usual, and even Yunho and Changmin don’t seem very focused. As popular as TVXQ is worldwide, they probably could slip a hundred notches and hoards of brain-eating fans would rush in to defend them, but I’m not convinced. You’ll have to judge for yourself, assuming you’re into grungy homoerotic softcore.
L’arc-en-Ciel – X X X
Seeing this PV for the first time, I jokingly thought that this must have been made especially for LoKi, but the more I watch it, the more I’m sure it’s true. Think of this PV as “LoKi’s Paridiso.” Having just taken a tour through Hell and Purgatory, finally LoKi is introduced Heaven – the place he will go should he fall in the line of J-Rock duty. L’arc (the J-rock gods) play as at least 37 sexy ladies dance, drink, lick lollipops, and pillow fight all around them. The air shimmers with color and shine. As a mortal creature, LoKi must make his way through this sea of immortal pleasure as a creature of sin: a snake, slithering past goblets and between the legs, only able to get a few fleeting impressions of the party that L’arc have in store for him. Suddenly, one of the girls notices a golden apple and picks it up. LoKi tenses. It’s marked with his sign: “XXX” (also known as the Roman numeral for “30”). She examines the apple and LoKi waits for her to bite, knowing that something incredible will happen when she does, but unsure what. She bites, and the other girls follow suit. Suddenly time flashes forward and the girls, once energetic, lounge on one another in happy exhaustion, but now all of them are marked with LoKi’s sign. (Don’t ask me what it means that hyde eats the apples and winds up with a mark; this is LoKi’s vision of heaven, not mine.) The PV is beautifully shot and edited, with a great contrast between light and dark sequences, and the song itself has a slightly gothic feeling, contrasting lighter vocal elements with heavier guitar, bass, and snyth. If you liked AKB48’s “Heavy Rotation” PV but felt like there weren’t enough girls, this is the PV for you.