Title: Tokyo Idols (Fantasia 2017 review)

Also known as:

Year: 2017

Genre: Documentary

Language: Japanese

Runtime: 90 min

Director: Kyoko Miyake

Writer: Kyoko Miyake

IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6039532/

This documentary takes a look into the cultural phenomenon that is girl idols and their obsessive adult male fans. We follow the 19 year old Rio as she aims for the top, as well as a few other girl idols and fans that live and breathe this J-pop world.

Our thoughts:
There are many cultural differences between Japan and the rest of the world, and if there is one thing we've seen through film, music, manga and anime, it's that the "overly cute girls" is a huge thing. We often see them in housemaid or school-inspired uniforms, small skirts, cat ears, glitter, hearts, making peace signs with their hands. This is something that is spread way wider than just these girl idols, but "Tokyo Idols" goes a long way in showing exactly what drives the adult men's obsession with young girls' child-like singing and dancing (known as "otaku").

Most of the documentary focuses on Rio, who is 19 years old at the beginning of the movie. She's regarded as an older idol and is soon going to be too old. Rio is aiming to become a singer before her fame goes away. We're also introduced to her devoted fans, known as the RioRio Brothers, with 43 year old Koji at the very top of the obsession. While Rio is usually on her own, the majority of idols shown are part of bigger bands, with AKB48 being the biggest. Every year, AKB48 has a competition where 80 of the 300 AKB48 girls are picked to be part of the group that year. Towards the end we're also introduced to bands with girls as young as 10 year old - and yes, they still have the old men in the audience. "Tokyo Idols" gives us an intimate look into what it is to be a girl idol on stage, at the many meet and greets, as well as some moments off stage.

It's hard not to watch this and be somewhat creeped out. At the same time, you have to accept that the Japanese culture is so different that whatever reference point you have is not gonna be the same. As perverted as all of this is (there is no deny that there is affection and attraction from the men), these are all men that are extremely respectful, enough so that the parents of the youngest girl don't take issue with it. Had this been a thing elsewhere, it would probably be a lot more scandalous. It's fascinating to watch, but when you see girls as young as 10-14 it gets weird. There are young stars everywhere, but the target audience are usually the same age as them. Not with these idols!

My personal opinion on the idol culture aside, "Tokyo Idols" gives us a good look at the phenomenon. Mostly it shows how the idols and fans interact through live-streams and meet and greets. It also shows how different idols try to reach the top in their own way (with Rio being the most interesting to follow). I wouldn't say that the documentary shies away from interviews with people that are critical to the trend, although it would have been interesting to see a bigger dive into dividing opinions, perhaps by showing media outcry and discussions (if either of these are frequent enough). The criticism from some interviewees mostly work as counter-weight. I suppose that makes sense as the documentary shouldn't pick a side though.

The biggest thing to take away from "Tokyo Idols" is that the fans are more like supporters of sport teams than anything else. They're men that don't feel like they want to spend time looking for girlfriends because supporting idols is much easier. Following idols around becomes their entire lives. They spend all of their time, money and effort on showing support to that one girl idol that they fell for, and they seem perfectly happy with it. Still, seeing grown men chanting and dancing at these idols' shows is quite awkward and odd to me, but I guess any extreme fandom is.

This phenomenon is so huge that "Tokyo Idols" is just scratching the surface, but it does a good job at it. It's an industry big enough to be worth about $1 billion yearly, if that tells you anything. This is another interesting title that played this year's Fantasia International Film Festival. It's pretty much what you would expect from a documentary like it, so if you've ever been curious about these idols or their "otaku" fans, then you have a good place to start right here.

Positive things:
- It does a good job at presenting a cultural phenomenon.
- It was interesting to see Rio over a few years time, going from an idol to an artist.
- I don't completely get it, but it sure is a fascinating topic.
Negative things:
- I get that it doesn't want to be biased, but it would have been interesting to see more of the critical reactions in the country too.

We watched this movie thanks to:
Fantasia International Film Festival 2017

Reviewed by:


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