In a year filled with overseas and abroad idol activities, J-Pop Summit emerges as a major event. This year’s festival offered some top tier talent from the Japanese Idol world: Tokyo Girls’ Style, Itano Tomomi, Yanakiku, and Una. Even though Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Tanaka Reina’s LoVendoR topped the bill last year, I passed on attending the festival (which I regret). As soon as J-Pop Summit announced Tokyo Girls’ Style as a musical guest I knew my attendance was mandatory. Having followed the group since their debut single “Kirari“, I consider the group of girls to be among the most talented idol acts around. (My reviews of the last five singles- Jujika, Partition Love, Chiisana Kiseki, Get the Star, and Unmei are linked at the end of of this article). San Francisco is only 7 hours from Los Angeles by car, and I am currently on vacation. Why not make a grand adventure?
I don’t know about you, but when I say adventure I usually mean a bare-bones, cheap-as-possible, cut-all-the-corners trip. I didn’t actually go as cheap as possible (I had a couple of nice dinners), I did take a discount bus service to San Francisco. Also, I chose a hotel that had a private bathroom rather than book the cheapest possible hotel. Still, the total price for two people (travel and hotel) amounted to a little more than two round-trip airplane tickets to San Francisco. As an added bonus, contrary to the online reviews, we didn’t see any needles on the hotel steps (although we did hear a couple of bum fights from the hotel room).
During my travel day, Friday, I entertained myself by watching the updates from Tokyo Girls’ Style as they explored San Francisco. Really, I might have gone crazy without their frequent updates. Traveling in the middle of the day presents a unique problem in that sleeping for the duration of the trip proves nearly impossible. The bus’s constant sways as it navigates between cars and through the Pacheco Pass do not foster sleep as well as the regular rhythmic motion of a train. So, Tokyo Girls’ Style entertained me with their updates from the Exploratorium, Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf, etc.
I spent majority of my time at J-Pop Summit in the Japan Town district of San Francisco. Over the weekend, I was told that the roughly four-block area played host to roughly 90,000 attendees. Basically, the festival was CROWDED. One of the festival highlights, “Ramen Street”, offered bowls of ramen and the coveted ramen burger. Shops and booths selling anime goods, Japanese cultural goods, and arts and crafts lined Post Street. To the west, food trucks and booths lay in wait to sell all manner of food and the ubiquitous “J-Pop” beverage. At the center of the festival stood the New People building, where the Japanese Film Festival screened their movie selections. Of course, no Japanese festival is complete without Kinokuniya, where the wota purchased idol photo books for the upcoming autograph sessions.
The first major even for me started at noon on Saturday. The film “Count Five to Dream of You” featured the members of Tokyo Girls’ Style as high school students as they prepare for a school beauty pageant. Yamabe Miyu and Arai Hitomi play eccentric loner students, each of them reaching toward beauty of form. Miyu seeks beauty through gardening as the lone member of the school gardening club, while Hitomi seeks beauty through dance, eschewing most normalized high school behavior along the way. Konishi Ayano supports Shyoji Mei as a pageant hopeful and conspires with her classmates to sabotage Hitomi’s pageant bid. Nakae Yuri buries herself in the planning of the “MissCon” as the president of the Student Council. Underneath all of the pageant drama bubbles the girls’ secret desires- some of which might seem “icky” to the uninitiated. The film culminates in a beautiful sequence with Hitomi clad in white unreservedly dancing to Ayano’s piano rendition of “Fur Elise” while bathed in light and flowers rained down by Miyu. I really enjoyed “Count Five to Dream of You” otherworldly look at the secret lives of these school girls. The film’s delicate composition plays partly like a drama and partly like an art film.
Following the film, the members of Tokyo Girls’ Style entered the theater for a brief question and answer session. This was the first time I ever saw the girls in person. As tiny as the girls seem in their videos and movies, they are even smaller in person. As the girls answered audience questions, I became apparent that the process of acting and filming a movie pushed them out of their comfort zone. To a girl, Tokyo Girls’ Style insisted the characters they portrayed in “Count Five to Dream of You” were practically opposite of their real personalities. Nowhere could this be seen more than in Yuri, who played the reserved, introverted Student Body President in the film, yet came across as the most outgoing girl of the group. For her final dance sequence, Hitomi mentioned the style of dance in the film differed from the dancing usually done for Tokyo Girls’ Style, which added to the difficulties of her first film role.
Meet & Greet
Soon after the movie, Tokyo Girls’ Style gave their first of two “Meet and Greet” opportunities. I spent about two minutes in the tent with the girls as they took turns signing my poster. I mistakenly thought the event would be a handshake event, and as I extended my hand to Mei, the girls raised their hands and apologized. Hitomi noticed that my homemade shirt had their names written on it. She pointed to her name and cutely said, “Me!” I had a chance to show them that all of their names were on my shirt. When I got to Ayano, I complimented her on her drum playing. They seemed surprised that I knew about her drumming, and asked me if I saw their DVD. I had just enough time to tell them they were amazing and talented before the staff brought out the gaff and took my picture with the girls. These “Meet and Greets” are never long enough, right?
Union Square Live
A one and one-third mile walk followed the Tokyo Girls’ Style handshake event. During that walk, my travel partner wanted to stop at the hotel, which proved to be a minor tradgedy as all the seats in the VIP section were taken by the time we arrived in Union Square for “J-Pop Live at Union Square”. A bit disappointed, I took a spot just behind the seated section. Ultimately, this did not turn out to be a horrible position, but I really hoped to be near the front for Tokyo Girls’ Style. Adding to the disappointment, I could not locate the “sunflower guy” to get a sunflower ring for “Himawari to Hoshikuzu”. This probably disappointed me more since I contributed to the campaign. I hope that doesn’t sound too petty, but at the time I was really looking forward to a couple of sunflowers.
From Girls J Pop (tumblr)
One of the joys of Tokyo Girls’ Style is their performance. Having seen a number of their lives, the girls of Tokyo Girls’ Style impress me with their ability to execute at a consistently high level at every live. As a vocal and dance unit, you can see the hours of practice and rehearsal as every movement by the girls is crisply delivered and expertly coordinated. The girls began their set with the English version of “Himawari to Hoshikuzu“. After their self-introductions, they performed “Koudou no Himitsu” and “Limited Addiction“. I tell you, this part of their set was heavenly for me since I adore both of those songs. After “Limited Addiction”, Ayano taught the crowd the dance to “Onnaji Kimochi” in English. No, she doesn’t speak English fluently, but I think the crowd understood her directions! We promptly put those lessons to good use before a second performance of “Himawari to Hoshikuzu”.
(If you are wondering still about the sunflowers, I did manage to get a sunflower ring before the start of Tokyo Girls’ Style’s set)
Gakkou no Kaidan- Noroi no Kotodama
Sunday morning started with another Tokyo Girl’s Style Meet and Greet event. J-Pop Summit allotted each VIP guest only one Meet and Greet ticket, so I did not attend this event. This makes me wonder: did anyone buy two VIP tickets in order to attend both Meet and Greet events?
I attended the movie premier for ” Gakkou no Kaidan- Noroi no Kotodama ” next. Idol fans probably expected the girls to act in this kind of movie eventually. In the grand tradition, Tokyo Girls’ Style starred in this horror movie set in a possibly abandoned high school. To help new fans of the group, the girls’ characters share their name (i.e. Ayano plays the character “Ayano”). Miyu, Ayano, Mei, and Yuri play students at a possibly haunted high school. After a few ghost stories, some freaky things happen to the girls. Visions, apparations, and phantoms appear to scare the tar out of the girls as they eventually begin to find a way out of their school. Unfortunately, the school does not want them to leave! In a parallel, intersecting story, Hitomi breaks into an abandoned school and begins filming a horror movie with her brother. Again, strange things happen as the movie they are filming starts invading their lives. I know we all have our impressions of Japanese horror movies already, but I really think they did a great job in this movie. Please, look out for the movie if you get the opportunity.
After the movie, the girls of Tokyo Girls’ Style appeared for another round of Q&A. A few of the girls mentioned that the first horror they saw was “Sadako 3D”. My accounts, the set for ” Gakkou no Kaidan- Noroi no Kotodama ” was lively and jovial- very out of step with the horror movie they were filming. In order to put the girls in the correct moment, the director Ochiai Masayuki made intense, scary faces. At one crucial moment in the movie Mei begins to laugh hysterically, which she immensely enjoyed acting. When asked about the paranormal in their actual lives, the girls recounted their early days in the group. When they first started, the girls of Tokyo Girls’ Style lived together in a shared apartment. Late at night, they said they sometimes heard eerie noises and things moving about on their own. Of course, they were also 12 years old at the time. As for the location, the school that figures prominently in the movie was an actual abandoned school! I had the opportunity to ask whether the process of filming a horror movie changed the way they viewed horror movies in the theater. As expected, Ayano answered that when they watch horror movies now, they look out for the tricks the director uses to produce scares. I imagine this makes the movies less scary.
After the movie, the girls sat in the front row of the theater to take a picture with the audience. At one moment Yuri turned around and looked at me. I made the “fox box” sign to her (you can see the fox box in the movie trailer and the PV for “Jujika“) and Yuri nodded her head in agreement. She showed it to her group mates, and soon the entire theater made the hand sign for the pictures.
Peace Plaza Live
The end of the Tokyo Girls’ Style activities was another live located at the festival in Peace Plaza. Like the Union Square live, staff distributed sunflower rings to the audience for “Himawari to Hoshikuzu”, and Ayano again taught us how to execute the chorus dance for “Onnaji Kimochi”. Aside from two songs, the girls sang a completely different set. At Peace Plaza, Tokyo Girls’ Style concentrated more heavily on their recent releases by performing “Partition Love”, “Chiisana Kiseki”, and “Count Three”. “Count Three” was the most unfamiliar song to the audience, and the audience seemed to listen in order to familiarize themselves with the song. I was delighted that the girls performed “Partition Love” as it is my favorite of their recent releases. “Chiisana Kiseki” received a bit of criticism for its unrelenting cheeriness, but I think the song fit the occasion perfectly.
Spending two days with the girls of Tokyo Girls’ Style will prove to be one of the highlights of summer 2014. Having spent such a long time watching them from across the ocean, I am glad to have finally seen them perform. If this was your introduction to the group, I recommend them to you with full enthusiasm. I recently read that J-Pop Summit was about everyone turning into a TGS fan. Well, I’ve definitely noticed more people tweeting about the group. I hope we all maintain our enthusiasm for the group!
Unless otherwise noted, photos are from Tokyo Girls’ Style (instagram)
Did you go to J-Pop Summit? Tell me your opinions on the event in the comments! Do you want to just talk Tokyo Girls’ Style? Feel free to tweet at me, or just comment below!