One of the more talked-about documentaries focused on Japanese pop culture in recent years has been Tokyo Idols. Director Kyoko Miyake’s latest feature zooms in on the world of female J-pop idol groups, and has received positive reviews from critics after screenings at festivals around the world, including this year’s Sundance Film Festival. And, for the next week, you can catch the movie at the Melbourne International Film Festival.
The documentary explores the Japanese sub-culture of idol groups, defined as pop outfits featuring young women often in their teens. You might recognise big-time groups such as AKB48 or Keyakizaka46, which take the concept to its logical extreme, or via quirkier names like Momoiro Clover Z. Tokyo Idols mostly focuses on more underground idols, however, looking at aspiring performers trying to make it in Japan’s capital.
Just as central to the movie’s dive into idol culture is the fans who support these groups. The main focus of the movie - and the element that has attracted the most looks from English-language media - is on how the majority of fans supporting idol groups are middle-aged men, and what it all means for modern-day Japan. As you can imagine, the image of older men heaping adoration (and money) on teenage girls is striking, and has long been a central tension to this corner of Japanese music. Tokyo Idols probes this world, and tries to figure out what’s up.
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