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Tokyo Idols cover photo

Tokyo Idols 2017


Distributed by Kimstim, 417 13th Street #2, Brooklyn, New York 11215
Produced by Kyoko Miyake, Felix Matschke, and Bob Moore
Directed by Kyoko Miyake
DVD , color, 88 min.

High School - General Adult
Japan, Popular Culture, Music Trade, Singers

Date Entered: 12/08/2017

Reviewed by Sophie M. Forrester, Reed Library, State University of New York at Fredonia

Unlike most worthwhile documentaries, Tokyo Idols does not attempt to place its subject in a broader context. But while that would be a significant drawback in most films, it works here: often, the film is almost a primary source exploring Japan’s idol industry. And really, what context could be provided? To outsiders, the industry – in which girls as young as 10 and into their early twenties sing and dance, but apparently not well enough to be considered “singers,” to delight almost exclusively male fans – seems like a complete anomaly.

The film does include commentary from two Japanese scholars, a female sociologist and a male psychologist, who discuss the larger forces at play in the industry. Their insights are a strong balance against the super-positivity shown by the idols and fans in the film. In fact, they often give voice to the concerns that would be raised by most Western viewers: Isn’t it odd for men to be the predominant audience for unabashedly light pop music? And isn’t it creepy for them to be fans of such young girls?

The film does not really explore the underbelly of abuse in the industry, but that seems unnecessary, outside its scope. In fact, its main problem is not an artistic one, but rather technical: the English subtitles accompanying the Japanese audio are often nigh on impossible to read.

Tokyo Idols would serve well as either an introduction to the industry, or a new source for those already interested. It is recommended for academic libraries, particularly those building collections related to gender studies, the music business, and/or Japanese culture.