Hot Docs 2017: Tokyo Idols
“This isn’t a fad. It’s a religion.” an Idol fan’s voiceover tells us as Tokyo Idols begins, and holy shit, he was not kidding about that statement one bit.
Starting at around age 10 and going well into their teens, Idols are young girls that do song and dance numbers followed by a meet and greet after the show and to say they are huge in Japan is not really doing this scene justice. They are worshiped like rock stars or well known actresses but they are nowhere near that popular on a global level.
Often meeting online first through Twitter or livestreams, the Idols build a fanbase so when they see their fans in person, the fans feel loved and appreciated. Fleeting since these meet ups only last a few minutes and all you receive in return is a picture and a handshake. The handshakes however are very low key form of sexual contact. Considering a traditional bow was the norm for ages in Japanese culture, a handshake is a big deal especially for the desperate older men who make up a huge chunk of their fanbase. With around 10,000 Idols roaming Japan it is easy for a lonely soul to find their favorite and latch on to them without finding a real connection in life.
Otaku, one who is obsessed with a certain thing or hobby, is what this develops into. One can be Otaku towards various things of course but the focus on Idols makes it extra jarring because these are young girls they are spending tons of money on to see and touch. One example showed us a man in his late 40s with a very tiny apartment. Merchandise in the form of CDs, photos, posters and autographs fill up place almost as if he is a factory, one responsible for the distribution of product for the Idol, but no, this is all of his collection proudly displayed. He can barely move in there and it is quite something to see that level of fandom. Another example is a group of superfans called The Brothers. They are Idol fans that have dance routines down to a science complete with glow sticks to show their love for their favorites once they grace the stage. These are fans that spend so much money at shows and merch that they have no savings.
While Tokyo Idols gives us a ton of facts about the culture, my favorite parts are the interviews with journalists and socialists. They basically blast the culture seeing men who are truly afraid to have a real relationship in their lives. This criticism is met with extreme backlash from the fans even when they nail the outlandish nature of it all. The film is smart in showing us three types of Idols to show how deep the layers can actually be in this world. One very positive and polite girl who means no harm and appreciates the fame, another who is way too young to even wrap her head around it, and another girl very driven wanting to excel past the Idol phase to become a vocalist.
The film kind of peters out in the final minutes, but what it lacks in an proper ending it more than makes up for in it’s portrayal of a world that most have never seen. Even if you were aware of the Idol culture, I can’t imagine you would know of it’s odd desperation and it’s replacement of real love for extremely sad and lost people.