Thursday, May 4, 2017

HotDocs '17 Film Review - Raise Your Arms and Twist

The team pop idol craze is a phenomenon unique to Japanese culture. A troop of young girls all colour coordinated and choreographed preform whimsical pop songs for their feverous fans that are mostly men. The fans don’t buy tickets to the shows but win them in lotteries before the performances. They are armed with glow sticks, custom designed outfits for their favourite idol and shout out the names when they have a solo line or come to the front of the stage. 

Raise Your Arms and Twist centres on NMB48 the idol group based in Namba, Osaka. The group is made up of 60 girls raging from ages 15-21. They are the least popular of the 4 main groups in Japan with AKB48 out of Tokyo being the gold standard. NMB are kind of a triple A affiliate with a few girls making it up to the big leagues on occasion to perform with the major league squad.
The songs the girls sing and their performances are secondary to the intense battles that go on back stage, between girls and the different teams. The narrative focus on a few of the main members the contrast between the two founding members Captain Sayaka Yamamoto and Vice-Captain Ayaka Okita being the most intriguing. Both girls joined the group at its 2010 start. Yamamoto rocked to stardom being picked for the prestigious Sembatsu team that gives the opportunity to perform in a video for a group single right away.  She also has the longest lines at the groups fans handshake sessions. An odd ritual where fans line up for the chance to hold hands with their favourite idle for 8 seconds (timed by Security) while they tell them how great much they love them.  Okita despite being on the squad for 5 years and a role model for the later generations had never been picked for a Sembatsu team.  Every aspect of life on the squad is scrutinized. If you get lead on a song, make it to the centre of the front row on stage or have long lines at the handshake events.  The competition all leads up to the yearly General Election where fans vote for the best idol in the land by buying CD’s to obtain codes that's punched into your mobile phone to vote.

Director Atsushi Funahashi narrows his vision on the aspects of the pop idol life that really effect the girls mental stability. Many leave home at 15 or 16 to go to these teams. They are drafted based on their skills which can lead to disappointment. Being back row or not selected for a Sembatu team often results in tears from inconsolable team members. Even the ones that make it onto a team and into a video are yelled at by male video directors or team managers for not being happy enough or perhaps for something private in their personal life.

The most intriguing study is that of rising team star Ririka Sutou. The idol game seems to come easy to her as she has a song written for her and is centre stage seeming right away. She open the film on a boat floating on a river in a gritty area of Osaka reading Nietzsche while stating she wants to be a philosopher. She is very self-aware knowing that while she is doing this gig she does not have control of her individual self as she quotes John Stuart Mill.

The Japanese pop idol culture is one that is not scene or translates to Europe or North America.  The team members base their self-worth on where they fall in the hierarchical pecking order of the system.  Top ten in the yearly general election and centre stage of an AKB48 Sembatu group single being the pinnacle.  If you can get there it could lead to Graduation which means potentially television presenter roles, a solo singing career or perhaps modeling.  The most popular idols have endorsement for clothing, food and make up products.  The film could have talked more on where the money all goes considering they had over 3.2 million votes for  the June 2015 General Election which translates to that may CD singles sold or how the girls get compensated.  The production is an in depth look into a unique subject that builds personalities that the viewer truly wants to root for making it a film I can highly recommend

**** Out of 4.

Raise You Arms and Twist | Atsushi Funahashi | Japan | 2016 | 90 Minutes.

Tags: Pop Idol, Osaka, NMB48, AKB48, Nietzsche, Tokyo, Sembatu, General Election, Video, Hit Single, Fans, Handshake Event, Big Sis Saya.  


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