Idol culture is a foreign concept to most western audiences – try and imagine the boy band pop craze of the 90s multiplied a thousand times over and you will start to understand a faction of the industry. Met with the same devotion and admiration as a cult leader, idols are worshiped by loving fans as they struggle to enter into mainstream popularity. Recently, as idol culture has become more widespread in Japan, we are starting to see more mainstream media cover this unique movement. Tokyo Idols, directed by Kyoto Miyake, attempts to shed a light on the complex and dark realities of idol culture. Painting a complicated narrative as it transitions between dark and perverse tales – such as the middle-aged man whom no longer visits his parents because he spends $2000 a month on meeting a teenage idol, or the inspiring tale of a young idol finding fame through hard work and dedication – Tokyo Idols tries to be too many things, and that’s its biggest flaw.
While bouncing around between different idols, fans, and journalists allow Tokyo Idols to showcase multiple experiences, this scattershot approach leaves several stories unfinished. Miyake introduces a woman from the most popular idol group as she is waiting to hear the results of a nationwide polling contest, only to never pick her story back up after she succeeds. We are left wondering how her life changed after being thrown into the spotlight, and how this differs from those that didn’t make the cut. The audience is given no closure to these situations and has to draw their own conclusions to the lives of these people.
Rather than focusing on the socioeconomic factors surrounding idol culture, Tokyo Idols spends its third act following the struggles of a up-and-coming idol, Rio Hiiragi, who tries to make her way into the spotlight. While that would be a compelling behind the scenes look on its own, the film tries to have some critical analysis peppered in despite not spending any time with its experts. Sadly, only about 5 minutes of the 90-minute run time is spent with actual journalists and experts explaining the cultural ramifications of these men focusing so much of their time and money on idols. Conflicted in what genre of film Tokyo Idols wants to be, it sacrifices most of the in-depth analysis required to be an engaging documentary in favor of an extended scene of one idol live-streaming her cycling journey from town to town into order to build up her fan base.
Tokyo Idols is a brilliantly-shot look at a cultural phenomenon that’s both deeply interesting and complex, but it is satisfied with simply showing you how idol culture could be dangerous for Japan without providing any follow-through. The documentary never goes past the surface, never looks at these idols lives after they have passed their prime, never shows us what happens to these obsessed fans after their idols stopped producing content. There is more to this story and culture – it’s just a shame that Tokyo Idols doesn’t want to explore it, because it does so much in making the audience interested in the lives of the people shown.
FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL • JULY 13 – AUGUST 2, 2017