“Diggin’ in the Carts”: Red Bull Music Academy’s documentary series about Japanese video game music

Written by: William on September 18, 2014 at 9:33 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Red Bull Music Academy has produced a great series of documentaries about the little-known world of Japanese video game music.

The series is called “Diggin’ in the Carts” and so far parts 1 and 2 have been released. Each episode is around 15 minutes long and have English subtitles.

Hiroshi Kawaguchi Takenobu Mitsuyoshi red bull academy video game music japan diggin in the carts documentary series

Composers featured in the series include Hirokazu Tanaka, Hitoshi Sakimoto, Shinji Hosoe, Hiroshi Kawaguchi and Takenobu Mitsuyoshi (both above), Masahi Kageyama (below), and many more.

The series highlights how important video games and their soundtracks were for the generation growing up in recent years, and “yet for most of us the composers behind these timeless melodies remain faceless”. The central thrust of the series is to put a face to these undervalued composers and argue that video game music has been probably Japan’s largest musical export to the rest of the world.

masashi kageyama red bull academy video game music japan diggin in the carts documentary series

Here is Episode 1: “The Rise of VGM”.

In this episode we look at the birth and rise of music in video games. From the earliest sounds and melodies to the first fully formed continuous music to be pioneered in the arcade games from Namco. We meet Junko Ozawa, one of Namco’s earliest sound team composers, and also the legendary Hirokazu ‘Hip’ Tanaka, who joined Nintendo in 1980 and was responsible for composing some of the giant’s most loved classics like Metroid and Tetris.

The series is directed by Nick Dwyer and Tu Neill.

For some reason they have elected not to put the other full episodes on YouTube (yet?) but they exist as heavy videos on their own site that don’t really embed well.

The first episode was released in early September. Episode 2 is called “The Outer Reaches of 8 Bit” and is out now. The final three episodes are scheduled to go online over the next few weeks.

Watch the rest of the series when they are released and see other bonus content over on the Red Bull Music Academy website.

On a side note, one of the most famous composers of Japanese video game music, Mamoru Samuragochi, was exposed as a fraud earlier this year.

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Korg Miku Stomp Effect is a Hatsune Miku-inspired effects unit for guitar duets

Written by: Japan Trends on September 17, 2014 at 8:34 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Korg, although respected as a premier electronic musical instrument and accessories maker, still likes to have fun every now and then.

That’s why in the past it has released such items as Hello Kitty Guitar Tuner in collaboration with Sanrio.

And now it has created the Korg Miku Stomp Effect for Hatsune Miku, the virtual character originally created for the Yamaha Vocaoloid system that has since become a mini industry in its own right.

korg hatsune miku stomp effects unit evocaloid idol japanese music

Hatsune Miku has inspired an opera, Blythe fashion dolls, racing bikes and more. She also recently became the Otona no Kagaku Pocket Miku Singing Keyboard for gadget kit makers Gakken.

Korg’s contribution is the rather snazzy-looking Korg Miku Stomp Effect. Korg is obviously at home with Hatsune Miku, who was born out of electronic music. This new Korg Miku Stomp Effect, to be released in October in Japan, allows you to have a guitar duet with Miku, singing in her unique Yamaha eVocaloid style.

Here’s a trailer hinting at the kinds of sounds you can create.

Korg says the aluminum diecast body on the effects unit is decorated with a specially commissioned original illustration.

korg hatsune miku stomp effects unit evocaloid idol japanese music

There are 11 different lyric patterns and you can also input and customize your own lyrics. Korg are being a bit coy about how this will work. Apparently there is going to be a dedicated iPhone app but complete details are not yet available, plus they do not promise it can work with “English” but do say it can work with up to 6,000 characters in either Hiragana, Katakana or Romaji — but the latter is essentially writing Japanese in the Roman alphabet so it should in theory be possible to program Hatsune Miku to sing what you want to the tune of “Senbonzakura”.

This will have to confirmed in late October when the Miku Stomp Effect goes on release here. We can’t wait to see what Hatsune Miku fans create with their new musical toy.

Check out further details and specs on JapanTrendShop.

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Former Aoyama Saint Hachamecha High School Japanese idol group members (and fans) sued by management for dating

Written by: William on September 12, 2014 at 10:38 am | In CULTURE | 2 Comments

In a possibly unprecedented move, the management of a Japanese idol group is suing two former members, their parental guardians, and the fans they had relationships with for damages.

MovingFactory, the management and label behind the seven-girl idol group Aoyama Saint Hachamecha High School has named both the two members, the fans and the parents in the lawsuit, which was made public yesterday.

Formed in 2012, Aoyama Saint Hachamecha High School is not as famous as other idol groups like Perfume, AKB48 and Momoiro Clover Z, but still has a reasonable fan base. Its single “STARTING OVER”, released in March, got to No.7 on the Oricon weekly singles chart.

In April this year it was suddenly announced that one of the members was leaving due to “health issues” and then in July another member was said to be taking a “break” from event appearances. New members were announced (the group now has eight members).

However, it was not until August that the reasons for the departure of Miho Yuuki (19) and Sena Miura (22) were made clear when a producer explained at an event that the two had been dating fans, which breached their contracts with MovingFactory. They were fired and the management even went so far as to reveal the names of the fans, which led to people tracking down their social media accounts and photos.

Aoyama Saint Hachamecha High School japanese idol group sued lawsuit relationship with fan

And now it has emerged a lawsuit has been filed for over ¥8.2 million (in excess of $75,000) for damages as a result of the girls’ actions. The two members are named in the suit, as are the men who had relationships with the girls.

“The parental guardians signed contracts that said the members would not have relationships with fans and would not neglect their work,” the management was quoted. “They have betrayed the members of the group and all their fans. We cannot forgive this.”

It was not until yesterday that the lawsuit was confirmed, though rumors about it had been circulating since mid-August when MovingFactory explained why the two members had left. One of the men in question wrote a blog post claiming that as an ordinary citizen he was free to have a relationship with someone and that he had received notice of a lawsuit. The other man went so far as to make a public apology via a YouTube video (since taken down).

There is a recent similar case. Last month the management company for idol group N Zero announced a lawsuit against a member and a fan for having “private contact”.

While there have been some scandals of this nature before, what usually happens is the “shamed” member is fired or punished. AKB48 member Minami Minegishi was demoted and even shaved her head in a bizarre act of public self-humiliation, while fellow member Rino Sashihara was exiled to a Kyushu “sister group” for a similar romantic episode, though her fan base has since exonerated her and turned her into one of the most popular members in the AKB sphere.

Some have criticized the management of idol groups for moral hypocrisy, demanding that female members be all pure and innocent while actually selling them as sex objects and profiting from the sexualization of young girls. In fact, as is alleged with former AKB48 member Tomomi Kasai, there are cases where relationships with the idols are condoned but only when it is with the (older) male management themselves.

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J-Pop diva Namie Amuro becomes Koppu no Fuchiko capsule toy who sits on your cup

Written by: William on July 25, 2014 at 9:33 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Fancy having Namie Amuro on your cup?

If you recall, Koppu no Fuchiko (literally “Fuchiko on the edge of the cup”) was originally a Gachapon capsule toy created by Kitan Club. The mini mini Office Lady figure perches or hangs from your cup. A simple but cute idea — and it took off. There have been several series, a pop-up cafe in Harajuku, and the capsule toy has even now become a piece of merchandising for Japan’s biggest pop diva, Namie Amuro.

koppu no fuchiko namie amuro j-pop singer capsule toy

This isn’t as random as it sounds, since Amuro is a famous example of hattoushin bijin, a beautiful girl with her head one-eighth the size of her body. In other words, she kind of looks like a doll!

koppu no fuchiko namie amuro j-pop singer capsule toy

To coincide with Amuro’s latest arena tour, there is going to be a new Fuchiko model called “Diva who came down to earth to sit on your cup” — or just “Koppu no Fuchi no Amuro” for short. Look out for it around Japan from August 22nd, when her tour kicks off in Shizuoka. It will be sold through Namie Amuro’s website, Tower Records online store, and at Amuro’s concerts as part of a ¥3,000 ($30) concert pack.

koppu no fuchiko namie amuro j-pop singer capsule toy

As miniature J-Pop divas go, this is quite well done. Amuro’s trademark knee-high boots and hairstyle have been faithfully replicated on this mini toy, which measures a very petite 50mm. But does she sing?

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Pop idol group Perfume turn Hiroshima Prefecture tourism guidebook into mega hit

Written by: William on July 23, 2014 at 8:48 am | In CULTURE | 3 Comments

The sad truth is that sometimes Japanese consumers are a simple bunch. Forget complex marketing strategies or clever stunts. The way to their hearts is just to put a famous person on the front of whatever it is you’re selling.

Hence why there are so many TV commercials and other ads featuring the same gallery of celebrities. Hence why Hollywood films will have some random Japanese model appear at a press conference to promote the movie. And hence why this free 126-page guide for Hiroshima Prefecture tourism has sold out immediately after it hit the shelves.

nakeru hiroshima perfume tourism booklet magazine guide sold out popular

It was published and released on July 14th but reprints have already been ordered. How come? Well, in order to give the booklet a push, the folk at Hiroshima made the decision to pay a no doubt not inconsiderable pile of cash to have Perfume to appear on the cover, looking cute and pop like the trio of young girls always do.

Within two hours of launching the campaign website, they had already reached the limit for 2,000 reservations, and now the publishers are getting orders from book stores all over the country, desperate to get their hands on the rare booklet. The initial run of 50,000 copies is almost all gone and the next run won’t arrive until mid-August.

nakeru hiroshima perfume tourism booklet magazine guide sold out popular

The idea to include Perfume in the “Nakeru! Hiroshima-ken” (literally, “Hiroshima Prefecture that will make you cry!”) booklet and campaign is not as cynical as it sounds, since the girls originally hail from the region (it does, though, time in nicely with the release of their latest single). They also appear in a short PR video and are interviewed in the book.

The best place to get a copy in Tokyo is from the TAU Hiroshima Prefecture Store in Ginza, though at time of writing it no longer has any guidebooks left.

nakeru hiroshima perfume tourism booklet magazine guide sold out popular

We’ve long struggled to understand the popularity of Perfume. On a superficial level, they are hardly what you might think of as glamorous. Rather, like many idol groups, they are presented as “amateurs” and this is reflected in that basically only one could be called beautiful. But it also shows in their ultimately fairly limited abilities to sing and dance, let alone write their own songs. Their managers are savvy folk and know to employ talented people to make cool music videos and album covers, which raises their sophistication. But what is the appeal of the Perfume girls themselves? Clearly they must have something, as this latest development shows!

Now we just have to see if the Perfume effect can actually increase tourism in Hiroshima.

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Japanese idol metal band Babymetal appears in UK fashion magazine i-D

Written by: William on July 16, 2014 at 9:08 am | In CULTURE | 5 Comments

The website for UK fashion magazine i-D currently features Japanese idol group Babymetal. Online you can find an interview with the three young Japanese ladies, “bringing kawaii-metal to the world”.

Part gothic Lolita, part heavy metal, Babymetal have just appeared at Sonicsphere along with the likes of Iron Maiden. The three-piece is SU-METAL (16), YUIMETAL (15) and MOAMETAL (15), who certainly know how to scream.

baby metal kawaii idol band japanese i-d magazine world tour

i-D claims that Babymetal’s “eponymous debut album headed straight to the top of the charts worldwide, with a unique sound that merges Slayer with the very best dance mat anthems.” Well, we’re not sure they have their facts right (top of the charts worldwide?) but we like their enthusiasm. “It is awesome. With an incredible energy and a performance unlike anything you’ve seen before, a new legend is born.”

Here are some extracts from the “giggle-filled interview ahead of the band’s very first, very sold-out, London show.”

How was Sonisphere?

SU-METAL: It was the first time that we performed on such a huge stage so before we went on we were very nervous. The audience cheered lots so it made us very happy.

I heard that you performed on the same stage as Iron Maiden, who you’ve said before is your favorite metal band, how was that?

SU-METAL: We actually stayed on to watch their performance and we were like “did we really just play the same stage as them?!” It was really unbelievable.

You met some legendary metal bands too!

SU-METAL: Yes! Backstage at Sonisphere we were wearing BABYMETAL tshirts that reference classic metal bands like Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeath, so people recognise those and come to talk to us. So we took photos with some of the artists which was really cool.

Tell us about the fox god…

SU-METAL: We don’t really know what the fox god like because we’ve never met it, but we always have this message from this little master and we act accordingly. So we’re doing this European tour because of the calling. We’ve managed to achieve so many things that we would never even have dreamed of, so we really feel that there is a fox god leading us.

How does metal music make you feel? Angry? Powerful?

SU-METAL: It is more to do with my relation to the music, but whenever I perform it’s different to how I feel normally. I’m quite shy myself – I don’t actually go out dancing and headbanging but when I become SU-METAL and perform, it’s not embarrassing anymore. So when I perform, there are new discoveries in myself.

You’re supporting Lady Gaga. Are you excited?

SU-METAL: We’re all so excited! It still feels like a dream.

Her sound is very different to kawaii-metal, how do you think her fans will react?

SU-METAL: You’re right — in terms of music we’re completely different, but we ourselves didn’t know about metal music before Babymetal. When we first heard it we thought ‘what the hell is this?!’ but found it very interesting and enjoyed it, so I think the fans of Lady Gaga who don’t normally listen to metal music might feel the same way as us.

If you weren’t in Babymetal, what do you think you’d be doing right now?

SU-METAL: Just going to school and studying like ordinary kids. I don’t think we’d have the opportunity to go abroad or anything like that.

Which characters do you think you’re most like?

MOAMETAL: My favorite animation is “Love Live” and there is a character called Honoka Kosaka and I think I’m most like her, but who I aspire to be like is Nausicaa from “Valley of the Wind”.

YUIMETAL: I would like to be the Little Mermaid so I can live in the sea

SU-METAL: I would like to be the lead girl in Mama-Mia because she’s such a positive thinker.

This is the trailer to the band’s world tour, which kicked off in March in Tokyo.

Two years ago, in a country far, far away… It is a period of pop music. Rebel idols, striking from a hidden base in Japan, have won their first victory against the boring music empire. During the battle, the kitsune-sama fox god revealed his ultimate weapon, BABYMETAL, a kawaii-metal band with enough power to drive the metal resistance and restore musical freedom to the galaxy…

i-D magazine has been a stable for over 30 years now, famed for its wink-and-smile front covers and its coverage of the world’s fashion elite.

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Nigo directs idol group BiS “Nerve” music video for Vice Japan

Written by: William on June 9, 2014 at 11:04 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Idol unit BiS’s latest music video is directed by none other than fashion legend Nigo. “Nerve” has been released as a collaboration with 2.5D and Vice Japan, and features the female idols partly all dressed in school swimsuits.

BiS nerve music video nigo vice japan

The end of the video even includes a little easter egg with a part of the song “mirror mirror” (bombs BiS), made in collaboration with the band Vampilla.

Nigo is a music producer and of course the man behind A Bathing Ape (Bape). He also handled the music directing duties for the Japan version of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” (the official music video, not the spin-offs). That video also features the likes of model Kiko Mizuhara and even unofficial mascot Funassyi.

The six-girl group BiS are no stranger to unusual publicity stunts, having in the past done a 24-hour 100km marathon race and even auctioned off their housewifery labor for three hours via Yahoo! Auction. Fashion designer Junko Koshinko officially joined the group in October 2013. They have already planned their departure from the competitive idol scene, though, with a Yokohama Arena concert in July being announced as their final one.

“Nerve” is actually a release from 2011, here given a new treatment by Nigo. Is this a good use of Nigo’s talents? You decide.

Here’s a making-of video (sorry, no English subtitles).

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Japan Twin Tail Association launches drop, the world’s first pigtail hair idol group

Written by: William on May 28, 2014 at 9:24 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Move over AKB48. There’s a new idol group in town and they’ve got pigtails. In fact, that’s their main asset.

The “Japan Twin Tail Association” has been around for a little while, promoting their love of all things pig tail (called “twin tail” in Japanese). Back in 2012 the association declared February 2nd “Twin Tail Day” (put it in your diary) and has launched numerous photo books and other merchandise to push its tastes on the rest of the world. One of the most esoteric of these must be the series it produced earlier this year of pigtail girls posing with guns.

japan twin tail pigtail idol girl otaku machine gun

Now they have made a plunge into the big time with the launch of the first pigtails specialist idol group, drop.

drop japan twin tail pigtail idol group girl otaku

Misato Misaki, Hikari Takiguchi and Shizuka Sugino were all born in 1994 and are veterans of various TV ads and other “twin tail” projects. Together they form drop, who will perform their first live performance on July 6th at the Idol Yokocho Summer Festival 2014.

drop japan twin tail pigtail idol girl otaku

We’re a little confused that the girls don’t have pigtails in the traditional sense but I guess there is some room for interpretation in the twin tails universe.

drop japan twin tail pigtail idol girl otaku

Idol groups are a dime a dozen these days and you have to stand out somehow to make a difference. Will drop have what it takes? Only time will tell.

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Takashi Murakami directs Hatsune Miku video “Last Night, Good Night (Re:Dialed)”, re-mixed by Pharrell Williams

Written by: William on May 15, 2014 at 12:20 pm | In CULTURE | No Comments

Artist Takashi Murakami has directed the music video for virtual idol Hatsune Miku’s song, “Last Night, Good Night (Re:Dialed)”. It has also been re-mixed by Pharrell Williams, whose “Happy” has inspired some neat Tokyo videos recently.

last night good night re-dialed takashi murakami hatsune miku pharrell williams

Not surprisingly, then, Murakami has put Williams into the video. He’s the black guy with the hat.

The song is actually not new, dating from last year. But this new collaboration is a promo for Murakami’s feature-length film debut “Jellyfish Eyes”, currently screening in America until early June, on a tour organized by Blum & Poe, Murakami’s American gallery.

Billed as “a big screen tale of poignant memories and wondrous dreams,” it was, however, not a success in Murakami’s native Japan. The film had a troubled production, with Murakami frequently rejecting his animators’ efforts to make the characters he had created move in the way he wanted. The financial losses — Murakami and his company apparently poured in some $7 million — and the unhappy scenes behind-the-scenes have likely scuppered Murakami’s vision of two sequels.

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