Hot Docs 2017: Tokyo Idols Review

Magnificent Obsessions

Once again, we find ourselves examining an unique cultural phenomenon in the Hot Docs ’17 Magnificent Obsessions program, and once again, it involves teenage girls (see Hobbyhorse Revolution). Kyoko Miyake wrote and directed this Japanese-language documentary on idol culture in Japan, which is very competently made and raises some interesting questions, but much more lies beneath the surface. 

According to the documentary, approximately 10,000 teenage girls in Japan consider themselves to be idols. They sing, dance, and remain pure and chaste for the pleasure and entertainment of their fans, the majority of which are much older men. 

As it is remarked in the film, “This isn’t a fad, it’s a religion.” The film focuses on Rio Hiyagi who is transitioning from her idol career to that of an artist. In her words, she may have passed her “best-by” date (she’s 21 by the film’s end). The film also highlights one of her most devout fans, Koji, aged 43, who saw about 700 idol shows one year. He’s currently adrift in his life and searching for meaning, and thinks he has found it in following Rio’s career with as much devotion as some would for the Leafs. He’s not the only one: a joke is made that the failing birth rate could be blamed on idol culture and many older men simply refusing to seek relationships.


Journalist Minori Kitahana (who I wanted to hear more from) provides a much-needed feminist critique of the idol craze. She indicates that men state that the girls “chose” this career path and therefore, everything that happens to them is okay. Idol culture celebrates purity in women; the problem is, what happens when you lose that purity? Also, purity could translate into easily exploitable innocence. Kitahana also states that Japan culturally has “a fear of strong women” and idol culture allows women to be stars, like nowhere else. My question then is, why aren’t more women fans? Why are concerts standing-room only for middle-aged men? 

The bond between stars and fans, like Rio and Koji, is touching, and almost father-daughter like – however, I find myself wondering what the flip side is. Is this a male fantasy of grooming young girls to do the older men’s bidding (handshakes were seen as sexual in Japan for a long time, and only recently, with idol culture, have handshakes been made ‘mainstream’), or is it simply a village of respected elders trying to help in the development of a young woman? 


Mon, May 1, 9:15 PM Scotiabank Theatre 4


Wed, May 3, 10:30 AM TIFF Bell Lightbox 3

Sun, May 7, 10:00 AM TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

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