Samashii Nettaigyo: W and Wink

Filed in Cult of Pop 1.0

I’m biased when it comes to Tsujikago, and I know it. I like W’s version of “Southpaw” better than Pink Lady’s and I really wasn’t thrilled by the Peanuts version of “Koi no Vacance”. Clearly, Kago and Tsuji have improved on tired old formulas. But I recently got my hands on Wink’s original PV for “Samishii Nettaigyo”…

And it’s probably the most alluring video I’d seen in a long, long while. W did a good job with their version, but the song clearly belonged to Wink and will always belong to Wink.

Wink, the duo of Suzuki Sachiko and Aida Shoko, were apparently the hottest Japanese pop act for most of their decade-long career. They broke up in 1996 and went on to solo careers. Last year Shoko accompanied Morning Musume’s Iida Kaori to Greece for the travelogue DVD The Aegean.

The Wink PV for “Samishii” has a very eighties feel to it – no surprise, as it was made in 1989. We’ve got the day-glo colors, close-ups of instruments being played (especially the keyboard synthesizers, straight out of Depeche Mode and Duran Duran) and huge dangly accessories. The different camera effects are even reminiscent of Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” (or is it “Forever Your Girl”?). I’m not a fan of the 1980s – I like being a product of Reagan America but feel no desire to revisit it. Setting aside the kitsch factor, however, there’s so much that’s compelling about the PV and the song…

Well, let’s consider the kitsch factor first. Goddamn, that hat on Sachiko is bizarre! It seems vaguely European in a Swiss Miss kind of way, but it also seems to be hand-woven like the Filipino handicrafts that I grew up around. Shoko’s isn’t much better, but it isn’t as… symmetrical… or as extended… as Sachiko’s. I could waste time just staring at the hat and wondering what provoked it. But there is more than that.

The girls look so serious! Mournful, even. And I’m not one who likes seriousness in my Jpop, at least not this kind of gravitas. Any time I try out a PV from a solo Jpop singer I begin to worry if she’s looking very serious and staring off-camera and there may be rain outside as she looks through a window pane or she’s out in nature dressed in a magnificent prom gown of some sort. It all screams diva to me, and a kind of self-importance that I just can’t stomach.

It took me some time to realize there’s different kinds of seriousness and diva attitude. To simplify, there’re two main kinds of seriousness in pop music: the “I’m an artist and what I utter is deep” kind of seriousness, and there’s the melodramatic “I’m serious because the song is a story about something heartbreaking” serious. Both are pretend, of course, but the melodramatic version is more obviously an act, a fiction for the sake of entertainment. And sometimes the line blurs: I use to think “Shabondama” was of the former kind of seriousness, when the lyrics clearly indicate it’s the latter.

The Wink PV seems to be like “Shabondama” – the way the girls move is a bit too animated for the truly depressed, and the song is boppy and upbeat. If anything, the dance beat makes the harmonizing vocals more powerfully… of the moment, I guess. It’s a variation of the Smiths formula, or certain disco classics: depressing lyrics and mournful singing with a powerful upbeat melody. The music itself is pretty rocking, in a skinny-tie and swatch kind of way, with a funky robotic synth driving the beat to occassional heights of new wave glory.

And I have to admit, Sachiko and Shoko are heartbreakingly beautiful in this video. Even with the hats. Or maybe especially…? I still can’t figure it out. Their beauty has a kind of artificial, model wannabe kind of look, but there’s something both elegant and modern about how they carry themselves. Understated but hinting at hidden depths, tempting in a way that epitomizes feminine allure.

Part of it may be that their dance moves are minimal – hands swinging in the air, spinning in place, sometimes crossing arms. And there’s way they’re hold up their palms when protesting “Stop!” in the song. They’re not trying to prove they’re great dancers. They’re not even really proving they’re all that coordinated, to be honest. But it’s just enough.

It’s also the fact that they never smile in the video but don’t look sad so much as committed to doing the song’s emotions justice. Does that make sense? Like I said, it’s an artificial kind of seriousness, but you’re not supposed to buy that artifice. But that definitely bestows an aura on the girls, especially Sachiko – though I think Shoko’s the greater beauty here, more statuesque.

And the beauty’s in their singing, too. Beautiful harmonizing, never over the top… if anything, brimming with restrained passion. Other singers would screech their hearts out, but Wink doesn’t goes the opposite route, and seem more timeless for it. Their version of “Samishii” is a near-perfect pop confection, which is probably why W chose to cover it for their first album.

I’m grateful to W for making me so receptive to Wink’s original. I doubt I’d have even given them a chance if I didn’t know the song from W’s version. And to Tsujikago’s credit, their version is also quite catchy (and their PV at least involves real tropical fish…). As an homage, W’s version of “Samishii” works wonderfully – they mimic moves from the original PV, project a similar mournful elegance… though really, those silver trenchcoats were a horrible wardrobe choice. It’s like they’re doing The Matrix wearing Reynold’s Wrap.

In a fishbowl.

I’d like to see Tsuji in Sachiko’s Swiss Miss hat, actually. But I think that’s just me. And I think there’s some kind of kink fetish behind that opinion, but I’m not going to dwell on it too long to figure that out.

Anyway, I also downloaded some other Wink PVs but they weren’t as immediately catchy as this one. I think it may just take time. It’s nice to be able to look back on Jpop as well as forward, though Wink’ll probably be a special exception.