Reina’s “Futarigoto”

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0


I didn’t expect to do a third entry on Tanaka Reina, but this is when I first fell for her: her four episodes of Futarigoto. Until then, she was just the least-annoying of the sixth generation – not as vain as Sayumi or Eri (the Utaban lie detector test made a significant imprint on my newbie otaku mind), and not as sour about being in Momusu as Fujimoto.

Luckily, enough of these episodes were active – and strange – enough not to need much Japanese to comprehend. As for the talkier parts, HPS did the world a huge favor by doing a fansub of a whole bunch of Futarigoto episodes, including the ones with Reina. And when they released the Reina one, I watched it repeatedly because there was a simple and bracingly vibrant pleasure to watching her being herself…

So like Best Shots, the Reina episodes are the only ones I’ve seen more than a couple of times, which I return to time and again because it’s so damn fascinating.


The first thing that struck me about Reina’s first episode was how she initially ignored the camera and behaved as if a camera wasn’t there. She was in the green room’s kitchen, treating the camera like a fly on the wall.

She wasn’t the first to do this: if I remember right, Yaguchi Mari’s Futarigoto episodes were devoted to her doing some homework or something and listening to music and having a snack. Not once did she address the camera, and only when Kago Ai arrived did she bother to talk in any significant manner. It was kind of rock and roll for her to so stridently ignore the camera. It reminded me of the Replacements’ “Bastards of Young” video, of all things: a dose of hard reality about the boredom of life behind the glitz of entertainment.

But of course, Yaguchi’s not a rock star, she’s a pop idol. So it was also mildly insulting to me, and seeing Reina run around a kitchen left me uneasy at first: was this going to be another “fuck you” to the Futarigoto audience? And from a member of Momusu I didn’t particularly care about?


It quickly became obvious that Reina was getting ready to cook – to really cook. Meat and everything. Realizing that, I was pleased. It’s not that I care about women being domestic – what I want is everyone to be able to cook and care for themselves. Having learned how to cook at a young age and take care of myself in general by college, I hate seeing young people who don’t know how to do laundry or make a simple meal or fend for themselves in general. That smacks to me of bad parenting, of raising a child to be too dependent. (Of course, I’m not a parent, so take this with a grain of salt. Perhaps.)

So there’s something about Reina literally rolling up her sleeves to cook a nice meal that is encouraging, that is mildly enchanting, and made her much more approachable.


Not only that, but Reina apparently cooks for her family as well! Reina doesn’t ignore the camera but begins to speak to it as she goes about her business, making the viewer feel like a visitor dropping in at a semi-opportune time. She speaks of cooking for her mother when coming home from a hard day of idol-ing, and later of making two dishes for her brother: one good and one that he spits up. As somebody who became the de facto cook for my family during my teen years, this was pretty neat to hear about.


To pass the time and break the quiet as she prepares her dish, Reina starts to sing, mimicking others in the Hello! Project. I remember that it took a couple of viewings to realize she started off by doing a couple of Aibon impressions: Tanpopo’s “Koi wo Shichaimashita” and then 3Nin Matsuri’s “Chu! Natsu Party”.

I’m not sure why this was so important to me, but this was it for me. Listening to her sing like that, preparing a meal and just lapsing into some silliness, made me fall in love with her. She went from being a sixth gen nobody to a favorite.

I think it helped that she was mimicking the most notorious mimic of Morning Musume, who remains another favorite; there was a neat twist to that. Further, her imitation of Aibon was accurate enough to be recognizable but also exaggerated enough to be funny. And it showed some talent, I realized: this girl could sing, something I hadn’t quite learned yet.


Reina goes on to talk about how much she loves meat – and setting aside all sexual innuendo (for now), that just melted my heart. As a lifelong carnivore who likes my steaks thick and rare to the point of bloody, it was nice to find out that this skinny girl had an appreciation for finely-prepared slaughtered animals as well. Across the televisual divide, we were bonding.


Throughout her monologue, I noticed something else: there was a diffidence to Reina, she needed time to warm up to the camera before she could become chatty. And even as she became more open, there was an honest self-deprecating streak which charmed me. She spoke of how she was supposed to sound like Aibon but dismisses her mimickry as not being very good. She talks of cooking for her family but also recounts a bad meal she made for her brother.

It may have been calculated, but Reina came across as very down-to-earth, very grounded. One almost wonders how such a girl could become an idol, never mind a valued member of a stellar super-idol group in its waning years.


The camera then switches to the living room area, where Reina sets up her dishes. She’s proud of what she’s cooked and shows them off at least twice. Being American, I wish there was even more meat and less salad.


Still, it’s pretty cool to watch Reina eat. Part of it is the concern that she’s so skinny, what if she has an eating disorder? That doesn’t seem to be the case: she’s just a skinny girl by nature, by metabolism.


She first decides her dishes aren’t very good, then changes her mind and decides they are.


Reina goes back to the kitchen to get some sauces, and then some mango pudding. She extols the virtue of mango pudding, and of how it’s always available in the green room.


She shows baby pictures of herself, noting how even then she liked to pose and pointing out her hair at one point and even saying she posed better as a baby than she does now as a young woman. Given her job as an idol, it’s an intriguing self-criticism: does she really believe this, or is she just being self-effacing? One gets a sense this is how she really feels, and yet why that’s the case isn’t clear…


She speaks of being younger and doing a performance with her friends as Minimoni. This is pretty cool in a couple ways. First, it reminds me of how young she is and how historied Hello! Project is. She was one of the target audience for Minimoni when they first came out, and three or four years later she’s working with Minimoni’s members! Second, her fondness for H!P – and perhaps for Kago in particular? – is evident. She didn’t just want to be an idol, she was a fan of what she became part of. Her Kago impressions were clearly done out of admiration, a desire to emulate, and not out of any meanness in her.

I also like how she purposely covers the faces of her friends: one doesn’t get a sense that she wants to be the spotlight, but rather that she wants to protect her friends’ identities. (It’s probably also illegal to show their images without written permission or something.)


The interesting thing about all this is that Reina is very skillful at seeming to reveal things about herself without ever leaving herself exposed. She manages to come across as open and very candid, yet she never says anything in her Futarigoto that has the vulnerability or intimacy of some others. I immediately think of Konno’s apology for not being able to make Nacchi’s graduation concert: she seemed mildly upset by this, but the girl was sick and it wasn’t her fault.

In contrast, Reina seems warm and personable – but still, on some level, removed. And I think it’s not so much about her being an idol and taking a professional stance as it is about her true personality. She wants to put the people around her at ease – unlike Mari, who made clear she didn’t care what others think in her episodes – and even make them feel like they know her. But she’ll find ways to distract from any truly profound insights, become entertaining or silly or just dismiss what she said with a self-effacing comment.


Speaking of which, she decides to show off her special talent.

Now, a quick aside: as much as I like the more inspid parts of Jpop idol-dom, the obsession with lame “special talents” has always struck me as… well, insipid. Matsuura Aya sucked her nose flat on Utaban, claiming that as her special talent, and even Ishibashi was less than thrilled.

Reina’s special talent, however, is mildly impressive: she can do a three-point headstand for thirty seconds.

So she’s about ready to do her three-point headstand with a conveniently provided cushion…


When she stops, realizing she may reveal more than she’d like. So she tries to tuck in her buttoned-down shirt and realizes that doesn’t work…


So instead, she just buttons it up.


Still self-deprecating, she mentions that she hadn’t done this in a long while but that she could do it for thirty seconds…


And slowly, she lifts her legs up…


And does a steady count up to thirty…


… then to sixty… and a little over a minute is enough for her.

At this point, please imagine whatever dirty thoughts you may have, and double or treble it. Then you’d have me during my more depraved moments while watching Reina spend a minute on her head.


Reina unbuttons her shirt afterwards, which should have been more erotic and suggestive – but what the hell, she was just standing on her head, maybe she forgot to make it a sexy island kind of move.


Instead, she decides to do more impressions of H!P folk. She does another Aibon first, another Tanpopo song. She mentions how she did this for Iida Kaori, an original Tanpopo, who thought it was funny.


She also does a Takahashi Ai impression, from Minimoni’s “Crazy About You”…

As I was never a fan of the crazy sexy cool revamp of Minimoni, I’m not sure how accurate this was at all. Nor did I particularly care.


Looking through the CDs on the table, Reina then does a Goto Maki impression of “Daite Yo! Please Go On”.

I find it interesting that Reina seems to gravitate towards the more vocally talented members of H!P, based on her impressions and what she says: Kago, Gocchin, and Ayaya. This seems to indicate what kind of idol she wants to be. In contrast, Sayumi gravitated towards Rika: not as vocally gifted, but have a very feminine persona that combines sexy and cute in a way Sayumi undoubtedly wishes to recreate.

I have no idea who Eri gravitated towards, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Makoto.


All throughout these performances, Reina stands back from the camera – not just to give a full body view and admire her stance in her mimickry, but also not always looking directly at the camera either. Again, an example where her diffidence and natural aloofness manifests itself subtly. She’s happy with performing like this, and goes through the CDs again for further inspiration.


So she does Ayaya’s “The Last Kiss”…


And she nails it! At least, she thinks she’s nailed it and is very happy with herself for doing so. It’s a great moment, given all her self-deprecation: exultant and happy, without being smug or self-satisfied. More an “aha!” moment – lightning in a bottle – than confirmation of innate ability. One gets a sense that she may be her own harshest critic (well, sorta), but that she can also see the good she’s capable of – not just the flaws.

Reina’s Futarigoto pretty much ends on that note, and by this point I knew Reina had won my heart. I became interested in Aa! and watched the second Otome Gumi PV with more of an eye on her striking performance. She became a figure of interest, someone whose talent could be admired, and even a young lady of no small mystery.

To quote a favorite movie character of mine: “I think it would be quite something to know you in private life.”

I really don’t think that’s the case with most idols. I mean, sure, there’s the whole starfucker thrill at the thought of being around somebody famous and adored by millions. But I’m really not interested in finding out the inner lives of most of the idols I enjoy – mostly because I’m a selfish, private individual who likes to keep to myself, but also because there doesn’t seem to be much personal edification to be gained. The enjoyment is in the performance, the surface persona of the idol, even when it gestures towards their personal life. As infatuated as I am by Ueto Aya, would I really care about her deepest thoughts, would the human connection be any more meaningful than just watching her on television?

This isn’t to call idols superficial. If anything, it’s a reflection on my belief that people rarely truly connect with each other, try as they might. Knowing an idol through her onscreen persona thus becomes as effective – if not more effective – than knowing them in the “real world”. Just like knowing a writer through his work is often more satisfying than becoming familiar with the flesh-and-blood person who pounds out the words on a keyboard.

So while I worship SweetS’ Haruna above all other idols, I don’t feel much would be gained from knowing her outside of her idol persona. She’s a perfect idol and that’s about as much as I’d want her to mean for me. And there are those who I think may be very interesting to know but there wouldn’t be much common ground: Amuro Namie or Otsuka Ai, for starters, and even Kago Ai (given the elegantly vicious streak I admire in her).

But sometimes it feels like there may be more to a certain idol than being an idol. (Reina’s not the only one I feel this way about, but I can count them all on one hand.) And sometimes I get the feeling it’d be pretty cool to know Tanaka Reina outside of all the idol stuff. Maybe I see aspects of myself in her, and from seeing myself, think I better know who she is, what motivates her.

Which could all be a crock, of course. Maybe that’s just proof of how skillfully she handles herself as an idol, just another layer of geinou illusion.

But of course, sometimes I’d like to think otherwise.

Feedback

Comments (Comments are closed)

14 Responses to “Reina’s “Futarigoto””
  1. Alice says:

    The Futarigoto episodes in general really amazed me, and while I know it’s intentional to keep the fantasy that you the fan know these girls when really you won’t be let within a mile of them normally, I still bought into it.

    Did you see the Reina + Gomaki episodes? I thought they were pretty cool too.

  2. S says:

    (This was originally part of the comment I made in the previous post, but I decided it fits better here)

    I’m not sure I can point to a specific time or a specific event where I really started to notice her, but it’s been gradual. First it was her voice that made me not dislike her, then the more I started to pay attention to her, the more I saw myself in her as well (…innuendo is not intentional and not meant that way). More specifically, it’s the way she has taken her time to warm up to the camera and opened up slowly over time compared to when she first started.

    After my previous favorite, Mari, left MM, I looked around at what was left. Reina was the only one who gave me absolutely no reasons not to dislike her, and a ton to like her (many of which you’ve touched upon in your post): she has a great voice, she’s modest, she’s down-to-earth, has her own unique brand of beauty and innocence… I could go on and on. Oh, and her eyes… though I initially got caught up with everyone else making snide remarks because she’s cross-eyed, I was able to look past that and notice that her eyes are just flat-out gorgeous. She would look weird if she weren’t cross-eyed, actually.

    She comes off as more natural than any of the other girls do, despite her initial shyness. Actually, scratch that… I’m not sure if any of the girls are actually like they act. But Reina does come off as someone I’d love to get to know more, because she (as you put it your post) “wants to put the people around her at ease.” And she succeeds at it.

  3. Alice: I remember that – the one where they’re setting off fireworks. Actually, Gocchin’s episodes were fun to watch, as she watched The Ring or The Grudge on TV with her cats… So was Ayaya’s where she washes her dog.

    S: You’re right about the cross-eyed thing. I find it hard to imagine her not that way, too.

  4. niji says:

    Is she really cross-eyed? I’ve never actually noticed that about her before. *sigh* Gotta check snaps… After I finish checking, I will have to eliminate you two for bringing that to my attention in the first place. ROTFL XP

  5. S says:

    It was a lot more noticeable when she was younger, for some reason. So check earlier PVs/pictures if you don’t notice it now.

  6. Chris~ says:

    I noticed her (=Reina) eyes instantly… I really got into her hrough the ‘Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari’-video… wow I love that video (even enough to purchase it on DVD).

    I have not seen any of these episodes, and I am happy that you (Ray) decided to make another entry on this lovely girl…

    Keep up the good work!

    But when was this aired? when was it made?

    All the best, looking forward to reading your next material.

    /Chris~

  7. a grown up says:

    Ray,
    I was so impressed by your blog that I downloaded a bunch of the music and PVs that you discuss. To me the music all sounds the same – a bunch of 15 year old girls chirping. Could it be that you are listening with a different organ than ears. They are too young for that. If you want a real singer with real talent that is also a real woman try Amuro Namie.
    Jon

  8. S says:

    Jon,

    Please go to version 1.0 of Cult of Pop ( http://www.intlwota.com/old/ ), and under where it says “Favorite Blog Entries” on the right-hand side, please read all 9 “Why Jpop?” entries.

    Ray has commented on Amuro Namie before. Once again go to Cult of Pop 1.0, and under “Notable Clips” (which is also under “Favorite Blog Entries”), you’ll notice one about Namie’s WoWa PV. But please, read the entire “Why Jpop?” entries first.

    – S

  9. Hey niji:

    I actually think it’s great that you hadn’t noticed the cross-eyed thing until now.

    Hi Chris:

    Don’t know if you know, but I responded to your comment on the first WordPress entry. Reina’s Futarigotos aired in June 2004 and you can see the whole schedule for the series at wiki.theppn. HPS did their fansub a few months after that.

    Hi Jon:

    S made the points I would have made myself. I don’t think reading the “Why Jpop?” series will change your mind, but it’ll at least explain the attraction Jpop has for me. That said, I’m curious as to what PVs you tried out – early SweetS would at least appeal to an Amuro fan, I would think.

    And S:

    Thanks again! I feel like I should be singing “Wind Beneath My Wings” to you after this week. I put up a Version 1.0 index on this site finally – been meaning to do so for a while now, but been lazy. It has the favorites at the top, followed by a chronological listing of all 217 posts from Version 1.0.

  10. Jon says:

    Well Ray you are certainly extremely insightful about yourself, and an excellent writer. As I understand it your position is that you like teenage girls, and that you reject the American morality (such as it is) that rejects teenage girls as inappropriate sexual objects, in favor of the Japanese culture, where adult sexual interest in teenage girls (and pedophila, sadomasochisism and racism, for that matter) is more socially acceptable. Perhaps then Hawaii is indeed the perfect place for you to live, as it enables you to live in an Americanized society where this position is tenable. Cause you would have a major problem on the US mainland.
    Jon

  11. niji says:

    Jon, age is merely a social construct initially designed to restrict property ownership and limit marriages that would endanger the social system of early times, and even more critically, as a method of assigning survival tactics to members of pre-industrial communities. I could advance this debate but I’d be touching on religious and political issues and I’d prefer not to do that, especially not in an another person’s blog. You seem like a smart person so I’ll assume that you know what I started blabbing on about anyway, thus rendering any further impersonal harangue from me completely unnecessary. Suffice it to say that Jpop is way cool, even sans the aspect of sexuality that Westerners tend to attach to the “Other.”

    Peace! XP

  12. Jon:

    A few quick points, or it turns to a whole new blog post:

    What I would stress is that interest in teenage girls isn’t socially acceptable in reality in Japan (if anything, laws have tightened in recent months), but in the imaginative space of its popular culture. That’s a crucial distinction for me. Or to put it another way, having a desire and acting on a desire isn’t as confused in other cultures as it is in America.

    I don’t think Hawaii is more socially accepting of such attitudes, especially given the strong sense of community I’ve discovered since living here. If anything, the social bonds are stronger and thus community mores are more effective – which is one reason we have fewer serial killers than the mainland, for example. (Back to “what I want” equalling “what I can do”.)

    Last, I’d say that in general, American culture is confused about teen sexuality, openly condemning it but also valorizing it in certain ways. Its mainstream pop culture often draws the line in an obvious manner, but not always (i.e., Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time” video) and there’s a huge market for the whole Barely Legal / Just 18 thing. I’m reminded of that line from Family Guy where the daughter becomes the star of their family’s singing group and the parents ask their producer why: “Because America loves white jailbait ass!”

    I’m not saying this reflects a broad range of American attitudes but does indicate a tension, which I think springs from deeper issues: primarily, the extension of the “growing up” period in many cultures. A little over a hundred years ago, full-fledged adulthood (you’re in the workplace, start a family) was in the early to mid teens; now, it’s in the mid-twenties. The conflict that springs from this huge shift – biologically, culturally, even sociopolitically (age of consent laws have shifted to reflect this change) – is key to what I’m describing here.

  13. Jon says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful responses. Ray, you are certainly right about the confusion in American culture. And thanks for the post about WoWa – I think we can all agree THAT PV is sexy!
    Jon

  14. Chris~ says:

    Ray: yes, I noticed your reply, thank you.

    I wrote a longer off-topic post, commenting on comments on comments (i e not on the actual blog article, but these most recent comments), but it seemed too off-topic, and I felt like it didn’t belong here. (so I didn’t post it)