Reina’s “Memory”

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

I’m not a particular fan of Morning Musume’s Best Shots series… I like the idea of letting the girls do solo and small-group versions of Morning Musume songs, but very little of it made an impression on me.

Most likely, it’s a matter of taste. It doesn’t help that “Furusato” and “Do It! Now” are among my least favorite Momusu singles, and there’s at least three or four versions of each in the series. The good news is, I don’t recall any solos of “Hyokkori Houtan Jima”, though maybe I’m just blocking it out.

However, there’s one PV that sticks with me, one solo version of a song that I find irresistable: Tanaka Reina’s “Memory Seishun no Hikari”. I guess it helps that this is a favorite Morning Musume song of mine, and that the original PV is one of the few to actually include men (albeit as faceless dancers).

The striking thing about the video is its simplicity. Several other Best Shots PVs seem to be one-camera one-shot affairs – including Kago’s (in an aquarium) and Konno’s (in a mansion) – but this is the only one I find myself watching over and over again. I adore Kago and really like Konno as eye-candy, so this was mildly surprising: on the surface, the difference is in location only, not on premise. I should be enjoying Kago’s and Konno’s solo efforts as much as Reina’s, especially since Kago and Reina sound alike (or so Reina herself claimed in her Futarigoto).

But, I’d argue that Kago’s and Konno’s performances were pretty mild. They smile at the camera, flirt a little… it might as well be a photobook shoot. Which is not a bad thing, by any means… but Reina took her PV to a whole new level.

Reina looks far from glamorous: if anything, she looks like a skinny teenager on the verge of a breakdown. There’s something haunted and desperate in how she presents herself: a girl seeking solace on an amusement park ride, only to find the distractions nowhere near enough. She peers out of one side of her cabin, then the other, but always ends up looking into herself, lost in thought, filled with regret.

I’ve said time and again that I find Reina beautiful, but why? She’s too skinny, she’s cross-eyed, and now she’s dyed her hair a horrible Momusu-y brown. Yet I find her irresistable to watch, and to hear her react to different situations, to give a performance. It’s cliche to say that it’s a spark she has, a certain indefinable aspect to her idol persona – but the cliche holds in this case. And while she’s often used it for idol posturings and comedic efforts, that spark takes on a more mature, demanding nature in this PV.

Reina’s desperation in the PV is perfect for the song, as it’s all about letting go, and trying to hold onto one’s dignity in the face of abject heartbreak. It’s a surprising song choice in some ways, and brave for what it asks of Reina as a singer and performer.

And I like that they use the original track, keeping the Native Tongue-ish rap (which I first hated but now completes the song for me) – it adds just a little to her yankee image, as innocuous as that can be at times.

Oddly enough – or perhaps not, considering what I’m like – I find myself thinking of Murakami Haruki’s Sputnik Sweetheart when I watch this PV.

In Murakami’s novel, a woman named Miu recounts her experience on a ferris wheel in Europe one night. This being a Murakami novel, what starts as a mundane miscalculation quickly spins into a surreal violation of self – in this case, a violation borne of unexpected complicity. What Miu witnesses and its effect on her speaks to an innately self-destructive streak in humans that Murakami explores in different ways throughout his novels.

I don’t imagine Reina playing the part of Miu in any way – I mean, that’d be just too horrible, unfathomably wrong – but this cross-pollination of tragedies helps deepen the “Memory” PV for me. If not the same level of tragedy – or even the same nature – Reina’s PV has the same emotional tone as Miu’s story, numb and uncomprehending and yet desperate to understand.

Of course, the ferris wheel has long been a pop culture icon. In the same way merry-go-rounds are strongly evocative of the innocence of childhood – or if you think of the brass ring, of ambition and a certain childish zeal – the ferris wheel can evoke a sense of longing. Spinning in a circle in a rickety crate, reaching an apex and being able to see wide-open vistas, only to revolve back to earth. The joy and romance and freedom of being at the peak are balanced by the disappointment of descending to the – literally, figuratively – mundane world.

Reina could have gone for wistful or serious, but instead she opts for emotionally broken. She throws herself completely into a song that’s well beyond her age – and, one may (perhaps quite wrongly) assume, her actual experience. And she makes it convincing. In a way, I think she set a very high bar for her fellow Musumes in the series.

And beyond, perhaps. Her performance seems much less posed, much more immediate, than Natsumi Abe’s in the original. Nacchi looks like a model going through a bad photo shoot, not someone who’s actually suffering heartbreak. Any impulse to grab Nacchi and comfort her is coming from the groin, not the heart. Reina, on the other hand, needs comfort – but is clearly inconsolable.

In that sense, the presumably cheaper budget of Reina’s version trumps the glossier Morning Musume version by being more direct out of necessity, by relying more on one voice and one performance. There aren’t any dance moves or changes in setting to distract you from the story playing out in the song.

Even her singing strikes me as more emotionally resonant than the Momusu original. Being so young, she sounds like she’s close to breaking down in tears, quivery and rough around the edges – a bit whiney even… but that’s in keeping with the song, and her talent shines through this anyway.

So am I saying that Reina’s solo version of “Memory Seishun no Hikari” is better than the original Morning Musume version? Um… well, for me it is, both the song and the PV. Which may be heresy, but I know I’ve listened to Reina’s version almost exclusively since I first encountered it.

So when I found out the Best of Best Shots included an alternate version of Reina’s “Memory” PV, I was curious to find out how it looked. As it turned out, the difference is in the timing: this was a daylight version of the PV, the clip had only half the song… and perhaps one-fourth of the drama visually.

Ferris wheels are made for night time, any romantic fool can tell you that. There’s something about rising to a view of ink-black night dotted with tiny lights that is awe-inspiring, a reminder of how small each individual is in the grand scheme of the world. It’s perfect for both existential romanticism and romantic existentialism… Daytime doesn’t leave you as lost, as alone, as needy for human contact.

To the alternate PV’s credit, this isn’t a bright blue-sky day, but morose, close to twilight. And you get to see the lay of the land, which is pretty neat. And Reina’s performance is no less gripping, which is a testament to her considerable abilities.

When I think of what makes Tanaka Reina such a treasured member of Momusu for me, “Memory Seishun no Hikari” is the first reason to come to mind – followed by the second Otome Gumi single and Aa!’s “First Kiss”. And her Futarigoto episodes, actually, which maybe I should discuss sooner or later since it’s when I first developed an idle idol crush on the girl…

Compared to all these other “side” projects, I think the actual Momusu singles haven’t done her justice, though Tsunku’s apparently tried to make up for this time and again. Thankfully, the ten-member line-up has allowed her to shine more – I especially like her on “Osaka Koi no Uta” – and it’ll be interesting to watch her grow as a performer in the coming years.


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6 Responses to “Reina’s “Memory””
  1. niji says:

    It’s surprising to find out that someone actually got to analyzing the PV from an immersed aesthetic perspective. Whenever I watch that PV (the nighttime version), I can’t help but drown in Reina’s melancholic yet ironically calming voice — that and the eye candy, of course — so I was never really able to detach myself from the shallow fan”person” (I know it’s obvious but let’s act as if it wasn’t just ‘coz) perspective.

    Good article. It doesn’t include any demeaning remarks and insults aimed towards Tuxedo Neko, but it’s still okay by me because it’s about Reina and there are screenies galore.

    On a personal note, too much professionalism gets tediously repetitive and the previous entry you made was a breath of fresh air because it was something new. Lash out at some random Jpop-related persona every now and then just for kicks. ROTFL

  2. S says:

    Ray, please don’t listen to niji. 🙂

    niji, if you wanted to see demeaning remarks and insults, there are plenty of forums that you can go visit. I don’t know about you, but it’s the professionalism and analysis that keeps me coming back every morning to check if there are any new entries here.

    There was a lot more to the previous entry than just “a breath of fresh air” because of the lashing out. It was a starting point to the two posts after it (and hopefully more…) about Reina. As a fellow Reina fan, I’m ecstatic to see that not only is Ray a fan, but that he’s giving her the treatment that he is with these posts, explaining it in such a way that he’s basically detailing my feelings in a much better way than I ever could.

  3. S, I don’t think niji wants me to write in a demeaning, insulting manner. Rather, he welcomes breaks from my usual, hyper-intellectual, otaku meets grad student kind of writing – loosen up once in a while, a little more emotion and a little less analysis. And I’m sure I’ll have posts like that once in a while – after all, there’s some stuff that’s best described in the throes of disbelief and outrage.

    The fact that I was set off by a guy in a cat costume cradling Reina… Well, that says a lot about me, doesn’t it? I mean, if she was dating somebody, fine. That’s normal. But a guy in a cat costume (or maybe a girl) holding her in his (or her) arms?!?!?! Oh, how unfair the gods are!

    I didn’t intend to have a Reina Tanaka lovefest week (it was originally just one article about both the Miyazaki clip and the “Memory” PV), but I’m glad it turned out that way and that other Reina fans are enjoying it.

  4. niji says:

    S, you’re taking things too literally. Check out that acronym at the end of the paragraph containing the statements you commented. 😉

    As Ray explained, it’s not that I want him to start writing all ghetto and go ballistic on other costumed Japanese characters, I’m just saying that emotional outbursts like that are more than welcome. After all, this is a personal blog first and ‘whatever other purposes this blog serves’ second. LOL

  5. niji says:

    *commented on. (I missed it during my initial proofing. Somehow, the absence of a single two-letter word changed the meaning of the entire sentence. Sorry about the doublepost for grammar correction. I’ve done it so many times that you should be used to it by now anyway. ROTFL)

  6. S says:

    Sorry, I get carried away sometimes. 🙁