The Science of Hello! Project: The Freeze-Dried, Dial-Up Mikitty

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

In Hello! Project’s future… idols will be stored and pre-programmed to your needs!

My interest in Fujimoto Miki has sharpened in recent weeks, helped in no small part by a dream about her. So when I saw it was time to handle "Romantic Ukare Mode" for this series, I was intrigued. It was one of the singles from her solo career, before she was made a part of Morning Musume’s sixth gen. It’s also a rather straightforward metaphor for the way an idol is "manufactured" for her audience.

The PV  begins with the chamber where the idol is stored. It looks like a cryogenic device, good for preserving bodies until they can be revived. Then again, it could just as well be an elaborate bed or a tanning booth – but cryogenics is more sci-fi and in keeping with the PV’s themes.

Cryogenics is an artificial way to preserve life, mechanics superceding nature. Similarly, "natural" creativity takes a back seat to the finely tuned promotions and marketing that defines the idol world – and rather than preserving life, it enables a new life for its subjects, young ladies suddenly jettisoned to stardom and fame.

Then we see Mikitty, dressed kind of like a futuristic flapper: the roaring 20s meets 2020, the Jazz Age meets the Space Age.

Ah, Mikitty. The more I think of her, the more I think my subconscious made a smart choice – but then, that could just be my subconscious talking. I like her goofy side, perhaps best on display in her Alo-Hello DVD. And I like her grumpy, critical side, best on display… well, whenever she has to deal with other Morning Musume. I’m biased, of course, but she has a charm and clear persona that’s becoming more and more of a premium among the current Musumes.

A hand turns the knob on the chamber, and we see it has the numbers 1 to 9. The hand appears to be feminine, based on the long fingernails…

That’s a pretty short dress, isn’t it? Just wanted to note that.

Back to the chamber: the camera pans up past the turned knob…

And we see Mikitty lying in the chamber, apparently asleep.

It’s difficult to watch Mikitty’s solo PVs without thinking of what happened to her by joining Morning Musume: she was the supposed rival of Matsuura Aya (who’s her best friend in H!P, it seems) and suddenly became one face in a group of fifteen. She went from being a unique presence to a more anonymous role.

Metaphorically, the cryogenic chamber seems prescient, as her time in Morning Musume has meant her solo career has been on hold for the past two years. Which is odd, since other Musume have had solo careers even as they performed with the group.

The dial now set, the chamber opens up…

And like a princess in a fairy tale… or perhaps, more appropriately, Frankenstein’s monster…

Mikitty opens her eyes, staring straight ahead in a robotic manner.

Cut to a strange room, which looks sort of like the inside of a spaceship or something.

And here’s the Mikitty from the chamber, holding a space-age hula hoop.

Acrobat Mikitty has a cute smile as she works the hula hoop around… It rains gold specks as she does so.

I’m not sure if this speaks of some desire to actually be a gymnast, or if she’s had training in her past. But it’s fun to watch her, mostly because she’s Mikitty and I’ve decided Mikitty is always fun to watch.

A very nice shot of Mikitty’s midsection. The PV offers up several such shots throughout… fan service, albeit very tame service.

But this is only another kind of objectification, isn’t it? And in a way, that is what the PV is all about – a metaphor for the objectification necessary to be a geinou, the reduction of one’s being to a set of skills trotted out at someone’s request. All the chamber does, then, is program shtick.

What does this Mikitty provide? Beauty and symmetry – that is, the aesthetics of a well-handled performance. But also circles within circles, perhaps? A sense of repetition, of an abyss that one risks falling into?

And what’s up with the acrobatics? How versatile does an idol have to be? Does she have to do more than sing and dance? In Morning Musume, you need to be funny, you need to be athletic, you need to have good presentation skills… Mikitty has done skits, is a key member of the futsal Gatas team, and has been a spokesperson for various functions, just like other Musumes.

Whatever the case, this Acrobat Mikitty is indeed versatile. Next we see her with a pair of torches.

The torches spurt out gold specks, like the hula hoop.

Again, a top-down view providing a kind of synchronized swimming view of poetry in motion.

Despite her charming smile, there’s something mechanical about her movements. Not stiff, but clearly choreographed – which is the point of gymnastics, I guess. Of course, this reinforces the idea of the wind-up idol, performing moves on cue and in a set pattern, creating beauty from planned gestures
instead of spontaneity.

Then back to the chamber, a twist of the dial…

And Mikitty the glittery gymnast…

Is transformed into…

Mikitty the golfer? I was surprised to hear about her participation in a golf tournament a month ago, but I guess it’s been an interest of hers.

Again, we find Mikitty in the spaceship styled room.

She strikes a pose, smiling that wonderful smile of hers.

Again, the gold specks come into play, as she drops them from her fingers.

A shot of Miki’s chest as little gold flecks drop past it. Perhaps the gold specks are supposed to be the stuff dreams are made of? The by-product of her creation, her emergence from the chamber?

Golf Mikitty strikes a golfing pose…

… Then another…

The gold specks come into play again…

But this time seems mixed in with grass.

A shot of Mikitty’s thighs as gold dust falls to the floor

Definitely the stuff dreams are made of, I guess. And I didn’t realize how skinny her legs are.

 

But consider the song title. While there’s something approaching festive in the PV, where is the romance? If anything, this PV is striking in its SF sterility and lack of emotions. The ability to make an idol made-to-order is actually a very unromantic concept – bled dry of discovery and imagination, now adhering to a simple set of templates. Is that the risk taken in the world of idols: that one manufactures romance and renders something magical – the gold dust of our imaginations – into something contrived and mechanical? Perhaps…

Yet Mikitty has charm to spare in the PV. She is, in her own way, a lot of fun to watch. She’s certainly having fun and even flirts with the camera in that forced-wink way of hers. Which only makes plainer: it’s not the idol who’s at fault, but the machinery behind it. The romantic ukare of the PV is what the machinery is supposed to generate: a sense of wonder, an irrational sense of affection for someone on the screen. But Mikitty is the ghost in the idol machine – the idol herself provides the gold dust for the imagination, no matter what the machine tries to fine-tune and produce.

We get shots of the Acrobat Mikitty again, a reminder of the kinds of Mikitty available to the person manning the dial. In a sense, all humans adjust to contexts: after all, most people won’t speak to their friends the way they would speak to their parents or to their lovers. But for the idol, this persona-switching is much more mechanical, more clearly intended and a part of the marketing process.

And on a complete tangent, wouldn’t it have been cool if the dial not only went up to 10, but to 11? That’d be even more Mikitty than 10! ("Why not make the 10 Mikitty more Mikitty?" "… But this Mikitty goes up to 11.") What a level 11 Mikitty would involve, I’m not sure. Though now that I think of it, "Boogie Train 03" may be the answer to that.

The interchangeable Mikitty seems mildly prescient, in that Mikitty became exactly that when she went from solo to Musume. But it also speaks quite clearly of how idols in general are made-to-order, supposed to fulfill consumer expectations in one way or the other.

Of course, there are some – including myself – who believe it’s impossible to truly know another person, that we are stuck on some level of solipsism in all our relationships. The charm of idols such as Mikitty, then, is the obvious way this unknowability between individuals is breached – that it provides a well-honed fantasy of connection in a calculated, but still compelling, fashion.

In that sense, Mikitty is a top-notch idol to me. I dreamt about her, bonded with her on a subconscious level and made her a part of my psyche. Do I feel if I ever meet Fujimoto Miki in person, we’ll discover we’re soul mates? No. That’s beside the point in the idol-fan relationship, and not to be expected. She’s already served her function better than expected, and from a safe remove from my borderline insane otaku self.

The feminine hand re-appears to work the knob. There’s something about feminine hands working knobs that makes me all tingly inside…. But whose hand is it? If the hand is Mikitty’s – which is possible – than could this be about agency, the ability to choose one’s self? But if that’s the case, then who or what is the Mikitty in the chamber?

Could it be that the Mikitty who’s freeze-dried and dial-enabled isn’t the real Mikitty? On the one hand, it does appear to be her and support a cryogenics model. But what if what’s being preserved is a simulacrum of some sort, an android or clone? To extend the science fiction metaphor, is it just a Frankenstein’s monster of an idol, cobbled together and presented for a public who has clear expectations of what their idols should be like?

Of course, the next step is to assume – if you expand the PV’s diegesis to include Mikitty’s singing sequences – that Space Age Flapper Mikitty is the "real" Mikitty. But is that necessarily the case?Is it possible the Mikitty in the main singing sequences simply another program, another variant in the overall Mikitty line of idols?

And if that’s the case, then we never see the real Mikity at all, except for her hand. That is, we see how she manipulates the situation, but not the person herself. Ignore the woman behind the curtain.

Whatever we think of the romantic modes created by the idol machinery, we never see all the work that goes behind the creating of Acrobat Mikitty or Golf Mikitty or Idol Mikitty. Which actually makes sense on a couple of levels: first, we don’t know the real Mikitty, just the persona she projects to the public. Second, the machinations of Hello! Project and its heads – Up-Front and Tsunku – are often inscrutable

Metaphorically, a hand twists a knob and Mikitty went from Solo Mikitty to Musume Mikitty. Why exactly? I’m not sure myself, though I had initially assumed she needed to learn discipline and teamwork… The induction of Koharu, this year’s shuffle units, Mari’s status after she quit: the choices made for Hello! Project are often opaque in reasoning, sometimes impossible to second guess. Maybe there’s more than one ghost in the machine.

 

So what other Mikittys are in there? What other programming is available? The PV ends with a shot of the chamber, closed, Mikitty waiting for the next turn of the dial, the next mode she must fulfill.

Personally, I hope that Solo Mikitty will rise again soon. She seems much more comfortable as a subleader of Morning Musume, and a happier person than when she started with the group – but still, it’d be nice to see her shine, to spread her own special gold dust for her fans again.

Next: Robot clones run amok.

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4 Responses to “The Science of Hello! Project: The Freeze-Dried, Dial-Up Mikitty”
  1. Sabaku Ika says:

    9 = Short Dress

    Does the PV also show which numbers lead to Gymnast and Golfer? If so, we may be able to infer the meaning of the rest of the dial numbers, which should reveal the true hidden meaning of the PV.

  2. jordi says:

    I believe those torches are juggling pins that are used in rhythmic gymnastics sometimes (I maybe wrong). Though it could link that Mikitty is part of a circus what with the entertainer’s costume she wears in this and Boogie Train.

  3. Wapiko says:

    Poor Mikitty. =( I still want to smack Tsunku and say “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?” when he downgraded her from a soloist to latest MoMusu “ace”.

    Wait, when do I NOT want to smack that man?

  4. Sabaku Ika:

    I haven’t checked the dials yet, but will. Maybe we can dip into some numerology next…

    Jordi:

    Interesting ideas. I actually keep thinking Mikitty’s wearing a colorful waitress outfit in”Boogie Train 03″ not a circus performer… Why that is, I don’t know. Too many summers in Atlantic City while growing up, perhaps.

    Wapiko:

    I agree with you on both counts.