Chokkan 2 Close-Up: Irresistibly Eri

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

Of all the current Musumes, 2005 was definitely Eri’s year. After she cut her hair and went all Eric Kamezou on Hello! Morning, she suddenly seemed funnier, weirder, perhaps more talented… and yes, even sexier. Her inclusion in the Sexy Golden group may not have been immediately obvious, but it does make sense.

Sometimes it’s difficult to remember what Eri was like before she cut her hair and went drag king on us. I think of her in the “Joshi” PV – wan smile, eager to pleace, but bland as hell. Unlike Takitty, she was indeed quite boring. Asked to choose a personality in the song, she couldn’t figure out what she wanted – itself a telling symptom of what was wrong with her pre-bowl-cut.

Remember when she got her hair cut and talked about it on Flets? It seemed such a big step… and when she took that step, we were almost immediately afterwards greeted with Eric Kamezou.

In a sense, it wasn’t the haircut that freed her, but the character of Eric. It’s amazing how this unlocked something in her, reminding me a little of an interview where Rika talked about finding her Charmy persona.

That said, the hairdo certainly has its virtues, curving around her face in a way that flatters her – something her old hairdo didn’t do. And the dye job actually suits her, too, though I wouldnt want to see her risk anything lighter.

And really, I must say again: Tsunku was right on the money again with Eri, just as he was for Tsuji and Risa and some other puzzling choices he’s made in the past. Like Risa, she risked becoming a non-entity. And like Risa, all she really needed to do was grow up before our eyes.

Eri’s “Chokkan 2” performance is interesting in that she doesn’t do much but beam and looking happy… but at the same time, there seems a whole lot going on in that smile. Maybe because her face is so expressive – frowning, smiling, or even looking clueless seems to change the countours of her face. Her smile in the PV is expansive, it pushes out the curves of her cheeks and adds a gentle glint to her eyes – it’s perhaps the most naturally disarming smile in Momusu, and right up there with Chinami’s and Erika’s in the H!P stable.

A part of me – a very, very bad part of me – recognizes in that beaming, guileless smile the question every guy wants to hear from a pretty young girl: “Is that wine cooler for me?” Which doesn’t mean I think she’s hanging out at the apartments of amoral grad students, but there’s that “no longer a child, not quite a woman” vibe in her performance, and she wears it with a lack of pretense that is intensely alluring.

Of the three young ladies in the Sexy group, she’s the only one who doesn’t try too hard to strike a seductive stance. She pouts, she shouts, she smiles – but she never pushes the sexiness, as if it never even occurred to her. And of course, that’s the crux of the charm.

Maybe it’s because she’s got those gloves on. Because another nifty thing about Eri’s performance is the sense of novelty she brings to wearing those things: others also use it to good effect, but she’s the one who does the cat-claw move and counts her fingers and seems very aware that the glove is a different look for her.

As for her singing ability… I don’t know, it doesn’t really grab me. But it’s not like she’s been given as much of a chance as most of the others. While she was more confident than Sayumi in Kouhaku, I actually preferred Sayumi’s performance more. Eri’s “Ja nai” in the second half of “Love Machine” was too pouty and shrill, her solo line a little after that wasn’t as smooth as Sayumi’s…

But Sayumi had the advantage of very low expectations, so take all this with a grain of salt.

The interesting thing about Eri is that she’s been such a late bloomer in developing her idol persona and as a result seems to’ve been relegated to the sidelines for much of her time in Morning Musume. Which doesn’t mean she’s been completely ignored, but rather that her contribution to the team hasn’t seemed as essential as it has for others.

You knew exactly what Kago brought to the game, or Rika; you also know what Takitty and Reina and Yossi brought to the group – whether talent or personality, it was easy to pin some kind of role to them.

What Eri brings is still not clear. She sings well enough, but does she stand out? She’s clearly been trying to improve herself, to become a better contributor… but I still can’t see her as anything more than a utility player for Morning Musume. For all her charm, I’m not sure if singing and dancing is necessarily the strengths she has.

Out of all the current Musume, I think Eri best has the looks and personality that lends itself to ingenue roles. Which may be making small work of a potentially big talent, but I can see her playing the girl-next-door or newbie office girl who’s a little clumsy but full of good will and gets swept off her feet – in a funny, romantic way – by some dashing but mildly effeminate leading man. There’s something about her that would make the necessary “meet-cute” of chick flicks both convincing and entertaining.

I could be wrong. The odd thing about late bloomers is that when they finally bloom, the extra time preparing and building skills have a tendency to come out in a surprising show of ability and competence. That was clear with Eric Kamezou, and the fact that she hasn’t equally distinguished herself elsewhere may be an indicator of where her natural strengths best lie.

In a way, then, retiring Eric after only a year was a good idea. Eri can look for new avenues to best express her idol persona, to build up her skills.

And Eri does have other things going for her idol persona. What was once a bland kind of agreement has now become a little more assertive – not much more, but enough to give her interactions with other Musumes a gentle, prodding bite. Her innocent teasing seems a bit airheaded but actually has a touch of sadistic glee to it; her moments of plain weirdness aren’t plentiful, but also point to other depths in her.

Obligatory dental observation: her teeth actually look pretty healthy.

So does Eri have a future as an idol? I’m not sure if she has one as a singer… and her range in comedy isn’t assured – if anything, Eric Kamezou is the first real step in that direction… and Lord knows if she has a future in acting. But we can’t rule any of this out, either.

It took her over a year and a half after joining Morning Musume to find her idol persona – and having honed it for only this past year, I think she’s still got a lot of surprises for us. What surprises exactly, I wouldn’t hazard to guess. There’s something exciting about this unpredictability, as well as heartening about seeing it in such a late bloomer.

And look at that smile – look at that beaming face. Come on, who’d refuse her a recording contract, or an acting job, or a wine cooler, or whatever else she wants?

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2 Responses to “Chokkan 2 Close-Up: Irresistibly Eri”
  1. Wapiko says:

    I adore Eri. :D/ That is all.

  2. k2c says:

    Wapiko is right. Eri could be complaining there are too many rain forests and that all third world countries need to be wiped out and I’d still have a smile on my face watching/listening her.