Chokkan 2 Close-Up: Lovely, Lovely Sayumi

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

I must admit, I’m not watching the Chokkan 2 Close-Up PV as much as I was… um, last year. However, I still find the Chokkan PV riveting whenever I do watch it, and I still wanna comment in depth on each member of the current Momusu line-up – and the PV is a very good vehicle for such commentary as any other.

The 19-nin Yume Morning Musume performance helped put things in perspective, actually… The current Morning Musume has potential as a group but it’s got the least possibility for breakout individual stars. We’ve got one sure bet – Mikitty – and two strong possibilities – Tanaka and Takitty… and that’s it. As a result, figuring out what each member of the group brings to the table – and what it tells us about their future, as well as Momusu’s – seems more critical. Especially if there’s a graduation this year, whoever that may be.

So moving along to the only one of the Chokkan Cute Pink group I hadn’t talked about, let me say that Michishige Sayumi stole my heart for good with this PV and she sealed the deal with that Eco Moni photobook… And that red hat she wore in Kouhaku? That just proves to me how valuable she is in Morning Musume. That was an incredible fucking hat, and she wore it like nobody else could have.

She’s still only third among my favorite Musumes in the current line-up, though. Mikitty is first, Reina is second… but, let’s be frank, they’ve got a whole lot more going for them. As in singing talent and a more rounded-out idol persona. But that doesn’t make Sayumi any less valuable – just more focused in her Charmy. I mean, charm.

First, I find it admirable that Sayumi hasn’t dyed her hair yet. Or maybe she has and changed her mind – at any rate, I think she looks great with jet black hair. Some Momusu benefit greatly from dye jobs – Mari and Yuko immediately come to mind, for instance – but it doesn’t suit everyone. Why this matters to me, I have no idea – but in a sea of dye jobs, seeing her and Koharu with black hair is something of a relief. And in her case, a wise choice most likely – I can’t imagine Sayu’s looks benefiting from a dye job.

So, what else is there to like about Sayumi? Well, she’s shameless about how cute she thinks she is. Which was annoying when she started out and seemed to believe her own hype – but like her idol Charmy, she seemed to have gained some perspective and turned it into a memorable character.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times how I first became aware of Sayu on a clip for Utaban – the 6th Gen Lie Test, where the then-newest additions to Morning Musume were asked some embarassing questions about themselves and their senpai. At the time, she seemed a spoiled brat, believing herself cuter than the other girls in the group… But if that’s the only leg you’ve got, you might as well stand on it and even hop when you can, right?

The more I think about it, the more I believe I was faulting Sayumi for something I applauded in Fourth Gen: finding a strong, identifiable idol persona and working it hard.

This may be giving her the benefit of the doubt – a huge benefit, at that – but perhaps not. After all, her favorite senpai was Rika-chan. She saw how far Rika went with her persona and with her speaking parts in various songs and by beaming her unique Charmy cluelessness.

Surely, Sayumi saw how much of it was real narcissism but also how much of it was an elaborate act. And if she wanted to be like that, she had to set down her stakes early on. Theorizing along this line, Sayumi set up her own Charmy-esque narcissism before Reina really staked out her Yankee image and way before Eri figured out what the hell she was going to do persona-wise. So in a sense, she was the sixth-gen trailblazer.

And – let’s keep assuming Sayumi was this canny and self-aware, or else it all falls apart – she also saw that Rika had a mixed bag in her chosen persona. After all, Charmy was often the butt of jokes for being so prissy and airheaded, but the trade-off was a loyal fan base who liked her despite such excesses. If Sayumi had noticed that and thought it out some, she probably figured playing it as obvious as Rika would have been a bad move – her nascent fan base was strong, but did it really want a Rika version 2.0?

All of which makes Sayumi seem very careerist, at least in choice of role model. I’d long thought Rika to be the second most careerist member of Morning Musume – right behind Gocchin. And by this I simply mean that the choices made by the idol are very self-conscious about where it will take her career – take into account the importance of all the elements of being an idol to make the most marketable product possible.

Which to me is a virtue, as it shows how seriously these girls take their work. Some idols seem less directed in what they’re doing and why, but the careerists know what their Gocchin latched onto a solo career pretty damn quickly and Rika was active enough a couple years back between sub-groups and acting to have been the highest-earning Musume at the time. (At least, according to a news piece on tax records I remember from a while back.)

Of course, the truth is that all idols have to be thinking of where their career is going and what they’ll be doing to maintain public interest for as long as possible. And as depreciated in public opinion as Momusu is, they’re still in a girl group with huge name recognition. But some of the girls seem less committed to this kind of planning than others, while others appear to grab every opportunity they can. (Other examples of great careerists in H!P: Tsuji, Kago, Ayaya. Yuko seems to have something in mind, but how well it’s gone for her is debatable.)

In Sayumi’s case, though, such a careerist bent was necessary. The shelf life for cute girls who can’t sing very well isn’t exactly guaranteed, and she needs to take advantage of that window of opportunity.

That said, her singing isn’t as bad as it used to be. At least, I was surprised at how she didn’t embarass herself in Kouhaku with her solo line.

Actually, my first reaction when I realized Sayumi had a solo line in “Love Machine” was twofold: “What the hell?” and “Oh, shit.”

But she did a decent job of it. Which isn’t damning with faint praise – not exactly – but admitting to some marked improvement on her part. It seems doubtful Sayumi will ever become a strong singer, nor is she distinctive enough in a good way that she can work with her weaknesses the way, say, Tsuji and Rika have managed.

But she’s got a very attractive idol persona, and I honestly believe that’s sufficient to keep her career running. Thankfully, we see in “Chokkan 2” just how much fun it is to watch Sayumi doing her idol thing.

She doesn’t seem as coy as in her first couple years – if anything, there’s a directness in how she plays her persona now, one that dispenses with girlish flirtation and instead creeps a little more towards… vamping.

Obligatory dental assessment: looks like something of an overbite, but nothing too troublesome.

If Koharu is the puppy that’s eager to please and charged with way too much energy, Sayumi’s a better trained puppy who wants to make sure her tricks are earning her the right kind of attention and treats. You can see it in her Chokkan 2 close-up – the confidence is there, but she’s also clearly holding back som. She doesn’t overplay her cuteness for the most part, but there are a few controlled bursts to remind you of her magnificent Sayumi-ness: in a sudden deep tilt of the head, in a particularly cute grin with appropriate hand gesture, in a wide-eyed burst of fake surprise.

She doesn’t have as nuanced a persona on display in this video as, say, Mikitty or Eri. But unlike some of the older Momusu whose personae in the PV are persuasively one-dimensional – I’m thinking Takitty and Yossi, especially – it isn’t always as clear that Sayumi is as self-aware of the intended effect. If anything, she seems to beam at the camera, do some Sayumi kawaii moves, and leave it at that. She doesn’t seem as in on the joke, for lack of a better way to describe it.

And yet she does make it work, because she can be very winning when she wants to be, and she definitely wants to be in this PV.

But there’s something else to consider: Sayumi is excellent in doing serious poses and dramatic shots. Part of it is likely her natural narcissism, the whole “drama of my life that’s playing in my head” aspect . Certainly, she’s got the right persona to make a great model later on, never mind the singing and dancing. So if what we see here of Sayumi is fun and light and lively but ultimately not very deep… well, maybe “Chokkan 2” isn’t the best vehicle to see Sayumi’s strengths.

Maybe we’re better off looking at her strengths in her photobooks, especially that EcoMoni one that came out last month. Wow, that was just… wow. Really.

Does Sayu have an idol future post-Momusu? Maybe. Certainly, her role model provides one strategy: pair up with a couple of other girls that will accentuate your looks and downplay your vocal weaknesses. Except Rika’s a stronger idol overall – stronger persona, somewhat better voice, and better able to work with her weaknesses. Sayu needs a bit more growing to get to that stage, but it’s certainly quite possible.

That said, she can just stick with her looks and charm as her greatest assets and become a gravure idol or a comedic actress. I actually see this better suiting her than any of the others, and probably the best career move in another few years.

Actually, it’d be a kick to see a more grown-up Sayumi on the geinou track of TV appearances and comedies and whatever else. She’d be a very good celebrity judge, actually, since she has a knack for saying things that sound innocent and clueless but can be quite cutting.

A part of me suspects that she’ll go from playing a spoiled child from playing a spoiled woman-child – and the years of practice in-between will just mean she’s got a better handle on her persona and how to make the most of it. Ironically, I think she’s got a better than average chance in life after H!P – just not the way we’d probably expect.

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2 Responses to “Chokkan 2 Close-Up: Lovely, Lovely Sayumi”
  1. k2c says:

    Hah. After reading this, I am left here somewhat confused and just overloaded by cute. You started off saying that this lineup of Morning Musume isn’t as strong with each individual, and I agree. However, you’ve made such a good case for Sayumi’s career in the long run!!

    On a side note, I’m wondering what type of group is better. It really is crazy to try to compare this 10-nin to the other one. They have the same name and Hitomi in name, but they are different groups entirely. I say “Hitomi in name” because she is really different from how she was “back in the day.” Anyways, what makes a better group? Do strong individuals make for a stronger group or do “weaker” individuals working together really strengthen the group dynamic? Well I guess it depends on what type of person you are. I’m not big on comparisons either way so I enjoy them separately.

    You are right one when talking a lot about Rika when talking about Sayumi as an idol. She has to be mentioned in the same way Ai Kago would have to be mentioned, although not in the same relationship, when talking about Tsuji Nozomi’s idol career, and vice versa. Like you say, Sayumi is not going the cute & oblivious route like Rika/Charmy did. However, she did need to wait until Rika was gone to really come into her own persona, even if it was established long before Rika graduated. I don’t know, I just can’t really see two idols in a group working to their full potential trying to be the exact same thing. Furthermore, Sayumi has greatly benefited from her role in the news segment on H!M last year. Mostly because of Yuko. I see Yuko : Sayumi :: Mari : Rika. Sayumi and Rika are not the same cute persona, but they both have had someone go “Oh God, stop it psycho cute girl!”

    It probably would have been better for Momusu is that girl came out of the group and was not Yuko. Then again, there really was no one to do it. Maybe Reina?

    All of this is really making me wonder why Rika is in Viyuuden and not in a solo career. Obviously, H!P doesn’t really think she can hold her own, and judging on her singing alone she probably couldn’t. Still, if anyone had the fanbase that would withstand it, it’s her. Maybe she needs other girls around her at all times to remain as cute/attractive? Maybe they just wanted to show off some lesbian action. Who knows?

  2. k2c:

    Your mention of Yuko makes an excellent point I didn’t even consider – that Yuko was a great foil for Charmy in the past and now proves the same for Sayumi!

    As for Rika going solo – I think the greatest advantage Viyuden has for her is the clear confidence and force of personality she now asserts by being a leader. It’s as evident in her Hello! Morning segments as in her work with Viyuden, and being in charge of two other girls must contribute to it.