Ai Otsuka’s Allowed To Be Angsty Too

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

In light of Ai Otsuka’s peppy new single Frienger, I decided I’d take a look at a tune and video on the opposite end of the spectrum from both Frienger and what’s normally expected of Ai-chin—and that video is Cherish.

The setting: a run-down gothic mansion in the middle of a gloomy swamp. How inviting.

Already, you just know this video is going to be oozing with angst—something none of us are quite used to, coming from the upbeat Miss Sakuranbo / Happy Days / SMILY herself. Though she’s already broken out of the usual Ai mold with a few previous videos (namely, Neko ni Fuusen and Planetarium), this one takes the cake, truly.

The whole video is amazingly dark, literally, which allows for some very beautiful lighting effects, while at the same time making it really difficult to see some things.

But of course, they never make Ai difficult to see. She reminds me a lot of BoA sometimes…

Ah yes, the first of several instances in the video that disturb me. What I mentioned about lighting effects comes into play significantly here, where they manage the lighting so that the shadow from her hand looks like some sort of knife, making it appear as though she’s stabbing herself. I assume that was the intention, but it’s still very bone-chilling.

And here we have Ai walking away from the windows, but in a very awkward fashion. Her movements are jerky—think Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas, programmed like a robot, and then zombified. Instance number two of being disturbed by this video.

So, like any robotic rag doll would do, she zombie-shuffles over to an old static-ridden television.

And despite everything thus far, I have to say, Ai does look amazing in this video.

She’s got a band and an old, pointy, dangerously swinging chandelier too. That is, if you can see either through all the filth and darkness of the room.

Disturbing instance number three. I’m now reminded slightly of The Ring.

Ai watching herself on the TV, distraught, practically trying to claw her way through the screen, and the only comfort she can offer is to touch the screen in return. It really makes me wonder what a lot of this PV is really about. Is it just to serve as something different but aesthetically pleasing, or is there actually calculated reason behind the scenes in it? At the time of filming this, did Ai feel trapped by something she couldn’t control, forced to watch things unfold however they may? That’s all I can reasonably conclude for this particular scene, at least.

More trapped-in-the-television Ai…

Technical difficulties, please stand by.

Ah, back in business.

Disturbing moment number four. Artists like Ayumi Hamasaki or Koda Kumi could get away with this, but seeing Ai do it just doesn’t register. There’s pain, confusion, and even the beginnings of insanity in this expression, and especially after seeing Ai in the TV being so frantic, it’s really unnerving. Despite being generally creeped out by a lot of this, it is good to see Ai expressing a lot of emotion—although it’s her bubbly persona that probably got a lot of us to love her in the first place, you can’t always be that upbeat. It’s nice to get peeks at her serious side like this, but what I don’t want to think about is what might have spurred the need for us fans to see it in the first place.

…looking at it again, I really can’t express enough how bothersome this shot is for me. I know Ai has already tested the waters of acting, but this is just too much. Creepy video or not, even if it is totally faked, I can’t tolerate seeing Ai looking like she’s literally at the brink of her sanity. But it’s in this way that the video works its magic—it makes me stop and genuinely worry about Ai, even though chances are most if not all of it is just strictly good acting.

And on to more robotic rag doll zombie shuffling…

And then to a mirror, with a semi-cleavage shot for all the boys watching.

Et les ciseaux…

…and the telltale Japanese hair snipping. In times of hardship, often after a break-up, it wouldn’t be uncommon that a Japanese person would change their hairstyle, symbolizing a new start. (Or so I’ve been told…) So either some untold fabricated incident was used as a basis for the sadness in the story here, or something did happen in Ai’s life that she vented a little bit through this video. Or rather, a bit through this scene, and a lot through the whole of this depressing video. I really hope these sorts of feelings don’t actually get into Ai’s head, because she really doesn’t seem like the type to let much of anything get to her, especially to this extent.

Okay, she really does remind me of BoA now and then.

And Ai walks towards the window. Insert a joke about not “walking towards the light” here…actually, now I’m reminded of the phantom knife from earlier. A thought of suicide behind the layout of that earlier scene, perhaps, and now she’s walking towards the light. Symbolism or aesthetics, your guess is as good as mine.

I like this shot a lot, in its simplicity. At the same time, it adds to that solemn feeling that Ai is something of a caged songbird in this video…

The camera then zooms out to the roof of the computer generated mansion to show us that some computer generated snow is starting to fall.

Somehow, Ai is outside now and trying to catch one of the fake snowflakes. Maybe she’s just imagining it…

…because here she is, back behind the window. Another simple but gorgeous shot. It’s also uncomfortable seeing her looking trapped like this…even more uncomfortable in those television scenes from earlier. But at any rate…

While I adore the beauty of these light effects, the ones like this one are excessively impractical. I mean, allow me to be realistic for a second: if the sun was shining that brightly into one of your windows, would you go over to the window and stare longingly at it? That’ll get you a one-way ticket straight to your eye doctor for some thicker glasses, that will.

Another nice change of pace, Ai’s now in the dark room with the band and the chandelier, singing into an old fashioned microphone. Classy. And yet again, different. There’s something endearing about seeing her singing like this—with the band hardly visible, it’s like it’s just her and whatever viewers come along and happen to see her. But she remains gloomy, hopeless, as though she knows whoever sees her like this won’t be able to help her.

Actually, could this singing Ai be the Ai from the television? Looking back over what I just wrote, it has a certain similarity to it: her acknowledging the viewer outside but powerless to directly interact, and the viewer (before, Ai herself; now, us) looking in, seeing her so hopeless, and not being able to change a thing.

This video sure does yank on your heartstrings, doesn’t it?

Another beautiful shot. One thing that really impresses me about this video is that it doesn’t sacrifice aesthetics for content, or vice versa. What I mean is, it’s still a meaningful and emotional video while at the same time being an “artsy” video. Generally, to have one means to sacrifice the other, as most of the beautiful and artsy videos I’ve seen are only that—pretty shots that don’t have any real cohesive thoughts behind them other than to look nice. On the flip side, plenty of videos tell stories or prove points, but they can’t pull off the serious beauty that Cherish does.

And in one last angsty hurrah, just as Ai is about to get her snowflake, it disintegrates right before her eyes. I can see this being symbolic of many things in correlation with the rest of the video, and despite the subtle initial feelings I had towards the fact that it was a big, gaudy, fake snowflake, it’s a really nice touch to asist in concluding the video.

As was pretty obvious throughout, I hold this video in high regards. It’s definitely one of my favorite videos, both of Ai’s and of all time, for being able to make me, the viewer, feel so many feelings during viewing it while looking nice at the same time.

It’s a very meaningful, very nice change of pace for Ai overall. The usual Ai video just involves her being silly and cute in front of a camera, which makes for fine entertainment, but it’s not always memorable. This one was, but of course, only because it made me worry about her and feel what she was feeling (or pretending to feel) instead of just observing her and moving on. This interaction caused the video to leave a strong imprint in my mind, and that’s why I’m here discussing it now in the first place.

But as all good things must come to an end, Ai hasn’t since done another video like Cherish. She’s back to her usual self in her most recent video, Frienger, which I will also be looking at some time soon. While I certainly commend that she’s tried such a different style of PV’s, and while I’m more than pleased with the high quality results, it just wasn’t her. All things considered, I’m glad old Ai’s back.

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2 Responses to “Ai Otsuka’s Allowed To Be Angsty Too”
  1. Alice says:

    Cherish is the song that got me into Ai-chan’s music because it was markedly darker than the stuff I’d heard before (Cow Tongue Song, Happy Days) but I could listen to it and not have her high pitched voice jump out at me (this grew on me eventually).

    I was so happy that it both made the Love Cook album (not like Japan to recycle songs, ever) and they made a PV for it. It might’ve gotten even more airplay had Planetarium not taken off again with Hana Yori Dango airing, although that was okay too.

    You should probably check out the video for “Robot” by Do As Infinity. It’s even darker than this one, and the song is a much different turn for DAI than their normal fare.

    Also, these entries are murder on my mother’s 56k connection.

  2. Chuck says:

    Love Cook really won me over for Ai because of songs like this, “Neko ni Fuusen” and “Hane-ari Tamago.” Ai can convey some real emotion. And then, of course, this song is smashed right against “Ramen 3bun cooking”…