Berryz Koubo’s “Jiriri Kiteru” PV

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

Berryz Koubo’s latest single and PV, “Jiriri Kiteru”, forces me to split conceptual hairs. The song is excellent, the best thing since “Nanchuu Koi Wo Yatteru You Know” and a return to the mature sound which first got me into Berryz after a year-plus of resistance. The PV’s choreography is breathtakingly strong – something I’ll discuss in length when I look at the Dance Version of the PV. The girls are all looking great in the video, too – and I’m surprised at how compelling some of them are. As far as craving just to see the girls and bask in their kawaii-ness, the PV delivers as best it can.

However, the premise of the video – the very concept of it – is seriously flawed, and the problematic framework makes it difficult to watch the regular PV without feeling disturbed, annoyed, and even a little bit angry. I detect something of a metaphor here, but intent is so bungled by mood that I find myself grasping to explain how such a thing could happen – or for that matter, to figure out what happened in the first place.

The video begins with a shot of a fence – dark, ominous.

It evokes a sense of prisons, oppression, already setting the dark mood that suffuses the PV, while the rapid tracking of the camera captures the sense of movement and escape.

The girls are first seen standing with their backs turned to the camera…

They turn in a dramatic fashion – looking serious, older than their years. Well… “older” being a relative term.

The dance sequence set is a very bleak looking place… an abbatoir done in Bauhaus style, or a warehouse that was one a hotel lobby. I can’t tell which.

I have to say, Miyabi looks… dare I say it?… Miyabi looks great. I mean, they all look great, of course, but she’s really in the idol zone with her dance performance. And this is one of the PVs – along with “Piriri to Yukou!” and “Special Generation” – where her face seems nicely proportioned, that strong jaw becoming a strength and not a flaw. Whether it’s make-up and lighting or another growth spurt, I have no idea – but bravo!

The shots of the steel bars and fences are so Teutonic to me, I want to scream “Neubauten! Neubauten! Einsturzende Neubauten!”

But maybe that’s just me.

The song itself, as I said, is fantastic. The use of classical music isn’t at all gimmicky, but makes the song more powerful, more dynamic – and also bestowing on it a bit of borrowed gravitas, a seriousness that hasn’t been heard in the past two singles. The velocity of the song is balanced by the delicate touches of piano and the sweet singing of the Berryz themselves.
The singing is quite strong, with the Berryz developing their vocal skills quite nicely. The girls have talked about how they had a hard time getting into the song and how to deliver it since it involves emotions they’ve yet to experience. That said, they do an excellent job, matching the drama and power of the music.

It’s a great song, the best from H!P so far this year – though admittedly the competition for 2006 hasn’t been all that strong. It’s a great vehicle for the Berryz, and a great way to win over new listeners who up to now may have been avoiding what they saw as Kiddie Musumes. Further, the dance sequences in the PV are as propulsive and dramatic and as fun as the song itself, driving the song forward in an engaging manner.

The dance sequences are interlaced with the girls running, and a fence…

Most of the girls, such as Saki here, are looking quite distressed as they’re running…

Is this another one of those weird parties that the girls seem to attend? Have they replaced the Celeb Machine pool party with… what? A debutante ball in a prisoner of war camp? A German expressonist birthday bash?

Yurina seems to be excited, at least! But how can she not be? She’s got a pretty, frilly party dress with a corsage, her hair’s done up nice, apparently she doesn’t have to bring a present to this party…! Sure, she can’t wait to get there!

… And apparently, the macarena will be danced…

Except… except… Yurina now looks so serious! The fence blocks our view of her, and it’s like she went to the party and found out that it was one of those parties where the grandparents are also attending and they’re already getting drunk and pinching all the kids’ cheeks. Next thing you know, the Tony Bennett records have replaced the Backstreet Boys and the old folks are all trying to limbo. Hell, I’d be depressed, too.

Mm… gratuitous Momoko behind shot. Moving along…

Chinami seems upset, too. It’s becoming clear that we’re not in what’s called A Happy Place.

And Momoko seems shy, pressing herself against the corner of the wall. Is this, like, a sequel to “Zyx Fly High”? Has she become homeless again? Were the dresses that expensive? I’d like to see her in that funky white cap and midriff baring tube top again, actually.

Saki, who’s often the most chipper of Berryz, also looks troubled, alienated…

But here are Miyabi and Maasa running, and there’s – what? A spotlight on them? Are they escaping a party? Why are they fenced in? Why isn’t anyone stopping to make a cutesie idol peace sign?

Of course, this is all speculation. We’ve got the girls running, we’ve got them looking serious, we’ve got searchlights and fences and an overall sense of… menace?

I guess a serious song deserves a serious video, but I’m not even sure if I’d call this PV serious more than it is distraught, even hysterical. Again, I direct you to crs’ excellent observation on the PV, which helped crystallize my initial reaction upon watching “Jiriri”. At first, I was willing to go along with the damsel in distress motif, if only as a lark, as a different look at a much beloved group…

It’s when the first tears are shed that I finally have to stop and wonder what the fuck is going on.

On a visceral level, I just don’t like to see my idols cry. I’m attached enough to them to not want them in tears, for the most part, same as I’d feel for a friend or loved one. Further, I know the tears in this PV are for purely dramatic purpose. So perhaps I’m also not pleased that these tears are fake and manipulative…

But even that extended answer is incomplete. After all, perhaps my favorite PV of all time is “Love Like Candy Floss” and there the girls of SweetS shed some dramatically fake tears of their own. But where that PV has me crying with the Haruna and company, here some kind of bullshit meter is ringing – I have no desire to cry with the girls, instead I just feel used. Not by the girls, who’re only following directions, but by the creators behind the PV.

Both “Love Like Candy Floss” and “Jiriri Kiteru” are highly manipulative videos. That’s part of the charm of Jpop as far as I’m concerned, that roller coaster of emotional highs and lows. But “Love Like Candy Floss” has a benign perspective on the idols and what they go through in the video, even taking the edge off the dramatic tear-jerking with its metafictive frame. The narrative is complete enough that the tears not only make sense, but are part of an overall project of empathy (again, helped by the metafictive conceit).

In contrast, “Jiriri” only gestures towards narrative, not quite telling a story but pretending to do so. The setting and the constant movement makes us think something is going on, but what exactly is left unclear. We can chalk it up to poetic license, but that license has to be earned before it can be used so wantonly.

There is a sense of malice in the way the girls are handled in the PV. It’s in the lighting, in the defensive postures of the choreography, even the frantic pace of much of the video, as it more emphatically frames the non-moving shots of the girls in tears or frustrated by the fence. We have a vague sense of a malevolent force imposing itself on the girls, a boogieman that they have to flee and fend off, and yet they cannot do so and are reduced to tears by this. If anything, the malice is defined by the helplessness of the girls within the diegesis of the video.

In short, we’re not asked to empathize with the girls but to sympathize with them. As viewers, we aren’t asked to share their view of the world – which is the point of “Love Like Candy Floss” – but simply to feel sorry for the Berryz and what they’re going through in the PV. From there, we’re supposed to want to comfort the girls and make them feel better – to be their protectors.

And while the temptation is strong to run with such feelings, the underlying malice in the concept of the PV is just too obvious, just too rigged, to make it feel anything but ham-fisted manipulation. The emphasis should be on “ham-fisted” and not “manipulation” – that is, on the clumsiness of the handling. Because as I’ve said, I expect Jpop to manipulate my emotions, that’s part of the fun. However, it shouldn’t be so obvious and it shouldn’t be so aesthetically unpleasing.

The manipulation is even more apparent when considering how powerful the choreography is in the PV. The girls are absolutely on fire with their dance, sharper both individually and as a unit.

And the girls look like they’re having fun in their dance sequences, the kind of glow that comes with pride when one masters something difficult. Not just the actual physical moves, but the emotions that inform the moves.

Which is perhaps what makes Miyabi so compelling in the video: what would be arrogance in other situations come across as a knowing confidence in the way she looks at the camera, a cool command beyond her years. It’s a careful step short of seductive, and feels genuine in her performance, not rigged from the lighting and direction.

Miyabi’s only the exemplar of this mood within the group, as all of the girls look like they’re enjoying themselves in the dance sequences. As a result, those sequences are all about control and strength and power – not the weakness and reliance on some otaku ex machina salvation of the fence sequences.

A couple of other PVs are worth comparing to “Jiriri”, as the visual resemblances are so strong but the effects are markedly different.

First, there’s Zone’s “Akashi”. The fence, the dark lighting, the girls in jeopardy, all made me think of the regular version of that PV. However, “Akashi” is stronger metaphorically – if anything, it’s positively baroque in the way it handles the themes of despair and redemption. Further, the lyrics are all about finding proof that life is worth living – it’s a bleak song and deserves a bleak PV in order to have the uplifting payoff at the end. In comparison, “Jiriri” as a visual metaphor is positively anemic – not fleshed out enough, and thus not earning the uplift it hints at towards the end.

The most direct visual antecedent to “Jiriri”, however, is another recent Hello! Project release, Def. Diva’s “Suki Sugite Baka Mitai”. The lighting, the confused editing, the running, and the sense of endangered idols are also there… but for some reason, Def. Diva seems more vacuous, less malicious and threatening. Part of it is probably the difference in ages: a grown woman crying doesn’t have the same impact as a young teen, where the protective impulse is much more natural and stronger. Part of it is also the touches of absurdity in the Def. Diva PV – I’m thinking of the balloons, but from what I remember (as I didn’t watch the PV too much) the video just didn’t expect to drag much of a reaction out of the viewers, at least not to the extent of “Jiriri”.

Having said all this, let me repeat that there are some undeniable pleasures to watching this PV, that it has a great deal going for it despite its conceptual falsity.

First and foremost, just being a fan of Berryz makes it impossible to not like the video on that level: the girls look great, it’s always fun to see how they appear every few months. It isn’t so much that the girls are changing rapidly, but it is that time in their lives where change is the norm.

Further, there is a pleasure in seeing the effort the girls place into the song, into the dance, and even into their acting for the PV. Asking them to cry on command may not have been a good idea, but it’s gratifying to see how dedicated they are towards making as strong a product as possible.

There are moments of playfulness which undercut the overall faux morbid tone of the PV. I wouldn’t call it a resistance or a counter-reading, but the girls are sometimes smiling as they run through the alley, and there’s one move repeated a couple of times – where a pair of Berryz touch each other gingerly on the side and arms – that seems like a wink and nod to the lesbian overtones from several of last year’s H!P videos. It’s like, “We’ll only go so far as this,” and the smirks on the girl’s faces show that they’re not taking it seriously at all.

Stupid as it sounds, I feel like the PV on some level wants the girls to grow up under the pressure of trauma, that one element in the whole tears / fence / chase leitmotif is the idea that maturity is the acceptance of the brutality of the world.

While I welcome the mature sound of Berryz, though, I don’t feel it has to deny the more juvenile appeal of the group, which is under assault by this PV’ssense of menace. While my favorite Berryz songs are all on the mature side of the groups’ repertoire – “Can’t Live Without You”, “Koi no Jubaku”, “Special Generation”, “Nanchuu” – I also enjoy their more lighthearted songs such as “Piriri to Yukou” and “21ji no Made Cinderella”.

The girls are blessed by being at the right age where such range isn’t only possible, but necessary for their growth as idols. To rely too much on the mature sounds would undercut part of their appeal;to rely too much on the more lighthearted aspects would keep them from maturing as performers. This may be one of the main reasons the group haven’t fallen into a rut, because their singles have been carefully balancing these twin directives, keeping the look and sound as fresh and unexpected as possible.

But could that be the key, then? To play devil’s advocate, is it perhaps that the whole theme and visual concept of this PV is supposed to be a reflection on the idol life. Perhaps even a critique of it?

Setting aside Stalag 17, Primo Levi, and Oz, the presence of Berryz in this setting does recall another work of popular culture that I don’t usually consider: the book Little Girls in Pretty Boxes, a groundbreaking study on figure skaters and gymnasts who aspire for the Olympics at a young age and the toll it takes on them. While I’ve never read the book, I’d say it had a strong cultural influence in making the general public more aware of the price paid for greatness in sports where youthfulness and beauty and grace are valued so highly.

Similarly, one can say the same for idols. I wouldn’t claim that they suffer as much of the same physical exertions as athletes, though certainly a great deal is expected from them. However, in the emotional pressure, the sense of a career started perhaps too early, the parallels are obvious.

That being the case, then, would the PV be more palatable if this is the defining metaphor for all the fences and running? It would explain why the girls are wearing pastel party dresses – as idols they must always look pretty, perhaps overly feminine – and the fence would show how the girls are caged in by the idol lifestyle. The running would reflect the hectic pace of their life, and when they hit the fence it shows their despair.

However, this reading falls short for me in a couple of ways. First, the bleakness of the PV doesn’t allow for the most obvious response to the suffering of idol life: that these girls want it, that they’ve been at it long enough that they’re aware on some level of what they give up and what they gain by being young idols. I can tick off a list of girls and young women who’ve left the idol life to further their education or just because they want to try something different: Ayappe, Mizuho, Maiha, Takayo, some of SweetS. I admire the hard work and dedication of the idols who stick with it, but don’t tell me – as this video would seem to, if it’s a metaphor for the idol life – that they can’t escape. I know too well that they can.

Second, the whole damsel in distress motif of the video is made even more repulsive if it’s about the confining nature of idol life. If the viewer is meant to rescue the girls from the horrible life of idols, then stop buying their CDs and DVDs and photobooks! Admit you’re part of this imagined problem and not the solution. The alternative to the rigors of idol life isn’t having some deluded fuck from the audience wanting to swoop in and save them so they live happily ever after. Rather, it’s not having an audience at all and thus allowing the girls to return to a normal life with their families – something most of them desire, I’m sure, except they desire being an idol even more. So again, the rescue fantasy implicit in the PV is exposed as just plain misguided as well as hopelessly pathetic.

There’s just no way to sell me on the video’s concept. Just when I’m set to embrace this PV the way I’d want to embrace Momoko on a warm Waikiki evening, the tears are shown again and my mood turns sour.

Maasa’s too pretty a girl to have to look so emotionally damaged… at least, for no real reason, as is the case here.

I consider tears a crucial part of being a Jpop fan – some people watch Lifetime movies to get their recreational crying, I have Morning Musume graduations and anything with Zone. (Because looking back, anything with Zone is now melancholic and sad since I know they’ll break up.)

But crying with the girls in this video is just impossible – I don’t buy the tears, I don’t buy what the tears represent. When they do cry for real, such as at Maiha’s graduation or when Saki got the shit scared out of her by Aoki Sayaka, those are different situations. These tears have a specific purpose to a specific audience and I just don’t want any part of it.

If anything, all the wind sprints the girls have to do when filming this PV evokes more sympathy and empathy from me. But again, that goes back to the hard work the girls are doing, not the abstract theories being molded behind the scenes.

In reality, of course, crying children and even crying teens just annoy me. “Man up!” I want to yell, at the sound of juvenile bawling. Tears from an idols, being mediated and marketed and occupying a rarified space, should be used sparingly, lest my everyday reaction come barking out of me in a fit of impatience.

Of course, idols are different from everyday teens and pre-teens, because they inhabit an imaginative space and not day-to-day reality. As much as I dislike children out of principle, I think I love my idols deeply out of a similar set of convictions. And for the moment – really, for the past several months – Berryz Koubo have been the dominant idols in my life, the deepest expression of idol worship I can muster in myself.

Thankfully, not even this video can obscure that devotion. They can be running, in tears, beset by bad lighting, forced against a fence… but Berryz still have that special something, that idol quality, that makes them worth watching time and again.

As a unit, they seem to have grown stronger, more focused in the wake of Maiha’s graduation. The group has not only been relatively stable and productive compared to their H!P stablemates, their growth can be charted clearly from start to present. “Jiriri” is especially gratifying in that sense, as Berryz seem to have grown by leaps and bounds since even their last single. I lookforward to seeing how the girls develop as a unit as 2006 progresses.

And as for the individual idols behind this future superstar unit… For Risako, the bloom is somewhat off the rose, but that rose has grown hardier for it. That is, Risako’s initial charm as the baby of the group and the most obviously kawaii of the bunch has diminished as the girls grow older and more emphasis is placed on talent. That said, Risako had more going for her than that initial charm, and while she’s still rough around the edges, she knows how to handle the camera and has a distinctive singing voice that suits her well.

Yurina was the early beauty of the group, and continues to be the comeliest of Berryz. While she’s been one of the regular leads, I’m surprised she hasn’t dominated the group more, her idol persona doesn’t seem as developed as the other regular leads. That said, I love that she seems to be the only one consistently smiling during the running scenes – it was like she was running to something and not away from it.

Miyabi… um… well, this is very much a Miyabi-centric PV, and I’m not sure if I’m just caving in to peer pressure or finally admitting the obvious to myself. But I like Miyabi here, more than anything else I’ve seen her in, including Aa! and Sexy Otanajan. I’ll agree with crs that Miyabi is the true diamond in the rough of Berryz, though I still have others that I favor more.

Chinami! Oh, I adore Chinami though at times I wonder why. I still think she’s vastly under-utilized, even though there’s been more of an effort at having all the Berryz shine in songs and videos. Maybe she’s the late bloomer of the group – she’s already got a lot of charm and personality, but it feels like there’s more on the way.

Saki also continues to grow on me, though that incident on Music Fighter leaves me as confused as I think it left her. She performs well in the song and video, though again it’s not like she stood out in any way. Being a Saki fan sometimes means accepting that, I guess.

Out of all the Berryz, Maasa is the one who’s captured my imagination most vividly in recent months. The ugly duckling aspect peeks out some with some unfortunate camera angles, but watching her blossom into her own beauty is one of the great joys of being a Berryz fan right now.

And then there’s Momoko… She gets almost as much camera time as Miyabi, and she seems to have the strongest feel for the dramatic aspect of the PV. It’s also fun to watch her dance especially, though I’m not sure why. It’s not that she brings more of herself to the dance performance than the others, though her moves seem more distinctly Momoko, if that makes any sense. My favorite monkey girl idol’s just got X factor to spare, I guess.

Strange as it sounds, I’m troubled at the fact that I like all the Berryz so much, that the ones I claim to not like eventually work their magic on me and I become as much a fan of them as the others. Having a clear pecking order, from most favored to least, feels like I’ve got more critical leverage, that I’m holding some critical clarity and not just succumbing to sheer otaku love.

But with this video, that process feels complete: even Miyabi feels above reproach now. I’m like two or three viewings short of performing transmiyabisation on this blog.

So. Great. Just get me a trenchcoat with photos of the Berryz stapled all over, and I’ll dance around with a lightstick in front of my TV.

Still, it’s an exciting time to be a Berryz fan, isn’t it? I predicted they’d overtake Morning Musume this year – that 2006 is the year the H!P Kids become masters of Tsunku’s stable. Okay, it isn’t likely to happen that completely. But Berryz are certainly proving themselves with this single.

I think the rise of Berryz has gone from an aspiration to an inevitability, and that this song is going to play a large part in it.

I also think Miyabi’s going to be more central to the group’s success, considering how strong her showing was in the video. She’s also the best performer from the Switch On! concert, I’m now willing to admit…

If anything, Momoko better epitomized the earlier phases of Berryz: she’s cute, dynamic, and has the charms of a precocious girl. Miyabi in contrast is more… well, not womanly, but more commanding in her idol persona, more take charge. I think that’ll be a more powerful sell for the group as they expand their audience and build a fan base that will grow with them.

The PV does offer some hope towards the end, as the girls stop crying and make themselves smile. And I’m not made of stone, it’s great to see the clouds part, so to speak. If anything, it’s like the relief of having six weeks of seemingly nonstop rain on Oahu finally give way to real Hawaii weather.

They could’ve taken a different route with the PV – keeping the drama and taking out the sense of menace. The running and fences could have been used positively – maybe even a prison break-esque crawl through a hole in the wiring – and the energy would have been preserved, the girls come across as strong young ladies in their own right. The song wouldn’t have suffered from a more positive visual tone, and the video probably wouldn’t be as alienating as it sometimes feel.

That said, the success of the video does end up hinging on the Berryz being Berryz, and that’s what’ll keep me watching it over and over again. Maybe not so much the regular PV as the dance version, but still…

I’m not sure what’s next for the Berryz. With the success of this song on the Oricon charts, maybe a similarly mature-sounding follow-up? I’m thinking the summer’s shuffle units will be announced in a month or so, and I expect at least the four leads to earn places in this year’s line-up, along with Megumi and Maimi from C-Ute.

We’ve got the next generation of Hello! Project ready to take their rightful place among their senpai and not just behind them. I don’t know about you, but I find it quite exciting. Hello! Project has always been about change and evolution and the surprises they provide. It looks like the best surprises this year will be coming from the Kids.

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3 Responses to “Berryz Koubo’s “Jiriri Kiteru” PV”
  1. acetonic says:

    If you haven’t checked it out yet, HPS has subbed the Berryz appearence on Music Fighter from last week. It’s the funniest H!P talk segment I’ve seen in a long time. And I was starting to wonder if those girls had personalities. I might even remember more than one name now!

  2. CJ Marsicano says:

    The Einsturzende Neubauten reference had me laughing! OMG, could you imagine Blixa Bargeld in a Berryz Koubou video?!? XD

    Funny thing… Einsturzende Neubauten filmed their movie “1/2 Mensh” in Japan with a Japanese director…

  3. Menno says:

    I love the way you took this PV to analize the Berryz all over again.

    It’s also good to see that you don’t use Momoko O Momoko instead of just Momoko anymore. Or maybe there is another reason why you didn’t use it here.

    “transmiyabisation” coming soon to http://www.cultofpop.com!