“Jiriri Kiteru” PV – Dance Version

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

It’s taken me a while to get around to talking about the Dance Version of the “Jiriri Kiteru” PV, but it’s important for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a whole lot better than the regular version of the PV, which has a bit too much troublesome subtext to make it fully enjoyable on its own terms. Second, the way several of the Berryz dance helps point out certain qualities about the particular girl as well as the overall group dynamic.

The Berryz are absolutely stunning in their dance for this PV. They must have rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed – there was a sharpness, a clarity of purpose and movement, that shows the years of training are continuing to pay off with ever-increasing dividends.

There’s also a dramatic and sophisticated sensibility behind the choreography – something that can’t be said of previous PVs. “Special Generation” is more raw, though saved by its level of energy; “Nanchuu” had potential ruined by that basketball interlude; and “21ji” and “100 gag” both were clearly more kiddie in tone. This dance takes the Berryz to a new level as performers.

There are three clear leads in the dance sequences and the song itself: Miyabi, Risako, and Momoko. I’m not sure if it’s fair to say that Yurina’s relegated to backup status along with Chinami, Saki, and Maasa… but it sure feels that way.

The regular version of the PV had a way of leveling the playing field: the girls shared more time on-screen thanks to all the running and crying. With just the dance floor, however, the pecking order is clear and it’s still pretty much the same as it’s always been. One may guess that Yurina isn’t given as central a role because four back-ups for three leads makes more sense than three back-ups for four leads.

As I’v said before, the clear standout in the dance sequence is Miyabi. crs of 28 hundred hours has pointed out how Miyabi knows how to look at the camera and master it. Here’s what she wrote:

when it comes to the camera, it’s interesting to note that Miyabi almost never takes her eyes off the main camera whether she’s singing or not, so that anytime the camera just happens to pan over her, she’s ready and staring right at it–or “you.” I wonder if someone told her to do that, or if it’s just good idol instincts.

My bet is instinct – the girls are all approaching a kind of idol critical mass, and their individual strengths as performers are becoming more clearly defined. Not that we’ve gotten to the point where the girls are encouraged to do so – the actual choreography has something of a leveling effect. Rather, it looks to me like the girls are more naturally falling into specific roles, functions of their individual idol personae, as they grow more confident of their abilities.

Risako is another case in point: in her case, though, it seems less about confidence than a kind of insouciance. She carries herself with a wink and a pout throughout the dance sequence but seems to be coasting. She’s the raw talent, the most quintessentially idol in her own way, but she hasn’t developed her skill the way Miyabi has.

If anything, Risako epitomizes the virtue of having set up Berryz Koubo as such a young unit: the learning curve has been ridiculously extended, as the girls have had two years to still develop their abilities and to find their particular strengths. And just as with any group of girls at that age, some develop and learn faster than others. Risako benefits most at this point, being the youngest and the rawest. If the group were older, she’d seem the loser, the straggler – but in Berryz, this only makes her cuter and more sympathetic.

And then there’s Momoko… well, we’ll get to her in a minute.

Miyabi and Risako provide different kinds of idol personae at this point. Miyabi is like a slab of marble where the sculptor can clearly see the statue embedded within: her talent and sense of charisma is honed enough that we have a pretty clear sense of what she’ll be like as an adult idol. And it’s a very attractive idol, which surprises me somewhat.

In contrast, Risako is difficult to imagine as an adult idol still. Part of it is her age, but more of it is due to her rawness, her virtue of being young and acting it – even as an idol. Which doesn’t make her better or worse than Miyabi, but at a different stage in her development. One may be cruel and opine that she’s had two years to become a more professional idol, to refine her abilities so that her voice doesn’t waver during live shows and her dance moves are cleaner, tighter… But she’s young, she still has time, and Berryz still allows such roughness around the edges to be a viable aspect of the group.

Of course, the biological clock is merciless in its march forward – and the Berryz can’t help but reflect that in their ever-evolving learning curve. After all, one of the most striking aspects of this PV is the fact that the girls touch each other in a mildly suggestive manner. Two pairs do this: Saki and Risako, then Miyabi and Chinami. It would’ve been real hot if Yurina and Maasa had done so, as well, now that I think of it…

Saki and Risako are more playful about it than Chinami and Miyabi, but neither pair seems to think much of it. There’s a hint of juvenile naughtiness, of playing around in a way that they know they shouldn’t – but ultimately, where’s the harm? On the grander scheme of things, it’s the kind of playfulness that eventually leads to sorority sisters making out with each other to remote-control cocktease drunken frat boys. But here it’s still innocent.

Considering how much more mature Hinoi Team and SweetS presented themselves, though, it’s mildly surprising that Berryz haven’t tried to be as racy with their own choreography. While the girls are probably years away from the crotch-thrusting and grinding of Melon Kinenbi’s “Eros”, it looks like they’re finally on that long and winding road.

As for Momoko, she seems to have taken a third path from Miyabi and Risako, sort of… While she’s as comely as ever, there was something about her moves – the jerkiness of some of her arm swings, the way her hips shook, that struck me as oddly familiar…

When I realized what I was thinking of, I was surprised.

Here’s the relevant quote:

infancy is her disguise, her appeal is more secret and more adult…. her neat and well-developed rump twisted in the tap-dance: her eyes had a sidelong searching coquetry…

Sound familiar? Probably not. It’s Graham Greene’s notorious review of Shirley Temple, way back in the electronic media stone ages of the 1920s. Greene was excoriating the way Temple’s youthfulness was used to peddle child sexuality to old men, and effectively made Temple complicit in this titillation. Of course, he saw that as a very evil thing, and he raised up the flapper age equivalent of a media shitstorm for this review…

I’m making the comparison not on moral grounds (heaven forbid), but in sheer mechanics of movement: the way Momoko dances, the way her limbs and hips swings, has a more distinctly juvenile quality than the other girls. Some of it could be the moves of a very well-trained eight-year-old with its jerkiness, for lack of a more elegant term. Not a clumsiness or lack of training, but a kind of childishness inherent in how she moves at times.

That was what was reminding me of Shirley Temple, of all people. I’m thinking part of it is the proportions of her body at this time – and the shorter cut of her skirt, it looks like. Part of it must also be the affectation she sometimes takes upon in her idol persona, the super kawaiiness that makes her so… um… Momoko.

It’s a bit odd to single Momoko out this way – but no one else moves quite liker her. Saki’s shorter but more fluid in her moves, it’s a rather mature seeming performance on her part. Risako’s the youngest and there’s a bit of Devil Girl “coquetry” (to use a word Greene invoked for Temple), but that was a knowing wink, a playfulness that works in her favor.

And the rest of the Berryz are more mature in their moves, in their stances. I’ve already singled out Miyabi, but Maasa also seems to be in command of a nascent dramatic power in her moves and stature. Meanwhile, Yurina and Chinami don’t distinguish themselves as much as the others in this way, but certainly bring an energy and sharpness of moves that is more in keeping with their age and training.

Need further proof? Consider the girls’ stance here…

And the way Momoko’s hips are positioned – less fighting pose than the other two front girls, more mannered and swung out. Momoko has refined her idol persona, perhaps as much as Miyabi and certainly more than Risako – but in doing so, she consciously preserves her more juvenile aspects. The lisping and the cuteness are still genuine, but there are stronger hints of it becoming an affectation in the Making Of for the PV, and in her moves in this dance.

It’s a little bit like watching a fourteen-year-old Ogura Yuko deciding that acting fourteen will serve her well for the remainder of her career… Though I’m just about positive that Momoko isn’t quite that calculating. What we see here is when self and idol persona are still essentially the same, but the inevitable rift caused by growing older begins to assert itself. I’d say that it’s easier to picture what Momoko will be like as an adult idol than Risako, as it’s becoming clearer that it may well be the chou kawaii mode she’s honed up to now.

Of course, one can argue that determining who’s the most juvenile in her appeal in this Berryz video is like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500…

But Berryz have gone from being a juvenile group of budding idols to young idols who – as a group and as individuals – must consider how their juvenile aspects can be deployed in their image, or if it should be deployed at all.

Some of the girls can’t wait to grow up, it would seem: I’d count Miyabi, Saki, Chinami, and Maasa. Others are okay with remaining juvenile idols for the moment, such as Risako and Momoko. Yurina seems to bend more towards the juvenile idol in that she seems about as unconcerned as Risako but her talent seems more in her control, her abilities are better managed so it doesn’t have the apparent rawness and wildness of the Devil Girl.

As a group, the girls are definitely consciously playing with their juvenile appeal in a more self-aware manner. Or at least they’re being directed to for this PV.

The party dresses they’re wearing – and I repeat, I hate that the color of their dresses is so horribly muted by the lighting of the video – is a pretty obvious sign of this. The way they wiggle and move is irresistible, and the shots of the girls’ backsides is such a… guilty pleasure, yes… but also one that can’t be denied.

The choreography is complex and requires the girls to be moving from one dramatic pose to the next, sometimes in unison, sometimes broken down to two teams, other times having one girl take the lead which the others react around. None of this is exactly new for Berryz – dramatic moves defined the choreography of “Special Generation” and “Nanchuu”, after all…

The difference is that the dramatic moves in this PV, unlike “Special Generation” and “Nanchuu”, are freighted with further meaning. The deepest we get in those previous choregraphies was the imaginary basketball game and the forming of a symbolic gate. Otherwise, it was just a lot of moving-around – pleasant in itself, but not carrying the connotations of “Jiriri”.

This arm movement is perhaps the most notorious, as it seems like a defensive gesture, an attempt to protect themselves from some nebulous threat. But that’s in the context of all the other different things going on in the regular PV, a context which is problematic at best. Stripped of that further context, this move still seems vaguely vulnerable, but not menacingly so.

Along with the defensive posture of the arms over the face, however, are a couple of other moves, including akind of patting of the torso and this positive reaching out to the audience – an active welcoming. There’s an exchange between two lines of girls – one line strikes these postures while the other falls back with their head lowered, then they exchange positions. It’s impressive in that it creates another “move” – the lowered head and backing up – which makes the entire set feel like a call-and-response, that imbues a sense of narrative (if not an actual narrative) to this particular set of movements.

What exactly it signifies isn’t clear, but there’s caution or fear (the arms defensively protecting the face), a kind of surrender (the fall-back, head lowering), the awareness of one’s feelings (the patting of the torso, a stylized kind of holding one’s heart), and ultimately of welcome (arms outstretched). To me, at least it suggests the drama of a powerful first love, the struggle of accepting new and unexpected feelings?

It’s actually not so much dramatic as intensely melodramatic – overdone, more than a little overwrought, but appropriately so. After all, the song seems to be about the helplessness of falling in love, of admitting to new feelings and falling within the orbit of another person’s charisma.

The girls have spoken of difficulty in singing this song, capturing feelings they haven’t felt in their own lives yet – but by being so energetic and passionate in their moves, they are able to convey the abstractions inherent in the lyrics in a powerful manner. And to her credit, Momoko “sells” these moves more than any of the others – she commits to the drama inherent in the moves with the look on her face and her own distinct mannerisms.

Now let me take a few moments to point out how Yurina and Maasa are taking the dance and bringing their own individual takes to it. They don’t get as much attention as the three main girls, while even Chinami and Saki gets a little time in the center of the formation.

Maybe I’m biased now – okay, I’m very biased now – but watching Maasa in particular is something of a revelation. There’s a certain gracefulness in her moves, an awareness of what she can carry off with her frame and her stature.

Yurina seems the least affected by the choreography’s drama, but brings a joy of simply dancing to her moves. Saki and Risako seem to be smiling at the camera at times in a coy purposely playful fashion, Miyabi is smiling at the camera with a prodigy’s confidence… and Yurina just seems to be smiling because she’s happy. It’s seen in other aspects of the regular PV, most notably in the way she seems to be running without a care in the world – as opposed to the menace and desperation the other girls try to convey.

I’d almost call it an oblivious attitude to the tone of the PV and its direction – everyone else wants to look pained and serious, Yurina just wants to dance and run and have fun doing so. And with a smile like hers, she can make that enjoyable and convincing in its own right.

Here’s the move that makes the twin towers stand out – perhaps not intentionally, though I’ve seen this played up in later TV performances. With the leads in the back, the other four girls strike a sideways pose, a kind of idol arabesque of limbs and shoulders, almost holding each other’s hands…

… and then they descend, while the leads strike their own pose. But look at Yurina and Maasa – the pose they strike works well for their height, their stature. Maasa ends up looking magnificent – and she knows it. It’s clear in the set of her shoulers, the turn of her head. In other performances, the look on her face at this point is as challenging, and perhaps even more mature, than Miyabi’s fearsome glare – a tad supermodel, a tad diva, and she pulls it off effortlessly. It’s breathtaking and makes me even more of a Maasa fan.

So while it’s easy to get sucked into the orbit of the leads and what they offer in their interpretations of the dance, there’s just as much going on among the other girls. It’s heartening to see how self-aware Maasa has become, and it’s mildly surprising – for me, at least – to see a loveable, exuberant unself-consciousness in Yurina, sometimes lapsing into goofiness in the Making Of.

As troubled as I am by the regular PV, the dance version fills me with hope – not only for the future of the unit and its girls, but also for their growing recognition in the present day. There’s long been a belief that someday these girls will be big and will give Morning Musume a run for their money – but that’s always been a kind of long-term, down-the-road kind of assessment.

With “Jiriri” and the strength of their dance performance, it’s clear that their challenge to Momusu – a fair rivalry between kohai and senpai – is just around the corner. Which doesn’t mean I think Berryz will overtake Momusu in sales – though if Momousu’s single sales continue to drop the way it has, that may wind up the case. Rather, in providing solid, enjoyable Jpop from a polished group of young idols, Berryz provides just as much value and quality as Morning Musume in its current incarnation. (Some would say that’s been the case almost since Berryz debuted, with the clear preferential treatment they’d been receiving…)

And if you compare the upcoming 8-nin Momusu to the 7-nin Berryz, the match-up isn’t nearly as imbalanced as one would think. The leaner, meaner Momusu (and “meaner” only because they lose both their gentlest and most genki souls) may have more starpower – their leads still blow away Berryz’s leads – but as a coherent unit with strong individual idols, Berryz just about measures up…

If you factor in that they’ve still got something of a steep learning curve ahead of them – or at least some of the girls individually – it looks like Berryz Koubo is poised to hit idol critical mass, a make-or-break which “Jiriri” holds a positive outlook for.

Surprisingly – but not in a bad way – “Jiriri” is still the best single to come out of Hello! Project this year, with one third of 2006 already past. It helps that Momusu has had only one single and W has been suspsended… The only other single that comes even close to being as good as “Jiriri” is Viyuden’s latest, which some say sounds more like a Berryz song in the kiddie mode. But for dramatic power and catchiness, “Jiriri” has even “Issai” beat.

All that said, I become more fearful of what can throw Berryz off their momentum. Will there be another graduation? Will the girls be shuffled around, or perhaps some even moved “up” to Momusu? Neither seems as likely now, given how well Berryz has developed – but with Hello! Project, you just never fucking know.

Watching the girls develop their abilities and their idol personae – as a group and as individuals – is great fun at this point, and at times makes me swoon in pure wota joy. They’ve got a mini-album already lined up for this summer and I’m hoping the next single will be as strong as this one. If the future of Hello! Project lies in the hands of Berryz, we can be rest assured that the future looks very bright indeed.


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2 Responses to ““Jiriri Kiteru” PV – Dance Version”
  1. Chuck says:

    I still need to see the dance version. I thought the original was way too ADD (quick, look, she’s crying! No, now that one’s crying! Wait, now she’s crying!), but I liked the dance bits. The costumes kind of remind me of Morning Musume’s “Osaka Koi no Uta” outfits, which I liked except for the fact that they made the girls’ arms look fat. Whether by the Berryz’ natural thinness or a superior tailor, these manage to avoid that.

    Oh, and I actually liked the song, which isn’t usually the case with Berryz. So I guess they are making progress, at least in my direction.

  2. Julia says:

    I watched a live and now completely see what you mean about the dress color being muted. They’re especially gorgeous dresses when you can see the color. I want one. But yeah anyway, I’ve read this over a few times, it’s quite interesting. I can’t stop watching various performances of this song now.