A Thousand Word Picture: Naptime at Hamilton Island

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

Having started off this series with my favorite image from Hamilton Island, let’s continue with this other favorite from the photobook. What is it about watching someone sleep that is so tempting? Not sneaking on somebody to wake them up, which I’ve covered in the past, but just watching someone completely lost to the world in slumber? Time and again, I’ve watched loved ones sleep (I tend to wake first in most relationships) and often felt sudden pangs of tenderness, a sense of connection that surprises me.

But this isn’t a night’s sleep, with all the rituals and implicit finalities involved. Rather, it’s a nap, a break in the day, an interruption of activity with a small portion of sweet oblivion. And it’s something we most associate with children, which is a strong subtext of this image. The first two generations were young women already at this point – they had seen the group rise from losers of the first auditions to so-called super-idols. Goto Maki was the precocious third gen miracle girl who made the group’s apex possible – a careerist and natural-born idol it seemed, but still a youngster. And the fourth gen were children who earned a place in the midst of such greatness.

Something I’ve become much more aware of as I look at my favorite Jpop images is how much they rely on a polysemic valence – meanings are designed to run a wide gamut of possibilities, often contradictory in nature. Most often, the contradictions or tensions are based on the way a particular motif or prop can hold different connotations for a child as for an adult. The schoolgirl outfit, the bashful stare,

Naps are very different for children than for adults. Naps are an interruption to one’s day, a disruption of activities so that one can enter sweet oblivion for a short time. Children tend to resist their naptimes but when they fall asleep, they give in hungrily to it and are out like a light. With their hectic lives and demanding schedules, adults would welcome naps more because they’re more desperately needed and desired. But chances are, if they stopped to nap during a busy day, they wouldn’t give in to sleep with the same reckless abandon of a child, instead scheduling and timing their rest in the form of “power naps”.

Of course, another way to interpret these mid-day interludes for adults is the nooner or, to paraphrase that horrible song, an afternoon delight. Which isn’t really about sleeping but certainly has a good deal to do about charging up one’s batteries with some recreational activity.

In this image, the girls of third and fourth gen need their nap time, but their careers have forced them to grow up fast. Their naps aren’t just to recharge their batteries so they can go out and play and go to school – it’s to give them the energy to continue the grueling work of being in a superstar idol group at the very peak of their popularity. The look on the girls’ faces is not so much at rest as the sleep of the intent, of the restless… Like an adult who has work to resume when the nap’s over, these girls have to go back to being idols when they wake.

Except… even asleep, they’re being idols. For some reason, I don’t question that the girls really are taking naps here, that they truly are asleep. At the same time, if I was told this was just another pose, another shot and then they stood up and walked around and went to the next set… well, I wouldn’t be surprised or all that upset. It’s the nature of their business, after all. These girls are in high demand.

It’s sometimes difficult to remember, but Morning Musume still mattered at the time of this photo. The public was hungry for them in a way that they simply don’t anymore. The serenity throughout the Hamilton Island hints at an escape from the celebrity these idols have earned, leaving the country to get a bit of peace. At the same time, it also plays into that glamour by making even their most ordinary of moments worth recording, photographing, sharing with the fans awaiting them at home (and overseas).

Which is another important factor of this image, of this photobook, of the girls in this stage of their career: the balance between the idol life and privacy, of girls maintaining their innocence in the wake of the media behemoth which drives their careers, of knowing they are constantly being scrutinized – and over-scrutinized (the bathroom scandal hasn’t happened yet, if I remember correctly) – and craving that attention… but also knowing there is a limit.

Watching the girls is an act of voyeurism, an empowerment of the viewer. But it also shows the opposite, that the girls hold a power over the viewers as well. You’d have to care a whole lot about a person if you’re interested in seeing them just sleeping. And yet there’s that awareness in the viewer of our lack of consequence. These shots from Hamilton Island have a way of emphasizing the casual and even dismissive power of the idol in her natural habitat: like any other wild animal in a tropical paradise, these idols seem not to care they are being watched, seem not to worry about what the watchers would think of them.

This is also a beautifully composed image. The lighting has the same qualities as inthe Tsujikago camera picture: naturalistic on the girls but there’s a bleached out, sun-drenched effect at the top, enhancing the sense of a tropical paradise. The colors are muted, warm, very relaxing. The girls are positioned in a kind of circle, and the combination of pillows and multiple females has just the slightest tinge of a harem effect, something more illicit in the right imagination. It helps that “Happy Summer Wedding”, the fourth gen’s debut single, played precisely with that notion.

And the pillows! What a fan wouldn’t give to be a pillow clutched by Kago or Gocchin or Rika! To be clutched in their arms or between their legs is an everyday intimacy that we can only dream of. And there’s something about pillows when you’re asleep that have you hold on as tight as possible, as if it’s the tether between the real world and the dream world. To be held like a favorite pillow or stuffed animal is to know the depths of love a person can feel.

The girls themselves are irresistable as always. Yossie with her hand to her mouth, as if about to suck her thumb. Rika with the last of her babyfat still – and who has a photo from this same set where she drowsily awakes, which is one of the sexiest ever taken of her. Kago looking most peaceful of all, positively angelic – playing nicely to the terrible twins role she and Tsuji play. Gocchin’s striking profile, her nose and her lips – not a traditional beauty, but carrying the strength and determination she had from the start.

There’s a poginancy in this image that’s balanced out by the well-hidden sense of calculation. For me, it’s what being an idol fan is all about: giving in to the moment that this image creates, to the wonder and romance and fannish devotion it engenders, but also being fully aware of the manipulation, of the careful planning, involved for that mediated romance to take place. The image doesn’t make me sleepy… but it definitely makes me want to dream.

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4 Responses to “A Thousand Word Picture: Naptime at Hamilton Island”
  1. Johnny says:

    Bathroom scandal? What bathroom scandal?

    Are we talking about Kaori Iida sitting on the toilet in their The Peace PV?

    Fill me in on this one, Ray. Thanks a bunch.

  2. I don’t know the precise details, but at the height of the group’s popularity some organized crime types apparently claimed to have photos or footage of the girls on the toilet. I think it was an attempt at blackmail and I’m not sure how it was resolved. Many fans think “The Peace” PV was a response to that event.

  3. CJ Marsicano says:

    Cuddling a member of MoMusu or H!P during an afternoon nap sounds nice. Too bad that there were only MiniMoni stuffies back in the day!

  4. Tiny says:

    Mainichi Daily News writes about hidden cam extortion:
    http://mdn.mainichi-msn.co.jp/waiwai/face/archive/news/2004/20040103p2g00m0dm999000c.html

    The Momusu bathroom scandal is also mentioned in article from The Observer:
    http://observer.guardian.co.uk/omm/story/0,,1550807,00.html
    (search for ‘toilet’)