“Dschinghis Khan”: The Strategic Use of PVs and The Rebellion Against Education

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“Dschinghis Khan” should be a special occasion of sorts in my household. My wife is half-German and half-Japanese, having been born in Germany and raised in Japan. So a song about a Mongolian folk hero sung by a German disco group from the seventies and covered in this new millennium by a Japanese pop idol group should be firing on all cylinders in the Mescallado home.

Of course that’s not how it worked out, but I was certainly curious to see how my wife and baby would react to the different versions of the song. Barb preferred the German version, mostly because she’s not much of an H!P fan and is annoyed that I’ve repeatedly told her Momoko will be my second wife. Haruna definitely preferred the Berryz version, perhaps in eager anticipation of a stepmother who’ll only be fifteen years older than her. Or maybe she just liked all the bright colors and funny noises.

But as I played one of the German performances for Barb, she asked, “Is it true he had seven kids in one night?” Apparently, there are lines in the song about the potency – sexual and martial – of Genghis Khan. (My answer: “How the hell should I know?” Just because I sometimes name-drop Catherine the Great and Eva Braun doesn’t mean I’m an expert on historical sex trivia.)

Of course, the parallel to Berryz is interesting: is Tsunku using his seven children to laugh over the wota? Is his hold so powerful that he can recycle a song that’s twice as old as Berryz’s youngest member and make these fans enjoy it? Most certainly. But more than that, “Dschinghis Khan” makes plain a strategy that has served Hello! Project well over the years (and which is probably not attributable to Tsunku, or at least not to Tsunku alone): if the song doesn’t grab you, then the PV will give you a second chance to see the error in your ways.

I could have done without this Berryz single – take it or leave it, it has a certain ebullient throwaway quality to it. However, like a Mongol rushing down from the plains, I was overwhelmed by the video and am forced to surrender to the seven children of the mighty… um… okay, I’m dropping that analogy here and now. Let’s just continue.

As far as actual music and singing goes, I’m like my wife and prefer the German version. Vocally, this is not the most accomplished song the Berryz have done – though I do find it an improvement over the last single, which I’m still trying to pretend didn’t happen. The good news is, the Berryz version can’t help but remind H!P fans of “Koi no Dance Site” – it’s got that football hooligan kind of shouting and grunting that makes for great wota theater, and is punched up considerably from the German version.

Whatever version you choose, this song is undeniably catchy. It would’ve taken a rap interlude and a droning flute solo to ruin this song completely, but luckily nobody suggested this when it was being recorded. As far as the Berryz version goes, from listening to it a few dozen times in a row while watching the video, it’s crawled into my head like a spider laying eggs deep in my ear canal. It wore me down and ate away at my soul – which is something great pop songs often do, but in this case wasn’t as satisfying.

After all, “Koi no Dance Site” and “Love Machine” were similarly off-putting at first, and they also ended up winning over viewers by being so infectious… However, there was also a complexity at work in those songs, a gesturing towards depth (or at least, knowing irony) that simply isn’t on display in this Berryz release. In the case of “Kahn” redux, this is simply a rehash of an old European disco song, and remains such in the Berryz’s hand. There is no desire to make it more clever or give it a pomo twist – the chipmunk-level singalong just made it more kawaii, which in itself isn’t much of a feat for Berryz.

Is “Kahn” a step back for the Berryz? Well, it’s no worse a step back than some other singles that didn’t demand much of them. “Kokuhaku no Funsui Hiroba” is a great song that did a wonderful job showcasing the girls’ singing, and that’s what it intended to be. In contrast, this song intends to be mindless enjoyment that’s supposed to bowl you over by being super cute, super energetic, super catchy, and more than a little gimmicky. And I have to begrudgingly admit that it works on its own terms, even as I wish there was more going on. There are a few solo lines, but nothing outstanding – Momoko’s solo caught my attention, but that’s because I’m biased and my ears prick to her voice like a dog to a hypersonic whistle.

All that said, the PV goes a long way to rehabilitating my initial reaction to this single, if only because it does force me to listen to the song while I watch the girls. (Though now that I think of it, I didn’t even bother to watch the video for the last single very much, as that song so completely turned me off.) It’s a fun video, not taking itself at all seriously but just giving in to the seventies-inflected Dionysian siren call of the song. And setting it in school. Not even a Mongolian school, best as I can tell.

The premise of the video is simple: the girls perform in front of a bunch of kids in a school auditorium, and goof off while being rolled down a hallway. In a wonderful bit of semiotic jiu-jitsu, the Berryz emphasize their youngness by not seeming out of place in such a setting – imagine Nakazawa Yuko or Melon Kinenbi doing the same thing, and you’d have to think they were teachers – while also making them seem more mature by having an audience even younger than themselves. The kiddies may also be a nod to H!P’s growing appeal as a source of children’s anime theme songs.

At first, I thought the audience during the dance section were adult wota. That’s force of habit more than anything else: after all, a screaming crowd in front of a Hello! Project unit will almost inevitably call to mind wota before anybody else. However, it soon became apparent that this was an audience of little kids – jumping and throwing their hands in the air so that they could shake it like they just don’t care. (I was more amused by the kids who turned to face the camera or just seemed to grow tired of looking happy.) A part of me is tempted to see a criticism of Berryz wota as being infantile and easily led, but I’m sure that’s not really the case.

The choreography is simple but dramatic, playful but a wota mind could see something smexy about certain moves. Momoko and Chinami seem to be having the most fun during the dance moves, but I now suspect Chinami seems to be having the most fun anywhere and Momoko probably just appreciated not being the shortest person in the room.

My favorite part of the dance sequence is when they hold up their right arm and make a fist, then hold the wrist with their left hand – it’s like they’re getting ready to give the middle finger to a room full of children. That would’ve made this the best Hello! Project PV since they started adding black men to the collective.

It also makes me wonder if there’s more back story than I’m giving this song credit for, if there isn’t some complexity escaping me. Maybe the Berryz are supposed to be teaching these kiddies the story of Genghis Khan as part of a project. The Berryz got together and realized, “Why not put on a song and dance instead? Why teach history when we can teach the power of being idols?”

So the little kids are expecting some boring Powerpoint presentation about the Asian steppes and instead are dazzled by the girls performing this song. They cheer because they realize that their life won’t have to be an endless stream of cram schools and rote learning. The Berryz then do that fist thing to say, “Fuck you, oppressive educational system of Japan! We will not be broken by you! You will not claim these young souls!”

Then Maiha sees the error of her ways, re-joins Berryz, Megukami is allowed back into C-ute, and all is right with the world.

So. Back in the semi-real world, the costumes the Berryz wear are ugly, but not as mofo-super-fugly as the one C-ute wears in their new video. The girls look nice enough in it, actually, and the peek of midriff is definitely appreciated. That said, it’s like a variation on the chicken outfit Ayu wore for her recent album – if they had marched onstage clucking and pecking, would it have been so surprising?

The most interesting part of the video were the sequences of the girls being rolled down a school hallway. In some of the shots, they’re just along for the ride and mugging for the camera, as Morning Musume did in “My Dear Boy”. But they also have scenes where the girls are each given dark glasses and a prop. Kind of like the snack scene close-ups in “Warracchaou yo Boyfriend”, I saw potential for interpreting the girls’ idol personae through their behavior and even choice of props (which admittedly were probably foisted on them, but even that speaks volumes).

Risako’s prop is a megaphone. Which may be appropriate as she’s the designated star of the group, and she certainly gets more than her share of the attention again. Like it or not, you can’t ignore her presence. She didn’t impress me much otherwise – I mean, she’s undeniably cute, and she doesn’t seem too arrogant this time around, but I’m just not a fan of hers anymore.

She doesn’t do much with her megaphone, but she doesn’t need to – she’s Risako, after all. She’s got energy and charm to spare, she’s got that stare which can freeze wota in their tracks, and she’s got that smile which can melt the same wota hearts. I like her best when we see moments of childish giddiness, but that’s just me.

Maasa goes with an electric guitar, striking some truly funny rock goddess poses along the way. I find myself thinking back to “Warracchaou yo Boyfriend” where she tries to offer the audience some popcorn – but they seem to refuse, so she demands even harder, pouting for extra emphasis. If that wasn’t a sign of her (perceived) neediness as an idol, I don’t know what is.

Here, though, she’s all confidence and even winking playfulness. She uses her prop in an interesting way that makes me want to like her more than before. I’m now almost willing to overlook how she butchered “Love Namidairo” – which was why she dropped in my wota estimation in the first place.

Miyabi has a tambourine, which she bangs in a nondescript manner, but later she gets flirty with the camera. She does look gorgeous in her close-ups, freakishly large chin and all. She doesn’t stand out too much this time around, but her on-camera presence is always steady, always commanding in a quiet manner.

Yurina goes with pom poms, and doesn’t really do much with it. However, she was the only one to do that looking-over-the-shades thing with her dark glasses, which she nails perfectly. Beyond that, she’s actually more engaging during her prop-less rides down the hall, alternately goofy and alluring – though really, goofy suits her more than alluring still.

Watching Saki dance in prop-less is pretty sexy, I was surprised to find. I truly got a sense that she was enjoying herself, and her hand movements just… well, never mind. I love watching her hands, let’s leave it at that. Her prop was the keytar, which only further proves the suspicion that H!P unit leaders (“captain!”) are often forced to deal with extra lameness by some unspoken UFA fiat.

Anyway, she wielded the keytar as best she could, but didn’t really make much of an impression besides making her seem even more charmingly nerdy than usual. Which could actually have been the point, but come on. Why not just give her the Devo glasses, hat, and jumpsuit to make it complete? (It’d be a more tasteful outfit, at least.) Then have her try out for Polysics, since she’ll be all set.

Momoko surprised me as she’s the only one to opt for a seated position during her prop ride, strumming an acoustic guitar and looking laconically cool in her dark glasses. If anything, this shows just how canny Momoko can be: instead of going all crazy and super genki kawaii, she opts for a more laid-back hilarity. Known for being the annoyingly wound-up member of the group, she decided to tone it down instead of ratchet it up. She’s laughing and still having fun, but she’s also got kakoii vibe working for her.

I also have to say that this is the best I’d seen Momoko since “Kokuhaku no Funsui Hiroba”. Which isn’t to say she looked bad in her Buono! PVs – she looked great then, but certainly the faux punk motif gave her image a different spin. For some strange reason, she seems less in costume – and thus, in a role – with this ugly yellow and green outfit, and shines more for it. This may just be a case of Russian dolls, though: after all, the Momoko of Berryz is just one persona, and to see the Buono! Momoko as more of an act is just stacking persona over persona.

And yet, I don’t feel as strongly about Airi and Miyabi in that sense: when I see those two in their Buono!-mandated Sexpot Revenge styled kawaii punk gear, it feels more believable. Miyabi wears it effortlessly, it even gives her a more confident look. Meanwhile, I can believe that Airi prefers this kind of style when she waves goodbye to her golf pro Dad and goes for a night of painting the town blue.

But Momoko isn’t about Sexpot Revenge, is she? At least not the Momoko I know, or imagine I know. If anything, I would think her bad girl moments involve that lacrosse outfit from her photobook, bashing in mailboxes around Tokyo with a lacrosse stick while some random Egg acts as her wheelman. Either that or, during a very pink imaginary princess tea party with her stuffed animals, Momoko slips arsenic to her favorite teddy bear. But punk rawk, as sexy as it looks on her, doesn’t seem quintessentially her.

Maybe I just need more time to adjust.

All that said, there’s something about her face in this PV which seems more mature, and her confidence level is as high as ever. It’s not a surprise that out of all the Berryz, Momoko seems the most resistant to growing up too fast, but it’s undeniable that she’s developing quite nicely. We’re definitely due for a second photobook from her, especially if Risako is on her third.

Chinami was the best thing in “Boyfriend”, flapping her arms to fly and teasing the viewer by offering some popcorn only to take it away. If anything, she was the anti-Maasa, not at all concerned about winning affection – or respecting gravity – when she can just have fun. She’s got the kind of winning persona that could (allegedly) lure in members of KAT-TUN and have them exiled to Los Angeles for six months. Ah, true love can be heartbreaking when the H!P Montagues and the Johnny’s Capulets keep the paramours apart.

Chinami is clearly the MVP in this video as well. She seems to channel the spirit of “Koi no Dance Site” with her purposely spastic dancing, incongruous gangsta hand signs, and one pose where she looks off to the distance, her hand cupping her eyes from imagined sunlight. She nails the pantomime of the Golden Era Morning Musume, but made it her own – it didn’t seem homage as much as Chinami being Chinami. That said, a part of me is tempted to think that the manic, self-aware love of the ridiculous that Ishiguro Aya captured on “Love Machine” is alive and well in Chinami.

Her props are leis and maracas, but we see this only briefly – which makes sense, because she really doesn’t need the props, either. Chinami just being Chinami was more than enough energy and entertainment for this video. An all-Chinami alternate version of the PV would probably be several thousand times better than this current version.

She’s due for her own photobook, too – or better yet, a solo Alo-Hello where she runs around Waikiki and gets to do whoever whatever she likes. (Make sure to tell Jin before she gets those plane tickets!)

But again, I find myself going back to the idea of Berryz representing a break from the conformities of formal education. After all, what is rolling down the hallway on some kind of trolley but a clear violation of school rules? And what are the props but symbols for the alternatives to a traditional life dictated by traditional educational expectations? And what are those green and yellow outfits but violations of one’s eyeballs?

So these hallway sequences may be a further embellishment of the rebellion the Berryz bring to all the mini-wota! “You don’t need to stay in school and go to Waseda or Tokyo U! You can be a rock star like Maasa! You can be a folk music hero like Momoko! You can be a gangsta rapper like Chinami! The world is full of endless possibilities, and you don’t need to sit in a desk for a dozen more years only to live a life of quiet desperation!”

Risako’s megaphone then becomes the wake-up call to the youth of Japan! It’s like Footloose meets The Breakfast Club meets Heathers. Or something. The Berryz not only bring their message of pedagogical rebellion to the kids, they also act it out in the very corridors of power! How inspiring! How dramatic!

But please, nobody tell my little Haruna any of this until after she gets her second PhD.

“Dschinghis Khan” the original German song is kitschy fun – old school Eurodisco with a catchy hook. “Dschinghis Khan” the Berryz cover version of the song tries to be kitschy fun in its own right but is overshadowed by the original and a mediocre effort from the girls at best. And yet, “Dschinghis Khan” the PV is so much fun that it almost rehabilitates the Berryz song for me.

My love for Berryz has gone through so many ups and downs that I’m both relieved and exhilarated to enjoy something as much as this video. The only single or PV I truly enjoyed from Berryz last year was “Kokuhaku no Funsui Hiroba” – it was beautiful and even magnificent, but it was also mournful and solemn. As a result, I have to go all the way back to “Waraccahaou yo Boyfriend” to find a single and PV that was both energetic and fun-loving and which I thoroughly enjoyed without any reservations whatsoever.

On the one hand, that’s a long wait between such undiluted wota thrills. On the other hand, I still think it’s worth it in the case of Berryz. “Dschinghis Khan” may not be the complete win that I wanted, but the PV makes it winning enough that I’ll enjoy it and look forward to more.

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10 Responses to ““Dschinghis Khan”: The Strategic Use of PVs and The Rebellion Against Education”
  1. craig says:

    Man i wish i could read stuff like this all the times. it’s the joy of reading when u’re reading about something that truly interests u. i don’t read enough things like that 🙂

    (I 2nd the call for new Chinami and Momo PBs)

  2. Radicalipton says:

    Holy cow, what a presentation. Yes. “Little Captain” Saki got to cut loose, and it’s about time. This is the first cool thing she’s been allowed to do since 2005 when she had the wild hip-hop moment.

    And, yes, this is a statement against the cold, heartless and often stupid way kids are “educated” these days. The little tykes in the audience are having the time of their lives, and what harm is there to that?

    I actually liked this PV, probably more than you did; it’s one of Berryz’ best ever. But why are they always stuck with such goofy costumes?

    All the better for the April battle concert. Tsunku has turned it up a notch for Berryz, while C-ute took a step backward with “La-La-La-La-La-La-La-La-La-La-La-La.”

    The playing field — or battlefield, I should say — is now level.

  3. Vee says:

    She seems to channel the spirit of “Koi no Dance Site” with her purposely spastic dancing, incongruous gangsta hand signs, and one pose where she looks off to the distance, her hand cupping her eyes from imagined sunlight. She nails the pantomime of the Golden Era Morning Musume, but made it her own – it didn’t seem homage as much as Chinami being Chinami. That said, a part of me is tempted to think that the manic, self-aware love of the ridiculous that Ishiguro Aya captured on “Love Machine” is alive and well in Chinami.

    …..Ray, if you weren’t married and I didn’t want to snog someone else in the blogosphere, I’d ask you to marry me just for this. YES, YES, A THOUSAND TIMES YES.

    Great review for a great PV. Can you believe my staunchly anti-MM best friend actually took an IMMEDIATE shine to Berryz? And she’s supposed to the The Mature One! I must do an experiment on her!

  4. pengie says:

    If it wasn’t almost 3 in the morning, I’d offer a more detailed comment, but this is great.

    And much love for Chinami, who–I agree–seems to be acting just like the gals did in the golden era PVs.

  5. CJ Marsicano says:

    Excelllent stuff. You’re back in fine form, my friend.

  6. Kd says:

    You do far better PV reviews than I ever could, Ray. 🙂

    The kids dancing are actually doing a bit of wota dancing mixed in – watch closely, and small groups of them are spinning and clapping their hands. oi oi oi oi! and all that. I haven’t seen any of them do the dolphin yet, though…

    With you making several references back to Waracchaou, I went back and watched that PV – something I thought I’d done before but clearly hadn’t. Not only was it a bit shocking how much younger all the girls looked, despite it only being no more than a year and a half ago, but it made me wonder how long Chinami’s been bottling the sass for. The one other thing that struck me was how much UFA used to push Miyabi as the front girl, based on screen time during the PV. You can see it in Waracchaou, in Happiness ~Koufuku Kangei~, Fighting Pose, SpeGen… heck, pretty much every PV from Anata Nashi to Munasawagi, with the exception of Gag100 which was clearly Momo’s.

    (that last sentence also makes me wonder just how much of my rambling casual H!P fans can actually understand…)

  7. Radicalipton says:

    Berryz wota “infantile and easily led?” Now where in the world would you get that idea?

  8. Cookie Holiday says:

    Great review, I completely agree with you as well; I wasn’t too excited or built up about this song before seeing the PV. I’d heard the original some time ago and although I thought it was a funny idea Iwasn’t too impressed either, especially since I consider Koi no Dance Site a rip-off of it anyway.

  9. freespin says:

    You’re a funny man. . . how late do you stay-up writing this stuff. Funny. . . but spot-on. Thanks.

  10. Kiko says:

    From what I’ve heard, the song itself was a kind of support song for a play about Genghis Khan. And the PV? Was just awesome. ^_^

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