DOCUMENTARY of AKB48 to be continued – Review

by Miguel Douglas


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From theater performances to the national stage, AKB48 has become one of the most recognizable and popular idol groups in Japan. With over 1000 tapes used to capture the super-sized idol group’s road to success over 2010, the best footage used was compiled to make the film DOCUMENTARY of AKB48 to be continued. Produced by Shunji Iwai and directed by Yuri Kanshiku, the documentary follows the girls at major concerts, fan events, and all the behind-the-scenes hard work that has culminated in AKB48 being one of the largest and popular groups in Japan today.

From Onyanko Club to Morning Musume, female idol groups have permeated the airwaves, television sets, and movie screens of Japan for decades. Subscribing to almost a religious fervor, fans of these groups—who are predominantly male—have supported them from humble begins to worldwide recognition. But what was once viewed as entirely a subgenre of otaku culture has now expanded—idol groups have now gained prominence throughout Japan, breaking through the stereotypical notion that they are solely developed for Japanese otaku. The influence of idol groups has even allowed them to perform outside Japan, most notably in America with Morning Musume performing at Anime Expo 2009 and AKB48 appearing a mere two years later. For anyone who has some knowledge of idol groups within Japan though, image is everything. From the way they dress, to how they express themselves publically, idols groups are not to become “too real” to their audiences—they are to be presented purely as a symbols of innocence, fun, and cuteness. Becoming too real may destroy the artificial image of perfection, which could lead to a lapse of music sales, sponsorships, and most importantly, fans. What Yuri Kanshiku’s film DOCUMENTARY of AKB48 to be continued attempts to showcase is how despite the constructed image that dominates AKB48, they are in fact just a culmination of hardworking regular girls with dreams and aspirations.

Of course, while the longevity of any pop idol group within Japan is questionable, DOCUMENTARY of AKB48 to be continued shows us how these girls explore their past, present, and future role within and outside AKB48. This isn’t simply a documentary showcasing how AKB48 became the popular group they are today—although this is certainly a minor aspect shown—but the film essentially delegates time towards how the girls view themselves and other members within the group. From their thoughts on getting accepted into the AKB48, to the emotions that they experience given their extremely heavy workload, the film essentially allows the wall of perfection that a idol must adhere too in public to be let down—even if its just for a brief moment. The film really ties into the notion of AKB48 being closer to their fans in almost every way possible; from their beginnings at their theater located in Akihabara, AKB48 has been seen as a group willing to connect to their supporters, not just individuals that can be viewed solely on television. In essence, the documentary humanizes the members of the group to the point where we as the audience begin to understand them as individuals with fears, goals, and imperfections like everyone else.

It also works in displaying how AKB48 is viewed outside the realm of their fan base. By the film conducting most of the interviews with the girls within normal settings; Rino Sashihara’s visit to her grandparents house, Yuki Kashiwagi dining out with old friends, etc., the film amply removes much of the idol image that is so prevalent in the group itself. If the idol world is one of image, the film portrays the world outside of that sense to be something one is not, to detach them from their stardom. This certainly allows the film to be less burdened with trying to uphold the perceived image of AKB48—in fact, much footage from their actual concerts, public events, and backstage occurrences is considerably lessened given the amount of time allotted towards personal interviews. With that being said, it’s surprising to see how the film delicately handles each interview as an important component of the film instead of simply attempting to run through the entire roster of girls as quickly as possible. At a considerable two hours though, the film takes its time in expressing the inner lives of certain girls within the group, not every girl.

Those looking forward to this documentary to provide them a better understanding of the foundation of AKB48 might be sadly disappointed, mainly because the film focuses primarily on specific girls rather than examining the group as a whole. This is certainly a logical move considering the abundance of girls within the group, with DOCUMENTARY of AKB48 to be continued focusing primarily on the top members within the Senbatsu group—a group selected from the annual Senbatsu Election poll in which fans get to vote for their favorite members to appear in the group’s upcoming music single. But while the film looks into the lives of the more popular members of the group, some viewers may not appreciate this approach considering that it doesn’t spend as much time with other members of the group as they might hope. Still, regardless of this creative decision, the individuals that were chosen to be showcased within the film do provide significant background into their livelihood and profession as prominent members of AKB48. One of the surprising elements of the film is the very theme itself; you rarely get this much insight into the lives of pop idols, so the film breaks down many barriers that have existed in the past concerning pop idolatry within Japan.

Beautifully shot by female director Yuri Kanshiku—of My Rainy Days (2009) fame—and produced by auteur Shunji Iwai, DOCUMENTARY of AKB48 to be continued in the end is a very well done and accomplished film. Instead of simply becoming yet another reassertion of the idol image that is AKB48, the film showcases the personal trials and tribulations of the girls involved in the group through a more humanistic touch by simply allowing to show them to appear as who they are. While not personally a fan of the group, I do acknowledge their significance within Japanese pop culture and after viewing the film, further realize their commitment to do their best in their endeavors. We have to realize that first and foremost, AKB48 is a theater performing group and thus much is expected of them to perform in a variety of entertainment mediums outside of music. While the film will probably not win over many new fans through their music—much of it is not even heard within the film—it does establish a fonder appreciation of them as performers and how much they have to sacrifice in order to live out their dreams. But what DOCUMENTARY of AKB48 to be continued does most importantly is show that despite the notion the girls feel towards their fleeting time in AKB48, they still have dreams to succeed in the future—with AKB48 being merely an important stepping stone for them to fulfill those dreams.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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