Magazine article The Spectator

Television: Storyville - Tokyo Girls

Magazine article The Spectator

Television: Storyville - Tokyo Girls

Article excerpt

It's not unusual to see a pop concert on TV where teenage girls and a group of middle-aged men are separated by safety barriers, as the glow sticks wave and the band's name is excitedly chanted. But in Storyville: Tokyo Girls (BBC4, Tuesday), there was one fairly major twist: the teenage girls were the band, and the middle-aged men their swooning fans.

As this jaw-dropping documentary explained, the girls in question are known in Japan as 'idols'. Their songs tend to be about how demure and innocent they are; and to prove it, they often perform in school uniforms -- although with skirts a lot shorter, I suspect, than is traditional in most Tokyo schools. There are now around 10,000 idols in Japan and the industry is worth $1 billion a year, with the money made not just by live shows and webcasts, but also by meet-and-greet events, where the men queue up (and pay) for the chance to shake the girls' hands and spend a carefully timed minute talking to them.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the idols we met seemed a charming if unmistakably business-like bunch. Nineteen-year-old Rio did admit that she initially found the 'hysteria' of all those adult men 'scary'. These days, however, 'My fans are like my children. I love them all equally.'

As for the smitten blokes themselves, they spoke of their passion with a mixture of pride and something close to hopeless resignation. Fiftysomething Mitacchi told us that his idol worship costs him at least $2,000 a month. ('I used to visit my parents a few times a week,' he added. 'They know why I don't visit any more.') Nonetheless, his misty-eyed look as he recalled the thrilling moment at one handshake event when 'a girl I had a crush on asked my name' suggested that he considers it money well spent. Obsessive Rio fan Koji, 43, reported that at her 21st birthday concert, the men behind him 'looked happy and desperate at the same time. It was so moving.'

The programme did attempt a few sociological theories as to why idols have become such a mainstream part of Japanese life. Oddly, though, any possible psychological or -- let's face it -- sexual factors were almost entirely overlooked. At the risk of being indelicate, it would, for example, have been illuminating either way to know if any masturbation is involved in the fans' response. But on this, Tokyo Girls remained rather demure itself. …

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