Monday, July 8, 2013

In the "Pamyu" of Her Hand

Being a former Japanophile, I've always been able to understand where certain people's acute interest in that country stem from. Whether it be through tradition (samurai, ninja, geisha, 'n' things), popular media (anime, movies, music, manga, 'n' stuff), or products (fashion, branding, food products, 'n' junk), elements of Japan and Japanese culture continue to capture the imaginations of a great many people, both Japanese and non-Japanese alike. That being said, I have always found something very endearing about that which I have labelled "Japanese insanity" or "Japanese sensory pandemonium," which I use to describe . . . well . . .  this . . .


For the uninitiated, "this" is Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, a Japanese pop star who was introduced to me by two Japanese students I met while studying in South Korea, and then again, in more depth, by another friend from California, whom I also met over there. I am aware that she has been famous for over a year now and that I'm relatively late in discovering her and that she's been making waves all over the interweb. I really am at a loss as to how I missed this "Harajuku icon," as she's been called. Her music in nonsensical, repetitive, and about things like candy, monsters, ninjas, and . . . pon pon? Her wardrobe would make Lady Gaga and Nicky Minaj jealous, and her demeanour is equal parts cute and insane. To top it off, her videos are so bizarre they could be considered some kind of surreal performance art . . . and I LOVE IT.

Charming, ain't she?

"Japanese sensory pandemonium," or JSP, is hard to define but I know it when I see it, and Kyary is it. It denotes an endearing quality that is not really present in any other country's media (that I have yet experienced, anyway) and is created by a combination of visual and auditory cues that seem to be able to exist only in Japan and nowhere else. When people speak of Japan as being "more unique" than any other culture (a statement I find extremely problematic -- and yes, people do actually say this), I imagine that this maybe is what they are referring to, at least as far as contemporary culture is concerned. Some of my favourite examples of JSP (Google these if you're interested) are the Polysics; Funky Forest: The First Contact; Harajuku fashion; FLCL; and the "superflat" art style. There are numerous other examples but I'll leave you to discover those for yourself.

The DVD box art for Dokidoki Wakuwaku Pamyu Pamyu Revolution Land 2012 in Kirakira Budokan

After falling in love with Kyary (not creepy idol-worship love -- more a sort of admiration), I sought out her music and eventually came across one of her concert videos titled . . . *inhales* . . . Dokidoki Wakuwaku Pamyu Pamyu Revolution Land 2012 in Kirakira Budokan! Though I was initially underwhelmed by the set pieces, the hour-long concert features three wardrobe changes, giant teddy bears, insanely dressed backup dancers, and a good song lineup (for those who actually like her music). It also contains one of the best star entrances I have ever seen, in which Kyary shoots up through a trapdoor in the stage floor quite unexpectedly, shrieking in a pitch on par with most Japanese maid cafĂ© workers (look it up). Surprisingly the whole concert held my attention, and it was rife with innocent fun! The show seemed almost geared towards children, especially when she dressed up as a purple fairy and started flying around the stage while singing, but the audience was made up of myriad age groups. By the time it was over I felt . . . well . . . happy! The whole thing was so silly and innocent and overall uplifting that I felt great after watching it! Thanks, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (and your production team)!

Cover art for her "Invader" single
But the question still stands: what am I doing watching and listening to this stuff, anyway?! Taken out of context, Kyary's style would otherwise be nauseatingly cute, annoyingly repetitive, uncomfortably childlike, and full of eye-melting pastel colours! So why am I so drawn to this? Well, because I feel that there's a certain degree of self-awareness present here. Based on the ludicrousness of her videos, interviews with her production team, and a number of Japanese fans of her music whom I've talked to, I've surmised the Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and her fans are entirely aware how crazy and bizarre her performances are. Yes, folks, despite popular belief, Japanese people are not all insane and this is just normal entertainment for them. In most cases Japanese audiences find this stuff to be just as crazy as we do, but they just seem to enjoy it for what it is rather than spending time dissecting it or being weirded out by it. Watch Japanese comedy to understand what I'm talking about. To them it seems to be a spectacle -- so crazy it's fun -- and I can identify with that. In fact, one of the most endearing things about Japanese media for me is that it seems to be so whimsical and made to just absorb without question. Perhaps it's charming just because it's Japanese; but who knows, maybe it's just a guilty pleasure for me. Then again, can millions of fans be wrong? I get the feeling this is not the last you'll hear on the subject of Japanese media on my blog. Still, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is a lot of fun. Check it out!

Here's the video for "Invader":

                               

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