Sunday, May 25, 2014

In the Name of the Church, the Rose, and the Neon Cross

What does do churches, roses, and neon crosses all have in common? Read on, if you dare, to find out...


It was a bright and sunny day when I sat at my bedroom window, plotting and pondering. What dark thoughts invaded my mind on such a day? Well... I was wondering how Gakkou no Kaidan -Noroi no Kotodama- will turn out. What is this? Well, it's a horror movie starring the girls of Tokyo Girls' Style. The title translates to "Ghost Stories -The Power of Cursed Words-" so the only thing I really know about this movie is that it's a horror film that involves the spirit world. According to Twitch Film, this movie is actually part of a movie series popular in the nineties, popular enough to get four movies. Perhaps this movie is supposed to revive that series! Anyways, the summary states that Gakkou no Kaidan -Noroi no Kotodama- is about ghosts and the spirit world and abandoned schools, you know, common elements of a good horror story. I've got to think that this movie is probably going to be your typical B-movie horror film though. That's what most idol films are. The only thing I'm really interested in with this movie is how well the girls of TGS act. I mean, have they ever starred in their own full-length movie before? I've got to think the acting's either going to be decent or campy. Either way, I won't be swimming to Japan to see this movie.

But I will listen to the theme song. Not only are the girls of TGS involved in this movie, but they're also providing the theme song for it. That song is aptly titled Juujika ~Eiga "Gakkou no Kaidan -Noroi no Kotodama-" Ver. For convenience's sake, I'm just going to call it Juujika, which translates to "cross" in English. Now I haven't listened to many horror movie idol themes, but the two horror movie idol themes that come to my mind are Buono!'s Deep Mind and Berrikyuu's Amazuppai Haru ni Sakura Saku. Now Deep Mind works pretty well as a horror movie song; the tone is serious and the heavy guitars definitely give it a more edgier sound. But admittedly, it's not a very creepy song that gives you shivers up your spine. As for Amazuppai Haru ni Sakura Saku... do I even have to talk about that bore of a song? Even as a song alone, Amazuppai Haru ni Sakura Saku is an awful song, especially if you wanna use it for a horror film. I think a horror theme works better when it's actually creepy and deviates less from being a traditional idol song. Like Bellring Shoujo Heart, now that's a group that could pull off a creepy horror movie song. TGS is one of the more mature idol groups out there though, so I could see them pulling off a spooky horror movie theme.

So where does Juujika stand on my Creep-O-Meter, a device that is absolutely real and I totally did not make up a few seconds ago. Well, I'd give a Juujika a... 7.6 out of 10. The beginning of the song starts out very ominously, with the always stellar choice of a music box. That eerie little melody then leads into the actual song, where things get less creepy but still maintain a sinister atmosphere. It's better than Amazuppai Haru ni Sakura Saku! Juujika sounds like the exact kind of thing Tokyo Girls' Style would do for a horror movie. It still sounds a little creepy, but also very polished like much of their other music. Juujika reminds me a bit of Bad Flower, the difference being that Bad Flower is a much more rock-oriented song. Vocally, the two sound very much like, especially in the chorus. But you get that with a lot of TGS songs, so that's nothing new. Did I get scared listening to Juujika? Did shivers run up my spine and did I feel the inevitable urge to hold a seance and run into the woods chasing ghosts? Eh... no. I think Juujika could have been... messier? It sounds like a very controlled song, and adding just a bit of pandemonium to the arrangement might have upped the scare factor. Like Bellring Shoujo Heart's (again) Circus & Renai Soudan. That's one hell of a creepy song, and part of that stems from how chaotic and off the arrangement is.

Still, I like Juujika! I mean, if you like Tokyo Girls' Style then you're going to like Juujika. It still has their strong vocals combined with a slightly creepier sound. If you're not a fan of TGS, then Juujika isn't a departure from their mature sound and probably won't win you over. For me though, I like the sound of Juujika, although it does a feel a little long at parts. I think maybe the verses could have been arranged to sound a little bit creepier. Maybe they could have changed the key of the song to a minor tone. Actually, that might work really well. Humming Juujika a key higher, and hoo boy, it sounds even creepier. A key change like that in the song would have been so nice... Still, in its current form, I think Juujika is a strong A-side. Maybe not one of the strongest one in Tokyo Girls' Style's overall discography, but it still has a distinct sound and everything that I like in a TGS song. I even think Juujika is one of my favorite A-sides that TGS has released this era and a decent A-side to close the era with. Juujika especially is a refreshing listen after the 90s funk-heavy Partition Love and the abysmally bland Chiisana Kiseki. But I do wonder how TGS's upcoming album, Killing Me Softly, is going to sound like quite the clusterfuck of different-sounding A-sides.

While the song may not be as scary as it could have been, the real scares should come from a music video. A proper concept and imagery can make even the most benevolent songs sound terrifying (example: Singin' in the Rain). So turn off your lights and lock the doors, because we're about to look at a spoooooky PV.


First shot in and all I have to say is damn, that's one long white dress. Is Hitomi getting married?


Yuri chained to a tree petting a fake animal... I may need some context.


Oh my goodness, they're all chained to trees. What the heck is going on!?


Oh hey, Hitomi's doing the thing from the trailer! I wonder what she sees through-


EEK!


Wow, TGS formed a Catholic gang! They really are pushing idol boundaries!


It's not a TGS PV until the members start embracing each other!


Man, this is like something out of The Haunted Mansion.


Perhaps Ayano is praying that one day TGS will become popular.


Well fiddle-dee-dee I think this PV has something to do with crosses. Just a hunch.


Oh my... those costumes are very... lacy... and see-through...


...I don't remember learning about this crucifixion in Sunday school.


Hitomi, I think it's gonna take more than a tug to break that chain.


So uh, anyone care to point out the elephant in the room- or should I say minotaur in the room?


Damn, why is everyone in TGS so good at being uncomfortably hot?


I mean seriously, the producers are really piling on the fanservice in this PV.


The sexy black dresses, the innocent Lolita dresses, the handcuffs, what's next, blood!?


...I shouldn't have said anything.


So where ya headed, Hitomi?


Well, while she's doing that, Miyu's doing vague, but pretty, metaphoric things.


Mmmm~ I love when idols do this dance move. It looks so crisp and sharp.


Oh look, the minotaur showed back up! And yikes, what's he doing with Ayano?


Bye bye, Ayano! Off into the darkness she goes! Forever!!!


This scenario just screams, "GET OUT WHILE YOU CAN" all over it.


Hey, the badass capes came back! All right!


And TGS strikes one final pose to show off those... interesting dresses.


Hitomi looks awful happy to see...


Hitomi!?


There are televisions series devoted to why this shouldn't happen.


See, you mess with the laws of nature and you disintegrate! Let this be a lesson to all you occult seekers.

All right, who wants to talk about sacrilegious music videos? I do! The music video for Juujika has gone under a teensy-tiny bit of controversy because of its use of crosses and crucifixion. Not a lot of controversy, but just enough for me to notice. The main controversy has stemmed from the accusation that the PV's use of crosses and crucifixion is insensitive or exploitative to Christianity. And as a mildly religious person, what do I have to say about this supposedly sacrilegious music video? Well, I'll have you know right that... I don't care. I mean, have you people seen a Madonna music video? Tons of music videos use crosses, churches, crucifixion, and so many other motifs of Christianity in them to much more profane degrees than what Tokyo Girls' Style is doing in this music video. I can see why if you're really religious, it would be uncomfortable, but to me, this is tame and not really worth any of this alleged "controversy." I mean the title of the song translates to cross, what else were they supposed to put in the music video!? If you disagree and still find this PV sacrilegious, that is okay. I understand and am not gonna force you to agree with me. Okay, I've addressed the elephant in the room, now let's move on and talk about the actual music video.

Honestly, I love this music video. I think it's got a lot of striking, vivid imagery, especially in comparison to their last few music videos. While Tokyo Girls Style's past few PVs haven't been awful, they've all been a little... low budget. The last really fancy TGS PV I watched was Unmei. Get the Star was nice-looking but didn't have much variety, ditto for Chiisana Kiseki, and Partition Love was a cheap grab for attention that I don't even want to talk about. Juujika blows all three of those PVs out of the water. This PV looks beautiful, hauntingly beautiful. And there's such a great scope in this video. I mean, the girls are dancing colossal church with these giant neon crosses in the background. The aesthetic of Juujika reminded me of the artwork for Arcade Fire's Neon Bible album. The colors are all so rich, from the blood red and dark blue in the close-ups to the blinding green and sharp black of the dance shot. And all the locations are just stunning to look at. I love seeing the church from a bunch of different angles and not just in that one dance shot. Juujika isn't an overtly scary PV like BiS's Idol or Bellring Shoujo Heart's Circus & Renai Soudan, but it's glamorous in the same way the horror film Suspiria is.

So does Juujika's PV mean anything or is it all just a bunch of pretty sets and costumes? I'd be willing to bet the latter considering most idol PVs tend to be style over substance. But it's still a pretty PV. And I think that at least a little bit of the PV is referencing the Gakkou no Kaidan -Noroi no Kotodama- movie. Like at the beginning Hitomi makes that hand motion where it looks like she's peering through a window, the same motion that I saw in the trailer (and on one of the covers for the single). And I guess the rest of the PV is kind of spiritual? There is that minotaur spirit/monster that randomly shows up at parts in the PV. In fact, I think I've seen that in another PV as well... Mizuki Nana's Eternal Blaze! Is that just a popular monster to feature in Japanese music videos? There's also the contrast between the two outfits the girls wear in Juujika, one being the innocent, white Lolita-style dresses and the black, sexier lace dresses that would look more like swimsuits if they didn't have the lace over them. I think one of the main themes of the PV was the clash of the "light" and "dark" personas of Tokyo Girls' Style and how one can't exist while the other does. I mean, at the end of the PV, it looks like Hitomi's white persona got possessed/devoured by the black persona. You know, symbolism!

I'd think the more controversial part of this PV would be how revealing those black dresses are, not the religious imagery. I'm serious, they're very revealing, even for TGS. I guess it's a little more okay for them now because they're no longer 11-13 but still, the girls' ages now are only 16-17. Even beyond just the sexy black dresses, there's a lot of suggestive elements to this PV. They're not as trashy as that other TGS PV I reviewed before Juujika, but it's still very mature for 16-17 idols. The PV shows the girls in handcuffs, restrained to crosses, wearing black lace, Lolita dresses, the whole nine yards! Sometimes I wonder what the parents of the TGS idols think of their daughters doing PVs like this. I have to admit though, the girls work it really well, like they always do in their more sensual PVs. I'm still not completely sure how TGS pulls that off. And I think the presentation of Juujika makes it slightly less icky than it could have been. I mean, there aren't as many pandering otaku shots than a PV like say, Limited addition. Heck compared to Limited addiction, Juujika is downright tame. Still, this is pretty mature, suggestive, and sensual PV, even for TGS, and if you're squicked out by it, that is completely okay and probably means that you're at least a slightly normal person.

Even with its more questionable creative decisions, I still think the PV for Juujika is awesome. I've watched several times not even to review it, but because it's just a captivating PV to watch. There isn't a story or any real meaning to it, but the presentation is what grabs me. All the creative choices are utilized perfectly, and the final product looks very complete. I now there's controversy over Juujika being "sacrilegious" or not, but either way, it is still a stunning PV. And I didn't really mention the dance, but the choreography matches the song so well. Every movement is so deliberate and intense! And beyond that, there is such a great variety of different shots and areas. The song isn't one of my favorite TGS songs, but I think the PV for Juujika is one of the best TGS PVs that I've seen in awhile. And even with all the weird, slightly spooky stuff in it, this PV still feels like a TGS PV. It's nice seeing Tokyo Girls' Style go down a more spooky route, even if right now isn't the best time to do a spooky PV. I'm just saying that this would have been a great Halloween PV. With all the summer PVs I'm gonna start reviewing this summer, Juujika stands out (much like last year's Unmei) as a dark, almost gothic music video that showcases just how cool Tokyo Girls' Style's PVs can get. I highly recommend watching this PV.


I think I'll settle on four and half apples for Juujika. Even though October is still five months away, Juujika is a creepy song with the polished maturity of other TGS songs. The PV is where the song really shines though. If you're not offended by religious symbols being used for sheer aesthetic, then I would highly recommend checking this PV out. It's sleek, gorgeously shot, and another great, memorable PV for Tokyo Girls' Style. Now I eagerly await Killing Me Softly.

2 comments:

  1. Their outfit made me think of "little BLACK riding hoods", or maybe "The Sexy-kawaii Knights of the Cross"!
    Did you know that they released some new songs for the soundtrack of "Gakkou no Kaidan -Noroi no Kotodama-"? In fact, they are 5 cover songs, each one by one member. The original songs are from 1998 to 2006 and related to horror productions. If you haven't heard them yet, you should check that out, they're surprising!
    Now I'm looking forward to the DVD releases of their two movies "Count 5 to Dream of You" and "Gakkou no Kaidan -Noroi no Kotodama-".

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    1. Yep, those are definitely two names you could stick to the Juujika outfits!

      I did know about the other songs! Actually, all those new songs are in my song library! They're all great; my favorites are Raven, Feels like Heaven, and of course, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni.

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