Directed by Kyoko Miyake
Nominated for Grand Jury Prize World Cinema: Documentary, 2017 Sundance Film Festival
Throngs of adult men blissfully wave glow sticks in unison as they gaze upon the object of their devotion. “It’s like a religion,” a man observes in voiceover. As the camera pulls out, it’s clear these men are not worshipping a deity promising an eternal afterlife. Rather, they’re genuflecting before nymphets offering heaven through a vacuous song-and-dance routine.
Kiyoko Miyake’s TOKYO IDOLS is a deep-dive into this twisted, only-in-Japan subculture, exploring the symbiotic relationship between otakus, the name for emotionally stunted superfans, and their young female idols. The film focuses on a minor idol named Rio and her most fanatical supporter, Koji. Nearly aging out of the idol game at 20, Rio grinds out a life of fan service with an infectious enthusiasm that her fans adore, hoping for that last shot for the big leagues. When she’s not performing pop routines in dingy venues for several dozen fans, she’s live-streaming, hand-packaging branded goods, or working meet-and-greets. At many of these events, she is cheered on by the irrepressible Koji, 43, who admits to attending over 700 shows in a year, draining his entire savings on idol-related activities. But his worship of Rio, as presented in the film, is Travis Bickle-like, at once disturbingly obsessive but also oddly chaste. Koji’s a true otaku, part of a lost generation of Japanese men who’ve traded in a shot at real relationships for mediated fantasies.
Making its West Coast debut after its Sundance bow, TOKYO IDOLS offers sharp commentary about the misogynistic roots and pernicious effects of idol culture. But the most illuminating segments come straight from the otakus’ own mouths. In one particularly skivvy passage, an otaku disavows the need for real life relationships while confessing to a “romantic feeling” for a ten-year-old idol. Director Miyake, however, avoids mocking the sad fans as nothing more than creeps and losers. Instead, TOKYO IDOLS aspires to something greater: finding compassion for these oddballs who’d sooner give everything up just for one minute with a girl who could be their daughter.
— Ryan Wu
Born in Japan, Kyoko Miyake studied history at Tokyo University and then moved to Britain to research the history of witchcraft at Oxford.Her film Brakeless won a Peabody Award after airing on PBS and BBC. Her first film, My Atomic Aunt, was supported by the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund, BBC, WDR, and NHK, and it was recently broadcast on PBS.Hackney Lullabies won the Berlin Today Award at the Berlinale.
Executive Producers: Jutta Krug , Nick Fraser , Kate Townsend , Margje de Koning , Axel Arno , Tore Tomter , Mette Hoffmann Meyer , Melissa Kajpust , Maureen Levitt , Julie Di Cresce
Producers: Kyoko Miyake, Felix Matschke, Bob Moore
Director: Kyoko Miyake
Writer: Kyoko Miyake
Cinematographer: Van Royko
Post-Production Supervisors: Edmund Duff, Victor Sandrasaga
Line Producer: Valerie Shamash
Composer: David Drury
Sound Designer: Tyler Fitzmaurice
Editor: Anna Price