Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Existential J-Pop Music Video

Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Existential J-Pop Music Video
On Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Actually... (2022)

We start Actually… (2022) aligned with Mizuki Yamashita, as we see a city under construction, cranes peeking through the city skyline, she sees a performance under construction, a rehearsal. She watches her band, Nogizaka46, with the distance of a camera, as if seeing them on the other side of a screen she could never reach through to touch. Afterwards, she looks pensively out a window at what may well be the exact cityscape we saw. But Kiyoshi Kurosawa is incapable of making something that’s not strange and interesting, even in what might seem like as much of a job-for-hire as possible: a J-Pop music video (Nobuhiko Ōbayashi, who took every jobber project serious, making many great idol films in the 80’s, happened to make a film with AKB48, the official rival band to Nogizaka46) Kurosawa shoots in small, liminal hallways of nothing but white and glass, he leans into the idols’ stiff performances, and he leaves the soundtrack almost totally without music. Much more often we hear the kind of ominous air vent sounds that would fit comfortably in Eraserhead (1979).

And we are quickly pushed away from Mizuki when she tells Asuka Saitō that she has locked their new band member-in-training (called a Kenkyuusei), Aruno Nakanishi, in an out of the way studio room filled with dusty old equipment. Asuka says she’ll cover for her, that she’ll tell Aruno that that door often closes on its own, but then Mizuki admits that she not only barricaded the door shut, but was seen doing it. There is some guilt in her, but she only confesses when she releases there isn’t any way around this, that there is no way to justify such oblique actions, driven only by a strange premonition of change. She feels like Aruno will transform their group in a way she doesn’t really know, but still it scares her. In a way, Aruno agrees. She describes the old things around her as burdensome, as if they are what locked her in, even though she may well have looked Mizuki in the eyes as she did it.

Some uncomfortable real life resonances have come onto this video since it filmed back in January of this year. Before its release in late March—to only the CD, it’s not on YouTube—old comments Aruno made about black and disabled people resurfaced, forcing her to step back from the group, to go on hiatus. Asuka and Mizuki, therefore, took over as the single’s leads, starring in a second, much more conventional music video where they dance in a huge, totally empty, hyper-modern room, under a huge glass dome; it’s an unironically liminal space shot as if a spectacle. Now, when Aruno looks straight at the girls who pushed her away, and says that they solidified her decision to stay, to push forward, the video almost become about defying ‘cancel culture’. At least from a western perspective, from inside a culture chronically obsessed with this stupid idea. These comments were made before the video was shot, but I cannot say for sure if Kurosawa would have known about them, though I doubt he would have factored them in. Mostly it just muddies the water of his clear vision, but when Asuka tells Aruno she brought this bullying on herself, I did laugh.

These girl groups are almost like little societies, even though this video only really features three members of Nogizaka46, there are currently 43, with another 47 who have 'graduated'. There are so many members that when Mizuki first mentions Aruno, Asuka doesn’t know who she is, or at least, she can say that and there is some reason to believe her. All three girls have to fight for anything they can get in this huge, amorphous group that can and will go on without them, that has stripped them so much of their individuality, there’s a sense that they now only faintly exist. When we see Asuka for the first time, she's shot through glass with the light from a window reflecting off it, she looks like something without form, like a ghost. And when Aruno asks if she locked her in, Asuka can only look to camera and flatly state“I didn’t say that”; she can’t quite absolve herself of responsibility. Aruno and Mizuki’s very similar outfits show them less as reflections of each other than as fragments of the same whole: Nogizaka46.

Nothing about this is particularly unique to J-Pop bands, the hallways of Actually… are indistinguishable from any office, any other place of work. What’s being build around them isn't really skyscrapers, but an ever-expanding capitalism. One where work is increasingly flattened. Aruno thinks she’s liberated but when she describes that liberation—that she’ll “dance, sing [and] have fun”—she can only do so with the most vacant expression, as if looking into some abyss. Asuka and Mizuki understand their dissatisfaction better, they express it more openly, Asuka says that “No matter how hard you lament, it won’t help. We can’t escape it”. They know that this work will grind them away indefinitley, and that the only thing worse than it spitting them out is it not. Maybe that's the space Aruno is staring into; she's seeing the rest of her life doing only this, where all she can do is wait for retirment. "After some decades, we'll be old" Asuka says, weakly trying to reassure Mizuki, "let's talk about memories". As absurd as it might seem for people so young to be thinking like this, being idols—working amongst the expansion—only makes them slightly more extreme cases. The speed of modern capitalism demands newer and newer blood, and by the time you’re moving through your twenties—Mizuki is twenty-three and Asuka is twenty-four—the freedoms of youth start to harden into a career.

When we finally get to the traditional music video section, it is cut with Aruno walking up a building still under-construction; she’s on the very edges, pushing into the future. But the fantasy—the music video itself—shows only wreckage. Maybe the crumbled buildings are the past that Aruno is knocking down, or maybe, at such heights of capitalism, the only true escapism from it, is to imagine its destruction. But as Mark Fischer so famously said "it's easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism", so the set is obviously artificial, it can only suggest, and all the images are over-exposed. Aruno ends up at the very top, she looks out over the city, standing above hanging lights that don't look so different from spotlights; maybe she's finally seeing behind the scenes. Her isolation brings lucidity, but not much else. We cut close as she breathes heavily, as if readying herself to jump. Then, the title comes on screen, actually… this might have been a mistake.


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