Documentary of AKB48 – To Be Continued DVD Review

I’ve been listening to J-pop for as long as I can remember. The bubbly happy tunes playing with cute girls dancing in the background in their often frilly-intricate wardrobes. The hoards of devoted fans jumping and singing along that would make Bieber or Gomez fans feel like they’re at a recital. Japanese Idol groups have been a staple of Japanese modern culture and entertainment since Morning Musume brought it into the mainstream. Taking their spot as one of the biggest music groups in history is AKB48, a pop group comprised of 62 members as of this review. AKB48 is big enough to be recorded into the Guinness Book of World Record as the largest pop group. Hell I’m listening to Heavy Rotation right now as I write this. So much like most success stories, there must be documentaries! And thus Documentary of AKB48 – To be Continued  was born, an inside and personal look at Japan’s most successful artist. Does this shed new light on Japan’s cutest pop group?

I admit I’m not the biggest AKB fan, perhaps the only members I know by name are Atsuko Maeda and Yuko Oshima. The documentary definitely focuses on key members of the each team, Obviously making a documentary about 62 girls would be impossible. Essentially, the movie is about the group and their 2010 exploits. It opens with a select group of members during a casual lunch (with a rotating camera shot that screams Reservoir Dogs), who are unsurprisingly the main subjects of the film for the next two hours. The format is much like any typical documentary: A interview and the various B-roll footage sprinkled here and there. In addition to these are random casual scenes of each member doing things that they like, whether it be at an anime shop or snowboarding.

Interestingly, it isn’t actually about the group as a whole, but through the eyes of these girls and how they dealt with the challenges of being a top idol group. It presents a very down-to-earth quality about these girls despite their immense popularity and superstar status. The films tries to presents the girls with how they felt during their reassignment and the challenges of working with new companions of another team. A little tidbit that I enjoyed was Watanabe’s nickname for Yuko, which was Oshiriko-chan (meaning “butt kid”), as she made a hand gesture that would probably be mistaken as a W or a pair of goggles here in the States. It’s really all just a lot of fluffy and rather mundane things.

However, as I watched the documentary, it became clear that there was a slight problem. Ironically, its greatest strength becomes the film’s most glaring weakness, its subject matter. Those that aren’t invested into AKB48 or idol culture, will most likely find the documentary confusing, weird, and perhaps even boring. Each girl’s narration felt very weak and left little to entice me to keep watching. Certain interviews dragged on too long without B-roll, making it awkward for both the subject and the viewer. At times, I wanted to know more about the girl’s success and why they wanted to become an idol. The documentary hardly touches on the group’s success as a whole and as a result felt disconnected from the identity. It’d be more appropriate to title this as “The Documentary of 6 AKB48 Members”. It really doesn’t help when you only talk to a few girls out of a 62-woman group.

If there’s one thing I absolutely loved about the film, it would definitely be the cinematography of the interview scenes. Director Yuri Kanchiku manages to weave together the different personalities of each girl with a backdrop that brings out their character. These are soft, whimsical scenes that are beautifully shot and edited together to create a very natural and personal approach to the subject. Warm colors permeated in each interview and set a tone that stay consistent throughout the rest of the film. As beautiful as these scenes were, they felt the least “real” to me because of how it was shot. The clean editing clashed with the roughness of the training and concert footage.

In closing, Documentary of AKB48 – To be Continued is a hard sell to most people. While it does offer a glance at the girls of Japan’s biggest pop group, it doesn’t hold interest for very long and begins to overstay its welcome. Clocking in almost 2 hours, it was quite the chore to listen to each girl talk while jumping back and forth between all the girls, easily losing track of any coherent narrative it ever had. This is a movie that only its most dedicated fans can appreciate. Otherwise, prepare for a lot of small talk and the occasional tearing up.

Grade: C+

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