AKB48 - DOCUMENTARY of AKB48 to be continued

review - 12.12.2011 11:01

A behind-the-scenes look at the extremely successful idol group.

Huge female idol group AKB48 has been busy conquering the Japanese charts since 2005. Their popularity has grown globally as well as at home, and in recognition of this their documentary DOCUMENTARY of AKB48 to be continued has been subtitled and was released 1st December for US fans. Few would envy the production team's massive job of editing down over 1000 hours of interview, rehearsal and concert footage into 120 minutes that charts the group's activities in 2010.

The documentary helpfully begins with some general information about the background of the group for those who are less than familiar. Formed by producer Akimoto Yasushi, the group is made up of 48 girls split into three groups of 16 as teams A, K and B, and a further 23 trainees who wait in the wings. The AKB of their name is from "Akihabara," a Tokyo district known as the mecca of hardcore game and anime fans or "otaku," and this is where their very own theatre is located. They hold concerts there on a daily basis, due to Akimoto's desire to make them the "idols you can meet." Footage of the members meeting fans at handshaking events, high-fiving fans at concerts and handing out handwarmers to those shivering in a queue outside the theatre is illustrative of this. This idea is also prevalent in the first scene, where six of the girls have been filmed unreservedly enjoying a hearty lunch and chatting away like regular girls. Similar scenes accompany interviews of some of the members, with one indulging her anime and manga hobby in a merchandise store, another enjoying some snowboarding, another wandering around a quaint bookshop, and more along those lines. These may make them appear more down-to-earth, but they seem too contrived.

The documentary is obviously all about the girls, and so interviews of 14 of them have been included. Most of them are the more popular and established members such as Maeda Atsuko and Takahashi Minami, although newer members have also been interviewed. They talk about life in the group and their relationships with the other members, but also about their hobbies and interests, their families and their hopes. Of course the subject of competition is quite a common one. With so many other members, not only do the three groups compete with each other for the spotlight but the girls have to compete within the same group for media attention and prime positioning in performances and photo shoots. Healthy competition appears to be actively encouraged, due to general elections where fans vote for their favourite and other votes to decide who performs in the next single. Some members seem to be more affected than others by these events, with member Watanabe Mayu in floods of tears at her disappointment at only ranking 5th out of 48.

In fact, crying features extremely heavily throughout the documentary. It is prompted by the sad goodbyes to those graduating from the group, moving tributes at onstage birthday celebrations, the promotion of trainees to full-fledged members and much, much, more. Even the choreographer, affectionately known as "Riko-chan," joins in when witnessing the extreme effort of Team A to grasp the difficult moves and failing, and this in turn sets off waterworks from others.

What is fascinating is seeing how the group works logistically. The massive idol group format is a concept which is pretty alien outside of Japan, and seeing how this is managed makes for very interesting viewing. The group is more of like a school or theatre group than a musical band. New members must first prove themselves as trainees and existing members graduate, either of their own volition or through Akimoto's suggestion. Akimoto is master and commander of this ship, and what he says goes. Some of the girls have been filmed saying how although they don't want to leave their respective groups or become group leaders, Akimoto is right to push them to their limits so that they will learn and grow. And this seems to be the point of the format, apart from the obvious one of entertaining others: the members go through it to develop, improve and ultimately move on to higher things at the end. AKB is not meant to be the end goal for its members, and for a western audience this may be a strange ideal for a pop group.

The footage is punctuated throughout by black screen statements of major events in 2010, such as releases and important concerts. From these it is clear to see how successful the group truly is, as by the end of 2010 they had a number one album, two of the biggest selling singles of the year and a best song award under their belt.

Fans of the group or those with a growing interest will most likely enjoy finding out more about certain members and seeing footage of their day-to-day lives, as well as the concert footage. Those who aren't fans won't really find this very exciting, although the insight into the workings of a mega idol group is informative for those new to the concept. At 120 minutes it also feels a bit too long, and some of the time could have been spent explaining to overseas audiences about the general elections, rearrangement of team formations and other things that they may be unfamiliar with. Something not lacking though is footage of the girls eating, which is abundant throughout. In this day and age, it's refreshing to see young girls in the entertainment business eating enthusiastically for a change.

The documentary is available on DVD exclusively online for $19.99 through the NEW PEOPLE store. A 48 hour online screener of the documentary is available at NEW PEOPLE Online Channel for $4.99.

Check out the trailer below.

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