Saturday, June 17, 2017

Video Backlog: “Perfume 6th Tour 2016: Cosmic Explorer”

Publisher: Wrasse Records (UK)
Format: Region Free Blu-ray, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with some English Dialogue with optional English Subtitles
Length: 129 minutes (Osaka Concert), 118 minutes (Chiba Concert)
Production Date: 2017
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

For those who don’t know, Perfume is one of the biggest girl groups in Japan. Originally a failing idol group from Hiroshima who somehow managed to get a major recording deal, they were about to be dropped from the label after a series of non-charting singles until they gave them one more chance with the single “Polyrhythm” in 2007. Due to the fact it was selected to be used in a recycling campaign by national broadcaster NHK, it became a massive hit, peaking at number 7 on the national chart and selling over 70,000 copies. Since then, every single thereafter for the group has at least peaked within the top three, and all five of their studio albums have hit the number one spot on the charts. I became aware of their presence when I accidentally saw them on SBS Pop Asia on a Sunday morning about four years ago. It certainly wasn’t an instant love affair, however after I saw a few of their rather inventive video clips on Youtube, I was hooked. I’ve previously written before about Perfume’s 2015 documentary which centred on their 2014 world tour (Taipei, Singapore, Los Angeles, London and New York).

As I mentioned before, they formed in Hiroshima in 2000 while attending the Actors School Hiroshima talent academy at the age of 11. They are Ayano Omoto (nicknamed “Nocchi”), Yuka Kashino (“Kashiyuka”) and Ayaka Nishiwaki (“A-chan”). Each have distinctive personalities (and haircuts), but seem really sincere and genuine in what they do and aren’t a product of some cynical, middle aged A&R man. Originally marketed as stereotypical idols, as they entered the world of being major label artists, their style evolved into a rather sophisticated girl group with modified designer clothes, slick dance moves and more importantly an electropop sound solely created by Yasutaka Nakata of Capsule fame (and also Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s producer). While most of their material is most definitely pop, there is almost always an undercurrent of underground dance music lurking within it. However with their last album, “Cosmic Explorer”, they’ve leaned more towards pop with fewer edgier dance moments than previous records.

This three blu-ray set pretty much covers their entire series of concerts in 2016. As part of a push to promote their last album, “Cosmic Explorer”, they toured smaller cities within Japan rather than the major cities as they usually do. These concerts were billed as the Standing Edition as unusually for a concert of this type, the seats in the venues they played were removed. In August and September, they toured the USA, with dates in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York. Finally they returned to Japan to preform another set of dates in arenas in major cities across the country.

The main disc is one of the latter arena concerts at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome. I have seen only a couple of their previous concert blu-rays (I bought two second hand discs on my trip to Osaka earlier this year), however it seems that the set used for this concert is a bit spartan than previous concerts. However the setup is pretty expansive; apart from the main stage which has several rising and sinking platforms and a lazy-susan type rotating platform, another moving and rising platform rig is attached to front of stage which can transport them right out to the middle of the audience. Besides these platforms, there are two non-movable runways which lead to round mini stages,  which come off either side of the main stage. A massive lighting rig hangs over the main stage like a neon covered skeletal spider. Several legs rise and fall to the stage at several intervals.

The concert begins with the intro from the latest album as well at the title track, accompanied by footage on large video screens of the girls in a space craft (hence the title of the album and song, “Cosmic Explorer”). Surprisingly use of special effects as per previous Perfume concerts such as lasers, projection mapping and other effects is keep to a minimum.

But by half way through the set, starting with the new song, “Perfume no Okite” (used in a Uniqlo/Heattech advert earlier this year, still unreleased as a single), transparent screens around the main stage descend from the ceiling and the projection mapping/laser light show begins, which doesn’t really let up until the end of the concert. The rising and sinking platforms are also used in the latter half of the concert to their full potential. The set list contains all of the new songs on the album as well as most of the singles and a few old favourites. The group also perform a melody of hits, B-sides and obscurities such the still unreleased original version of “Imitation World”, first performed in concert in 2006. As per all of their concerts, the trio talk to the audience and later have an audience participation segment called P.T.A. Corner (P.T.A. being the official fan club for the group), where A-chan leads the audience into her made up dance moves and sections the audience off into separate areas in a type of call and response. In this concert she makes the audience mimic Osaka’s Tsutenkaku Tower and the infamous Tower of the Sun (Taiyo no To) which sits at the old 1970 World Expo site. She also uses the call and response section to make fun of the Osakian accent.

The second disc is an earlier show from Makuhari Messe International Exhibition Hall in Chiba, which contains a completely different set list to the Osaka concert. Incomprehensibly presented in cinemascope (which means black bars at the top and bottom of the screen), this is actually the better of the two concerts. Using a similar stage set up as the Osaka concert, this show has seating for the audience rather than having them stand. Right from the get go, the special effects, lasers, projection mapping and dazzling multi-coloured lighting is thrown at the audience non-stop. The concert is also edited more like a music video with several slow motion scenes and more cut always to the specially made on-screen videos, which are mostly projected to give Perfume a chance to change outfits. Of note here is a rather expensive looking lead up video to the song “Cosmic Explorer” which has the girls on an alien desert planet and taking off in a space craft. Another highlight is the 3:5:6:9 Corner part of the show. Introduced in their 2015 anniversary concerts, this involves all three separately rolling a 10 sided dice, then moving spaces on a simple light projected game board on the stage to see what three songs they’ll be performing next. To make things more complex, they are given additional tasks to do while preforming the songs by the staff via video screens. Amusingly Perfume use scooters on the game board to move about.

The third disc contains several features. The first is a 40 minute digest of their US tour. A couple of songs are presented, but it is mostly their P.T.A. Corner segments, in which they ask an audience member who knows Japanese to translate for them. They also perform a live English language version of the song “Baby Face” which delights the audience, and a fan favourite B-side from their very early days called “Jenny wa Gokigen Naname” (“Jenny is Displeased”, a cover of an obscure song by early 1980’s J-Pop band Juicy Fruits). Amazingly the US audience knows the idol inspired response parts that the Japanese fans also shout when it’s preformed at their Japanese concerts. But the obvious highlight of this section is the concert opener, “Cosmic Explorer” which includes five specially made drones flying in formation around the trio.

The second extra is individual edited P.T.A. Corner segments for each city they played at, including the US dates. Naturally the girls tailor each P.T.A. Corner to the locals and there is some pretty funny stuff here. The last extra on the disc is a 14 song compilation of the 3:5:6:9 Corners from all their shows. This segment only contains the songs, but you can also use a shuffle option to play three random songs. Some of the songs in this extra are rather obscure such as “Kareshi Boshuuchuu (Recruiting a Boyfriend)”, their second single, released on an independent label in Hiroshima, from 2002.

Wrasse’s UK release mimics the original Japanese release. The three blu-rays come in a four-fold digipak with the logo for the tour embossed on the cardboard on the outside of the digipak. The digipak also houses a small 14 page booklet, mostly with photos from the tour and credits for the concerts and blu-ray production team. The digipak is housed in a sliver/chrome slip which is made out of thick fold up cardboard. This is a very similar type of box construction Universal use for their Japanese releases of Perfume concerts. The subtitles only cover the spoken dialogue and the songs aren't translated. Mostly the subtitles are more than adequate; however on the rare occasion some of the translation choices seem to be a little questionable. The set is a little pricy at £60, which almost the same cost of the Japanese version (which naturally doesn’t come with English subtitles).

In conclusion, I think this is a pretty good set for fans of the group. The main concert certainly doesn’t hit the same high bar set by their “Level 3” 2013 concert blu-ray. In fact it can be a little bit bland in the first half. The second disc is easily the better of the two, however is bizarrely presented in a somewhat distracting faux cinemascope widescreen which removes almost two thirds of the picture. Also we don’t get a full US concert, which by all accounts, despite a more modest budget compared to Japanese shows, looks incredible, especially those drones in the opening number. But if you’re Japanese language deficient like me, the subtitles do make these concerts a more fulfilling experience. Sure, the girls pad out their speeches at times and can be a little corny and schmaltzy, but more often than not they’re really entertaining and very funny. Overall I can only recommend this to the fans, but if you are a fan of the group it’s a really satisfying set of concerts and provides substantial value for money (over six hours of quality content) despite the high price tag. 7.5 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: 18 TV series, 8 OVAs and 14 movies. In addition I am also waiting for additional parts of four TV series to be released before viewing them.

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