Saturday, December 9, 2017

Video Backlog: “Perfume Clips 2”

Publisher: Universal Music Home Video (Japan)
Format: Region Free Blu-ray, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue
Length: 63 mins
Production Date: 2012 - 2017
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

In the last few years I’ve discovered a number of Japanese artists by accident that I’ve become massive fans of. They range from the noise/punk/psychedelia of eX-girl to the electronica of Suiyobi no Campanella (Wednesday Campanella). But Idol and J-Pop stuff are genres I generally have no interest in. However when I first saw Perfume on SBS Popasia a couple of years ago, I was intrigued. With songs written and produced by Yasutaka Nakata of the electronic dance group Capsule, who is also the writer and producer of all of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s songs, Perfume's music was much more in line with dance music than pop. Their image was also far more mature and sophisticated than their contemporaries.

However the group had very humble beginnings. Formed in 2001 in a talent school, the group consisted of three young girls; Ayaka Nishiwaki (better known as A-chan), Yuka Kashino (Kashiyuka) and finally Ayano Omoto (Nocchi), who replaced a member who left very early on. As one kanji in each of the girl’s name meant scent, the trio decided to call themselves Perfume. Releasing a series of independent singles starting in 2002, eventually the group had made a big enough impression to be signed to major Japanese label Tokuma Japan Communications in 2005. However success did not come easily. After a number of poorly performing singles, their management company gave them one last chance with “Polyrhythm” in 2007. Due to the fact it the song was chosen to promote a NHK recycling campaign, it got enough exposure to become a top 10 hit. Since then the group has hit the top five with every subsequent single and all five of their studio albums have hit number one on the Japanese charts.

Their music videos have for the most part been quite inventive or at the very least colourful and fun. If I was being honest, I think a lot of the group’s appeal to myself is the visual element including the music videos and rather elaborate live performances. Even though single and album sales in Japan have shrunk dramatically over the last decade (for example Perfume once sold almost 100,000 CDs for most of their single releases after 2007. Recent singles are now barely make it to 60,000 CDs shipped), the music videos for them are still fairly high concept and budgeted with innovative dance moves by their long time choreographer Mikiko Mizuno (PKA Mikiko) of the dance troupe Elevenplay (also the choreographer for Babymetal). In late 2014, their former label (Tokuma) released the compilation “Perfume Clips” which complied all 22 of their major videos they made from 2005 to 2012 plus a new video complied out live performances. As the group have only released two and a half albums worth of videos on their current label, I honestly thought they would not release a second compilation until after their sixth studio album was released. I suspect that with video sales also slumping, they decided to get this compilation out now. I’ve decided to review this blu-ray set in the same way as I do with my series on anime music video compilations, that is track by track;

Spring of Life
This video was the very first Perfume music video I ever saw. The director was Yusuke Tanaka, a long-time collaborator with the group. He has also directed videos for a number of Japanese artists including Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and also US group OK Go. In this video the trio play robots inside some sort of laboratory. The first few cuts have the girls being worked on by an industrial robot arm with part of the girl's internal workings exposed. The trio's dresses are covered in LEDs which pulse to the music. All three have an electrical cord attached their backs which must have made it quite difficult to dance. In the instrumental interlude the trio perform in very jerky robot-like moves. Considering the group has been criticised in some circles as being machine like (mostly in terms of their partly auto tuned vocals), it seems a bit ballsy (or daft) to make a video like this. At any rate it’s quite a fun video, however the final scene which has Nocchi and Kashiyuka gleefully unplugging A-chan seems a bit weird. As per a lot of high profile major label artists in Japan, this song was used in a TV commercial, this time for a Kirin vodka based drink. This single was originally released in April 2012 on CD and also in a limited edition CD with a bonus DVD containing the music video.

Spending all my time
One of the more unusual songs and videos in Perfume’s catalogue, it features (almost entirely) English lyrics, something they’ve only done once before; on “Take Me, Take Me” which appeared on their 2008 debut album “Game”. This seems to be a deliberate as their management company, Amuse, were gearing up to market the group to a western audience. They already knew there was a sizable fanbase outside Japan and toured internationally for the first time that year, albeit in Asian counties, though they did do one show to English speaking fans in Singapore. This video was directed by Yusuke Tanaka and features Perfume in a disused room with several scenes repeated over and over again in time with the music such as them knocking on and attempting to open a locked door, two of them stepping towards each other and other various short cuts. Intercut with this are the trio performing various acts of extrasensory perception and psychokinesis such as levitating cups and apples, using Zener cards, bending spoons and knocking over or destroying small objects with their mind. The choreography in the clip is also quite minimal, using repeated gestures using mostly their hands, arms, legs and feet. The single was originally released in August 2012 on CD and also in a limited edition CD with a bonus DVD containing the music video.

Mirai no Museum (Museum of the Future)
This single was initially recorded for the anime film “Doraemon: Nobita's Secret Gadget Museum” which is part of the long running and beloved Doraemon manga and anime series. The music video is a part animated, part live action clip shot in black and white which mimics the manga origin story of Doraemon. The character designs are also reminiscent of those by the original creator of the manga, Fujiko Fujio. The story of the video has an old inventor from the future transporting Perfume back in time to help his younger self. There Perfume open a basement door and end up fighting various creatures in order to save the younger scientist’s self. The scientist as an old man and as young boy has the letters PTA in place of his eyes (PTA is the name of Perfume’s fanclub). The video mimics manga right down to speech bubbles (referencing the lyrics of the song) and on screen written sound effects. The video also references the previous two videos with the LED lit dresses from “Spring of Life” and Kashiyuka using the same psychokinesis moves as she did in “Spending all my time”. The special edition CD release (which as per all of their releases included a DVD of the music video) included a mini manga made up of screen shots of the video. Again, Yusuke Tanaka directed the video. The single was released in February 2013, one month prior to the release of the “Doraemon” film it features in.

Magic of Love
Easily one of my favourite Perfume videos. The setup is pretty simple; in a colourful set the trio dance, duet with copies of each other and the director, Yusuke Tanaka, crams as many visual tricks he can into three and three quarter minutes. It’s everything I love about the group; it’s full of absolute fun and colour. My favourite parts of the video include an early section where Kashiyuka turns around and takes off her hair and turns into Nocchi. There’s also a reversed shot of the girls dancing and singing, however the miming isn’t quite right and it looks a bit off. The bridge section of the song has the camera reversing through various doors and port holes revealing a new set of the trio as it travels. I suspect this effect was done in sequence and you can see Perfume less and less happy as with each pass. I think they must have got sick of it by the end! Another great effect is that in some shots the trio have clothes which match the background of the set and use props to make themselves appear or disappear. This song was also used in a commercial for Kanro’s Pure Gummy confectionary and as the theme for TV Tokyo's “Sukkiri” TV show. The single was released in May 2013.

This is a promotional video for the “Level 3” album which was released in October 2013. The video appeared on a bonus DVD which came with the special edition of the album as well as appearing on local music video TV shows across Japan. The video mimics the design of the album covers and inside artwork. In fact both the video and photography for the album were probably produced in the same sessions. A relatively simple video, it mostly features the trio in a studio with clear Perspex dividers lit with LEDs. As the girls sing the verses, the lyrics of the songs appear and fade on the dividers. As the song finishes the camera rises above the dividers to reveal they spell the letters for “Level 3”, as they do in the interior artwork for the album. The director of the video was Kazuaki Seki, also a long-time collaborator with the group who has previously directed Perfume videos such as “Spice”. He has also directed videos for Namie Amuro and Girl Next Door.

Sweet Refrain
Literally only a month after the release of their “Level 3” album, Perfume released a brand new single. However the song  originally appeared as the theme of TV Asahi’s “Toshi Densetsu no Onna 2” drama programme back in October, before the release of “Level 3”, yet did not appear on the album. Yes, this is how the Japanese music industry works; keep ‘em buying stuff. The set for the video is reminiscent of an art gallery, with the camera doing continual sweeps of the set with multiple A-chans, Kashiyukas and Nocchis dancing, bouncing balls and striking poses at various points. It feels similar to “Magic of Love” however the colour palate is far more muted with mostly shades of grey. Interestingly all three look quite different, almost unrecognisable with changes in make-up and hair as well as the designer clothes worn for the video. Perfume look extraordinarily mature here. Also of note here is the clock motif which ties in with the piano loop in the song.

Cling Cling
This single had a massive promotional push and the CD versions included four brand new songs, three of which had some sort of music video made for them. The video for the title track of the single is set in a market which seems to be an amalgamation of several Asian cultures. The girls in Chinese style dresses are seen cooking and manning stalls in the market as a young girl (an uncredited Mori Momoe who would later become a member of idol group Sakura Gakuin) enters and finds a kaleidoscope. Intercut with these scenes during the chorus is the trio dancing on a stage in the middle of the market with what seems to be monks. Later in the video, one of the monks steals the little girl’s kaleidoscope, however using a hook on a rope and pulley, Perfume retrieve it for her. Compared with the previous videos for their new record label, this one has quite a large budget. The costumes for this video were displayed at various promotional events in Japan including a “Cling Cling World” gallery. The single was released in May 2014.

This short music video was made essentially as a promotion tool/product demonstration for a new line of Panasonic 4K ultra high definition TVs being released in Japan. The clip merges three camera passes of a set with the set colour and Perfume’s dresses changing each time. All three passes are then combined and partially merged with the others. Due to the high resolution of the source material, the video looks overly sharp, unnatural and a little bit off-putting in my opinion, even on my 1080p blu-ary player and 10 year old digital TV. I much prefer the filmic look of their other videos. Unfortunately the only version of this video in existence is the one presented here which only runs for about a minute and half. Like many of the B-sides of Perfume’s recent singles, amazingly this track did not find a place on their last album. This song originally appeared on the “Cling Cling” CD single.

Hold Your Hand
The third video from the “Cling Cling” single. This is probably Perfume’s most simple and most likely their cheapest music video. After the single was released, the group put out a call for fans to take photographs of their hands with kanji or hiragana of the song’s lyrics. These photos were complied with additional photographs of A-chan, Kashiyuka and Nocchi doing the same thing to make a “lyric video”. It’s a really cute idea and it’s quite effective, even though I’m not exactly a huge fan of the song. Some of the painting and drawings on the hands are really well done, but due to the number of photos used, they flick by quite quickly. Flicking through the images one by one is quite interesting and brings up a number of surprises.This song also originally appeared on the “Cling Cling” CD single. The video clip did not appear on the bonus DVD of the limited edition CD/DVD sets of “Cling Cling”. Instead it was heavily promoted on Perfume's Youtube channel and later appeared on the bonus DVD and Blu-ray in the limited edition versions of “Cosmic Explorer” album.

Relax In The City
This release was a double A single with “Pick Me Up”. A slower ballad song, the video clip has Perfume in a Perspex cube room which appears near the beachfront somewhere remote in Okinawa. The trio in white dresses mostly just walk around outside the room during the verses with camera suddenly zooming in and zooming out to reveal a new scene transition (and usually whoever is singing the next part of the song). It’s relatively subtle and quite well done. From what I understand the video what shot in February and due to the sheer material used in the dresses, Perfume were quite cold and unconformable during filming. The song was also used in a TV commercial featuring Perfume for Sapporo Green Aroma beer. This single was released in the usual standard CD and and limited edition CD single with bonus DVD versions in April 2015.

Pick Me Up
The other A side of the split single. This was a double collaboration. First with Japanese department store Isetan. With the initial scenes set outside the Shinjuku store close to midnight, the trio find themselves being drawn inside by some unknown force. There they explore inside and eventually find doppelgangers of themselves. They separately try to escape and are menaced by mannequins  Intercut with this are sequences if the trio dancing and acting like mannequins in the store’s windows. Coupled with the incredibly unsubtle Isetan plugs is a second collaboration with US rock group OK Go. They appear at the very start of the video as store mannequins. The group were returning a favour as Perfume had also made a cameo in their “I Won't Let You Down” video. Later the two groups would collaborate on a song called “I Don’t Understand You” for the “Sushi Police” anime soundtrack.

This single was released to promote the documentary film “We Are Perfume”, which followed the group on their third world tour in October and November 2014 taking in Taipei, Singapore, Los Angeles, London and New York (the first time Perfume had toured the US, a real achievement from them) as well as a performance at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas. The video is a very simple affair with the group miming to the song mostly while watching the film on an old 16mm film projector. Most recently the song has been used as an emotional closer for their concerts. The director of the video was long time collaborator Kazuaki Seki who has directed videos for Base Ball Bear, Boom Boom Satellites, Glay and OK Go. This single was released in conjunction with the “We Are Perfume” documentary in October 2015.

This video was created to promote their fifth studio album, “Cosmic Explorer” which was released in April 2016 in a multitude of physical formats. Originally released on the soundtrack for the live action film series of the “Chihayafuru” manga, this video is also a simplistic affair with the trio preforming martial arts-type dance moves on an empty studio stage. Some computer graphics have been added in post-production to make the action a bit more impressive and in the latter part of the video the girls use long florescent tubes in a kind of mock laser sabre battle/dance. It has been noted by fans that the dance moves in the video were similar to those used by Babymetal for their video “Karate” which was released around the same time. Both groups use the same choreographer, Mikiko, and are managed by the same production agency. The video was directed by Yusuke Tanaka.

The first new single in the next cycle of multiple singles before finally, a new album. The video for this song opens on Tokyo at night. A large tower has appeared in the city, with Perfume separately riding it’s glass elevators to the top. Meanwhile several people carrying small luminescent pyramid structures run around various landmarks of the city leaving the pyramids in various places. Eventually beams of light emit from the pyramids and converge at the apex of the tower Perfume are on as they dance on an illuminated stage inside. Fans tired to figure out what the tower would be in Tokyo if it were real and discovered it was right in the block where Perfume's production company, Amuse, is in; Shibuya. This single was released in in February 2017. Kazuaki Seki directed the video.

The split singe for this release (released with “If you wanna”) was mostly a massive promotion for a new range of Panasonic washing machines. Some of the footage shot for the video ended up only in the TV commercial for the washing machines and some was specially shot for it on the same set. In the video Perfume dance on a stage set around what look like clouds (or soap suds) with a ring of clouds (or soap suds) flying in formation around them. Both sets of clouds/soapsuds light up in sequence on occasion. Intercut with this are single shots of the trio, with the clock motif from “Sweet Refrain” repeated, except with the clock occasionally “exploded” to show it’s individual parts. Perfume are also shown levitating and somewhat disturbingly shown with the lower half of the bodies dissolving into soap suds, with some of the suds falling from their body to the ground. The single was released in August 2017.

If you wanna
The title track of the split single with “Everyday”. Unlike “Everyday” the video did not appear on the special edition CD and DVD set of the single. Instead it exclusively appeared in this video clip compilation. A throwback to their earlier material, this track features heavily processed stuttered vocals. The video has the trio hibernating in an expansive white room. From there each member is seen in from of large floating objects such as large ships, passenger planes and cars. The verses feature close ups of each member of perfume while the chorus cut to a different set filled with numerous flashing light boards. Clocking in at just over two minutes, it’s Perfume’s shortest single to date. If I was cynical this was in part to create a shorter and cheaper music video. The song was also used in a TV commercial for Kuchimoto Ora2 beauty products.

As per the original limited edition “Perfume Clips” set released by Tokuma in 2014, the packaging for this limited edition version is pretty much identical. The blu-rays come in a digipak with a lenticular image on the front featuring images from videos. This opens up to reveal a simple insert in a pocket with the credits for the videos and the packaging. Over the digipak fits a thin cardboard sleeve (also identical to the original limited edition version of “Perfume Clips”) which probably is meant to mimic the border around a TV set. There's also a 24 page booklet with comments from staff, selected storyboards, image boards, plus shots of Perfume catering for staff, in a video editing studio and with camera equipment. The second disc of extras includes commentary with Perfume themselves on all of the videos. This is not done in the usual way with just an audio track. Instead the trio are in a theatrette with the camera on them with video matted into background. They mostly talk about their experiences in making videos, however for “Mirai no Museum” amusingly they just end up dramatically reading the sound effects off the screen. Also included on the disc is an alternate short version of “Everyday” with the trio shot behind a green screen with added CG bubbles which is probably raw footage made for use in the Panasonic washing machine campaign, plus TV commercials for every single and album release for their current record label to date.

Overall it's a fantastic package that fans of the group will love. I love most of the videos here, however I think some of their earlier ones, especially those created for the singles from the “JPN” album are the best of the career. Still it amazes me that their production company and record label still pours a lot of money in the group and these videos despite the rapidly dwindling singles, album and home video sales. The group has lost their a lot of their edgier dance sound and are heading for a more dance pop sound, seemingly becoming influenced by whatever is trending in western markets, yet I still find them fascinating. Like the first set, I think I'll end up playing this over and over again for years to come. 8.5 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: Five TV series, two OVAs and nine movies. In addition I am also waiting for additional parts of five TV series and two movies to be released before viewing them.

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