Justin’s Japan: Film review – ‘Hatsune Miku Live Party 2011 39’s Live in Sapporo’

By JQ magazine editor Justin Tedaldi (CIR Kobe-shi, 2001-02) for Examiner.com. Visit his page here for related stories.

On Nov. 10 a one-time theatrical screening was held for a new concert film from virtual pop phenom Hatsune Miku. Entitled Hatsune Miku Live Party 2011 39’s Live in Sapporo, the film—captured in August at the 2,000 capacity Zepp Sapporo—is Miku’s latest appearance in America following a Toyota ad campaign and live gigs at L.A.’s Nokia Theatre and the San Diego Comic-Con earlier this year. (In fact, this reporter was interviewed for Japanese TV about that; click here for the news clip.)

Hatsune Miku, whose name means “first sound of the future,” is a Vocaloid (meaning machine-made vocals) digital female avatar and the most popular of Crypton Future Media characters that employ Yamaha technology to create synthesized vocal tracks, similar to Auto-Tune. In Japan, Miku is massively successful and has appeared in numerous popular video games and music videos, and her Sailor Moon-meets-Avril Lavigne image (she is a teen idol, after all) is equally fanboy and fangirl friendly.

Presented by Live Viewing Japan and simulcast in nine U.S. cities, this screening was shown to a capacity Times Square crowd. From the moment Miku’s name flashed up on the dark screen five seconds in, the audience was hooked. Wild applause, shrieks and excitement from the mostly American teens and twentysomethings in the crowd took the older folks by surprise. “This is like Paul McCartney to us,” remarked one lady several seats away. (She and her companion left about an hour in.)

For those unfamiliar with J-pop, the genre’s credo is style over substance (Katy Perry and Lady Gaga are our closest counterparts), but just like with our pop tarts, a catchy hook is a catchy hook. With a black, completely bare stage flanked by a five-piece band (yes, the music seems to be performed live), the only thing besides Miku noticeable throughout are the hundreds of lime green glow sticks pumped energetically by the fans throughout. Again, this was mirrored by the Times Square audience as one enterprising otaku passed out five blue ones (not to be outdone, he carried a massive Darth Maul-ish staff that lit up a chunk of the theater.)

At times Miku was presented in holographic form downstage, but for about half the concert’s running time she was disappointingly beamed on a stage screen with MIA background graphics. Other Vocaloids also made an appearance, but with only one duet they really just served as different spins on Miku’s look. In fact, Miku had her own torrent of costume changes, whether it was a dark microskirt with matching loose socks or her inexplicably sprouting angel wings (cue thunderous applause/iPhones trained on the screen). With New York going bananas in between numbers and the room itself mimicking the Sapporo show with timed strobe and lighting effects—the theater’s management really went the extra mile—it truly felt like being at a concert.

The songs themselves were decent. One number paired a shamisen stomp with a rock beat, and another sounded like a pop stab at a Russian folk tune. Miku herself is energetic enough for each number, with the choreography owing more Japan’s synchronized Para Para dance style (fast, upbeat arm movements) than the bump and grind of Western pop. Miku always wears a frozen smile, save for a ballad that served as the film’s emotional highlight, especially since the vocals were, for once, human-sounding.

Before the encores, the New York crowd chanted Miku’s name even before her fans in Sapporo took their cue, and a conversation between two fans after the credits rolled summed up the experience.

“Back to reality,” said one as we shuffled downstairs.

“Reality sucks!”

For them, who needs musicians when you have Hatsune Miku?

For more on Hatsune Miku’s Live Party 2011 release, click here.