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In Their Words: Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker

Miss Rev
16 Jun 2016
10 min read

Part pop concert, part controlled chaos, LIFT Festival invite riotous Japanese theatre company Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker into The Pit and invite you to join them for a celebration of Japanese subculture in all its multi-coloured, cacophonous, frenetic glory.

We meet with the creator and director, Toco Nikaido to learn more about what we can expect…

Hi Nikaido-san, could you introduce yourself and explain the concept of your show?

Starting from my experience as an underground idol when I was a college student, I’ve been experimenting with turning otaku culture into art. I use pop idol songs, anime songs, otaku culture, and subcultural icons to represent the contemporary Japanese landscape.

I strongly believe that people are not impressed by things that do not surprise them. So I use the uniquely eclectic aspects of Japanese ‘Galapagos’ culture. When I say ‘Galapagos’ culture, what I mean is the very niche and very wide array of fetishes that Japanese otaku tend to have. Consequently, I am able to bring about my chaotic vision by expressing all of these mainstream and subcultural phenomena through the bodies of young people living in Japan today. Through a strong sense of unison and the sheer volume of people and props onstage, I believe that the performance is able to reach many people’s hearts. The term I use to describe this style of performance is called ‘Ohagi Live’. Normally we have around 30 performers, who are militaristic in their movements and who can convey a wealth of information at maximum high-speed. The performance itself is roughly 50 minutes long with the actors dancing non-stop to create this chaotic atmosphere.

Tons of water is thrown about, so the audience has to wear raincoats…

There is confetti and loads of props are used in place of a static set. We also use glow sticks to light this world. Actors clad in rainbow-colored seifuku (school uniforms) transform into sukuuru mizugi (erotic school-issued swimsuits), which represent our maximum entertainment mode and occurs faster than your mind can process. This show is marked by unbelievable passion held together by the strict rule that we absolutely must not bore the audience. The show takes place in three blocks. During the pre-set, props used in the show are handed out to audience members. It is also a chance for all the actors in the show to introduce themselves. The pre-set is followed by the main medley of the performance, followed lastly by the compulsory finale, or encore.

Are you a fan of otaku culture? What were some of your early experiences and your personal favourite parts?

Firstly, I do not really think of myself as a genuine otaku. So you might ask why there are so elements of otaku culture and idol culture in my piece. For me, these aspects sort of represent ‘hope’. For my performance, I like to quote or pick up things that I feel can represent what’s ‘pop’ and ‘now’. Of course, the lyrics that I pick up from pop songs and anime songs are very cheesy, but they also have lines that really hit home and are full of creative potential, excitement, surprise and places to make new discoveries. So the music is not just background noise, but filled with lyrics that fit the story I want to tell during the ‘Ohagi Live’. As I said earlier, I don’t consider myself to be an actual otaku, but I like to use pop culture, subculture, anime and idol songs and pick up really anything that peeks my interest.

Can we see any aspects influenced by these in your show?

To answer this, I’d have to tell you about the starting point or backbone of this style of expression. In my late teens, before I became heavily involved in theatre, I was an underground idol who appeared in many Internet videos. I guess you could say I was an Internet celebrity of sorts, even though I wasn’t particularly talented or noteworthy. In all honesty, I was just plain and mediocre; one fish in this sea of disposable pop idols. I guess that’s why I always felt out of place and like I would never really fit in that world. But around the same time there was this huge boom or renaissance in the underground pop idol scene happening in Tokyo, so I would frequent these concerts quite often. And what really shocked me was not the poor quality of the nameless female idols onstage, but rather the fanatical otaku fans in the crowd. That’s when I thought that perhaps the ‘culture’ I was looking for was actually in the audience. If the audience is more alive and energetic than the performer onstage, then perhaps that’s what we all should really be watching; that ‘culture’ is what is more valuable and worthy to be put on a stage. So thanks in part to my failure as a pop idol, I was able to come up with this idea of putting the culture of the audience on display. I still carry this idea with me, and even in my own shows I like to think of the audience as the main character or protagonist of the piece.

We train our actors very strictly so that the cheers are almost like military drills…

That’s why the otagei dancing we do in the show is not directed at a pop idol standing on stage, but rather towards the audience. By the way, otagei are dances that the otaku perform at concerts to cheer the pop idol on during her performance. But the otagei that we perform on stage is not relaxed or impromptu. In fact, we train our actors very strictly so that the cheers are almost like military drills. Nevertheless, the dances are directed out into the audience to cheer on the viewers.

What kind of reactions has your show received? Do different countries react differently? What do Japanese people think about it?

There are many people who view the performance as pure entertainment and are really jumping up and down in their seats to the beat. On the other hand, there are also people who are shocked and stunned. Some people get pretty pissed off and go home in the middle of the show. There are also some people who just are in a catatonic state throughout the show. So, in short, there are many different reactions. I honestly believe that people are not impressed by things that do not surprise them; and we have a line in the show where we say, ‘We’re not interested in ‘normal’ theatre.’ So even if the audience is overwhelmed and just go blank or catatonic, I believe that that is a valid or correct response.

When we perform abroad, of course, every country has a different reaction. Japanese people, for instance, are generally rather shy and get embarrassed easily, so Japanese audiences don’t really like to lose themselves in the work, but instead take a step back and just observe. Even if they are speechless and appear to be in a catatonic state, on the inside they might be having an adrenaline rush and getting mixed up in a state of confusion and excitement. But, in the end, if you give them some time to think about it, they might reply, ‘That was something else!’ So at least I can leave those audience members with some lasting impression. In Germany, something similar seems to occur where the audience takes a step back and observes the piece. However once they’ve sort of processed it in their minds and have come to some sort of understanding, there’s this strong desire to really talk about the show. The Netherlands and Australia were really letting themselves go. Even though most of the songs are Japanese and there are a lot of culture references that didn’t stop them from just have fun and letting loose. It was a very welcoming mood and they got really riled up.

Despite whatever reaction the audience has, the show is over like a flash flood

In general, you either really love or really hate this show. For people who really love the work, they want to delve into the nitty-gritty of details of it. And even when people don’t like the show, they tend to look back and really dissect what got under their skin and let us know. Despite whatever reaction the audience has, the show is over like a flash flood. And it leaves this huge gap in the audience’s psyche when you leave this extraordinary world and go back to your ordinary life. Some people may feel sudden tears coming on. Or you might be so worked up about the show that you have to talk about it to someone and get the feelings you’re wrestling with off your chest. You might feel this sudden sense of awareness like ‘Wow! It’s cold outside’ or ‘I have seaweed stuck on my face.’ Or, like ‘What the hell was that?’ No matter what happens, we always leave the audience with some kind of feeling. So I consider the feelings that I make my audience feel after the show a part of my directorial vision as well. Happiness, shock, speechlessness, a larger understanding of yourself or the world. It would be great if you have a moment of silence after the piece finishes to let whatever you’re feeling wash over you.

Would you say your show is uniquely Japanese?

Mark Ball, who is the Artist Director of LIFT, said something very similar in a recent interview he did about Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker. He saw us perform in Yokohama two years ago and he said he was really galvanised by this crazy Japanese youth culture and that this is kind of expression would never have been born in the UK. Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker’s ‘Ohagi Live’ style really is a product of the contemporary society, or rather a natural reaction to living in contemporary Japan. There is so much information packed into every second of the performance that this ‘information overload’ overwhelms the audience, but also disappears in the blink of an eye. There is too much information and the speed is too fast to process that it’s very much like modern-day life where there is just too much to take in at any given moment and you have to throw some of that ‘information’ away. And that sense of loneliness or void when you’re surrounded by so much and you just have to give up trying to understand it all. It’s a way of taking that feeling, that experience, at face value and turning it into art. And perhaps this is an expression of a larger mainstream and subcultural societal construct. I’m sure for our foreign audiences this is something that they’ve never seen before, but something that arose out of Japan’s occult and eclectic ‘Galapagos’ culture.

Where would you recommend for fans of your show to visit in Tokyo?

First and foremost, please drop by one of our rehearsals! If you want to get that sort of Miss Berserker experience or iconic Tokyo city experience, of course, you should visit Akihabara, Harajuku, Shibuya, Shinjuku etc. But if you want to experience not just the noisy parts, but also the quieter softer side of Japan, I believe it will give you a deeper understanding of the piece; and the sort of silent contemplative or reflective moments after the show finishes.

What are you looking forward to most about performing in London?

First off, the fact that we’re being permitted to perform at the Barbican is unbelievable and legendary. Right now, National Theatre Live is quite a hot thing here in Japan and of course the Barbican is where Benedict Cumberbatch played Hamlet and where famous Japanese kabuki troops have performed in the past. It’s really just so unbelievable. Also, London will be the last stop on our tour with 20 performances to boot! Let’s just say we’re going to burn a shit ton of calories. I’m kind of worried that some performers are going to fall to the wayside. But there’s so much riding on this performance, so I’m really pumped about it! Since its long run we’ll have plenty of time to get this thing in perfect condition. Since we rehearse throughout the entire run (because I get bored of watching the same show night after night), I’m sure that the opening show and the final show will be completely different. We will continue to update and refresh the piece throughout the performance to keep it as fresh as possible.

Any final comments?

We have crossed the wide sea to come and see you. Even though we have never met you, we are dying to meet you and to rock your world and take your hand and become friends. And we’d like you to be in the show as well. And please create a local fan club for us! I’m sure this is a world that you’ve never seen before. Are you ready to have your hearts stolen? The Japanese youth are genki and this is the first show of its kind in Japan and the rest of the world—a happy miraculous, hysterical, participatory piece of world-class entertainment. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!

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