A big fan of Tsunku♂ and his Hello! Project acts: Morning Musumue, °C-ute, or Berryz Kobo? While I enjoyed Tsunku’s music in Rhythm Heaven, I admit I didn’t know much about his work in the J-pop arena. I definitely came out of his hour-long panel at Anime Expo this weekend with a lot more information about him, and also gained a huge amount of respect for his philosophical approach to music. This was his first trip to the United States, and despite the early 9 AM time slot, there was still a nice turnout. He was super-excited to see fans of his Hello! Project groups in the United States, and the crowd seemed to be really enthusiastic about his work.
While the majority of the panel was devoted to fan Q&A involving Hello! Project, Rhythm Heaven was mentioned a few times, and with interesting results. Unfortunately I missed the Morning Musume concert the day before, so I was totally in the dark about them and the other Hello! Project groups, but given that they’re such high-profile groups in Japan, I imagine some of this information will be of interest, particularly the parts about the Morning Musume recruiting process and about keeping his cool in the face of all the seductive and curvy women he works with.
Read our summary of Tsunku’s morning panel after the jump.
The panel got off to a late start (as usual), and opened with a silly promotional video about Tsunku’s history as the leader of the band Sharan Q in 1992 through his current work on Hello! Project and Morning Musume. The voice in this video was horrendous, sounding like the most cheesy American product announcer you can imagine, but at least it was over quickly. From there, a very well-dressed Tsunku took to the stage and one of the translators proceeded to ask him questions in interview fashion, followed by a fan Q&A.
He started by explaining that he was very surprised by the fan reaction to “Love Maker” from the Morning Musume concert the day before, and that fans actually knew the lyrics to the songs. He also noted that “How Do You Like Japan?” actually stopped people from leaving the performance, saying, “Everyone thought they understood what Morning Musume was all about, and started leaving, but when ‘How Do You Like Japan?’ started, people turned around and sat back down.”
One of the first fan questions asked how he is able to deal with being around gorgeous idols all day, which got a good laugh from the audience, but Tsunku responded that while he is constantly surrounded by beautiful women, he has to keep his cool, or he can’t focus on music. Tsunku was then asked what he saw as the best aspects of his Hello! Project groups, Morning Musumu, °C-ute, and Berryz Kobo. Morning Musumue’s roster has apparently been unchanged for two years, and he explained that some of the newest recruits weren’t the best singers and dancers when they started, but they’ve really caught up in the last two years, and he feels they’re a really solid group right now. He continued to describe Berryz Kubo as the most versatile and °C-ute as the most athletic of the groups. His last comment on this subject touched on the fact that as the members mature and develop their womanly curves and sex appeal, he wants them to be as seductive and attractive as possible, even though it will really be a challenge to keep his cool and do his job.
In terms of his responsibilities as an artist manager, there was a question about what qualities he sees in young artists that leads him to invest his time and energy into their career development. He went on at length about personality and inner aura or energy that he often picks up on when he meets hopeful performers. He described this as sort of a sixth sense, or chi, and feels that if he ever loses this talent, it’s time for him to retire. A related question offered an interesting response about how the members of the team are able to differentiate themselves while all performing the same routine. He noted that the performers who really take initiative and do well in magazine and television interviews usually develop their own following and go solo. He sees his groups as a sort of training ground, and believes personality makes all the difference in the music business in Japan.
Another fan asked about how he feels as an ambassador of Japanese music, and he commented that he was again surprised by the sensitivity of the AX audience to outside cultures and music, and noted that if he had been writing music for us, he would definitely approach it differently. He said he’d like to try to write music with English lyrics in the future to reach a wider audience.
There was a bit of a personal question next regarding how his marriage has affected his music. He elaborated by explaining that he recently had twins (I thought this was ultra-rare with Asian couples?), and that some of the lyrics in “3-2-1” were inspired by his wife’s love for sweets and her insistence on buying them at the local department store no matter how busy it became.
On the topic of Rhythm Heaven, Tsunku noted that the Japanese public didn’t understand or value rhythm, and so he took it upon himself to teach them with the game. While we know that Rhythm Tengoku was released only in Japan, he confirmed that Rhythm Heaven was produced in 7 different languages, each with their own recorded versions of the vocal themes. There was a question about how his relationship with Nintendo developed, and he commented that at first, they had a lot of heated debates about how to make the game better, and ended up trashing a bunch of his favorite characters. However, today he’s quite close with the Nintendo team, speaking with them regularly. He feels that people in the United States are much more rhythmically-inclined, although he said there is a big difference between rhythmic body movements and tapping the DS screen in time with the music, and to be careful not to damage yourself or your DS if you feel the need to move your body when playing.
One of the last questions was about Tsunku’s personal career as a singer, to which he had a rather troubling response. Apparently his throat hasn’t been well, as there has been some hardening of his larynx. He reassured the audience that it wasn’t a polyp, but that he’s been working hard to train and get his singing voice back, as he really wants to sing, including in the US.
Tsunku was a very warm and gracious guest, and provided some really deep and philosophical answers. I was definitely impressed. It was really sweet when he said that coming to AX to see the fans of his work was one of the happiest moments in his career, and he only regrets that he hadn’t done it sooner. His final words were that he was very thankful to the audience for supporting him and his work over the years, and that he was hoping we could act as his English-speaking ambassadors to spread the word and pave the way for future appearance by him and Hello! Project in the future.Tags: Anime Expo 2009, Hello! Project, Morning Musume, Panels, Rhythm, Rhythm Heaven, Tsunku, Tsunku♂