This is an interview with Takahashi Minami, found in the 2014 version of the Senbatsu Election Book. Interviewer is in bold, Takamina’s answers are in quotes.
Listening to your speech last year, it seemed like you were pretty unsure about whether to run in the election or not. What about this year?
“The decision to run was much easier than last year. (Oshima) Yuko isn’t around anymore. So in order to keep the public from thinking ‘The AKB group has gotten weak’, as a long-time member of the group, I made the decision to fully participate. That was my own reason, but I think another reason to participate might be as a way to repay AKB and Yuko… . Besides, to me, participating in AKB events is “making memories”. Since I’ve reached this stage, I just want to experience each and every thing the group does together with the members and fans. But don’t take what I’m saying as a ‘graduation flag’ or anything (laughs).”
I’m worried about it (laughs). You’re always at home at handshake events. Your fans must be very warm people.
“They really are~. Just like last year, when I put in my candidacy this year, they told me ‘Thank you for running in the election’. And so many people told me that. I’m always being reminded of what good people my fans are. I’m sure no matter what happens with my situation, they’ll keep cheering me on. It goes for the election as well. Even if I chose to withdraw this year, I think they would have understood. That’s why I want to fight in the election alongside them.”
Do the fans come to handshake events with the air that they’ve “come to meet a good friend of theirs”?
“It goes beyond the relationship between idol and fan, it’s absolutely ‘person to person’. That I’m being supported like that is, in a sense, a point of pride for me. It becomes an incentive. THE ALFEE’s Takamizawa Toshihiko-san, who I’m on ‘Shin Domoto Kyoudai’ with, is celebrating his band’s 40th anniversary this year, which is amazing! And so there must be fans who have been supporting the band for nearly 40 years. I guess they would be called something like “comrades who lived through the same era together”. I think that’s wonderful. Sharing the same time with the people who have been supporting me while I repay them, getting older together, I think it would be wonderful if that could happen.”
By the way, this came up in our conversation already, but do you think the ‘AKB48 without Oshima Yuko’ will be all right?
“Since we’ve already had this problem so many times in the past, I don’t think I can answer any way except ‘it will be all right'”.
As the General Manager, are you the advance guard in pulling the group along?
“Of course I feel that way, but as far as ‘pulling the group along’, it really means ‘there are people for me to pull along’, right? I feel that from now on, the 48 group can’t continue on that way. The most important thing is just how much everyone feels ‘I want to be in AKB’. The things that I’ve been doing up until now are things I’ll keep doing. I’ll put everything I have into supporting the group. After that, what direction the ship sails will be up to the members who are shouldering its future”.
Takamina, you kept saying, ‘Yuko is a billboard for AKB that everyone has put up’. Who seems like they might be a successor to that billboard?
“Speaking from what I’ve concluded, I don’t think anyone can fill the hole that Yuko has left. Just like any of the other members, there is no replacement for Yuko, so… . Instead of filling in the hole, dig it up! Or that’s what I’m thinking, anyway (laughs)”.
And how would you go about digging it up?
“Attempt to build something new. Up until now, the 48 group has been one big department store with Oshima Yuko’s image as its billboard. It felt like ‘Please look at this sign, AKB is over here’. But from now on, though they’ll be small, each member will run her own shop with its own advertisement out front. With those all assembled together, they’ll make up AKB. I think that would work out well. It would move from an all-in-one department store to a whole shopping mall full of different stores overflowing with personality. If they can complement each other, that hole will naturally fill up, and from there I think a new power to charm people will be born in the 48 group.
There are a lot of young members who are working very hard, such as “the three musketeers” (Okada Nana, Kojima Mako, and Nishino Miki), Owada Nana-chan, and (Mukaichi) Mion-chan, whom Yuko personally chose as a center for ‘Heavy Rotation’. There are currently a lot of girls like them who I think will become very noticeable in two or three years. However, what I really want to convey to them is that if they don’t each treat AKB with as much care as possible, there won’t be a two or three years later. It’s for their sake, too.”
It’s not restricted to Yuko – lately, members wanting to take the next step and move on have been graduating one after another.
“The activities Acchan (Maeda Atsuko), (Akimoto) Sayaka, (Shinoda) Mariko-sama, and Tomochin (Itano Tomomi) have been doing are really encouraging. If you judge by their popularity in AKB, they’re also popular outside it, and that gives me hope. Like Kikuchi (Ayaka) who aims to be a model, Haa-chan (Katayama Haruka) who’s making great strides as a stage actress, etcetera, I’m praying from the heart for everyone who graduates to find success. And if the junior members’ goals pan out for them, there’s nothing better than that.”
From here on, the graduates will probably increase, won’t they?
“From the beginning, AKB has been ‘a place where you work hard developing the ability to strike out on your own and make your dreams come true’. So it’s not a unhappy thing for graduates to increase. Some could say “I joined AKB to help out my future self”. Rather, who I’m really worried about are the members who will go on to graduate years from now. The moment those girls take the happy state of affairs AKB is enjoying right now for granted is the moment the door to their future closes… . But the situation the group is in now is a very fortunate one. In a week we’ll shoot 2~3 commercials, and a day will be set for the whole group to record. All the different media providers we record for will gather in the same studio for us, so we can do several recordings without interruption.”
But you at least have a certain degree of familiarity with the world at large. Would you say that your situation won’t change much even if you graduate?
“Of course not! When AKB’s faces leave, whether it be original members or senbatsu members, it’s worrying for them. As much as I do work outside of AKB, I’ve experienced the fact that reality isn’t so sweet. That’s why I try to do things in a way where I won’t be misunderstood as thinking ‘There’s plenty of people who can replace you’. Up until just a few years ago really, things were extremely hard for AKB in the entertainment world. We had to grit our teeth and just do it, but now it’s the opposite. Taking that first step, an intimidating world waits for you at the beginning. The members up until around the 9th generation have felt that, and so they’re a bit more subdued. I’m worried about the members after them. They don’t have the free time to consider how thankful they should be that people follow their daily activities… . That’s why, so there aren’t a bunch of “AKB refugees” showing up in the entertainment world some years later, I want to convey the things I have to convey to the other members. Even if they look at me like they wish I’d shut up (laughs).”
You’re as earnest as ever, you really do love the 48 group (seriously). And to think for your appeal to the voters today I thought about asking things like ‘where on your body do you wash first when you take a bath?’
“Ahahaha! What kind of question is that? (laughs) But I can’t help it. I am who I am, my personality doesn’t change.”
Putting your role to watch over your juniors as General Manager aside, what goals are you yourself aiming for right now?
“At present, having been made captain of the new Team A, I want to make it the ultimate team, but I also have other goals. There are things I want! From the beginning of this year, this whole time, there’s something I’ve been burning for that I’ve kept secret from everyone else.”
And what would that be?
“At the end of the year, I want to seize the Japan Record Award!”
The award for best song 3 years in a row was on the line last year, but regrettably, the prize went to someone else.
“The first year we received the grand prize, I was really happy. It was like repayment to Akimoto (Yasushi)-san for what he’s done. However, somewhere in my heart I wondered ‘Is it really okay for us to win it…?’ That didn’t change the second time around. However, last year was different. The song that was up for the award, ‘Koi suru Fortune Cookie’, is a song that had quite clearly been accepted by more different kinds of people than our songs up until then. Everyone was more interested in it than we thought they would be. Everyone was talking about it, from little kids to veteran artists. I was moved to hear that it was considered a song that was ‘loved nationwide’. That’s why I wanted it more than anything, that Record Award. With pride in our hearts, we all wanted to win it… . That’s why, this year, I want to try to win it one more time! I want to show everyone in Japan that ‘AKB48 doesn’t get discouraged’!”
As expected of the General Manager, how passionate! Any last words for the conclusion?
“This year, I’m gonna do it!”
Your meaning is a little obscure, I think~ (laughs). What are you aiming for in the election?
“I went from 5th, dropped to 6th, then to 7th, then back up to 6th. And then last year, I was in 8th place. I did a lot of thinking about this year’s election, and as a result a desire came out. I want to make it back into the top 7! Uwaa~ I said it. I wonder if that’s okay…”
I forgot to tell you, but in the book, we placed you at 4th.
“Why would you put that hurdle there?! (laughs). This year, please allow me to stand firm here as AKB48’s Takahashi Minami. Thank you for your support!”