“Reason for Being – Documentary of AKB48”, the movie that follows the activies of AKB48, opens nationwide in theaters on 7/8. It’s the most recent entry in a series of “Documentary of AKB48” films. Ishihara Shin, who directed SKE48’s recent “Tears of an Idol – Documentary of SKE48”, also filled the role of director for AKB’s movie, which follows the experiences of members of the group who witnessed the 10-year turning point of AKB’s existence and Takahashi Minami’s graduation. It is to be an ambitious creative work that paints a picture of “the next 10 years”.
Today, Real Sound has the pleasure of interviewing two members of AKB48’s 15th generation who carry the future of the group on their shoulders, Owada Nana and Komiyama Haruka. They talk about a great many subjects, including highlights of the documentary, the presence of Takahashi Minami, their feelings about the newer groups that are hot on AKB48’s heels, as well as the recent “AKB48 45th Single Senbatsu Election”.
“The AKB48 I loved and the AKB48 I’m in now are completely different from each other” (Komiyama)
――This time, the director for “Documentary of AKB48” is Ishihara Shin, a TV producer who worked many years filming the group for NHK Enterprises, and who has replaced Takahashi Eiji as director for the last 3 films. Since the director has changed, what is the number one thing that’s different about the documentary filming now?
Owada Nana (henceforth referred to as Owada): Director Ishihara is one of the adults who is closest to us, so we’re able to talk about many things with him. He’s also a fan, so he knows a lot about us, too. He also understands the core parts of the group, and he has a lot of fun things to talk about with us, so he’s able to draw out a lot of honest expressions from us.
Komiyama Haruka (henceforth referred to as Komiyama): Up until now, I watched the “Documentary of AKB48” series from the standpoint of a fan. Before, when I saw scenes like the hyperventilation [during Seibu Dome], it gave me the vivid impression that the group was really strict behind the scenes, but this time I had more of an impression that I was a young cousin being filmed by a nice old relative who knows me well, like an uncle (laughs). It was like watching a home video, with a feeling of familiarity.
Owada: That’s true. The feelings this time are gentle and serene, and I got the impression that the filming was fun. The way he chooses each member and scene, as well as the explanations of each, I thought it was all very like Director Ishihara.
Komiyama: Also, before, the cameras were always chasing the members backstage after the election, trying to get good shots of the senbatsu members. But this time, the film goes through explaining who we young members are, and what rank each of us got, in a way that makes us stand out. I was really thankful for that.
――You each have thoughts about notable scenes in “Reason for Being – Documentary of AKB48”.
Owada: There’s a scene where Okada Ayaka-san centered “Sakura no ki ni narou” at Tokyo Dome. At the time, we were all like “Eh? Is Okada-san graduating?” in a state of shock, but when I learned the truth of the situation from the movie, it was even more shocking. These are the kind of things that Director Ishihara is really good at finding, things that will really interest fans. I was even asked by Director Ishihara “Truthfully, you and Mukaichi-san don’t get along well, do you?” (laughs).
Komiyama: As for me, I found the scenes of NGT48’s Ogino Yuka-chan notable. She’s a comrade who took the 15th generation auditions together with us, and so it really stuck with me. Our seniors in the group from long ago always had their struggles after joining the group depicted, but for Ogino Yuka-chan, her struggle was entirely just trying to get into the group. NGT48’s Nishimura Nanako-san has the same kind of scene in the film, and aside from these two I’ve never seen someone with such amazingly passionate feelings of “I want to join AKB48”. We in the 15th gen were blessed with our own starting point, and we only know the trials that our predecessors overcame from what we’ve seen on TV, so people often say things like “the young ones don’t work hard”, “they don’t have any drive”, and “they don’t try to sell themselves”. We may still be inadequate, but the young members are thinking about the group’s current state of affairs in our own way, and we are pushing ourselves every day to pull AKB forward. So I think this movie is one opportunity to convey that fact. Even if we can’t do things the same way as our seniors, I want us to work hard through our own methods. That’s what I ended up thinking.
――“Working hard through our own methods”, what do you think that will look like?
Komiyama: I’m a fan of AKB48, although not as much as (Mukaichi) Mion is. However, I never had the chance to work alongside the likes of Maeda Atsuko-san or Oshima Yuko-san, and I don’t know anything about AKB in their era except for what I’ve seen from the outside. That’s why I think that the AKB48 I loved and the AKB48 I’m in now are completely different from each other. I want to create a brand new AKB48 with the members who are in the group now, and on top of that, it would be nice if people wouldn’t say “it’s different from before”. I personally love the AKB48 that I’m in right now, and I want to work hard so all the fans will feel the same way about it.
――I see. What do you think is “great” about AKB48 now that maybe wasn’t before?
Owada: There are a lot of members who were originally fans of the group, and those members can see things from two sides, from the idol side and from the fan side.
Komiyama: Also, the seniors left behind so many accomplishments for us.
Owada: They really did. Because we have the standard the seniors set for us, we can base everything new on that standard, and eventually create something even better.
Komiyama: When we do try to make something better than that standard, there are people who can teach us what we need to know about things that came before us, and if things get rough there are people who can protect us, so we have a lot to be thankful for in our circumstances.
――What does each of you think are the highlights of “Reason for Being – Documentary of AKB48”?
Owada: Watching it made me more optimistic than I’ve been up until now.
Komiyama: For me, it was how each member had a lot of scenes. And I think it showed off AKB’s unique charm points, so I hope everyone goes to see it.
――One of the major topics in the documentary is Takahashi Minami’s graduation. What impact did her presence have on you both?
Komiyama: To me, Takamina-san was a benefactor. If she hadn’t been there for me, I probably wouldn’t be enjoying my time in AKB like this, and I probably wouldn’t like myself either. Takamina-san knew how I was feeling even though I didn’t say anything, and she saw I needed support without a word from me. At the 45th Senbatsu Election the other day, I said “I want to be living proof that ‘effort will always be rewarded’”…
――That was a good speech.
Komiyama: Thank you! I was thinking that if I don’t push myself as hard as I can, my situation won’t change, and that doesn’t just apply to me; it’s also something I want to convey to those around me. AKB48 isn’t just about the hard work of myself and the other members, the fans are also working hard for us casting votes, standing in line for handshake events, and cheering us on, and that’s why AKB has lasted so long. To reward the fans for their dedication, we members have our smiling faces, and when members are rewarded the staff who support us is rewarded also. I want to make sure by my own hand that everyone’s hard work is rewarded, and those are the feelings I put into my speech.
――And who was Takahashi Minami-san to you, Owada-san?
Owada: Takahashi-san was someone who supported the entire group. The entire year after she announced her graduation, I think everyone was feeling uneasy, but once Yokoyama (Yui)-san became general manager, surprisingly a sense of fun overtook the anxiousness. Yokoyama-san doesn’t lead so much as walk beside all of us, so she gives us the self-awareness to realize “we have to create this ourselves”, and “we have to create it together”.
Komiyama: When you put it like that, it really feels like we’re gaining our independence away from our parents (laughs). Takamina-san was like AKB48’s mother, and now it’s like we’re breaking away from our parents along with our older sister, Yokoyama-san.
――As a representative of the progress the young members are making, Mukaichi Mion-san has a lot of screen time in the film. What do you two think of her activities compared to where you are right now?
Komiyama: The Three Musketeers (what the fans have taken to calling the 14th generation trio of Okada Nana, Kojima Mako, and Nishino Miki) have always stood above the 15th generation, so when the selections for the singles are announced I always think “none of the 15th gen is going to be chosen”. But Nana and Mion were both chosen for “Kibouteki Refrain”, and Mion was chosen as the center of “Tsubasa wa iranai”, so that caused a hope to bloom in me, like “the 15th gen members who were chosen for the single can represent our whole generation!” Of course I’m frustrated that I wasn’t chosen. It’s just, you know that saying “God never gives us more than we can handle” – I think that the troubles that have been given to me thus far aren’t insurmountable, and I know I have to work hard to get into senbatsu while using the vigor the election gave my position.
――Owada-san, you were chosen to be the “party is over” center, your first role after you were promoted from being a research student and a strong start. However, you seem to be moving away from being chosen for many opportunities. Has this past year been bitter for you?
Owada: It’s been 4 years since I joined, and this past year has been the one in which I was least satisfied with myself. I wasn’t chosen for the 44th single senbatsu, but rather than feeling frustration, I think a part of me just gave up. But my vote count went up in the election, and that made me really happy. It made me realize again that there are people who are watching me, and I felt that I had to start working hard once more.
“Running through the Ichigochanzu performance, our bonds deepened very quickly” (Owada)
――Also a long-awaited and astonishing development: interviews during the film with the coordinating producer of Hello! Project, Tsunku♂-san, as well as with Momoiro Clover Z’s manager Kawakami Akira-san.
Owada: Interviewing other people from the idol industry, I thought, “that’s new”.
Komiyama: Actually, I’m a fan of Momoiro Clover Z. That’s why, when I saw the interview with Kawakami-san, it reminded me of how many awesome things there are about him, and that while I’m in AKB48, all these amazing people are rivals in the same industry. We all have our own fans, we all sing and dance and deliver smiles, and I love the AKB48 that I’m in right now, so I want to work hard so that we don’t lose to the other groups.
――Team 8 and NGT48 are also represented in this documentary. Team 8’s influence at present is especially difficult to overlook. As young members yourselves, what are your impressions about them?
Owada: It’s hard for me to speak of Team 8 because I don’t have much direct contact with them… I think the only time I’ve really seen them up close was at “Request Hour”.
Komiyama: Watching them acts as a stimulus. People say “there’s no point if the junior members can’t become threats to the senior ones”, and I think Team 8 personifies those words.
Owada: Because they’re so close to us, they do act as a good stimulus, and they’re an important presence. When I watched them at “Request Hour”, the fans doing the mix for Team 8 were at a whole different excitement level from when they do it for the other teams. It was astonishing.
――Then, what do you think of Nogizaka46 and Keyakizaka46, clearly designated “rival groups” that started later than AKB48 but have a similar momentum?
Komiyama: Before, members of AKB48 were working so frantically to get senbatsu spots that we didn’t look at the outside world at all, but lately when I look at Nogizaka46 and Keyakizaka46’s activities, I feel very strongly that I don’t want us to lose to them. And also lately this bud of realization has sprouted in me that says we as AKB48 members need to carry on the legacy the seniors left us.
Owada: I know what you mean, I’ve started to think as a member of AKB48 rather than of myself as an individual.
――As members who are burdened with the title “next generation”, I bet it’s important for the 15th generation to stick together. The “Ichigochanzu performance” you did together surely heightened your unity with each other, but what did you think about it?
Owada: It’s true, since then, I think our bonds have deepened very quickly. (Iino) Miyabi and (Taniguchi) Megu started a year after the other 15th gens, and I have been asked by fans “do you really consider them members of your generation?” The two of them do speak respectfully to us and there are definitely times when I felt there was a distance between us that couldn’t be breached. However, when we did the “Ichigochanzu” stage, we became able to share our opinions with each other.
Komiyama: The staff told us “you’re their seniors, so you need to teach them a lot of things”, but up until a while ago I was thinking “it’s way too hard to talk to them”. I was too self-conscious about being around them, and I just couldn’t make a connection. But during the course of the “Ichigochanzu” stage, the entire 15th generation became able to scold each other and butt heads, and it truly made me happy. I feel we’re all comrades who can tell each other anything now, and I really started to feel like the 15th generation is where I belong.
Owada: I think it was thanks to the timing of the “Ichigochanzu” stage.
Komiyama: We’re middle school and high school students spending our days aiming to be idols. We joined hands and did our best together. We made our entrance during the encore as picture-perfect idols according to the contents of the setlist. At first we seemed to overlap with each other but this stage was able to bring everyone’s individuality to the forefront. And every one of us got to take turns playing the part of center and shine in the spotlight, which was excellent.
――The other day, right after the election had ended, you posted about your ranking on Google+ and other sites, but I would like to hear your full impressions about it here.
Owada: More than anything else, I was surprised to see that AKB48 dominated in numbers!
Komiyama: My ranking was 21st, and all around me were AKB48 members like Shimazaki (Haruka)-san, (Kojima) Mako-san and Minegishi (Minami)-san. And the second it was announced that AKB48 came out on top in numbers, everyone around me started celebrating together. It really made me happy.
――For a time, while the 80 ranks were being called up, the seats were filling up largely with members from other groups. But when the names being called for Undergirls and senbatsu members turned out to be mostly AKB members, the scene when it became clear that AKB was the winning group was enough to give anyone goosebumps.
Komiyama: People in society might be thinking that “they’re failing to make the generation shift”, but the fans’ passion transfers to us, they let us know how they feel by giving us clear rankings in Undergirls and senbatsu.
Owada: On top of that, with the group entering its 11th year, there has to be passion for it considering the timing, and I’m happy that translated into a win for AKB.
――The Team 4 onslaught was also a sight to behold.
Komiyama: That’s what made me the happiest! And I was moved that all of the Team 4 members who were called in the preliminary rankings were able to hear their names called at the election. As someone who has experience with that, the members listed in prelims really want to hear their names called at the real thing (laughs).
Owada: It’s been said that “Team 4 has the fewest members in senbatsu” and “Team 4 has no super-senbatsu members”, so I’m glad that we can feel now that Team 4’s hard work and value is being recognized. I was transferred from Team B to Team A, so I don’t have experience in Team 4, but Team 4 always has a fresh image. And I ended up thinking, “the team that pulls the group along in the election is a different one now, isn’t it?”
Komiyama: Within Team 4 the story was “We don’t have any super-senbatsu members, so it doesn’t matter because each member is the same”, and we had a solidarity through that, all striving together to move up in the ranks. I’m glad we overcame that with the election results.
Owada: There aren’t any humble people in Team 4, are there? It’s like there’s an energy around everyone as they all try to promote themselves.
Komiyama: With Izuta Rina-san as the mood maker and Takahashi Juri-san as the captain, I love Team 4. I’m gonna try my best to make great strides with this team!