The Morning Musume Spring 2017 concert DVD, which was released on Sept. 20, is easily one of the best MM concerts I’ve ever seen. Everyone is at their peak here, enhanced by the breathtaking first MM concert appearance of 13th Gen, Kaede Kaga and Reina Yokoyama, who hit the ground running, performing with energy and confidence, and are given lots to do. I don’t recall either of my two favorite Gens, 4th and 9th, knocking it out of the park in their first time at bat.
For me, the top tier performers consist of the remaining 9th Gen members, Mizuki Fukumura and Erina Ikuta; two of the four 10th Gen members, Ayumi Ishida and Haruka Kudo; and the sole 11th Gen performer, Sakura Oda. I welcomed every solo line and every lead they had and every solo camera shot of them. The second tier would include 13th Gen and the two other 10th Gen members, Haruna Iikubo and Masaki Sato, both of whom offer solid back-up and have plenty of moments where they get to shine. 12th Gen gets somewhat overshadowed by the emergence of 13th Gen and doesn’t get as many opportunities to shine. (It should be pointed out that 13th Gen’s Kaga has way more performing experience than anyone in 12th Gen.) Maria Makino takes the lead in “Sou Janai,” one of my favorite numbers here, but isn’t given any other leads. Her ambitions to become an ace, while normally well within the range of possibility for someone of her drive and spirit, may have to get scaled down given the formidable competition from 13th Gen, unless she pulls some tricks out of her hat–and she just might. Maria’s 12 Gen teammates, Miki Nonaka and Akane Haga, both provide solid back-up throughout and have shown remarkable improvement over the last year or so. I enjoyed them both here, especially since they each got to shine in a couple of MC segments. Sadly, Haruna Ogata is the one casualty of the talent explosion here. She seems to have been pushed back to the margins. She’s not seen very often and only speaks when it’s her turn in the MC segments.
The concert runs for 27 minutes before there’s an MC segment. Surely, that must be a record. That stretch includes the spectacular “Brand New Morning” opening followed by a five-song medley and then three more songs, “Songs,” “Sou Janai,” and “Ai no Gundan.” The medley is a fantastic eleven-minute segment that’s one of the most creative setpieces I’ve ever seen in a Morning Musume concert. The songs don’t exactly follow each other, but weave in and out, intersecting and interacting with each other, with alternating members doing the crab dance from “Renai Hunter” and the ones next to them doing the arm moves from “Renai Revolution 21,” preceded by a mix of “One Two Three,” “Souda! We’re Alive,” and “Help Me!!” The choreography is as intricate as any as I’ve seen in an MM concert and remains that way for the entire 132-minute concert. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had to learn more dances for this than for any other concert the group has done.
Also, I loved the way they used the unique layout of the stage extensions and runways of the Nippon Budokan, the venue where the concert was recorded. I especially enjoyed when they skipped or ran out along the runway in formation out to that little stage in the center. When the camera was in the right position to capture it, the effect was glorious
Except for one quibble, which I’ll get to at the end, I liked the song selection very much. It was a mix of older songs with recent releases and new songs. There were several songs I was unfamiliar with, either because they were brand new (“Seishun Say A-HA,” “Watashi no Nanni mo Wakacchanai”) or because they were from albums I hadn’t listened to in a long time and haven’t been performed at many concerts (“Loving You Forever,” “SONGS”). Plus, there were new favorites like “Brand New Morning,” “Jealousy Jealousy,” and “Sou Janai,” welcome concert standards like “Ai no Gundan,” “Kimi no Kawari wa Iyashinai” and “Wagamama Ki no Mama Ai no Joke,” and the closing crowd-pleasers “Happy Daisakusen” and “Bravo.”
I was quite taken with “Silver no Udedokei,” a quartet with Mizuki and Reina doing the vocals, with Kaga and Erina doing the rap portion and the back-up dancing. I thought they all did a fine job, especially Mizuki, whom I’ve always liked but who keeps getting better and better. She sounds really good in this concert. I didn’t recall hearing this song before, but it turns out to be from MM’s 12th album, “12, Smart,” and was originally done with Reina Tanaka and Sayashi Riho on the vocals and Risa Niigaki and Aika Mitsui doing the rap. It’s been performed at three previous MM concerts, from 2011 to 2014, so I need to dig out my copies of those and find that number. A check of my old blog shows that I mentioned this song in my review of the MM Spring 2012 concert, the one where Risa and Aika graduated. It was also done at Sayumi’s graduation concert in 2014 with Riho doing the vocals solo, with Erina and Ayumi doing the rap.
This was the first of three songs featuring 13th Gen. This one paired them with the two remaining members of 9th Gen. They next did “Give Me Love” with all of 10th Gen. And they ended the set with “Please Jiyuu No Tobira” accompanied by 11th and 12th Gens. I wish they’d done a separate song with Sakura, 11th Gen.
There was a new version of “Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari,” featuring verses for every member including the two new girls, Kaga and Yokoyama. The only problem here was that when Masaki Sato’s verse came up, everyone sang it and there was no sign of Masaki. It turns out that she was missing from several numbers during the concert and not always consecutive ones. I did count 12 members in some songs and not the 13 that should have been there. I haven’t heard the official story yet, but it’s rumored that she had back problems and experienced some pain onstage and had to take a break.
Masaki’s verse without Masaki:
The second medley consisted of six songs and was done one song after another in traditional linear medley fashion, but the songs were quite good, starting with “How Do You Like Japan?,” led by Ayumi, ending with “What Is Love?,” and including “TOP,” “Wakuteka Take a Chance,” “Moonlight Night,” and one of my old favorites, “Ikimasshoi!”
The background visuals during this medley and other numbers were quite clever, using a wide range of image styles, from abstract to pop art to specific song-related images, as well as frequent use of text.
There were also overhead shots, seen on the stage’s rear screen, of the girls from a camera positioned above them, giving us a bird’s eye view of the dance formations, recalling one of the innovations that dance director Busby Berkeley brought to movie musicals in the early 1930s.
There were a number of MC segments and I’d like to single out two. The first one featured Miki Nonaka in conversation with Maria Makino and Sakura Oda. They mentioned “America” a lot and “Nihonjin” a few times, so I asked on Facebook what the conversation was about and someone provided a short summary, saying that Miki sometimes felt more American than Japanese because of her reliance on English slang phrases and her preference for American fried foods. Maria said she liked the same foods and wondered if she, too, might be more American than Japanese. Sakura, ever the traditionalist, insisted that both were perfectly Japanese. At least that’s what I was told.
The second MC highlight featured a filmed silent dramatic segment narrated by Akane Haga as all the girls stood onstage and watched the screen. In the drama, Miki and a cute guy (played by Haruka in teen boy drag) meet cute and start to hang out, Miki clearly enamored of him. Then we learn he has a girlfriend, played by Ayumi, and when Miki confronts the two of them, determined to fight Ayumi over him, Haruka waves her away and walks off hand-in-hand with Ayumi. Ayane did a great job, reading with a dramatic flourish enhanced by her low (and quite pleasant) voice and even made a cameo appearance in the video. All the girls laughed and had a great time watching it.
Sakura Oda gets a lot to do in this concert and I’m very happy about that. She’s been the group’s best singer ever since she joined and she’s got no real competition from any of the others. Not only that, she’s been developing a solo style that I find very appealing, with gestures and facial expressions that reveal greater confidence and charisma than she had before. She’s as comfortable in her skin as any H!P performer I’ve seen. It got me to wondering if they’ll ever give her a full-fledged solo concert or even a mini-concert of solos by her within a larger MM concert. I’d love to see that. Barring that, I wish they’d release some of her Birthday Event DVDs to the public. (I found only one, from 2007, on CDJapan, but it was listed as “no longer available.”)
I also got to thinking about the differences between Sakura and Ai Takahashi, who was, from the time of Miki Fujimoto’s departure from MM in spring 2007 to her own graduation in 2011, the group’s best singer. When Ai did her solo lines and full solos in concert, she played to the audience. She wanted to please the audience with every fiber of her being and, for her, that seemed to mean retaining a significant amount of humility. It was very touching and I admired that quality of hers, but I fear it also meant she held back quite a bit. With a healthier ego, Ai might have been a great solo performer instead of just a very good one. (Think Aya Matsuura.) When I see Sakura serving a similar function in this concert as Ai did in her many MM concerts, I see a very different approach. Sakura seems more intent on pleasing herself. And it means she doesn’t hold back. And that, in turn, might please the audience even more. And while Ai played to the audience, Sakura plays to the camera, which is a bonus for those of us watching at home. There were plenty of times watching Sakura when I thought that she knows she’s good and is really enjoying it.
Now, my one significant complaint is that the setlist is lacking the group’s best song in the past year—and their best in several years if you ask me–“Mukidashi de Mukiatte.” How perfect this concert would be with that song included—and not as part of a medley either. The only other element keeping this concert from being absolutely perfect is my usual gripe about the camerawork during their dance numbers. On occasion, they cut to closeups when I wanted a long shot or extreme long shots when I wanted to see the dancers more closely. But this was less of a problem than usual, since there were fewer dance solos, duets or trios and mostly group choreography. Visually, overall, this was a much more pleasing concert than usual.
And it just might be their best concert ever. Of course, I’ll have to go back and re-watch the other MM concerts I’ve said this about, which adds up to pretty much most of them in the last three-to-four years, in order to compare. Not an unpleasant task to contemplate at all.
Reina certainly had a great time: