There was a review of the Japonism DVD making the rounds on Twitter that I really enjoyed and decided to translate. The review came from a Japanese website with a predominant interest in rock music and I enjoyed the fact that it focused a lot more on the production side of things.
Enjoy, and feel free to share your own thoughts on the concert!
RO69 - Japonism DVD review
Shaken by Arashi the performers after watching "Japonism", the culmination of their brilliance as craftsman idols
The subject of this DVD is the footage of the last concert in Tokyo Dome for Arashi's "Japonism" tour which took place last year. While many of Arashi's concerts have been released as DVDs previously, if someone has never watched a single Arashi concert before and were to pick one to watch, I would strongly recommend watching "ARASHI LIVE TOUR 2015 Japonism". The reason for this is because not only is it undoubtedly of the highest quality be it as a concert or as recorded concert footage, it is also the most ideal representative to offer as an answer to the numerous "misunderstandings" and "doubts" surrounding Arashi's as well as Johnny's form of entertainment.
It's not exactly news to the general public that traditionally, Johnny's idols have always been deeply involved in the production of their concerts. It's not born from some idealistic pretty thoughts of "A concert is something we create ourselves"; rather, it's a "no-nonsense" custom and obligation for them as Johnny's. Out of the groups, Arashi has a particularly strong tendency towards that. With a central focus on Matsumoto Jun, they proactively involve themselves with the organization, the production, the staging, the visuals, the lighting, the special effects, the dance choreography and outfitting, right down to all the nooks and crannies. They play with ideas and build up their concerts through a trial and error process. There is no denying that Arashi are super idols who shine on the enormous stage in a packed Tokyo Dome before 55,000 people, yet at the same time they are also super craftsmen who aided in the creation of that enormous stage. It's from those two sides of the same coin, from the fusion of light and shadow that Arashi's concerts are born.
It's been a long time since I've seen a concert DVD where the brilliance of Arashi's concert structuring through their simultaneous idol and craftsmen roles was conveyed in such a clear, visualized form. The fact that their "Japonism" album was extremely conceptual with themes of "Japan as seen from the rest of the world" and "Back to their roots" played an important role in this. By having a clear-cut concept in their album, they were able to extend that by default to their concerts as well, the entirety of which was deeply imbued with the intent and ideology of Arashi as the creators of said concept. To Arashi, entertainment isn't just about singing and dancing and smiling and waving, and it's not the type of idol they aim to be either. They are frightfully serious about it in a sense, and I'm sure people who watch them for the first time are in for a shock.
In any case, their concept was laid out in full from the get-go. With motifs such as swords, carp and bamboo forests strewn throughout an animated clip, visuals and lighting that closely resemble Japanese screen paintings, the intense orchestra of taiko and shamisen and dancing reminiscent of kabuki, the theme of the show was Japonism through and through. The grandiose performance with umbrellas and kimonos that bore hints of "Benten Kozou" was so incredible that I was left thoroughly shaken! Countless breathtaking "art" emerged on stage that were based on the concept of the concert, and Arashi took that art and developed it into a large-scale 3D form intended for 55,000 people. With crisscrossing runways, peripheral stages, trolleys and moving stages that pass over the heads of the audience, they make use of all the modes of transportation at their disposal to scatter themselves throughout the enormous dome and pull the audience in; somewhere along the way, they too are incorporated into the "art". You almost feel like you're in the middle of a free-form piece of 3D art. It is extremely rare to find artists who have a clear grasp of the size and scope of the Dome and are able to produce entertainment to its greatest extent like Arashi does.
In particular, a number of songs following the opening as well as the rapid progression from the solo sessions after their MC talk to "Japonesque", the embodiment of the entire concept of "Japonism", was so fantastic that I truly hope as many people as possible can watch it. The reason why that flow was so great lies in the way the camera was able to assume a bird's eye view and capture the full impact of the show's entirety with precision. There was a keen sense that whoever came up with this flow and this production was a genius, but what truly floored me was the fact that the genius behind it were the idols standing up on stage themselves. If singles and albums consisting of songs provided by other people are the initial form of expression for Arashi, taking the originality of their ideas and feelings and pouring their heart and soul into the creation of their concerts may just be their final form.
By the way, the "Japanese-style performance" that took such an important role in "Japonism" is actually a traditional form of entertainment passed down from one Johnny's group to the next. Arashi themselves also started off by watching their senpais performing that as Johnny's Jrs and learning from them through their actual work as backdancers. That is why their back to the roots concept for "Japonism" doesn't only refer to Japan, it also speaks to the return of their roots in entertainment. This year's tour also saw the participation of a Johnny's Jr unit that is particularly lauded for their dancing skills, and their group dances were yet another highlight of the show. With their roots lying in American musicals such as "West Side Story", it was deeply moving to see how Johnny's group dances were upgrading and making strides right before my eyes.
However, what is truly remarkable is the fact that Arashi still manages to stand up on stage as consummate super idols to the end. You don't get even the slightest hint of all the hard work and trial and error they went through to create this terrific concert-- just their pride as idols, as people who seem to hail from utopia. The fact that Arashi was able to take the most popular staples of their shows - "A.RA.SHI", "Kansha kangeki ame arashi", "Happiness", "Love so sweet" - and somehow manage to fit them into the world of the highly conceptual "Japonism" without feeling remotely out of place just showcases their power as idols to transcend even their own concept.
It was only after looking back on this as a finished product that I took note of their powers as craftsmen for the first time. Speaking of which, they were able to read the requests written on the countless uchiwas held by fans in a split second and respond right away, yet manage to look up at the furthest corners of the second floor seating in the next instant, smiling and waving broadly at them as if such a feat comes naturally to them. It may not be much of a stretch to call them craftsmen-like idols.
The MC talks included in Arashi's concert DVDs are another source of enjoyment. The appeal of their MCs lie in the complete 180 from the flawless entertainment of the actual show; it takes a sudden turn into idle chatter, the kind of talk between guys after school is out. Of course, there is a sense that they're still putting in effort to entertain the audience even as they show everyone their "stripped down" sides, but it's not off-putting at all. It was quite surreal seeing how much they seemed to enjoy huddling together and talking about a "Gyudon soup story from the Jr. days" in front of 55,000 people. They're sparkling dream icons yet at the same time also your typical boys next door. Surely, this gap we see and their dual aspects of being idols and craftsmen are all part of Arashi's innate nature.
- [Arashi] RO69 - Japonism DVD review