Translation: "She'll still be in Morning Musume. at 40": Tsunku♂ and Fukumura Mizuki discuss idols and graduations
"She'll still be in Morning Musume. at 40": Tsunku♂ and Fukumura Mizuki discuss idols and graduations
Moderation, Editing: Ozawa Aya
This is the start of note magazine's dialogue series, "Tsunku♂'s Super Producer Point of View!" The first guest is Morning Musume. '20's leader, Fukumura Mizuki. They speak at length about the timing of idol graduations, the current state of Morning Musume., and much more. In the first part, we'll also give you Fukumura's own interpretation of their new song to be released in December, "Junjou Evidence." On November 18 we will post the second part of the dialogue, and on November 19 we plan on updating Tsunku♂'s column with his written feelings about Fukumura.
Text: Hasada Yoko
Illustrations: Mizushina Takayuki
The true meaning behind the statement, "Fukumura will probably still be in Morning Musume at age 40"
--The other day in the livestream discussion for the Online Salon, Fukumura revealed her feelings about still wanting to be active in the group but being worried and wondering if she should be giving her juniors some of her responsibilities. Tsunku♂ remarked, "Fukumura will probably still be in Morning Musume. at age 40." How do you feel about this at present?
Fukumura: I think if these were normal times now, we'd be on tour, and probably be putting out more singles, right? But the lockdown went on, and that's why there were things I noticed, and I had to confront myself as a member of Morning Musume
Tsunku♂: Such as?
Fukumura: Firstly I just wanted to do a live with the group. It's my 10th year since joining, but I love Morning Musume. and I still want to be a part of the group. Still, I also think, "When I consider the future of the group and my juniors, I wonder if I should let them take over soon?" Then when the lockdown happened, I realized, "Is this what every day is going to be like after I graduate?" so I was running around in circles in my head.
Tsunku♂: Fukumura is the type to be mature from a young age, so now she won't really grow much older. You still have challenges you can take on. The most important thing is to think of what you enjoy as a member. I think that if being leader is something that makes you cocky, rather than it being an essential role with a feeling of responsibility, it would be better for your personal development to hand the position over to your juniors and have a period of freely being a Morning Musume.
Tsunku♂: I suspect when you first joined, you were doing things innocently. So what that means is that you enjoyed yourself more while Michishige was leader, and I think it would be good for you to once again have a period of time where you can purely have fun in Morning Musume. And then if you like, get married, go on maternity leave, and come back. And then people will have MCs like, "Fukumura is breastfeeding~!" (laughs).
Fukumura: What! (laughs)
Tsunku♂: I want you to do all these things your seniors didn't do. Hand over leadership to your juniors, and once you do all the things you want to do, with more free thinking, you graduate. That'd be good. It will open up the future for your juniors, showing them that there's another way to do things. As a result, it will lead to Morning Musume's continued growth and dignity.
Fukumura: I definitely see a world where I could turn over leadership, but I've also quite gotten used to being leader. I also worry that I won't shine as Fukumura Mizuki if I'm not leader.
Tsunku♂: (shakes head) No, no, you can't treat being leader like it's your only fate. Having a title is more comforting than not. You have to leave your true mark as Fukumura Mizuki.
How should an idol decide when to graduate?
--Lately, graduations keep happening in different Hello!Project groups. Tsunku♂, do you have any theories on when an idol should decide to graduate?
Tsunku♂: When I was producing them, I thought a lot about how to approach graduation ceremonies in the coolest way possible. But then members I didn't think were leaving would quit, and then there were times when we couldn't quite get the production together. I wonder how things are now?
Tsunku♂: The AKB groups have also announced graduations one after another, and honestly, I think the public is getting this impression of, "Well who ISN'T graduating?" So for me, I'd actually be thinking of how I could stay rather than how I should leave. But it is okay to have this youthful feeling of "I'm quitting tomorrow." If you think it's time to quit because you don't need the responsibility of being in the group or you don't want to be tied down, then that's fine. It's your life. Of course, there are client-oriented jobs out there, too, so sure enough being an adult does mean you have responsibilities in any case.
--Fukumura, what graduation ceremony left the biggest impression on you?
Fukumura: I thought Takahashi Ai's graduation was so cool. It was also my first time seeing off one of my seniors, but most everyone graduates wearing a beautiful dress in the end, but Takahashi wore a t-shirt and jeans. I realized than that you could graduate just as you are.
--What would Fukumura's graduation be like, if Tsunku♂ were producing it?
Tsunku♂: I think having like a 20 minute solo corner would make people cry more, rather than just keeping it to one song.
--Starting with, "Fukumura, come down here!" you've become the symbol of the current Morning Musume. Fukumura, did you have an image in mind for your career or certain goals you wanted to meet?
Fukumura: I wouldn't go that far. I always just wanted to be in Hello!Pro. I was fairly competitive when I joined Hello!Pro Egg. When I got to debut, I felt like, "Finally, I'm at the starting line!" From then up until now, it's like I've just worked hard at what's right in front of me and this is how far I've come.
Tsunku♂: Did you think you would debut? Or did you plan on spending a long time as an Egg (Hello!Pro Egg, currently Hello!Pro Kenshuusei)?
Fukumura: I decided I was going to quit being an Egg when I was done with middle school. By my second year of middle school there were no plans for me to debut, so at the time I felt like it wasn't going to happen. I wasn't good in school, but I realized the high school exams were only six months away so I felt like I should give it up, and honestly I wasn't enjoying lives then, either.
Tsunku♂: I was in my second year of elementary school when I started training to be a musician, and I wanted to be the kind of person with three levels of entertainment like being both a singer and a TV talent, like how actresses do. Even while kids are doing that kind of training, 3rd year middle schoolers unfortunately do have exams, so it would be nice if there were room to give them the option to take a break for those.
--It sounds like you were very impatient regarding your age, like you were middle-aged by middle school. What was your state of mind like back then?
Fukumura: I watched the Kids audition that Berryz Koubou and °C-ute debuted from, so I had this image in my head that idols were very young. Then, the girls who were with me in Egg who were in high school all quit at once, which was a huge jolt for me. I learned that the entertainment industry is not a kind place, it was my first real discouragement. The older girls left, and I was so scared to become the oldest of the bunch.
Tsunku♂: I do think that year is a turning point. If I were to redo my life, I would start from that year.
Fukumura: From your second year of middle school?
Tsunku♂: It feels like you can do anything, and if I could go back to that year, I could take up lots of different challenges. I wasn't only looking at show business back then, I was really just thinking about college and finding a job. I figured I wouldn't have to take exams again if I got into a high school attached to a university, but then my grades fell hard. Puberty was full throttle, too. I think there was just a little more I could have done for the sake of my future.
--There are also members of Morning Musume like Sato and Kudo who debuted in elementary school, but then you also have the opposite like with Iikubo who joined when she was in high school. Tsunku♂, what do you think about age when it comes to someone's potential as an idol?
Tsunku♂: Idols back in the day were young, but now it's completely normal to see them at 27, 28, right? You can be an idol at 30. Arashi are male idols, but they're approaching their 40s. I think now you can do it for a fairly long time. She's not an idol, but even Ashida Mana who debuted so young has become a fine young adult, so I think there's a chance to work longer now.
--Among fans there's a theory about Hello!Pro having an age limit of 25. Do you want to overcome that, Fukumura?
Fukumura: I never want to be a prisoner to age. Maybe compared to others around my age, I don't pay it as much attention~. 9th and 10th generation members are all close in years, so I want to make it so that there isn't a graduation rush. If the current members leave all at once, maybe something new could come after, but then I don't think whoever comes in next would be able to inherit from us some important things for the group. I'm thinking about the fans' feelings, too, and so I would prefer that succession to move slower.
5 years since her inauguration--The Morning Musume that Fukumura leadership changed
Tsunku♂: Has the group changed in the 5 years since you became leader?
Fukumura: It has, hasn't it? I think so.
Tsunku♂: What do you think you were able to do as leader? Like, what sort of influence did you have on Morning Musume., what character did you give it, what have you been able to do and not been able to do up to this point?
Fukumura: Our focus on live performances got much higher. It's not something that I changed on my own, but we're more aware of communicating through eye contact, that we can't get lazy even if we do an exhausting show and aren't as sharp in our movements from how spent we are. I think both the group and I have a greater ability to concentrate. In any case, we lift everyone's spirits, and we're careful about our jobs outside of concerts, too, as the situation demands, and I think the general atmosphere has changed.
--In the 5 years you've been leader, has there been any sort of turning point?
Fukumura: When Kudo, Ogata, and Iikubo graduated back to back, I realized the atmosphere had to change, because Kudo was the type to take charge of things before she graduated.
Tsunku♂: Kudo was dependable. Surprisingly she's the sister-in-law type (laughs), calmly looking after those around her.
Fukumura: Exactly. The other members tried to be more reliable because she was so reliable. It was hard when she left. With Harunan (Iikubo) too, she would tell everyone funny stories in the dressing room, and that would really expand what we talked about during MCs. The vibe of the group changed once she was gone.
Tsunku♂: Iikubo would always bring things in from the outside. She could talk to anyone, whether a teenager or someone in their 50s. She'd always bring something back.
Fukumura: When Ogata left, I reflected on the situation and felt like I had to speak more to the other members about things.
Tsunku♂: Such as?
Fukumura: Hmm... Like when even one member leaves, for the remaining members, their positions within the group change, don't they? So the roles of the other 12th generation members, the generation-mates of Ogata, were going to change, and I felt like I needed to take the initiative to go talk to them about it.
--Who on the team do you rely on now?
Fukumura: My generation-mate Eripon is who I can express my feelings to without sugarcoating anything, and people like Ishida Ayumi or Oda Sakura are good with working jobs and working with our juniors.
--Is there anything you paid more attention to after 15th generation joined?
Fukumura: I want to make it so that those girls can really develop their strengths, without restraint or shrinking away. Up through the 12th generation, the members were trained harshly, and because of that some of the members haven't been able to show off their abilities. I'm more aware of trying to tie together their feelings and their strengths in such a way that they won't get down on themselves.
Tsunku♂: What sort of things can't 15th gen do?
Fukumura: I like their singing and dancing as it stands now, but there are times when I wish they were better at like etiquette with work or how they talk to people.
Tsunku♂: Who do you think should be doing what, specifically?
Fukumura: Huh... They're all still so young, so I guess I have to teach them about politeness and jobs and things like that.
Fukumura: Okamura Homare is really cute, but there are better ways to showcase that. She's cuter without frills, so I feel like candid shots would be better than selfies, or like that ponytails suit her more, just really specific things like that (laughs).
Fukumura: Yamazaki Mei is the one who understands most how to present herself. She does things exactly how she wants them, which I think is amazing.
Fukumura: Kitagawa Rio's progress is incredible. She wasn't athletic before but now she can dance as if it were nothing. Her way of thinking is beyond her years, and I think she has good confidence.
"Junjou Evidence" on sale in December--Fukumura's Interpretation
--When you first got your new song, "Junjou Evidence," what did you first think?
Fukumura: It was a difficult song to understand right away. The protagonist is surely a timid girl, and her younger sister is strong, the type to speak her mind. The older sister is shocked when her younger sister tells her she's gotten a pimple, right? So she distinctly remembers those words, but I don't think she's the type to wear her heart on her sleeve
Tsunku♂: It's always interesting hearing people's own interpretations. I have an image that's different from Fukumura's, but no matter how close or how far it may be from my own, I think how you understand it is up to the individual. So Fukumura's interpretation turns the song into her own, and if that can be spread to the world, then I think that's just fine.
Fukumura: I'm always thinking, "How should I sing this to express what I feel when I read the lyrics?" When we record it, I do different kinds of takes, like a more natural style, a powerful style, or a soft style, things like that, to find the nuance that matches. I'm the type to be possessed by the protagonist of the song, rather than just tell the story.
--The "younger sister" that appears in the lyrics leaves a deep impression. Tsunku♂, what was your thought process in using "younger sister" rather than "he" or "you"?
Tsunku♂: Is there a right answer that isn't "younger sister"? The significance is different if it's a parent. You tell your friends your true feelings but you also put on airs with them. You probably keep plenty of secrets from them, too. Of course there are friendships where you're like sisters, where you talk about everything, including things you wouldn't tell your parents, but in the world of these lyrics, there are things she still doesn't talk to her sister about. Maybe there's some self-awareness of, "I've grown up a little." When I put that into the lyrics, this is how it ended up. I guess it's this image of, "I'm looking to go on through the next door, I'm off."
Tsunku♂: I understand that both the members and the fans are fighting with pure intentions to preserve the goodness of the current Morning Musume. However, in the world of these lyrics, there's a change of heart, and the leader waves a flag of moving on to the next thing. If that can be accomplished, then I think that it's the time for Fukumura herself to open the next door. The message I put in this song is, "I'm not telling everyone, but I can see what's coming next, and as a result, I'm just leaving these things behind." I hope the members can all bring that kind of feeling out on stage.
Fukumura: (nods) There are times when I start to feel down when I think about how I need to change. I want to find more things that I can do myself. I'm not holding back in my performances, but I want to bring myself out more in MCs and work outside of concerts, too.