Will the world soon wake up to the scent of Perfume?
By DANIEL ROBSON
Five hours before the May 11 show, Ayaka Nishiwaki (better known as A-Chan, pronounced "ah-chan"), Ayano Omoto (Nocchi) and Yuka Kashino (Kashiyuka) are giving The Japan Times their first ever - and so far only - sit-down interview with an English-language publication.
"I'd love to play a concert overseas," muses Nocchi, the ice-cool one, who speaks the least during the interview. "I think our music is really cool, but we also take great pride in our live performance, so I'd love people to see our show, and I'd love for us to be able to meet those fans at the concert venue."
"As we were walking the red carpet, some American fans were screaming 'Perfume! Perfume!' " recalls A-chan, with her eyes wide; she speaks the most in interviews and while there's no officially acknowledged leader, she's clearly the driving force. "I was like, 'Why do you even know who we are?!' One man - a large, older guy - gave me his bandana, which he said he'd worn constantly for eight years, and a DVD he'd made about his undying love for us. We'd never released anything outside of Japan and we were signed to a domestic label, so those fans could only have known us through the Internet."
"It's such a strange feeling," says Kashiyuka, speaking in a serene, calming manner, her eyes even wider than A-chan's. "The idea that people are listening to us in countries we haven't even visited ourselves ... "
"It's giving me goosebumps," A-chan adds.
"Some of the dance routines are really fiendish," A-chan laughs. "But we've worked with the same choreographer (Mikiko Mizuno) for over a decade, and we have great faith in her, so I want to choose the more difficult routines - the ones that look really weird or unnatural. Regardless of how much it hurts, I want to push myself to the limit."
"Sometimes I hear a song and I think it's by us!" A-chan laughs. " 'Oh, is that us? Oops, it's someone else.' Sometimes I think it might be a song by Nakata, because he does work with lots of other artists. For example, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has suddenly exploded in popularity. But she's very interesting and I enjoy listening to her music, so I don't really have a problem with it. If something's cool, I think it's cool. If I like it, I like it."
Consider the Koreans. K-pop as a genre has become a talking point in Japan and in the West, thanks largely to a concerted effort to adapt to target cultures. Working with international producers and singing in Japanese here and English over there, groups such as Kara, Girls' Generation and Big Bang have managed to integrate and sell records - but does this mean they don't sound Korean anymore?
A-chan doesn't think so.
"The Korean language sounds really cool, and K-pop artists do that thing where they repeat one word over and over, which is really appealing," she says. "I think the Japanese language has that sort of appeal, too. It has a particular sound, a cuteness and a femininity. So I hope that people can hear us as part of a wider Asian sound."
"When a Korean artist comes to Japan they often speak (to fans and media) in Japanese, which is wonderful," she says. "It makes me happy that they can communicate in my language, and of course it makes it easier for them to express themselves. I'm not sure whether we'd be able to sing in English, but if we go abroad, I hope to also learn at least a little bit of that country's language."
"The moment I listened to 'Polyrhythm,' I loved it. It was like falling in love," Lasseter reportedly said at the film's premiere.
"It wasn't us asking them to use it, but them coming to us and asking if they could use it," A-chan says. "What a surprise. It was like it fell from the sky. They told us that they'd had a long list of Japanese songs to check out but they chose our song without even listening to the rest. The song is in Japanese, but this made us realize that language is irrelevant. It taught me that cool music is cool wherever you are."
"It's helped us to reach people who hadn't heard of us, or who had heard our name but not listened to any of our music," Kashiyuka says. "Recently we've noticed more women at our concerts and I think it's because of the adverts we've appeared on."
Kimitaka Kato, managing director at Universal Japan's international division, says he is fully aware of the pitfalls.
"There aren't many Japanese artists who've ever really made it abroad," he admits, explaining that Perfume's global strategy is currently still in the hands of his Japan team, rather than local Universal offices around the world. "We're working to come up with creative ideas so that it is easier for the international territories to try to market Perfume. They don't speak English, but their dance tunes and the way they perform could work abroad.
"I don't intend to change the essential creative part of Perfume," he says, noting that although he would like to eventually use overseas producers, he has no intention of sending Nakata packing. "I don't want them to lose their Japan-ness."
Kato suggests Perfume might not even need to do that; he has a suitably futuristic idea in mind.
"I'm trying to find a way to make it easier for them to express their feelings and emotions in different territories using Japanese but maybe using technology that can translate their language immediately," he says. "This is something that we need to find ways to do."
On CD, their voices are chopped up, processed and used by Nakata as just another instrument, which might explain why the songs find such easy appeal among fans who don't speak Japanese. But to really understand Perfume, you don't need a CD. You don't even need to sit across a table from them and ask them questions. You just need to see them on stage, with all the lasers, the clockwork dancing, the fan interaction and the bass.
And since neither A-chan nor Nocchi nor Kashiyuka expects everyone around the world to come to the Budokan, the only solution is to take their show to the world.
"We've always been about the live experience," says A-chan, her surgical mask hiding what the twinkle in her eye betrays as a smile. "We used to play lots of street lives in Japan, so we're ready to clamber onto any stage, any time."