!!! CONTAINS SPOILERS !!!
Watching the first episode of the Netflix original documentary Voyage was more difficult than watching ARASHI’s Jan. 27 press conference, but then again most fans didn’t expect anything less, especially when this has been marketed as “the last documentary of the five.”
It’s thanks to ARASHI that they allowed themselves to be followed and filmed until they go on hiatus this year. But what I realized from episode 1 is that this docuseries appears to be ARASHI members’ way to cope with the impending hiatus and try to come to terms–even understand–their own decision and its implications, together with the audience. It’s what makes it raw and the production’s move to keep out any dramatic background music especially during the interview parts, as well as muting some parts and just leaving the moving objects on screen, make for a more compelling delivery rather than if it were accompanied by even a soulful cello as soundtrack.
There are two quotes that jumped out at me from this first episode:
“I’ve banged on desks and shouted. After all the hard work we’ve put into not being one of those groups” – Sho
We know what Sho means and I cannot approximate the frustration he must have felt. We don’t really know what goes on behind the scenes and ARASHI is known as a group that hasn’t fought since they were formed in 1999. That does not mean it has been smooth sailing all along given that you have five very different personalities in the group. But this also drives home the point of how much effort they’ve given in two decades to keep things together and that is probably why he keeps emphasizing in his aisatsu at concerts that from 5×5, 5×10, 5×15, 5×20—it’s the number on the left that has remained a constant. Only the five of them will know the sacrifices and everything they had to do to keep it that way. And as far back as January we have come to understand that they’d rather suspend activities as a group than go on with an incomplete lineup because, again as Sho implies in this part of the documentary, they’ve always been trying not to end up like those other groups who have proceeded without a member or disbanded instead. It’s their legacy that they are trying to preserve.
“This is taking something you truly love and attempting to strangle it to death” – Jun
Among the five of them, MJ has been the least expressive about the hiatus. But we all know that ARASHI is his baby, that he’s the idea man and that he still has many plans ahead—the last part he keeps saying in his aisatsus. So uttering these words in the documentary offered a glimpse into the burden he must have been carrying. How can someone plan for great things this 2020 and yet know that there’s a finish line ahead? It must feel like building a beautiful house only to tear it down in the end. He said it perfectly when he likened it to the concept of ephemeral beauty (Sakura, hanabi—these are very Japanese concepts of fleeting beauty and the impermanence of life). But it is his reference to a “swan song” that scares me. And I realized that while I have come to terms with their hiatus decision, I only did because of the hope and their promise that they will be back. But to talk about this as a swan song… I’m lost for words.
The last part of the documentary where Sho and Jun talk about what it takes for fans to go and watch them, and to protect the fans’ feelings, has elicited varying reactions from fans. Here’s my take: They do not have to protect me, I’m an adult, as much as they are so they don’t need my protection either (Sho: “We’re all independent adults over the age of 35”). Their decision to spend two years to express their gratitude to the fans is theirs, and theirs alone (and to think otherwise is insulting their capacity to decide for themselves given not only their age but stature in the jimusho) and I am grateful because it allows the fandom room to accept the fact that they are going to suspend their activities starting 2021. Being celebrities is a double-edged sword and one needs to find the perfect balance between their private and public lives. I do believe ARASHI has that balance but I do understand where they are coming from, that they feel they owe it to properly thank their public for bringing them to where they are now. Of course it has largely been due to their talents and abilities, their sheer perseverance in the face of adversities, their strength to pick themselves up and continue from every failure. But 20 years is a gift that not everyone is given so I get the depth of their gratitude and I won’t begrudge them for wanting to do everything in their power to thank the fans. Doing otherwise will sound so ungrateful of their efforts. This may, after all, be the final flare from the sparkler they hold in their hands, shining so brightly before it fades. Just like hanabi. (Nino: “If I were given the chance to relive the life I’ve lived, I don’t think I would take it. The fact that I can’t imagine reliving my life now, that must mean I really lived it to the fullest.”)
Lastly, for now, I’m grateful to ARASHI for sharing their story and other content by putting them on platforms that will be easily accessible especially to international fans. Haven’t we been waiting for them to be this accessible? I know every fan’s circumstances are different but I hope we can support them in this endeavor by subscribing to Netflix, Spotify, and wherever they share their content in. This is the least we can do.
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