Hirano Aya's idol video Love Letter came out last week on DVD. From my highly biased point of view, I don't know how anyone could watch even a few minutes of it and not come away loving this woman. She comes across as a real and very attractive person, despite the fact that the video is a mixture of undramatic little dramas, interviews, and a probably staged seiyuu audition.
One thing is for sure: she knows how to make love to a camera. Not that there is anything even the least bit pornographic about this video. No bathing suits, not even any decolletage. But in several of the little segments, Aya acts the part of someone on a date with the viewer. She has no trouble at all speaking to and looking directly at the camera, with a limpid gaze that could melt stone.
Some of the best bits are those that give the appearance of not being scripted: they return several times to Aya talking to her manager in September, asking fruitlessly for three days off to rest. Those segments almost seem as if they were shot with a hidden camera, they are so natural.
Some segments show an audition for roles in a drama CD. Aya comes into the room and apologizes for being late. For each role, she is handed a folder with a picture and description of the character, and a short script to read. It is interesting to see her figure out the character in 30 seconds or so, switch on the recorder, then announce her name and agency and read the script in a new voice twice in a row, each time a little differently. Her takes on an irascible 35-year-old woman and then on a 96-year-old man are fascinating.
Her ease and confidence in the situation, and her girlish exuberance and demandingness are very strong. She balks a bit at being asked to try the roles of the middle-aged woman and the old man, but goes ahead. Then when she is given the role of a monster to do, she makes a little performance of refusing to do it and then walks out.
The Aya I see in the "real-life" segments of the DVD is the same Aya I see in her blog: intelligent, knowledgeable, professional -- but girlish, naturally humorous, and somehow naive at the same time. Maybe a bit of an ojou-sama, able to be demanding and selfish, and eager for opportunities to shop, such as at the Okinawa duty-free store. I guess this might put some people off, if they have unrealistic notions of what entertainers are like.
For me, the best part of the whole show is an interview on a hotel balcony in Okinawa (where the outdoor taping was done). Aya seems so real there, mature and straighforward. She talks about her career, how she was not originally a seiyuu and is so thankful to seiyuu work for letting her act out so many different people and situations, but how she wants to seize the opportunity to develop her singing and her idol work, which are where her career began. Once again, she expresses her eagerness to have her own live stage show. And she says she wants seiyuu roles that will help her find new voices in herself. And she wants to keep learning how to act.
The sexiest parts of the DVD are those episodes where she is like the viewer's companion, smiling at the camera in a come-hither way. Just wow. To the extent Love Letter has a plot, it is that Aya returns to her deceased grandmother's house and finds an old love letter she herself wrote to a boy when she was ten, but never delivered. She wonders what would have happened if she had delivered the letter, and what the boy is like now. She goes to look at the old school, then calls the boy. They meet, I think (although you never see him), and go out together around the town.
One can't help thinking this is like an audition for being in a TV drama, but I'm not sure if producers will take the bait. Aya is not called upon to perform a very wide range of emotions in the idol video parts of the DVD: pensive melancholy and girlish genki are about the extent of it. But in the apparently "real" segments that you get a sense of Aya's star quality, and maybe of her acting. The very end of the DVD is intriguing: Aya skips along the street and then comes right up to the camera and says: "Was it all fiction -- or not? Don't know."
As I watched the interviews and heard her very natural-seeming voice, I still thought she may not have a natural voice, but be acting all the time, like many entertainers. Even in the long interview on the balcony, she was playing with her voice at times.
Anyway, if you are an Aya fan, get this DVD. And meanwhile, you can see it in parts on YouTube. Here is part one. There is also a prologue. The region 2 DVD is available from Amazon Japan and from YesAsia, among other places, for US$30-35.
In other Aya news, the short version of the PV of her third single this fall, MonSTAR, is now on YouTube. The single will be released 5 December. Her second new single, Neophilia, ended its first week at #17. That was creditable, considering that it had no special publicity and the PV was not pre-released, but nothing like her October single, Love Gun, which ended its first week at #6. Personally, I thought Neophilia was excellent, her best and most interesting singing work so far.
But wait, there's more. Aya was interviewed on the NHK show Kaitai Shin Show yesterday and a video of part of the show is already on YouTube. She normally does narration for the show, which is a kind of quiz show that explains things about the human body. Aya was interviewed about which strange facts about the body she found most interesting.
Finally, it's only fair for me to congratulate Mizuki Nana on the smash success of her new album, Great Activity, which was #2 on the album charts for its first week, a great achievement for a seiyuu album. It's taking me a long time to learn to appreciate the talented Nana at her worth, but her success gives all seiyuus a good name. j1m0ne has a good feature on the album.