The Last Idol Talk: Takamasa Sakurai meets Singaporean Hello! Project fans at AFASG’15 before unfortunate passing

A report on the final talk show conducted by an esteemed Japanese entertainment commentator

In the early morning of Friday, 4th December 2015, 49-year-old producer and Japanese entertainment commentator Takamasa Sakurai passed away in a train accident.

Currently-ongoing police investigations reveal that Sakurai was reportedly under the influence of alcohol according to an eyewitness and accidentally stepped off the open platform of a train station and fell onto the rail track at around 1230am that fateful day, and his leg was caught by an oncoming train. He was pronounced dead after being rushed to the hospital. Sakurai is a resident of the Higashi-Nippori neighborhood near the train station.

News of the death spread across the Japanese news and websites morning that day and swiftly to the English side of the anime/J-pop fandom news sites, with the organizers, stakeholders attendees and of the Anime Festival Asia (AFA) in Singapore being of special note of concern.

The Singapore leg of the large-scale anime and Japanese-medium entertainment convention in Southeast Asia, AFA, was held from 27th to 29th November 2015 at the Suntec City Convention CentreSakurai was invited for a talk on the the morning of the 29th as the first item for the Akiba Mini Stage, a stage for talks and performances free for all attendees with basic admission to the convention.

a

The hosts introduce the programme for the day and invite Sakurai on stage

b

Sakurai begins his talk

His talk is aimed primarily at the Hello! Project otaku audience as inferred from the number of references to the franchise, Morning Musume (MoMusu) in particular, and was also partly promotion for his own upcoming channel under Singapore-based AFA Channel (AFAChan) Japanese entertainment news network in 2016.

“I would like to share idols with the world, so feel free to share your thoughts through the programme,” he invited as he unveiled the collaboration towards the end of his talk.

MoMusu has been confirmed to be one of the featured idol groups. Apart from idols, seiyuu will also be featured in this channel. Other details about this channel, such as its start date, frequency and format of this programme were not revealed during the talk.

Before his final convention appearance over the weekend, Sakurai has attended multiple events as a cultural spokesman at over 140 countries worldwide as a producer, writer, journalist, commentator and researcher at Digital Hollywood University. The start of his talk and personal introduction comprised slides and anecdotes of his past diplomacy in the other countries he has visited, and how anime and J-music fans express their enthusiasm for the subculture differently.

He touched on the topic of world peace in brief, idealistically and with humor.

“There are many conflicts going on in the world, but otaku worldwide share a common bond,” Sakurai remarked.

“Perhaps if there were more otakus, the world would be more peaceful.”

On the main topic of the talk, he offers theories on why idols are popular, such as it being a Japanese-exclusive concept, and that it is historically ingrained into Japanese culture. He cites some striking, amusing similarities between historical performance venues and cafe-based performances in ancient times and the present-day idol- and theme-cafe- franchises.

Sakurai also notes that female otaku make up a larger proportion of the idol fanbase, perhaps in reassuring clarification to females in what some stereotype to be a male-dominated otaku interest.

DSC_7444

A handshake session at the now-defunct AKB48 Cafe Singapore branch. AKB48 is another large idol franchise of comparable size to H!P and is often commented to be able to attract young children and fashion-observant females, though there is a strong stereotype that most of their fans are pre-teen-and-older males. (Source: Supermerlion)

The remainder of the talk served mostly as video promotion for H!P. Sakurai treated the crowd to an AFA-exclusive interview with MoMusu, reminding audience that this may be the last time the crowd can see Sayashi, nickname for member Riho Sayashi who will be graduating on 31st December 2015. The message was recorded by Dailymotion user Ishida Ayumi Singapore, which begins at 1.05 in this video.

 

Sakurai followed up by a few hot-fave PVs from the group and slides attesting C-ute’s warm fan reception during their ℃-ute Cutie Circuit ~¡Vamos a México!~  concert in Mexico earlier in September 2015.

c-ute-mexico-announce-01

Key visual

The otaku chanted in enthusiasm to the dance-heavy PVs, with one male in the crowd mimicking the dance moves of his favorite girls.

With the of otaku all hyped up, he checked on how interested the people were for MoMusu to come to Singapore, and playfully suggests the crowd to snap a photo of themselves with the local Merlion icon and tag them and him on Twitter.

Sakurai bade the attendees farewell for return to Japan the same night, for yet another idol-related event – Kanon Fukuda’s graduation from ANGERME and the H!P franchise as a whole on the next day, 30th December.

Fukuda_Kanon_27335

Kanon Fukuda was an active member of the H!P franchise from 2004 to 2015 (Source: Hello Project Wikia)

The session as a whole ended with a photo-taking session for H!P fans and hung around for small talk with fans within the convention centre.

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Photo-taking with H!P fans

d

Sakurai stayed behind for individual photo-taking and visited other idol-related booths and performances that day, such as Iketeru Hearts at the CHEERZ booth and Nijicon

In the afternoon (Singapore time) of the passing of Sakurai, AFAchan released an article announcing so and confirming that the above-introduced channel was a monthly column providing readers insights into the Japanese entertainment industry, and Sakurai was reportedly editing their translations just the day before his passing.

J-Network‘s reporting team expresses our gratitude to Sakurai for offering his last insightful talk to the Singaporean fans and being given the honor to have attended and report on this public appearance.

“Takamasa Sakurai is a fantastic man. He has contributed a lot in the idol industry, despite only being as a promoter. It is definitely a huge loss and will be forever remembered. Sincere condolences to his family and may Sakurai rest in peace. Thank you for all your contributions.”
– J-Network Co-Founder, Muhd Shahlehin

Readers may offer their condolences by posting on the Timeline of his public Facebook account here.

Special thanks to the various attendees of the convention in spreading news of Sakurai’s passing to other attendees through word-of-mouth.

– Mikeru

Source: J-Network’s on-site reporting, NHK News Web, AFAchan, Anime News Network

Featured image taken from AFAchan’s initial reporting on Sakurai’s passing

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