Rika Ishikawa came from Japan to appear at the New York Comic Con/New York Anime Festival combined event on October 8 & 9, 2010. A former member of girl group sensation Morning Musume, Ishikawa came in character as the “Angry” half of the punk/gothic rock duo, “Hangry & Angry,” formed in 2008 with her former partner in MM’s 4th Generation, Hitomi “Hangry” Yoshizawa. (See “Hangry Comes to AX” posted 9/2/09.) Ishikawa has also performed with other Hello! Project groups, including Tanpopo, Country Musume, V-u-den, and Ongaku Gatas. In addition, many American fans remember her as the villainess, Reika Akiyama, in the movie, YoYo Girl Cop (the English release title of Sukeban Deka: Codename Saki Asamiya, 2006), in which she co-starred with fellow Hello! Project pop star Aya Matsuura.
Ishikawa’s appearance in New York was also timed to coincide with the opening of an exhibit, “Japan Fashion Now,” at a museum based at the Fashion Institute of Technology, a private college in Manhattan. The exhibit included photo blow-ups of Hangry & Angry and a display featuring the actual dresses seen in the photos. This was Ishikawa’s first trip to the U.S. since Hangry & Angry performed at Sakura-Con in Seattle in April 2009.
Ishikawa-san consented to a short interview with Otaku USA, with interpretation provided by Yaz Noya, a Los Angeles-based representative for Japanese music companies.
Otaku USA: In 2009, you came to America for the first time and met American fans at Sakura-Con in Seattle. What was your reaction to American fans?
Rika: I was so happy to see girls around the same age wearing the same kind of outfit. I was very excited to see them.
How are American fans different from Japanese fans?
My impression was that in America there are more female fans than male fans.
In 2006 you did a movie, Sukeban Deka: Codename Saki Asamiya, in which you played the villain, bad girl Reika Akiyama. How did “Charmy” [Ishikawa’s popular nickname from her Morning Musume days] become Reika Akiyama?
Of course I was acting, for that character. But I felt really comfortable.
You did a great job playing her. I was surprised because you are normally so sweet and sunny, so “Charmy.” How did you make the transition to that character?
I was wondering, too. How could I do it? The director of the movie, Kenta Fukasaku, and I talked about the character. He gave me the advice and we really talked about the character so well. So, that’s how it happened.
Are you going to do more movies?
I wish I could.
You’ve been partnered with Hitomi “Yossi” Yoshizawa for ten years. What’s the best thing about working with her?
To me, Yossi is a very comfortable and soothing person. We never fought. Ever. She’s very comfortable to be with.
Yossi can be very strong and tough. Has she ever been strong or tough with you?
For her public image, Yossi is very tough and very strong, those characters. But in real life, she’s very sweet and a very easygoing person.
You did a solo song, “Omoide wa Kanata” on the “Nanni mo Iwazu ni I Love You” CD put out by V-u-den. Will you ever do a solo album?
It just happened that this one song was a solo project, but as Rika Ishikawa, yes, I’d like the challenge of being a solo artist.
When are you performing as Hangry & Angry again?
We don’t have a specific date yet. But we did a small tour in Japan and a small tour in Europe, so definitely the next target will be the United States.
Will there be another Hangry & Angry album?
We don’t have a specific date yet. But, yes, we’d like to make another one.
Are you learning English?
[in English] A little.
You’ve done singing, dancing, acting, fashion, sports, and hosting a TV show and you’ve done great at all of them. What else do you want to do in the future?
I love the challenge of new things, so anything that comes up I just jump in and try to do it.
Many fans consider 4th Gen (Rika Ishikawa, Hitomi Yoshizawa, Nozomi Tsuji, Ai Kago) to be the greatest thing that ever happened to Morning Musume. What made 4th Gen so great?
Right before the 4th generation, Morning Musume had a huge hit with “Love Machine,” so it was great timing that they had a huge hit and great popularity just before we joined, so everybody was really watching what we were doing. The timing was probably very good.
Do you have a message for your fans in New York?
I am really sorry for the fans this time that I’m by myself and cannot perform in front of you, but the next time I’d definitely like to perform in front of you guys.
* * *
On Saturday, October 9, Ishikawa appeared at two events. The first was a fashion show of “Hangry & Angry”-style fashions. The main guest there was Gashicon, a female designer working for H. Naoto, the designer/brand responsible for Hangry & Angry in the first place. As it was explained, Naoto designed the original fashions for Hangry & Angry while Gashicon designed the characters and the later fashions. The show featured eleven models, plus an appearance by Ishikawa. Gashicon was then interviewed briefly by Yaz Noya, as was Ishikawa, mostly about fashions and brands.
Ishikawa returned an hour later to do a Q&A with fans. Approximately 200 fans turned out, filling up two-thirds of the room as Ishikawa took questions from Yaz Noya and then from the audience, with New York-based translator Mari Morimoto interpreting for Ishikawa. A pleasant and informal give-and-take occurred between Ishikawa and her fans as the star warmed up to the crowd and the fans felt free to express themselves. It helped that Morimoto chose to replicate Ishikawa’s particular inflections when translating her comments into English. Following are some choice excerpts from the Q&A.
When she was asked about her reaction to seeing Hangry & Angry featured in the fashion exhibit at the FIT Museum, here’s what Ishikawa had to say:
Rika: Well I just went yesterday and I have to say there was an image of me that’s about as big as the screen over there, so I had to take many pictures of that.
Yaz: For the first time you saw all the pictures and display, you are on the wall and on the banners, what did you think?
Honestly, I never imagined that in such a big city like New York there’d be such a big “me” as well. I was really surprised. And the only thing I’m really sad about is that Hangry couldn’t come with me.
Q: Do you feel any big difference between New York and any other cities or New York audiences and other cities?
Well, actually one particular memory already is that yesterday when I was walking around in my Angry outfit and I was passing over the subway grates, suddenly there was a gust of air and it reminded me of that scene, the famous scene that Marilyn Monroe has and that doesn’t happen in Japan because we don’t have those grates so I said, ‘Oh, I really feel like I’m in New York now.”
[Author’s Note: In the 1955 Hollywood comedy, The Seven Year Itch, there is an iconic scene where the star, Marilyn Monroe, stands atop a subway grate and the air sends her white dress billowing up, giving passersby a view they’d never forget.]
Yaz: At anime conventions and Japanese culture conventions, there are lots of fashionable people and cosplayers. What is your impression of them?
Well, I know that the first time I went to Sakura-Con in Seattle, I was absolutely amazed to see so many people either cosplaying anime characters or, when I did my live concert, so many people dressed, like today, either as Hangry or Angry and I remember talking to Hangry about that.
Yaz: You kind of transformed the character. When you dressed as Rika Ishikawa or when you dressed as Angry, the character changed. How did the character change?
It’s kind of a tricky question, but honestly, once I put the makeup on and wear the clothes I somehow automatically slip into Angry’s personality, but I have to admit there are times when I kind of get confused which one I am.
Q: What do you think about the fans you have here in the states so far?
You guys are so passionate.
Q: If you were here at the festival as an attendee instead of a guest, whom would you cosplay as?
Sailor Moon. [Wild applause] Only because I kind of grew up with Sailor Moon, but actually my favorite character is not Moon, but Sailor Mercury.
Q: Do you ever look back and miss your days being part of Hello! Project and Morning Musume?
I really love myself and I try to support myself, and so I always pull out the old DVDs to kind of empower myself and keep me going. [Wild applause]
Q: How do you feel about the opening of the west to your music, the reception of it and the future of it?
Well, the first time I found out our CD was going to be sold outside of Japan, I was surprised more than anything else. It wasn’t just that I was happy, but I was really shocked and since then there’s been all sorts of other opportunities, like being able to give a concert in Seattle, or to be able to tour Europe. I have to say it’s really amazing and very endearing to me that there are fans who support us outside Japan and I’d like to keep going everywhere, not just where I’ve been before but new places, and meet new people, and continue to spread Hangry & Angry fashion and music wherever I can.
Q: What’s your most funny story involving meeting a fan?
Well, actually just today on my way here, I was kinda half Rika Ishikawa and half Angry. I was wearing the clothes, but I didn’t have the accessories on yet. And of course I had my natural hair which is brown as opposed to the black hair that Angry has and I ran into a fan and I was like, ‘Oh dear, that might not have been good.’
Q: What’s your favorite American artist or do you prefer any particular genre of American music?
I do love American music quite a bit and I listen to quite a lot of it. I have to say recently, it might be Katy Perry. I want to BECOME Katy Perry. She’s so cute.
Fan: You’re cuter!
[in English] Thank you.
Fan: Katy Perry should become YOU! [Laughter and applause from the crowd]
That could be kind of cool.
* * *
As the session ended, Noa Avital, aged 16, from Teaneck, NJ, exclaimed, “I could die right now, I’m really happy.” I later questioned other fans while in line for the second of Ishikawa’s two signing sessions. There was a general wish for Hangry & Angry to come to the U.S., particularly New York, for a tour. The fans generally liked the fashions associated with the act and Danny Roldan, 35, from New York, insisted, “I would like to see her own fashion designs, ‘Designed by Rika.’” Alice Sedlak, 24, from Pittsburgh, said, “Seeing that fashion show made me realize that I need to get a fantastic paying job, ’cause I need to own some of those clothes!” Speaking after all the events, Imani, 19, from New Rochelle, NY, had this to say about Rika’s appearance as “Angry”: “I love the style and music so I was very happy she was coming as Angry. However, she did not come as herself so it sorta changed the experience for me. I feel like if she had come as Ishikawa Rika, my experience would have been a bit different. Then I could associate her with Morning Musume, V-u-den AND Hangry & Angry, not just Hangry & Angry. But in the end, I was just ecstatic that she was able to come to the festival. It has been my dream to meet someone from a group I listen to.” Even Noa “die happy” Avital had second thoughts: “I was a little upset that she was ‘Angry’ and not ‘Rika-chan’ because, although I love Hangry & Angry, I really wanted to talk to Rika.”
The “Japan Fashion Now” exhibit is currently on display (extended through April 2, 2011) at the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum in Manhattan on 27th Street and Seventh Avenue. Giant photo blow-ups of Hangry & Angry greet visitors in the main lobby and on the stairway down to the exhibit. The exhibit itself features two Hangry & Angry dresses and a 17-minute video loop containing the act’s music videos and footage of them touring and performing. As a longtime fan who has now interviewed both Hangry and Angry for Otaku USA, I was quite gratified to see them featured so prominently in a major New York venue.