Respect for Minami Takahashi: AKB48 Team A Open “M.T. ni Sasagu”!
AKB48 began a new chapter in their history as Team A opened their first original stage in 5 and a half years, “M.T. ni Sasagu” at the AKB48 Theater on February 10, 2016 and Tokyo Girls’ Update was fortunate enough to be at the dress rehearsal which preceded the opening performance that evening.
Although Rina Hirata did not appear on stage, she was given the task of reading the pre-show announcements in Japanese, English, and Chinese.
Deep pulsing synth notes accompanied the opening of the curtain, red beams of light cutting through the hazy air. Yui Yokoyama stood at center stage behind yellow caution tape strung up on the microphone stands and flanked by the rest of Team A, who looked out with arms crossed and steely eyes. Clutching the microphone for the megaphone hanging at her waist, Yokoyama spoke passionately about the quest for love, liberty, and peace, appearing more like the leader of a resistance heading off to battle rather than the leader of an idol group. Pumping their fists and chanting “M.T.”, Yokoyama waved them off, declaring that the time had come for the new stage to begin, punctuating with a fierce shout.
Tearing down the caution tape, Team A launched into the dark galloping hard rock of “Hajimaru.”, their hands extended as if scanning their perimeters, fingers extending and curling back into fists as they stood behind the microphone stands accented by red LEDs. The members spinning in quick succession, like the shockwave of an explosion traveling across the stage during the guitar solo, fog billowed out from behind them as they stepped forward, casting dramatic silhouettes.
Laser beams shot out as more fog floated through the theater. Nana Owada, Anna Iriyama, and Miru Shiroma kicked off the futuristic electro-disco party “Prime time” by removing their coats to reveal iridescent short sleeved dresses crisscrossed by fluorescent white stripes. The floor panels began moving up and down as the members moved their arms in quick, short geometric motions.
Shifting gears drastically, the etherial orchestral sounds of “Sagashite Ageru” resounded throughout the theater accompanied by bright lights as the doors at the back of the stage rotated open. Haruna Kojima followed by Miho Miyazaki, Miru Shiroma, Sakura Miyawaki, and Nana Owada emerged from the mist. Mayu Ogasawara stood at the front of an EXILE-like spin on the left side of the stage, several of the other members casting shadows as they spun in front of the flashing backlights. With its layered vocals and new age sound, “Sagashite Ageru” may be the only song in AKB48’s catalog that will ever be compared to Enya. Lingering for a moment, Kojima cast a single silhouette as she walked back through the doors and into the darkness.
Returning to the stage in the darkness, Anna Iriyama took the center position, flanked by Haruna Kojima and Sakura Miyawaki. After an introduction that teased a continuation of the previous song, the music accelerated and settled into “Lavender Field”, a midtempo pop rock tune that carries on the DNA of songs such as “Iiwake Maybe”, “Bingo!”, “Kataomoi Finally” (SKE48), or “Oh My God!” (NMB48).
Taking a short break, co-captain Mariko Nakamura reminded the others that it had been 5 and a half years since Team A’s last original stage “Mokugekisha” (A6). Yui Yokoyama pushed Haruna Kojima to make a comment only to receive a typically scatterbrained “We’re gonna do this again at 6pm, right?”, before reminiscing how they would be rehearsing until late at night before the opening day. Newly promoted draft member Yui Hiwatashi commented on the kindness of the other members and her happiness at being chosen for such a momentous performance (not actual translation of what she said).
Forgoing the usual member introductions, Sakura Miyawaki, Yui Yokoyama, Anna Iriyama, Megu Taniguchi, and Miru Shiroma remained on stage to talk about the new set list as the others left to prepare for the next songs. Yui emphasized that there was a period (maru) in “Hajimaru.” and seemed to echo the feelings of the others when she expressed how different the beginning of the stage looked with all the caution tape and lasers. Miru mentioned how the fog machines would make her cough during the rehearsals. Megu felt moved that she had an outfit with her name written on it for the first time as it was a completely new set list.
Haruna Kojima and Haruka Shimazaki moved to opposite sides of the stage to perform their duet “Risuke” (Reschedule), an animated film reflected on the wall behind them. Their voices reverberating coldly through the air, the pair avoided looking at each other until crossing over to the other sides of the stage and turning back away to face the front of the audience. It was one of the few appearances of Shimazaki, who seems to be taking things gradually as she recovers from her foot injury.
Nana Owada, Nanami Yamada, and Yui Hiwatashi skipped across the stage and kicked up their heels for the cute retro pop of “Seifuku Bikini”. Taking solos and flashing playful glimpses at their high waisted bikinis under their jackets, Nanami and Yui confirmed why they had been chosen to be a part of Team A on their opening day. Sitting on the raised middle panels of the stage, Yui and Nanami pretended to nap, their heads resting on Nana’s shoulders. Removing their jackets and raising their arms above their heads, the three smiled brightly and waved to the audience to end the song.
The middle panels lowered to reveal Anna Iriyama, Miru Shiroma, Megu Taniguchi, and Yukari Sasaki sitting in chairs and reaching out seductively to the dark electropop of “She’s gone”. Moving the chairs to the middle of the stage, they danced in a circle, climbing and kicking up their feet. The stage was enveloped in fog as the foursome returned to the center, tossing their hair and shooting a parting glance over their shoulder before walking off into the darkness.
Sakura Miyawaki appeared on the right of the stage in a frilly pink dress and beret adorned with roses for her solo song “Yume de Kiss me!”. Kicking up her heels and spinning her way across the stage, she exuded the presence of a performer from the bygone “Golden Age of Idols” (1980’s). Returning to center stage, Sakura made fans swoon as she invited them to kiss her in their dreams. Several staff members wearing pink “Sakura-chan” happi coats shook a silver sheet that had been placed on the stage, making it look like she was performing on a cloud.
The sheet dropped, revealing Miho Miyazaki, Mariko Nakamura, Mayu Ogasawara, Shizuka Oya, and Chiyori Nakanishi, who stepped forward draped in leather and denim. Oozing attitude and intensity, the quintet slithered their way across the stage to the smoldering rock of “Make Otoko” (rough translation, Loser Man), sinking their claws into Karen Iwata in a blonde wig and mens clothing.
Another shift in mood came as Yui Yokoyama took to the stage barefoot in a white dress “Tsuki to Mizukagami”, grasping the microphone with two hands as her voice reverberated through the theater. Bathed in blue overhead lights, she appeared to be a spirit singing under the full moon on a freezing winter night. Staring off into the distance after singing her final line, Yui turned and retreated through the doors at the back of the stage.
Mayu Ogasawara, Shizuka Oya, Chiyori Nakanishi, and Miho Miyazaki returned to the stage in raucous fashion to recap on the unit songs while the other members were preparing for the final stretch of the performance. They joked about how Iwata had to have special shoes on to appear taller for their song. Deciding to randomly call out one of the members from backstage, Nanami Yamada came running onto the stage in her outfit from the beginning of the stage, moving frantically in the presence of her seniors. Asking her who her favorite Team A member was, Nanami attempted to appease everyone by saying “everyone”, before caving in and answering Nana Owada. Oya jabbed that it was because they were in the same “hentai unit” (Seifuku Bikini) before asking if there was anyone in Team 8 that she disliked. Miyazaki added that there may be some members resenting her because she was selected to have a concurrent post in Team A. Just as it seemed that things were about to get really bad for Nanami, Miyazaki wished her “Happy Birthday” (February 9th) and lead her offstage.
Karen Iwata and Anna Iriyama appeared first kicking off the retro 1990’s R&B tune “Monzen-Nakacho Dance” with it’s rubbery bass line and funky glassy guitar strumming. Matching the era of the music, the members wore black and white outfits accented with fluorescent halter tops and baseball hats.
Continuing with the ’90’s vibe, the tempo picked up with the piano-centric “Konya, Gloria wa Dare ni Dakareru”, the members removing their jackets and swainging them around as they danced. Flipping the jackets inside out, the lights dimmed, revealing the glow-in-the dark designs on them. Flaring out their elbows and swinging their jackets around before tossing them through the open doors at the back of the stage, the members end with their hands raised high.
Turning the clock back another 2 decades, “Copy & Paste” is a campy disco song that sounds like it something The Village People would have come up with. The poppy movements and halter tops add to the 70’s aerobics class mood as the members set off a wave of robot dance moves and bopped around on the different levels of stage floor panels.
A competition to see which team had the most interesting talk had Mariko Nakamura, Natsuki Kojima, Sakura Miyawaki, and Yukari Sasaki sharing as stories as they could from the rehearsals for opening day. Karen Iwata, Miru Shiroma, Yui Hiwatashi, and Nana Owada took over the conversation, sharing how Nana had slapped Miru and Karen awake when they fell asleep during the dance practice for “Copy & Paste”. Yui expressed her amazement at Miho Miyazaki and Chiyori Nakanishi’s dance skills as she had only known them for being funny. In the end, neither team won. Yui Yokoyama and the rest of Team A returned to the stage, delivering another moving speech about Minami Takahashi.
Yokoyama started off “M.T. ni Sasagu”, standing at the center of the stage, followed by Sakura Miyawaki and Haruka Shimazaki. Taking turns singing their tribute to the heart and soul of AKB48 in their white dresses decorated with jewels in the shape of the letters M and T, the members took their places on both sides of the stage as scenes of Minami Takahashi played on a screen in the middle. Thanking the audience, Team A took a bow and left the stage.
As the members of Team A left the stage, the doors at the back were spun around to reveal a striking red and black portrait of Minami Takahashi, their respected leader.
The encore began with the members wearing sparkly gold, white, and black outfits adorned with showgirl feathers which shook as they skipped around to the funky “Show wa Owaranai”.
Molting their feathers as more fog covered the stage, Team A locked on to the hearts of the audience, taking aim with the cool rock number “Wink no Juudan”. Sensing the need for more firepower, they unholstered their pistols, brandishing their sidearms aggressively.
Mariko Nakamura thanked the audience again, going over the choreography for the final song “Namida wa Itsu no Hi ka” as it was the first time that they were performing it.
Haruna Kojima, Yui Yokoyama, Sakura Miyawaki, and Anna Iriyama sang the first lines of the song, which began slowly but quickly jumped into an uptempo big band-styled number. Keeping with the theme of the encore including props for each song, “Namida wa Itsu no Hi ka” had the members grabbing tambourines midway through and shaking them to the beat, exactly to the rhythm of the choreography that Mariko had taught before the song started.
Team A’s “M.T. ni Sasagu” is not only their first new theater set list in 5 and a half years and a tribute to AKB48’s most respected member Minami Takahashi, it is one of their most ambitious stages yet. Hopefully, it will not take this long for Yasushi Akimoto to put together another one. With fresh new members like Yui Hiwatashi and Nanami Yamada as well as the resurgence of veterans Miho Miyazaki and Shizuka Oya, there is much to build on as AKB48’s original team continue to pioneer their way into their second decade at the AKB48 Theater. Even if you have already seen the LOD, it is definitely worth your time to go and see it live in person!
Photos by Nathan Gey
Participating members: Anna Iriyama, Karen Iwata, Shizuka Oya, Nana Owada, Mayu Ogasawara, Natsuki Kojima, Haruna Kojima, Yukari Sasaki, Haruka Shimazaki, Miru Shiroma, Megu Taniguchi, Mariko Nakamura, Miho Miyazaki, Sakura Miyawaki, Nanami Yamada, Yui Yokoyama, Yui Hiwatashi
02 Prime time
03 Sagashite Ageru
04 Lavender Field
06 Seifuku Bikini
07 She’s gone
08 Yume de Kiss me!
09 Make Otoko
10 Tsuki to Mizukagami
11 Monzen-Nakacho Dance
12 Konya, Gloria wa Dare ni Dakareru
13 Copy & Paste
14 M.T. ni Sasagu
E1 Show wa Owaranai
E2 Wink no Juudan
E3 Namida wa Itsu no Hi ka
AKB48 official site: http://www.akb48.co.jp/
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