Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Exile and Avex: The Very Platonic Form of Shady-Ass Japanese Culture Industries

Just a quick note about an interesting tidbit I dug up a few days ago.  In my conversation with Kuzoku, the creators of the excellent film Off Highway 20 (my preferred translation of the title is a little different from the official one), we got to talking about the 'Yankee Culture' that is so central to their sensibility.  Yankee, in this case, refers of course to down-and-out proto-thugs who ride cheap motorcycles and generally don't have much going for them but their hair. There's a scene in Highway 20 where one of the main characters sings a Namie Amuro song in a karaoke box.  Amuro, along with  Ayumi Hamasaki and Exile, is under the Avex umbrella, though their levels of involvement vary and I've not dug deep enough to determine who's managed by Avex and who just releases their music on an Avex label.

Regardless, the Kuzoku guys painted Avex as pretty much specializing in "Yankee Culture."  Exile, with their deep tans, careful facial hair, and upwardly mobile bling-bling image, embody a certain 'neo-yankeeism' that has replaced the more rock-influenced, explicitly anti-authoritarian yankee ethos of the '70s and '80s.  Supposedly, EXILE sell pseudo-customized cars reflecting their "VIP" image, though a quick search didn't turn up evidence of that.  This is in stark contrast to the "chopped and dropped" customization style that prevailed among Yankee in the past.

Anyway, all that is sort of secondary.  The most arresting thing is that Avex both sell this new Yankee ethos and embody it through some pretty shady business practices. The best example is that Avex owns a lot of pachinko parlors, and gives out Exile CDs as prizes, while counting these as 'sales.'  Pachinko isn't legally supposed to constitute gambling for money, so counting these CDs as having been 'sold' in exchange for little metal balls seriously calls into question either Japanese gambling law or the Oricon charts.  I'm not sure which.

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