Street fair season in San Francisco kicked off this this past weekend with the 47th annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Japantown. It tends to focus more on traditional Japanese culture – I arrived just as a Taiko drumming performance was ending – but it’s also a precursor to one of my most favorite festivals, also happening in Japantown, later this summer: the J-POP SUMMIT Festival. As the name implies, J-POP is a celebration of all things related to Japanese pop culture – as they put it, “the latest in Japanese music, film, art, fashion, games, anime, food, as well as” (my personal favorite) “niche subcultures” — and we got a preview in the form of an autograph and photo session with Ayumi Seto. She’s a Harajuku Kawaii model turned Aomoji-kei fashion designer, and I spoke with her about just what Aomoji-kei fashion is, as well as about the nerdy influences in her new clothing line, “Aymmy in the batty girls,” which takes most of its inspiration from American pop culture. (There are aliens and zombies involved.)
Even without all that, April 13, 2014 was just a nice day to be out in the world, particularly at the Cherry Blossom Festival. As is to be expected from a street fair in Japantown or elsewhere, there were plenty of delicious food options, including:
1) The Spam Musubi of Your Choice.
Musubi is structurally similar to sushi, but doesn’t qualify because the rice isn’t seasoned. I don’t eat non-seafood meat, but if I did, I would be all over spam-based products – mmm, salty – though I might be more inclined to get it from the booth run by local BSA Troop 58, since they had their very own Gene Belcher hawking in a musubi costume.
My companion Marta and I instead acquired our noms from the neighboring Wafudog, which offered delicious (and optionally vegetarian) Japanese gourmet hot dogs.
And, after finding physical fulfillment, one could also find spiritual enlightenment from one’s choice of…
2) Incredibly Strange Religions.
I’d never heard of Happy Science, a relatively new religion which humbly describes its founder as “a living Buddha and a savior,”, until I reviewed their anime movie The Mystical Laws for the Village Voice a couple years ago. As much as people have tried to find Scientology propaganda in Battlefield Earth, it’s got nothin’ on The Mystical Laws.
And speaking of Scientology, I really want to shake the hand of whoever laid out the booths for the Cherry Blossom Festival, because they were right across from Happy Science.
Also, an honest-to-goodness E-Meter!
I’ve never actually seen one out in the wild before – and, judging from the sleeker-looking model on the official website, it’s a slightly older model. I’ve gotten the impression that the San Francisco branch of Scientology isn’t quite as well funded as the Los Angeles presence; their storefront in my neighborhood is seriously dinky, even by storefront church standards. (Also, on behalf of the Voice Media Group, I’d like to send out my love to the Church of Scientology’s crack legal team.)
In any event, if a religion doesn’t involve a big inflatable rainbow, it ain’t for me.
But the real action was happening indoors.
3) New People: A Neat Place That Does Neat Things.
As they describe themselves, New People is an “entertainment complex” which “promotes the latest examples of Japanese popular culture expressed though film, art, fashion, and various events.” (And, between you and me, they also have heated toilets.) Not coincidentally, it’s also the heart of the J-POP festival, and where Ayumi’s appearance took place that day.
In a city with a dwindling number of movie screens, the New People Cinema is one of the newest and prettiest.
They show not just Japanese films (such as the Evangelion series, and, yes, The Mystical Laws), but all kinds of international, art, and niche cinema that might not get played elsewhere. I attended a press screening of The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure there in 2012, and it was one of my most surreal filmgoing experiences.
They also do film distribution! There are few sights lovelier to my eyes than a row of film cans.
New People also has rooms dedicated to the Real Escape Game, a LARP-ish live event in which teams solve puzzles, find clues, and work together to “escape” from a particular physical location; the game at the 2012 J-POP festival was Evangelion-themed, starting in the cinema and eventually becoming a scavenger hunt throughout Japantown.
I’ve never partaken in a Game myself, but I may well do so later this year and report back. The upcoming Escape from the Moon Base looks like fun.
But that’s for another day. I was there to see Ayumi Seto, and find out what this “Aymmy in the batty girls” business was all about. And it combines two of our favorite things…
4) Trashy Culture and Trashy Talk.
Ayumi-san’s “Aymmy in the batty girls” line is an homage to the American teenage culture late 1950s and early 1960s, or at least the popular images thereof; it’s the latest iteration of the nostalgia boom started by George Lucas’ American Graffiti, filtered through the sensibilities of a Japanese woman who was born 20 years after the movie came out, and is equally enthralled with 1980s pop culture.
MARUQ, the New People clothing boutique that specializes in Shibuya and Harajuku fashion, was turned into an Ayumi Seto pop-up shop, and appropriately decorated with plenty of appropriate ephemera representing the tastes of the line’s fictional muse Aymmy, a 17 year-old Los Angeleno. Her likes include your typical Slush Puppie machines and Mad Magazine books…
…your First Superman Books and Archie Jamborees…
…and your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Pac-Man tumblers.
And, as you may have noticed, the word “fuck.” Aymmy loves her some rock ‘n’ roll – particularly 1970s punk rock, as her favorite bands include the Ramones, the Clash, the Damned, and the Sex Pistols – but she more appropriately refers to it as “rock ‘n’ fuck ‘n’ roll.” The phrase appears in various places throughout the line, on shirts…
…and knee-high socks…
…and on a skirt, in one of the primary images of the campaign.
There’s even the occasional cheerful “Fuck Off!!” if you know where to look.
Every time I see “rock ‘n’ fuck ‘n’ roll,” though, I hear the famous bootleg of stage banter by Cronos, the lead singer of Venom. And it always makes me laugh.
Though her muse Aymmy seems like the type who would appreciate Cronos’s suggestion that she lay down her soul to the gods rock ‘n roll, I decided not to ask Ayumi-san if she was familiar with Venom during…
5. The Interview.
It took place on the top floor of New People, with the invaluable assistance of translator Yoko Hiki. (Thank you, Yoko-san!)
Sherilyn Connelly: How would you describe the Aomoji-kei style?
Ayumi Seto: Aomoji-Kei style is a very wide genre. It has people with girlish long skirts, and natural shirts, and then people with [my]style – more unique, with many colors. But the biggest difference between Aomoji-kei and Akamoji-kei – and Akamjoi-kei style is more for girls trying to be popular among guys – Aomoji-kei girls are more driven by what they have inside, by what they like, what they want to self express.
SC: So, it’s more individualistic, more personal.
SC: What precisely is a batty girl? Where does the word “batty” come from?
AS: The word ‘batty’ means ‘unique’ and ‘very different,’ an individualized style. Instead of how Akamjoi-kei are more concerned with how they’re seen, batty girls care more about self-expression. (pause) Also, the word sounded good.
SC: It does! Is the character of Aymmy based on anyone in particular? She reminds me quite a lot of Riff Randell (P.J. Soles) from Rock ‘n Roll High School.
AS: Exactly! In fact, Rock ‘n Roll High School is this year’s theme. And not just Riff Randell, but she’s one of the characters Aymmy is based on.
SC: What are some of the other girls in pop culture you’re paying tribute to?
(We actually spent the next few minutes collectively trying, and failing, to remember the names of the characters played by Didi Conn in Grease and Traci Lords in John Waters’ Cry-Baby.)
You describe Aymmy as a tomboy. How would you define what it means to be a tomboy? Is it more about the clothes, or the attitude and the point of view?
AS: Both. Aymmy is basically muse of the fashion line, and I thought about not only her name, but her lifestyle — she goes to high school and then works at a diner after, and I imagined what Aymmy would eat, what she would do with her spare time. So, being tomboy is not just about the clothing, but attitude, and everything about the girl.
SC: Are Aymmy’s favorite movies, like E.T. and Return of the Living Dead, yours as well? What’s your most favorite sci-fi / horror movie?
AS: I also like Child’s Play, Friday the 13th…and instead of getting inspiration from the movies themselves, I get inspiration from the girls who would watch those movies, and their lifestyle. But E.T. and Return of the Living Dead are my favorites, too.
SC: Final question: If you could have any celebrity wear your clothes, who would it be?
AS: (pause) Riff Randell!
…which does seem like a given, now that I think about it.
Though we were running late, Ayumi-san and I spoke for a few more minutes, because she liked my hair and had questions about it (and it turns out having a Harajuku girl half your age compliment your style doesn’t hurt your ego one bit)…
…but not for too long, because it was well past time for the main event.
6. The Session.
The first 50 people who bought Aymmy products that day got to partake in a photo & autograph session. Now, for reasons which elude me, my anecdotal supposition in the Terminator Too: Judgment Play article that Topless Robot’s readership’s skews to a certain extent toward the straight / male end of the spectrum proved to be controversial. As such, I will refrain from hypothesizing as to who may or may not enjoy the following pictures of very pretty girls.
It takes all kinds, certainly, including blond girls in kitty ears…
…and blond girls not in kitty ears.
There were also cute nerdy brunette girls…
…and slightly taller cute nerdy brunette girls. (Yeah, I’m calling her brunette for the purposes of this joke structure. An argument could be made that she’s blond, but let’s not.)
Black-haired girls also represented, sometimes alone…
…and in pairs.
And there were boys, too, some of whom had their biceps signed…
…and some who did whatever this is.
7. There’s More Goodness to Come at the J-POP SUMMIT Festival this July.
Ayumi-san will be back in July for the festival proper, and while not much else has been announced yet, there’s always plenty of neat stuff, including more cosplay than several sticks can be shaken at. It’s also concurrent with the Japan Film Festival in the New People Cinema, which last year featured local premieres of Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo, Wolf Children, and the live-action Space Battleship Yamato movie. More details as events warrant, and we’ll tell you about the cool stuff – and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a Hatsune Miku appearance.
Previously by Sherilyn Connelly: