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Almost a real girl: Meet Miku

INTERVIEW! Hatsune Miku is one of many successful pop stars in Japan, and the first that started out as a software. This highly advanced teen girl hologram is performing at HKW as part of Transmediale/CTM Feb 5-6 at 21:30.

Image for Almost a real girl: Meet Miku
Laturbo Avedon/Crypton Future Media

Mari Matsutoya brings holographic star Hatsune Miku to life in the Transmediale/CTM performance Still Be Here

Miku is the biggest star you’ve never heard of. Her girlish appearance (she’s 16 with long turquoise pigtails) belies her enormous success in Japan – her concerts are packed with tens of thousands of fans. Simply put, she’s huge. And she’s a hologram. 

Matsutoya’s Still Be Here is a headline performance featuring the corporate-owned Miku, who sings fan-generated songs using Vocaloid vocal synthesis software. The multimedia piece includes MikuMikuDance (user-generated freeware) stage sets put together by LaTurbo Avedon, holographic-illusion projection with Miku motion-captured by a dancer directed by Darren Johnston, and music by Laurel Halo. Tokyo-born, London-raised and Berlin-based Matsutoya discusses how and why Miku has risen to superstardom.

Who exactly is Hatsune Miku?

Miku’s attributes were thought up by an illustrator called Kei. But apart from her original clothing design and physical statistic – that she is 16 years old, 42kg and 158cm tall – her characteristics are left largely open to interpretation. Under Creative Commons licensing, users are free to use her image as long as it does not devalue the character and it is not for commercial gain. If you use other people`s interpretations of her, you have to credit them and say “thank you”. I think it’s very important to come to terms with the fact that she is essentially a marketing tool for the Vocaloid software series. Everything else is a projection of what we want her to be, and this is what I wanted to point at. I see the Japanese entertainment industry as a massive marketing feat that is very sensitive to how it is perceived by its global peers, selling them the image they want to see. A true soft power.

Is Hatsune Miku a typically Japanese star?

Japan has always had a knack for churning out pop stars with a slight imperfection, not quite perfect, believable enough to make them attainable in the eyes of the viewer. Now that the virtual pop star has arrived, and we can construct her the way we want, many fans will project imperfections onto her – and many declare that she is not perfect.

What’s the role of gender in the Hatsune Miku phenomenon?

I do think it is true that the female idol is perhaps more prone to objectification. If Miku were a boy, would there be as much online creative fervour put into pulling down his trousers? There is so much of this skirt-lifting or sexually explicit material out there that even the company she belongs to doesn’t invest much time or effort in controlling this aspect anymore.

What was the collaboration process like between yourself and the other artists and producers involved?

By using somebody else’s voice and the image of a virtual pop star, I was asking four established artists to leave their egos behind and assume the persona of an imaginary character whose persona is decided by the public. We all had our own ideas of who Miku is, so it was very challenging to sculpt one figure out of them all – but in the end, we realised we didn’t have to. In order to represent Miku and what she is, we wanted to refer to the many thousands of creative efforts behind her. In the end, we are adding to the snowball effect around Miku by layering our projections onto previous ones.

STILL BE HERE, Feb 5-6, 21:30 | Haus der Kulturen der Welt, John-Foster-Dulles-Allee 10, Tiergarten, U-Bhf Bundestag