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Interview with Derek Vasconi

15/06/2021 2021-06-15 14:00:00 JaME Author: ChrisN Copyeditor: Christine

Interview with Derek Vasconi

We take a look behind the scenes of a behind the scenes documentary.

© The Flowers of Passion

© The Flowers of Passion
There’s no business like show business. The Japanese pop idol industry generated 200 billion yen annually at its recent peak in 2017. The biggest idol groups fill stadiums and the pop charts, shifting boatloads of merchandise, but what of the idols at other end of the spectrum? The bottom rung of the idol career ladder is so far from the dizzy heights of the Budokan that it’s literally often found in a basement.

The chika (underground) idol scene is a fascinating corner of Japan’s music industry. Its independent idol groups toil away at their craft, scraping a living performing in front of small but dedicated fandoms in tiny, grungy venues, and making the most of their below-the-radar freedom to take their creativity in all sorts of different directions.

This often overlooked sector of Japan’s idol world forms the subject of a new documentary series, “The Flowers of Passion”, by Derek Vasconi, an American ex-pat who uprooted his life and moved to Tokyo to work in the chika idol business. Recently, we had the opportunity to ask him about the creation of the series and some other projects he's been working on to bridge the gap between Japanese idols and their fans overseas.

Could you please introduce yourself to our readers and explain a bit about how you came to be involved in the Tokyo underground idol scene?

Derek Vasconi: Hello everybody! My name is Derek Vasconi. I currently live in Tokyo and work with Japanese idols!

It’s a bit of a long and strange journey for me as to how I actually ended up working with Japanese idols, but the usual story I like to tell about how I ended up working with Japanese idols goes a little something like this:

More than a few years ago, I was the guitar player and founding member of the hardcore/metalcore/spazzcore group, FROM A SECOND STORY WINDOW. I toured America and Canada several times over, released two albums that had my songwriting chops on them, and basically, lived the rock star life for several years, until I decided to pursue other creative endeavors. I went back to school, got a degree, and then started to do fiction horror writing. I was particularly inspired by Japanese horror movies at the time, so, I decided to take several research trips over to Japan and learn as much as I could about Japanese people, Japanese customs, and get into as much scary stuff as I could there. Everybody knows that Japan is the home of completely bonkers horror stories and movies!

During one of those trips, I had decided to check out the underground music scene in Tokyo. This was because I had seen on somebody’s online blog a video of Guso Drop doing their very violent thing, and I decided that’s exactly the kind of live event I wanted to check out while I was in Japan. So, I somehow figured out how to attend one of Guso Drop’s shows and…that show changed my entire life.

I can’t explain why, or how it did, except…there was this energy, this sort of intensity that was at once both very beautiful (the Guso Drop members are all strikingly gorgeous!) and very violent…and in some kind of weird way…it reminded me of playing music back in the day. The American hardcore and metal community sported a similar vibe, except perhaps the part about the performers being gorgeous! Most of the guys in hardcore and metal were sweaty, tatted up dudes (like myself!).

Fast forward a few years later, and I went from being a fan of idols to working with them, as I decided that this is exactly the kind of creative space that I want to live in, possibly for the rest of my life. It took a lot of work, including me doing a sort of on-the-job training working directly with a popular idol group. Their manager kind of showed me the ropes as to how it all works in the scene. And yeah…I listened, I learned (and I am still learning, I might add), and most of all, I began to change everything about my perception of idols and what they meant to me. And now, I’ve trekked off on my own and have involved myself with hundreds of idols these days. It’s unreal to even think about the journey I’ve been on so far, and it’s also something I hope to continue doing long into the future.

What inspired you to start promoting Japanese idols overseas? Is it fair to say you’ve made it one of your missions in life to bring Japan’s idols to the world?

Derek Vasconi: Indeed, it’s a huge passion of mine to help bring Japanese idols to the rest of the world. I think, for me, it’s something that I did for several reasons. First…I saw a need for this. There aren’t that many people who are even doing anything like this at all. I mean, some people who I’ve inspired have picked up the reins and have started podcasts, or companies, in order to help idols spread their music past the borders of Japan. But I am trying to do it on a prolific scale…from creating online cheki sessions where foreign fans can speak directly to these idols, to creating photobooks for some of the idols who I find particularly interesting, creating live events both in Japan and overseas for the idols, making documentaries about the chika idol scene, and anything else that I can think of doing to help grow the idol fanbase on a worldwide level.

I think I got inspired to do this because the foreign fans, in particular, have been overwhelmingly supportive of me and what I’m doing here. They are looking to me quite a lot these days as somebody to keep them all connected to the idols they love, being that most people can’t come to Japan and see the idols, due to the pandemic that’s raging on in the world.

There’s also a personal side to this for me though...I love the idols I work with. Deeply love, in fact. I would take a bullet for any single one of them. I’ve come to look at them as my kids, in a way, and I do my best to protect them and promote them and give them new opportunities to share their wonderful music and messages. Some of the producers of these groups I really love and respect as well, as they are musicians themselves. I tend to get into these huge talk sessions with these producers about music, since they know who I am and what I’ve done in my past, and they have a lot of respect for me as a musician as well. It is kind of an artist thing, if you will, that we are trying to help each other out through our working together.

And it’s also a community thing, too, I think. The Japanese fans accepted me a long time ago as one of their own, and that helped me a lot to feel like I was doing something good and right. The Japanese fans want to see their favorite idols succeed on a global scale. So, the Japanese fans tend to be very grateful for the work I’m doing for the idols.

Here’s an example:

I remember once, during the American tour I put together for Oyasumi Hologram, the biggest Japanese fan of the group came over to me during the first show of the tour, picked me up, put me on his shoulders, and lifted me to the front of the stage, so I could do the whole “Kecha” movements to Hachi and Kana. I did it and received thundering applause from everybody (Hachi and Kana couldn’t stop smiling as well), and really, I was overwhelmed, since staff never gets to do these things, and afterwards, several of the Oyaholo fans came up to me and told me that for this fan to do this to me was considered like a HUGE honor. It meant that he accepted me as part of Oyaholo’s tight circle of fans that go to every show back in Japan and now...thanks to me, abroad as well.

Talk about inspiration, you know?

"The Flowers of Passion" is your debut as a documentary filmmaker and rather than dipping your toes in the water with a short film you’ve decided to dive in head first with a five-episode, five hour series. Was that structure the plan all along or it did it take on a life of its own?

Derek Vasconi: Ah, yes, that was me being me and not being able to just do something short and sweet. I tend to always dive in head first and get super deep into whatever I’m interested in. I never wade in shallow waters…it’s boring to me. So, yeah, the plan was, originally, to do a two and a half hour documentary movie. But that was impossible, as I had recorded so much footage for the documentary and had gotten unprecedented access to a ton of idol groups. So, so many groups and idols came on board for what I was doing and thought this was an incredibly beautiful project! So, I ended up just filming and filming, way past what I had originally thought I was going to film.

For example, I hadn’t planned to film Hanako-san recording a new song in the studio. Hanako-san messaged me one evening and asked me if I wanted to include this in the documentary. How could I say no to Hanako-san? So, I figured I would go and record and see what happened. As it turned out, that became one of the most talked about segments of the entire documentary! And with Saka-Sama, for example…I hadn’t planned on doing things with the group except recording their live event, to give a backdrop to Mizuho’s story. But, Mizuho and Kokone were both so incredibly kind to me that day that I was filming, as was the TRASH UP!! Staff, and also the Saka-Sama fans, that I ended up doing things like walking behind the Saka-Sama girls as they made their way from the lobby of the venue all the way to the stage (this was perhaps THE most loved moment of the entire documentary, as told to me by an overwhelming amount of fans who saw the documentary!), the Saka-Sama buppan time in which one of THE most famous Bellring Fans allowed me to record her talking to Kokone, and also a very, very funny segment in which Mizuho and Kokone took my camera and just left me and began to film themselves doing all kinds of silly things. I didn’t even know where the girls took off with my camera…they were like two little kids having fun with a new toy or something! When I watched the footage they recorded of themselves later on, I laughed hysterically. It was so unbelievably…Mizuho and Kokone! I can’t put it any other way than this. Totally silly, crazy, funny…and genuine. Sadly, I couldn’t put that part in the documentary (due to how haphazard and random what they recorded was), was things like that which I guess you could say, wasn’t planned at all?

Yet, for me, that’s part of the creative process. I like to create songs, for instance, that are only sometimes 90% done, and then while working on these songs with people, I like to see what my writing team comes up with, or what happens during the evolution of the song, in order to get that magical extra 10%, which always ends up being the…je ne sais quoi of the songs that people end up loving the most.

That’s not to say that I didn’t have a plan or shooting schedule. I definitely did. But it evolved over time into something much different than what I ended up with, since I began to really focus in on the six stories or so that appear in the current form of the documentary. I then had to film some additional scenes to support those particular stories, while cutting out other parts of the documentary too (due to certain things happening that were out of my control, etc.).

I should point out at this time that I’ve never filmed anything before. But I knew that the world I worked in NEEDED to be filmed…so I did it, mistakes and all. I hope that I succeeded in doing something worth everybody’s time and attention, and most of all, I hope I did the idols right with what I showed in the documentary about their lives and their work.

In the documentary you use the phrase “Here today, gone today” to highlight the impermanence of things in the idol world. The documentary took more than a year to make, so did changes on the idol scene over that time have an effect on the documentary as you were making it?

Derek Vasconi: I am actually the person who invented this phrase. It’s something that is both what’s beautiful about the idol world and what’s so tragic about it too. But in terms of how you are applying this phrase to my own project, I think it particularly lends itself to describing more of the difficult side of creating something this large and expansive over the course of a year and a half. The idol scene changed but…it’s always changing, you know? Like, new idols show up out of nowhere and then everybody jumps on their bandwagon, and then old idol groups out of nowhere decide to call it quits...these things are normal in any music scene though, I think. It’s not just exclusive to the idol world, except perhaps that the turnover rate in idol in terms of girls who come and go tends to be a lot. That being said…several graduations affected what I put into the documentary, as well as idol groups gaining new members and so on.

For example, I had filmed Zombie Powder, Squall, and MelonBatake a go go, and I was going to put all of them into my documentary. In Zombie Powder and Squall’s case, I just wanted to show their live footage only, but then both of those groups re-formed and added/subtracted/added again a bunch of new members before my documentary was ready to be finished. Add to that, Squall went back to being Kaishin no Ichigeki, and yeah…my footage of them didn’t make any sense to include in the documentary. It had become too outdated by the time I was ready to release the documentary this year.

In Melon’s case, I had actually filmed Yuffie’s birthday live and was onstage with them and that footage might have been the very best footage I shot in the entire documentary. I also had an interview with the Melon girls that was super fun and interesting. I had planned to do a lot more with them but then Rukatama left the group and…well, it just didn’t feel like what I had filmed should be in the documentary anymore. Ruka was a huge part of the group, in my opinion, and she featured prominently in all of the footage I had of Melon. So yeah…the idol scene changing definitely meant not showing some groups I really wanted to highlight at this time. That was more than disappointing to me, on many different levels too, but…it’s also to be expected, I suppose. This is idol, after all.

You must have shot a ton of footage to make five hours of content. Was there anything that ended up on the cutting room floor that you wish you could have included?

Derek Vasconi: I think I just answered that question with my comments above, but yeah…I had filmed over eight gigabytes of footage. I have literally entire hard drives filled with footage that didn’t make it to the final cuts of each episode. I also had a large portion of the documentary dedicated to a few groups that pulled out either towards the beginning of the editing process and in one case, at the very end of the editing process, which was beyond devastating to me. One group in particular I had financially sunk months and months of editing their footage and getting it perfect, in terms of cuts, background music scored, color grading…and then they decided to say no and pulled out a few weeks before I was going to release the documentary. To this day, I still don’t understand why they did this. The reasons they gave me made absolutely no sense at all. It was definitely a particular kick straight into my heart considering WHO the group was and what this group meant to me personally. That, and the footage I got of them was insane and would have truly thrust people into the underground idol scene’s more…violent and edgier side. I saw their story really getting some people into the idol scene who have never even heard of idol before but maybe would have happened to see my documentary somewhere. That was a large part of the documentary’s overall story arc as well. I had to redo so much because of this unfortunate incident, so…that broke my heart and made releasing the documentary somewhat bittersweet for me.

Agencies and management can be very protective of their artist’s image. What was it like getting idol groups to agree to participate in a behind the scenes documentary?

Derek Vasconi: Yeah, it was not the easiest thing in the world to accomplish. That’s for sure! Some of the idols who participated in the documentary definitely had to speak behind that veiled wall of management. I won’t say who in particular, but I honestly felt at one point that if I could speak to these idols alone, privately, I would have got some very different answers than what I had received, in regards to the questions that I wanted to ask these idols.

That being said, I had developed some pretty solid relationships with all of the idols and their management teams long before this documentary ever got started. They all gave me their trust pretty quickly and without really asking me to hold back too much, simply because they believed in my vision and knew me from attending countless shows as a fan of theirs years ago and being their staff, in some cases, many times after I switched from being a fan to being idol staff. It was like being interviewed by "one of their own", and not some outside news reporter who might have some kind of “other” agenda for interviewing them. I promised that I would do one thing for each of them, and that was to let my camera tell their story. I would not manipulate or edit their story in any way, shape, or form to tell MY story or agenda. And that’s exactly what I ended up doing.

I know this might not seem connected at all to what I just wrote, but…I was allowed to be onstage for a lot of the live events that I had filmed. I was able to literally stick my camera within inches of the faces of these girls as they performed. I wanted to really, really give the perspective of a live event from how the idols see it, and…this was the hardest thing of all to receive permission for, in regards to management and the idols themselves. That stage is a very sacred space for all idols, and very few fans ever step foot upon it, let alone some white dude with a camera doing an idol documentary. I was probably a major eyesore for the Japanese fans to have to endure during the many times I was onstage with the idols. And yet…the fans were extremely gracious and kind to me. They could see what I was trying to do, and, again, many of the fans at these shows knew me or knew who I was already, so it wasn’t like I was a total stranger doing a strange thing at these idol lives.

The end result? Pure, nearly unfiltered idol magic.

I’m telling you…being able to stand next to Miku as she sang Nanomoral’s songs acoustically, staring at that giant smile she always has on her face while tears dripped from my eyes because of how beautiful her voice sounded, all the while trying to keep the camera steady…there is nothing that can compare to this moment in my life. Or being onstage as the absolute joy flowed from the dance moves and songs sung by the Avandoned girls, especially as they poked fun at me while performing…I’ll never forget this moment as long as I live. I felt that energy…that intensity that radiated from the stage and…I think that is something that the management eventually could figure out was my goal and they just let it happen as it needed to happen. Most of them did, I should say. Some, as I mentioned, felt their space onstage was a little too sacred for me to stand on it, and I accepted that as well. I still was able to get some absolutely incredible shots from many angles all over the venue, and in every single idol’s case, from the even more sacred and rarely seen backstage environments too. That…that was even a bigger privilege than standing on the stage…and this, too, happened because I promised to let my camera just capture whatever it captured, and stayed true to being honest about telling the stories of these girls, even when the camera usually is NOT pointing directly at them.

Interviewing idols can sometimes be a bit tricky, as answers will often be filtered through stage personas and various layers of management approval, but the interviews in your documentary contain some particularly revealing and emotional moments. How were you able to draw out such honest and open responses from your interview subjects?

Derek Vasconi: Well, a lot of the reason why I could get the girls to be really honest with me was because I very carefully explained the point of this documentary to each of them and I let the girls know that I couldn’t really show who they are if they hid who they were from me. So they mostly all agreed to show me who they really are.

I also had hired an absolutely amazing person to help me with the interviews. Her name is Ann, and she was part of a somewhat famous Manzai group in Japan. She’s bi-racial (half-Japanese, half-Caucasian), and speaks fluently in both English and Japanese. Her interview style was very sensitive and easygoing. It was always more of a conversation than an interview when she talked to the idols, if that makes sense. And I think the combination of how relaxed each interview felt almost immediately, due to Ann’s incredible interviewing capabilities, and the fact that Ann was a woman who could relate to these idols on some level, due to being a performing artist herself, really helped the idols unravel in the interviews.

In addition to this, I have to take some credit too…I constructed a lot of questions that I felt could allow the idols to safely and carefully open up to me as they wanted or needed to. I have a degree in psychology and was a mental health counselor for six years, prior to coming to Japan, so, I had done thousands of hours of interviewing mental patients as part of my job. I felt like I could avoid conversational landmines with the idols for this reason, because doing so in my former job sometimes could mean the difference between life and death for the mental patients I worked with. Not even exaggerating by saying this.

I also made it a point to be very, very careful with the idols because I knew a lot about each of them already. I knew where they were coming from in their lives, in terms of some of the personal things that both were stated on camera, and the many, many, many things that I’d never put on camera, due to how deeply personal it is and that I feel nobody should ever hear or know about. I was not going to sabotage them and manipulate their words. I would never do that to any idol. I care about them way too much to do something like that.

One thing though that kind of stood out…Chihiro’s story, which is by far the most emotionally heartbreaking story in the entire documentary, that was all Chihiro. She 1000% came to the interview wanting to share her story with me. I didn’t have to even ask the hard questions with her. Me and her had an instant connection the day that I met her, and she knew right away that we should work together. So, I had become Merry Bad End’s direct staff support right around the time I had started filming the documentary. And she just decided that she needed to get out of her heart the painful things she talked about in the documentary. And because we had already worked together a bunch, I think she felt I could be trusted.

And yeah…that interview, was rough, rough, rough! At one point, she was crying so much…and I was crying, and Ann I think even had tears in her eyes…it was really emotionally hard…but, I asked Chihiro afterwards when the interview was finished if this was okay to include in the documentary…and she gave me a very firm “HAI”. And so…I salute that girl for her bravery. Her management team supported her completely in this brave decision too…and I have to give them all the credit in the world for letting her do this with me.

But you know what? The sad part is that a lot of idols have similar stories as hers…yet they don’t tell a single soul about it.

I can only imagine if I had more time and more idols willing to share what really happens to them when they go home after the idol lives…

Japan’s idol subculture doesn’t get much media coverage internationally, and when it does it’s often negative in tone, framing a narrative of women being exploited in pursuit of their idol dreams and their fans as obsessive, middle-aged men with an inappropriate interest in young girls. From your experience of working in the idol industry is this narrative wide of the mark and did rebutting it form part of your motivation to make the series?

Derek Vasconi: I will admit, the documentary that came out about Japanese idols a few years ago, which was made by some Japanese feminist who had zero idea of what she was talking about or doing while dipping her toes in the shallow part of the idol universe that she tried to say was representative of idol as a whole, that documentary kind of motivated me to tell the “real” story of idols. Because that documentary did a lot of damage to a lot of people I know. And it was totally manipulated to make the Japanese fans look horrible and wretched, the idols look naïve and like slaves to their managers, and the management teams look like money-hungry sex traders. It was just unreal how narrow of a vision and scope that documentary was, and sadly, the world supported this documentary, gave it awards, and never bothered once to see if there was actually more to the story than what this Japanese woman’s manipulative documentary had shown.

Add to this the fact that every time the Japanese idol industry is mentioned by foreign media outlets, the first thing they do is comment on the “ojisan” fans, Minegishi Minami being “forced” to shave her head for breaking her contract rules (which is a total lie; Miichan did that all on her own, even going against her management team’s insistence to “NOT” shave her head), and so on…it’s just ridiculous how lop-sided and scary the western media portrays the idol world. I always tell people that this portrayal is like if you were to go check out a house for sale and the realtor takes you inside, opens up a closet that’s full of dirt in one of its corners, and then tells you to stare at that dirt for hours and hours…I mean, yeah, it’s part of the house, but does that pile of dirt tell the whole story of that house? NO!

Is the idol industry perfect…not by a longshot. The real problems that idols face every day and the fans face every day have nothing to do with what the Western media latches onto and views as “questionable,” or just plain “creepy” or “weird". What’s weird to everybody in this business is how so many foreigners are quick to judge the idol industry, but don’t spend a single second inside of a live house, or do a cheki with an idol, or even know the reasons for things like mixing, wotagei, and buppan time, etc. It’s been, in the past, very infuriating to me.

Yet the documentary I was trying to make was never intending to be a rebuttal, per se. I think it can be seen as a rebuttal because it’s, for a change, actually an HONEST representation of the actual, day-to-day operations of the chika idol industry. I could make a whole documentary about why the Western view of idols in Japan is completely screwed up on so many different levels, but…meh. It’s also a story that I am starting to care less and less about telling because I am too busy dealing with actual, REAL problems that should be addressed in the idol world now. Things like the hypocrisy of how idol staff and venues that hold idol shows are responding to the pandemic with their regulations (both their enforcement and lack thereof, in some cases). And also how it seems that some of the idol groups I know seem hellbent on not making any money, or not caring enough about their foreign fanbases, and my constant battle of trying to get them to care about being profitable and realizing there’s this whole large, beautiful world outside of Japan that juuuuusssst maaaaybe might have a few people living in it that would like to jump down the idol rabbit hole…if somebody would just take the time to show these potential fans how to do so.

Your documentary captures the essence of chika idol culture and how much of it is about being at the live venue, interacting and getting photos taken with the idols in person, and being part of a community of fans. You’re working to bring idols to an international audience but how do you replicate that idol experience and community for overseas fans?

Derek Vasconi: I think the documentary was an attempt at this kind of replication of the live experience. I would like to do more documentaries that dig even deeper and go even further into exploration of this business I’m involved in. Though now…I could tell a much bigger and deeper story, since I work with over 46 different idol groups at this time and as I said earlier, hundreds of individual idols too. The problem, however, in me wanting to do this, is that I don’t have the funds to make another, even bigger idol documentary series. I literally spent every penny I had in my savings account to make the five episodes that comprise "The Flowers of Passion". I received no help from any institution or anybody in the idol industry either, save for the foreign fans who believed in me enough to help me out when they could. That’s it. Just a few fans. So now, I’m totally in major debt because I went out on a limb to tell this story, but…all I can think about is how if I had the budget, I could tell so, so many more stories about the chika idol world that would blow people’s minds! And it would definitely bring the chika idol world directly into the front and center of the lives of people all across the globe. I would do it in a heartbeat if given the opportunity and resources.

Until this happens though (if it ever does), I’m going to keep doing things like I’m doing now, which include doing interviews every single month with idols and idol groups. I am doing this in collaboration with an Italian idol blog fansite, who funds the interviews. I arrange the interviews, film them, and then get my video editor to edit the videos and then subtitle the videos into English.

Additionally, I will continue to run Idol Underworld, the website I have created for the foreign idol fans, so that foreign fans can easily purchase the goods and cheki of all of these idols that I work with. Lately, I’ve been setting up online cheki sessions every month with idol groups. Fans can purchase the online cheki tickets right from Idol Underworld, and then the fans will communicate directly with the idols at the online cheki sessions via a livestream I’ve set up for them. I do a lot of translations during these sessions, as the fans ask questions via a chat area on the livestream. I want to create the experience of doing a cheki with an idol and I think I’ve done that via these online cheki livestreams. And they are lots of fun too and often filled with random craziness from the idols! One idol named Miho, for example, spent about thirty minutes pretending to chew like various farm animals, and had the foreign fans guess which farm animal she was. The problem was that every single instance of a farm animal chewing looked EXACTLY the same as all the other farm animals that Miho was imitating! So this resulted in me laughing to the point where I nearly fell off my chair, and the foreign fans all laughing for days and days after the session was over, and creating memes and talking about it endlessly on SNS! They STILL are talking about it!

Not only will I continue to do this kind of fun stuff for foreign fans, I’ll also do livestreams of live events I am producing and setting up myself. For example, in August of this year, I am doing the second annual birthday live event…for MYSELF!

Now, before you think I’m arrogant and smug…the reason I’m doing this is because I have a brand name recognition in both who I am to these foreign fans and the Japanese idol groups and also because I know that by getting fans to watch because of me being involved with the live event, these fans will be exposed to new groups they potentially have never seen live. The first birthday live I did in this fashion was last year and that’s exactly what happened. Take groups like Last Question and Odoro who performed at my event. These are both groups who are incredibly well known and beloved here in Japan, yet many foreign fans tuning into my birthday live had NO idea who either of these groups were. But after seeing them perform on my livestreamed birthday event, those groups gained a whole bunch of new foreign fans. This was my plan all along. And I want to keep doing stuff like this at every birthday event…give a lot of groups a chance to be seen for the very first time by foreign fans who will tune in because it’s my birthday event.

And also…I just think doing silly things like having a birthday event for myself is pure fun! I like tongue-in-cheek, stupid humor, and “PROUDLY” announcing a birthday event in my OWN honor, I felt, took the proverbial cake! It’s all in good fun and to encourage people to check out idols, of course, and based on how successful this was last year…I am going to do it again this year. And I hope for many more years to come!

What projects do you have lined up next?

Thanks so much for asking this question! I always have lots of projects I am trying to do, but right now, I’m focused on finalizing my line-up for my birthday live event in August (August 28th - look out for the livestream tickets!), promote my documentary and try to get new websites online to review it and maybe even show it to people. I also want to keep expanding Idol Underworld’s roster of idols, and in particular, I’m beginning to work with rap idols and having a blast doing so. There are thousands of idols to discover, so I am looking forward to doing a lot of discovery of new groups and even some older ones too.

Not only this, but I also am starting to produce idols, as I am making songs for two solo idols and a rap idol group. This actually has been a very large focus for me these days.

I’m also currently working on two photobooks that I’m making for two incredibly beautiful idols that I work with on a regular basis. I like to make idol photobooks and have made several already, so these two projects are currently going on right now. They should be completed by the time my birthday event rolls around in August.

After this, I want to really get back into learning more Japanese, since I actually know very little Japanese. I think it’s about time I got serious with studying the language. And I would say after this, I have two unrelated idol projects…I am working on six different books that I originally came to Japan to do research for and now have since returned back to writing them. And…after I get a moment to relax or breathe, I also want to make a retro-style 8-bit RPG game that could be played on an old Nintendo. I have a huge love for games like the first "Final Fantasy" and "Dragon Warrior" and the "Ultima" series, and one of my very final life goals is to make a game similar to these but that takes like a year or two to complete, due to how large and massive of a game it would be.

Oh, and of course, when the world opens back up again, I will be aiming for many, many world tours with idols that I work with, and possibly creating some major idol festivals in Europe and America.

So lots of stuff going on!

Do you have any final words for our readers?

Derek Vasconi: I have been a fan of JaME for a long time…please continue to support them and what they do for idol fans all over the world! Seriously, they are amazing and I’m honored to have a chance to tell my story for them!

I also want to thank all of the foreign fans for being so kind to me and supportive of what I’m doing with idols. And I encourage everybody out there to think for themselves and come check out the idol world and give it a shot…trust me, once you get that first cheki with an idol who you think is amazing, you are never, ever going to go back to a normal life again. And this place has been, mostly for me and those in it, a safe community where it doesn’t matter who you are in the outside world. You can be a doctor, a gas station attendant, divorced, married, son, daughter…none of these titles make any difference the moment you set foot inside of an idol live house. Because at an idol live, you are simply an “idol fan”, and nothing more, nothing less. It’s a release, an escape, done in the name of good fun and hopefully even better music. And I want everybody in the world to realize that the idol scene is filled with a million bad things, just like any other music scene in existence. But there’s also a lot of interesting and creative things to discover in the idol scene as well, and even some good people and great idols.

If you ever want to talk about idols, or learn about them, hit me up anytime at Idol Underworld or on Twitter. And please consider supporting your favorite idols if they are selling stuff on Idol Underworld…Go buy a cheki, or a CD, or whatever. Just show them all some love! And next time you are in Japan, we’ll go to an idol show together, maybe drink a few beers together, and just have a good time and forget the world…because right now, who wants to remember it?

Thank you so much. Much love and respect to all of you.

JaME would like to thank Derek Vasconi for taking the time to discuss his documentary series with us.

Idol fans can rent or purchase "The Flowers of Passion" digitally here, and it is available on DVD from Idol Underworld here. Physical versions available include just the five-disc set or bundles adding external bonuses like bromides (portrait photos) and even the actual bouquets used in the photo shoots. You can also keep an eye on the Idol Underworld website and Derek's Twitter account for more updates regarding events, idol merchandise and any other future projects.

A trailer for the "The Flowers of Passion" documentary series can be viewed below:

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