What does Nogizaka46’s Rina Ikoma envision as her “season 3?”
“I have to find a new ‘powerful and scary’ challenge.”
Original interview date: July 26, 2015.
With the release of Nogizaka46’s 12th single Taiyou Knock on July 22nd, Rina Ikoma returned to the center position after an almost two year absence. During that two year period, Ikoma experienced many challenges, including holding a concurrent position at AKB48. Having grown up so dramatically, how does she feel about her new role? And, as someone who has already overcome many obstacles, what kind of “walls” will she come up against next? Read on!
“Even though only two years have passed, the outlook of the group is completely different.”
Q: Congratulations on coming back to the center role after about two years! To be honest, your return was faster than I had expected.
A (Rina Ikoma): I know [laughs]! I didn’t think [I would be back at center] so quickly after finishing up my concurrent role at AKB48. When it was announced on Nogizaka Koujichu (“Nogizaka Under Construction”), my face was like, “What? Oh, me [laughs]?”
Q: When you were told, “Please take center,” did you feel resolved to take it on?
A: Rather than “resolved,” I would say I felt at peace.
Q: And that was a totally different feeling compared to the first five singles?
A: That’s right. When I was center from the first [Guruguru Curtain (“Coil the Curtain”)] through fifth singles [Kimi no Na wa Kibou (“Your Name is Hope)] there was so much I was experiencing for the first time. But now, having been with Nogizaka46 plus the concurrent position at AKB48, and now back to center, I have really become an adult.
And, well, it would be different if something had happened to me personally, but I’ve been able to handle all of the stuff that’s occurred within the group and just maintain my full concentration on doing my best.
Q: A lot happened during the two years you were not the center.
A: Even though only two years have passed, the outlook of the group is completely different. When I was first in the center position, I had to promote the group before people knew what Nogizaka46 was all about. Now, after two years, more people are familiar with us. I feel like being the center now, in this environment, is totally different.
Q: Even saying that, the Nogizaka46 songs that the average person is familiar are songs from when you were center, such as Oide Shampoo (“Come on Shampoo”) and Seifuku no Mannequin (“Mannequin in Uniform”) that were often played on TV shows.
A: But younger fans increased a lot because Maiyan (Mai Shiraishi), Miona (Hori), Na-chan (Nanase Nishino), and Iku-chan (Erika Ikuta) were in the center position after I left. When I hear those fans say, “I like Seifuku no Mannequin,” I feel happy they know songs from the time I was the center.
“Just by being in a different environment, a person can really change”
Q: Let’s talk about the first single since you are back at center, Taiyou Knock (“Sun Knock”). We’ve been hearing it played in different places even before the release date.
A: Since it’s summer, so lots of TV music shows are doing showcases. There were many opportunities to introduce it.
Q: It was first featured on TV Tokyo Music Festival (2) [airing June 24], wasn’t it?
A: Yes, and that day all of us were unusually nervous! Taiyou Knock has more of an idol feel compared to the songs we’ve done previously. The dancing has more of a hopping feeling to it. Since I held the concurrent post at AKB48, I was able to quickly catch on to that style of dance. However, it was a little challenging to incorporate that style, but still maintain the essence of Nogizaka46.
Q: I don’t know if it was because of your time with AKB48, but you are really able to pull off such a cute style of dance!
A: It’s always been hard for me to be cute [laughs]. Before I got into Nogizaka46, I really hated that kind of cuteness and wanted to be boyish. And I felt that way even after I became an idol. However, from dancing so many of AKB48’s cute songs, I’m not scared at all anymore of dancing that way on stage. To the contrary, now I feel like wearing short frilly skirts and pink costumes is something I can only do when I am young and I want to enjoy it with all my heart.
Q: When you’re put in that environment, you adapt.
A: Exactly. Just by being in a different environment, a person can really change. As I was doing it I thought, “Oh, this is fun!,” and I came around to feeling like I want to keep doing it.
Q: Nogizaka46’s “summer songs” are classically idol-like, up-tempo songs, but Taiyou Knock’s lyrics and melody are a bit different, huh?
A: You’re right. For example, Girl’s Rule is about a girl’s summer retreat and the idea that everyone on the team is being noisy comes through pretty clearly. And in Natsu no Free&Easy (“Summer Free&Easy”), you can see members of a university club having fun on a group date. But in Taiyou Knock, that kind of drama . . . you don’t know who the protagonist is in the lyrics. If anything, it seems like someone is looking at herself from the outside and it has a feeling of “Why don’t we try this together?” To me, it feels like an encouraging image that will take you away. I think that part of it is really like a Nogizaka46 song, but it is so much cuter than any song we’ve done before. So, Taiyou Knock can be a supportive anthem and it can also be a song that makes you want to enjoy the summer to the fullest.
Q: The music video has a strong story. I felt like it overlaps with your struggles since joining Nogizaka46.
A: Yes, I think it closely matches my story since coming into Nogizaka46. However, I just happen to be the main character [in this music video]. The others have all gone through the same emotions. Each member of the group has had the same types of struggles, but now we are all doing great. That is the feeling I want people to take away from this music video.
“This time, I’ve been moved to tears many times in the music videos.”
Q: The music video for Hane no Kioku (“Memories of a Wing”) is such an impressive image.
A: Yes, I thought it was beautiful. When we were filming Hane no Kioku, I didn’t see anyone except (Yumi) Wakatsuki, Minami (Hoshino), and Mai-chan (Shinuchi). When I first saw the finished music video, I thought, “Ah, so this is what it is!”
Q: I thought the worldview of this song is so like Nogizaka46.
A: Because the composer is Mr. [Katsuhiko] Sugiyama (of Seifuku no Mannequin and Kimi no Na wa Kibo).
Q: Listening to it reinforced this for me, but I feel like Kimi no Na wa Kibo really set an influential template [for subsequent Nogizaka46 songs].
A: That’s right. This time we have Taiyou Knock, which is a typical idol song; we have the coupling song Hane no Kioku; and besides that, we have the beautiful song that the older girls sing. Various types of songs are brought together, and I feel sort of like the singles are packing in many different elements of Nogizaka46. I like Muhyoujyou (“No Expression”) [sung by the “karaage sisters” duo Erika Ikuta and Sayuri Matsumura], but for me, I really love Shokumotsu Rensa (“Food Chain”) [from the 10th single Nandome no Aozora ka? (“How many blue skies have there been?”)] [laughs].
Q: Earlier, when I talked to (Sayuri) Matsumura, she said that Shokumotsu Rensa was recorded with a full chorus.
A: Really? I want to listen to that! I want them to do that for me sometime, too.
Q: Speaking of videos, building on the previous song Inochi wa Utsukushii (“Life is Beautiful”), this time there will be another pair promotional video.
A: This time, I’m with Sayu-chan (Sayuri Inoue). I thought, “Wow, I got paired with a great actor again [laughs]!”
Q: The first time was with Marika Ito, wasn’t it? This time the title is Odoru Baka, Kamisama no Shitto (“Dancing Fool, God’s Jealousy”) and it seems like more of a dramatic piece.
A: And also it’s like a love triangle. I had never done that type of thing before and the director, Izuru Kumasaka, has a unique way of filming. He made us all comfortable before he started filming and, compared to the previous pair and individual promotional videos, he really considered the acting. But the guy who costarred with us as well as Sayu-chan gave great performances, so it was a real battle.
Q: I just thought of something funny. You cried in Taiyou Knock, Hane no Kioku, and in the pair promotional video. That made a big impression.
A: I cried in everything. It’s all my own tears – no eye drops [laughs].
Q: When you were released from your concurrent role and came back to the center position, it was as if the songs made you feel motivated to give Nogizaka46 everything you’ve got. It was that type of tears [laughs].
A: This time, I’ve been moved to tears many times [laughs]. During that period, I was crying too much and I could just cry over anything! If someone said, “let’s go!,” I would reply, “okay!” and then the tears would come. But if I don’t feel that way, I have trouble crying. On Hatsumori Bemars [a TV drama], I had a crying scene and I got too nervous and wasn’t able to cry. It’s actually pretty hard.
“Even an idol is someone’s child”
Q: You mentioned Hatsumori Bemars. The first movie you starred in, Corpse Party, which was a continuation of the TV drama Hatsumori Bemars, is about to be released. You’ve been doing a lot of acting lately.
A: Right [laughs]? It just so happened I did a lot of acting roles during the first part of this year.
Q: How is it? Previously, you’ve mentioned that you feel like you’re not good at acting…
A: When I was chosen for Corpse Party, I wanted to say to my manager, “Um…are you sure I’m okay for this?” [laughs] But I wasn’t in a position to say that, so I decided I needed to work at changing my attitude. I’ve seen the finished version and, putting myself aside, I have to say it’s really a fun movie.
Q: Has acting itself become fun for you?
A: Well, I wouldn’t call it “fun,” but I was able to put aside the awkwardness and feel comfortable with it. [laughs] But I still have trauma left over from 16 Principle . . . [laughs]
Q: That reminds me, many scenes from Principal were featured in Documentary of Nogizaka46.
A: I just wanted my fans to know my mental state from that time. Now I feel very happy that they have been able to understand. Some people probably thought I was an unreliable person, so if they watch the documentary, I hope they come away thinking that I am actually someone who can think clearly.
Q: I guess it’s because the first Principal makes such a strong impression. Including the scene where you ran away from the press conference.
A: Looking back, that was really stupid [laughs].
Q: But the documentary clearly explains why you felt like you had to escape.
A: That’s good. I had to keep watching that image of myself. I mean, it’s an image I created myself, but no matter what I tried, I couldn’t change it.
Q: Also, your mother’s words in the film really stuck with me.
A: “Even an idol is someone’s child.” Not just idols – every celebrity is someone’s child. It just so happens that I like to perform and sing. There is nothing else different about me. An idol’s mother is the same as anyone else’s mother. So it’s natural that it hurts my feelings when something negative is said about me and I just want people to try to understand that. It’s not just Nogizaka46. Everyday, idols get their feeling hurt, but carry on. I want people to know that.
“I want to connect what I have been currently working hard at to my future.”
Q: Despite that, the first half of 2015 went by so quickly, didn’t it?
A: I’ve never experience time flying by so fast. Last year, I had a little more time, but this year was like, “It’s already July! Wait, July is almost over!” Also, by the time our national tour is finished, it will already be late August. So fast!
Q: In March of last year when you were interviewed just after the concurrent position was decided, you said from that point on would be “Rina Ikoma Season 2.” I wondered if from that time to the end of your concurrent role was the “season 2,” given that you had a chance to take in wider perspectives. Was this one year a period for internal development?
A: My level of experience grew. I didn’t have the time or energy to really draw on it, but I was able to gather a lot of the raw material. I think now is the time when I will be able to make something of the experience I gained.
Q: Do you have any lingering regrets?
A: I would have liked to be on stage more. That’s about it. The way Nogizaka46 and AKB48 run their groups is totally different and just handling both of them at the same pushed me to my limit. But, for me, I came from Nogizaka46 and I felt like I successfully performed the concurrent position and I don’t have any regrets about that.
Q: I see. In that case, this is your “season 3.” What is your mindset going forward?
A: I’m considering how will I use my current experience, after I graduate and after I am no longer a part of Nogizaka46. Of course, I realize it’s bad to think about that too much, but I definitely want to connect what I have currently been working hard at to my future. In general, I just don’t want to create barriers for myself. I want to be able to take on everything that’s asked of me, including acting.
Q: And make your mark.
A: Yes. Even if it’s something I haven’t been interested in before, if I develop an interest, I want to pursue it, even after I leave Nogizaka46. And, at the same time, while I am still a member of Nogizaka46, I want to do a lot of all the things I will not have a chance to do after I leave.
Q: There are many things you can’t do when you’re an idol.
A: Right. So I want to do a lot. My mother says, “You should want to learn how to cook [laughs].” I want to build up many things I would like to try.
Q: So, you’re feeling like you really want to live life, huh?
A: Since I’ve been fortunate enough to enter a world that very few can get into, there shouldn’t be any downside to continuing it a bit longer. I think I would naturally disappear from the entertainment world if I didn’t have the connections, so while I do have this chance, I want to try many types of jobs.
“Right now, I’m having fun and there is not anything that feels particularly difficult.”
Q: I want to change topics a bit. The time period when you made five singles in a row as center, it was, for example, “you versus the center position” or “you versus the eyes of everyone around you.” You had to deal with some tall hurdles.
A: It was like I couldn’t see beyond that. There were lots of other things happening, but I couldn’t find the room to pay attention to anything else.
Q: Then, when you were put into the concurrent position, you had to go to a rival group and study there. Did you have many battles there as well?
A: As a result of the concurrent position, I developed a wider perspective and I am grateful for that. I have a personality where I tend to take one way of thinking and believe only in that and it ends up not working. This was a chance for me to correct that part of myself.
Q: You’ve overcome many obstacles and matured because of it, so that makes me curious to know what you are dealing with at the moment?
A: What am I struggling with now? Ummm . . . I wonder.
Q: Actually, when I look at you lately, it doesn’t really seem like you are struggling.
A: I’d say I’m having fun. I don’t really feel like anything is particularly difficult. Of course, sometimes the work is physically taxing and my back hurts, but I don’t really mind that. I’ve come to a place where I can look at things from a wider perspective and say, “Well, I worked hard today. It was fun.” Actually, there is probably some danger to thinking that way, but since my time with AKB48 ended, I haven’t once thought “I have to overcome this obstacle.” So, I think I should quickly find some kind of new “powerful and scary thing” to challenge myself with.
Q: Would that “powerful and scary thing” be the official rival group AKB48?
A: For me, it’s not a specific person or group. It’s conquering a fear inside, like, “I can’t sing,” or “I can’t act” – it’s some kind of wall within myself. AKB48 is called our official rival, but Nogizaka46 wouldn’t exist without the hard work of AKB48 so I look to them with respect.
Q: On the topic of rivals, let’s talk about Toriizaka46. The details aren’t clear yet, but this new group will be created as a separate project. How do you feel about it? Does it feel like you are being threatened or more like you are looking forward to bringing up younger team members?
A: We also don’t know what know what kind of a group it will be [laughs]. If someone wants to try out for it, I think she should take the chance. This is a tough world, so first make sure you are prepared to go into it with no regrets, but after that, I would encourage anyone to try out. That’s all I think about it.
Q: As you said at the second generation auditions, it’s about “resolve,” isn’t it?
A: Yes, if you go into it resolved, it will be easier for you. If you have some doubts, you will act indecisively and probably you will be the one who gets hurt. If you are mentally prepared, the work will be easier for you.
“Rina Ikoma at age 30”
Q: There’s a phrase in Hane no Kioku – “I imagined myself ten years later. I wonder where will I be.” What do you think you’ll be doing 10 years from now?
A: In 10 years . . . I’ll be 30. Even I will turn 30, huh?
Q: Yes, I suppose so [laughs]!
A: I’m aiming to get married by 35. The other day, I watched Sekai no Hate made ItteQ! (“Go to the End of the World Question!”) and saw the birth scene of Miyuki Oshima from the group Morisanchu. I cried by myself as I was eating dinner, just thinking how amazing it is to be a mother. Being someone’s parent is so important. I don’t want to give up that hope.
Q: So, that’s your private goal. What about professionally as an entertainer?
A: As an entertainer? My mother hopes that I can emulate Ikue Sakakibara. That would be great. But until I’m 30, I want to do a lot and stop putting limits on myself. Until I turn 30, I will challenge many things in order to better myself.
“The only birthday present I need is appearing on Kohaku [New Year’s Eve TV program]”
Q: The annual summer national tour “Midsummer National Tour 2015” starts from August 5th. This year the performance at each location will be bigger than in previous years.
A: And we only have 2 days in each city! I was surprised to only have 2 days at Jingu [Meiji Jingu Baseball Stadium]. . . it will be tight!
Q: I remember hearing at last year’s Jingu Stadium concert, you and everyone else cried tears of regret when it was over.
A: Yes, but it’s not so much that we were crying, just that there had been such high expectations. All of the effort we made to live up to it just wasn’t quite enough and that hurt. But because we did a 7.5 hour “birthday live” at Seibu Dome, when you look at the set list for the summer tour, it didn’t measure up [laughs]. Everyone said, “This is short compared to 7.5 hours.” Our bodies still remember what it was like to do the concert at Seibu Dome. We haven’t forgotten last year and we do feel the pressure. The rest is just making sure we are physically ready and carefully preparing step by step.
Q: Just last month, the February 2014 2nd Birthday Live DVD/Blu-ray went on sale. Large-scale concerts increased since Yoyogi Live the year before last, but it there was a time when it seemed like Nogizaka46 wasn’t really able to deliver on it’s full potential. In particular, after the 2nd Birthday Live, you said that you regretted the performance and called your mother.
A: Yes, and then I also had to do the AKB48 position [laughs].
Q: I watched it and remembered that so many things have happened. Thinking about that, I felt like this year’s “birthday live” went by so quickly considering it was 7.5 hours long.
A: I think everyone has finally gotten used to doing the big concerts. In a way, we don’t have many opportunities to do live concerts. The “birthday live” at the Yokohama Arena was only the second one and it was almost like we were babies in terms of our emotions. We had that experience and then at the Seibu Dome performance, we were able to really do it right. I think we developed as professionals in a just a short period of time and that is how we could manager the 7.5 hour concert.
Q: Last year’s “Christmas live” also served as a good omen, I think. So much happened in the latter half of last year and you were all able to turn it around at that performance.
A: I didn’t participate because I had influenza. I actually don’t remember anything. My only memory of that time is crying in front of the doctor [laughs]. I feel like only what is necessary happens, so [Nogizaka46] not being able to go on Kohaku last year was somehow meant to be because it created the motivation for us to change our state of mind.
Q: At last year’s Kohaku, you appeared with AKB48, so this year you would like to go with Nogizaka46, right?
A: Absolutely. Last year’s Kohaku rehearsals started from December 29th and it was my first time to celebrate my birthday away from Nogizaka46. AKB48 threw me a birthday party!
Q: Your birthday is December 29th, isn’t it?
A: Yes and that’s why this year all I want is to appear on Kohaku [with Nogizaka46]! I’m planning to repeat my wish in many interviews [laughs].
Q: And this year will be your big 20th birthday.
A: Yes! I will work hard to try to achieve this birthday present!
(Interview: text = Tomokazu Nishibiru/ photography = Kenichi Sasamori )