While it’s easy to think that the United States has cornered the market on the commoditization of young girls for the male gaze, in many ways we don’t hold a candle to — wait for it — Japan. Kyoko Miyake’s often-unnerving documentary Tokyo Idols looks at one of the more prominent aspects of this phenomenon: the 10,000 teenage girls called “idols,” and the $1 billion industry surrounding the worship of them by much older, purity-obsessed men. Miyake focuses on 19-year-old Rio as she struggles to maintain her singing career in spite of the unforgivable sin of growing too old to be an idol — a role she hadn’t wanted to play in the first place — and 43-year-old Koji, leader of the yellow-shirted Rio fan legion, who acknowledges that he lives vicariously through Rio to compensate for his disappointments in his own life.
Tokyo Idols also gives a necessary platform to journalist Minori Kitahara, a vocal critic of how the idol movement protects male fantasies and the objectification of women, for which she’s received major backlash. (See also: Sarkeesian, Anita.) Though not the most egregious age disparity on display, there may not be a creepier scene this year than when a 20-something fan describes giving his favorite idol, Amu, dance shoes for her 14th birthday. Fourteenth, Jesus.
Opens Friday at the Roxie Theater.