When we heard that Tune in Tokyo was throwing their holiday bash in City of Industry, we were a bit perplexed. After all the San Gabriel Valley city is a good half-hour drive from the monthly J-pop/J-rock party's Little Tokyo digs. Then we found out that it was to be held at purikura studio Kira Kira and, well, we couldn't resist, not even with rain pounding down on the 60 freeway.
Purikura is Japanese for "photobooth," but these aren't your typical arcade pictures. They're customizable photos. You pick the background and doodle across shots. Though purikura is relatively new to the U.S., it's gained a lot of popularity, particularly amongst Japanese pop culture fans. There are even iPhone apps that mimic the photobooth results now.Located on the second level of a shopping complex, above a Red Mango yogurt shop and next to a karaoke club, Kira Kira is packed with large booths covered with photos of cute girls engaged in a series of goofy poses with their friends. Each booth is different, with some offering more Lolita-friendly designs and others more goth or visual kei styles. Some play music inside, loud, Eurobeat tunes that make you feel like you should be preparing for a game of Dance Dance Revolution. Many, though, do not. One of the selling points of purikura, though, is that the booths use diffused lighting, ensuring that you will always appear young and acne-free. Purikura is more like a video game than a standard photobooth. The machines are complicated and the writing that might be directions is almost always in Japanese. Fortunately, Kira Kira's manager, Chiaki, was able to talk my friend and I through the process. We tried one of the 2009 models. The machine, which was either called "Flower Beauty" or "Jewelry Beauty" depending on which side of the booth stared you in the face, is large and bright. Once you get inside, you have to select what kind of backgrounds you want. Like most of the machines, it's timed, so you have to move very fast. We, however, are not fast and so the booth selected for us. After that, you have about a minute to try out all your best poses in front of a green screen. Meanwhile, a voice in the machine yelled out directions in Japanese. Despite the fact that neither one of us understands the language, we got the hang of it. Some things are universal. Afterwards, you have a few seconds to pick out your best shots. Again, we are slow and so we ended up with a random selection. When your photos are selected, you then head to the side of the machine, where you can customize the pictures. This particularly booth had no time limit for this step (others do, though), and so we spent a good half hour sifting through borders, cute little images to float above our heads, etc. When we finally finished and printed the photos, we realized that we had only customized half our lot. Like I said, purikura can be confusing. However, it's a ton of fun.
Throughout the night, the crowd moved from one photobooth to the next as the Tune in Tokyo DJs busted out the latest Jpop hits. We thought that purikura should be the next big thing in LA's photo-obsessed club scene. After all, unlike candid shots, purikura masks worn make-up and tired, after-midnight eyes. As it so happens, Tune in Tokyo is planning on doing more music-and-photo events with Kira Kira in the new year. Could this be the next wave in parties?