The Berryz Kobo feature in this edition of the mook wraps up with an interview with dance instructor Natsu Mayumi-sensei.
--- Natsu-sensei, you worked with Berryz Kobo even before their formation, right?
Natsu: If we're talking about singles I did the choreography for, there would be only two. 'Gag 100kai bun Aishite Kudasai' (2005) and 'Waracchao yo Boyfriend' (2006). However, before they were Berryz Kobo, I instructed them as part of the H!P Kids (2002-2004), doing the choreography for the summer and winter H!P concerts, so in that sense we did spend quite a long while together.
--- What was your first impression?
Natsu: I thought the Kids were still in kindergarten. Okai and Hagiwara were the youngest, they really were kids! They'd cry when I taught them. At first, they were escorted by their mothers, and my honest, unrestrained impression was 'I'm not cultivating talents or artistes, this is child education!'.
--- Berryz Kobo's youngest is Sugaya Risako-san.
Natsu: I see...... Sugaya is the youngest...... No wonder she kept popping in my head (laughs).
--- Firstly, how did you instruct these children in dancing?
Natsu: This is what I've learnt after long years of teaching, but I think you should approach them as people and not think of them as children. You feel like spoiling them a little because they're children, and since children are strangely intelligent, they'll catch you, making you want to spoil them, like 'If I say this, then sensei will be kind to me'. So you have to be straightforward with them at the start. That's the basics of teaching children.
--- Even before the question of being able or unable to dance, they can't understand the words of grown-ups?
Natsu: Right, at the time, just calling out their names would make them cry. Just calling out 'Hagiwara!', 'Fue.....', she'd cry (laughs). Even after teaching her carefully, in the end, she couldn't understand anything. But still, keeping in mind that they're artistes and not treating them as children, I'd go 'You're working now, so please do it'.
--- I can guess how much trouble it was (laughs). However, having known them from back then, the weight of this indefinite hiatus must differ.
Natsu: It was the same for Michishige...... But it's definitely sad. Because Michishige and Berryz Kobo, they acted as aces rather than centres.
--- Which means?
Natsu: I might have thought this up myself, but centres and aces are different. For example, the centre of the collective that is Hello! Project would be Morning Musume。, and the centre of Morning Musume。 6ki would be Tanaka. You could say the centre is the face of the group. The people who appear at the front who have found a position besides that, those are what I call aces. Generally, the terms centre and ace are used with the same nuance. For a drama, the ace would be the supporting role who could eat up the leading role = centre. No doubt that the former Michishige was like that.
--- If we talk about AKB48, the centre would be Maeda Atsuko-san.....
Natsu: Or Oshima (Yuko), Shinoda (Mariko) or Takahashi (Minami) would be the aces. And having said that, I feel that Berryz Kobo are the ace-like presence within Hello! Project.
--- According to the members of Berryz Kobo, back then they were extremely frightened of Natsu-sensei. Did you tell off anyone in particular?
Natsu: Sugaya, I guess. Then Sudo. Sudo's a serious, hard-worker, but there are times when she's just a step slower than others at getting things. Sugaya had this airy cuteness, but in more than one way, I was forced to caution her, I guess......As a child, she might have had pride in her own cuteness. That girl was cute, but I get the impression that she didn't listen to what was being said (laughs).
--- Isn't that no different from how she is now? （laughs)
Natsu: Eh!? She hasn't changed? How odd. People change as they develop, but I feel that what's fundamental doesn't change.
--- Natsuyaki-san insists that she was the one who was told off the most, although it seems to be the same case with Sugaya-san.
Natsu: There's no doubt that Sugaya was the one I scolded the most. However, I feel I know why Natsuyaki thinks she was the one who got told off the most. In Sugaya's case, it was more like I scolded her in frustration, but when it came to Natsuyaki, I scolded her in the style of 'I thought you could do better'. 'Am I setting my hopes too high?', that was the nuance.
--- At the time, she was said to be 'the second coming of Goto Maki'. Did you feel that Natsuyaki-san shined?
Natsu: That's is so. Indeed, there might be things about her that are close to or similar to Goto. So, the amount of times I said things to Natsuyaki were more numerous that towards Sugaya. Although she was a child, it was between kindred humans. When you tell someone off, the other party would know whether or not they understood what I was saying. While in Sugaya's case, her response felt like 'Ah, I'm getting another scholding'. For Natsuyaki, it seems like she understood half the time, and the other half of the time, she didn't.
--- There was a difference in their ability to take in things. How about the other members?
Natsu: Tokunaga (Chinami) was a good, honest kid. Amongst the 8 of them (at the time), she gave the most steady responses, and she did things with everything she had. But at the same time, I was queasy, thinking 'She's such I good kid, so I'm slightly worried'. It's a pity, as you often hear that 'good kids don't sell well' in the world of entertainment. Kumai (Yurina) was adorable too, but she wasn't really the kind of kid who would put herself forward. But honestly, she really had the image that she was holding herself back at the time.
--- At the time, her height didn't particularly stand out either.
Natsu: That's right (laughs). Tsugunaga (Momoko)...... This is a recent story, when I met her after ages around the time of DoriMusu (Dream Morning Musume). When I was backstage, thinking 'There are lots of pretty talents around', I heard 'Sensei! Se~nsei!' The voices calling out to me turned out to be from Tsugunaga and Tokunaga. Next to them was this gigantic girl, I did a double-take going 'Ehh!? Kumai!?' Also, she'd become really pretty. I thought she was a model. Could she go back to being a normal person? What year did Berryz make their début again?
Natsu: It was just then where I had hurt my body due to overwork, when I was reducing my H!P-related work, so I remember feeling 'They've been given the name Berryz Kobo, That's a nice name.'
--- Before their début, what did you think of the 8 of them? Including the selection of the members.
Natsu: For the choice of people, they were members that made me feel 'Well, that's how it is'. Members that I could nod my head to. However, I think that the selection system was harsh. You know, because at the time we had no idea that the others would be coming out as ℃-ute. It truly was a pure selection. But, as an idol unit, to work with 15 people...... I think it's an appropriate number of people for a dance & vocal unit. Speaking of that time, other units had sprung forth from Morning such as Mini Moni, PucchiMoni, and Tanpopo, but I was slightly surprised that 'They chose them from amongst the Kids, huh...', I felt a sense of pity.
--- Well then, Natsu-sensei constantly has high praise for Shimizu Saki-san, but when she was a child, was her level already so different?
Natsu: Yup. She was far and away the best, even from the Kids era. 'What's up with this one! Isn't it strange!'
--- When you say strange, you mean?
Natsu: You see, she was in primary school, but she was better than my assistants (laughs). Hard work trumps (dancing) sense, but if a person with good sense puts in effort, there are times where they can't be surpassed. That would be Shimizu.
--- ......To that extent, huh? Could you explain to people lacking dance experience what was so awe-inspiring about Shimizu-san?
Natsu: It's difficult to explain in words, but I'm not talking about dance technique or skill, it's about the way she catches the rhythm. You could say her body could read the music notes of its own accord...... Am I giving her too much praise? (laughs) Well, that can't be the case. I think that anyone would normally be able to catch a quadruple measure, but in the midst of dancing, but most girls are 'apt to rush'. But ever since Shimizu was a child, she didn't 'rush'. Her sense of timing is exact. Because she could catch syncopation of staccatos. Good dancing isn't full of movements. Because things like hand movements and feet movements can definitely be done with practice. In Shimizu's case, the biggest was capturing the part that were (musical) rests. It's actually really difficult to capture the rests, the only thing people normally get are the musical notes. Counting the music notes like 'One, two, one, two', and on top of that you have 'un' to give the feel of a rest in the meantime. Well, if I had to say, it's capturing the afterbeat.
--- Even if it's the same four-four time, Shimizu-san's dancing could process 4 or 8 times the information?
Natsu: Before her mind understands it, her body gets it. The idols of today don't sing from a musical score, so they might not comprehend that sort of music theory, but that so-called sense of sound, the sense of music notes? Having a metronome within your own body. Even at the time, I'd said 'She's at the point where I'd like her as an assistant'.
--- Even for Natsu-sensei, who's seen all sorts of idols, was it astounding?
Natsu: Her substance was different. Her ability to sense rhythm...... Not rhythm. The beat. She could catch the beat and make it into a groove when she was already in primary school. Shimizu really is amazing. She still hasn't lost that sense she had when I first saw her as part of the Kids.
--- She herself has made wry statements, like 'Recently I've been told that my dancing is seductive or vivid'.
Natsu: Ah, that's something that proves her skills. Because at its core, dancing shows one's vitality. If you probe into the topic of dancing, you can make movements that can bring the act of sex to one's imagination. Shimizu's already got that far? Saying things like vivid? If she wasn't working as an idol, wouldn't she be a dancer in New York at this point in time? Although she'd be fine as a solo dancer or a dance teacher.
--- For Natsu-sensei, who came down like thunder at 'ASAYAN', to praise a girl she's taught this far......
Natsu: I'm talking through my senses. The number of skilled girls are on the rise, but you hardly ever find girls who are extremely good at dancing among idols.
--- Natsu-sensei, after you had been a bit distant from H!P, you got to work once again with Berryz Kobo. How were they different from before?
Natsu: They were no longer kids. They're quick to remember things, their attitude to learning was plentiful. Girls really do grow up quickly. And the 2 who particularly found it hard had become better. Sugaya and Sudo could comprehend what they were being told. And we became able to have normal conversations. Like with Tsugunaga, I could talk with them simply about things besides dancing. Like 'The other day, I saw Sensei appear on TV~'.
--- Finally, please give a message to Berryz Kobo.
Natsu: Even now, I still remember their faces as how they were when they were children. So, when we meet again, I'm always like 'You've really grown up', 'You've become beautiful', that growth always surprises me. I also feel how they've grown in the performance aspect. I think that Berryz Kobo are going into a hiatus in a condition where they haven't dropped at all, and there's still more that they can do, so for me, this is even more of a pity than the graduation of a member of Morning Musume。 I have no idea what each and every one of them will be doing in the future, but I'd still like to see them, I feel like they're still able to do more. Thinking about it now, perhaps their début came a bit too early. If they had made their début about 3 years ago, they might have become the top idols. With that much polishing, they were cute girls. If possible, after a few years have passed, I'd like to have a reunion with them.