Oct 18

[interview] Rika Ishikawa

Rika Ishikawa wears an H. Naoto dress adorned in illustrations by alternative artist Gashicon. A blue streak in her hair and heavily applied eye shadow signify darkness and rebellion. Feathery false eyelashes extend far past her petite face and make a rustling sound every time she blinks. Ishikawa is dressed as Angry, her persona in the rock-inspired pop duo Hangry & Angry. Since 2008, she and fellow Morning Musume alumna Hitomi Yoshizawa have performed as real-life avatars of fashion designer H. Naoto’s kitten characters. But Ishikawa is not acting in character for the interview, and she exhibits the mannerisms of her cheery Hello Project days—soft speech, a smile coupled with a swift point of a finger as punctuation, a friendly brush against translator Yaz Noya’s arm.

“Hangry & Angry’s music is very heavy dance and rock, so I probably couldn’t sing it without becoming the character,” Ishikawa says. “When I wear Angry’s makeup and outfit, then I turn on the switch to become her.”

And yet, Angry’s personality is not entirely foreign to Ishikawa. “When Angry gets hungry, she gets angry,” she giggles. “I’m very irritated when I’m hungry. But lately, I’m growing up and getting better.”

Ishikawa’s career began in 2000 when she joined Hello Project, the love it/hate it idol collective that has churned out cute and campy female idols since 1997. Ishikawa and Yoshizawa debuted as part of the fourth generation of flagship group Morning Musume, first appearing on their typically euphoric single Happy Summer Wedding. As was de rigueur for Hello Project members, Ishikawa simultaneously participated in a number of other groups assembled from the idol pool, such as Tanpopo, Country Musume and V-u-den. Because Morning Musume is a revolving door, Ishikawa ‘graduated’ from the group in 2005 and continued leading V-u-den until 2008.

Later that year, she and Yoshizawa underwent a drastic makeover to promote H. Naoto’s Hangry & Angry line, which Ishikawa had never worn before. They took on the personas of the mascots, which Gashicon designed, and released music that matched the brand’s image. Their debut single Kill Me Kiss Me is a dance-rock track whose music video is packed with tongue-in-cheek gothic imagery. Hangry & Angry released their first full album, Sadistic Dance, in November 2009.

Ishikawa went to the New York Anime Festival solo to participate in the Hangry & Angry fashion show and a panel with Gashicon. Though Ishikawa did not perform musically, as she did with Yoshizawa at Sakura Con last year, she did not mind. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a fashion show or concert—Angry is Angry,” she explains. “To me, it’s the same.”

She fantasizes about the ways she wants to spend her first visit to the Big Apple. “I’d definitely like to see the Statue of Liberty,” she says. “Shopping,” she adds with a laugh. “After that, I’d like to see Broadway if I have time.”

In March 2009, all the Hello Project veterans graduated the collective en masse. Ishikawa misses participating in the yearly Hello Project concerts. “It was like a reunion where we all saw each other,” she laments. But she’s still in touch with all her Musume peers and enjoys her newfound freedom. “After I left Hello Project, I could be independent,” she says. “I can get more work independently.” On follow-up, she clarifies that she doesn’t actually receive more work, but she feels like she does.

Morning Musume, like many other idol groups, is infamously rife with with ‘scandals’ that disrupt its pure image, and Ishikawa herself caused a minor stir in 2004. Fans surreptitiously recorded her backstage during a concert and caught her describing screaming adult fans as “stupid.” Her remarks were not meant to go public and, depending on your perspective, were arguably justified. But many fans were jolted to find out their idols might not appreciate them as much as it seems. “I change a lot,” Ishikawa says, distancing herself from that incident. “To me, I’m myself on stage and I’m myself backstage. I express myself as is. For Hangry & Angry, it’s a totally different story. When I wear the outfit and makeup, I have to become the character.”

Because nearly a year has passed since Sadistic Dance, Ishikawa wants to release a new song. She also hopes to return to the United States. “Last year I performed at Sakura Con with Hangry, so I’d like to come back with Hangry and perform again,” she says.