Yukata!Batch Goes Global

In December 2012, Benedict Cumberbatch arrived in Japan from the UK several hours after filmmaker J.J. Abrams and actor Chris Pine had arrived from Los Angeles to take part in a preliminary press junket for the summer 2013 release of Star Trek Into Darkness. Apparently unbeknownst to Cumberbatch, as well as to a Japanese mass media always on the lookout for the next big thing, roughly 500 fans – overwhelmingly female – were waiting for him on his arrival at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, the information about his flight number and arrival funneled through Sherlock and Cumberbatch-related websites that had, in turn, received it from Paramount Japan. Where Chris Pine had garnered some fleeting recognition from the many fans who had already begun gathering earlier in the day to see Cumberbatch, Cumberbatch himself received an enthusiastic welcome and attempted to respond in kind, shaking hands and acknowledging as many of his fans as possible as he was ushered to the door.

This outpouring of interest in the heretofore all-but-unknown Cumberbatch generated considerable attention within the Japanese mass media. Prior to his arrival in Japan, Cumberbatch had only been featured in one Japanese publication, Hayakawa Mystery, in a special issue focusing on BBC’s Sherlock in preparation for a New Year’s broadcast of series 2. However, the enthusiastic turnout at the airport caught the attention of magazine editors who were then faced with slowly declining interest in, and not insignificant backlash against, South Korean stars and shows – the fandom of which had sustained them for nearly a decade. In Cumberbatch they had a non-Asian star – one of the only outside a Hollywood context to generate this degree of popularity in nearly twenty years – who brought with him that nation-based pedigree that has been a constant of foreign star promotion since at least the late 1980s and the first ‘heritage film’-fuelled British star boom. Soon, magazine articles based on the interviews Cumberbatch conducted during his visit proliferated in the Japanese press, each proclaiming him a quintessential ‘English gentleman’ and, in turn, helping to spur what would, by the latter half of 2013, become a full-blown British male star boom.

By the time of Cumberbatch’s second Japanese junket, conducted a month before the Japanese August premiere of Star Trek Into Darkness, he had become a full-fledged phenomenon, less on the basis of his anticipated role in the reboot of an American TV show that, in Japan, had little more than niche popularity, than on his starring turn in BBC’s Sherlock, which had only begun airing in Japan in late 2011, and then in a late-night slot on national broadcaster NHK’s premium satellite channel. Which is to say, Cumberbatch’s Japanese fandom was itself quite niche, but it was also part of a broader global fandom that enjoyed momentum primarily online, and it was for this reason that on this second trip, spearheaded by the careful dissemination of information by Paramount Japan, Cumberbatch was greeted by 1000 fans. The degree of ‘fan service’ he provided at the airport, which after his December junket had been favorably compared to that of such fan service luminaries as Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio, was scaled back somewhat; however, he did take the time to stop and talk to the gathered crowd, satisfying even those who had been waiting in place since as early as 3 am that morning.

Moreover, in anticipation of broad interest in Cumberbatch’s visit to Japan, his arrival was streamed live online on a feed available not only to Japanese fans unable to be at the airport, but to overseas fans as well. Indeed, the entire junket played out online in real time over the course of the next four days, ultimately giving global fans insight into the ways that celebrity fandom plays out in Japan and influencing fannish activity spurred by the visit in ways that reveal the increased porousness – both cultural and fannish – of transcultural fandom in the age of social media. Continue reading

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Sherlock Goes to Tokyo

When Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch arrived at Narita International Airport in December 2012 as part of a Star Trek Into Darkness promotional tour that also included director J.J. Abrams and co-star Chris Pine, he was (now famously) greeted there by an estimated 500 fans. An overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, female gathering, they had waited patiently behind a barrier at the arrivals floor of Terminal 2 since as early as 7:30 am (some accounts give 4 am), and by the time of Cumberbatch’s 4:45 pm appearance fans filled not only the lobby itself but the mezzanine floor above, which looked out over the hall.


Cumberbatch was neither the first foreign star to be greeted in this way by Japanese fans, nor was this an entirely grassroots event; according to the Japanese website SHERLOCK(BBC) & Benedict Cumberbatch, the film’s distributor had circulated Cumberbatch’s arrival information in advance, hoping for such a turnout and, presumably, the word-of-mouth it would generate in the Japanese press. And generate it it did, to judge by not only the press turnout at the airport that day, but also by the considerable number of interviews with Cumberbatch that began appearing in Japanese periodicals ranging from the mainstream movie magazine Screen to Vogue Japan beginning in March 2013.

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First Principles (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Acafandom)

It famously (within my immediate family, anyway) took me six years to complete my doctoral dissertation on the Japanese female fandom of Hong Kong stars. There are any number of reasons why this was the case, including – but not limited to – the fact that, during the same period of time, I got married and produced not one, but two, children.

Yet, much as I’d like to pin the blame for my rather appalling time-to-completion on my (hell)spawn, that’s not the whole story. When I was in the process of working through the question that motivated my research – namely, why Japanese women became interested in Hong Kong stars in such droves – I kept bumping up against assumptions that underpin research of both female fans and transcultural fandom, yet were incompatible, in the main, with what my research was telling me.

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Sherlock Season 3

Like much of the Internet, I love Sherlock (BBC). I love the characters, I love the actors, and I love the delicious subtext. Johnlock is my headcanon, and I indulge when I can in trawling YouTube for the best fanvids (to the extent that YouTube now helpfully suggests new vids for me, no matter what I might actually be searching for at the time), I gaze lovingly at the myriad Sherlock-themed animated gifs that cycle through my Tumblr feed, I read fanfic while eating, walking, waiting to pick my kid up at preschool…. The men are attractive, the stories (all that wonderful repressed emotion!) compelling; this is no ironic or otherwise detached appreciation, but a love that is immersed in affect.

And it’s because of that, and because my love of the show seems echoed in the outpourings of others, that I’m fascinated with the ways in which Hollywood is attempting to capitalize on its popularity and, in particular, that of its stars. As Josh Horowitz put it, the Internet loves Benedict Cumberbatch, and this love has translated to his casting in not one, but two blockbuster features. What interests me about this isn’t the fact of his casting; he is, as my husband so delicately put it, the “flavor of the month.” That said, I think the ways he’s been cast foreground an emerging shift in how Hollywood is thinking about audiences. His role in Star Trek Into Darkness seems little more than a reflection of the kind of blunt, demographic-driven market analysis that has governed film casting for decades; something along the lines of, “people are talking about Benedict Cumberbatch, ergo he is popular and we must cast him in our film.” And, as I’m both a fan of his and a long-time Star Trek fan, I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with this mystery role of his.

But the one I really want to see is his turn as Smaug in the second Hobbit feature, and that despite the fact that I’ve not yet seen the first film, I’m not particularly invested in Middle Earth, and Benedict Cumberbatch will be entirely masked in CGI throughout. I want to see it because it brings him and Martin Freeman together in another universe, and I want that. In the same way that there was always a small part of me that enjoyed seeing Leonard Nimoy guest star on T.J. Hooker, as wretched a show as that was, I love the idea of having the two of them onscreen together in whatever shape it may take. I’m invested in that dynamic between them – that liminal place in which character and actor become indistinguishable – and the idea of seeing it, in whatever shape it takes on the big screen, thrills me. As a scholar, too, it excites me that someone – be it Peter Jackson or Fran Walsh or their team of casting directors – understands that this is something we fans care about. It may be little more than fannish wishful thinking, but this seems to me to be the difference between the two productions: the former knows what we like, but only the latter seems to know why.

And while I’m waiting for Smauglock to finally come face-to-face with Johnbo, I’ll continue to sob over all the post-Reichenbach Fall fanvids and count the minutes until Sherlock and John are once again reunited in the upcoming season of Sherlock. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

halloween cross-2 by somachiouHalloween Cross-2, by Somachiou on DeviantArt