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Beckii Cruel: Schoolgirl Superstar in Japan and teenager on the Isle of Man

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Ellena Wood Ellena Wood | 15:30 UK time, Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The first time I ever heard about Beckii Cruel, was when my executive producer phoned me on my day off and said the following: "I've just found out about an eccentric programme for BBC Three. It's about a girl from the Isle of Man who danced on the internet to Japanese pop music and became famous in Japan. I thought of you, are you interested?"

I definitely was interested.

Beckii, I quickly discovered, was just a very normal 14-year-old school girl who had experienced a very unusual rise to fame.

Beckii Cruel aka Rebecca Flint stands in front of her parents

After developing an interest in everything Japanese a few years earlier, she soon discovered Japanese pop music and began copying and recording the dances and posting them on YouTube.

One day last summer, she recorded a dance to a rather crazy song called Danjo - and it turned out to be the song that changed her life. Not long after uploading it, she found herself being watched by half a million people 6,000 miles away. She had become famous in Japan practically overnight.

The first time I met Beckii was in a hotel room in London. She was sporting a very small, very blonde wig and looked totally different to the Beckii I'd researched on the internet.

Her managers were trying an image change for a new music video she was making and she was almost unrecognizable.

When I finally convinced myself that I was with the right girl, we introduced ourselves and I instantly began to film Beckii getting ready.

Time was of the essence. We were off to Tokyo in a week and I'd never filmed her before. I wanted to make her comfortable with the camera as soon as possible.

As it turned out, I needn't have worried. She showed almost no self-consciousness about being filmed. For a 14-year-old that is amazing, I thought.

The fact that Beckii was so used to being filmed became both a positive and negative in terms of making the documentary. Because she was so used to going on live TV and being interviewed by news crews from around the world, she wasn't fazed by me following her around with a camera.

But I soon realized that Beckii's experience had taught her a particular way of speaking and reacting to the camera, which wasn't quite what I was after as a documentary maker.

Having gained access to film Beckii's story for the first time, I wanted to get a real sense of what it must feel like to be 14 and to have become famous in such an interesting way.

Getting to that story required Beckii to see me in a different way, to not just see me as a news interviewer after a quick story. What she was very good at was delivering good, short sound bites about her discovery how it had come about, how amazing it was.

Beckii Cruel poses for a promotional photo

I could tell (quite understandably), that she had tired somewhat of telling the same story over and over again. What teenager wouldn't find that a little boring?

Beckii and I had a very good chat very early on in the filming process, as I needed her to understand why this was something different to what she had done before.

I explained that I wasn't part of a news crew and what I really needed her to do was open up to me, and most importantly to think about the questions I was asking her rather than just firing off answers.

Beckii never failed to amaze me the way she would take on board comments like this and try hard to change. From that point on, she made a real effort to not give me the stock answers she had given so many others.

I was always conscious that although Beckii was used to media attention, she was also just a 14-year-old girl.

Asking any 14-year-old to open up their life for an hour-long documentary is a huge deal. There were definitely times when I'm sure Beckii would have preferred to be out with her friends, or practicing a new dance.

But I also knew that she was desperate for people to understand her and see past the news headlines. For this reason, she was always determined to put effort into the filming and to talk about subjects that were sometimes sensitive or difficult.

Although Beckii has a huge fan base of people who think she's amazing and inspiring, she also gets a tough time from negative commenters on the internet and some hassle from kids on the Isle of Man.

She really wants those people to see the real her, to understand that she isn't an arrogant, conceited superstar, but a normal teenage girl who is taking the opportunities that have come her way.

She is always the first to admit that she isn't the best dancer on the internet, or the best singer in the world, that what happened to her is a once in a lifetime lucky thing, but she doesnt think that should stop her grabbing hold of opportunities if they come her way.

One of the biggest problems with making a film about 14-year-old Beckii, was that it was so easy to forget she was 14. Quite often when she spoke about the business, her direction, her image or her fan base, you could easily mistake her for a 17 or 18-year-old.

Beckii Cruel, complete with shiny purple wig, sits on the coach with her parents

This is the consequence of being a child in an adult's world. In order to be taken seriously and understand what's going on around you, you are often required to behave older than you are. This can result in a speeding up of the natural growing up process.

I sometimes worry that Beckii puts pressure on herself to be old when she is still very young, but I know this problem isn't exclusive to her as a child star.

I think Beckii copes with fame quite remarkably. I still can't work out how she has such a wise brain inside such a young head, or how she holds on to a real inner strength when she puts up with so much.

I was always surprised by how easily she could go from being adored and mobbed in Tokyo, to being a normal school girl on the Isle of Man.

She wouldn't expect attention at home and she wouldn't really miss it. In fact she was often happy to leave it behind.

Her group of very lovely close friends at home always serve to make her feel normal, and rather than resent that she thoroughly embraces it, perhaps subconsciously knowing that in the tough world of showbiz, she needs to hold on to something real and honest to keep her grounded.

Ellena Wood is the director of Beckii: Schoolgirl Superstar At 14.

Beckii: Schoolgirl Superstar At 14 is on at 9pm on Thursday, 12 August on BBC Three, and is part of the channel's Adult Season.

You can read more on Beckii's story, in her own words, on BBC Slink

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Fame and Beckii Cruel? Far from it. The idea that she is a "superstar" in Japan is outrageous. Internet sensation, yes. Superstar, no. Her single failed to even break the top 100 on the Oricon. The Western media were waiting for her no.1 single. A no.1 single against anime music's biggest seller - Nana Mizuki, and the current Jpop selling tank, Johnny's Entertainment. True, Oricon only focuses on physical sales. Then, let's look at the digital - one same shines more than anybody's - Kana Nishino. Again, no Beckii to be found.

    Compare her to other "child stars" in Japan, the popular idol groups - currently dominated by AKB48. Just research their latest PV, if anything Beckii is not living in an adult world in comparison to that. She's English which is different, but her fame is currently only among a very select number of people. She is far far from a superstar. I feel the comments on her are very very out of context of the Japanese music industy. Many of the major singer were in the business at her age - Utada Hikaru at 15, with the biggest selling album ever in Japan. Namie Amuro. Just google "Hello!Project"

    Want to make a documentary about the Japanese entertainment world? Then please get the fundamentals correct.

  • Comment number 2.

    I am from the United States will there be anyway to see your BBC 3 documentary of Beckii Cruel?

  • Comment number 3.

    Beckii is hardly a superstar by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, you could even say that her moment of fame has come and gone by this point in time - the internet is a very fickle medium to use as a platform for stardom. Until this documentary appeared she had been all but forgotten about in most major internet hubs for Japanese cultural discussion.

    I earnestly hope that she is concentrating on her exams as she mentioned at the end of the documentary, she is indeed a smart person and it would be a shame to see her life wasted.

  • Comment number 4.

    I'm not sure about anyone else but it seems other peoples comments agree. I find this insulting and ridiculous! Not only because there are MANY more fans that are hardcore Japan/Anime addicts that have been in love with it for over 15 years, before it was known in the UK and very underground stuff!
    They might sometimes like tourists in Japan but give recognition to the longer-lived addicts that have strived to make the Anime popularity what it is today.

  • Comment number 5.

    I think the posters so far have missed the point. OK she may not be a superstar but for a girl from the Isle of Man to have a large following in Japan is still a remarkable and unusual story. For her sake I hope it ends soon so that she can get back to normality.

  • Comment number 6.

    Does it really matter? I don’t see any comparison of Beckii with any famous Japanese superstars! It’s just a story about a girl from the Isle of Man who is a little quirky, was having some fun and it got picked up in Japan. She wasn’t aiming for "Superstardom", the use of the term superstar is merely journalistic exaggeration. I think people should just take it easy. Good luck Beckii, have fun in Japan.

  • Comment number 7.

    I was quite frankly shocked to see 14-year old Beckii's parents encouraging her to pay undue attention to a "much older man" who seemed to be infatuated with her, showering her with gifts etc. Beckii herself seemed quite uncomfortable with it and analysed the situation much more intelligently than her parents. It made for very uneasy and distressing viewing. This was on top of their shameful encouragement of the exploitation of their child as a human 'sexualised-schoolgirl' manga character.

  • Comment number 8.

    With Anime and Manga being so closely connected to Hentai, Shotacon and Lolicon is it appropriate for such a young girl to be exposed to this environment?

    Her father, a police inspector, appears to have completely missed the links and cultural norm of the Lolita aspects of this industry. It is not just dirty old men but all sections of the male population of Japanese culture who view this as a form of pornography. The major consumers are said to be white-collar workers in their 20s and 30s.

    The Japanese are fully aware of this phenomenon with government, research and lobby groups having identified and proven links with this type of material, both 'real life' and animated, and violent and sexual crimes. The Metropolitan Tokyo authority has proposed to restrict sexually provocative, "visual depictions" of characters who sound or appear to be younger than 18 years old, describing it as 'Virtual' Child Porn. In the US Laws have been enacted to criminalise "obscene images of children, no matter how they are made,". UNICEF have issued a statement calling for further tightening of child pornography laws in Japan, including the ban of sexual depictions of minors in manga, anime and computer games.

    Beyond these issues, the attitude that 15 minutes of fames and "the GCSE year being worth £50,000" to make for any deterioration in grades is a deplorable attitude from a parent. This is will be a short 'niche internet star' career that will end long before they want it to and she will be left with some memories, maybe some money, and no next step.. At least the recording professionals were honest about the prospects of her having a recording contract or singing career. She may not wish to be a washed out ex-celebrity within a year but that is the most likely outcome.

  • Comment number 9.

    With music and visual arts being so closely connected to pornography, violence and degeneracy is it safe for any of our children to be exposed to culture?

    Most parents, wanting what's best for their children's intellectual development, appears to have completely missed the links and behaviour norm of the artistic aspects of the human nature. It is not just pedophiles of olde like Oscar Wilde but all sections of the upper class who participate in depraved acts of pleasure. The major violators are said to be famous men featured on tabloids.

    The people who have a shred of common sense left are fully aware of this phenomenon with many of the same upper class individuals having identified and proven that their behaviour is hardly exemplary, consisting of orgies, drug abuse and clear violation of laws. The Sun has proposed to keep reporting on such issues "as long as it makes a profit", describing it as "fooling those saps into thinking we do journalism". In the US these modern aristocrats practice a moral standard of "getting more money, no matter how we get it". The UN has issued a statement calling for more attention to third world countries and global stability instead of drawing far fetched conclusions based on an under-detailed report of a petty trifling matter involving British girls having a foreign fan club.

    Beyond these issues, the attitude that "if they're getting smarter and more in touch with how the world really is then what do I care" is a deplorable attitude from a parent. This will be an enduring series of "education" that will continue long after they care for it and she will be left with some knowledge, maybe some money, and no next step.. At least the teachers will be honest about the prospects of your little dandelion making it to a doctorate. She may not wish to be a 24 year old English major in Britain in a decade or so but that is the most likely outcome.

  • Comment number 10.

    This is a very happy tail of an ordinary girl from an island of England who became over night. She is getting taken to a big place, photos taken, singing and getting a chance to be in mags and on telly, even I would love that. But I want to pay attention to the part of the failing grades, she is neglecting her academic slightly. She might leave school with no proper grades, so when her fame fades slighty and someone else comes in and she's nudged out the back door. She might not have hardly any academic experience to fall back on, she alt least needs to have some mathmatic and literate grades on paper. Dancing for youtube fans and flocking in magna clothes will only last so long, then what. The industry explotive, they see a chance to make money, your manipulated and act as their puppet for green paper, then when the money stops, they don't want you anymore so there. That's why so many celebrities are a mess because they are made to act as an industries cash creator, they only still famous because people still like them.

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 12.

    More examples of greed, parents that would seem to do anything to get their fingers on the wonga. The creepy older men in Japan made my skin crawl, but I guess if money is attached is a profession, not one I'd like to be in though. Will they be selling their Grand Mother next?

  • Comment number 13.

    This is a spoof right? I spent the first half an hour get really angry with the parents terrible comments about her 'older fans' and the rest of the programme thinking I've been had! I'm not easily fooled so the three of them were very good!

  • Comment number 14.

    ....I must admit though, I will be disappointed if it is a spoof as I was looking forward to buying Beckii's picture books from the local shop. And on being challenged due to my middle aged male appearance replying 'I must be turning Japanese I think I'm turning Japanese I really think so....

  • Comment number 15.

    I've just watched the programme on iplayer.
    I found the entire family utterly repulsive.
    Beckii is completely affected, it seems she hasn't a natural bone in her body. Her breathy internet persona is sickly-sweet to the point of nausia. I shouldn't be at all surprised if she ends up suffering some sort of identity crisis.
    Can't make up my mind if her parents are a bit dim or completely mercinary - probably a bit of both.

  • Comment number 16.

    I too have just watched this on iplayer. I am a parent with a 16 year old daughter and I am also a teacher. Beckii seemed very normal and totally UNaffected (anyone who doesn't think so I guess just doesn't know many teenage girls!). What she does have is a real gift to respond in front of a camera. I can see why this documentary is controversial, but I can also sympathise with Beckii and her parents. I also wonder in trying to illustrate the dilemma, how much the film maker has stamped her own opinions and concerns onto the documentary. I would have loved to have heard the exact questions that got the responses that we saw and I wonder what footage was left on the cutting room floor. I noticed in one newspaper review the Father's comments on car and mortgage were highlighted, but the context of 'it's all Beckii's money' was not.
    If Bekkii was male or a sports personality, the whole sexual thing would not have been a big issue. I wonder what the fan demographics of teenage swimmers, gymnasts and tennis players are? As we head for the 2012 Olympics, world wide thousands of 14 and 15 year olds will be sacrificing far more education than I suspect Beckii is to achieve their fame and fortune.
    Beckii seemed a level headed and well cared for kid and I wish her the best in the future whatever she chooses to do.

  • Comment number 17.

    the Japanese have a word for these type of dirty old men, its Skibbi. i have had personal experience of the industry and i agree that 14 is far too young to handle the culture shock, let alone the dubious male attention she will no doubt recieve. in a country that cannot use humans in any pornographic image, an industry has been borne out of sexualising cartoon images, and has in turn become the practice of transforming young underage girls into psuedo cartoon characters, with clear sexual undertones to satisfy and encourage Japanese men in thier schoolgirl fantasies/fascinations. The fact that she is a Geijin will also boost her popularity, let's hope its a shortlived experience that doesn't leave her with a permanant unsavoury reminder of a country that i thoroughly enjoyed living in. Watashiwa Nippon daiski. Too much too young? damei. arigato goziamashta tomadachi's.

  • Comment number 18.

    I am just worried about the kind of cultural misunderstandings that occur in this documentary. Beckii's mum saying that most Japanese men are 'shy' etc. i don't think that is the case at all. Japanese men like the one she referred to are just very quiet and reserved because they cannot speak English well, but i think that guy is very aware of what he is doing and is probably obsessed with Beckii.

    Also i would like to draw attention to Beckii's birthday cake at the end of the film. The pattern on it is the old colonial Japanese flag that was used during the Second World War and when Japan was crusading through most of East and South East Asia and enforcing a brutal colonial rule. That flag, to Asian people is equal in meaning than the Nazi flag is to Europeans. I am sure Beckii and her family are not aware of that, as so many people are not aware of the amount of war crimes Japan committed during the Second World War. otherwise they would probably not have had that flag on a cake to celebrate a birthday. It is these gaps in cultural knowledge which worry me when watching such a documentary...

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 20.

    As a cosplayer myself, I find this both ridiculous and annoying. It not only shows us in a bad light but also underplays the best parts of cosplay, namely making them and the community that goes with it.
    Most of us have a far better grasp on Japanese culture and the difference between the anime genre that many of the people that have commented on this forum seem to lack. Yes, there are things about anime and manga that aren't wholesome but that is because it is a media rather than a genre. In Japan there are manga are about anything and everything, not just the things that get imported to Europe and America.

  • Comment number 21.

    This exposes what I think are the twisted virtues of a youtube generation who make quick judgements and package them into something that fits.

  • Comment number 22.

    Beckii! You rule! Congrats on all of your sucess! ^^

  • Comment number 23.

    Well i am astounded i have just sat through a program about a school girl who basically dances on a web cam to millons of clearly old men, a few teenage girls. Her parents seem to think that this is acceptable?! her fans are older than her father, we hear all the time about warning your kids againts perverts and rapists and how to be safe on the internet and here are these 'parents' encouraging her to do the opposite. your daughter doesnt even understand the possible dangers because she is 14....... that is her parents role, there is NO acceptable excuse or reason for a young innocent girl dancing for old men of whom no-one even knows or what they are capable of.

  • Comment number 24.

    i read that there are strict rules in japan against western pornography and nudity so people have to go elsewhere and turn to things such as animated hentai and lolicon built up around young, virginal girls. for a westerner this may not be known because of the cultural difference.
    the father isnt greedy because he said that all the money beckii makes she will keep for herself.
    I dont think beckii is in any imidiate danger from stalkers or rapists, but it is up to her and her parents whether they want to encourage seedy activity in viewing their daughter in her videos.
    beckii received a guitar from her top fan, which i heard her say wasnt brand new but an old guitar of the fan's, repaired.
    I doubt this will get in the way of her school work and if it does then its not a big deal. alot of young people these days get distracted from school work by a number of things; sports, social life, computer games. the comments on here seem to think that if she isnt doing something on the side she will concentrate completely on school work when this is often not the case.

  • Comment number 25.

    I think that many of these people who have commented should have just not bothere, as they obviously have no knowledge of the Japanese culture. Before assuming that every country in the world is built around britain, do some research into that country, maybe even visit it, and discover that many countries are rather different from our own. It is a form of discrimination and racism to assume another's culture and accusing that countries older men are "dirty" for watching what Beckii does, it is disgusting that these brits who come from a multi-cultural country can be so outrageously racist to another country. Beckii chose to post herself on the internet dancing. Her parents aren't bad parents for letting her do this and have old men watching her. They are being acceptive of the japanese culture and accepting that Beckii enjoys what she is doing and understand that she likes the culture, even with her british mind, yes thinking it is creepy that 40 year old men watch her, but she accepts that that is the culture she fell in love with when she was 11. She was only 14 when her fame happened, and it has now been a year, this documentary shows she is doing well. She has options still, and she is choosing carefully, whilst studying hard for her GCSE's, which aren't at all hard, a monkey could pass them. This number one fan, maybe it is part of the culture to send famous people gifts. He may have an infatuation with Beckii, but he knows Beckii will not feel the same. And he is happy just the way things are.

  • Comment number 26.

    This isn't a spoof or hoax, Beckii is a real girl and that is her story. I totally agree with Torshshirin about the parents and how encouraging that relationship with the old fan is totally wrong. But I strongly disagree with Robincusi when he called Oscar Wilde a paedophile! The rest was quite right though.

    The Japanese culture does idealise girls and can sexualise them in ways which make us uncomfortable, but it seemed to me her Japanese manager was switched on in terms of protecting her in order to maintain her image and prolong her career. As she said, idols don't have boyfriends, they are revered for their purity and most Japanese people wouldn't see her this way.

    I could see the parents, especially the father, aggravating Beckii's relationship with her Japanese manager by trying to make her popular in the UK recording with Mr. Spice Girl. I think this would be destructive for her as she is popular in Japan because of the way she looks and nothing else. She seems to understand this as her understanding of the Japanese culture is excellent and she is obviously very intelligent. She has no appeal with the West because we do not consider being a cute childlike teenage girl who dances to other people’s songs to be considerably impressive. It doesn't have to be impressive to the Japanese though, it must merely appeal to the cultural aesthetic of beauty. This is a fundamental difference in our perception of Beckii, and perhaps why we see more danger perhaps than there is. I think most people just don’t get why she is popular and are looking for a reason they understand.

    She isn't a superstar she is an Idol. She is seen as a cute fluffy Manga girl, and plays her role well. She knows when to giggle or give a shy smile. She is smart, but I think she knows that it is about the way she looks. I'll stand up for Japan and warn people not to be too freaked out by the old man pornographic implications and remember how excited the women were to see her. They found her delightful, not sexually but in the way you or I may look at a puppy wearing a bonnet. Some people will always take it too far, but as long as she is protected from obsessive people (like her fan) and follows the advice of her experienced Japanese manager and not her parents she will be fine. The main thing is that it is her journey and she is safe and enjoying herself.

  • Comment number 27.

    Well, my husband and I just finished watching this documentary...was it just us, or did Beckii's Dad seem a little too concerned with her ability to make him money than her comfort and happiness?

    Beckii seems like a smart girl-- I hope she'll get to enjoy her popularity and ace her GCSE's, as well.

    Gambatte Beckii!

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 29.

    Hello there,

    I would like to thank you all for posting your comments sharing your thoughts about Beckii and the documentary. There are clearly a number of differing opinions about the issues raised in the programme, which is no bad thing. The point of documentaries is to spark debate and to get people talking, and it is always fascinating to see that people can watch the same programme and see things very differently. Your thoughts have been very interesting to read, thanks again for taking the time to write.

    All the best,

    Ellena - Director of 'Beckii: Schoolgirl Superstar at 14'

  • Comment number 30.

    I wish I was famous :( xX

 

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