Fire up your city pop playlist for a visit to Asakusa’s legendary Marubell, where the ’80s never totally went away.

Tokyo has a handful of photo studios where customers can dress up as samurai or courtesans, giving you a visual keepsake that’s also a link to the traditions of Japan’s past. But as we recently learned, there’s also a studio that can transport you to a more recent, but still unique, point in Japan’s history.

Located in the Asakusa neighborhood of Tokyo, Marubell has been around for decades, but its biggest glory days were in the 1980s, when it photographed some of the era’s brightest pop stars. Music stores would sell the photos individually, almost like trading cards, and you could tell how devoted a fan was by how large a collection they assembled for their favorite artist.

But it turns out you don’t have to be in show business to get into Marubell’s studio. They actually take appointments from us regular people too, and our Japanese-language reporter Natsuki recently stopped by for a time-warping photo session.

▼ Natsuki sporting some 2019 fashion (but, believe it or not, no pantyhose)

The first step of the process is picking out an outfit, or actually two outfits, for the package Natsuki booked, called the Marubell ‘80s Plan. Looking through the rack of options Marubell provides was like leafing through a stack of classic fashion magazines, complete with generously shoulder-padded blazers and soft velour polo shirts.

Eventually, Natsuki settled on a pop art letterman’s jacket and T-shirt combo, plus a pair of loose-fitting jeans and some large-frame glasses, making her look like the tomboyish best friend whom the male lead finally realizes he’s had a crush on all along in some 1986 rom-com we can’t quite remember the name of.

But because of Marubell’s show biz roots, Natsuki wanted to go even more idol-style for her second outfit, and that included a wig modeled after the hairstyle of Seiko Matsuda, the legendary queen of ‘80s pop princesses.

In addition to clothing and wigs, Marubell also has a wide selection of props. The cameraman and an assistant worked with Natsuki to pick out just the right visual accompaniments, and even set her up with a foot stand to make it easier to hold her poses while the cameraman snapped away.

As a matter of fact, the staff gave Natsuki the royal treatment from start to finish. “Looking good!” the cameraman told her repeatedly, offering gentle reassurance and encouragement throughout the shoot and treating her with the same respect and importance an A-list celebrity would receive. “Don’t be afraid to look directly at the camera, because your fans will want to feel like you’re looking right at them.”

▼ The cameraman, Mr. Takeda, says his philosophy is “Whether the customer is a celebrity or not, I think of them as a star when we’re working together.”

After the posing was done, Natsuki was given the data for all of the photos that had been taken, but remember how we said Marubell rose to fame as a studio where entertainers took photos to be sold to their fans? Because of that, the package also included 20 physical printouts, on the same photo paper used for the collectibles that fans coveted.

▼ They even come with the Marubell logo at the bottom, just like official merchandise.

In this all-digital age, actually getting physical media at the end of Natsuki’s photo session was somehow both a fresh experience and a retro one all at once, and that’s really something we can say about her whole day at Marubell (and yes, they do take reservations in English).

Studio information
Marubell / マルベル
Address: Tokyo-to, Taito-ku, Asakusa 1-30-6

Photos ©SoraNews24
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