Sunday, 16 January 2011

Just watched: 61st NHK Kouhaken Utagassen

Over the Christmas and New Year, I took the time to look at some of the end-of-year music specials from Japan. I finally got to see one of the first things I ever read about Japanese pop culture, the Kouhaken Utagassen. This show has been going for decades, and while it’s a long way down from the glory days of 70%+ ratings, it’s still a big deal and the production values and staging were gloriously over-the-top throughout.

There’s a mix of the old and the new, so I didn’t know about half the acts, and it ranged from earnest Enka ballads to pop songs that were so sickly sweet I wanted to brush my teeth after I’d heard them. It’s also a way to catch up on all of the big names from the past year that I missed. I finally got to hear “Toire no Kamisama” by Uemura Kana. I wouldn’t be surprised if this song fills the same role in Japan that Don McLean’s “American Pie” does in the west: a nostalgic, folky epic which everybody can sing along to when drunk enough.

Also, this was the first time I’ve given AKB48 any real attention, and I discovered that one of them was the manager in the drama Reinoryokusha Odagiri Kyoko no Uso, which I didn’t know. I found that watching AKB48 was a bit like standing too close to a combine harvester: There’s a lot of movement and noise and you daren’t look away. You can’t deny they all put in a lot of effort, and there’s a few good choruses in there, but it’s not really my thing.

I didn’t watch it all, I admit. Five hours is a lot, no matter how you split it up, and some of the songs left me cold so I skipped from act to act. The bit where SMAP wobbled through their slightly off-key dad-pop was, apparently, the ratings high point of the evening, but for me the best part was Kuwata Keisuke's first song which was just him under a spotlight with a guitar. This kind of low-key performance couldn't last, though, and soon he started dancing around with some pretty ladies, but for a while he was the closest thing that this show got to being cool.

1 comment:

  1. Hahaha! You got to Kuwata Keisuke's song! It totally freaked me out with all the tongue action with the playboy-like ladies.

    the TOIRE- no Kamisama song totally got me by surprise, I remember the people there drying one or two tears while they thought the camera wasn't looking.

    And of course, the giant Tsuru on your first cap.

    My favorite's got to be Dreams Come True. I don't really follow much Jpop, but I really liked their marching band performance... with the lead singer jumping with her kimono.

    But... I didn't watch the whole thing either.

    SMAP and... Arashi were really off-key and boring performances... I didn't get to AKB48.