So, Kôhaku. Here we go. As I said in my previous post, I enjoy watching Kôhaku every year, participating in something that roughly 35-40% of Japan does (albeit at a different time), watching some of my favorite artists, and discovering new favorites.
Here’s my (hopefully somewhat brief) rundown of performances and other bits that caught my eye. Here’s hoping I can find clips of them on YouTube…
I guess we can start by saying how envious I am of Arashi’s fantastic wafuku outfits. Granted, I’ve worn all-white gi & hakama before, and it feels strange, feels like really too much; the sparkly silver would be even more over the top. This is something you can only wear onstage, as a costume. And, certainly, I could never look as good in it as they do. But, even so, even if it is costumey, and something you could never feel normal wearing in public, don’t they look great!?
Actually, a lot of the acts had fantastic costumes, starting with EXILE. Having a huge group of children as backup dancers was really cute; and those kids were quite good, too!
Actually, Hamasaki Ayumi opened the show, but I’m going to skip right over her. The third performance was by AKB48, and the only thing I want to say about that is (a) I hadn’t realized that they actually perform at their own theatre every day, an act you can just go to Akiba and see; Also, (b) if there are 48 of them, how come I feel like I’m always seeing the same faces, and the same people speaking, including girls who are not the “leaders” of the group?
In any case, moving on, AAA also had some great outfits. … I love how they always have this row of special VIP actors in the audience, and, sure, they’re big name top name people, but they’re also all from NHK TV shows. This is a national program, intended for a fully national audience, featuring musical acts across the board, no matter what TV networks they may be more closely associated with (e.g. SMAPxSMAP is on Fuji TV), but I guess NHK just can’t help themselves.
“100% 勇気” (Hyaku paasento yuuki, 100% Courage) by NYC is an amazingly catchy tune. But what’s up with these kids? Are they from a kids’ TV show or something? There’s just something really bizarre about their red-yellow-blue basic color scheme and the overall aesthetic of their performance (backup dancers, backdrop, etc.). Which isn’t to say I don’t like it. Just that it struck me as weird. Speaking of things that were weird, one of the performances involved girls wearing giant heads (like DisneyWorld characters) with giant-eyed anime faces. It looks just fine in animation – we’re all used to it – but in live action, it just looks creepy. Seriously creepy.
The enka performances were great fun, as always. Slow, passionate, filled with nostalgia. I liked the use of the AKB girls as background dancers. If that’s what it takes to get the younger crowd to watch the enka sequences…
Maybe the first song of the night that was a new “discovery” for me, an “earworm” song that keeps coming back to my mind, was “Ato hitotsu,” by Funky Monkey Babys. This isn’t the Kôhaku performance, but it might as well be:
I’ve already posted separately about HY and “Toki wo koe.” I really liked the way they performed it at Kôhaku, the bright colors of the eisa drummers standing out against a mostly white scene, with the lyrics handwritten on the screen, a very personal and children’s storybook sort of aesthetic.
The second half opened as it always does, with everyone all singing together a very touching, melodramatic, and hopeful anthem sort of song. I can’t find video online of the actual performance, each singer taking turns singing one line after another, but here’s the song, so you can get a sense of what we’re talking about. Moving on.
Aiko performing her song “mukai awase”, her schoolgirl uniform and sakura-filled stage setting providing a wonderful feeling of the fun and innocence of youth. God, that sounds terribly dry, and the way an old person would say it. What should I say?
Oh. And then there was Perfume. I can’t get enough of their wacky robot dances and absurdly catchy tunes. (The leader does kind of strike me as obnoxiously spotlight-hoarding. Why do they have “leaders” anyway? I feel bad for the other two girls, who never get to talk, with the one always talking for the whole group.) Ne, ne, ne, ne, where should we go today?
Couldn’t find a video online of the Kôhaku performance. Watch the official PV, and imagine them wearing these wonderfully absurd pink and purple outfits.
Koda Kumi nearly had some kind of wardrobe malfunction.. haha. This beautiful pink rose dress was supposed to get pulled off of her as she switched into a more down and dirty pop sort of song (actually, the song, “Lollipop” is quite catchy). I think when they planned the quick-change, they didn’t plan for the mike in her hand. So she got pulled pretty violently to the left for just a moment. But, she recovered quite gracefully.
Sadly, I can’t find any video of Wada Akiko’s performance. Wada is, well, I want to say “a very unique performer,” but of course that’s not really true. She’s of a certain kind that’s quite different from everyone else at Kôhaku. She’s got a deep sultry voice (though you can hear she didn’t years ago – look her up on YouTube), and a very particular kind of energy that comes with that. Among other things, she sang a song called “Furui Nikki” at this year’s Kôhaku, and, well, I just loved the way it sounded. I’m sure there are big name American singers I can compare her to, to give you a sense. If it comes to me, I’ll let you know. This is a different song, from Kôhaku two years ago, but it should give you a good sense of her style and voice.
Another “discovery” of the night: 『トイレの神様』, yes, that’s right, “God of the Toilet,” by Uemura Kana. Wearing a long, light flannel coat and carrying an acoustic guitar, Kana had a wonderfully plain, simple, and most of all, honest, feel about her whole stage presence. The song is simple, pretty, and catchy. Plus, it’s hilariously bizarre and absurd. Yes, it’s a touching story about childhood and growing up with Gramma. But it’s also about the idea that there is a beautiful goddess in the toilet, and that if you keep the toilet clean, you’ll grow up to be a beautiful woman yourself. Doesn’t get better than that.
Then, Arashi finally took the stage, in blinding gold coats, and way too much energy, running out into the crowd, and working everyone up. Their song “Monster” is hilariously stereotypical boy band. Reminds me of exactly the kind of stuff *Nsync and Backstreet Boys were doing a decade ago. It’s still got its appeal; I won’t argue that. But it’s just amusing in its campiness.
Getting now towards the end (thanks for bearing with me). One of my favorite performances of the whole night – Kuwata Keisuke, coming back after being diagnosed with cancer earlier in the year. A singer I was not familiar with, but who has an amazing stage presence, funny faces and vocal gymnastics, and pulling off an amazing country singer / cowboy sort of impression, in haori and hakama. … Followed by a total change of backdrop, lighting, and atmosphere, for a wacky, upbeat song called “本当に怖い愛とロマンス” (Truly Scary, Love and Romance), featuring bunny-girl backup dancers. (No embedding; click the link above.)
Pulling up the rear for the enka performances, a masterful delivery of Amagi Goe by the queen of Enka, Ishikawa Sayuri, with a Noh actor in the background, just to ramp up the creepy atmosphere… ;)
And then, after some Arabian-themed nonsense from Hikawa Kiyoshi, the final Red Team performance of the night, 「生きてゆくのです」, featuring the line 『愛しているもっと言って』 (Aishiteiru motto yutte, “Say ‘I Love You’ More”) by Dreams Come True, who brought truly wonderful (how many times have I used that word now?) energy. Was the lead singer drunk, or is that just her style? Either way, it was a great fun way to end the night.
Sadly, I can’t find video online of their Kôhaku performance. NHK seems pretty proactive about keeping these things off the net. But, since I’ve found the song quite catchy and fun, here’s the official music video for it:
(Yeah, I think she was drunk. All the better. As long as we’re all having fun.)
Well, thanks for sticking with it until the end. I guess that was kind of a mess back there. And quite long. I hope you’ve found a few new bands, or new songs, that you like.