Highlights of 55th Kouhaku

Filed in Cult of Pop 1.0

Japan’s 55th annual Kouhaku Red & White concert played on Honolulu’s KIKU last night. The five hour show ran a bit longer than I’d like and around the fourth hour I ended up having to sleep off a stomachache caused by rewarmed mochi (which was, nevertheless, extremely yummy). That said, here’s what I most enjoyed from the show…

Ladies and Gentlemen, Matsudaira-sama Has Entered the Building…
The unexpected highlight of the evening wasn’t a Jpop favorite – it didn’t even involve an underaged Japanese girl. (Though keep in mind, SweetS didn’t perform this evening.) It was a song called “Matsuken Samba II,” performed with breathtaking zeal and unparalleled showmanship by Matsudaira Ken. He was special enough to have the television go split-screen several times, something no one else received for their performance (at least, not while I was awake). This was kitschy as hell, but damn if it wasn’t fun and well-performed and made me feel good. (Not quite the same feel-good as a SweetS video, by any means, but still pretty good.) It was extreme Ginza Vegas, with Matsudaira in a glittery gold kimono and a hundred-plus dancing geishas and a feudal set lit up like the Sunset Strip. When Matsudaira did some slick dance moves of his own, I was convinced beyond a doubt of the man’s greatness.

If I was gay – and by this I mean flamingly, fabulously homosexual – it would have been love at first sight. As it stands, I’ll just have to settle for being exactly like him when I grow up. Glittery gold kimono and all.

Finally, Morning Musume and W on American Broadcast TV
Having a Japanese TV station like KIKU is wonderful, but there’s no SMAP X SMAP or Utaban and certainly no Hello! Morning on their schedule. So it was satisfying to see my two favorite Hello! Project units reunited without having to download a file and convert it to VCD. (Though admittedly, I did download a clip of this the night before.) The songs – “Ai Arraba It’s All Right,” “Namida ga Tomaranai Hokago,” “Robokiss,” and Yossi adding the opening line of “My Dear Boy” – were performed well, with a strange insect outfit for W and a mid-performance switch from prom gowns to frilly minidresses by the Momusu girls.

It was fun to see the older Musume standing behind the evening’s hosts as other acts were introduced. Mari and Kaori later sang “Love Machine” for a red-and-white flag game – which choked me up, as Kaori (the last of the first generation Musume) will be graduating from the group later this month.

Goto Maki and Matsuura Aya with H!P Kids… But Wait…
Yeah, this is the big hole where Abe Natsumi would have been, if it wasn’t for the plagiarism scandal. Still, the two-thirds of Nochiura Natsumi that were allowed to appear did a nice Christmas medley and solo singles, as well as dancing with cartoon characters… but it still felt sad in the broader Jpop gossip context.

Kishidan All Over the Place
Another unexpected surprise from a band I would never have watched under other circumstances. They look ridiculous with their huge hair and their gangster / school uniform outfits… but that was the whole point. (The greater taste I have of Japanese irony, the more I suspect GWAR being huge there.) The song they did, “One Night Carnival,” was stupid in a “Cherry Pie” way – the too-memorable chorus was “Can you master baby?”. It was only proper, then, that they had a performance to match: among other things, there was para para dancing, a woman in a bathtub, and Richard Simmons-esque exercisers in stars-and-stripes outfits. They even did a variation on Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction when the lead singer ripped off his wig towards the end of the song and was whisked off-stage in mock-panic.

If any further proof was needed of how much fun Kishidan was having, they served as back-up in several other acts. They were clapping on the sidelines for “Matsuken Samba II”, which proves their excellent taste. And for an early enka performance, Kishidan’s singer and guitarist acted out a background skit where they ran a ramen cart. That alone was enough to endear me to these goofy bastards.

Some other highlights worth a quick mention: what appeared to be Bishoujo Club (at least I thought it was Beni front and center) as backup dancers for opening act Ueto Aya; some serious-looking goofball who actually hummed and la-la-la’d through the first four-fifths of his song (provoking a disbelieving “You’ve got to be kidding me” from both myself and my wife); Orange Range doing a very playful version of “Locolotion”; Nakashima Mika doing a very convincing Courtney Love impression (at least she was out of it enough to make me wonder if she was taking something); more Japanese Olympic medalists than you can shake a stick at; Gackt being Gackt; and finding out this morning that I slept through Ken Hirai (thank you, rewarmed mochi!).

An enjoyable night of Japanese music. And had I mentioned how great Matsudaira Ken was? Of course I did.