I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Ii Tomo Seinen Tai -- Uki Uki Watching (ウキウキWatching)

I saw the shocking news via a random Twitter feed just half an hour after it had been announced by the host himself at the end of the program on Tuesday JST. Kazuyoshi "Tamori" Morita(森田一義) stopped the presses by stating to a stunned audience that after 32 years of entertaining the noon hour masses, "Morita Kazuyoshi Hour - Waratte Ii Tomo"(森田一義アワー・笑っていいとも....The Kazuyoshi Morita Hour: It's OK To Laugh) will be bringing down the curtains on itself in March of next year.

One of the big Fuji-TV pillars, the long-running noontime variety show started its history in October 1982, starring Tamori(タモリ), who is pretty much one of the top tarento in all of Japanese show business....there are a few others such as comedian Sanma Akashiya and director Beat Takeshi who are up on that same level. With his sly sense of humour and his penchant for suits (sometimes without tie) and those dark sunglasses, I saw him as the Japanese version of the late host of America's "The Tonight Show", Johnny Carson. Whenever the clock struck 12 noon and the TV was set on Fuji, there would be the shot of Studio Alta in East Shinjuku with the familiar vaudevillian tune, "Uki Uki Watching" (Cheerful Watching), coming on, followed by the shot inside the studio with the Ii Tomo Seinen Tai dancing and singing before Tamori himself would pop on out.

Since I had some rather odd hours when it came to my former career as an English teacher back in Japan, I was able to see "Waratte Ii Tomo" pretty regularly, whether it was at home having my beloved karaage bento or watching the show from my favourite tonkatsu restaurant just underneath my subway station. The show basically is a mix of comedic/game show segments centered around the interview portion called "Telephone Shocking". Along with Tamori and the Ii Tomo Seinen Tai(いいとも青年隊...The Ii Tomo Youth Brigade), there would be a gaggle of established and up-and-coming tarento to add to the frivolity which differed throughout the five days that the show was on. A Sunday digest show was also there so that the working masses who couldn't see the show at lunchtime had a chance to catch up.

Sticking with the comparison to "The Tonight Show", I think "Uki Uki Watching" is one of the most familiar TV themes in Japan, as much linked to its show, as "The Tonight Show" theme during Johnny Carson's reign was to its program. When I heard the news that "Waratte Ii Tomo" was on the way out, I decided to do a bit of digging about its theme song, and found out something rather surprising. The tune was composed by Ginji Ito(伊藤銀次), a singer-songwriter who has been associated with New Music band, Sugar Babe, and has a number of entries in my "Japanese City Pop". nikala also has one article on one of his albums, "Baby Blue" on the blog (Choichiro Koizumi[小泉長一郎] was responsible for the lyrics). I can say that "Uki Uki Watching" is quite different from what I've heard of his usual music. As the various incarnations of the Ii Tomo Seinen Tai have demonstrated over these 32 years, the song is a light little number to be performed while the singers are doing a bit of softshoe. Perhaps the only things missing from the trio are canes and hats.

 The very first Ii Tomo Seinen Tai consisted of Makoto Nonomura(野々村真), Atsushi Kubota(久保田篤) and Kenji Haga(羽賀研二), all of whom are still popping up on variety shows as veteran tarento. Incidentally, these three had their time on the show from October 1982 to March 1985.

Strangely enough, I managed to find a video with Ito himself performing "Uki Uki Watching" on a talk show.

The above here is one example of the "Telephone Shocking" segment.

And here is the start of the very first episode of the show back on October 4, 1982. Not sure what lunchtimes are gonna be like on Fuji-TV from April 2014. As for Tamori, well, he still has his hosting gigs on "Music Station" and "Tamori Club".

I'm sure the final show will be one lollapalooza.

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