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.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Larry's Notes on the 66th Kouhaku (第66回紅白歌合戦)

It may be a bit late but I just finished watching Kouhaku 2015 (or is it 2016?  I'm always confused) in its entirety.  I've written some notes while watching.  Guess I'll share them with all of you.

1. First, the hosts.  I'm quite surprised by Yoshihiko Inohara (井ノ原快彦).  He's calm.  And I don't recall him making a mistake the entire night.  He's foremost a singer.  Sometimes we want too much from our celebrities.  Especially in Asia, where a singer is required to be also good at acting and vice versa (there seems to be no such requirement in the Western hemisphere; I don't expect any songs from Tom Cruise anytime soon).  It really showed that he's multi-talented.

2. I really enjoyed the first half.  Much better than the 2nd half.  The first half did not have "commercials", like Mickey and Darth Vader appearing on stage.  It also had less "special programs", such as a skit based on an NHK drama last season, an introduction of NHK next drama, the 70th anniversary of World War II etc.  To NHK's credit, I felt like they cut a lot of special programs this year compared to last year.  It's progress.  In the first half, I only recall one "special program" that has an anime theme.  I actually enjoyed watching it.  It's of appropriate length and unlike Disney and Star Wars, it had material of Japanese origin.

3. The problem with Kouhaku, I think, is that it's trying to do too much.  There's no unifying theme.  It's Disney here, Star Wars there, and suddenly honoring the memories of World War II.  I wish they could just focus on the music itself.  I think that's why I like the first half because it's all about the music and the singers.  The first half also had good pace.

4. Like last year, I enjoyed all the enka performances.  Takashi Hosokawa (細川たかし) and Hiroshi Miyama's (三山ひろし) performances were impressive to me.  Of all the enka performances, I like Aya Shimazu (島津亜矢) best.  I really like the melody of Kaerancha Yoka (帰らんちゃよか).

5. The frist version of Manjuu Saka (曼珠沙華) I ever heard was its Chinese version covered by the late Hong Kong singer Anita Mui (梅艷芳).  I then listened to Momoe Yamaguchi's (山口百恵) version.  I always treat it as pop.  What a new experience when I heard Ayako Fuji's (藤あやこ) cover version in Kouhaku.  For the first time, I realized that Manjuu Saka sounds more like enka than pop.  I guess that's why they called it Kayo Kyoku (歌謡曲) to indicate that it's something in between.

6. To my own surprise, I enjoyed performances of Nogizaka46 (乃木坂46), NMB46 and E-girls.  "Kawaii" (かわいい) helps.

7. And since we're on the subject, I'm not sure if AKB48 has run its course.  When you have to invite Atsuko Maeda (前田敦子) back, it really shows the age (and decline) of the AKB franchise.  Well, maybe I'm too harsh.  Harrison Ford also appears in the latest Star Wars movie and the Star Wars franchise has been doing great.

8. When they did a close-up on Kiyoe Yoshioka (吉岡聖恵 the vocalist of Ikimonogakari いきものがかり), her eyes looked tired.  I guess this unfortunately happens to anyone who becomes a famous singer.  After you got famous, you'll be asked to work 7 days a week!  She also appeared to have lost some range in her voice.  I hope she's okay because I really like the group.

9. When I read the lyrics of Kana Nishino's (西野カナ) Torisetsu (トリセツ), I laughed out loud.  The word Torisetsu means "user's manual" in English.  The song is a user's manual for her future husband on how to take care of her.  I think it'll be very interesting to see someone sing this at a wedding :)

10. Can't really comment on Matchy's (近藤真彦) performance since I have not seen any of his past performances before.  I think he's pretty good given that he hasn't been a singer for more than 10 years.

11. Seiko-san (松田聖子) didn't screw up this time.  In fact, I think she had a pretty good performance.

12. Finally, my favorite performance goes to Miki Imai (今井美樹).  I was moved by both her voice and her song.  No fancy background, no fancy costume, no dancers, no choir.  Like other enka singers, she just showed up with her voice.  Contrast Perfume and Shina Ringo (椎名林檎).  Especially Ringo-san, her performance was weird, and I couldn't help to think that they're all gimmicks.

That's all I have.  I like this year's Kouhaku better than last year's.  Watch it if you have a chance, especially the first half.


  1. Hi Larry.

    I see you've finally caught last year's Kohaku (2015). Glad you liked the enka portions of the show. They were mostly well sung. I know I've said this a few times and I'm going to say it again and again for possibly as long as I live, or until the enka singer gives an even better performance, but Takashi Hosokawa singing "Kokoro Nokori" was just absolutely amazing. He looked so awesome in his all-white kimono.

    Anyway, the first half was definitely more watchable for me too as that's where most of the enka was at. The second half... probably my brain was getting exhausted and there were many acts I don't care for, so I didn't pay much attention to it, especially the Disney and Star Wars bits - I was staring at the TV but nothing was registering.

    I get what you mean about the Kohaku trying too hard. They're really pulling out all the stops to get back their once sky-high viewership. Unfortunately to no avail as I read from one of J-Canuck's articles that the 66th edition's viewership came in at a new low. True, the Star Wars and Disney stuff don't really meld cohesively with the "70 years after WWII", but I doubt just the history stuff plus music will get many to watch it either. Come to think of it, history+music sounds more like an edition of "Omoide no Melody" - shorter, more palatable (in my opinion) version of the Kohaku that showcases the most requested enka/Mood Kayo/kayokyoku, and last year's theme revolved around "70 years after WWII".

    For Matchy, I don't watch much of his stuff and only see him in his younger days when viewing old medleys of songs on YouTube, but I have to say that he seems disappointingly less rowdy now as he did then. His performance felt tame, considering song's high energy and not a fantastic way to wrap things up for the white team. Well, I could be biased on this as I'm still indignant that the Kohaku veteran Shinichi Mori didn't get the last slot. Eh, at least Matchy was still able to sing decently.

    Ah yes, one more thing. Thanks for the suggestion on the Agatha Christie book, I'll go check it out when I'm free.

    1. I'm upset too that Shinichi Mori didn't get to sing last. 20 years ago, they would have probably honored him that way.

  2. Hello, Larry.

    Yeah, I also enjoyed the overall show for the first time in quite a while. If NHK was indeed trying to go for those huge 50% or 60% ratings, then it was a wasted effort. There's no way that's gonna happen again...too many other things out there to do now.

    I think the enka performances will always be the steady rock for the program so I am hoping that Itsuki and Tendo among others will be back again. I'm getting the feeling that there may be a transition of generations in progress.

    As for Inocchi, his Red team may have lost the Kohaku for the first time in a few years but he did a fine job (being a weekday host for one of the NHK mainstay shows definitely helps!). And Ayase didn't screw up quite as much as she did a couple of years ago. BONUS!

    1. I agree that Kouhaku would unlikely return to its glory days. In fact, the whole music industry has been undergoing a tectonic shift.

      I forgot to mention Ayase in my notes. She's definitely better than when she hosted a few years ago.

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