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.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Marcos V.’s notes on “67th NHK Kohaku Utagassen” (第67回NHK紅白歌合戦)

That’s a post about my impressions on 2016’s edition of “NHK Kohaku Utagassen”. I don’t intend to talk about every single performance, but just about the ones that took my attention – for good or bad. Honorable mentions goest to PUFFY and their hit medley comprised of debut song “Asia no Junshin” (アジアの純真) and the always great “Nagisa ni Matsuwaru Et Cetera” (渚にまつわるエトセトラ), but also to Kanjani8 (関ジャニ∞) and their surprisingly fun “Zukkoke Otokomichi” (ズッコケ男道).

I will start with the “48 Family” groups, which were not at their best, nor at their worst. AKB48 performed their first number one song, “RIVER” (2009), and that was quite nostalgic. It’s also a reminder of one of the group’s best songs to date. As for “Kimi wa Melody” (君はメロディ), I only listened to it around the single’s release date back in February, but it sounds as uninspired as before. Where’s the great “High Tension” (ハイテンション) to end the year in a good way, girls? Other similar groups were Nogizaka46 (乃木坂46) with the boring “Sayonara no Imi” (サヨナラの意味) and Keyakizaka46 (欅坂46) with their debut “Silent Majority” (サイレントマジョリティー). The latter is not a bad song, but I prefer “Futari Saison” (二人セゾン), which they released in November. In the end, nothing truly outstanding coming from the "Alphabet Groups", but still mildly enjoyable stuff.

I was a little bit disappointed with Hikaru Utada’s (宇多田ヒカル) performance, and part of it was because I expected her to perform on Kohaku’s stage. Well, I understand she preferred to end the year where she’s currently living with hubby and her little boy, but I was waiting to see her on that iconic stage for the first time. As for the performance itself, it wasn’t her best either, and “Hanataba wo Kimi ni” (花束を君に), although very fine, isn’t the most interesting song from her latest album, “Fantôme”. I understand she had to sing it, as the song was a tie-in to a NHK drama. The same can be said about Perfume... “FLASH” is not the best song they offered in 2016, but it was – unfortunately – their sole promo song the whole year, and also associated with a NHK drama. I just hope the trio have a better 2017.

I truly respect X JAPAN for their history and the importance of the band for japanese pop, but singer TOSHI wasn’t in his best days (maybe he always sounds like that, but I can't say). Other rock bands, such as RADWIMPS and THE YELLOW MONKEY were not able to entertain me as well, but that’s probably just because I don’t care for rock in the first place. The only one I liked was -surprise, surprise- TOKIO, and that’s basically because they sang “Sorafune” (そらふね) – a song I like very much.

Even though Seiko Matsuda’s (松田聖子) latest ballad, “Bara no You ni Saite Sakura no You ni Chitte” (薔薇のように咲いて 桜のように散って), is not my cup of tea, she did a great performance alongside YOSHIKI. I was truly happy to see her on stage singing new quality material instead of just rehashing the old catalogue.

About enka artists, the night’s highlights for me were Yukino Ichikawa’s (市川由紀乃) emotional performance, Kaori Mizumori’s (水森かおり) epic and beautiful staging, but also the new arrangement of Sayuri Ishikawa’s (石川さゆり) classic “Amagi Goe” (天城越え), as well as Fuyumi Sakamoto’s (坂本冬美) amazing “Yozakura Oshichi” (夜桜お七). The latter was probably the song I liked the most in this Kohaku’s edition – thanks to the gorgeous arrangement and all the unexpected changes between a slow ballad and a fast-paced dance pop song. A truly amazing and inspired tune, for sure!

Now, among things I truly disliked, there was SEKAI NO OWARI (I just don’t get that group), the always horrible and far from sexy Johnny’s group Sexy Zone, AAA (I like male vocalist Nissy, but just when he’s working on his solo career), Kana Nishino (西野カナ) (everything she releases sounds so bland) and the worst of all in my opinion: Sandaime J Soul Brothers. Man, I can’t stand what they do. Really! They take what’s worst in contemporary American pop music and turns it into a very bad caricature. I’d rather watch Golden Bomber (ゴールデンボンバー) perform “Memeshikute” (女々しくて) again and again instead of anything coming from Sandaime.

Last but not least, ARASHI (嵐) ended the night performing three of their classics. From what they sang, “Happiness” is easily my favorite. I’d love to see a classy performance of their best single in a while, “Fukkatsu LOVE” (復活LOVE), but they just decided to do a performance embedded in nostalgia (it’s understandable, especially since SMAP is no longer among us as a group anymore).

And that’s it for my “67th NHK Kohaku Utagassen” review. I hope we all have a great 2017, full of the best life can offer... and that includes good and old Japanese music.


  1. Hi Marcos.

    I kinda found 2016's Kohaku rather strange with Pikotaro and Godzilla, but out of the 3 editions I've watched so far it ain't the worst. For starters, they only had one Arashi guy (Aiba, if I'm not mistaken) as the white team's MC/captain rather than all 5 of them.

    One thing that gets me though is that there's so many Johnny's groups in the white team - they didn't need V6 (the worst; even SMAP looks better than them) or Sexy Zone (terrible). That being said, the red team could also reduce the number of alphabet groups since they're pretty much the same thing with a different label. It felt like utter chaos when so many of them were running around during AKB48's turn.

    The enka performances were, of course, the highlights for me. Hiroshi Miyama's kendama traipse was fun, Kiyoshi Hikawa's "Haku-un no Shiro" was intense, Fuyumi Sakamoto added an extra kick with "Yozakura Oshichi" (she could do without that dancer who looked like she needed an exorcist), and Sayuri Ishikawa's dramatic performance was a great way to wrap things up for the red team. As for Kaori Mizumori, it seems that J-Canuck was right when he predicted that she may be the next Sachiko Kobayashi with her huge and outstanding stage pieces. Sadly, I thought Hiroshi Itsuki's turn (the one I wanted to see most) was quite underwhelming - I guess how you felt about the alphabet group girls lacking high tension sort of applies to me here.

    In terms of pop/rock, I liked Gen Hoshino's performance with the cute "Koi Dance", and while I enjoyed "Zen Zen Zense", I found the RADWIMPS' vocalist's delivery rather flat that night. X Japan and Hikaru Utada were cool - the latter reminded me of Akina Nakamori's appearance in 2014, but Utada definitely looked more alive. The performance I was surprised I liked was Seiko Matsuda's... it's one of those things that I thought I'd never say. Perhaps it's a combination of a nice song and her acting her age (and hence not sounding bad).

    1. Hi, Noelle.

      I've been watching Kouhaku since 2010, and I liked every edition so far. It gets a little bit repetitive after a while, and there were a couple of years I wasn't very thrilled about watching it (well, just last year), but this year I was fine and was even ejoying it in advance.

      About Johnny's groups, I agree that V6 wasn't really necessary, and the same can be said about Sexy Zone, which I hold a special grudge against. Also, I'm not a big fan of Kinki Kids (that Latin song was cheesy) as well. However, I was more than happy that Kiss-my-ft2 and Hey! Say! JUMP were not invited to the event (I missed SMAP, though, for obvious reasons). Other than that, I think Kanjani8, TOKIO and ARASHI (by the way, you were right. Aiba-kun was the white team captain and one of the hosts) are fine representing the agency.

      About the 48 groups, they've already reduced their presence a little bit. For me, AKB48 and Nogizaka46 were enough, but I enjoyed Keyakizaka46's performance, even though "Silent Majority" wasn't one of my highlights of the year. Now, Imagine if we had to deal with those three plus SKE48, NMB48 and HKT48 as well. That would be truly horrible.

      As for the enka genre, you know I've been a little more open to it recently. So, with that in mind, I enjoyed every single performance (I even thought there were less enka singers this year, something I was not happy with). I'm still jamming to "Yozakura Oshichi", and it'll certainly be included in my playlists. Other than that, I missed Takashi Hosokawa... I think he retired from the show, which is a pity.

      Now a curious thing: my next Kouhaku experience will probably be this week, as one of my friends invited me to watch the 1996 edition of the show.

    2. Hi Marcos.

      If it's any consolation about your hate for Sexy Zone, my mom thinks they look like gingerbread men - spiceless gingerbread men that can't sing for nuts. If you don't mind me asking, why do you have a grudge against one of the more obscure (in my opinion)Johnny's groups?

      About the alphabet groups: WOW, I didn't realize there were THAT many groups. Oh geez, if all were present it'll be one heck of a nightmare.

      There were indeed fewer enka singers, especially for the white team. They should just take out V6 and/or Sexy Zone and put in a couple more enka veterans who can actually sing.

      Hope you'll enjoy the 1996 edition of the Kohaku with your friend. I do believe that the enka/Mood Kayo acts were more balanced then, and there were fewer terrible acts... I think. Hey, at least no Sexy Zone.

  2. Hello, folks.

    As with both of your opinions, I found the 2016 edition of the Kohaku fairly good and it managed to stem the flow of blood by rating just a few points above its worst viewership of 2015; well, every little bit helps.

    It definitely looks like NHK was really trying to work on improving things one of their own admittedly dusty crown jewels with several days worth of pre-Kohaku specials, a three-stage setup, and some choreography thrown into the performances (although that young actress/dancer with Hiromi Go looked pretty creepy). That running gag with Tamori and Matsuko Deluxe would have worked if the pair were actually good at improvising comedy; all it basically was an obvious diversion so that the staff could get everything set up for the next act. Also, there was a tad too much milking of the Pikotaro (I'm truly hoping that PPAP has seen its last appearance) and Godzilla gags.

    The enka folks did their usual fine job especially Kouhei Fukuda and I finally thought that enka wunderkind Kiyoshi Hikawa looked more like a truly adult veteran singing in front of Kumamoto Castle.

    I wasn't all that thrilled with the setup for Hikaru Utada but I understood that her family came first with that London performance. Plus, my impression from a recent interview she did is that she was never all that comfortable in the Japan spotlight so I'm not surprised that she decided to stay in London.

    I would have preferred Perfume to have done "Cosmic Explorer" (thanks very much for that introduction, Marcos) instead of "Flash" but I think the latter song was probably easier to do onstage. However, my personal highlight was Ringo Shiina and her performance at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Hall with the projection mapping.

    I didn't particularly the song Seiko-chan sang that night but seeing her again brought the point home that I remembered her as that fresh-faced aidoru bopping about at the 1981 Kohaku 35 years ago.

    The little bit of news to have come out since the show was how the Red team was able to win although the signs were that the White team had been leading in the other categories. I was a bit surprised by that myself although I didn't particularly either team had the overwhelming upper hand.

    Anyways, I lost my gentleman's bet with Larry about SMAP showing up. The Kohaku was all right and although it would be delusional to believe that it will ever reach those 80% ratings of the 50s and 60s again, NHK is in the right direction of trying to do a bit more of a shakeup. As long as people talk about it afterwards and provides another option during New Year's Eve, it's doing OK.

    1. Hi, J-Canuck.

      I could do with all the interventions and all (the Godzilla thing was just underwhelming, and, even though I love Tamori and Matsuko Deluxe, their thing wasn't very interesting as well), but, since wer're talking about a very long show, I understand they have to try these different - and sometimes odd - things to keep people interesting. I could do just with the music performances, but for some people it isn't enough.

      Well, COSMIC EXPLORER is a far superior song if comapred to FLASH, and I'd love to see Perfume performing something like that on Kouhaku, but they seem stuck in their two and a half minutes time slot. This year, their appearance was so brief... they only performed and went away. As my father noticed, there was no little chat with the hosts before of after the performance.

      Now, generally speaking, I like Kouhaku's existance. It may get a little repetitive and cheesy at times, but it's a beautiful mediatic tradition. I don't know, maybe every country have someting similar, maybe not (we surely do here in Brazil, but not with the same opulence), but it's a nice showcase of some of the country's popular acts. I'm saying that because I see people questioning why this event still exists nowadays. And I mentally ask in response: why doesn't it have the right to exist? Like you said, it's an option on New Year's Eve. Personally speaking, I generally don't go to the beach (I'm lazy, I know), like many here in Brazil do on New Year's Eve, so I end watching similar shows on TV... simply because I like it. If I were in Japan, maybe I'd do the same and just sit to watch Kouhaku. It's just a fine option... and a legitimate one.

      In the end, I think the show must go on. Like you said, it won't ever match golden ratings, but I hope the ratings it gets are just enough to NHK keep doing the show.

      Oh, and you'd have lost the bet against me as well, J-Canuck, because I was sure KimuTaku and the gang weren't going to show up.

    2. Hi, Marcos.

      Yeah, I can't ever see the Kohaku being deleted permanently. It'll always present itself as an option for people during New Year's Eve. We don't have anything like that here in Canada outside of the usual televised countdown shows. I'm not sure if we can dig up nearly as many acts in Canada to create a similar extravaganza.

      Yeah, I was still a bit surprised about SMAP not showing up at all but perhaps the ending of SMAPXSMAP was considered to be the final period for their statement.

    3. Hi J-Canuck and Marcos (again).

      Personally I was a fan of the Tamori and Matsuko Deluxe segment. Seeing them end up in everywhere but their seats was a silly distraction to look forward to in those 4 hours. I particularly liked the part where they stopped for the dinner bento. The 2nd Pikotaro bit with the choir on the other hand... well THAT was weird, for want of a better word.

      Hikawa was indeed very mature in this edition - something a little different from his recent Kohaku shtick I'd been seeing - and his dramatic performance before the castle was quite a sight to behold. Fukuda was a welcoming sight too and, as usual, his rendition of "Tokyo Gorin Ondo" was amazing. But I was hoping for him to sing a Michiya Mihashi tune (with him being the modern day Michi and all) or even one of his own works.

      Singapore doesn't have something like a Kohaku, but we do have a countdown show on TV... I think. It's either that or I'm thinking of Chinese New Year. What I'm sure of is that there will always be some party featuring a number of local and foreign acts. Not my cup of tea so I'm glad I now have the Kohaku to watch to end the year, even if the latter can be draggy.


Feel free to provide any comments (pro or con). Just be civil about it.