2013 63rd Annual NHK Kohaku Uta Gassen

Here we go for another music extravaganza from Japan.  With the declining economy, the presentation has been getting progressively sparser, but hopefully the talent will shine and carry the day.  We’re doing this live, so bear with the typos and frequent updates!  Ikimassho!

  •  Hamasaki Ayumi – Okay, the first note out of her mouth was off-key.  Her voice was trembling – forced – not with skilled tremolo or vibrato, but instead the inability to hold a note.  Lots of “Dreams Come True” shouting-to-the-audience when she knew she couldn’t sing the pitch.  Again with the horrid outfits, but as she is becoming dumpy and frumpy in her old age, she is starting to look like a haggared Miss Kitty from Gunsmoke.  Her outfits were obviously trying to hide her expanding midriff.  (root: my ears…. How is that she keeps getting to open the Kohaku?)
  • NYC – I don’t really like their stuff, but once again, if they are actually doing this live and not lip-synching, these guys are totally talented.  Not one off note!  Their choreography is spot on, and one dude can do some pretty impressive back flips!  (root: my eyes! The live projection background freaked me out, attack of the clones!)
  • SKE48 – Akimoto Yasushi’s Sakae, Nagoya “48” idol stage group pulls off the same magic as their Akihabara cousins.  Energetic, cute, and well rehearsed, their choreography is only surpassed by their on-key performance.  Really, if they are doing this live and not just dancing to a recording, then they are impressively talented.  (mmmm, crosseyed…. Don’t care for the skirts, dissappointed that those didn’t go away mid song)
  • Golden Bomber – A visual-kei air band?  WTF?  You’d figure if they weren’t actually playing the instruments, they’d at least get some singing lessons.  The music was not terrible though, but more in the disco-rock genre.  I could imagine this song as a theme song for some terrible primary-colored kids anime with pokey hair.  I don’t know how these guys managed to get invited when more established groups (even some of questionable talent like DCT) didn’t make the short list.  (root: WTF is right! I’ve seen fan groups do a better shtick! Heck, the K-On voice actress concert was more convincing!)

(root: Introducing the celebrity panel – woah, the olympic women’s wrestling medalist was as manly as the mens relayist was girly! That’s what Yoko Kanno looks like, somehow that’s not what I expected, she looks like someone’s mom!)

  • AAA (“Triple A”) – Still not really on-key, they are getting progressively better.  Heck, considering the fanbase DCT still has after hearing their terrible flat live performances, these guys are ace!  Their material is really weak though, like if the original was the Black Biscuits/Pocket Biscuits generation of pop, current K-pop girl bands are the dull reflection of the original, and Triple A is the thin shadow of the copy.  (root: that was weak, maybe not ear cringing, but super ordinary. The floral camo outfits also I don’t think worked very well. Like camo it was shape hiding and confusing)
  • Nakashima Mika – The low notes on this song were too low for her.  Fail.  (root: oh lord, my ears are cringing here! I don’t know if I can sit through this, I’m about ready to scan forward… the sparkly lights can hold my attention only so long… oh good, it over!)
  • Nidaime J Soul Brothers – This Hiro from EXILE produced group surpasses their forefathers in actually being somewhat on-key.  Their dancing and serious facial expressions are still laughable.  At least there are only 4 out of 7 who are just background garnish.  These guys are apparently the second of three “generations” of J Soul Brothers groups.  Eh.  Whatever.  I just don’t care.  (root: what do these guys have stuck up their butts?)
  • Mizuki Nana – Solidly on-key in her giant gosurori dress.  The song is in her typical anime theme song genre, but it is actually vocally challenging with a wide pitch range.  She is so definitely meter-sticks above hacks like Hamasaki on the talent scale!  Again, I hope that this goes to reinforce the concept that something can come from the anime arena and still be legitimate.  Talent that comes from that direction is generally dismissed by the industry, even like in mainstream music stores.  (root: yup, solid performance. She even manages to move a bit and look natural in that dress, as opposed to Ham-asaki’s flailing about.)

Oh no!  The first intermezzo has a Disney theme!  Don’t y’all know Uncle Walt hated non-whites?  Arashi does the Mickey Mouse theme song.  OK, seeing AKB 48 doing “Supercalifragilistic” wasn’t too bad with the volume turned down.  OK, who were those Johnny’s guys?  Kanjani 8?  Did they do anything other then slide out on stage in yellow outfits?  Perfume without autotune was not terrible.  Scary, yet hot.  Mickey is evil.  It’s weird how a public broadcaster is teaming with a giant corporation for what is a thinly-veiled commercial tie-in.  I guess in Japan the public’s fondness or attachment to a franchise trancends corporate concerns?  (root: got to hand it to those character suit actors being able to perform like that- OH! excuse me must watch now, frilly… fuzzy… boots! Nice to see Perfume seems to be moving away from the robot thing. Hey hey dude, are you copping a Mickey feel?!)

  • FUNKY MONKEY BABYS – Spin, scratch, sing!  Do something, mister DJ!  They were pretty good this year.  I guess part of that was being bombarded with this song on 97.1 FM.  (root: maybe if goofy guy actually did something other than be goofy, they wouldn’t have to be saying goodbye? Just WTF does he do?!)
  • Fuji Ayako – Female contemporary vocal from some uplifting, inspirational anime about a little dog?  Must be some NHK program I haven’t seen.  (root: nothing to fault in performance, well done but nothing really memorable or powerful. Little Charo?)
  • HY – Contemporary vocal duet with a folksy bent.  Female vocal is on it throughout the range, but male vocal has issues up high.  (root: the Denny hair is unfortunate. The dude might be ok, but the chick has such power she totally overwhelms him. Looks like she could physically too, but no arguements regardless, she can sing!)
  • Mizumori Kaori – Solid enka performance in spite of being elevated to the skies on the giant telescoping dress of doom!  I guess she is taking over for Kobayashi Sachiko for the techno-dress spot?  (root: Hey! It’s Roy with long hair and a hat! Except I don’t think Roy has the super emo aura of this dude. I was expecting there to be a galactic reaction having him with super exuberant Mizuki Nana. I bet Hamasaki was all jelly, how come my dress isn’t that big? Because you can’t even dream to sing like this!)
  • Naoto Inti Raymi – Nakamura Naoto uses this stage name from the incan word for “the festival of the sun”.  Average male pop vocal with the occasional lapse into autotune.  Whee.  Forgettable.  (root: again, I don’t know who was more manly, this dude or the women’s soccer star)

(root: ooh, a women’s olympian that’s cute! we like ping pong! Sorry, table tennis?)

  • Kouda Kumi – It’s unfortunate that I’ll forever associate this song with the terrible anime that it is a theme song from, since it is really not a bad song.  It is not particularly vocally challenging, and it is rather repetitious.  She is doing this live though, as she came in late at one point and the recorded backing vocals could be heard before her.  (root: thank you! Please stick with the rump bopping, booty shaking skankyness, no ballads please! Although this isn’t one of her better ones, I’ll take it over any of her ballads! And yes, I actually watched that horrible anime all the way through, dunno why?!)
  • Hosokawa Takashi – OK, I’ve been looking forward to this enka performance.  It’s even better with Momoiro Clover Z doing the back dancing!  Let me go enjoy this without typing…  Whoa Momoclo, those were some rather rude poses for an enka song!  (root: ok, that was rather fun! Were they always Z? Ah no, that was a change in the last two years. Wonder if the old lady in the panel was cracking up over Momoclo’s antics. One of those amusing juxtaposing of the yosakoish dancing that was pretty fitting for the song, but with idol girls in idoling outfits doing it! Worth a rewatch, be back in a few!)
  • Kouzai Kaori – Full-range female enka performance.  I’m glad that there is a young guard picking up the torches handed to them by the outgoing generation.  Enka will live on!  (root: nothing to fault in this straighforward enka performance. No backing dancers here.)
  • Porno Graffitti – Wow, these guys are looking like some oyaji band now!  A pretty on-key acoustic ballad this year for them.  (root: not bad, didn’t want to fast forward, but I also did something else while it played in a backgound window)

(root: hm, judo girl cleans up ok, still a bit scary. Not as severely manly as some of those other olypians)

  • Nishino Kana – High-pitched and tiny.  Very good performance.  It would be good if she doesn’t continue down the Hamasaki-dress road that she seems to have started down.  (root: enjoyable poppy performance, although it almost had me move away from the window. The BG animated character kind of bothered me)
  • Tachi Hiroshi – Big band tribute to the late Ishihara Yuujiro (brother of controversial (okay, bourgeoisie ass) Tokyo mayor Ishihara Shintaro), actor in films like Taiyou no Kisetsu and Kurutta Kajitsu.
  • Kodai Natsuko – The enka vibrato queen is back again this year with a melancholy yet resolutely strong piece.  (root: the backing AKB48 dancing here wasn’t the greatest, it looks like they didn’t have a whole lot of rehersal time, and it’s a style they’re not familiar with)
  • Mori Shinichi – One of Japan’s greatest tenors returns looking noticably older this year.  His voice runs from almost breathless lows to resounding highs.  Well done.  Emphatic.  (root: sounds like he missed a couple notes, but what do i know of enka.)
  • Ayaka – Contemporary female pop vocal.  Somewhat melodramatic, but she keeps it on key, even though she is only working within one octave and an occasional falsetto.  Meh.  (root: where’s that folksy gaijin looking chick? Wasn’t really my thing, but couldn’t deny that she was pretty good. Ayaka is really quite meh in comparison)

Uh-oh, the second intermezzo.  Drat!  Too many names… Hey, there’s Nishida Toshiyuki!  It appears to be a Tohoku earthquake recovery inspirational song.  (root: the old futs socked it to the young uns there, those other three sucked royally!)

  • Kanjani 8 – Oh, darn it!  I went to the kitchen to get some dinner and I missed it.  Okay, I’m not sad I missed it at all!  From the little I saw, they don’t suck as bad as SMAP.  (root: started out good enough with the taiko and matsurish stuff but degenerated into typical boy group stuff)
  • Momoiro Clover Z – Okay, they’re rather annoying in interview. They’re not particularly cute, so it is hard to forgive them for singing off-key.  They are fine for the parts where they are essentially talking and not singing, or yelling, but the melodic parts give them problems.  They also suffer from the typical girl-ensemble issue of not harmonizing, but singing the exact same part instead.  They can’t hold a talent candle to any of the 48 groups.  (root: now I know why I never really payed much attention to them, they aren’t that great. The glowing eye thing was pretty weird though)
  • TOKIO – Wow, that’s the most pitch-perfect performance I’ve heard from them!  They were even harmonizing!  I’m impressed!  Are they getting better with age?  (root: are we watching the same kohaku? The start really hurt, the got ok once everyone was singing. Nice 5 string!)
  • Perfume – If you want to know where all the lame K-pop girl groups stole their dance moves from, look no further than Perfume.  The vocals are sounding a lot less synthetic… and whoa!  LED dresses!  I… I’m speechless!  They’re still a little scary… yet fascinating at the same time.  Aaah!  Still the SAME shoes!  WTF!  (root: nice that they’re moving away from the robo dancing and singing. Wah! Same reaction here, LED! I’m… captivated!)
  • Kobukuro – Wow, they’re sounding good live this year.  Maybe again it’s from hearing this repeatedly on 97.1 for the past several months.  Ooh, guitar guy bobbled a little there.  (root: pretty good, hmm, some dissonance there at the end Mr. Sulu. Oh, gotta stop writing, look who’s next!)
  • AKB48 – Sounds like they borrowed Perfume’s autotune machine… I can’t dislike this… in any way whatsoever.  I guess I need some of their CD’s at some point…  (root: Fiah! Thank you for losing the serious faces quickly! More is better? Yes!)
  • Gou Hiromi – The little guy looks like he’s had some cosmetic surgery done.  He doesn’t look as old as he did last year.  He’s got some talent, but that’s sort of suffused with a good amount of camp.  At least it doesn’t seem like he takes himself too seriously, or maybe that’s part of the packaging?  (root: it’s hard to dislike him, the stuffs catchy. Cosmetic surgery! Come on, he’s asian, no need!)
  • aiko – Flat!  Singing, not figure! ..okay, maybe both.  Her off-key-ness is only outshined by her terrible pacing.  Her dancing is almost as awkward as Mochida Kaori.  (root: I think that’s her shtick)
  • Itsuki Hiroshi – Woo hoo!  I guess I’m “turning oyaji” if this is one of the high points of the show for me!  Heck, when his songs come on on KZOO 1210 AM (they don’t play enka on 97.1 FM), I can identify him by voice!  The song has “blues” in the title, but it is more “samba”.  (root: He’s the man! How can he not be the man when surrounded by AKB48 & knee-high boots!)
  • Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – Also known as Caroline Charonplop Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, is the stage name of techno-pop idol girl Takemura Kiriko.  If this isn’t lip-synched, she is really good, even though the songs aren’t complicated.  Disturbing costumes.  (root: aah! She’s made it to the kohaku! Still trying to figure out if I like her stuff or not, the videos got weird psychedlic imagery going on, but can only take so much of the music)

The third intermezzo features Arashi and their song “Furusato”.  Hey, it’s Kusama Yayoi!  Their singing was not off on this live performance, but it is totally melodically derivitive of their previous portfolio, so it’s like singing the same old song with different lyrics.  Of course that’s Arashi…

  • Tokunaga Hideaki – A vocally rich rendition of Ue o Muite Arukou.  (root: nicely done. A good singer doing a classic song, can’t go wrong)
  • Yuki Saori – Performing in Portland with Pink Martini with her flawless voice.  (root: what can you say when the opening notes does that brings goosebumps to skin feeling. You’d imagine that birds would stop and perch in the trees, the bunnies would come bounding out of their hutches, the world within ear range would stop for the brief minutes of wonderment)
  • Saitou Kazuyoshi – Exceptional performance if his 70’s retro “Yasashiku Naritai” in his Kohaku debut.  The song has a pretty frenetic, breathless pace with no significant vocal pauses.  I should look for this on CD too.  (root: pretty cool, hear this on radio all the time, every time I hear it I keep wondering if I’ve heard it somewhere before)
  • Tendou Yoshimi – The Kansai enka queen is  is back again this year with a flaming “Souran Matsuribushi”.  Okay, that just doesn’t sound good.  She never fails to deliver with her powerful voice.  (root: who doesn’t dig a soranbushi done with flawless power!)
  • YUI – Solo vocal with acoustic guitar.  Somewhat generic folksy repetitious melody.  Apparently it charted and got her a debut on the show though.  Meh.  (root: kinda painfull, and she keeps looking like she’s trying to squeeze one out)
  • Hikawa Kiyoshi – The next Kitajima Saburou is taking to his role in the enka world well.  I kind of missed seeing Jero this year.  I don’t know who is the better enka singer.  (root: Kiyoshi’s losing the boyish look, he’s actually looking downright old. Better than last year though, he looked kind of haggard then!)
  • Sakamoto Fuyumi – a contemporary rendition of the classic “Yozakura Oshiki”.
  • Arashi – On-key, but this is a medly of all their previous hit singles, so they darned well better have it down by now.  There are a lot of vocal effects and autotune, so I really wonder if it is live vocals though.
  • Miwa Akihiro – an unusual narrative song with a traditional folksong melody.  Another debut.  (root: weird, it felt almost like a poetry reading sometimes. )
  • Wada Akiko – Still forceful as ever, she seems to be struggling less this year with staying on-key than last year.  Might be time for the earpiece, as she has issues at low-volume parts where she might not be able to hear her own voice above the instruments.  I’m glad she did well this year.  I was half-expecting a train wreck, and was relieved that didn’t happen.  (root: some pretty rough spots, but who’s to argue with Wada-san! Plus its an emotional tribute)

The fourth intermezzo.  It’s two parts.

Great.  MISIA live from the desert in Namibia.  Considering all the wind noise with the SAME MIC there was during the interview portion, there is no way this is live singing!  I feel ripped off!  I don’t think this is live mic in the desert with in-line reverb added.  Okay, maybe.  (root: I want to see the booms they used!)

Yazawa Eikichi!  Growling, old-school blues-based rock and roll!  It’s always good to hear him perform.  (root: did he have a concert here in recent memory? I bet he gets all the chicks, granny in the panel was rockin out!)

  • EXILE – It’s the same old song they performed last year, but at least last year it offset that nationalistic song by Tohoshinki.  This year it was just an old song.  There are way too many garnish members.  (root: got better when they got the backup backup dancers)

(root: WTF?! The hell’s that purple jellyfish dress?!)

  • YUKI – I guess she was on the Kohaku before as a part of Judy and Mary, but this is her solo debut.  It is weird that she is performing “Prism” from her first album in 2012 (six albums ago!).  It wasn’t the “album version”, and she slipped in pitch a couple of times, but it was a memorable performance …even without her jamming her hand down her pants.  (root: I wonder if anyone’s ever inhaled the confetti, looks like she could fit an entire one of those gold stars in her mouth!)
  • Fukuyama Masaharu – I can just hear Tarepanda-san squealing like Panda-imoutou looking at her Handa-san photo while watching this!  Oh, great – flying kabuki men!  WTF!  I’m going to have nightmares about that now.  He’s not terrible.  He has good singing technique.  I just don’t really like his material.  (root: yeah, his singing’s pretty good, but the song itself ordinary. I didn’t have quite the same reaction to the floaty kabuki men, the way you were carrying on I was expecting a whole squadron of them to be flying all over the place!)
  • Princess Princess – Whoa – what’s wrong with her skirt!  They still can do it.  Plus, they really all play their instruments!  Man, am I going to have to bust out my collection of Ribbon and CoCo CD’s for tomorrow’s drive to work?  I remember seeing Kishimoto on some TV show panel a lot before the reunion… can’t remember what.  (root: that was like some anime moment. I can just see it, the high school cultural festival, the girl’s band club members accidentaly get locked in the equipment storage shed, it’s time for the performance, the stage is empty, the audience gets restless, people start getting up to leave, the mom’s of all the girls who were actually former alumni and members of the band take the stage and fill in to stun the audience!)
  • Ishihara Sayuri – Like an enka punch to the gut, Ishihara’s voice penetrates to your core with it’s dynamic energy and range.  From coyly sweet to rippingly rough, she will not be ignored.  (root: some pretty intenese visuals too!)
  • Kitajima Saburo – YES!  The God of Enka sings his “Fuusetsu nagaretabi”, digging down into his memories of the hard postwar life in his hometown, Shiriuchi, Hokkaido.  You can feel the biting cold!  (root: nothing to say, it’s Kitajima Saburo!)
  • Ikimonogatari – The ELT of the 10’s, they sing their eponymous song “Kaze ga fuiteiru” used as the JDM theme song for the NHK London Olympic broadcast.  They are either improving a lot live, or that entire performance was lip-synched.  I lean toward the latter, as it sounded no different than the studio recording that gets overplayed.
  • SMAP – Well, they’re not getting worse, if anything.  Of course Nakai is their key liability, followed closely by Kimura.  (root: well, I don’t think they’re getting any better)

NHK did a really good job of getting their mileage out of the one set background.  Their design and technical staff definitely should be commended for creating such a versatile background.  I am thankful for the absence of K-pop bands this year!!!  I hope y’all enjoyed watching it this year as much as I did!  (root: yeah good job on the staging. Seeing that the entire stage was a video screen, pretty neat!)

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