NHK's popular music extravaganza, the “Kohaku Uta Gassen” (Red and White Song Contest), pulled out all the stops on Saturday night, with the memory of the March 11 disaster never far from the proceedings.
Hosted by actress Mao Inoue and all-male band Arashi, the 62nd edition of "Kohaku" featured 55 acts under the theme of "Let's sing for Japan." Several artists performed in front of montages of scenes from Tohoku.
Members of Japan's World Cup-winning women's soccer team made a special appearance at the start to get the proceedings under way.
Top batter for the 4th year in a row was pop diva Ayumi Hamasaki, wearing an enormous dress that draped down over several steps. Soon after, the stage was overwhelmed by legions of AKB48 singers, performing a "Special AKB48 Mix," but showing little coordination in their dance moves.
Staying up beyond their bedtime were the show's youngest participants, Mana Ashida (Red) and Fuku Suzuki (white), both 7. They were backed by dozens of children brought from the Tohoku area, as they sang "Maru Maru Mori Mori," the infectious hit theme song for Fuji TV's "Marumo no Okite." The precocious pair then sang Disney's "When You Wish Upon a Star" in Japanese.
Three Korean groups took part -- KARA and Girls Generation for the Red team, and Tohoshinki on the White team.
Seiko Matsuda, 49, appearing on "Kohaku" for the first time in 10 years, sang a rare duet with her daughter Sayaka Kanda, 25. Before a full house at a countdown event at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, they sang Kyu Sakamoto's 1963 song "Ue o muite aruko" (the only Japanese song to reach the No. 1 spot on the Billboard pop charts in the U.S.).
At 10 p.m., actor Jackie Chan offered a message of encouragement for Japan, before Lady Gaga appeared from New York by video link, to perform two numbers -- "You and I" and "Born This Way." For many older Japanese viewers watching at home, this was probably their first look at Lady Gaga who has visited Japan twice since March 11 to show her support and encourage tourism. Cosnidering all the pre-show hype, it was a little disappointing that she didn't say anything to the audience in Japan and around the world.
The women outperformed the men, easily winning the contest (after losing the last six years in a row). Too many of the male rock bands just made a lot of noise with incomprehensible lyrics. One exception was the ever-youthful Hiromi Go, 56, with his energetic "Go Smile Japan." The women had better set decorations on stage, wore more attractive costumes, or just kept it simple, such as when a 9-month pregnant Angela Aki sang "One Family" at the piano. Several artists appeared to be lip-synching (the trio of Perfume singers were quite obvious).
Throughout the broadcast, messages from viewers -- many in Tohoku -- were displayed across the bottom of the screen. Inoue introduced a segment on the plight of families in the Tohoku region. In December, Inoue visited families with babies who were born in Miyagi Prefecture on March 11 and spoke with them about their struggle since that day.
Inoue, who played the part of a mother in the postwar period in the NHK drama “Ohisama” last year, said: “I was inspired by seeing how strong the family bonds were when I visited Miyagi. These people have shown extraordinary bravery. It’s like a miracle.”
Arashi sang a poignant tribute to the survivors of the disaster with "Furusato." Singer-songwriter and human rights activist Rocker Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi performed "Hitotsu" live from the grounds of a damaged school in Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture. The Hula Girls, a group of Hawaiian-style dancers from the Fukushima onsen resort of Iwaki, also made an appearance via video link.
Veteran performers for the Red team included Akiko Wada, making her 35th appearance, Sayuri Ishikawa (34th), and Sachiko Kobayashi (33th), sporting her usual gaudy costume, while the veterans for the White team included Saburo Kitajima, making his 48th appearance, Shinichi Mori (44th), Hiroshi Itsuki (41st) and Takashi Hosokawa (35th).
Though it has lost some of its luster in the past 10 years, “Kohaku Uta Gassen” is still considered the most prestigious TV music program to be invited to appear on.© Japan Today