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And the ‘nice try’ award goes to . . .

by Steve McClure

It is my sad duty to report that the inaugural MTV Video Music Awards Japan, held May 24 at the Tokyo International Forum, was a less than spectacularly successful affair.

The event was plagued by some very lame presenters, technical glitches and missed cues. And whoever had the idea of hiring “comedy” duo London Boots to host the show should be given the boot. “Lonboo” were clearly out of their depth. “Ware ware wa all-nihongo MC desu (We are all-Japanese-language MCs),” the Boots proudly proclaimed.

Those of us who attended the event were subjected to excruciatingly long breaks while the stage was being prepared for the next award presentation or live performance. MTV viewers saw a streamlined, somewhat tarted-up version of the show, but even clever editing couldn’t hide all the rough edges or the fact that between a third and half the seats in the first floor of the hall — set aside for industry types, the media and artists — were empty.

Given that this was the first time MTV Japan has held an awards show, problems were to be expected. And things weren’t all bad. Sheryl Crow and her band turned in a fine performance of “Soak Up the Sun,” Canadian band Nickelback raised the energy level with a scorching version of “How You Remind Me,” Ken Hirai proved once again that he’s one of Japan’s best vocalists with a fine medley, while Ayumi Hamasaki sang a surprisingly gutsy version of her latest single, “Free and Easy.”

Oasis, looking like an advance squad of English football hooligans, displayed their usual loutish charm in accepting the best live performance award, which they received on the strength of their live set at the “MTV the Super Dry Live” gig at Zepp Tokyo in Odaiba the previous day. “Fantastic,” “Bloody marvelous” and “Thank you, Japanese people,” were some of the comments the band made as they grabbed their gong and swiftly exited the stage.

You had to feel sorry for actress Ayaka Seto, who presented the best video from a film award. The award went to “Lady Marmalade” from the movie “Moulin Rouge,” but poor Ms. Seto froze when confronted with the word “marmalade.” What a horrible jam to find oneself in.

And actor Vincent Gallo should have received a special honesty award for his reply to co-presenter Fayray’s question of whether he was tired (by this point the show was well into its fourth hour).

“No, I’m not tired at all,” he replied, “because I slept through the whole show.”

He wasn’t alone. Many members of the audience could be seen nodding off; the program started half an hour late, at 7:30 p.m., and ran 1 1/2 hours over-time, until 12:30 a.m.

Gallo, who looked like he’d been sleeping in a hedge, came across as a real creep. “Look at Fayray’s body,” he told the audience as he ogled her, to Fayray’s evident embarrassment.

The video of the year award, by the way, went to Mr Children’s “Kimi ga Suki (I Like You).”

Other award winners included Hirai (best male artist), Hamasaki (best female artist), RIP Slyme (best new artist), Backstreet Boys (best group) and Hikaru Utada (best R&B). This last award was a bit surprising, since Utada was up against such heavyweights as Mary J. Blige, Usher and Alicia Keys (as well as Japan’s own Gospellers).

Finalists in 13 categories were chosen by MTV Japan viewers and a selection committee comprising MTV staff members and industry notables. Japanese or international acts that released a CD in Japan between Jan. 1, 2001, and Feb. 28, 2002, and who also produced a music video were eligible for nomination. Winners were decided by votes from MTV Japan viewers and the selection committee.

The odd thing about the awards is that, with a couple of exceptions, they weren’t presented for specific videos but seemed to be based on an act’s overall popularity.

The entirely gratuitous “legend award” went to former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, who was on hand to accept his prize. Page looked to be in fine shape but unfortunately did not grace us with a performance. A quick but sincere-sounding thank-you speech and he was gone. Perhaps Page had pressing business elsewhere — hard to imagine that he’d come all the way to Japan just to accept this curious award.

Some suggestions for next year:

– Hire a male-female duo of MCs, at least one of whom should be bilingual;

– Get better presenters, people with some energy and wit who can do more than simply read the teleprompter;

– Enlist the services of a top-class stage manager who can ensure the event runs smoothly and on schedule;

– And, last, make sure there are more bums on seats.