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Space Shower TV bangs a gong in style

by Steve McClure

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Space Shower TV, the Japanese homegrown equivalent of MTV. With its unpretentious presenters, high quotient of decidedly unslick, locally made music videos and low-key artist interviews, Space Shower has a strong “street” feel.

Despite its almost amateurish (in the best sense of the word) vibe, Space Shower presented an object lesson in how to run an awards show at its 7th annual Music Video Awards ceremony March 8, held for the first time at the Budokan.

The show, which started at 6 p.m. and was scheduled to wind up at 8:30, ran just 15 minutes over time, in contrast with last year’s inaugural MTV Video Music Awards Japan gong-fest, which ended 90 minutes later than scheduled. MTV made the classic mistake of trying to do too much too soon, whereas Space Shower has gradually fine-tuned its awards ceremony over the years into the smoothly run operation we saw on March 8.

Instead of going for celebrity presenters, Space Shower wisely opted to have on-air personalities Bryan Burton-Lewis and Risa Stegmayer handle all the presentation duties, although the mohican-coiffed Burton-Lewis was rather hoarse by the end of the show.

What about the awards themselves? Well, there weren’t any huge surprises: the film-noirish video for Keisuke Kuwata’s hit single “Tokyo” won the best video of the year award, for example. The best new artist video award was picked up by Chitose Hajimefor “Wadatsumi no Ki (The Tree of Poseidon),” the best male video prize went to Ken Hirai’s “Ring” and the best female video award was won by Utada Hikaru’s “Sakura Drops.”

One problem with the Space Shower awards is that the way honors are allocated is less than transparent: Awards are apparently decided by Space Shower staff based on listener requests received during calendar 2002, with the exception of the “best your choice” award, for which viewers cast votes via e-mail or mobile phones. A more open and democratic selection process would boost the show’s credibility.

The “best your choice” award was won by RIP Slyme’s “Rakuen Baby (Paradise Baby).” They performed that song and “Tokyo Classic” at the end of the show, ending the ceremony on an upbeat note. In fact all the acts who played live during the course of the evening — Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, Crystal Kay, Ken Hirai, folk duo Yuzu, Chitose Hajime, and rock band Bump of Chicken — turned in great performances, with the exception of the lackluster Bump of Chicken.

Speaking of poultry, at the after-show party I ran into Ken Yokoyama, leader of hardcore trios Hi Standard and BBQ Chickens. He told me that the BBQ Chickens had been planning to perform live at the show but were turned down by Space Shower for reasons of taste.

“We wanted to do a parody of the Michael Jackson ‘baby off the balcony’ thing with 10 real babies,” said Yokoyama, flashing his gap-toothed grin. Hard to tell whether he was serious or not. Maybe next year . . .

Although so far no Japanese musicians have released songs either for or against the war in Iraq, some Japanese artists, such as Misia, Ryuchi Sakamoto and Takuro of Glay, are making their voices heard on their Web sites and in the media.

J-pop singer Utada Hikaru, who’s not not exactly known for political folk songs, has also joined the fray. In the two most recent postings on the “Message from Hikki” section of her Web site (www.toshiba-emi.co.jp/hikki/from_hikki/index_f.htm), Utada shares her thoughts on just what it all means and comes across as an intelligent, articulate person who isn’t afraid to bare her soul in public.

“There is no such thing as a just war,” notes Utada in a March 20 posting. But, she admits, “when I think of the people who are out there in the battlefield, believing in their country, I find it difficult to say ‘There is no meaning to this war.’ “

Utada says she can’t believe that there are people who believe the war is necessary. “I don’t think I like people who support the war, or are indifferent to it either,” she writes. “Both supporters and indifferent people are guilty of the same crime.”

But on March 21 Utada writes “I do think that dictators shouldn’t be left alone,” while expressing sympathy for ordinary Iraqis caught in the crossfire of war.

Noting that she has not taken part in any antiwar protests (now that would be news!) Utada says now that the war has started, she’s watching the news “in the hope that all will go well” — a statement you can interpret various ways. “I just pray that there are as few victims as possible,” which is something we can all agree with, obviously.

You could criticize Utada for being wishy-washy on this issue, but at least she’s honest in expressing her doubts and confusion regarding the war. Anyway, it’s refreshing to find a pop musician with functioning gray matter.