Traditionally in Japan, oshogatsu is when families gather and celebrate the passage of the old year into the new one. Various customs are honored without fail, but when all is said and done and eaten, one of the biggest recent-day traditions involves the clan coming together in front of the TV.
A large chunk of this tube-watching is focused on the cult of celebrity, from the spangled jamboree of “Kōhaku Uta Gassen (Red and White Song Battle)” on New Year’s Eve to the dozens of shows featuring comedians and starlets answering quizes, running marathons, visiting exotic places and so on. For this reason alone, “Kinchan & Katori Shingo no Zen-nihon Kasō Taishō” stands out from the crowd as a tribute to the common man. Broadcast on Nippon Television since 1979 (at its peak, three times a year; now only around New Year’s and in spring), the contest salutes the passion of amateurs.
This week NTV launched a new Kasou channel on YouTube. Currently, 30 videos of past contestants are on offer, organized into various playlist categories (humor, performance, technique). Whether it’s precision choreography, athletic feats, adorable kids or just damn clever visualizations, most are worth a click. The videos are missing the post-performance deconstruction of how they did it, but at least you are spared the manic vaudeville emceeing.
Ultimately, as NTV probably figured out since it also launched an English/Chinese channel this week, this concept can travel far and easily, maybe even into the hallowed valley of Internet memes.
NTV calls its overseas channel “Masquerade,” but that doesn’t really do justice to the parade of handcrafted sight gags on stage. Imagine Terry Gilliam collaborating with bunraku puppeteers. Or Michel Gondry staging “The Gong Show.” OK, maybe not that good, but it’s close. And while someone with mad performing skills occasionally shows up, the applause meter usually rewards simple creativity . . . and cajones.
Teams vary in numbers from lone individuals to large school classes. The judges — celebrities in wacky costumes — register their votes as each skit ends, and the total appears in a 20-story tower of ascending lights and blips. Winners qualify for big cash prizes by going above the 14-vote line; losers get a decrescendo on the tower and a pat on the back. Despite the high level of quality in the YouTube selection, the actual show itself can be a mixed bag of the unexpected and predictable. The large number of prizes, though, guarantees that virtually everyone is a winner.
So, you think you have what it takes to bag the top prize of ¥1 million. Apply inside.