White American pop singers marketed in Japan

Update: They are apparently not managed by Johnny’s.

Every girl’s fantasy English teachers?

Meet the EastWest Boys. Assembled by Johnny’s Entertainment Sony Music Japan through an audition process, the group, dubbed a “5 in 300 million miracle,” is being solely marketed and promoted within Japan, where they are competing for the hearts of teenage girls.

For their latest single “Take Me There,” they have entered a promotional tie-up with fashion brand Peach John (whose president was mired in scandal last year over a dead woman in her apartment). They are on the cover of the latest catalog and lucky viewers will be able to catch their song on TV ads.

Here’s a YouTube video of a single that recently got some play on Japanese TV, “This Time”:

Sure, I have seen dozens of cheap, poorly produced Japanese pop acts, and some pretty bad American pop groups as well. But watching Americans run through the exact same half-baked dance routines as SMAP produces a special kind of cognitive dissonance.

Johnny’s has made sure to add a few bells and whistles to maximize appeal – the songs are in simple English, and the melody has enough of a pop-punk/emo feel to seem kind of foreign. This was the tune I saw on a few morning shows promoting the group as a new kind of pop act. Girls attending promotional appearances looked overjoyed to hug their new idols.

The music gets much worse when you watch the videos for songs that people didn’t pay enough attention to. “Yesterday’s Hero” was obviously filmed in the exact same warehouse, and the song is 100% cookie-cutter J-POP – no halfway-redeeming nods to American emo to be found. Are they wearing primary colors to make them look like Power Rangers?

While there’s not much to compare, a much, much more listenable American entrant into the Japanese pop world is Jero, the African American enka singer.

The group’s videos are hosted on an official channel, which is kind of a departure for Johnny’s who until recently had a strictly Internet-phobic PR stance. By offering some of their content for free on the web, they are clearly trying to save some PR money by generating buzz online. The upside of that strategy is it gives us a lot of information on these guys that is usually not available on your typical J-pop group.

Continue reading White American pop singers marketed in Japan

EXCLUSIVE: Early review of Darling wa Gaikokujin

In a Mutant Frog exclusive, here is an early review of the “My Darling is a Foreigner” live action film from regular commenter Peter:

Well kids, I just came back from the sneak preview of ダーリンは外国人 at Roppongi Hills. My wife is a fan of the first couple of books, and probably ended up on a mailing of some sort along the line, through which we got invited. Apparently they only invited international couples, and interestingly enough the movies subtitles were in Japanese for the English dialog and in English for the Japanese dialogue.

The movie was just about at, or perhaps even a bit worse than, my expectations. I liked the use of splicing in clips of Oguri’s animation, as well as spot interviews with international couples. But… There were more than a few scenes where I was biting my fist a la Bea Arthur from The Golden Girls, and there was only one scene in which I laughed: Tony Laszlo himself makes a well-placed cameo in the movie that was worth a chuckle. But screenplay, casting, pacing, music, etc. was on par with the average Japanese made-for-TV movie.

Inoue Mao looks less like Oguri and more like Asada Mao. Jonathan Scherr looks less like Tony and more like Dustin Diamond (Screech from “Saved By the Bell”). Oguri in the story is not from Kansai, and Tony ends up being from New Jersey. I guess no one cared about these details to begin with.

Following the movie, Inoue, Scherr, the director Ue, Oguri, and Tony came out on stage to say a few words and answer pre-screened questions from the audience. All of them were a bit nervous, but regardless of that I was surprised at how clumsy some of the exchanges were.

Q: If you moved to a foreign country and had to take one thing (mono) with you, what would it be?

Tony: In Japan, ‘mono’ can be 者, in which case I would bring Saori. If the ‘mono’ had to be a thing (物), then…I would bring dried seaweed (nori).

MC & Audience: …. (huh?)

Looking at the post above, I notice this quote:
“The producer Kazuya Hamana (head of TV content at TBS) spent five years preparing for this film and plans to try and recreate the feel of the original comics for a story that everyone can relate to.”

I don’t think any of the feel was recreated, and it’s kind of sad to think that five years of work went into this movie. I mean, this movie was pret-ty damn bad…

Thanks, Peter. Nice to know I won’t miss anything by skipping this one.

Roppongi still a seething cauldron of poison

Just got this warning from the US embassy:

July 10, 2009

Warden Message – Roppongi Security Notice:  Drink Spiking

The U.S. Embassy continues to recommend that American citizens avoid frequenting bars and clubs in the Roppongi area of Tokyo due to drink-spiking incidents.

The U.S. Embassy continues to receive reliable reports of U.S. citizens being drugged in Roppongi-area bars.  Most reports indicate that the victim unknowingly drinks a beverage that has been secretly mixed with a drug that renders the victim unconscious or stuporous for several hours, during which time large charges are fraudulently billed to the victim, sums of money are charged to the victim’s credit card, or the card is stolen.  Victims sometimes regain consciousness in the bar or club, while at other times the victim awakens on the street.  Assaults on Americans have also been reported in connection with drink-spiking.

Sign up for updates here.

SMAP’s Kusanagi arrested for drunken nudity outside Tokyo Midtown park

WOW! (English story here)

Tsuyoshi Kusanagi was arrested by Akasaka police for drunken nudity!



At 3am in Hinokicho Park just outside Tokyo Midtown in Roppongi, police found a naked Kusanagi dancing wildly making a scene (apparently not “dancing” exactly). When they told him to calm down he refused saying “What’s wrong with being naked?!” So they had no choice but to arrest him. He resisted and had to be “wrapped in a sheet” to be taken to the station. He is so ubiquitous on Japanese TV that the stations have been thrown into chaos today, in danger of having to cancel a good portion of their programming schedule and commercials (why? for some reason it is standard operating procedure to systematically blacklist a talent who runs afoul of authorities or even is caught cheating on a spouse).

Kusanagi is (was?) a member of SMAP, the pop group that gained popularity through wide-ranging appearances in variety shows, survived through the 90s into today despite numerous scandals, rumors, and accusations. Their popularity also engendered no small amount of sour grapes and cries of unfairness who felt their talent agency Johnny’s Entertainment abused their market power to set inconceivably favorable terms for their acts. But they got away with it thanks largely to their bottomless capacity to bring out their fanbase to generate ratings/sales. With this incident all those who hated on SMAP over the years have something to hang their hats on.

The SMAP members are well-known to have their lives fairly closely monitored and managed by talent agency Johnny’s Entertainment. Perhaps Kusanagi just couldn’t take it anymore as the group entered their mid-30s and industry observers wondered how they could adapt even as middle aged “ossan.”

If anything Kusanagi chose a nice park to stage his downfall in. Hinokicho is clean and boasts a “Japanese but modern and artistic” feel. Mrs. Adamu and I have enjoyed its tranquil (though crowded) lightup around Christmastime.

A little more from Bloomberg:

Japan’s government may halt advertisements promoting digital TV after the incident, as the campaign features Kusanagi, said Hideo Harada, an official in the terrestrial broadcasting section at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

A person who answered a call to Kusanagi’s management agency, Johnny’s and Associates Inc., said there were no officials available to comment on the case. She declined to give her name or position at the company.

SMAP’s music is sold by a label under the control of JVC Kenwood Holdings. JVC Kenwood shares fell as much as 8.3 percent in Tokyo trading today, and finished the morning session 6.7 percent lower at 56 yen. The Nikkei fell 0.5 percent.

It’s official – Roppongi is a pit of vipers

A warning came today from the US Embassy:

Date: March 17, 2009

This is to inform the American community that the U.S. Embassy has recommended that the embassy community avoid frequenting Roppongi bars and clubs in Tokyo due to a significant increase in reported drink-spiking incidents.  American citizens may choose to avoid frequenting drinking establishments in this area as well.

The number of reports of U.S. citizens being drugged in bars has increased significantly in recent weeks.  Typically, the victim unknowingly drinks a beverage that has been secretly mixed with a drug that renders the victim unconscious for several hours, during which time large sums of money are charged to the victim’s credit card or the card is stolen outright.  Victims sometimes regain consciousness in the bar or club, while at other times the victim awakens on the street.

Because this type of crime is already widespread in Roppongi bars and is on the rise, the U.S. Embassy has recommended that members of the embassy community avoid frequenting drinking establishments in this area.  American citizens may consider this recommendation as it applies to their own behavior.  If you, nevertheless, choose to participate in Roppongi night life, we urge you to remain extra vigilant of your surroundings and maintain a high level of situational awareness.  Establishments in the area of Roppongi Intersection (Roppongi Dori and Gaienhigashi-dori) have had the highest level of reported incidents.

Need I say more?