An alternative to Kouhaku?

For the past seven years or so, I’ve watched Kouhaku Uta Gassen  (紅白歌合戦 literally, Red and White Song Battle), Japan’s big annual New Year’s Eve musical extravaganza. Kouhaku runs from about 7pm to midnight in Japan, which is roughly 2am to 7am California time. Usually it’s a lot of fun, but the 2018 edition seemed to be a little tedious, and it seemed even more so this year—a combination of spectacle over substance, too many references to the upcoming Tokyo Olympics (and I get it, the Olympics are a big deal), and not enough variety in the music.

After the 2019 show, I was heading for bed (having been awake for over 24 hours) when I saw what seemed to be another music show coming up on NHK, so I taped it to watch later. The show turned out to be Masashi Sada’s Midnight Talk Show (今夜も生でさだまさし). It was held in a large auditorium—possible a sumo venue—with the host and co-hosts sitting in the center. In some ways it was like a town hall, with the hosts fielding questions from the audience.

However, Sada and some guests did perform some music.

1. Sada sang and played guitar, accompanied by a small band.

2. Guest Hiromi Iwasaki (岩崎宏美) sang a song.

3. Sada sang again.

4. Guest Nira Shinji (新羅慎二) sang a song and played guitar.

5. Everyone returned to sing an ondo style song, and were joined by an older man (who was undoubtedly someone famous, but I didn’t catch his name) and four young women in sparkly dresses. The audience also sang and danced along.

I had never heard of Iwasaki or Shinji before—both were good but I was particularly impressed with Iwasaki.

Compared to Kouhaku, Sada’s show was a considerably more laid-back and casual affair. There were no screen captions, not even the usual karaoke style lyrics seen on every Japanese musical show. The guests carried handwritten cards with their names on them to show to the camera, and as each song began, someone off camera held up more handwritten cards bearing the song titles. While these performances weren’t nearly as glitzy as those at Kouhaku, they seemed much more sincere, and I would rather see an evening of performances like these than another overblown Kouhaku spectacle.

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