Fast forward to now, watching the Kouhaku has become much easier thanks to my cable TV subscription. However, the Kouhaku has lost much of its shine as being a must-see and premium music show to end the year not just in Japan and overseas. Honestly, speaking, I think that there is no single reason because it's a mix of factors affecting one another. Having to commit most of your New Year's Eve evening to a programme where you only appear for 5 minutes max compared to earning a lot more and using your time in a more flexible manner by holding your own countdown concert or choosing to take a break, for those big names who no longer need this kind of acknowledgement or accreditation, they wouldn't need to seek Kouhaku appearances anymore. The vacated slots are sometimes taken up by rather questionable choices where their names are hardly known by the general public. In the past, qualifying for a Kouhaku appearance means you made it big during that year. Nowadays, it is not necessarily the case. The cutting down on the enka slots could also have alienated the older audience and turned them off. Last but not least, there are a lot more choices these days when it comes to other TV programmes or alternative sources of entertainment on New Year's Eve. When the Kouhaku doesn't offer what viewers want to see, this will then be reflected in the TV ratings. Every year, without fail, the media has a field day making noise about how low the ratings have sunk.
These are probably baby steps in revamping the programme but it's still better than nothing. However, the crux of the programme is probably to make it more inclusive for audiences of all ages and put in more effort to make sure that the performances are exclusive. There are so many music programmes which put out special editions at the end of the year so if you can see the artistes performing the same songs in other programmes, there is truly no incentive to watch the same thing on Kouhaku. And yes, the song choice should be something to consider as well because I really don't want to hear the same song many years in a row even if I may like it. The thing about it being a New Year's Eve programme probably means that there are some restrictions on the types of songs to be selected (nothing negative or controversial) but still, you don't have to sing the same song over and over again. For example, I love TOKIO but I really don't want to hear "Ambitious Japan" every year if there's nothing different from your past performances other than the costumes you are wearing.
Here is a list of the performances which I enjoyed from this edition of the Kouhaku so do feel free to share your thoughts on your own favourites:
My first time hearing Takehara's song was when I watched "Byplayers" as his song "Forever Young" was used as the ending theme. Later on, when I saw Eita's CM for Sumitomo Life Insurance, that was when I first heard this song which Takehara performed on the Kouhaku. Actually, the performance was very no-frills with Takehara wearing a simple T-shirt, jeans and sneakers with his guitar only but it was a very powerful performance thanks to his husky vocals and the meaningful lyrics which is like a call-out to the youngsters out there. This goes to show that you don't necessarily need a lot of aesthetics to make a performance memorable.
Among the huge number of girl groups out there, I find Keyzakizaka46 rather different even though they have the same producer as AKB48. It seems like cuteness or sexiness is a missing trait from their image and the content of their songs seem on the serious side which is quite uncharacteristic of girl groups these days. I watched the PV of this song before and was struck by how intense the dance sequence was but I never expected them to go all out on Kouhaku as well with so much power. It was a pretty impressive performance which stood out among the girl groups.
Unfortunately, this indirectly caused the group to be in the news for the wrong reasons because they had a collaboration segment with Uchimura soon after their own performance where they had to sing a portion of this song again. No wonder three of its members collapsed or were about to collapse at the end of that segment. Some people were pretty insensitive to make remarks online blaming the members for their poor physical fitness and that a professional shouldn't be like this weak but they should try singing and dancing to that sequence with that same amount of intensity twice in a row and see if they can stand up properly after that.
When this song first came out as the theme song for "Tokyo Tarareba Musume", it didn't leave much of an impression on me. In line with the theme of the song, it was a great idea to put the trio on the rooftop heliport of a building with the night scene of Tokyo as the backdrop. In addition, the use of the light beams, not only on the triangular stage but also from some of the surrounding buildings shooting towards the sky, made it look like the entire city was their stage so it was a great boost to their performance in an aesthetic sense. And of course, seeing these ladies sing and dance in the frigid cold weather in their thin costumes and high heels was a sight to behold especially since it always baffles me as to how they can manage to do all those dances with those heels when I find it so uncomfortable just to walk in the same type of shoes.
If you've watched "Chiisana Kyojin", you would probably have heard this before. Just like Takehara's performance, this is another no-frills example of the song being strong enough to leave an impression. As this song was written specially for the drama, it was no wonder that images of the drama came back to me as I listened to this song. Such is the power of a theme song to a drama and vice versa. The only baffling thing was why Hirai had to hold that large bouquet of flowers which was somewhat of an distraction for me since there was nothing much he was doing with it other than to raise it up and down during his performance.
Yes, this is an enka. ^__^
Actually, I should credit Kouhaku for introducing me to the world of enka. I don't really consider myself a fan of enka but there are indeed some nice songs to be discovered in this genre. Then again, the first time I heard this song was in the anime "Hachimitsu to Clover" when Morita Shinobu was performing his own rendition with the name Kiyoshi changed to Shinobu. Boy, that was such a hillarious version of this song! Of course, hearing it directly from the original singer was nice but I just can't shake off my impression of the Shinobu version while hearing the Kiyoshi version.
I didn't follow "Hiyokko" during its run and had never heard this song in full until this performance which made me love this song at first "hearing". Kuwata's music really has the power to fascinate and entertain while being meaningful or close to heart. The performance was at Southern All Stars' concert rather than from NHK Hall but it was a perfect note to end the year with, thanks to the good vibes from the joyous and lighthearted atmosphere.
This being Amuro's last appearance on Kouhaku before she goes into retirement later this year, all eyes were on her literally. The design of the stage (location undisclosed though) was quite simple with a white colour scheme but the simplicity coupled with the skillful manipulation of the lighting and her image left a strong impression on me. It's been years since I came into contact with Amuro's music and I can still remember listening to her "Sweet 19 Blues" album every day on my Discman, alternating with SPEED's "White Love". That clip reflecting on her history before this performance brought back lots of memories as well. It was a befitting finale to Amuro's long and illustrious career although it is a pity that she won't appear on Kouhaku anymore (at least in the foreseeable future, assuming she doesn't come out of retirement).