This year's song contest is the year of the furusato, the inevitably rural hometown of legend and memory. One could not expect otherwise, in the year when so many rural communities were ruined, either from the earthquake and tsunami, from the fallout of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster or the summer's devastating rains and typhoons. Images and messages from the disaster zones have dominated the telecast, while the song selection has avoided urban areas and conventions in favor of rural sentimentality.
A few personal and decidedly shallow questions have been answered.
Q: Could Perfume really perform "Laser Beam" live?
A: Yes, but only just. When the song ended, the members of the group bent over laughing in relief, as they clearly had never done anything but lip-synch in previous performances.
Q: Would Shiina Ringo behave, or go off-script?
A: The producers must have been crossing their fingers when the volatile singer took the stage with her backup bank Tokyo Jihen. She delivered a pedestrian performance of "Carnation," the song NHK wanted her to tear up, as it is the theme song to their daily serial drama. Instead, she and Tokyo Jihen tore into their 1950's big band number "Onna no ko wa dare de mo."
The producers probably sighed a sigh of relief anyway.
Q: What was Matsutoya Yumi appearing on the program for, decades after her last hit and for only the second time, singing "Haru yo, koi", a tune she penned in 1994?
A: One reason was that the song was appropriate for a country exhausted by the triple disaster of the Tohoku, the high yen, the prospect of tax increases, pointlessly feuding political parties and yet another government with its head seemingly in the sand. A call for spring to come soon, a spring unsullied by disaster as this year's was, seemed to hit the right notes, both physically and spiritually. NHK certainly made into a spectacle, having all the performers come out and sing "Spring come!" (Haru koi!). Then again, for a performer like Matsutoya, with her giant sets and stage shows including elephants, having everyone come out for her song was just a matter of course.
The sadder possibility is that Yuming's performing days may be over. From what I just saw, the greatest singer-songwriter of her generation seems to be suffering from some sort of degenerative nerve disease, possibly Parkinson's.
This may have been a last hurrah.
As for the results of the contest, the Red (female) side eked out a rare win in the national voting -- surprising as the votes of adolescent girls often overwhelm the votes of the rest of the population, handing the annual title to the White (male) side. However, given that aside from Nishida Toshiyuki's performance of "Ano machi ni umarete" ("Being born in that town"), a tune he made into a love song to his hometown of Koriyama, one of the cities hard hit by the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown, the White performers' performances were duds, the very rare Red victory was not so surprising.
Top WSJ Stories on Japan: TPP, IMF, Nintendo
46 minutes ago