Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Question

笑いたきゃ笑うがいい 失敗ばかりだけど
ブルーナ気分にならないのさ
俺は金も勇気もなにひとつないけれど
力の限り生きてゆくさ
「羞恥心」(羞恥心)

You can laugh all you want / I might be making mistakes all the time
But yet I'll never feel blue
I have no money, nor courage,
But I'll still live on as best as I can
"Embarrassment" (Shuuchishin)

Early on in my studies of the Japanese language, I discovered how helpful Japanese television programs could be for students. If you have ever seen  a Japanese program that is not a drama (for example, the news or a quiz program), you will probably have noticed the extensive use of captions. There is usually a lot of text projected on the screen, from simply the discussion topic at that moment, to comic book-like word balloons of actual spoken lines to emphasize them. This is heaven for a beginning student, as they can learn to read and listen to specific lines, without being overwhelmed by conventional subtitles (that go quite fast for beginning readers).

Hexagon II Quiz Parade was probably the program that helped me the most in learning the Japanese language and I still have fond memories of it. Hexagon II Quiz Parade was a popular quiz show that aired between 2005 ~ 2011 on Fuji TV, hosted by Shimada Shinsuke. The show featured a pool of regular contestants consisting of tarento comedians/actors/singers/models/artists/etc., often coupled with guests-of-the-week tarento contestants. These contestants were divided in three evenly-powered teams, based on the results of a short paper exam they had to do before the show. These teams would participate in various quiz games where teamwork was crucial. For example, each show ended with the Relay Quiz. Like in a relay race, the teams competed directly against each other, with the team that managed to have all six members correctly answering a question in order first, winning the game. The person with the best results in the paper exam was first in line for each team, and the person with the worst results acted as the anchor, so a quick start for a team was never a guarantee that they wouldn't get beaten in the end anyway, as the anchor would often have much trouble with the questions.


That said though, the quiz questions were usually not that difficult, as Hexagon II Quiz Parade was more an amusement program than one to flaunt one's intelligence. The program wasn't about impressing people with difficult questions, in fact, the questions were quite doable for high school students. But that didn't matter, as the program was about having fun with everyone. The hilarious interactions between the various contestants and the host Shinsuke were an important factor to the show's popularity. The fact the quizzes were always done in the forms of games (like having to answer questions while skipping a rope with the whole team) made Hexagon II Quiz Parade just fun to watch, and while there were contestants who were definitely 'smart', the most popular contestants were actually the "o-baka-san tarento", or "dumb tarento". These were the actors/models/singers/etc. who showed a surprisingly lack of common sense or knowledge, who would stumble over high school level materials, or even elementary school level math problems. Their screwball answers were a major source of amusement for their fellow contestant, and also the viewers, but never in a mean way and more often, the viewer was laughing with the o-baka-san tarento than just at them.

The popularity of the o-baka-san tarento in this show was so high, they even formed musical units as spin-off projects to Hexagon II Quiz Parade. Pabo was a three-member female vocal group, featuring Satoda Mai (idol singer), Suzanne (model) and Kinoshita Yukina (model), while Shuchishin ("Embarrassment") consisted of the three actors Tsuruno Takeshi, Kamiji Yuusuke and Nokubo Naoki. The odd name for the latter group was chosen when during one of the quizzes Kamiji misread the word schuuchishin, with host Shinsuke then saying maybe the three of them should form a vocal group under that name as they "knew no embarrassment" (as in: they never showed any embarrassment about the serious lack of common sense they revealed at times).

In 2008, a special spin-off TV drama was broadcast starring the three members of Shuuchishin, and other Hexagon II Quiz Parade members. Odaiba Tantei Shuuchishin - Hexagon Satsujin Jiken ("The Odaiba Detectives Shuuchishin - The Hexagon Murder Case") starts off with a shocking discovery by the three members of Shuuchishin. Recording for a new episode of Hexagon II Quiz Parade is about to start, but the comedian LaSalle Ishii hasn't been seen on stage yet, so Tsuruno, Kamiji and Nokubo offer to go to his dressing room to get him (partly because they just found out that Kamiji's first love from high school is now working as LaSalle's manager). They find LaSalle dying in his room however, with his manager fleeing the scene, but just before he passes away, LaSalle manages to blurt out something that seems to point to fellow comedian Kojima Yoshio. The Shuuchishin trio leave the room to get the producer of the show, but when they return to the dressing room, they find LaSalle's body has disappeared. The producer thinks it's a bad prank and he decides to lock them up in the Fuji TV Studio in Odaiba for the following few days, so the members of Shuuchishin can focus on their upcoming live performance. But the three can't let the case go and start sniffing around more, revealing that all is not well backstage at Hexagon II Quiz Parade.

As a big fan of Hexagon II Quiz Parade, I had been wanting to watch this special for a long time, even though I knew it couldn't be good... and it definitely wasn't. Both the story and acting is pretty bad. The plot is horribly cheesy and melodramatic at time and goes for all the usual tropes (Shuchishin might get disbanded! The members of Shuchishin start fighting with each other, but overcome their differences! The Power of Friendship saves everyone!). As a mystery story, it's really too horrible to even explain, even if there's actually a good in-universe reason for that. The dying message was okay-ish, as it at least was connected to the show (by pointing to Kojima Yoshio, who's also regular contestant). The acting was also nothing to rejoice about. Apparently, they had problems fitting the recording of this special in everyone's schedule, which explains why it's basically all filmed inside the building of Fuji TV (not on sets, but actually in the hallways and office rooms), with the recording of this special probably just being wedged in between other jobs the actors had at Fuji TV. This special is really only for the die-hard fans of Shuuchishin and Hexagon II Quiz Parade, but even then you'll need a lot of patience to endure this.


I wasn't planning to write a review about this special actually, but it did turn my mind to other TV mystery productions I had seen in the past, where people played themselves in person in major roles. I have not often seen this done in Western productions, but it appears that in Japan, once every several years you'll have mystery dramas starring famous people playing themselves, under their own name (as opposed to acting as other people). The best of those without a doubt is Furuhata Ninzaburou VS SMAP, the 1999 New Year special of the Columbo-inspired Furuhata Ninzaburou drama. In it, the five members boy band SMAP (arguably the most famous boy band in Japan of all time) played themselves as they planned a perfect murder during one of their concerts. The way the story really incorporated the personalities and characteristics of these five people, combined with an excellent mystery plot resulted in a fantastic inverted detective story. Screenwriter Mitani Kouki would later do something similar with the baseball player Ichiro, who would play basically himself (famous baseball player by the name of Ichiro. All similarities are "coincidental", a disclaimer message said) as another charismatic murderer in Furuhata Ninzaburou. The 2012 film Detective Conan - The Eleventh Striker became infamous for having J-League soccer players voice themselves in the animated theatrical feature (infamous, because they were terrible at voicing themselves). The 2015 TV special Yougisha wa 8-nin no Ninki Geinin ("The Suspects Are Eight Popular Comedians") featured eight popular comedians (duh) like Bakarhythm and Bananaman playing themselves in a so-so mystery drama where Himura of Bananaman is killed during a live streaming act.

What made Furuhata Ninzaburou VS SMAP so enjoyable was that it utilized the personalities of the SMAP members as we knew them, for a great mystery tale, for a crime only they could've committed, in a setting that unique to them (concert hall). This is what is missing from Odaiba Tantei Shuuchishin - Hexagon Satsujin Jiken, as it feels this could've been much better. I mean, why not have a story about a murder happening during the recording of a show, while everyone is busy with one of the quiz games. You'd have a great set-up, with almost twenty suspects, and a semi-impossible crime angle as everyone's eyes would be on the victim during the recording! Perhaps the story could've featured quizzes more, and played more with the fact the three members of Shuuchishin are considered "stupid". But now we have a story that is barely related to Hexagon II Quiz Parade, with a horrible mystery plot and at best passable acting.

Odaiba Tantei Shuuchishin - Hexagon Satsujin Jiken is thus really only for the fans of Shuuchishin and Hexagon II Quiz Parade, and even then only for the most dedicated of fans. Of which I imagine are only very few among the reader of this blog. As a mystery story, it's ridiculously bad, coupled with poor production values, with this special obviously only being a side-project for all people involved, just shot in between other things. While my expectations weren't high, I had hoped it would involve the program itself more, as Hexagon II Quiz Parade on its own is really an amusing quiz program that really helped me out a lot early on in my studies.

Original Japanese title(s): 『お台場探偵羞恥心 ヘキサゴン殺人事件』

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