Dozens of diverse acts in end-of-year music festival from Japan
A year ago I reviewed the "2011 FNS Kayosai," which was my first exposure to this annual televised live music festival from Japan. Last year's show had some non-Japanese acts, including three from Korea and one from America, and quite a large number of choreographed spectacles. It also featured performers from my favorite J-pop acts, Morning Musume and their spin-off group of graduated members, Dream Morning Musume, thus igniting my interest right from the start. It also featured a number of veteran performers like Hiromi Iwasaki and Hiroko Yakushimaru, who so captivated me that I immediately sought out albums of theirs. It also introduced me to a host of younger singers who impressed me to the same degree, compelling me to add such names to my J-pop collection as Mai Kuraki, Ayaka Hirahara, Kana Nishino, and Nanase Aikawa.
This year's show, "2012 FNS Kayosai" (Fuji Network System Music Festival), offered far fewer thrills. There was a Malaysian singer named Che'Nelle, but no other foreign acts. There was nobody from Morning Musume or their umbrella organization, Hello! Project. There were fewer girl groups in the lineup and way too many boy bands for my taste. Most of the older singers I enjoyed last year did not return. Those singers I did like had fewer numbers and far shorter ones. But there were some highlights worth noting.
Koda Kumi, one of my favorite J-pop divas, is in four numbers, three of which she sings with others. She's in great form and changes costumes for each number. She seems to be having the most fun of anyone there.
AKB48 is in a lot of numbers, usually as backups. I saw them when they performed in New York in 2009. It's always great to see them and they bring a lot of spark and verve to the show. Being the only major girl group in this year's show, AKB has to do more of the heavy lifting this time, along with one of their spin-off groups, SKE48. The other girl groups on hand are Nogizaka 46, a rival of the AKB empire, which has one short number, and Momoiro Clover, which appears only as backup in a number with a female singer (Miwa).
Go Hiromi has four numbers and is one of only two male singers in the show I actively enjoyed. Hiromi has an old-fashioned swingin' sixties style of performing (think Tom Jones in full Las Vegas mode) and has different groups of sexy back-up dancers (including some members of AKB48) in three of his numbers and works quite well with them. One of his songs, "Goldfinger '99," performed with Nesmith (a half-black Japanese singer) and Shokichi, is a Japanese-language version of Ricky Martin's "Livin' la Vida Loca."
Ken Hirai, the other male performer who stood out for me, and a female singer, Yui, perform "Yasashisa ni Tsutsumareta nara" (1974), a Yumi Arai song that was used as the end theme on the Japanese soundtrack of Hayao Miyazaki's animated masterpiece, KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE (1989).
Some singers I discovered last year returned this year: Mai Kuraki, Nanase Aikawa and Kana Nishino. Nana Mizuki, who wasn't in last year's show but is someone I've discovered in the past year, performs a lively number with Ms. Aikawa. Others I like in this year's show: Miwa, Tomomi Kahara, and Kaori Mochida. Ms. Mochida is the lead singer for Every Little Thing and I've liked her for a long time, but she is in only one short duet here, with a male singer I didn't know. Tomomi Kahara is new to me and sounds very intriguing.
Chisato Moritaka, a pop idol of an earlier era, is joined by one of her peers, Maki Watase, to sing one of her biggest hits, "Watashi ga Obasan ni Nattemo" (1992), a delightful song which I've heard covered by various Hello! Project singers.
Ayumi Hamasaki, one of the reigning divas of Japanese pop music, sings one of her past hits, "Seasons" (2000). She's had widely reported vocal trouble in the last couple of years and it's sadly quite evident in her performance here.
Princess Princess is a rock band comprised of five rather mature ladies and they do two of their hits from the late 1980s, including "Diamonds" (1989), which is familiar to me from having been covered by the Hello! Project unit, High-King.
Emiri Miyamoto is a wonderful violinist who performed in last year's show and accompanies three of my favorite performers in this year's show: Koda Kumi, Tomomi Kahara and Kana Nishino.
Yui and Miwa, who I described on my J-pop blog as "two hippie chicks with guitars," add a nice folk-rock vibe to the show with "Goodbye Days" (2006).
Ken Hirai sings "Kokuhaku" with a backup troupe of traditional dancers in red kimonos behind him. He's draped in a rug and has a fake parrot on his shoulder, which had me scratching my head, but it IS a very nice production number.
Love Psychedelico, a male-female duo, consisting of Naoki and Kumi, leads an all-star lineup at the end in a performance of the John Lennon/Yoko Ono song, "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" (1971). Kumi pretty much handles the vocals, in English, singlehandedly--she lived in San Francisco as a child—although the others gamely try to sing along when they can. It would have made a rousing finale for the show, but instead it is followed by three more numbers, including Ayumi Hamasaki's "Seasons," all of which feel somewhat anticlimactic.
I'm sure there are many other iconic acts in the lineup which went right past my radar and have gone unmentioned here. I looked up some of them, but there were simply too many performers in a 79-song concert to track down. Hopefully, next year's show will offer greater motivation.
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