Concert Review: The SMAP 2008 Super Modern Artistic Performance Tour
by Ender’s Girl
Prelude to a Diss
One muggy summer night not so long ago, I realized that *this* newly weaned convert to Jdorama (read: Kimura Takuya, hehe) knew nothing about J-Pop. Nada, zilch, zip. In fact, I had instinctively steered clear of it for as long as I could remember. Though I adored Kimura Takuya as an actor, the fact that he was part of a *gasp!* boy band (eeew) was an embarrassing little gob of information I had always managed to tune out. BUT I realized that to gain the entire Kimura experience, I needed to bravely go where a million Japanese housewives and teenage girls were already, uh, camped out for life. So I descended into the belly of the Beast — and entered the J-Pop Mother Ship itself, where the heart of all J-Ent beats untiringly and the bonfires of Nihonjin fandom burn the brightest. I decided to watch a SMAP concert on DVD, the title a classic case of Engrish, baby: The “SMAP 2008 Super Modern Artistic Performance Tour!!!”! Hahahahahahaha
Man, I actually sat through the whole thing from beginning to end. Ohgawdwhattanexperience.
Well, I should’ve known what I was getting into; what else would you expect from a group calling themselves “Sports Music Assemble People”? (I’ll never forget the very second I learned from Wiki what the SMAP acronym meant: t’was a singular moment of hilarity reaching cosmic proportions. I could. Not. Stop. Laughing. I laughed so hard I think that somewhere in a nearby galaxy, a star system exploded.) *wipes away tear* I suppose what this really establishes is that NOBODY beats the Japanese when it comes to these two things: Technology… and ENGRISH! (Yeah, baby!!! at least the Engrish lyrics of their songs were amusing, as I later discovered — when I could understand them, that is, haha.)
So. Nearly 2700 years after Jimmu Tenno, descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu, began his fabled rule with imperial mirror, sword and jewel in hand, 1,000 years after Lady Murasaki wrote the world’s first modern novel during the cultural flowering of the Heian Period, 750 years after Kublai Khan’s invading armies were repelled by two separate “kamikaze” super-typhoons, 150 years after the last of the daimyo lords and their samurai roamed the countryside in the early days of the Meiji Restoration… After a long, storied history spanning millennia and which birthed such enduring cultural hallmarks as Shinto, Zen Buddhism, Bushido, hiragana and katakana, cha-no-yu, haiku, ikebana and origami, kabuki, Noh and tanka theater, judo and kendo and sumo, Hayao Miyazaki and anime, and the oldest continuing hereditary monarchy in the world… it comes down to THIS.
The culmination of all history and culture in the Land of the Rising Sun, as it turns out, is this belief-defying spectacle of light and sound and motion, a jaw-dropping extravaganza where the crazy and the weird and the What-The-Eff take center stage with a vengeance. History and destiny crystallize into One Defining Moment that will soon take its rightful place in the annals of this great nation: Welcome to the SMAP 2008 Super Modern Artistic Performance Tour, baby.
What follows is a sort of annotated rundown of the concert, song/dance number by painful number, lol. (Oh, it wasn’t ALL that bad…) For purposes of convenience I’ve divvied the concert into acts according to the costume changes. Song titles — at least those that are romanized or have an English translation — are in uppercase. I obviously don’t speak Nihonggo, but Newshfan of LiveJournal has uploaded the concert DVD with English subs. Oh, and a final heads-up: My reviews tend to be of the “brutally frank” persuasion, so if you’re the type of J-Pop or SMAP fan who turns rabid at the slightest hint of a diss (real or imagined), this is your Yellow Ticket of Leave, your free Get Out of Jail Card. I say, take it and run. (Boo!) However, IF you are of the opinion that J-Pop (like any entertainment sub-genre out there) is no sacred cow and has as much potential for admiration and acclaim as it does for ridicule and impassioned eye-rolling, then read on, read away. And eat your heart out, baby.
Video Overture: The Phantom of the J-POPera
The video inserts that are shown before the concert and later, in-between sets (christened “Junction” on the DVD track list) are straight out of a classic horror movie. Two kids wandering in a forest glade are beset by five masked men in Dracula suits and bowler hats: very Jack the Ripper meets Harry Houdini. The kids are handed invites to a carnival tent where the vampy quintet begin to entertain them — thus setting the stage for the main event. (I was a bit mehhh about this entire video arc — I mean, the SMAP Idols and child stars were cute and all, but not really… worth… commenting on in great detail. Anyway, I had a feeling only those diehard SMAP fans could appreciate the rather protracted intermission clips.)
Just so you know exactly what you’re dealing with: You’re inside the 42,000-seater Tokyo Dome and the place is jam-packed, every last square inch of space occupied by this glow-stick-waving ocean of humanity. Each slice of the Japanese demography is represented: the old, young and very young, male and female and everything in between, socialites and hoi polloi, housewives and students and working stiffs, government bureaucrats and yakuza gangsters (why not?). The stadium lights go out, and the crowds. Just. Go. Kerreyyzeee.
Act One: Death by Red Plaid!!!
In what must be the most bizarro opening act in concert history, five masked men in hooded cloaks (a la those Gregorian: Masters of Chant dudes) emerge from the shadows as giant speakers blare futuristic electronica and distorted vocals (totally Daft Punk). The cloaked figures vanish into the darkness, only to reappear at the top of a colossal stage piece affixed to a huuuuge screen with five ramps that glitter mercilessly with a hundred-thousand Philips CFL bulbs. But, oh, a COSTUME CHANGE! — the SMAP Idols have doffed their silvery cloaks and are now wearing what have got to be the most appallingly cheezoid costumes ever assembled since Louis XIV’s powdered wigs and petticoat breeches. Oh no sirree, you can’t possibly go wrong with THIS Opening Act ensemble consisting of nerdy glasses, a bowtie, a tinselly maroon checkered tuxedo of a monstrosity, black slacks lined with… red cellophane tape, and totally MichaelJacksonesque (R.I.P.) socks AND shoes. (Now, who’s BAD?) The frenzy level of the crowds blasts a hole straight through the ozone layer as the objects of their adulation strut down the glistering rhinestone ramps… and right into J-Pop History.
(Oh… well well well, why hello there, KimuTaku…)
DANGAN FIGHTER / BULLET FIGHTER
The SMAP Fab Five start off their concert with a bang alright, while a multi-racial brass band backs them up. But the dance steps are atrocious (even S Club 7 or Steps could do better), the nightmarish costumes even worse. Dunno what was more alarming: the mess onstage, or the fact that the entire audience kept lapping it up, like it was the most NORMAL sight in the world.
Is it just me, or is there’s something inherently DISTURBING about watching five grown Japanese men (well into their 30s) prancing around the stage, performing songs like teenyboppers but dressed like Martian hairdressers (well, most of the time), singing and dancing and working the audience when it was the year 2008, a day and age when boy bands (and everything their genre represented) had long ceased to be extant, or relevant, or even remotely cool…? I just couldn’t believe my eyes, but I couldn’t get my numbed fingers to press the stop/eject buttons, either. I couldn’t even LAUGH properly, because my throat had closed in and my guts were in granny knots, and so I kept choking on my own chortles. (What’s happening to the Japanese music industry? Whatever happened to the shamisen, the wa-daiko drums, the Noh performers???) For the love of God, for the sake of everything decent and sane in this world, WHY do the SMAP dudes STILL DO what they DO, why do the home crowds love to revel in this horrifying spectacle of strobe lights and pyrotechnics, incredibly tacky costumes, flailing limbs and whirling bodies, and the relentless aural assault of the J-Pop Machine of Doom, why why WHY???
Another song is performed, and the choreography is equally cringeworthy. Afterwards, they shed their jackets to reveal — suspenders! And a matching red checkered OBI, oh wow!!!
BANG! BANG! VACANCE!
Okay, maybe this is the first catchy tune of the night, though the choreography is just as dreadful as the previous numbers – but at least the song is buoyant and… POPPY, for lack of a better term.
Act Two – Enter the Dancing Discotheque Draculas! (A costume change, YAY!!!)
Giant digitized images straight from an Atari game fill the screen, and laser beams crisscross the air as the SMAP Idols, er, “vamp” it up onstage — literally. But the animated dance moves are quite entertaining — and oh wow, what chipper Draculas these SMAP Idols are! I think I made out the words “I want you lady,” “sexy,” “I love you day by day,” “I don’t need your money” — and some counting in English. Whoopee. Then they “fly” up the sparkly ramp thingies and the crowds clap like mad. Gadzooks.
AOI INAZUMA / BLUE THUNDER
Thankfully the SMAP dudes ditch the silly capes at the top of the stage and segue into a song whose most memorable line is “You’re my girl.” Okay, so this number with them in just their penguin suits is actually… enjoyable. The pulsating club beats are very catchy, and I found myself grooving along to the rhythm. For the first time, I thought that I might actually enjoy this show for what it WAS — pure, undiluted entertainment, and not for the many different ways it could make me laugh in horrified little gasps.
Now THIS next part I really, really, really liked:
The concert shifts musical gears into a downtempo track that screams pure SEXINESS, distilled and bottled into this perfect make-out… er, I mean chill-out song. The SMAP gents are still in their penguin suits (good sign), and they’ve added a shiny red cane to their ensemble — which ain’t corny to watch at all, because the canes are just the thing for this routine. There’s a definite improvement in choreography: good, simple footwork that doesn’t detract from the music. One of the best things about this is that Kimura gets to open the song, his voice warm and smooth and oh-so-smexeh!!!!! It’s a very short song number (just one stanza and a chorus), but the melody is elegant and understated. (Okay, this track easily cracks my personal list of Top 5 SMAP songs, hehe.) Each SMAP Idol then gets a few moments to strut his stuff on a small circular stage, while the voiceover ticks off three attributes of the Idol — in English. So the SMAP 4 go first, doing their exhibition and all, and they are… cute to watch, to say the most: “International… fashionable… hardworking… Tsuyoshi.” (Oh, Tsuyopon! You can do it, Tsuyopon! Keep those clothes on, Tsuyopon! Bad joke, sorry.) “Active… stylish… always smiling… Shingo.” (I like what Shingo does here! And he DOES have a nice smile.) “Funky… groovy… master of ceremony… Nakai.” (Uh-oh, uh-oh, Goro’s looking a bit queasy while waiting his turn! Someone slip him a couple of meclizine tablets, pronto! Oh no too late! Nakai’s almost done! Goro, you’re up! Now, Goro, NOW! Hahahaha) “Smart… cool… gentleman… Goro.” (Good job, Goro, good job!!! Hahahaha)
But oh boy oh boy oh boy, they certainly saved the best dancer for last: When Kimura got up the platform and started to twirl his cane and gyrate that unbelievably supple body of his, I think I ruptured my spleen. (Dammit!) The voiceover continued: “Sexy… Wild… Hot stuff… Takuya.” YES!!! YEEEES!!!!!! I BELIEVE!!!! I BELIEVE!!!!!!! LOLLLL Needless to say, I enjoyed this number IMMENSELY, and the song gets even better the more you listen to it. I dunno what the lyrics say, don’t really care. Cool track, hot dance number. Played the video clip five times in a row. I was surprised to learn that the original version has a more pop/R&B flava. Well, thank goodness they decided to do a fresh (read: sexed-up, woohoo!) remix, because the original didn’t have much character beyond your typical plain-vanilla pop ditty.
TOMODACHI E / SAY WHAT YOU WILL
Thankfully, the chillax mood continues with another downtempo tune. The tuxedoed gents get to do a round of straight singing, and the tune is sweet and euphonic — the perfect lounge track, baby. (I wish they had included more of these songs! Or maybe I’m just getting mellower with age, heh.) Even my college-age brother, who thinks that J-Pop is the lamest thing since polio and never lets me forget it, conceded that the melody and arrangement of the song were “pretty good.” Score: SMAP – 1, Party-pooping brothers – 0 Hahahahahaha
But — alas, it is over all too soon. The blinding pyrotechnics return as the boy band (having shed their black coattails) rock out to an ear-splitting track that apparently has Many English Words in the lyrics (e.g. “stay this way!”). I just couldn’t stand this musical hodgepodge of heavy metal, monkey-thump rap… and the unmistakable sound of a Geri Halliwell song (eek!).
This is followed by another forgettable dance mix about wanting to be next to you, and missing you, and all that mushy stuff. The whole track sounds like something the bubblegum bands S Club 7 or Steps used to churn out a decade ago: forgettable pop drivel, to put it… kindly. Ugh. Then KimuTaku busts out rapping: “You and me and me and you/ Just the two of us (something, something)/ (Something) forever like (a) tattoo/ Girl you’ll always be my boo.” *takes a moment* Okayyy, that was just freakin’ hilarious. My boo??? MY BOO???? LMAO!!!! I have NOT encountered the word “boo” since the year 1999 and all that. Apparently, the term is still considered “cool American ghetto lingo” in *some* areas of the globe. Eck. With those godawful lyrics (which a second grader could have penned better), they should’ve just stuck to Nihonggo. Sheesh.
KONO TOKI, KITTO YUME JYA NAI / THIS IS THE MOMENT, I KNOW IT’S NOT A DREAM
Sometime later the Fab Five segue into an upbeat ditty, quite catchy and singable. The dance steps in the middle part are pretty lame-o, though, with lots of balletic moves (pirouettes! arabesques! and arm extensions, oh my!) from the SMAP dudes.
THAT GORY GORO SOLO
Exeunt SMAP. Inagaki Goro aka The 2nd Best Singer of the Band emerges moments later and begins his Saturday Night Live solo shtick. Good solid vocals, but forgettable song. The costume design (aaaaack, is that a DEAD MINK hanging from his neck? Jeeeesh) is a mortal sin, a mortal SIN, I say!!! And WHAT’S the DEAL with all those Vogue-wannabe moves from the backup crew??? Eckkk.
And now we come to another Top 5 fave of mine:
KIMURA’S SOLO: STYLE
Well DAYYYUM, but KimuTaku sure CAN dance. His whippet-like frame is so… limber, LOL. He likes to shake his booty, too! There’s a looseness to his body that makes his dancing look so effortless. When he came out dressed as a b-boy (and looking ten years younger!), and started popping and grooving to the jazzy/funk sounds, I threw in the towel. I was a goner. You win, Kimura, you fly boy, you. You’re still cool. And hot. Always will be.
It just gets better: The song has such an infectious “la la la, la la la” refrain that kept me bobbing my head the whole time and grinning like five different kinds of stoooopid. Twelve years may have passed since 1996’s Long Vacation, but oh criminy, he still exuded the same laid-back, crazysexycool aura he had in the opening credits of that drama, when a slim, mop-haired KimuTaku Version 1.5, wearing his Live Aid tee and shades, jammed on his guitar and joshed with his co-stars in the warm afternoon sun on that basketball court by the bay. In the STYLE dance number, he looked 24 again. Maybe a part of him always will be.
This is the KimuTaku Mojo at its finest: He knows exactly how to work the audience, always goes all out, always gives 150% every single moment he’s onstage. He really is the Total Performer, eclipsing everyone around him within a 500-meter radius. If you really think about it, “KimuTaku, SMAP Idol” is yet another character that he plays — but it’s a role he takes very seriously, he dives right into it as with his other performances on TV or film. He makes his singing and dancing and strutting the stage and working his mojo on the crowds just look so damn easy, and yet he probably puts more work into achieving this level of artistry than anyone else in his niche. So this is what excellence is like.
Act Three: The Twinkies Go to Town
And this is when it ALL FALLS APART…
Oh noes! OH NOES!!! Balloons are falling from the rafters! Which is not a good thing, NOT a good thing at all! And bloody hell what ARE those dudes wearing??? Trench coats with those horrible brown art deco circular patterns all over, and silly hats to match! This. Spells. Doom. DOOM, I say!!! This is what you get when The Rocky Horror Show meets… Bozo the Clown. Hahahahhahaha
Totally forgettable song medley, and I couldn’t wait for it to end. What an excruciating and pointless exercise in cheap gimmickry, highlighted by predictable magic tricks involving jumping yellow balls and a ho-hum vanishing act. (Oh no. The trunk is empty. Where did Nakai go. Where did Nakai go. Look around you. Oh there he is on the other side of the stage. How did he get there. Let him sing a few bars while we keep talking in monotone. We talk in monotone because we CARE so much.) There are jugglers and clowns on stilts and backup dancers in Panama hats, oh wow! But — why stop there??? Bring out the boogieing Russian bears and the fire-eating midgets and the disgraced politicians in a cage!!! We’re on a roll here! Cirque du Soleil? NOT. Welcome to the “Cirque du SO LAME” hehe.
TSUYOSHI’S SOLO: SOU DESU, aka The Hat Dance from Hell, aka The Latin Zoo Revue
Then Kusanagi Tsuyoshi leads his adoring legions in what is presumably the National Dance Craze of Japan, and which apparently involves waving your arms (like so) and forming an “O” above your head (like… so). But he looks so happy singing the mind-numbingly repetitive refrain, that it breaks my heart to watch him, lol. Then, enter a bevy of Vegas showgirls wearing ostrich-feather boas and headpieces undoubtedly stolen from the Museum of Mesoamerica — or the set of “Apocalypto.” (I swear I saw an Archaeopteryx or two hiding behind the backup dancers, I did too!) After a round of horrified chortling, I began to view the nightmarish spectacle with the detached interest of an anthropologist: so this is J-Pop at its worst. This is what you get when you combine Latin music with J-Pop culture and Vegas-style choreography: Concert Performance FAIL!!!
And then the showgirls, clowns, jugglers, acrobats, leprechaun strippers, firebirds, griffins and chimaeras make their rather unceremonious exit, leaving the stage to the SMAP gents and the white-clad brass band, but… OH YES, the Great Gay Pride Revue continues! (I mean, why call it off when everyone’s having SO MUCH FUN??? Durrr) And so we have another song/dance medley from the Fab Five (but now looking more like the Quintet of Queer, as they have removed their trench coats to reveal these chintzy satin suits in Fuchsia! Tangerine! — and Apricot, oh wow!). This Liberace-channeling routine seems to involve some chairs and really forgettable pop tunes. Whoopee.
HITOTSU DAKE NO AI – AVE MARIA
This number strangely made my Top 5 list — because it’s so gay, and because KimuTaku raps. There’s a nice melody and rhythm to it (reminded me of something the Pet Shop Boys used to sing), but the smoke machines and the annoying contemporary dancers and those Blazingly Bad Suits from Hell almost spoiled it for me. Then the SMAP Five start singing “Ave Maria” and “One love/ One love/ Forever/ Forever” and “Arigato” all in the same chorus — what the eff, man??? *Cue horrified laughter* Then amid the operatic warbling from the SMAP 4, KimuTaku starts RAPPING… (the, er, Hail Mary Rap?). It’s mostly in Nihonggo — which is a GOOD thing, as I was still shaking off that horrid “my boo” children’s rhyme from earlier. But… my goodness. Watching Kimura rap it out reminded me of why I was STILL a sucker for this concert. Even in that riddikulus tangerine suit, his hair all matted and sweaty, and his body barely visible in the smoke and garish pink strobe lights, I dunno — but he made it… work. He made it cool. I had no idea what he was rapping about, but I believed in it. He performed that bit with all his heart and soul, and that I think was what made it cool. He got rhythm, he got soul, he got groove, he got game. At the end of the rap he flashed the rocker hand sign, and I was like, YEAH!!! So much for that detached anthropological interest, haha.
After that pocket of KimuTaku coolness amid a sea of absurdity, the SMAP Four (less Nakai) then crank up the weirdness factor in what I call the “Martian Hairdresser Sequence.” Our favorite J-Pop Idols slip on space-age headpieces against the pulsating, syncopated music (very, very Daft Punk, I swear). So this is what it’ll be like in the future, when people are really androids decked out in shiny orange suits and who ambulate on two-wheeled motorized contraptions. Whoopee. Perhaps the only satisfaction I derived from this number was seeing Kimura look so… happy, zipping up and down the stage, and actually… dancing WITH that blasted scooter. He actually made a frikkin’ scooter bring out his coolness. Again. (But then, he could take a dirty old boot and make it look fabuloso.) How does he DO that???
NAKAI’S SOLO: MIYASHITA GA TSUKUTTA UTA
Nakai Masahiro floats down from the rafters draped in a canary-yellow cape. What follows is actually a cleverly choreographed Hindu-inspired (or is that Thai?) dance which Nakai and Crew pull off beautifully. Behold Shiva the Destroyer, screaming his lungs raw and exhorting the audience to “JUMP!” The costumes aren’t showy, nothing distracting — just a simple white ensemble of shirt and slacks (plus the blue tunics at the start). Nakai does a little comedy monologue thingy before the black lights are switched on and he starts dancing to this surprisingly infectious fusion track of tribal and techno-pop sounds. That’s MUCH better, to dance when you know you can’t sing. Oh no, wait, he DOES sing after all. Oh, suffer the little children in the audience…
Act Four: In the Land of Feathers and Fur
Tsuyoshi takes the piano and Goro opens this sweet, moving ballad (whose title apparently has no English translation). I really liked this song, even though the costumes didn’t seem to brook any future hope for improvement: Honestly… WAS THE CONCERT STYLIST ON DRUGS??? What the HELL was the DEAL with the animal pelts and feathers and embroidered tunics with the gold belt and tasseled crimson sash, and those felt breeches tucked into the rawhide boots???????? Oh, I know what harebrained look they were aiming for: “Pocahontas meets the Yurt people of the Mongolian steppes,” hahahahahahha. Jeesh.
So anyway, Goro’s voice is clear and pleasant, but even without looking at the screen, you just know it when Kimura starts singing his stanza. His vocals won’t win him any Grammys, but they possess a nice, velvety quality especially in the lower registers. Kimura’s tenor is a caramel macchiato to be enjoyed on a balmy Saturday afternoon: warm and inviting, and it goes down real smooooth. Hehe. Nice. Very nice. He and Goro are the best singers of the group, IMHO.
The next ballad is still pleasant, though the melody less memorable. The atmosphere begins to feel uncomfortably like F4’s (remember them? hehe) “Jou Bu Neng Shi Qu Ni” Meteor Garden music video of yore, in which the F4 lads are garbed in similar attire to what the SMAP gents are wearing here. Hehehe. It doesn’t help, of course, that a *certain* member of SMAP shows up dressed for a frikkin’ Arctic expedition… Nakai, what have you to say for yourself??? *pounds gavel* Wheel out the bobsleds and Siberian huskies, pronto!!!
The entire XX population in the audience (plus 3/4 of the XY population, since most male SMAP fans are undoubtedly, like, gay and all) must have swooned to the next medley of tunes, dubbed: “KimuTaku Plays the Guitar and Shows Everyone Why He Is the Greatest.” It’s a lovely little acoustic set highlighted by Kimura’s easy and competent strumming, and the, like, 5 dozen close-ups of his face that scream “divine providence.” The music is TOTALLY what you’d want to listen to while going for a long, quiet drive to the beach. Me likee!
And now, a little something fo’ Tha Children:
SEKAI NI HITOTSU DAKE NO HANA / A FLOWER UNLIKE ANY OTHER IN THE WORLD
A horde of aspiring Johnny’s Juniors (and little female moppets, for gender sensitivity) carrying black and white balloons are ushered onstage while kiddie-themed artwork is flashed on the giant screen behind them. So I sez to mesself, this sure feels like either I’m at a UNICEF World Children’s Day Celebration… or a Michael Jackson concert, heh heh heh. But okay, overall the number is quite heartwarming, uplifting, inspiring and all that. I too felt like waving my hands during the “la la la la la” part. (I can understand why this single sold a bajillion copies in 2003 and remains one of SMAP’s most popular and best-loved releases ever.) Then a couple of psychotic-looking clowns come out to herd the tykes offstage. Game over.
Which brings us to…
HERE IS YOUR HIT: Send In the Clowns, aka Shingo’s Shame
Oh Katori Shingo, why this number? Why why why? And why that revolting costume channeling “Sgt. Pepper meets the Cat in the Hat”??? There’s something menacing about the falsetto vocals, the dancing clowns, and that topless man-boy wearing a clown mask who does nothing except SIT on the stage beside Shingo and who later breaks out in this weird rain dance or something. The whole thing came off as this sad, sick carnival sideshow that no fool would pay two figs to see.
Darkness and silence. Then… it’s KimuTaku on drums!!! After an enthusiastic attempt at the skins, he introduces the international band members (pretty good musicians, too) as they jam on some ska, reggae, and jazz. The other members of SMAP clown around the instrumentalists and the amplifier boxes. Okaaay. Hmmm, so let’s see… Tsuyoshi plays the piano, Kimura the guitar and the drums. I guess THAT’S what they study over at Johnny’s Finishing School for J-Pop Idols-in-Training, eh?
Act Five: Denim and Mojo
Much better all-denim outfits, but the song medley is forgettable at most, despite the lively pop tunes and enthusiastic attempts of the SMAP Five to drum up some pep from the audience.
The choreography is thankfully kept simple: no annoying backup dancers in sight, just the SMAP dudes tearing up the stage and looking happy, and levitating on giant crane thingies placed strategically around the stage. But the songs in this medley actually feel juvenile, like something a preschooler would learn from daycare class. No dice.
Then Kimura and the other dudes strip off those denim jackets to reveal printed white tees, and that’s when ze Magic happenz! Kimura plays point man for the next song, another catchy upbeat track with no-frills, effortless choreography — very nice. And you don’t really notice that the backup dancers have returned, or that they’re wearing the same maroon plaid monstrosities from the concert opener. You don’t care, because your eyes are glued to KimuTaku in all his sleeveless (!!!), muscle-bound glory, and the providential 20 shots-a-minute of him flexing those biceps (and holy cow, those droolicious DELTOIDS, he heh). You don’t mind that he’s showing off, oh no not all, not even a little bit. Come to think of it, all the SMAP dudes look extremely cute when stripped down to a simple white tee and blue jeans — SEE HOW THEY DON’T NEED TO WEAR A BLOODY PERSIAN RUG, OR ELTON JOHN’S ENTIRE COLLECTION OF PINK SATIN BEDSHEETS TO LOOK GREAT????? And yet it is Kimura who carries his outfit with the most… OOMPH, for lack of a better word. His stage presence is so compelling, the intensity of his performances so electrifying, and the emotional connection he makes with his songs (and with the audience) is so natural and unforced. Animal magnetism + charisma + sex appeal = Kimura Takuya, baby. (Wait — don’t they all mean the same thing? lol) Lame-a$$ choreography and hokey costume design can’t hold back the force of his personality and the 5,609,234 megatons of pure Kimura Awesomeness. He BRINGS IT. Every bleeping time. Without fail.
Next up: that “Sexy in the City” comedy sketch is sooo freakin’ hilarious, all five of them a riot to watch!!! (Especially Shingo, teehee!) Each of them brings a different brand of comedy: Shingo and Nakai are heavy on the slapstick, while Kimura and Goro keep it au naturel and… ladylike. As for Tsuyoshi, well, he has his outrageous makeup and wig to prop him, but his blackened appearance, if politically incorrect, gets the crowds in a tizzy. But one thing’s certain: SMAP would make five luscious divas indeed! (And KimuTaku would make the most GORGEOUS transsexual of all. Not kidding.)
The Costumes: Quintessential boy band getup of white jacket over black tee, sporty white pants and sneakers.
The Songs: A medley of tunes that sound like these lesser clones of their better uptempo tracks.
The Choreography: The Idols are mounted on individual moving pedestals that bring them closer to the audience. What for, you ask? (Fans: Why, the better to worship you with, my dears!) We’ve reached the dying moments of the concert, maybe their last gig for a long time, but Kimura works it like a fiend. Those 5,423,098 megatons of KimuTaku Awesomeness CAN indeed cut across whatever fundamental flaws a SMAP concert may have. All the corniness in choreography and the craptastic costumes are rendered immaterial when KimuTaku Shakes. That. Booty.
Now the pistons raise these circular platforms from the stage, and the Fab Five, clad in their dazzling white raiment, sing and smile beatifically down at their adoring multitudes, their pedestals like those marble columns of yore holding up the Roman Pantheon. In a way, this is what SMAP epitomizes to most (if not all) of the fans in the jam-packed arena: a glorious, mighty pantheon of, well, Idols (haha), these deathless demi-gods of J-Pop descended from heaven to grace the rabble below with a song number (or two). This song is quite… moving, as evident on the faces of the SMAP 5, and the lyrics (sayonara, arigato, presumably dedicated to their fans) obviously mean a lot to them. Their faces range from earnest (KimuTaku) to pensive (Goro) to downright emo (Nakai). Well, it IS an emotionally charged song, and I’m sure the message is just as lovely and heartwarming.
The concert could have ended here, really, it could.
But NOO-O. Apparently, there is a “Show the crowds how good you are with children at every single concert you do, or nobody gets paid for the gig” clause in their Johnny’s Jimusho contracts. Hence the ensuing feeding frenzy of several dozen adorable tots and a few select big ‘uns (including a Johnny-Ent princeling or two) who, for a few surreal moments, get to share the limelight with their respective Idols, some even getting “interviewed” by them before the camera, or whatever bright idea of a gimmick a SMAP Idol thinks of on the spot. I don’t want to sound jaded here, and the Fab Five really did seem like they actually LIKED the kids they were paid to clown around with, and that cute li’l tyke that KimuTaku rode on his shoulders really DID look like he was enjoying himself, so… I suppose the whole thing wasn’t such a bad idea. Maybe they genuinely LOVE children. But then, er… so did Michael Jackson. (I just realized I have referenced The Gloved One’s name thrice in this review already. Not that it MEANS anything, mind you…)
More inspired hand-waving. More pleasant and uplifting (but pedestrian) tunes. More KimuTaku arm muscle sightings. Yay. Yay yay yay. The song ARIGATO, despite being *slightly* gay-in-a-J-Pop-way, is nevertheless lively and peppy and poppy, and brims with such childlike exuberance that you actually grow to like it.
In retrospect, I actually found many of the SMAP songs to be quite singable after all. (Never really liked Pop music as a whole; was always more of a Trip-Hop/Nineties’ Alternative kind of listener.) When the SMAP Five weren’t screaming their tracheas out and frenetically tearing up the stage, their slower ditties and love ballads had some really lovely melodies, that I immediately went and looked up my favorite tracks online. I now have ALL their singles and ALL their albums, a recent birthday present from my best friend. (This coming from a girl whose ONLY Japanese songs on her computer were “Rising” by the awesome shamisen-rocking Yoshida Brothers; the “Spirited Away” OST; and… the opening and ending songs of that classic ‘70s robot anime series, “Voltes-V.” But, well. We all start somewhere, don’t we?)
As de facto Leader of the (Boy)Band, KimuTaku calls out the backup crew, singles out the band, and dispenses the parting words of thanks. That line of his, “We are… S. M. A. P…” is met by this tsunami of cheers swelling upwards from the crowds and almost blowing the roof off the Tokyo Dome. So much for overstating the obvious… But the fans are smack in his palm, wrapped around his pinkie, they have been from the second this whole concert extravaganza spectacular! spectacular! show-stopping experience of a lifetime began its crazy rollercoaster run. Heck, if KimuTaku had announced, “We are actually… trans-genders!!!” the crowds would have roared appreciatively just the same. It isn’t so much what Kimura says. It’s WHAT he is, and WHO he is that pushes all our buttons and gets us all worked up like little toy machines. We are all willing putty in his hands, and he damn well knows it. So KimuTaku says that They. Are. S. M. A. P., and I scream, I believe!!! I BELIEVE!!! LOLLLL
Credits start rolling. The SMAP Idols run to the very edge of the stage and bow deeply to their fans, their black cap-sleeved tees emblazoned with the words “Super Modern Artistic Performance” in white block letters. But the acronym (or more importantly, what it stands for) doesn’t have that ridiculous, laughable feel anymore. It has grown on you, you actually feel quite fond of the Engrish phrasing now, as if it were just something you’d merely roll your eyes at in mirth or amusement — but no longer in derision. And the SMAP Idols HAVE indeed grown on you, every single one of them. Never thought it would happen in a million years, but it did. I probably am their most reluctant convert of a fan, but a fan nonetheless.
And so, after the multiple encore and a million bye-byes, the Fab Five finally exit the stage on a descending steel platform, leaving behind the frenzied squeeing and neon-light-stick-waving of the entire Nihonjin Nation. You wonder, as you turn off your own lights and dive under the covers at 4 in the morning, how much longer these guys can still pull it off… Will they ever stop when they hit the mean age of 40? 50? 60??? Or will they wait until Senility, Macular degeneration, Arthritis, and Prostate enlargement force them into retirement? Then you realize that Japan has the highest life expectancy rate in the world. Which means that the indefatigable SMAP Five might JUST be around to celebrate their Super Modern Artistic Performance Diamond Jubilee Concert, after all. See you in 2066.
Video credits: alexshin79, aminerverland, hgteve49, kohpapa, KeitaxRyuchi, SOFTBANKxSMAP, Thedoggam, violet4takuya, yabaiman, yukOnah @ Youtube.com