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Sunday, Jan. 6, 2002

MEDIA MIX

Faces of 2001: who's hot and who's not


Media Personality of the Year: Ichiro Suzuki or Junichiro Koizumi

Ichiro's reputation as the most successful Japanese export since karaoke was placed in stark relief by his refusal to acknowledge it. No other major media subject this year generated more videotape and column inches in inverse proportion to his lack of willing participation in their production. It's a point that invites a peculiar kind of scrutiny: Should we congratulate Ichiro on exceeding expectations on the field while successfully keeping us at arm's length off of it? Or should we, as the sports media did, chide him for being so standoffish? If you believe public people should be truly public, then you probably feel that this award should go to our prime minister, who took to self-promotion like a hooligan to Guinness.

Couching his near-future vision of Japan in cute epigrams of tough love and wielding his his inborn amiability like a pro, he used it to render any misgivings about historical amnesia and too-pat economic theories as the grumblings of party poopers who didn't like his style, which, in terms of substance, was better suited for comedy than government. Here, the only difference between Koizumi and his hapless predecessor, Yoshiro Mori, is that Mori never got the joke.

Best TV Commercials: KDDI

There were perhaps too many of them, and the use of three top male actors was a bit much, but over the course of the year, KDDI's various spots provided more great images and ideas than anything else on television. What's more, they sold what they were meant to sell, which is to say they distinguished KDDI's services and products from a host of other companies' similar services and products in a year when the telecommunications industry underwent huge changes, both technologically and regulation-wise.

And while the commercials with Masatoshi Nagase weren't strong enough to make us forget the ones he was making for Boss canned coffee, an early one featuring Etsushi Toyokawa as a hotel concierge who tries wordlessly, and unsuccessfully, to communicate to a bellhop that his fly is open, made a more hilarious impression than the famous volleyball/ping-pong series Toyokawa was doing for Sapporo beer at the same time.

But my favorites were the commercials for KDDI's new au cell phones with Tadanobu Asano. In the best one, he runs into an old college friend on the street and they go out for a drink, though he can't remember the guy's name. Too embarrassed to ask, he secretly sends a digital photo of the mystery alumnus to another college friend via his cell phone and gets the name back instantly, only to find that he can't read the kanji characters.

Most Valuable Player: Monta Mino

Though he's been around for years and hasn't substantially altered his signature emcee style -- gruff, frank, sentimental -- his success as the host of Japan's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" has made him the most ubiquitous face on the air. He has become that rarest of second-act success stories: the veteran who builds a new fan base by creating a parody version of himself. Why can't more TV personalities take themselves this lightly?

Least Valuable Player: Yukihide Matsuno

He isn't the first showbiz personality who entered through the back door via a scandal -- in his case, a messy 1998 divorce from actress Ayako Sawada, whom he managed before he married. However, his ascendance this year has been based solely on his ever-increasing capacity for self-humiliation. Since revealing last summer that he underwent a small face-lift, he has become a walking, talking example of how cosmetic surgery can change dour losers into something slightly more tolerable. In the fall, he became a professional wrestler, which is perfect. Now when people gang up on him, he can get paid for it.

Neologism of the Year: Satori-kei

If you remember your Zen 101, you'll recall that satori means "spiritual enlightenment," something you "achieve" after a great deal of meditation on the meaning of it all. However, a handful of media watchers have started using the term with the suffix "-kei," meaning "related," in order to describe a more earthbound kind of enlightenment, namely, the realization that seeking out less expensive goods and services does not necessarily make you a lesser person. You can lunch on 250 yen beef bowls every day at Yoshinoya and still drive a Mercedes without feeling a discomforting sense of contradiction or loss of self-esteem. In fact, you can more easily afford that Mercedes if you lunch at Yoshinoya every day.



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