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Sunday, June 16, 2002

MEDIA MIX

When the World Cup runneth over


How do you say "stereotype" in Portuguese? Every day during the World Cup, an industry association of commercial broadcasters places an ad in newspapers promoting the games that will be shown on TV that day. The matches on June 8 were Italy vs. Croatia and Brazil vs. China. The copy read, "Entranced by the beautiful boys of Europe? Shocked by the monsters of South America? Today, it's a deluxe double-header!"

News photo
Young men in Roppongi express their satisfaction with Japan's historic victory over Russia.

And if Ichiro bags the MVP award again, maybe the United States will drop its steel tariff. While strolling through Mizumoto Park two weeks ago on a publicity jaunt, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara was asked by an MXTV reporter for a comment on the upcoming Japan-Russia soccer match. "Japan must win," the governor said with that weird, mischievous grin of his, "then we can talk seriously about getting the four northern islands back."

We're the co-hosts, and we'll ask you any dumb question we want. During an early evening news broadcast, TV Asahi ran a totsugeki (guerrilla) report on some of the campsites that have been set up near the stadiums. The woman reporter, exercising her right as a journalist to stick her nose wherever she pleased, would saunter into a camp and without so much as a "konnichiwa" start picking through supporters' belongings. In one camp, she lifted up a plastic bag full of dinner rolls and asked its European owner point-blank in English, "What's this?" The supporter inspected the bag. "It's bread," he said with complete confidence.

Which Nakata are they talking about now? Exclusive rights to individual games were distributed among the various TV broadcasters, but the powers that be were less discriminating about radio. All AM radio stations were allowed to broadcast Japan's matches live. Kansai University media studies professor Hiroshi Ogawa, in an Asahi Shimbun editorial, said that the blanket radio coverage didn't make sense, but he didn't really elaborate. So allow me. It's mostly middle-aged men who listen to AM radio, and as everyone knows, middle-aged Japanese men much prefer baseball, a sport whose emphasis on fixed positions makes it easy to visualize. One can only imagine the look on these men's faces as they try to follow soccer on the radio.

Now what are we going to do with all those jars of squid guts? The tiny village of Nagatsue in Oita Prefecture attracted a lot of media attention just prior to the start of the World Cup because it was hosting the team from Cameroon, which was several days late. Reportedly, the delay was caused by stalled negotiations over the players' pay, and in all the reports that came from the village the journalists stressed that the Cameroonian concepts of money and time were different from those of the Japanese. Time, perhaps; money, definitely. The village spent 80 million yen in local tax revenues to host the team for a few days, an investment that, presumably, will pay off in future nostalgia.

Is that what they mean by "kicking" the habit? According to a current TV advertising campaign for a room air-freshener, Japan is the last country in the civilized world where people can smoke to their heart's content. Not so. This year's World Cup finals marks the first time that smoking has been completely banned at all of the event's related facilities -- and that means the press center, too.

But can he tap dance? Bilingual disc jockey Jon Kabira was hired by Fuji TV as one of its on-air personalities for World Cup-related broadcasts. Kabira knows a lot about soccer, but it should be noted that his younger brother, Jiei Kabira, is also one of the on-air World Cup personalities over at Asahi TV and has for many years been the main J-League commentator on Asahi's nightly "News Station." Jiei is a professional stage actor working mostly in musical comedies, and his famously obnoxious delivery is a natural product of his theatrical training. Jon has adopted this style himself for Fuji broadcasts, and, except for Jon's goatee and those momentary looks of panicked embarrassment in his eyes, it's difficult to tell the brothers apart.

Please put that phone booth back when you're finished with it. The wide shows this week reported that the only incidents of hooliganism reported so far during the World Cup have been perpetrated by Japanese fans. This startling development contradicts the prevailing tone of the previous months' media overkill, which implied that the peaceful archipelago of Japan was about to be invaded by hoardes of beer-swilling barbarians. What the media didn't seem to realize was how all that overkill coverage would affect the kind of impressionable young Japanese men who find images of rioting soccer fans cool. The moral of the story? Sometimes, if you want stuff wrecked, you've got to wreck it yourself.



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