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Friday, May 30, 2008

TV dumbos drum up big following

Special to The Japan Times

As Forrest Gump said, stupid is as stupid does. And in Japan, these days, it does pretty well.

News photo
Dunce away: Yusuke Kamiji (left), Takeshi Tsuruno (center) and Naoki Nokubo make up the pop trio called Shuchishin. © PONY CANYON

The latest pop outfit to take the nation by storm is Shuchishin, a male trio with a unique selling point: their ignorance.

The group's three members, Takeshi Tsuruno, Yusuke Kamiji and Naoki Nokubo, began life as occasional panelists on Fuji Television's popular comedy quiz show "Hexagon II." Each of the three photogenic men became known for their extreme lack of knowledge and consequent ability to provoke laughter unintentionally. When the program's producers decided to cast the trio together in one episode, the seeds of Shuchishin were sown. The episode was a success, and the three became regular panelists.

Then Kamiji was asked to read the Chinese character for "shuchishin," meaning "sense of shame" — a linguistic feat that would indicate a reading ability of roughly junior-high-school level. Kamiji flunked the test, though, giving the gibberish answer "sajishin" and prompting comedian host Shinsuke Shimada to quip "Don't you have any shuchishin?" — a wisecrack that was lost on Kamiji, who claimed not to know the meaning of the word.

Clowning around is standard fare for comedians, but it's rarely the route to fame for a musical act. Still, the trio, along with Shimada and the show's producers, have parlayed their shtick into pop stardom. Their debut single, also titled "Shuchishin," reached No. 1 on the Oricon daily singles chart, the main music ranking in Japan, on the day of its release. When the monthly figures were announced, the song, penned by Shimada, was still the top seller, beating J-pop diva Ayumi Hamasaki's latest tune into second place.

Last month, they performed live at a special Fuji-sponsored outdoor event in Odaiba to thousands of wild female fans. Clad all in white, their showy choreography was reminiscent of 1980s male idol groups, but the theme of their song — living positively even when people are ridiculing you for not being the brightest sparks in town — marked them out as a very different kind of act.

In early May, Kamiji and Tsuruno revealed on their blogs that the trio was working on a second single, while "Shuchishin" still occupies a spot in Oricon's Top 10 and has shifted a total of 210,000 units.

Shuchishin isn't the first act to come from "Hexagon II." The show had earlier spawned a female pop trio, Pabo (which means "foolish" in Korean). The three twentysomething cute chumps were also panelists on the show and had the same charmingly unintelligent appeal, though their song, "Koi no Hexagon (Hexagon of Love)," also written by Shimada, didn't achieve the same resounding chart success as the boys' song. The two acts have been labeled "obaka (dumb) talent," with the honorific "o" suggesting that they are dumb in a lovable way. Bizarrely, one tabloid newspaper tried to out one of the Pabo girls as a fake dimwit, though the charges remain no more than a suspicion.

Shuchishin and Pabo have proven that stupidity can work in your favor and lead to commercial success beyond the world of Japanese TV tomfoolery, offering comfort to fans with their underachievements. The new formula in the entertainment industry is simple: innocently dumb + good character + good looks = big money.

Shuchishin's 2nd single, "Nakanaide (Don't Cry)," will be released June 25.

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