I hate to say it, but every time I settle down to watch Arashi ni Shiyagare (嵐にしやがれ), the Tokyo Ii Mise Kudoi Mise segment makes me wonder if I might have something more interesting to watch. That’s a shame, because the main guest was Katsura Bunshi-san (桂文枝) – the sixth of that name in a rakugo (comic storytelling) tradition that goes back to the mid-1800s and a legendary TV show host to boot. Oh well, here we go:

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It’s Aiba-kun and Matsumoto-kun in the suits this time, led by Watabe Ken-san as usual.

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The place they visit is called Ginza Hall, which has apparently been around for 75 years.

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The tedious part of the restaurant is entirely due to this menu board:

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Frankly, this is not the first time we’ve seen something like this in this segment, and I wouldn’t put it past restaurants all around Tokyo suddenly putting this sort of menu up just in the hope of  getting publicity on Arashi ni Shiyagare. It’s a token effort for a great potential return.

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The owner of the place does have some interesting characteristics. He likes jazz and Harry Belafonte, for instance, and suddenly broke out with “Day-O”.

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Other than that it was all about the food.

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The real show started ten minutes in, with guest Katsura Bunshi-san entering in the usual fashion, though to some shock from the Arashi guys. Katsura-san celebrated his seventieth birthday on July 16th, so this appearance was probably part of the rounds he was making to celebrate that.

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Now, I’d really like to see the Arashi guys tell some funny stories in rakugo style, but I doubt that’s going to happen. The episode where that kabuki actor came on and decided to show off his theater instead of giving the Arashis real tasks has made me wary of having high expectations when practitioners of traditional arts are on this show.

We have to get through the rumor segment first, though, and it should be one of the best rumor segments we’ve seen. I mean, Katsura-san’s profession is telling funny stories, and he’s got seventy years of experience and 47 years of professional work to tap into.

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Indeed, with the first rumor they put his extensive personal history to use – it was about when he discovered Akashiya Sanma-san. Katsura-san joked that the person who really discovered Sanma-san was his mother, but it seems that Katsura-san was the first one to really take note of him in the entertainment world.

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They showed a VTR of Katsura-san hosting a show at the age of 34, and Sanma-san as a regular at the age of 22. This was truly remarkable footage, and a reminder of how Sanma-san originally gained his fame – the hard way, like all the owarai geinin fight to do so today.

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Sakurai-san asked if there were points where Sanma-san could improve. Katsura-san is one of only a handful of people who might be able to critique Sanma-san legitimately.

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The next rumor was that Katsura-san gave Sekine Tsutomu-san his old stage name (Rabbit Sekine), basing it on the Chinese zodiac year. Sekine-san’s nickname, Rabi, is derived from that old name.

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Of course, we needed to find out what names the Arashi members would get from Katsura-san if they were in rakugo.

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I don’t know how to translate these, nor Katsura-san’s explanations for them, though he went into satisfying detail.

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I think Sakurai-san’s came out especially well (O-sho), but they were all pretty good names.

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I don’t think Ninomiya-kun was satisfied with Miyaji.

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Ohno-san’s new name had more to do with his favorite passtime than his real name.

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They went on to talk about Katsura-san performing rakugo in Paris, starting off his performance in an admirable though strained attempt at French.

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And he’s spread all sorts of things before, including acchi muite hoi! – a derivation of janken that I think he pioneered in the first place on his TV show in the 1970s.

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He played a round with Ohno-san, just in case you don’t know which variation of janken I’m referring to.

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He also popularized a lot of other games (probably also through his variety show – you know how they’re always looking for new games on those), including the best version of janken – tataite kabutte jankenpon.

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But the Arashi guys do a different game where they make up the story as they go but pretend to be reading it out of a book, which would certainly be a valuable game for those preparing to be comic storytellers.

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That led to the real challenge segment, for which Football Hour’s Goto-san was the assistant.

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This time, they had to conduct interviews of newlyweds in the style of Katsura-san’s long-running (42 years!) show Shinkon-san Irasshai! (新婚さんいらっしゃい!), beginning with the characteristic greeting “irrasshai”.

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After they got through that first point of the greeting, there are two points they have to keep in mind two more features of the show – repeating what a companion said in a louder voice and falling from a chair. We’ll be looking for the members to do both in the course of their scenes.

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Katsura-san and Goto-san demonstrated first, with Katsura-san even doing the pratfall with the chair.

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Then Aiba-kun took Katsura-san’s place and Sakurai-san was his sidekick for the first real interview.

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We had some special guests as the newlywed couple. I’m unclear about whether they were really newlyweds or just pretending – it’s tough to believe Maeda Ken-san is ever being serious.

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They did a fair job with the interview, but the real fun was instigated by Aiba-kun, who got a lot of good laughs out of this scene. It was like every line he came out with, and even some of his gestures, had people rolling on the floor.

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Since there’s an odd number of Arashis, Katsura-san decided to play his sidekick Mami-san while Ohno-san took Katsura-san’s role.

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It looks like the guests really are married couples, though if Maeda-san was difficult to take seriously, Dekka-chan is . . . .

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Ohno-san took a lot of falls in this one.

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The last pair was, of course, Nino-kun and MatsuJun.

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They had a real challenge – the guests were the Arashi ni Shiyagare director and his wife!

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And might I say, they’re an adorable couple.

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The way MatsuJun and Nino-kun dealt with their own director was hilarious.

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I didn’t understand most of the talk, but I did catch the part where the wife said that, after she put her full effort into cooking, her husband still dumps a load of shichimi (a combination of seven chili spices that I use in cooking as well) into the meal. I think she was prompted for any grievances she had.

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I think Nino-kun asks the director to pick between shichimi and his wife, but somehow things went horribly awry.

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And there you have it – truly an excellent episode (not including the restaurant segment). The rumor section was the best that we’ve had in a while – we got to see a young Sanma-san at work, the Arashi members got new names, and they played a game. That’s a lot better than just hearing them talk for half the episode.

Following that, the challenge was a substantial one and everyone participated. The extra guests were all charming and did a good job of giving the Arashis something to work with. Aiba-kun, Ohno-san, and Nino-kun all had substantially different styles when taking on the role of Katsura-san, though they all appeared lost at one point or another. The choice of Most Omoshiroi (Interesting) Arashi is clearly between the three of them, and because he made me laugh the most, I’m going with Aiba-kun.

Looking at Katsura-san’s bio on the Japanese Wikipedia, it’s worth mentioning again what an amazing career he’s had and how impressive it was that he’d be a guest on this show. Since 1969, Katsura-san has been the host of almost fifty TV shows, and at least ten of them lasted for more than five years. That TV experience definitely showed in his ability to work with Arashi to keep things interesting throughout the episode.