24-hr TV telethon (24時間テレビ) is a yearly charity telethon on NTV with both broad participation from Japanese entertainers from the network and also features about regular Japanese who are struggling. To keep my attempt to review it sane, I’m going to avoid going into too much detail on each of the segments, but try the make it as clear as possible what happens at what time in the telethon so that you’ll be able to find parts of interest to you. I’ll also point out which parts I thought were really good viewing.

There are numerous versions of the telethon available, and the time index and part divisions I’ll be using are based on a version on Youku, which has no ads. Part 1 of this Youku copy stretches for six hours of programming time and includes the two-hour start of the telethon, two hours of the drama special Kyou no Hi wa Sayonara, and then a two-hour special of Arashi ni Shiyagare. This review is only of the start of the telethon, and I’ll cover the drama and Arashi ni Shiyagare in separate reviews. The Youku copy has seven parts, but this is not the only one that’s split up into multiple sub-parts.

The opening of the telethon shows Arashi presenting the theme on New Year’s Day. To translate loosely, the theme is “About Japan . . . ? This country’s shape/form.” The intro continues with a somewhat grim montage about how the country is in a time of great change in terms of politics, economics, and international relations (actually, those are arguably not the areas Japan faces the greatest challenges, but I’ll leave that alone).

The montage breaks with an uplifting look at people sharing what they think the country is all about, and also a recitation of the country’s strengths and a highlight reel of triumphs. I really hope at some point in this telethon they talk about the future of Japan as well (every nation benefits from talk about its own future – something we don’t currently get enough of in the U.S.).

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Wasting no time, Arashi kicked off the show by performing “Love Rainbow”. Certainly appropriate to the occasion, and I like the idea of starting a long show with a performance. While they were singing, we got little teasers of their individual projects, which we’ll see more of in the day-long show to come.

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After the song, some of the other personalities sharing the hosting duties were introduced. Ueto Aya-san was the main charity personality other than Arashi, The announcers were Hatori Junichi-san and Masu Taichi-san. Tokumitsu-san is always a supporter.

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There were also marathon supporters – Itou Asako-san (here’s hoping she does an Arashi dance again like she did “Wild At Heart” last year, since that was one of the more memorable moments of the 2012 telethon), Tsubaki Oniyakko-san, and Kawamura Emiko-san

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And with marathon supporters, there’s obviously the marathon runner to introduce. Morisanchuu’s Oshima-san was looking trim and ready to go, and her two partners in comedy were standing ready to see her off on her 88 kilometer run. She gets good wishes from Ueto-san and Tokumitsu-san.

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This calls for a VTR or Oshima-san’s preparations, of course. She started out weighing in at 88.4 kg.

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In sort of a weird jump that could have benefited from a segue, they went straight into a VTR about the designing of the charity tee-shirt and promotion thereof.

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Okay, so around twelve minutes in, we’re officially underway with people filing past Arashi and other supporters while purchasing the tee-shirts and the announcers handling their duties. Ueto-san reads a letter to the supporters and announcers.

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The cast of the movie Gatchaman, which was released on the day this aired – August 24th – stopped by. Gouriki Ayame-san has dropped in my estimation after Biblia Koshodou, but the others look like an interesting cast.

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More about Oshima-san before she starts out . . .

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. . . including the scene where Matsumoto-kun – Oshima-san’s favorite entertainer – stops by.

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Okay, enough with the VTRs! The ItteQ cast come to see her off (except for the noticeable exception of Tegoshi-kun), but not before she does a weigh-in to see how much she lost during training. Oshima-san is now 71.7 kg – she lost around 17kg (37 pounds) in six months.

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To give her a starting boost, Arashi performs “Hero”.

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Oh, for heaven’s sake, can she start running already?! Arashi already sang and everything! No, first she has to get a blessing from two godfathers of Japanese slap-stick comedy doing a routine I’ve seen too much of this year.

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Okay, so at 29 minutes and 45 seconds in, Oshima-san was finally off on her 88km journey to the Budoukan.

At 32 minutes, we got the first of the Dart trips – Ueto Aya-san went to Tahara City to find out what they thought Japan was all about. There, she encountered some cabbage farmers. Naturally, they know who she is.

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Altogether, I was disappointed that Ueto-san didn’t really delve deeper into the question she was supposed to be asking them, and instead just expressed superficial interest in what the people she met were up to. After asking about the theme, she didn’t ask a single follow-up question about their answers – instead turning to stuff like how old they were.

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Also, I was sort of hoping she’d encounter some older people who didn’t recognize her, but no such luck. This guy was funny because he blew a kiss, though:

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So yeah, that was a skip-able dart trip if you were looking for interesting interactions and good answers to the question of what Japan is, even if it’s translated.

Forty minutes in, we got a look at the other branches of 24hr TV around the country, with local celebrities facilitating the tee-shirt sales at each location.

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Back at the Budoukan, last year’s marathon runners – the Hokuto Akira family – popped in.

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Forty-three minutes in, we saw Aiba-kun’s project – to help 14 year-old Mitsui Ryuuta-kun participate in a water boys synchronized swimming team.

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I’m not sure what Ryuuta-kun’s particular disability was, or what its net effects are except for the obvious speech impediment and difficulty moving his right side. Seems like mostly a motor issue. (rin clarified in the comments – he was in an accident that left him in a vegetative state and when he recovered, he was paralyzed on the right side, with the brain damage also affecting his speech).

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Turns out Ryuuta-kun is better in water, hence the interest in this particular goal. Before his injury, he used to be an avid baseball player, so he enjoys team sports in particular – just swimming competitively on his own wouldn’t be as attractive.

We already know that Aiba-kun’s great around kids, so his part in this was complementary.

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Mainly, though, the focus was on Ryuuta-kun’s preparations, and that’s certainly what we wanted to see. I thought the whole sequence did a great job of leading up to the main event. At least, I’m not the least bit interested in synchronized swimming, and they managed to keep me interested.

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The main performance for Ryuuta-kun comes 55 minutes into the first part. We also meet Ryuuta-kun’s family.

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I rate that segment a great success, though I’ll carefully dodge the question of how synchronized Ryuuta-kun was (especially since I can’t even swim).

The next segment started at 1h 4m, and it was Ninomiya Kazunari’s Nihon survey/inquiry – he even had a really fancy graphic for it.

The question he put to the expert was one that we have all asked at one point or another – which is right – Nihon or Nippon? And how did we get “Japan”? The answer to the question lies in how the language has changed over time.

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Unfortunately, even though I’m really interested in this, I can’t give the details even though I’d like to – translation skills low.

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Next, another specialist was brought in to answer another question – how old is Japan? I think this is in terms of the main island being unified, though I’m not sure.

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At 1:10, we turned to former marathon runner 64 year-old Hazama Kanpei-san, who is dressed for action and on a track. This can only be good.

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In 2007, he did a decathalon . . .

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. . .but can he still manage it at the age of 64?

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I was sort of disappointed at how quick they made the first four events – they didn’t even show them in full, much less do any build-up.

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They did give some time to the 400 meter, though. Since he’s a long-distance runner, I suppose that makes sense.

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My assessment of that segment was simply that they should have given it more time.

At 1:19, we got the first of what will be many human interest stories (and by that I mean stories of tragedy with the possibility of a happy ending, but with an equal or greater chance of a sad ending). I don’t really consider these to be entertainment as such, so you’ll have to forgive me for glossing over them as I review this telethon, poignant though they are.

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Just in case the story itself isn’t enough of a tear-jerker, they followed it with Akikawa Masafumi-san singing “Sen no Kaze ni Natte”, and you know how that gets the tears flowing. That started at 1:31.

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Next, cast members from the drama special coming up next, including Yamada Ryosuke-kun, joined Ohno-san in the Budoukan as Ohno explained the plot of the drama.

Following that, we got a performance outside a World Heritage Site in Nara, the ancient capital of Japan. The site was Toudai-ji, one of the eight heritage sites in the city of Nara.

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The  performer was a Kobayashi-san, and he sang a classic hit I didn’t recognize.

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Kobayashi-san is a bit past his prime, but still sounds great. The real highlight was Toudai-ji itself, though, and the camera work gave us some sweeping looks at the environs.

Another human interest story followed, but this time it was about a famous figure – singer Kahala Tomomi-san who encountered personal/health problems in 2007 that led to her agency dropping her. She has started to make a comeback only this year.

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Well, if she’s going to make a comeback, she should probably do a performance here, right? That starts around 1:53.

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I think in the VTR about her I heard some songs that I preferred over the song she picked to do – “I’m proud”. Still, I can’t fault her for the choice of song since it’s doubtless appropriate.

Oh, by the way, if you were concerned that Imoto Ayako-san wasn’t around with the rest of the Itte Q members to see Oshima-san off, I should have mentioned that she’s going to be doing her traditional Mt. Fuji climb. We check in with her here:

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This part closes with Masu-san doing his dart trip, which took him to Kujukuri-machi (九十九里町) in Chiba.

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Like Ueto-san, he asked most of his questions about what people were up to, and took the opportunity to chow down. As for the question he was supposed to be asking, it came out as an afterthought, and he also didn’t follow up on the answers he was given.

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At least we had a little bit more fun because people didn’t always recognize him, and I always enjoy hearing the elders talk.

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But I have to say, in terms of trying to get at what Japan is, I was hoping they’d dig a little deeper. They’re going so in-depth into the personal problems of individuals, it stands in stark contrast to the attention they give to who they are collectively.

There were some obvious slow points to this opening, but on the whole I thought it went smoothly and featured a rich mix of activities – personal stories, performances, athletics, and history. The runtime was 2 hours and 6 minutes, and it was followed by part 1-2 – the drama Kyou no Hi wa Sayonara.