The January 11th episode of Arashi ni Shiyagare (嵐にしやがれ) was composed of highlights and unaired scenes from the New Year’s Special, so this is the first regular episode of Arashi ni Shiyagare in 2014. Thankfully, though, regular doesn’t mean the same as always. For most of the past year, Arashi ni Shiyagare has started with the dreaded Tokyo Ii Mise Kudoi Mise segment, but this time . . .

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. . . we have something new! The title translates to “Arashi’s Unknown – Public Opinion Poll”, and basically they get together fifty members of the public to tell Arashi about a facet of life they don’t know anything about. The Arashi guys get to ask whatever questions they like about the topic.

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This time, the fifty respondents all live in a share house – obviously something the Arashi members have no real experience of (despite the share house segment on Himitsu no Arashi).

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Most of the fifty are in their twenties, but eleven are in their thirties, and one is in his forties (person number 10).

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This segment needs to be translated by people more experienced with Japanese – I’m not going to venture to detail all the questions the Arashis asked and all the answers they got.

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Instead, I’ll say that this was a great segment because we rarely get to see the Arashi members being genuinely curious about something. When interviewing stars, they typically have a much more formulaic air – like they’re doing it to fill time and they’re only somewhat interested in the answers. Here, it was a very different story, especially because whenever they asked a question, any of fifty people could answer, so that there was always a fascinating answer available. Interviewing only one person, the answers can be hit-or-miss.

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I especially enjoyed the revelation that person number 41 is in a share house with 87 people! I thought share houses were much smaller than that, but apparently they can practically be small communities. Hearing that. MatsuJun had an excellent follow-up question about security. On the tail of that question, Sakurai-san asked them to raise their hands if they had gotten something expensive stolen.

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This guy had an EXILE DVD stolen which . . . well, it wouldn’t be high priced here in the U.S., but considering how much DVDs cost in Japan . . . .

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Not only was this segment truly engaging, but the Arashi guys seemed to enjoy it, too. I don’t think they get to do nearly enough of this. While they didn’t get to talk to a majority of the fifty people, they did speak directly to a fair percentage of them – enough to justify bringing them all in.

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Even though it took about as long as the Mise segment usually does – roughly the first eleven minutes – it went by much faster and benefited from the fact that we saw a side of Arashi we don’t often get to see on this show.

The guest for the main show was a great get – Amamiya . . . ahem, I mean Matsu Takako-san, who I know best from her role as Amamiya Maiko in the famous drama Hero from all the way back in 2001, where she starred opposite of Kimura Takuya-san.

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Ohno-san knows her in a completely different way – he bought one of her CDs ages ago and still remembers a song called “I Stand Alone”, which he even proceeded to sing. Honestly, this is the most excited I’ve seen him get in response to a guest in a long time.

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He’s not the only one – Matsumoto-kun confesses that he really likes her (that was a dai-suki and a sugoi-suki from his high school days on). Amazingly, he knows her from yet a different angle – his image of her is from her stage acting, which she’s focused on more than TV dramas.

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Despite quite evident warm feelings toward her, none of the Arashi guys have actually worked with her before. Well, hopefully they’ll get a chance later in the show (all right, I confess – I already know they will).

First, it’s time for Ninomiya-kun to lead us through Matsu-san’s biography.

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As usual, he can’t resist the cute photos from when the guest was a kid. This time, they stretch all the way back to when she was an infant – 0 years old. I especially like this one from when she was five:

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There was something about a trauma involving Snow White . . .

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. . . but the next interesting thing was under the title “Her life’s biggest disgrace/stain”. Matsu-san was visibly worried about what might be under there, and then it was revealed that in a test, she read 背中 (senaka – back) as “haichuu” – a misreading of the kanji. Considering even I knew how to read the kanji correctly, that’s pretty embarrassing. She thinks she was just tired, but it’s apparent that the memory of the fail still affects her.

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To make her feel better, Sakurai-san turned to Aiba-kun, who has had some similar fails (like reading 出汁 dashi as dejiru).

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MastuJun admitted that in middle school, learning the days of the week in English, he mistook Thursday for the third day despite the fact that they recited “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday”.

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I was only sporadically interested in the rest of the biography.

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There was a bit about MatsuJun meeting Matsu-san . . .

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. . . but they got my attention again when they started showing clips of the other acting Matsu-san has done. I really only know her from Hero.

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Remember how I said they’d get to work with her? Well, I meant to act with her, of course, and the plot is that they have to do a little skit with Matsu-san where they also pick out a tea to give her. Now, they could have just each picked a tea, had her try it out, and ask her to decide who did best, but instead they made it much more elaborate and turned the whole thing into a new segment with its own intro – Relaxation Salon – Arashi-style massage.

They have a new Relaxation Salon set:

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They start by going over a questionnaire Matsu-san answered ahead of time – presumably to figure out how to help her relax.

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We find out that she buys mystery manga at convenience stores. Looks like Aiba-kun approves:

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Finally, they are faced with the selection of teas . . .

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. . . and each one of them heads into a living room set with Matsu-san in turn. They each pick roles and situations for the skit, and Sakurai-san is the first one up:

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The rest watch, amused.

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I’m going to leave what happens out of this synopsis as spoilerish. Which of the guys do you think will win Matsu-san’s approval?

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With that, the show was over. Just Matsu-san’s super-relaxed attitude and wonderful laugh would have kept things flowing no matter what . . .

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. . . but this episode was great for so many reasons. First of all, the introduction of two new segments that were both fun to watch – the public opinion poll segment and the relaxation salon segment. The effort put into those new additions – getting the fifty respondents and putting together two new sets – is more than we’ve seen from Arashi ni Shiyagare in a while.

More importantly, all the Arashis seemed to be thoroughly active in the episode. All five members will share the Most Omoshiroi (Interesting) Arashi for this one, because they all contributed an above-average amount of entertainment value.

This is the first episode that was really comparable to the best episodes of the old format, and from the preview of the January 25th episode, it looks like they plan to go even further to win back audience allegiance – they’re all going on-location to an ice rink! I’m not going to get my hopes up too quickly, but at least there are signs that the group and the producers realize that they couldn’t keep the show going the way it was, and they’re clearly aiming to make serious changes.