The February 1st episode of Arashi ni Shiyagare (嵐にしやがれ) was a Tokyo Ii Mise Kudoi Mise special and, after quickly scanning through it to see if there was anything interesting in that hour, I decided to give it a pass. Arashi decided to make it up to me by starting this episode with a performance, which sure beats either a Mise segment or some awkward backroom talk. Do you get the feeling that they’re not really sure how to start this show and are trying different things out?

Anyway, they sang “Bittersweet” with choreography by Ohno-san, and right away I wondered whether it would be the highlight of the show. They should really end with the live stage rather than start with it.

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It was definitely interesting to see the sort of  dance Ohno-san decided to match to this song.

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I haven’t seen an Arashi performance I didn’t like (at least, in recent years), so let me leave it at that and move on to the guest for the show – Kataoka Ainosuke-san, who is best known for his role in Hanzawa Naoki. We can definitely expect many references to that drama in this episode. He’s actually a highly esteemed kabuki actor.

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Like the ice skating episode, this one is billed as a “first experience” variety show, where the Arashi guys will get to do something they’ve never done before.

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The Arashis tell Kataoka-san that they’ve been wanting to meet him, and it’s mainly because of his high tension role in Hanzawa Naoki. No surprises there.

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To get a better idea of who he is beyond that role, they watch a VTR about him:

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I wonder how Kataoka-san feels about the fact that, despite an illustrious career in kabuki with some marvelous clips of his work in that VTR, they still refer to Hanzawa Naoki as his ‘big break’.

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So, what’s Kataoka-san’s plan for the episode? What does he want the Arashi members to experience?

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Apparently, strawberries. It’s funny – it was actually after watching Aiba Manabu last year that I decided to plant some strawberries myself. The climate around here was harsh last year, so I only planted two, and one died. This year I’ve got three roots in pots and three more in the ground along with the one that survived last year, so we’ll see how they do in the spring and summer. So yeah, yet another thing Arashi inspired me to do.

Kataoka-san loves strawberries – so much so that he would want them as his last meal. But can they really make this entertaining? I mean, enticing as strawberries are, picking them isn’t much of a challenge – not like ice skating.

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At least it gets them out of the studio and on the road. And since Aiba-kun is the one who found out where they could pick some strawberries, I suppose it’s no surprise that they’re headed for his home prefecture of Chiba – an hour-long drive from NTV.

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What an interesting interior they have in the bus for their drive. Very seasonal.

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Their talk with Kataoka-san here was reminiscent of the old VIP Limo segment in Himitsu no Arashi-chan, and it mostly revolved around his kabuki history. Usually Nino-kun would handle this part of the show, but Sakurai-san was the one asking the questions this time.

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Sakurai-san also kicked off the “Relaxation Salon” segment, which is still a bit amorphous. Last time we saw it, they were doing skits where they picked out relaxing teas, but there’s no way they’re doing anything like that here. Kataoka-san did answer the questionnaire before the show and they talked over it, just as they did the last time, but I’m unclear what “Relaxation Salon” really consists of.

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It’s a good thing that Kataoka-san has a lot of stories, but though he was animated, there didn’t seem to be a thread through the topics. Since they were jumping from one topic to another, it was hard to tell if anything would be worth translating.

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They did talk about his kabuki apprentice for a bit.

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Aiba-kun’s plan involved a stop-over to buy some necessary items . . .

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. . . they had to decide who would accompany Kataoka-san into the store . . .

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. . . and to my shock they didn’t do jankenpon (rock-paper-scissors) to decide! They used some completely different method and I don’t even know if it was a legit method or something contrived to make sure Ohno-san would be the one to go.

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With this, Ohno-san took the lead for this episode’s Most Omoshiroi (Interesting) Arashi. Aiba-kun’s been so nervous that he was a contender up to this point . . .

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. . . but nothing beats this sort of quality one-on-one time with the guest, and Ohno-san already had a lead because of his choreography credit for “Bittersweet.”

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What did they buy? Food, of course. I guess you can’t pick strawberries on an empty stomach.

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Cue the umais!

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That didn’t take very long, though, and they soon arrived at their strawberry destination (at the dead of night, of course, because that’s the only time they get to go out anymore. If you just watched recent Arashi ni Shiyagare episodes, you’d think they were vampires).

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In the strawberry farm they encountered . . . these guys:

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Yes, it’s the obligatory Hanazawa Naoki monomane. Kataoka-san must be so thrilled. I think it’s funny that the guy playing Hanzawa is twice the width of Sakai Masato-san (who played the role in the drama).

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They actually do a fairly good job compared to other impressions I’ve seen. It’s always the same scene, though – the one specially designed to be parodied.

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Aiba-kun tried to rush them right along, but the three comedians pointed out that they had been waiting for three hours (!).

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With that, they entered strawberry heaven:

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As someone who’s trying to grow some, it was very interesting to see the strawberry plants in full form. For the general viewer, though . . .

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. . . the rest of the episode . . .

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. . . was just a lot of strawberry tasting. They tried out multiple varieties, but since the comments were “umai”, “oishii” or “juicy”, it was difficult to tell what the distinguishing factors were.

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I wonder how much of a dent the Arashis put in the grower’s crop.

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The comedians returned to break the monotony, doing other impressions . . .

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. . . but eventually they got desperate trying to find ways to make munching on strawberries interesting, and started to fry the poor berries:

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And then . . . do this:

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The long and short of this episode is this: if you’re a strawberry fanatic or enjoy watching people each the fruits, this is the episode for you!

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At least they ended with a challenge – Kataoka-san competed against Arashi representatives (first Sakurai-san then Ohno-san to see who could better tell the five varieties of strawberries apart. They had to wear masks:

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Kataoka-san was a classy and talkative guest, but didn’t really inject much energy into the episode. The choice of activity at least got the Arashis out of the studio, but once again left them with little to do but eat. As I had feared, the live stage at the beginning was the best part of the show.

I like the experimentation with different formats, though, since it shows that they want to get out of the rut they were in for the last quarter of 2013. If they keep trying new things, I’m willing to give them some room to do that as long as they minimize the Mise segment.

The Most Omoshiroi Arashi was definitely Ohno-san for reasons already cited as well as his attempt at the taste test challenge at the end. Sakurai-san and Aiba-kun both deserve honorable mentions for asking questions and driving the activities.