It’s been nearly a decade since they began their relationship, a romance filled with everything and anything you could possibly imagine. They’ve had their ups and they’ve had their downs, but behind the faÃ§ade of Utaban and Morning Musume lie’s a real genuine affection for one and other, at least that’s how it used to be.
So without the affair to seal off this partnership, who’s at fault for disbanding the enterprise? A chemistry which seemed so real, you could hear television executives from across the globe shouting at their screens –why cant we have that?’. I’ll tell you why, it’s something you can’t buy or manufacture. This is, or was, a real friendship between two parties that quite literally –hit it off’.
The power of Ishibashi Takaaki
Utaban has been an integral part in promoting the image of Morning Musume and most importantly, creating the very myth and legend of our favourite Hello! Project idols. Try and Imagine a world without Taka-san (Ishibashi Takaaki), someone who has proudly and rightly so, positioned himself in close proximity with the girls, someone who has played out his arrangement in a smart monopoly of tact and care. He holds a cartel of respect over fans (male and female) who can only dream of having the opportunity to act as freely and carelessly around Morning Musume as he has. Without him, we’d certainly have less fond memories and less understanding of the girls we have supported all these years.
So how does he work his magic? Like all good hosts, being able to get the best out of your guests is something that should be required. And failure to do so will often result in a very placid, uninspiring and formal exchange of Ideas between the two. Taka-san is not only able to bring out the best in his guests, he is able to win over their respect and affection (Most of the time) and most importantly is able to gain their trust. By giving up apart of himself on Utaban and letting us into his world, as crazy as he makes it sometimes, he becomes relatable. This should come as no surprise considering his upbringing as a comedian, who wants a funny man that you can’t relate to? They just don’t exist nor should they. As most comedians are, Taka-san isn’t exactly subtle either. To describe his hosting etiquette most accurately one might say he’s a mixture of, to put it nicely, mean, terrifying, stubborn, sweet, gentle, naÃ¯ve and caring. That actually wasn’t as straight to-the-point as I wanted it to sound, however I feel it best describes his decorum on the show.
Taka-san and Morning Musume
It’s fair to say that earlier generations of Morning Musume saw this –special service’ more than the current trend of members. This will be discussed nearer the end. But without going overboard with nostalgia I’ll try and keep this section quite brief as fans of Utaban and Morning Musume will know, you could easily wine and dine over the subject forever.
First of all, members joining Morning Musume will always come with a prospectus of their likes, dislikes, hobbies etc. These are easy pickings for the ever sneaky Taka-san and like lambs to the slaughter, he’ll exploit any and all of their quirks to the fullest. There’s a lot of personality, or should I say there was (for the cynical) in Morning Musume and I think Utaban should take a lot of the credit for nurturing something pretty uniform within a uniform industry, and making it appear as real as the business-end will allow. Whether Yuko Nakazawa is getting shouted at for being the oldest and giving as good as she gets, Kei Yasuda for being anything but conventional (we love you Kei-chan) or perhaps Mari Yaguchi for being lovingly pocket-sized, it’s the show’s attention to detail that we take to heart. Having new generations on for the first time are good examples of the above. 4th generation’s maiden voyage on the show saw Iida Kaori spacing out again, Yuko being picked on for her age as always, the newest members at that time being grilled by the panel and a game which revealed rather interesting thoughts on the older members, all in a days work.
The love of Taka-san
It’s not all about being picked on though, as some of the ex-members of Morning Musume will tell you. A select few have had the pleasure, or displeasure of trying to win over Taka-sans affections. Some of these include Maki Goto (his beloved Gomaki), Nacchi, Mikitty and of course Kei-chan. On face value, seeing a man of advancing years expressing himself around these girls the way he has may cause some concern. Of course, you can totally scarp that misconception straight away. Not only is it utterly absorbing to see a man in his position act out like a naÃ¯ve school boy who’s been given the keys to the candy store, it’s made even better and genuinely heart warming that his Intentions are always good, to do right by them always. He knows it’s just a front for the show and they know it to, and although it’s a fantasy, both parties make the most of it.
I’m sure Taka-san harbours a warm spot for a few of them, who doesn’t? And all the crazy banter that goes on is truer than the producers could have imagined. Through a number of quizzes, compatibility tests and individual talks, Taka-san has struggled to choose who will be his number one Idol. Where would we be without him hopelessly failing to be compatible with Gomaki almost everytime? Apart from revealing more about the girls, it gives us a chance to see Taka-san’s naÃ¯ve, deceptively innocent side. I think this is what reassures us the most that it’s ok for this guy to harbour a lottery of crushes. The girls certainly look up to him. If they didn’t, I don’t think we’d have that much to talk about. You don’t get this much attention unless your company is welcome.
Nakai-san, who’s he?
How can we forget Nakai-san (Nakai Masahiro) Taka-san’s other half? Outside of Utaban this guy is certainly bigger than Ishibashi-kun, SMAP ring a bell? But it’s easy to oversight him on the show. Almost all the set pieces are accommodated for Taka-san leaving Nakai out of the spotlight. This is certainly true with anything Hello! Project related. But he still holds a valuable contribution with his husky smoke ridden voice.
Taka-san isn’t the only one on the show who can pick on their guests, in fact sometimes Nakai-san is the harsher of the two. Let’s not forget the whole Yuko and Naki love saga which has been jokingly talked about since the idea started either. So he at least has some close connection to Morning Musume. I like to call him the unsung hero, whilst his other half is doing his thing Nakai keeps the ball rolling, a partnership and a friendship that works well.
Current state of affairs
It would appear as though the spark has simply fizzed out, and the enthusiasm between both parties to make an effort has wavered. I find it hard to place the blame on Utaban, who have had to welcome in seven generations in as little as nine years. At the same time it seems unfair to accuse Morning Musume for something they have little control over. It seems right then, to point the finger at the process. What I mean by the process in simple terms, is the constant revamping of the groups image to keep with the current fickle trends of the industry and the constant change in their line-up to keep the mother ship of H!P rolling. Taka-san and Nakai-san must be pretty exhausted by now. How many times do we expect Utaban to work their –magic’ on what is essentially the same thing done almost the same way every generation?
I don’t think they have it in them anymore to put out the effort required to turn these rough stones into rare diamonds. This is a huge shame and possibly one of the reasons why some of the 6th gen and 7th gen have seemed a little uninteresting. It goes to show how important Utaban are at outing the girls’ individuality but of course, it’s not all bad. Members that were left over from 4th and 5th gen still managed, and manage to draw a lot of smiles and laughs when they’re on the show. And one or two individuals from 6th gen are genuinely very interesting. It’s fair to say that Eri Kamei has seen some attention from Taka-san and rightly so, although he seems more angry than playful towards the present line-up nowadays.
Let’s not forget that Taka-san and Nakai-san are getting older and Morning Musume are getting younger. Are both sides becoming less relatable to each other? This could be a possibility.
NOTE: The Tokuban special aired on 23/03/06 is a lovely homage to both Utaban and Morning Musume’s time together. Nakai-san’s comment –No matter how you put it, Utaban has been a big part of Morning Musume’s history’ and Taka-san’s –How about the eight of you come here again some time? The current members are a bit weak for my taste’ spoken to the ex-members, are worth noting.
Also, the goodbye comments by Mari Yaguchi upon her resignation from Morning Musume done exclusively for Utaban is a good, if not sad watch revealing how she views Taka-san as a father figure and Nakai-san, well she has no memories of their time together LOL. Mari Yaguchi also mentions how Taka-san would often come to concerts and give encouragement during recordings. By look on his face I’d say he didn’t want people to know he was a nice guy.