Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

Yappari Neko Ga Suki

Friday, January 25th, 2008

Yappari Neko ga Suki 「やっぱり猫が好き」 premiered in late 1988 as a “situation comedy” on Fuji TV. The basic set-up concerns three grown-up sisters living, eating, and gabbing in their Tokyo apartment. The show rarely featured meaty plots or even additional characters, but there was something charming about the realistically-meandering dialog of the three lead actresses Motai Masako, Muroi Shigeru, and Kobayashi Satomi. Like The Cosby Show or Friends, the show was filmed in front of a live audience. But without the standard “zing” punchline-heavy scripts or flashing APPLAUSE signs, the audible audience response is more spontaneous and random, giving Yappari Neko ga Suki the feeling of live theater rather than pre-packaged TV.

Airing at 00:40 am on Tuesday nights, the program could have been any other late-night throwaway program doomed to obscurity. Instead, enough viewers stayed up late every week to convince Fuji to do another season of the show, this time in the more reasonable time-slot of 7:30 on Saturday night. While successful for what it was, Yappari Neko ga Suki never transcended a narrow appeal to a specific cult fan base of women then in their teens and 20s. The show, however, has not just become a historical footnote: starting late last year, brewery Sapporo re-united the cast of Yappari Neko ga Suki to be the campaign spokeswomen (in character) for the beer happōshu Namashibori. (On the show itself, they always seemed to be chugging cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon — the happōshu of its times.)

As both a TV program and a cultural phenomena, Yappari Neko ga Suki has a few lessons and insights for the nature of contemporary entertainment and advertising in Japan.

1) There is nothing inherently “Japanese” about bad acting

The contemporary Japanese television drama is so rife with overacting and melodrama that some commentators have started to believe that poor acting is intentional and culturally-mediated — possibly a modern-day reflection of Japanese theater traditions or stage aesthetics. Yappari Neko ga Suki‘s three nimble actresses show what Japanese drama can be if the cast have actual experience and skills as actors. The Yappari format requires long ten-minute recitations of a script (plus ad-libbing) in front of a live audience — little different from more “serious” theatre. Only real actors can pull this off; you can’t fake it. Today’s dramas use a “one line of dialog = one shot” filming style, which fits better with the non-actor “pretty faces” that powerful Japanese entertainment companies discover and provide to TV producers.

Yappari Neko ga Suki is a reminder that Japan is in no lack of capable actors, but that the inner-workings of the entertainment industry and its casting process tend to force experienced players to late-night and other obscure formats.

2) Longer program runs means long-term cultural properties

Modern Japanese television dramas run for a short span of three-months with almost no chance of a second season. Television stations do not like to dedicate more time to these shows, as they are expensive to produce and generally risky. If they flop on the first episode, the sunk costs are a terrible burden. (There is no “pilot” system for early vetting.) Talent agencies appear to like the three-month schedule as well, maybe for the flexibility in allocating stars to different projects since most “stars” are multi-media players.

The problem, however, is that this short format kills any chance of creating long-term cultural properties for the networks. In just two seasons, Yappari Neko ga Suki established itself as a memorable piece of culture that now can be reassembled for nostalgic advertising purposes. Mobile Suit Gundam’s modern day popularity over an equally-landmark space anime like Superdimensional Fortress Macross may come down to the simple fact that Gundam has become a long-term, more expansive franchise than Macross. This may seem like an obvious point to U.S. TV viewers (who lust after the next season of Lost or 24), but the low-risk, industry-pleasing three-month dorama strategy of late is not conducive to thinking about the creation of valuable long-term assets.

3) Pinpoint marketing may work for mass products

At this point, it is unclear whether the Sapporo Namashibori campaign is producing results, but hats off to the brewery for running a mass market campaign centered around a relatively-cult late-night TV show with appeal to a very narrow band of adult women. Most ad campaigns for beer use generically-famous celebrities to transmit a vague brand message (“It’s tasty!”), but these three actresses — especially in this specific grouping — send more of a generational wink-wink to consumers than a broadly warm appeal (although the campaign is very “down home”-y even if you don’t know the Onda Sisters).

The beverage itself is probably not any more limited in appeal in taste than any other beer-like beverage, but with so many near-beers flooding the market, this pinpoint marketing towards a very specific and likely-sophisticated female segment makes the product stand out. Are sophisticated women in their 30s enough of a market to have their specific advertising messages for beer? We’ll find out soon enough.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

“Yappari hade ja nai”

Friday, January 11th, 2008

Despite a national love affair with television, the Japanese do not watch much cable TV. Perfect data on penetration is hard to obtain (the New York Times suggests that only 1 in 5 have satellite or cable), but when compared to other OECD nations, Japan does not rank particularly high. Although broadband bundling has made cable TV an easy and inexpensive option for most Japanese living in highly-populated areas, there is still no public rush to expand the number of channels on the TV from a half-dozen to 30+. Perhaps Japanese consumers demand a common programming experience to suit their social needs, or perhaps powerful advertising companies have some nefarious anti-cable strategy to keep eyeballs on the Big Five in order to maintain high ad rates for terrestrial TV. In the United States, cable diffusion has only increased cultural fracture and lowered ad rates for the traditional networks. So maybe what’s good for the Big Five is good for the Japanese nation.

But even without access to exact penetration rates, I have no doubt that cable TV is not particularly important in Japan. I am a cable subscriber, and the programs I enjoy seem to have only secured three or four advertisers, who have decided to play the same advertisements over the course of an entire television season.

While catching up on Lost Season 3 thanks to AXN, I was greeted week after week with the exact same commercial from MasterCard. In this Japanese adaptation of the credit card’s renown “Priceless” campaign, veteran Japanese actress Ohtake Shinobu tries on a new dress and exclaims to her on-screen daughter, “Yappari hade ja nai?” — meaning “See, isn’t this too flashy?” This mother and daughter have traveled to New York and are getting all dressed up in the hotel room to have a “priceless” night at a jazz club. (This level of gala festivities is apparently required for a mother in Japan to breach the topic of love lives with her children.)

There is nothing particularly odd or upsetting about this commercial, but the fact that it plays two or three times over the course of an hour, week after week — even during year-end repeats — results in a Lost viewer treated to the commercial around 100 times by the end of the series. Thanks to the repetition, I know every single line of the commercial, every inflection in delivery, every single cut, every single musical cue, every single note from the saxophone. I can tell you that there have been at least three distinct edits of the commercial, with the mother-daughter dialogue being changed from a dig against the father (“What’s your boyfriend like?” / “Like Dad.” / “You have bad taste!” Ha ha.) to the less biting banter “Tell me about him.” / “Do you want to know?” Around my house now, any exclamation of a two-syllable Japanese word is uttered within the form “Yappari —- ja nai?” in Ohtake’s pronunciation. This commercial has somehow become a part of my life.

Most companies aim for their commercials to gain maximum exposure, but I doubt many worry about the danger of over-exposure — the act of blasting TV fans with an endless barrage of identical promotional messages. No consumer could possibly enjoy this repetition, especially repeated over a half-year. What’s more, we modern consumers and TV viewers have come to expect a certain amount of diversity in weekly advertising — not only in the number of advertising companies but the number of different commercials provided by these companies. Repetition of the same advertisement suggests either advertiser laziness or non-competitiveness for the media space. The popular animation cable channel Animax, on the other hand, appears to be popular thanks to a plethora of advertisers and commercials.

In this mostly unconscious logic, more commercials -> more advertiser interest -> more viewers -> more legitimacy as a media product. So many products in Japan require some proof of social legitimacy before consumer feel comfortable with adoption. Cable TV is no different. The perceived value of cable TV programming content could hinge on the quality of commercials provided — and this would be another barrier for widespread penetration.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

“Makise Riho’s Boyfriend”

Friday, August 24th, 2007

We can’t help but make some comments on A Bathing Ape (Bape)’s T-shirts for the annual Nihon Television telethon “24-Hour Television.” This collaboration was certainly the most effective tool for cementing Bape’s image as a mass market brand in Japan, and the charity work gave that iconic simian logo huge promotion among the grandpas and grandmas that make up the bulk of Japan’s viewing public. This unprecedented union of street fashion and variety TV seemed to bring immediate results: The telethon T-shirts have already raised ¥420 million for some lucky environmental concerns. (At ¥1400, the T’s may have been the cheapest BAPE shirts ever made outside of a creaky factory in godforsaken regions of mainland Asia.) Whether in support or mockery, everyone was talking about A Bathing Ape last week, reflected in fashion blog Elastic giving A Bathing Ape a spot on their “Mote Brand” list for late 2007.

Looking at Bape’s recent 2007 Spring/Summer Collection magazine, I realized that the label does not necessarily seek to shun the underground to make peace with the masses. Nigo really just wants to appeal to everyone everywhere with every possible kind of celebrity: models, American rappers, third-rate comedians, wrestlers, and indie musicians. Total inclusiveness, however, is quite literally the exact opposite of exclusivity, and selling 300,000 yellow Ape face T-shirts in a single week to anyone with a TV set and the internet and enough money for three beers probably doesn’t have a positive effect on the more premier pieces in the Bape line.

Ironically, Nigo’s greatest achievement with the Japanese public may still have more to do with his love life than his fashion empire. In this Yahoo! News article on the success of the “24 Hour TV” shirts, Nigo is introduced first and foremost as boyfriend to idol Makise Riho and the second as a fashion designer. As much as his critics paint him as a part of the establishment, he clearly has some ways to go before being a real mass market icon who needs no introduction through his belle.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.