Posted in Commentary, TV Program

This is MJ — challenged!

In case you aren’t an Arashian and never watch an episode of Arashi ni Shiyagare since the program’s revamp mid last year, This is MJ is Jun’s corner on the weekly ‘Saturday night live’ show wherein in pursuit of kakkoii-ness, he’s doing whatever tasks or missions given to him in the coolest manner possible, regardless of the difficulty and absurdity level.

It started out okay, with him learning and then performing the cool stunts or showy cooking techniques, before the director puts him through arguably ridiculous themes or settings that would paint him in less-than-kakkoii light. I love the crazy and/or silly things Shiyagare staff made Arashi (in general and Jun in particular agree to) do despite begrudgingly, but the effect is opposite to the corner’s original intention that the man himself felt the need to point it out as early as possible. Despite the protest, the director continues to put him in out-of-place situations — like daring him to survive haunted house without toppling a wine glass over, filming him driving to countryside in posh car and then paddy harvesting in suits — i wonder if partial hilarity/ludicrousness is the tone they’re actually after. It’s THE variety after all.

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There have been a few tweaks done to the latest format already. The most noticeable changes are the shelving of Arashi Calendar (since the 24-hour TV SP), a lot more weight given to the guests (that sometimes they can only squeeze in one member corner in the episode), and the appearance of special guest(s) in the individual segments. By now, i think only Nino has yet to entertain a guest in his corner. In any other corner, it’ll be a collaboration to complete a goal; in Jun’s, the guest becomes a competitor instead. The goal is thus to find out who the cooler one is and decide if the segment’s name needs to be changed accordingly, through a three-match showdown.

Two challenges have been taken up by him so far, both are his kouhais from Johnny’s. I don’t know what’s the deal with fellow Johnny’s guesting because some of them (especially Kanjani8) come with an ulterior motive — to take over the show if they won. The dorks usually just laugh it off; i doubt change would take place even if they ever lost albeit instances where the seemingly offhanded deals were really followed through. E.g. the bargain between Arashi and V6 on VS Arashi wherein V6 would wear the costumes Arashi wore as their juniors/back-dancers or Arashi were to back-dance for V6 on the latter’s 20th anniversary concert. Sho and Jun immediately jumped and raised an objection to the back-dance offer proposed by Imada Koji at that moment but we all know how it went down. Or how they fulfilled the agreement to send sashiire (refreshments) to Yokoso, Wagaya e filming set after losing to the guest team led by Aiba. Not sure whether these were scripted or they yielded on purpose, though it’s invariable nice to see/hear them keeping the promises made on variety show.

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Nevertheless, it’s fun to see if This is MJ challengers would come out victorious… because so many others have failed in bettering the group. I couldn’t be more pleased to learn that the first ever opposition was Ikuta Toma — Jun’s BFF, my favorite JE artist next to Arashi, also the one who re-introduced me to these 5. I anticipated it to be a level competition because Toma has a good physique and has done quite a number of action stunts for his movies, and the matches would involve physical activities, no? Likely due to their closeness, the level of pettiness and downplay is so high it’s hilarious. Or rather, i hardly see that side of Jun.

The VTR opens with the customary interview session where Toma expresses his confidence in pulling off a cooler performance than his buddy and declares to turn the corner into “This is IT” (his initials but also a clever reference to Michael Jackon’s documentary/concert film) in the following face-off. It was so good.

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The selected matches are short and sweet in nature yet both need time to practice and perfect their skills in two of three. The challenge done right away is the first one: Apple Swan. Although more of knife skills showdown, this shall be an easy win for MJ. Cooking is one of his fortes; on the other side, Toma barely holds his knife properly and halves the apple tentatively i feared he would cut himself in the process. Despite all the fumbles, Toma finishes his creation in half the time of MJ’s… and actually wins the round (based on speed and shape of the neck). Double surprise!

Next is Jumping Ride, movie-like smooth way to enter one’s car through the window. This stunt takes time to get the hang of and we’re shown a sequence of cool everyday tips/tricks while ‘waiting’. Cue: childish pooh-poohs. Jun’s parts are practical (de-leaf strawberry with straw, open capsule toy easily) while Toma’s are downright for laughs only (open confectionery wrapper using one’s thigh, take off t-shirt in one swoop) and boy are they hysterical.

What’s more rewindable than the how-tos, however, is the expressions. Especially Jun’s. I swear i never see him emote that much before, not even in Pikanchi. It’s so out of character yet so refreshing to see. I wonder what makes him tick; he tends to make such faces quite often in recent Shiyagare episodes, tho not to This is MJ‘s campiness. *goes to rewatch Jun butchering every bit of his stoic image*

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Back to the game, each of them is given only one try to do the stunt flawlessly. Both have gotten the technique down pat it’s all down to execution. Toma goes first and takes it too slowly and carefully that his waist is stuck on the window. It’s a pretty risky stunt, he’s understandably cautious. MJ on the other hand gives it all, gains momentum as he jumps, and slips into the driver’s seat with style. The winner is a no brainer.

After that wow-worthy showdown, the final match is rather anticlimactic: Stair Sliding. It might be something we’ve tried as a kid but it’s definitively not as easy as it looks. Even the sensei wasn’t as gliding as this guy. The points are the speed, rhythm, and sliding feel. I’d say the posture and sliding pose are important too. Watching their takes side-by-side, Toma is a millisecond faster while Jun has better stance and less stomping sound. I personally felt Toma slides more smoothly, but the sensei thought otherwise.

With this, MJ wins from behind. Quoting Nino: “sasuga, This is MJ deshita ne.”

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In less than two months, the second challenger came to claim the crown. This time it was Kamenashi Kazuya. I love that they keep the opening style (will it get old?); i wonder if they also use the same filming location… The matches are more complex and the subjects are culinary, action, and art.

Playing field in the Dandelion Omurice showdown is a lot more level as Kame is also good at cooking. Like in Apple Swan, they dive into it without practice, with MJ again channels his inner pettiness down to cracking the egg (with one hand). The points are speed and rhythm in which MJ falls behind, causing him to panic and fumble. After having trouble flipping the egg the sensei-style, he does it normally — to the director’s protest haha. Upon cutting time, Kame’s egg isn’t fluffy (was it due to the extended waiting time? He seemed to finish it quickly), at which MJ states he’ll win the round, at which the staff behind the camera snickers. We soon know why: his is burnt! LMAO, so much for bashing Kame’s tamagoyaki, huh?

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The second challenge is Sword Fight, where they are to slay three opponents and memorize the sequence. So while the two are practicing, we are treated to another series of kakkoii urawaza. The division is the same: MJ is in charge of the handy tricks (easy necktie tying, bottle opening without an opener — although seeing how dangerous it is, i’d say stick with the bottle opener guys), Kame the ludicrous ones (cool jacket wearing, smart way to get into bed — through backflip, no less!). Gosh, doesn’t this segment remind you of Bakakkoii Challenge Sakumoto did in Himitsu no Arashi-chan? It does for me.

Both have perfected the katana skills once we zap back to the Edo period and deliver great performances. The action director picks MJ as the winner, at which the director(?) lets out a loud “Honto?!” He does everything flawlessly in one take and that’s a valid point, though i personally like Kame’s better — the swift movement, the intense glares, the sword clashing, the powerful slaying — it felt as if i was watching Rurouni Kenshin. He and Sato Takeru look very much alike! Could he have won the round had he not botched the unsheathing/sheathing parts, i wonder?

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The last match is Portrait Drawing, half caricature half deformed. Award winning caricature artist Kage-san teaches them to draw with simple round-triangle-square shapes. The subject is Mitsuura Yasuko who is deemed easy to draw. I think this round depends largely on their sketching skills and not so much the subject or techniques. Upon the reveal, i actually prefer MJ’s which looks more natural compared to Kame’s squared-jaw sketch (every girl’s nightmare) which to his defense looks cute and utilizes the given methods.

Thank goodness MJ wins the second match; otherwise, it’d be an utter defeat >.<

If i were to compare the two face-offs, “This is Kame” was tight, “This is IT” was amusing (dork Jun! need i say more?). These episodes are so darn entertaining that the other Arashi members are laughing their asses off in the studio. This series may even be more engaging than the regular This is MJ format i’m looking forward to the next installment already. Member vs member, perhaps? This ‘suggestion’ has been out for a while now, how fun it will be if the guys appear on another’s corner. And since these topics — Jun going on incognito trip with Sho, ShoJun doing the 3-match competition — were brought up during Sakumoto talk(s) on TV LIFE, it’s only a matter of time before it’s happening, right? They themselves wished to see member-on-another-member’s-corner appearance! If it’s too conspicuous for them to go undercover together, i don’t mind starting with SS vs MJ. Jun himself said “Let’s do it then.”

Now the question is when.

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