Hachiji Da yo! Zennin Shugo

mark schilling 0934611501 at jcom.home.ne.jp
Fri Mar 26 12:46:08 EST 2004

To add to Aaron's comments on The Drifters, here's an except on my article
on the group and its show "Hachiji Da yo!  Zennin Shugo" from my book "The
Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture." I have fond memories of the show,
partly because it was one of the first on Japanese TV I could half way
understand. But then it rarely took much linguistic ability to get a
Drifter's skit, just a few functioning brain cells. Shimura Ken stood out
more for me than Ikariya Chosuke -- maybe because he was the one wearing the
swan's neck on his crotch.

Mark Schilling
schill at gol.com

The show that probably made Japanese viewers laugh loudest and longest was
Hachiji Da Yo! Zennin Shugo! (It's Eight O'Clock! Get Together Everybody!),
a comic variety hour that debuted on TBS in 1969 and ran until 1985.
Averaging a 27 percent rating during its sixteen years on the air, "Hachiji"
reached as high a 50.5 percent in April 1973 and, during its peak in the
early 1970s, rarely fell below 40 percent.

Hosted by The Drifters, five comedians who had gotten their start in 1964 as
a comedy band  (they opened for the Beatles when they played the Budokan
judo arena in 1966) the show was about as subtle as a Three Stooges' rubber
hammer to the skull.

Hachiji was built around skits, many of which got laughs from goofy
slapstick gags or broad sexual innuendo. One Drifter, Cha Kato, was known
for his male striptease number. Another, Ken Shimura, played a character
called henna ojisan(which roughly translates as "middle-aged pervert") who
strapped a stuffed swan's neck to his crotch and bobbed the head at giggling
female tarento.

Other big laugh-getters were the show's sets, often enormous Rube Goldberg
contraptions that seemed to have a life of their own. One favorite was a
house that blew down in an on-stage typhoon and popped up again when the
wind died down. Another was a full-size singing staircase.

Even props tended toward the gargantuan. In one routine The Drifters
competed in a relay race, but every time a runner handed off the baton, it
got bigger. Finally, the anchor, played Kato, staggered across the finish
line carrying a baton six meters long.

Some of the show's sight gags were not only grotesque, but downright
dangerous, including sending a real car crashing into the sets or covering
the stage with real ice and having the show's expensive talent slip and
slide on it.

Though Hachiji was the jewel of TBS's prime time schedule, it deliberately
courted controversy with its blatant disregard for what guardians of public
morals regarded as good taste. A women's group protested the on-air food
fights as "causing a problem for children's education." Outraged
traditionalists even started a petition campaign to have the show canceled
because they felt that Shimura's irreverent rewrite of a much-beloved
sentimental children's song "distorted its spirit."

As might be expected, this utterly lowbrow show, which parents' groups
routinely condemned as the worst on television, was a big hit with kids, who
memorized the routines and made the catch-phrases a part of schoolyard
slang. Hachiji seemed destined to roll on forever.

Over the years, however, the show encountered its share of problems. In
1974, the oldest member of The Drifters, Chu Arai, announced he was leaving
because he could no long stand the physically strenuous pace. His
replacement, Ken Shimura, was hardly an Olympic athlete, but had the
advantage of youth -- and a permanent leer. In 1976 Shimura and fellow
Drifter Koji Nakamoto were arrested for betting on the ponies with a bookie.
Until their case was settled in court, the two comedians were barred from
the show and nearly kicked off it permanently by the image-conscious
network. But the thought of continuing Hachiji without two of its funniest
performers led TBS to reinstate them.

 What finally killed the show was not enraged parents, zealous cops, or
nervous network execs, but the competition. Although it beat off several
challenges, including a 1980 show starring the then king of primetime
comedy, Kenichi Hagimoto, it began to fade with the debut of Oretachi
Hyokinzoku (We Are Wild and Crazy Guys) on Fuji TV in 1981.  Starring some
of the new standup comic duos, or manzai, that were then the rage of young
audiences, Oretachi took the measure of its formidable rival -- and did
nearly everything differently. Although it followed Hachiji in taping in
front of a live studio audience, it didn't have any single comic or group in
the host role. Performers came and went freely, as they might at an
after-hours comedy club. Also, instead of carefully rehearsed skits that
relied heavily on mechanical gags, Oretachi got its laughs from freeform
parodies that featured bizarre characters and unscripted ad-libs. Finally,
instead of cheerfully mindless vulgarity, the show's comics, led by Beat
Takeshi of the Two Beats manzai duo, projected a hipper, drier, more verbal
style that young viewers found irresistibly cool. The Drifters were kings of
the schoolyard no more.

After Hachij's cancellation, TBS featured Shimura and Kato in a show of
their own called Kato-chan Ken-chan Gokigen Terebi (Kato and Ken's Feeling
Good TV). Though it never reached the ratings heights of Hachiji, the show
proved popular. One regular segment on home videos contributed by viewers
became a nationwide sensation and latter metamorphosed across the Pacific as
America's Funniest Home Videos.

The Drifters have also kept plugging away, appearing several times yearly in
comedy specials.  But the old wildness is gone -- and never a peep is heard
from the PTA.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Aaron Gerow" <aaron.gerow at yale.edu>
To: <KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu>
Sent: Saturday, March 27, 2004 3:09 AM
Subject: Re: Ikariya Chosuke

> As the one who usually does obits on KineJapan, I regret not having
> done this myself (Having just got back from Japan, I was swamped with
> work).
> One thing we mustn't forget with Ikariya is that he was the leader of
> the comedy team The Drifters, which was active both in music and
> comedy, and featured such prominent entertainers as Kato Cha, Takagi
> Boo, and later Shimura Ken. There were about 20 Drifters movies made at
> Shochiku from the late 1960s to early 1970s. Most had "Zen'in shugo!"
> or "Dorifutazu desu yo!" in the title, and featured the group before
> Arai Chu left (Shimura Ken later replaced him). While the films are fun
> to watch, they don't have the edge of the early Crazy Cats films, or
> the depth of the Shochiku comedies of Maeda Yoichi, Morisaki Azuma,
> Segawa Masaharu, or Yamada Yoji (though I think Segawa and Maeda did
> one or two of those films). But they do testify, first, to the
> dominance of Shochiku in comedy in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as to
> the importance of Watanabe Pro in the Japanese entertainment industry
> (they managed such other stars as the Crazy Cats, the Peanuts, Kayama
> Yuzo, Fuse Akira, and many others--as well as produced numerous films).
> The TV "Zen'in shugo" was one of the last truly mass TV shows, getting
> on average over 30% in the ratings (the Drifters' "Dorifu daibakusho"
> was also a big hit). But the general impression was that their comedy
> was thus "good for the whole family" and especially the favorite of
> children. (Again, this is not a bad thing per se, but it does serve as
> background for some of the more biting humor of the manzai boom in the
> 1980s, such as that of the Two Beats).
> Still, more needs to be done on Japanese comedy in film.
> Aaron Gerow
> Assistant Professor
> Film Studies Program/East Asian Languages and Literatures
> Yale University
> 53 Wall Street, Room 316
> PO Box 208363
> New Haven, CT 06520-8363
> Phone: 1-203-432-7082
> Fax: 1-203-432-6764
> e-mail: aaron.gerow at yale.edu

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