In Japan, families traditionally gather in late December to celebrate the passage of the old year and arrival of the new. True of yearend in most countries, a variety of customs earmark the season and one of those involves the family watching together two or three popular and long-running television shows. The most popular of those has long been the celebrity heavy New Year’s Eve broadcast of Kôhaku Uta Gassen or Red and White Song Battle. Another late December show that has been wildly popular since its debut in 1979 is Kinchan & Katori Shingo no Zen-Nihon Kasô Taishô, a pantomime contest exhibiting the passion and cleverness of amateur performers. Kasô Taishô translates as something along the lines of “masquerade belly laughs.”
The performers display a fun and often hilarious series of masquerades using precision choreography, goofy ideas, cute kids or clever visualizations. Imagine a parade of sight gags concocted by Monty Python, Terry Gilliam and French film director Michel Gondry and produced by Chuck Barris of The Gong Show. In addition to making their own costumes and props, contestants work hard to create an unusual, weird, wacky and very original idea, bringing it to life in a jaw-dropping performance.
Teams vary in number from individuals to school groups. Celebrity judges in crazy costumes vote at the end of each skit, the total score appearing in an onstage flashing tower of bells and lights. Contestants getting votes above fourteen qualify for big cash prizes but the large number of prizes almost guarantee that everyone is a winner. The top prize is a whopping ¥1 million, almost $12,600.
Have a look at three short examples…
A CHILLY WIND
KENDAMA NOTES (Kendama refers to a cup and ball toy)