I know this one is going to take some explaining.
I’m addicted to a TV show that you’ve never heard of, seen or even imagined. It’s Japanese, so for those who do know me that’ll be somewhat of a non-revelation. It’s a weekly comedy show and has been running continuously since October 3, 1989 on NTV. And it’s so damn strange that a critical analysis for a gaijin such as yourself is going to make me sound like the mentalist for liking it in the first place.
First up, the title just trips off the tongue: Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!! (ダウンタウンのガキの使いやあらへんで!!). Downtown are a comedy duo who’ve spent pretty much the last 20-plus years on Japanese TV, and are probably the most popular comedians working there today. Perhaps only Beat Takeshi is more popular, though for Western audiences we know him as a brutal gangster, bastard of a policeman or a guy in a funny hat who presides over a castle where people snap ribs trying to break in.
It’s through that show that I came to find out about Gaki no Tsukai (the shorter, more Brit-friendly way I pronounce the show’s title). As a child, I used to like shows like Crush A Grape, Fun House and It’s a Royal Knockout (repeats). Today, that’s replaced by Total Wipeout on BBC1 presented by Richard Hairmond. If you’ve not seen Takeshi’s Castle, you’re missing a really funny/painful/public humiliation/trial of the human spirit/wtf? tv show. The UK edition is narrated by Craig Charles and has been running on digital for quite a few years now.
Once I’d had my fill of that, I was out of ideas of what to watch next. Not knowing any Japanese (at the time), there’s no way you can just google this stuff up. Then I was told about Gaki‘s ‘infamous’ batsu games. Check this out:
Gaki’s stars, the duo known as Downtown (Hitoshi Matsumoto and Masatoshi Hamada) hail from Osaka, the lovely foodie part of Japan. Having been there and eaten the udon, I can vouch for the friendly atmosphere and people, and the less hectic lifestyle compared to Tokyo. The concept of the batsu developed early on, when one of the pair would lose a bet and be forced to accept a punishment. Often this would be something ridiculous like Matsumoto dressing up as the NTV bird and providing the beeeeep! of the colour test, to Hamada having to fly to France in a day to retrieve Evian from the glacier where it comes from. Then things started to get more serious. As in, funnier.
The first big televised event was in March 2000, where Hamada, plus three other cast members (the duo Cocorico, and the hard done-to Hosei Yamasaki, a favourite of mine) had to spend 24 hours playing tag in a school gymnasium. The twist in this case was that the taggers, once you were caught, would then exact an awful, and often painful, punishment upon the victim.
Full video, with subtitles: