March 19, 2010

Japan's got talent


No discussion of attractive women with slightly unusual physical characteristics can be deemed complete without mentioning the owner of the world's cutest overbite. When Disney anthropomorphizes a pretty girl chipmunk, what they must surely have in mind as the ideal is Shouko Nakagawa (中川翔子).


Nakagawa came up through the traditional "idol" ranks, which presupposes a nominal (often very nominal) amount of singing and acting skills. But these days she is mainly known as a "talent" (tarento).

A "talent" (an actual title and job description in Japan's entertainment industry) is a person whose fundamental "talent" is being famous for being famous. Talents are the backbone of the game, chat, and variety show circuits in Japan. Their job is to have charisma, a fan base, and always something interesting to say.

Shouko Nakagawa has greatly extended her audience not just by being very cute, but by demonstrating a genuine interest in, and knowledge of, all things otaku. She can share the stage with either comedians or professorial types and acquit herself nicely. And she's respectable enough to appear regularly on NHK.

She is the incarnation of the geek daydream, a flesh and blood moe character come magically to life: big eyes, big ears, a dainty overbite, beauty and brains.

In Japan, it a respectable sideline for people with real talent to do stints as "talents," such as actor/director Takeshi Kitano, who hosts a weekly chat show. Marty Friedman, lead guitarist for the metal band Megadeth, now lives in Japan and makes regular appearances as a "gaijin talent" (another actual category).

By way of comparison, Ryan Seacrest on American Idol is an "announcer" (anaunsaa), a specialized kind of "talent." Ellen is an "announcer" on Ellen but a "talent" on American Idol. David Hasselhoff on America's Got Talent is a "talent," because nobody can remember what he's famous for anymore.

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