Downtown is a manzai group that I’ve known from the very first time I came to Japan. It’s hard to watch any Japanese TV at all and not realize who they are. Hitoshi Matsumoto is the boke, and Masatoshi Hamada is the tsukkomi. Matsumoto occasionally goes by Hitoshi, but generally they are both referred to by surname or their nicknames: Ma-chan and Hama-chan. They’ve been on television since 1989, and since 1990 they’ve been playing different 対決 (たいけつ), which decides who will participate in a 罰 (ばつ)ゲーム.
罰 means punishment and is often used in the compound 罰金 (ばっきん, fine/penalty fee). A 罰ゲーム is any “game” where someone has to go through an embarrassing or painful task as punishment for losing the 対決. For the first decade or so, it was always Matsumoto versus Hamada, and the 罰ゲーム was an embarrassing appearance on television or being forced to go skydiving or ride a rollercoaster:
Matsumoto had a long losing streak, so when he finally won a 対決, he sent Hamada to France to fill up a bottle of Evian water from the original source. He later sent Hamada all the way to New York City to retrieve a mechanical pencil.
These shows all include ココリコ, another manzai group made up of Shōzō Endō and Naoki Tanaka, and fifth man Hōsei Yamazaki. (I always felt bad for Yamazaki since he doesn’t have a partner, but then I realized he gets to play the ultimate role – the boke to the group as a whole: two manzai groups!) These three have been included from as far back as 1999 when they played the surreal 24時間鬼ごっこ.
The shows all follow a fairly set pattern. 3-5 of the Gaki no tsukai members are led on to a themed set by Hiroshi Fujiwara (a producer at Yoshimoto and Matsumoto’s 担当). There they encounter a huge number of up and coming (read: soon defunct) comedians, recurring characters, and members of the production staff, all of whom are trying to make them laugh, which gets them punished. The punishment began as blowdarts in the ass, then moved to an S&M whipping, but for the last four years it has just been a caning.
I was fortunate enough to catch the 2006 show by chance, last year’s on purpose, and past shows through the miracle of the Internets. Here are five of my favorite clips.
This clip shows how high the production level was last year. It also shows how ridiculous the shows have become. One interesting side note is that more of the guys laughed at the comedian who stutters his line than at the actual 勇気の実:
One of my favorite clips from the police show in 2006, the first one that I saw. ゆうたろう, I believe, is a (now-defunct?) comedian who imitates the late Yūjirō Ishihara, Japanese Elvis-type rock star and actor in police dramas (also brother to Tokyo governor Shintarō Ishihara):
This clip is from the 鬼ごっこ show and it has one of the greatest 罰 buildups ever. Matsumoto sent out oni dressed up in black to chase the rest of the guys around and deliver blows from ひしゃく (those water things at the entrance to shrines), はりせん (accordion-style fan things) and other random things. Then he sent out thai kick guys and head butt guys. After a few hours, he sent out the 紙芝居 (かみしばい) man. Make sure you watch all the way until the end:
And my favorite clip is the simple Shōhei clip, partially because it was the first 罰ゲーム I saw, but it’s also just really funny. I used this at elementary school with any kids named Yōhei or Kōhei, and it never failed to get a laugh:
My only complaint about the show is that every year without fail there is a scene where they laugh at foreigners, often of darker complexion, basically for being foreigners – looking different and speaking Japanese in a funny accent. This year they are airing another 罰ゲーム on New Year’s Eve. It’s six hours long and starts at 6:30pm. Madness.