It's generally agreed that the first MTV Japan awards held at Yurakucho's International Forum in late May  were less than a perfect success. Scheduled for a 7pm kick-off, the show started half an hour late, possibly because of a sudden torrential downpour. Just like the early stages of the World Cup, many of the seats remained unfilled, while some of the guests who did turn up could be seen nodding off in the lengthy pauses that dragged proceedings out by one and a half hours to finish well after midnight.
When, after 4 hours of intermittent excitement, Chinese singer Fay Ray asked stubbly actor Vincent Gallo of Buffalo 66 fame if he was tired, he joked, "No, not at all – I slept through the whole show."
Of course, these problems could be put down to teething troubles, and the sheer scale of the event, which included live performances mixed with the presentation of awards by a varied cast of international celebs. One of the more amusing moments was when ex-sumo wrestler and yokozuna Akebono took the stage with the lovely German supermodel Heidi Klum and used his height advantage to obtain an aerial view of her cleavage before they presented the 'Best Male' award to Ken Hirai.
But the real cause of the confusion was probably the fact that MTV Japan has set itself some challenging objectives. One of these is an attempt to develop a rapport between Japanese and Western youth culture. Unfortunately Japanese artists have extremely limited appeal outside Japan, so the traffic is all incoming. Nevertheless, on the night of the awards, MTV Japan made a brave attempt to create the impression that Japanese popular music is on an equal footing with its Western models by having top Japanese and Western talent sing together or at least accept awards from one another. But this can be a risky strategy as we saw when Japan’s 'Best Male' performed a duet with the relatively unknown American soul singer Joe. Warbling his shaky notes alongside a real black soul singer, Hirai couldn’t look anything but what he is, an ersatz soul man, feebly trying to sound black.
Youth culture has always been about having a bad boy image, and coming across as an American ghetto punk, pimp or pusher probably pushes more of those vicarious danger buttons than the Japanese equivalents of slightly naughty high school boy or noisy motorbike rider. When TJ asked Boyz II Men about this phenomenon, they called it a 'Beautiful thing.'
Not only were foreign acts honored with awards, they were also treated like visiting royalty. It was probably the big effort required in terms of interpreters and being painfully polite to such illustrious dignitaries that resulted in most of the delays!
Dangerous stunt act, the Tokyo Shock Boys, who did an amusing dry-ice swallowing performance, more or less admitted this afterwards when they told the press: "What we do looks more dangerous than it really is."
Although it might be expected that the awards ran behind schedule because of poor planning, ironically the reverse was true. There was over-planning with MTV Japan running a tight if somewhat slow ship. The elaborate and rigid structure of the show meant each delay had a knock-on effect. Indeed, a little bit of anarchic chopping and changing would probably have got the show back on schedule, but, then, some big egos would have been bruised in the process!
The strict organization was seen to best effect in the press interview room, where award winners and other dignitaries appeared for a cursory interview in front of the MTV cameras with rather inane questions like, "What award do you want to win next year?" This clearly freaked out the bolted-to-the-stage Canadian rockers Nickelback who replied, "Best Dance by a Rock Band."
Questions from the press corps were also allowed, but this was tightly controlled through microphone access and the constant excuse that the stars didn’t have enough time. In fact the head of PR revealed to TJ that most stars previously stipulated the number of questions they were prepared to answer from the floor. When Japan's biggest star, Ayumi Hamasaki, appeared, she merely made a brief statement before flickering away like Tinkerbell as hands shot into the air. As for rock supergroup Oasis, they seemed to be suffering from withdrawal symptoms of some kind as they shyly slouched onto the press room stage to mumble a reply to one question, before slouching back off, asking if anyone had any paracetamol. Perhaps they had given up hope of finding anything harder in the relatively drug-free environment of Japan.
Supermodel Heidi Klum proved more forthcoming than these surly rockers.
"The people are very nice here," she beamed. "As soon as they see you with a map they come to you and want to help."
"It's very big over here because Japanese people are really into fashion," she replied with impeccable supermodel logic.
"MTV is sort of the mother network to all the MTVs all over the world," she demurred. "I don't know if you’d call it franchising or not."
"It’s very similar to what's going on in the United States," she admitted. "But great videos are being made here. As an art form some of the videos I've seen here have been extremely progressive, even more so than maybe what’s going on in the United States."