Takeru and Shogo of Tokyo Hotayson are known for their manzai based on the traditional Okayama performing art of Bicchu Kagura. After forming the duo, they quickly gained attention by appearing on storytelling shows, and in 2020, they made it to the final of the “M-1 Grand Prix. In 2020, they made it to the finals of the “M-1 Grand Prix,” where they performed their manzai on the stage they had longed for.
How do they face the M-1 Grand Prix now? We will get to know their real and honest feelings about last year’s losers’ round, what they think about the Tokyo live scene in recent years, episodes looking back on the 2020 M-1 final, and the fear of being separated from this year’s rivals and regular semi-finalists.
They were popular in the semifinals, and I thought, “Wow, Shinku-san!
–Last year at the M-1 Grand Prix, you came in fifth place in the losers’ revival round. How did you feel about this result?
Takeru: Was I that high up? I honestly don’t remember the Loser’s Revival Round. If you don’t make it to the finals, the situation doesn’t really change. I didn’t have a clear understanding of the situation myself.
Shogo: I was disappointed that I did not make it to the final, but I was happy that I made it to the 5th place. I felt that we were better than New York. We have always said that we are not popular, but we made it to the finals in 2020, and the result of one year’s work came out in the Loser’s Resurrection Round vote.
Takeru: Taking into account that we are young, we are not “very popular. It’s more like, “There are people who know us,” or something like that.
Shogo: Also, we were simply popular at the venue, so I think that may have something to do with it.
–In the finals, there were many fresh faces, including Mogrider, Ranjyatai, and Vacuum Jessica.
Takeru: I used to perform with all three of these groups live, so I was half happy and half frustrated. I felt a bit like “I’ve gone too far. It’s the same in manzai and comedy, but it seems that those who are active in live performances are making it to the finals. Of course, young comedians are getting more and more popular, but there is also a trend toward live performances, such as Speedwagon’s appearance at a live show. I think the live music scene in Tokyo is hot right now.
Shogo: I knew that Vacuum would make it to the finals someday, but I didn’t think it would be last year. He is very funny, but I thought he would make it to the finals after about three more years in the underground and make more noise. But when I saw his material, it was really well done, so I thought, “Of course he’s going to make it. It was also well received in the semifinals, and I simply thought, “Wow, Shinku, you’re really good.
Ranjyatai had also attracted attention in the losers’ round the previous year, and I was like, “They finally made it. In today’s live performance scene, I would say that Mama Tart, Stretchies, and Hitsuji Neri are K-PRO (a comedy live event production company, and in recent years, a management company for comedians and event production). In recent years, they have been managing comedians and operating the Nishi-Shinjuku Narugeki Theater) and others are making the Tokyo live performance scene more active.
I think the establishment of NARUGEKI is a major factor, and it has also led to their appearance on TV. I think one of the three groups will make it to the finals this year.
The first year in the finals, you don’t listen to what others are saying.
–In 2020, I made the finals for the first time and came in 10th. Looking back, do you have any thoughts on that time?
Takeru: I was happy to make it to the finals, and the show was a lot of fun. There are only 10 groups a year that get to see the view from there. It was frustrating to come in last place, but I had a lot of fun.
Shogo: I’m the one who thinks of the material, so I thought, “This isn’t good enough. I thought I could still push it with my power, but as expected, I came in last. That’s why I was anxious all the way to the M-1 finals.
But I still remember the moment when I was on the stage. The shiny lights came on and there was a gold stage. I’ll never forget that view.
–I was impressed by their choice of “Riddle Solver,” a story they performed in the finals, when they said in a video on their YouTube channel “Tokyo Hotelison Official Channel,” using the words of Crystal Noda of Magical Lovely as an example, “At first, everyone makes a mistake (in choosing a story for the M-1 finals). I was impressed by the fact that he said, “Everyone makes a mistake at first (in choosing the material for the M-1 final).
Takeru: I think there is a slight discrepancy between the audience at the preliminary round and the audience watching on TV or at the final. I have heard that from Tetsuya Morita of Saraba Seishun no Hikari.
In the 2016 finals, Saraba did a traditional Noh play, but in the preliminaries, they did a completely different play. I asked him why. I asked him, and he replied, “The audience for the preliminaries and the finals are completely different, so I made up a story for the preliminaries. For the finals, we decided to do “Noh” from the beginning. Majilab also did a story that was originally their calling card first, and then they skillfully broke it up with a bang in the second run, didn’t they?
Yes, that was a part of it, but in the first year of the finals, you can’t really hear what the people around you are saying (laugh). So we did what we wanted to do no matter what was said. I also thought that if we followed the advice and came in last place, we might blame the person who gave us the advice.
Shogo: In 2020, Takatoru and I were of the same opinion and said, “Let’s do ‘solving the riddle. People said a lot of things to us, but neither of us listened to them. We really didn’t listen to them.
Takeru: We were a certain type of manzai, and we made it to the semifinals for four years in a row by gradually breaking down the mold. That’s why our style was different from what we had in mind at the beginning. So I consulted with my senior at the office, Kohei Ueda of Zofie, and he said, “You should definitely do the old material. But those words didn’t come through.
Shogo: I don’t regret it. But if you ask me how many easy-to-understand stories there are, there aren’t that many. Originally, we used the “manzai form” as a pretense for our manzai, so we don’t have that many easy-to-understand stories. Last year, when I tried to make easy-to-understand material, I failed. So this year, I think I will do what I want to do.
Takeru: In the 2020 finals, Master (All) Giant told me, “I would have preferred a story that didn’t use your head.
Shogo: Some people think our material is difficult, but there are also people who like it. I decided not to bend on that point. If we were to match even the axis of our manzai, there would be no point in doing what we do, and we would lose everything.
–Downtown’s Hitoshi Matsumoto commented, “The balance between our voices doesn’t match very well.
Takeru: You are absolutely right. I have a big voice and Shogo has a small voice. But I didn’t expect to be told that in the M-1 final. There was a microphone, too.
Shogo: But I think I’ve grown up a little since then. I mean, he is the most vocal of the younger generation.
This year’s threats are Stretchy’s and Ranjyatai.
–The preliminary round of the M-1 Grand Prix has started again this year. Are there any rivals that you don’t want to lose to?
Takeru: I guess Stretchies. We have been doing live shows together, and they won the “Tsugikuru Gejin Grand Prix” this year, so they have a lot of momentum. They could make it to the finals at any time, so I personally feel threatened by them. I would be very happy if we made it to the finals together, but it would be a bit frustrating if we end up in the semi-finals when they make it to the finals.
Shogo: I’m going to play with Ranjyatai. We are from the same office, and this is our last year together. I think he is very enthusiastic. It would be best if we could do it together, but since we are from the same office, I think it would be difficult unless both of us are really popular. I don’t think there is such a standard for judging, but it doesn’t happen very often.
–Other comedians are also emerging one after another.
Shogo: In the case of manzai, there are not that many junior comedians yet. If anything, the people I used to work with in live performances are beginning to awaken and gain strength. I think they are more in season. We have had more opportunities to appear on TV since four years ago, so I think we are not as fresh as we should be.
–The ideal way to sell is to win the M-1 and get more media exposure, like Nishikigoi did last year. I think it is a lot of work to fight against the “wall of early recognition.
Takeru: In that sense, I would like to get out of the M-1 competition as soon as possible. Yesterday, I was with Daigo-san (of Chidori) at a program taping, and he said, “It’s M-1, isn’t it? You don’t like it, do you? He spoke to me like, “It’s M-1, isn’t it? At that time, Daigo said, “We hated it too (at that time). I thought that everyone was the same.
We made it last year, but I am afraid of what will happen this year.
–Shogo: Do you have a fear that one day you will be left out of the regular semifinalists?
Shogo: Statistically, last year and this year are the most dangerous. The year after we made it to the finals, or the year after that, we were eliminated in the quarterfinals. It just so happened that we made it last year, but I am afraid of what will happen this year.
Nishikigoi left last year, and next year Ranjyatai, Metal Bat, and Mimikazu will leave. When I think about it, this year is the scariest for me because I still have a lot left.
Takeru: It really is a long-term battle to see how we can compete over the next 15 years. It is getting to the point where I feel like, “Well, that slot has been vacated, so I guess I can make it this year.
–What are you preparing for now, and what are you planning to do in the future?
Takeru: I want to make it to the finals. This year, the most important event was the solo live performance, but after that, I’m going to perform in other live performances and make adjustments. So, it will be the same as every other year, but we will steadily do what we have done so far.
Shogo: We are planning to do a live performance of new material, but I think the material from that event will be further improved for the next solo live performance. I’m afraid to play it at the M-1 unless it’s really good. Right now, we have some material, but we are preparing to do it at a tempo that is most comfortable for us.
–Shogo: I think we are working on improving our manzai itself.
Shogo: In our manzai, if we change one joke, we can shave off 40 seconds. So, if we change a blur and it is not well received, we lose 40 seconds. Considering this, it is more important to make the pretense of “how to make this bokeh or tsukkomi come across as funny” than to change the bokeh.
If our manzai doesn’t have any pretense, it won’t be popular at all. The shorter the dialogue, the more shallow or weak the tsukkomi sounds. It is important to shake things up well, and then make a tame tsukkomi that makes the audience say, “So that’s what you mean. I would like to finish this part properly in the future.
Interview and text： Asahi Suzuki
Freelance editor/writer. Former band member, former broadcaster. Loves all kinds of entertainment. Published "Shimura Ken Theory" (Asahi Shinbun Publishing) in April 2021. Currently updating his personal website, "Immortal Writing Blues. http://s-akira.jp/
Photography： Katsuaki Sato