Producing Nobuta

file - 22.03.2009 12:00

JaME takes a sneak peek into the drama Producing Nobuta and the temporary music unit, Shuuji to Akira.

"Producing Nobuta," better known, as "Nobuta wo Produce" was a 2005 drama that aired on the Japanese television channel NTV, beginning October 15 and wrapping up on December 17. The drama was based on the novel by Gen Shiraiwa that was released in 2004. Nobuta's cast featured a wide variety of performers, from dancers and anime seiyuu to Japanese pop musicians from Johnny's Entertainment. The two leading roles were held by Kamenashi Kazuya of KAT-TUN who played Shuji Kiritani, a two faced high school student who treats life as a popularity game, and Yamashita Tomohisa of NEWS as Kusano Akira, the annoying side kick with a quirky personality. The brother of Kiritani, Satoru, was played by Nakajima Yuto of Hey! Say! JUMP.

Producing Nobuta

In the drama, Kiritani teams up with Kusano who proclaims he is Kiritani's best friend after meeting Nobuko Kotani, who they later dub "Nobuta". Nobuko, who is played by actress Horikita Maki, is an unstylish and almost frightening looking girl who is bullied by all of the classmates. In an effort to boost her popularity they decide to "produce" her, and make her into the girl that everyone wants to be friends with, at the stake of Kiritani's own popularity. The series aired at 9:00p.m. on Saturdays, and included 10 episodes and a pre-show and an after-show special. The pre-show special, "Episode 0", aired five hours before the first episode to add to the hype and draw in a larger viewing base that night. Hosted by Kamenashi and Yamashita, the pre-show showed viewers previews from the series, behind the scene interviews and featured games between cast members. The after-show special was aired on the variety show "Oshamanpou" and unlike most Japanese specials, did not include material that carried on aftet the concluded storyline, but focused on interviews with cast, a peek back into the "Nobuta" series and games the actors played.

For Kamenashi and Yamashita, production for "Nobuta" wasn't easy, and they had a large hand in aspects of creating the drama, helping to make it that much more unique. For starters, the boys teamed up and created not only the theme song for the drama but also a limited band called Shuuji to Akira to help promote the drama during production and while the television show was airing on TV. Their first press conference was held on October 13, 2005, and over the next few months, the duo appeared on nearly fifty television programs, nearly half of which were on "Zoom In," "Zoom In Super" and "Zoom In Saturday." "Zoom In" is a popular television variety show featured on the television channel Nippon Television, which airs the show multiple times in several versions throughout the week. This did not include their musical performances which themselves were in the double digits. Towards the end of the year, they were regularly featured on the variety shows "Dora Dora" on Channel NTV, "NaruTomo" on YTV, and "Oshamanpou".

In the summer of 2005, the boys along with production staff, held a nationwide contest sponsored by "Zoom In" for people to submit Japanese lunch boxes, or "bento boxes", to be eaten by Kamenashi during the drama. On August 19, they chose Inoue Harumi, a housewife from Saitama out of 1025 entries, and her bento was featured in episode 2. However, during the announcement of the winner, Yamashita interrupted and objected that there should be more than one winner, and created the "Yamashita Prize," picking Hagiwara a housewife also from Saitama. Her bento was also used in the series, and was eaten by Yamashita in episode 8. During television performances, it was instances like this when Yamashita and Kusano almost seemed like one, and it became increasingly clear to viewers that there was no one more suited for Kusano Akira than Yamashita Tomohisa.

"Zoom In" also held a second contest for the school bags that would be used during the drama. Yamashita, Kamenashi and a team of designers held the judging on October 28. The judges picked the winning bag based on practicality and style, and after viewing 52 entries, finally choose Nakato Nao, a student in Tokyo. In a later appearance on "Zoom In," they showed off their personalized bags, with Yamashita still carrying around Kusano's toy props that were used during the series.

Although both Yamashita and Kamenashi were extremely busy between filming and promotion for "Nobuta," this did not hinder their responsibilities with their primary respective bands. In the fall, Kamenashi took on the task to create a commercial to promote KAT-TUN which aired in Shibuya, as the band's official debut was to come in 2006. The work was so heavy that in one television interview he said he was so busy he could barely think about episode 4 of "Nobuta." Meanwhile, Yamashita battled the scandal in NEWS, helping his band mates save face after Uchi Hiroki's disorderly conduct incident in July, the same month that filming for Nobuta was announced.

The success of "Nobuta"

In the end, the hard work of the musical duo and the production team paid off, and "Producing Nobuta" maintained an average television rating of 16.89%, with the finale topping 18.2%.

In most countries, television ratings are geared for production staff, but in Japan, these numbers help viewers decide which drama is good to watch and the higher the number, the more likely it is to be watched through the finale episode. There is no true way to interpret these numbers except to look at all dramas that air during the week. The ones with the highest ratings at the end are considered "winners," and are therefore more likely to be watched.

For fall 2005, "Nobuta" landed #5 on the ranking chart out of 15 dramas, with "Hana Yori Dango" from TBS taking #1 with 19.67%, "Yoshitsune" from NHK sliding in at #2 with 19.42%, "Jukunen Rikon" on Asahi TV taking #3 with 19.19%, and "Kinen na Akenki" from Fuji TV placing #4 with 18.78%.

"Producing Nobuta" won by a landslide at the 47th Television Drama Academy Awards, where it won not only for best drama and music, but best script and director. The awards did not end there, with Kamenashi winning best actor and Horikita best supporting actress. Yamashita did not go unrecognized, winning best actor at the 9th Nikkan Sports Drama Grand Prix. After "Nobuta", the careers of all three stars began to rise and acting opportunites became abundant. This was especially true for Horikita, who appeared in five dramas in 2008 alone.

"Producing Nobuta" was released on DVD on April 5, 2006 in a special boxed edition, which included cast interviews and other miscellaneous specials. Despite the lack of English releases for both the novel and DVD, "Nobuta" soon found its way overseas, fansubbed by many independent groups who wanted to show the world the ingeniousness - and silliness - that was "Producing Nobuta."

Shuuji to Akira

The theme song, Seishun Amigo, which means "Youthful Friends," was released on a single under the name Shuuji to Akira on November 2, 2005, and included three songs. The single was released in two versions, including a limited edition with a special booklet and a regular that held karaoke versions. Seishun Amigo had vocals by both Yamashita and Kamenashi, while the other two tracks featured Yamashita and Kamenashi singing solo and both tracks were featured as the theme songs for other dramas the boys starred in. Colorful, which was sung by Yamashita, was featured in "Dragon Zakura," while Kamenashi sung in Kizuna which was from "Gokusen 2."

They later released a PV for Seishun Amigo which included the choreographed dance which was used in television performances. The boys were featured on the November issue of TV Guide, which provided a step-by-step of the dance, and they later appeared on "Zoom In" and the variety show "Rajikaru," where they taught it to the television audience. The song was also referenced in episode 3 of "Sapuri," a drama that aired in summer 2006, in which Kamenashi starred and quoted the lyrics while talking to a co-worker.

Within just a week of its release, Seishun Amigo topped the Oricon charts at number one, and spent 34 weeks in the charts. In just four days, the single had sold more than 10,000 copies and by the end of November, more than a million was sold. It was the first single of the year to sell so many despite its late start. During a television appearance, the duo said they never would have thought the single to be such a hit and were amazed by its success. Seishun Amigo achieved the award of best single of 2005 in Japan, topping also the Oricon top 999 singles. The late debut in 2005 worked to the CD’s advantage and due to its long withstanding in the rankings, it achieved third best sold single for 2006. By spring, Seishun Amigo was released in Sweden, and made it into the top 50 on the music charts.

Due to the song's overwhelming popularity, Shuuji to Akira made many television appearances in which they performed the song, Seishun Amigo. Their first performance was less than seven days after the first episode of "Nobuta" aired on television, on October 23, 2005 where they were featured on "Utawara Hot Top 10," a music program that featured every Sunday on Nippon Television. In that same week, they participated in the well-known music programs "Utaban" and "Music Station." The two programs compete for popularity on rivaling television stations TBS and TV Asashi.

However, during their performance on "Music Station," Kamenashi made a mistake in the lyrics, and shouted "oh no!" upon the realization of his error during the middle of the song, much to the surprise of the audience.

By the beginning of November, they had appeared on "Hey! Hey! Hey! Music Champ," yet another music show. As well as "Music Station" two additional times. The second was at the Makuhari Messe Hall in Chiba in front of 200 eager fans, and the third was due to the overwhelming request for an encore show. The end of November brought two more television performances and on December 3, they performed an acoustic version of Seishun Amigo for "Zoom In 500kai SP." There was a month of silence from the boys before they reemerged at the end of December, performing for the fourth time on "Music Station" and at the "Johnny's New Years Eve Countdown event."

By the end of December, "Nobuta" had finished airing on television but Shuuji to Akira did not disband, and performed yet again on March 18, 2006. In the summer, they made another guest appearance on "Jikan Terebi" the yearly 24-hour fundraiser special aired on Nippon Television, to raise money for charities and citizens with disabilities. This was their last event before the temporary band went on hiatus. Shuuji to Akira has been quiet since 2006, but has performed at both the 2007 and 2008 "Johnny's New Years Eve Countdown."

While it has been several years since the two actors have worked together, Nobuta's popularity is still as strong as it was when it aired that fall. Now a worldwide sensation, "Nobuta" has wowed audiences through audio, visuals and text. With fans anticipating a 2009 reprisal of their award winning song's performance, we can only wait and see if Shuuji to Akira will resurface and what Kamenashi and Yamashita plan to do next.
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