By Makoto Hoshino / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterThe variety show “Chico-chan ni Shikarareru!” (Chico Will Scold You!) is as popular as ever.
The show airs on NHK General TV from 7:57 p.m. on Fridays and regularly achieves ratings of over 12 percent of households, according to Video Research Ltd. surveys of the Kanto region. The show’s repeat broadcasts on Saturdays gain even higher ratings, partly because it is shown right after the public broadcaster’s serial morning drama “Natsuzora” (The Summer Sky).
“I’m glad that people from a wide range of generations watch and enjoy the show,” said producer Junya Komatsu.
The show’s main protagonist is the 5-year-old title character Chico-chan. An actor wears a costume with an oversize head to portray her, while the broadcasts show her face in 3D computer graphics, which allows for a variety of outrageous expressions and effects. Accompanied by comedian Takashi Okamura, the show features Chico-chan asking Okamura and others simple questions, such as “Why do people wave their hands when they say goodbye?” If they cannot answer properly, she spits out her sarcastic signature phrase, “Botto ikiten ja ne-yo!” (Don’t sleep through life!) Her intense, tempestuous personality — very unlike usual NHK characters — is proving a hit with viewers.
“I’m making the show with utmost care for the image I have of NHK,” Komatsu said. “We put something like ‘good-heartedness’ to the fore, and Chico-chan uses rough language or goes off on a tangent — that’s fun.”
Now a freelance producer, Komatsu used to work at Fuji Television Network, Inc. and supported the golden age of the commercial TV station’s variety shows, producing such programs as “Downtown no Gottsu ‘A’ Kanji” (Downtown’s very good feeling) and “Warau Inu no Boken” (Silly Go Lucky!). In 2015, he became involved in “Chico-chan” and various other shows as he moved to Kyodo Television, Ltd., a Fuji TV subsidiary. He became independent in March to focus on producing TV programs.
‘Does ice cream expire?’
“I’m someone who has produced programs ranked No. 1 that parents don’t want their children to watch. This is the first time that I’ve been praised,” Komatsu said smiling.
He became involved in “Chico-chan” shortly before starting to work at Kyodo TV. Jiro Kawai, now the director of the program, consulted with Komatsu, saying he wanted to produce a quiz show on things people think they know but actually don’t, such as “How long does ice cream take to expire?”
“I thought it would be more interesting to make a show about people’s sobering experiences when they realize they’ve been uninformed about a certain thing throughout their lives up to that point, rather than about the knowledge itself,” Komatsu said. “For example, when you can’t answer a question from a little child, you get told off, ‘Don’t sleep through life!’”
The basic idea for the show was forming in Komatsu’s mind when he had a discussion with Kawai at the time.
After Komatsu started working at Kyodo TV, NHK approved the proposal for the show, and he joined many meetings about the program. They decided to appoint Okamura as the host because he looked most suited for a show in which adults kindly watch over a precocious little girl. The job of providing her voice was entrusted to Yuichi Kimura, the man behind the voice of the baby doll who speaks fluent Kansai dialect, Aka-san, in Fuji TV’s variety show “Heisei Nihon no Yofuke” (The late night of Heisei Japan), which Komatsu also produced.
‘Where are the answers?’
“Chico-chan” is a typical variety show when it comes to its performers and the staging. However, the videos explaining the answers to Chico-chan’s questions are of a very high quality, produced with state-of-the-art broadcasting technology and the vast collection of video archives that NHK possesses.
“It’s too much of a luxury, so to say we are the ones to make this show makes me feel guilty,” Komatsu said.
Therefore, he deliberately and comically shows in the program how creative team members are being lazy or panicking to find an answer.
“We are allowed by NHK to fool around while having a huge volume of resources at our disposal,” he said. “This whole package is the lifeline of this show, I think.”
There is another reason for the comical staging style: preventing fabrication.
“Even when the answer we’ve found is a letdown, we don’t have to lie about it,” Komatsu said.
Some years ago, viewers’ trust on TV was shaken hard by the revelation of fabrications in several TV shows, including the health information program “Hakkutsu! Aruaru Daijiten II.”