Southern All Stars’ Hitler Surprise

The Southern All Stars, Japan’s most popular rock act since the 1980s, made quite a splash on the annual New Year’s Eve song contest broadcast over public TV station NHK.

Photo: NHK

The contest, called “Kohaku Utagassen,” is considered the biggest pop music event of the year, but SAS had not appeared on the show in 31 years, ostensibly because they have traditionally staged its own New Year’s Eve concert, usually in Yokohama near the band’s hometown. In fact, the band did not play on the stage of NHK Hall where the contest was held, but instead appeared via relay from the Yokohama venue where they were playing.

Moreover, the appearance was not announced beforehand, so it came as a complete surprise to viewers. But that wasn’t the only unexpected aspect of the broadcast. After the MC introduced the group, Kuwata appeared on camera sporting a fake mustache, and not just any mustache but a “chobi-hige,” meaning one that resembles the kind worn by a certain notorious dead German chancellor.

After the usual pleasantries, the band played “Peace and Hi-Lite,” a song Kuwata wrote in 2013 but which many viewers interpreted as a protest against the current government headed by conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In some past interviews, Kuwata has subtly questioned the direction of the current administration with regard to Japan’s neighbors.

Abe aims to change the non-aggression portions of Japan’s Constitution and authorize the country’s Self-Defense Forces to join in military actions overseas.

Several weeks earlier, Abe and his wife attended an SAS concert where Kuwata, apparently knowing that Abe was in the audience, criticized the recent Lower House election, which Abe called so suddenly the opposition had no time to prepare. In the weeks since the performance, there has been a great deal of controversy over it and whether NHK, which many consider to be a mouthpiece for the government, knew Kuwata’s intentions beforehand. In Japan, it is very unusual for any sort of popular artist to criticize the authorities in a public manner.

In any event, the SAS performance is not included in the version of “Kohaku” that’s currently available on-demand from NHK.