With so many comedians competing for air time, it's important that they stand out. Thus, Japanese comedians, compared to their Western counterparts, can look unique—extreme, even. When Takefumi Kurashina decided to leave behind his pro wrestling dreams, he shaved his head and wore Road Warriors inspired make-up. He named himself "Tekken's Old Man."
The look vaguely resembled Heihachi Mishima from the Tekken games, and Kurashina's manager shortened "Tekken's Old Man" to simply "Tekken". A new funny man was born.
Every year in Japan, a new comedian bursts on the scene, either with a silly gesture or catch phrase that captures the entire nation's imagination. But once that year or two is up, they fade away into the background, only occasionally popping up at a press conference here or on a TV show there.
I once asked a Japanese TV producer what happens to these comedians. Do they end up poor and destitute? No, I was told, they can actually churn out a decent living appearing at suburb malls and holiday resorts, not to mention doing live comedy.
They still don't make obscene amounts of money, and many young comedians are not paid during their apprentice period. Only a few comedians, like Beat Takeshi and former comedian Shinsuke Shimada, appear on so many television programs for so long that the idea of them not appearing on TV becomes unfathomable.
Tekken's breakout years were 2003 and 2004. The turn of the century brought a big "comedy boom" in Japan, one that the country hadn't really seen since the 1980s. Many of the comedians either played instruments and sang funny songs or, like Tekken, drew pictures to tell stories.
He appeared on all the major variety shows, had a best selling book, and appeared in Square Enix's Hanjuku Hero Tai 3D real-time strategy game for the PlayStation 2 (and the follow up title).
"I don't get much work these days," Tekken joked at a recent press conference for Tekken: Blood Vengeance." That's not entirely true, as he has regular bits on a few shows, such as a once a week appearance on daily kids show Oha Suta.
Earlier this year, he attempted to reinvent himself in an unusual way: He appeared on an afternoon talkshow with no make-up, something he had long refused, thinking that, as this video shows, he couldn't attract fans and attention. Tekken had developed a make-up free face complex.
But his decision to finally show his face without make-up caused a flurry online in Japan, with blog after blog pointing out that Tekken, this weird looking guy who was named after a video game, cleans up well and is "so incredibly handsome".
(ライオンのごきげんよう | FujiTV)
On the show, he talked about how worried he was about showing his face, and yet, how liberating it was. Yet in the world of Japanese comedy, where everything depends on standing out and looking zany, Tekken is back in full make-up, popping up every once and a while on TV and at a press conference. Tekken is an outrageous game, filled with outrageous characters, and Tekken out of make-up, while handsome, looked boring. Once a Tekken, always a Tekken.
For more photos of Tekken, including shots of him gaming with Kayo Satoh, check out this gallery at Kotaku Japan.
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(Top photo: ニール太平 | Kotaku Japan)