We Are The World remade by impersonators on Japanese pop show (video)

Thank you Jesus for this, our daily awesome. Link (thanks, too, Souris Hong Porretta).


  1. This is just fantastic. The Cyndi Lauper impersonator is the highlight of the whole bit.

  2. i’m sorry. i know it’s a japanese video and context is everything. or something. but i’m just not down for blackface. like, ever.

  3. Japanese television may be celebrity-centric and occasionally unfocused, but it hasn’t lost its sense of fun. Our television is just celebrity-centric and unfocused.

    I spent a few years in the Philippines, which has a mostly soulless kind of the TV you’d see in Japan.

  4. Why are they applauding??? Why??
    And I second the blackface. Japan is loads of fun but the country is way behind on race and class issues.

  5. That SNL skit is so far from funny that it’s just kinda awkward to watch. The video in the article made me laugh a lot more.

  6. Steven & Pig

    Really? At no point is it ever alright for a person to dress up as a person of another race? Or are you just saying it’s never ok to dress up as a particular race?

    That seems a little black and white (no pun), do you not think that intent has something to do with appropriateness? Perhaps the reason blackface is frowned upon is because of the disrespectful way it has been used in the past, rather than the practice itself.

    I hardly think anything going on here is remotely as harmful a caricature as the ones we happily condoned in the past (society, not the readers in question).

  7. Just to clarify a little – this is a particular genre of TV known as “monomane” – impersonations of celebrities. The networks there do see it as pure entertainment, but it’s done seriously – they really go all out with costumes and makeup. I don’t think the blackface comments necessarily apply here – 1) most Japanese have almost no experience with Africans/African-Americans at all, outside of Bob Sapp and Bobby “the Nigerian,” so I don’t think you can necessarily classify this as willful racism or something without considering that they’re attempting “whiteface” as well here, with the same attitude of “foreigners are strange and amusing.”

  8. The reason Asian people are impersonating black people in the clip is the same reason Asian people are impersonating white people (Cyndi Lauper, Billy Joel, etc.): in Asia almost everyone is Asian!! They don’t have the racial diversity pool to draw upon for impersonation like Americans do!

    Isn’t this the most obvious thing in the world?

  9. well, on the racism scale, it’s got nothing on that thai toothpaste ad, but still.

    i would say that, in a situation where there can be said to exist a significant system of advantage or disadvantage based on race (as there is in the north america, japan, and, indeed, most places), for members of a “dominant” or “favored” race to impersonate members of a marginalized race is almost always inappropriate, yes. this is why white chicks, while maybe dreadful, wouldn’t be what i’d call racist in any particular way.

    and there are, of course, instances where a racial drag is employed for the purpose of promoting dialog or criticism–i mean, my undergraduate painting thesis was about blackface; my intentions were anything but racist, but, three years down the road, i’m not entirely sure the effect wasn’t. but as a general rule of thumb? blackface probably a thing to avoid in 99.9% of situations.

    also, the particular way that blackface seems to be used in japan, as a means of being “edgy” or “subversive,” skeeves me out in a massive way.

    that said, i don’t think opinion is really all that unified on racial impersonation; i mean, people got all out of joint when fred armisen impersonated barack obama but not when he impersonated mahmoud ahmadinajad (verily, in the parlance, “i LOLed”), so who’s to say? on top of that, there are still a fair number of feminist critics who find male drag queens deeply and intractably offensive (like, in terms of misogyny, not fashion sense or musical preference), and not all that many people agree with them on that point, so maybe opinion will shift?

    anyway, i don’t mean to come down to hardly or dogmatically, but i do think it’s a worthwhile conversation.

    and just to throw some more things in:

    Wikipedia section on blackface in Japan and the work of Iona Rozeal Brown, an african-american painter who deals primarily with ganguro subculture. about whom, actually, it appears xeni posted ages ago.

  10. Frankly, I think it is entirely about intent. The people above aren’t impersonating races, they are impersonating specific people. So it’s either a good impersonation or not. Whereas, trying to “impersonate” all black people is the issue, because that means distilling the variety and balance of an entire people down to some caricature of phrases and actions, likely to be offensive, in it’s compression at least..

    However, to make some blanket rule about never impersonating another person because of their different race/culture/sex/disability is just PC madness.

    I don’t know if you know Rory Bremner – the UK political impersonator. He regularly impersonates (in full body-suit/make-up) various celebrities and poiticians, including ones of different race or disabliity (eg. David Blunkett, the ex-Home Secretary of Britain, who is blind) and is still massively appreciated and respected (Bremner, not Blunkett).

    Bremner as Blunkett
    Bremner as Ahmedinejad
    And I can’t find a clip, but he regularly impersonates Sir Trevor Mcdonald.

    anyway, i don’t mean to come down to hardly or dogmatically, but i do think it’s a worthwhile conversation.

    Well, you certainly “mixed it up” in two threads at once.

  11. Lindz, the toothpaste ad is pretty fucked-up though. It certainly comes across as well intentioned, but the premise it starts with – black people are “known” to be X, but sometimes they are “Y”, is fairly naive in its actual scope.

    I know what you mean, but think there are more levels to it. It’s basically promoting the current mindset, by reinforcing it as a norm. When they could have(if anti-racism was their intent) had a few people of varied race interacting in a completely normal, mundane way, the better to say “this is normality, if you are phased, catch up”.

    I don’t think that was their intent, I think they used a cheap cultural norm, to make a cheap sales point.

  12. I’m with jtegnell. I have a friend who lives in Japan and he would say that the Japanese get very into whatever they are doing. Black, white, male, female – whatever. They are having fun and that is the whole point. My friend and a co-worker of his entered a “pairs” eating contest in Misawa only they misinterpreted the kangi. It was actually “couples”. So when these two 6’5″ 350+ white guys showed up and one was wearing a cheap wig and the worst red lipstick and blush the Japanese didn’t flinch. They loved it!

    I for one was laughing so hard at this clip that there were tears in my eyes.

  13. QFT.

    I for one was laughing so hard at this clip that there were tears in my eyes.

    I only got disappointed when I started reading the comments :^P

    Sometimes I think what BB comments could use is a way to just give an emoticon rating to a post. Like laughing, frowning, applauding, crying, thumbs up, thumbs down, puking, etc. If all you want to do is say “funny!” you click the :D emoticon and it shows up. A histogram of what gets chosen becomes a sort of “mood-o-meter” of the comments.

    Of course if you could force the comment system to only allow posts that are in the form of a haiku poem I’d also think you’d get some interesting stuff. You can’t CATFIC nor complain about CATCATFIC in haiku – or if you can, maybe you’re worthy of a post!

  14. That toothpaste ad is terrible. It basically says that black people are things. I mean at the end the guy lays down and is morphed into black herbal toothpaste…I mean if it were performance art or some crazy animated thing by a black artist…maybe. But as it stands toothpaste ads should not manipulating ethnic minorities to make a buck.

  15. ARKIZZLE, you’re picking up all the jacks in this game. I just like to watch a kid who knows how to play.

  16. This video is a perfect example of what makes the original We Are The World video so awesome – everyone in the original seems to be doing a really exaggerated version of themselves, from Bruce, to Dylan, to Stevie, to Hall and Oates. This remake highlights that really well.

    The guy doing Springsteen is unbelievable.

  17. Don’t get me wrong Japanese people are horrible racists, I know I am writing this in Japan now! However I cannot see this video as racist because of the black face. They are just dressing up like the people in the original video, they are not dressing up in black face and eating watermelon or fried chicken. That would be racist. However just imitating a celebrity is not at all racist.

    Of course this does not change the fact that Japanese people are horribly racist, they are. I am stared at, talked about and generally ignored most of the time. Just the other day two old ladies on the train sitting in front of me started talking about how there are too many foreigners in Japan and what all these foreigners are doing here and how most of us are criminals. They were only sitting 3 feet from me!!!! I was not really shocked by this I know how people really feel deep down so that is life. I have it better being white then many of my non-Japanese Asian friends or then my black friends. They Japanese really really hate other Asians, they are deathly afraid of blacks and willing to deal with whites as long as we don’t speak Japanese too well or cause to many problems.

  18. Re: my earlier comment-
    I was wondering why they were applauding because the impressions were actually very terrible.

    The whole blackface thing..I’m on the side of it not being a wise choice 99% of the time as well. And as DAMAGEMAN said, Japan is very racist.

  19. What, Damageman? “Japanese people are horrible racists”? All of them? Please tell me you’re being ironic.

    I thought the video was funny. End of.

  20. I loved this video! I didn’t even think ‘blackface’ until I read the comments…I think blackface refers to the Vaudevillian practice of impersonating ‘black people’ as collective, as opposed to a black individual. The fact remains, Ray Charles’ skin colour IS darker than that of the Japanese man impersonating him, so to communicate ‘Ray Charles’, he had to darken his skin as well as don the glasses, jacket, etc…are we to ignore individual characteristics for the sake of political correctness? I don’t think anything in this video (or for that matter, the toothpaste ad) was stereotyping towards an entire race.

  21. Marjoram I second your points about the video. I think of blackface as you do and I really think this is satirical and quite funny.

    Oh and yes I do think Japanese people are horribly racist. In fact I thought of some more examples to give.

    Just two weeks ago I saw a bar that had a no Foreigners allowed sign on its door. This was around Gotanda station in Tokyo. (is this racist?)

    I have been refused help repeatedly at a electronics retailer called Yamada Denki because the store staff cannot speak English, however I was asking for help in Japanese and I speak Japanese!!!!

    Are those things racist?

    Yes my statement is a blanket statement but the truth is very few Japanese people will acknowledge there is a problem with this kind of stuff and that is the problem.

  22. Asian xenophobia and US/Euro style racism are rather different phenomena with rather different causes. The US, for example, has been racially mixed for far longer than it has been a country. Japan, conversely, was closed to foreigners until the 19th century and still has very few foreigners living there. Racism seems to arise from the proximity of different groups where xenophobia seems to arise from the opposite condition. Both phenomena might be execrable, but it’s not necessarily useful to equate them.

  23. I don’t see the problem, since the show was not made for an American audience. As far as I know, blackface is completely unknown in Japanese culture. To them, it’s something one group of foreigners did to another group of foreigners more than 50 years ago. They don’t know what it is, and there’s no reason why they ever should think about it. If a TV show in America showed a pair of chopsticks in a bowl of rice, would that be offensive? Now, if they dressed as Koreans, there might be a problem.

  24. the comments are a reminder of how many people live for the opportunity to be offended.

    First, there is no blackface in that video. Makeup, yes. But real “blackface” is what Al Jolson wore, a simplistic caricature of black features.

    Second, if portraying someone of a different race is automatically offensive, then we have to say Elliot Trudeau is racist when he draws black people in Doonesbury. He’s not black, after all.

    Third, the whole video is about lampooning specific American celebrities. If they wanted to lampoon a race they’d come up with some general situation unburdened by the issues of known personalities. The video is all about the mannerisms and pretensions of the celebrities (not particularly well-done, I must say), not their race.

    And yes, the Japanese are ethno-centric. To imagine they are not is to imagine they share not the faults of everyone else on this planet.

  25. Robcat2075, you mean Gary Trudeau correct?

    Regarding racism, the issue boils down to (1) a cultural difference and (2) the fact they are in blackface and singing makes it edging on the not-so-wonderful world of minstrel shows. I don’t think I could ever characterize this as racism, but if someone is offended by it, I respect their right to express their views.

    And oddly while Japanese culture does express odd racist nods every now and then, they are much more open and willing to learn about other cultures.

    For example, Japan is filled with more folks that know, love and understand the true roots of jazz than most any other country outside of France and even the U.S. And a few years back when a lone harbor seal was found in Brooklyn, the Japanese news crews were all over it and interviewing locals much more than even local news. The way that Japanese culture absorbs the culture of others is far more nuanced than some would make you think.

    That said, I enjoyed The God’s Must Be Crazy back when I saw it in the 1980s and was always baffled by people’s reaction to that film as being racist. Then I saw it again nearly 25+ years later, and you know, that film is one of the most racist and patronizing films I have ever seen in my life.

  26. Oh, god, another Boing Boing post about Japan, and loads of offended people.

    Ok, here’s the deal (& forgive me if I sound a bit like an ass)- realize that the MAJORITY OF YOU have not been to Japan or are not in Japan now, living there, working there, like I am. I understand stuff like this upsets you. Sometimes I freak out at this shit too, and I GET IT!

    An earlier comment about this is not real blackface is appropriate. ALSO- don’t confuse GANGURO Japanese with blackface. That’s the work of TANNING, not makeup. Even the super-tanned Yamamba chicks use tanning, and tan creams.

    I hate PC language, but it just doesn’t apply HERE, in this instance, to say racist. They don’t have the daily context here that we do in America, living with people of all kinds. That’s not an excuse, mind you, for when they ARE racist (and they are occasionally, with the NO FOREIGNERS signs, and constant hype of foreign crimes…)

    ETHNOCENTRIC applies here. The Japanese don’t have constant exposure to other races in daily life as much as western countries like the US and Brittain. They only have so much material to work with on their own, so that’s where this stuff comes from. We amuse them because many of them don’t deeply understand foreign cultures. Just like we don’t understand why this is ok for them in Japan.

    True racism exists here- see the post from a few days ago about the “burakumin”. THAT IS RACISM. An entirely different kind than you will see in the west, and worse.

    PEOPLE, get a damn grip on yourselves, stop seeing the world through rose-colored witch-hunting, PC lenses, realize that cultural differences inspire people to act in ways strange to the original culture, and CALM THE HELL DOWN. I swear, too many people on BB seem to just look for reasons to jump on Japan. Sometimes I THINK THAT’S RACISM. Read about Japan. Study someone other than yourselves, and you’ll get it eventually, OK?

    This kind of impersonation is normal on TV. It is harmless.

  27. That performance was as racist as Divine’s performance in “Hairspray” was sexist. Or Gary Coleman’s in “Diff’rent Strokes” is ageist. Or Kevin Bacon’s, as the voice of Balto, was speciesist. Maybe I’m taking it too far, but as was mentioned earlier, the guy playing Stevie Wonder in the video painted his face to look more like Stevie Wonder, who happens to be a black person.

    Racism in Japan, as far as I’ve observed in the 18 years I’ve lived here, is a lot more deeply-ingrained but a lot less intentionally harmful. DamageMan, your experience at Yamada Denki is an awful one but not uncommon and somewhat understandable. Not justifiable, understandable. I’m half-Japanese, speak the language fluently, and even have citizenship, but now and then when I try to speak to people who don’t know me well, they freeze up and give me a “sorry, no English.” See, I look completely white, and they trust their eyes more than their ears. Racist, and could be unlearned, but habit and gut reaction.

  28. Some songs have a special meaning for a man in regards to a woman, but this can backfire because maybe the song had deeper meaning to begin with, but now it’s been cheapened. “We are the world, we are the children, we are the ones who make a better life so let’s keep on givin’.” “Remember that song, baby? The night I fucked you in the pet cemetery? That’s our song!”
    -Mitch Hedberg

  29. BastardNamban,

    There seems to be something wrong with your shift key. It keeps sticking and some of your words are in all caps.

    I sound a bit like an ass

    It’s rare for a commenter to have such an eloquent topic sentence. If you know in advance that you’re going to sound like that, what on earth would compel you to write that long angry rant? Do you think that you’re convincing anybody of anything by yelling at them and telling them how inferior their reason is? A number of other commenters have made points similar to yours, but they managed to do it without screaming.

  30. Damageman

    You are NOT Rosa Parks. There’s a big difference between being inconvenienced and having your rights trampled on.

    What exactly did you do when you were refused service? If your Japanese was so good, why didn’t you take it up with the store manager. Judging by your use of the word “repeatedly” it seems like you went back for more. Let me guess.. most of the times you were served to your satisfaction, sometimes you weren’t, but it was never so bad that you didn’t go back to the store. Here’s a clue, when you live in a foreign country there are times when communication is difficult, even when you “speak the language”.

    By the way, why don’t you tell everyone here about the positive way the Japanese treat you (especially the girls).

    Your broad generalisations about the Japanese show you to be real racist.

  31. This thread was real interesting until it degenerated into “YOU’RE THE RACIST!” “NO YOU!”. Can’t we have a discussion about racism in Japan – a topic complex and fascinating – without taking it personally, or am I holding my standards too high?

  32. Okay, you know I never once even noticed the makeup until I read the comments. Can’t you just relax and laugh at it? It was clearly not intended to be a mockery of other races. Did you throw a hissy fit when Dave Chappelle put on “whiteface” for some of his skits? Impersonating another race is NOT WRONG, in and of itself. It should only be offensive if the portrayal is intended to mock or cause harm.

    I’m glad we’re not living in such a racially intolerant society anymore, but I can’t help but think that the pendulum has swung too far the other way, for some people. Don’t be overly sensitive about race. It’s only skin.

    I’m white. THAT’S FUNNY.

  33. Japanese do not view Blackface as racist, but America does because it was used in racist ways. Japan does not, and if you can not see that, you are a perfect example of why America needs better education.

    Did you throw a hissy fit when Dave Chappelle put on “whiteface” for some of his skits?

    No, but Dave Chappelle pulled the plug on his show and put his career on hold after having deep issues with the way the public reacted to his work.

  35. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. – Charles Caleb Colton

    If they used blackface to create a character and make rash generalizations about a race, then yeah, you can shout racism. This is just gettting into costume to recreate something as closely as they could.

    Personally I feel that if the first thing you saw when you watched this video was racism, you might want to re-examine your own biases. Or at least just watch the Southpark episode where Chef gets offended by the new Southpark flag.

  36. Good lord, don’t tell the whiners about ganguro girls.

    Besides, the Michael Jackson is wearing white makeup, so it all evens out in the end.

  37. Just the other day two old ladies on the train sitting in front of me started talking about how there are too many foreigners in Japan and what all these foreigners are doing here and how most of us are criminals

    Wow, around here we need to turn on Fox News to see stuff like that!

  38. @46
    Sorry, but that doesn’t answer my question at all. Chappelle’s decision to kill his show was just that, HIS decision. It was a complex and personal, but it has little to do with the point I’m making. How did YOU react to his skits? Did you think they were worse or better than what you see here?

    The more we remain tightassed about race, the worse off we’ll all be. Lighten up (respectfully, of course) or else racism will never let up. Honestly, what good does it do? “Oh my! He just said white people are selfish assholes who like money! I’m offended!” If the shoe fits… Anyone with a brain would realize that Chappelle didn’t mean it hatefully, and he was merely parodying the large fragment of the populace for whom it rings true. I’m sure that, largely, no hate was intended by these Japanese performers.

    Sometimes, I hate this era.

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