Japanese-American rapper MIYACHI is undisputedly both funny and a skilled rapper, but he is hardly a comedic rapper. The gags and the shticks he employs at times with his music is more pronounced and fully formed as the street reporter in his excellent KONBINI CONFESSIONS videos (konbini/コンビニ is Japanese for convenience store), where he ambushes unsuspecting (often drunk) strangers in different areas in Tokyo, including Shibuya, Ueno, and Shinjuku—asking questions such as, “What is the meaning of your life?” and “Please tell me your dark past.”
Unlike, say, Billy Eichner in Billy on the Street, there are no celebrity cameos, Meryl Streep trivia, or free cash involved. The nocturnal participants in KONBINI CONFESSIONS don’t have to be pleasant or paying attention at all.
The whole premise of the show is that MIYACHI—dressed up as a typical salaryman—goes up to people on the street asking random questions, including, “Which konbini do you like more? Family Mart or Ministop?” Trivial questions such as “What’s the most exciting thing that happened to you recently?” get candid responses as much as the existential questions do. The more inebriated someone is, the more forthcoming they are (just watch episode 2).
MIYACHI-the-rapper’s music has long been centered in the dissection of Japanese culture, prominently its notorious work culture, which has led to a grim phenomenon called 過労死 Karōshi (overwork death)—themes MIYACHI explores repeatedly, from last year’s standout single, “MAINICHI” (Every Day), a deadpan rap cut about the dangers and fatal consequences that cyclical pressure of productivity impose on the working class; dovetailed by last month’s “CHU-HI,” which debunks the aura of civility wrapped up in formality (Wear a suit and tie but I’m a rebel) and denounces deeply embedded capitalist structures of modern-day economies, including Japan’s, which maintains steady growth despite the pandemic.
His latest track, “WHAT HAPPENED,” released today (September 30), narrows the setting to a news studio, with MIYACHI starring as the anchorman, weatherman, field reporter, cameraman, and “local man questioned for stealing 72 pieces of broccoli from supermarket.” The music video opens with a news advisory and a scripted banter between MIYACHI (donning a terrible wig) and his co-anchor, who cheerily remarked about the weather to cue the rapper into his spiel, which turns out to be, “You want to take a shot?” and then pulls out a bottle of Jägermeister and shot glass from his inner pocket to his co-anchor’s horror.
Alcohol is a running theme in MIYACHI’s music videos (and in KONBINI CONFESSIONS) invokes a discussion no one wants to talk about, especially when it’s intricately attached to a complex culture that goes far beyond health concerns. Nuances also factor in perception, as most Asian cultures are spectacularly misrepresented in the West. The global fascination with Netflix’s runaway Korean hit series, Squid Game, is an example of how culture as a soft power can be as potent and as deadly as it can be deemed harmless. What looks like an SNL-esque skit to Western (even diasporic) audience triggers different pleasure and pain points in our side of the world.
For me at least, “WHAT HAPPENED” echoes a collective weariness of an overwhelmed and overworked cogs in the wheel. Depending on the context, it denotes concern, curiosity, a general sense of trying to make sense of what’s already transpired. But for most part, it’s a question that is hard to answer—especially when it’s still happening.