If you've been reading this blog, or blogs/websites like this, it's probably not news to you that Arashi is the male idol group that is currently dominating the Japanese entertainment scene. These five guys comprise a cultural phenomenon you're bound to hear of or come across, even if you're just a clueless tourist walking the streets of Tokyo. Arashi is everywhere. In my whole life, I've only been in Japan for a total of 7 days, and I've seen numerous billboards of Arashi members endorsing various products, I've overheard schoolgirls talking about a drama starring an Arashi member, and I've even picked out the melody of Arashi's Beautiful Days from a music box rendition that was playing as the background music to a Harajuku ramen bar. Make no mistake about it, Arashi is big, and it's a besparkling five-colored rainbow that has simultaneously bewitched generations of men and women (and all genders in between) alike.
The thing is, most of the "Ohno talent" we see, like his acting and his singing and even to some extent his dancing, are all things that merely use him as a vehicle to express the artistic intent of someone else. Most of what he sings is not anything he himself had a hand in composing, and similarly, all the drama characters he's played are concoctions of some other brilliant mind. I'm not saying that what he lends to the visions of others is not wonderful and irreproducible in its own right, but it certainly does draw our attention away from what really goes on in his own mind. And I don't know about you, but I am actually fascinated with Ohno's mind, and I don't believe for even a second that he lives a state of "nothingness" (無) as he has on one occasion joked.
I guess his artwork would be the obvious place to start if you want a direct look at the preoccupations of Ohno's brilliant mind. I remember the first time I watched the episode of Himitsu no Arashi where he was asked to draw a portrait of their guest Becky on the spot (as an aside, Aiba was also asked to draw Becky for comic relief). Leader was literally handed a sketchpad and some colored pencils right there in the middle of the VIP Room and asked to just start drawing with Becky standing in front of him. Now, when I watched this, I had no doubt at all that Leader would produce something bearing a reasonable resemblance to Becky with maybe just a few artistic modifications (judging by his style when he draws in Mago Mago). And because it's Leader, I really didn't expect him to do anything above and beyond what he was asked. But I was surprised when they showed the actual drawing because Leader had actually not only drawn Becky per his usual style, but also replaced the pupils in her eyes with yellow sunflowers flaring in full blossom. Now that is a stroke of creativity that, when you think about it, really encapsulates both the brightness of Becky's personality and her very exotic-looking eyes! I never would have thought of likening them to sunflowers on my own, but it's one of those things where you see the ingenuity only after someone has taken it and put it right in front of your face.
Ohno's mind really is a unique and wonderful thing. I think he's a guy who, despite his lethargic demeanor, is actually quite good at thinking outside the box and coming up with things that most normal people would not have come up with. Remember his "doodling" task during the Atarashi Arashi program in July 2013?
|Left: Original image in book.|
Right: Ohno's doodling on the original image.
|Ohno's doodle #2. Top: original image. Bottom: Ohno's doodle.|
So I'm just saying, even though Ohno rarely advertises his behind-the-scenes efforts as an idol, even though he's way more likely to go on an unending tangent about his fishing fantasies than he is to talk about how hard it was to come up with a certain choreography, he is still very much a hardworking idol who wants Arashi to sparkle and shine just as ardently as any of the other members. Just because he acts laid back and likes to focus on the laid back parts of his life doesn't mean that he's actually that laid back for real. His form of aggression is the silent type, and I'll repeat myself to emphasize the point: the guy dances/choreographs. Think about how long that takes, and what he must do to keep his body in shape. The guy sings. Think about what he has to do to keep his voice in shape. The guy draws and sculpts. The guy also has to be on variety shows and film dramas. He might act like he just does it, no big deal, the same as he's been doing for the past 15 years, but in reality, it is a big deal, and he's an incredibly remarkable man for accomplishing all this and keeping it up.
By now, it's not really news that Ohno Satoshi was the least known member of Arashi when they debuted. It was mentioned in Arashi-den during their 10th anniversary how Ohno had the least number of uchiwas in the audience, and he revealed on one of his early Hanamaru Cafe interviews that his confidence was quite hurt by it. He eventually overcame this because 1) the unconditional support of his mother moved him to keep working hard and 2) his own overflowing gratitude and appreciation for his fans got the fans to know him more, and when they did, they naturally fell in love with him. But this little glitch in his history has certainly left a lasting impression on him, which is why even now, when he is enjoying unprecedented popularity, he still lives in a state of humility and disbelief, as if all this is nothing short of a miracle, as if every opportunity to appear in a show or do a concert or release an album is something to be treasured and taken seriously.
I love this side of Ohno. I absolutely love it. I love his self-deprecating humility even more than I love his ingenuity and his talent. Because it's what makes him approachable; it's what makes us fans connect with him, because we actually can feel very sincerely that Ohno needs us just as much as we need him, that he loves us and treasures us no less than we do him. And that, I think, is the highest and most beautiful form of a relationship between an idol and his supporters.
Leader is an incredibly self-critical person, really. When Arashi debuted, he chastised himself for being late to one of their early work days because he had held everyone up, and from then on, he has always strove to be on time; his thinking is that if he himself cannot be on time always, then he really has no authority to scold the other members for being late. Again, you can see that he's someone who tends to look within himself for his own faults before passing judgment on the people around him. That's really a admirable quality, and definitely something that we can all learn from. It's probably also one of the many reasons why Arashi clicks so well and why they haven't ever had a real fight. Because when there's someone like Ohno in their midst (be it as a leader or as a mere member), the atmosphere just changes. I mentioned before that Ohno scolded Matsumiya around 2002-2003 when they wanted to 'reinvent' Arashi because they were dissatisfied with Arashi's low popularity. Well, I think that's also an example of the way Ohno approaches work. Matsumiya (and Sho, too) were essentially complaining about the quality of Arashi's projects back then (which were, in all honesty, not half as enjoyable to watch as some of their later stuff like Mago Mago or Shukudai), and when Ninomiya said "下克上" in the documentary, I think he was implying that they were a bit dissatisfied with their superiors concerning this, too, which was why they wanted to scrap the projects their superiors were handing them to 'reinvent' themselves. Ohno's flat-out rejection of Matsumiya's proposal was really just a message to the entire group: Do your job properly and stop complaining about others. And that's exactly the type of leadership that Arashi needed, because in order to succeed, they needed to become a group that focused their energies on self-criticism and self-improvement rather than on finding fault with their circumstances and management. This is just my personal thought, but I think that Ohno had a lot to do with setting that sort of tone within Arashi. Other members may have been green and overly ambitious and frustrated with their waning popularity back then, and it is totally natural for them to want to take action to change their circumstances, but Leader very firmly set the tone for a no-shortcuts, when-life-gives-you-lemons approach to success, and we can all see that it's worked, not just to push Arashi to the top, but to keep them there for so long.
Anyway, I don't even know what this post has devolved to. It was meant to be a post of appreciation for Leader on his 34th birthday, but somehow I just ended up rambling on and on. I apologize if any of this sounds too didactic, but you know, there really are a lot of life lessons in the history of Arashi, and it might not be as fun as drooling over a member's abs or rolling on the floor laughing at a member's dorkiness, but it's worth giving attention to, and every once in a while, worth putting down into words on paper as well.
So happy birthday, Satoshi-kun! May you always continue to inspire us with your talent, your imagination and your gentle personality. I may not be able to express my admiration for you as eloquently as some others, but you have been no less of an inspiration in my life, and I can do no more than to wish you the best in all of your endeavors from here on out. May your 34th year bring even more challenges and excitement to your life!