Chapter Three — Kakuzuke

The night before filming the first television show that I appeared on after returning from my hiatus, I couldn’t sleep a wink. It was Geinoujin Kakuzuke Check (Celebrity Ranking Check), of all shows. The words “I’m screwed…” escaped me in a sigh over and over. My mood didn’t improve the whole time. If I made a mistake on such an important occasion, it would be the worst timing possible. I had no idea what people would say. But I couldn’t run away.

To use a metaphor, I was between a rock and a Hamada Masayoshi.1 I entered the filming in an extremely agitated state. By the time it finished, I was a total mess, covered in sweat all over. And after that, I was so wound up I couldn’t sleep that night either.

To be honest, Kakuzuke is nothing but stress to me. These last few years, I keep telling the director and producer, “Haven’t I done it enough? I can’t do it anymore.” When I ask Hamada, “Can I quit yet?” the conversation ends with two words from him, “Hell no!” Hamada has gotten older and mellowed out quite a bit, but the death ray that comes out of his eyes is still alive and kicking. It’s terrifying. He’s usually a kind older brother to me, but whenever that ray comes out of his eyes a little, everyone freezes. He’s like a male version of Medusa. There’s only one reason I keep appearing on the show, and that is the existence of Hamada, who is like an older brother to me. If Hamada ever told me, “We don’t need you anymore,” I’d gladly pull out. It’s because to me, he’s an older brother who I treasure and respect more than anyone else in the entertainment world, and someone I owe a lot to.

I have no desire to appear on television shows in the first place. I basically turn down most offers. But Hamada has been a friend to me in the entertainment industry for 20 years, and he’s a major sempai who I respect more than anyone else. If Hamada says, “Gaku-chan, come be on the show,” then there’s only one answer I can give.

Apparently there are several episodes of Kakuzuke each year, but I only appear on it once a year. Hamada would never tell me to appear each time. It’s because he treats the presence of GACKT as something precious. The television world is harsh, and most directors and producers hold a sense that performers are something to be used and tossed aside. But he’s a top class producer, and he always acts by looking at the big picture and making decisions. I’m proud of the fact that he thinks, “Don’t sell GACKT for cheap!” It makes me happier than anything, and that’s why even now I am still moved to show my gratitude with all of my strength.

My first opportunity to meet him was on the show “HEY! HEY! HEY!” A lot of people associated with him were also working with me. We get along well, and he helps me out. In our private lives, he shows up to greet me at my birthday and other events, but that doesn’t mean I go hang out with him on a regular basis. Cause he’s scary. I feel like I’m in the presence of someone great. Of course, if he invites me somewhere I’ll show up immediately, but even just working with him I feel nervous, and it wears me out. He’s an incredibly gracious person with humanity as well, but also no slouch when it comes to being commanding, and has all the things that are certain in a leader. His smile is charming, but even his smiling face can occasionally look terrifying. I deeply feel, “This person would have succeeded even in another world…” At my age, I don’t get nervous around people often, but he’s an exception, or should I say, he’s non-standard.

In any case, he’s smart. There’s no one else as perceptive as him. He demonstrates just what it is to focus entirely on this industry. He always makes me learn things. To the extent that the word, “Wow,” sounds like a cliche. He has something that I can only call exceptional.

Matsumoto Hitoshi

It’s not just Hamada, I also have a similar fearsome respect for Matsumoto Hitoshi. When I appeared on HEY! HEY! HEY! and was caught between them, I felt as though I had a devil on either side of me. Or perhaps I should call them Fūjin and Raijin.2 I can’t find the right words to describe them. The Matsumoto Beam is a stealth missile that suddenly appears out of the darkness when I hadn’t even imagined it or felt his presence. I don’t stand a chance when I’m assaulted with it. I get depressed each time I’m swallowed up by the unique atmosphere that he creates. I can’t help but sigh, “Brutal…” Some of you reading this are probably thinking that this kind of thing is only natural because they are celebrities, but that’s not it at all. There’s no one but those two in combination who I feel such distinctness from. To make an analogy to the Records of Three Kingdoms, they’re Zhang Fei and Guan Yu.3 I heard this when I had dinner with Downtown’s4 former manager, Ohzaki (chairman of Yoshimoto Kogyo), but when they first started out, apparently Hamada was always saying this. “As I am now, I’m not making full use of Matsumoto’s talent. If I don’t try harder, I’m going to ruin him.” According to Ohzaki, Hamada is a brilliantly hard worker. Matsumoto is a born genius. Of course, I imagine that Matsumoto also works hard, but that’s what Ohzaki said. He said that even since he met them, he believed that they would stand at the very top of all Japan.

They’re also quite strict when it comes to comedy and making TV shows. Even though I hate television, there are times when I have to appear on variety shows to promote my concerts, movies and television drama series. It’s common for a show that runs for two hours to film for five hours, but when I appeared on Downtown’s shows, they’d often only shoot for 50 minutes for a show with a broadcast time of 45 minutes. Their fixation on live performance and sense of pride was entirely different. Because they’re people who focus not on creating a show by filming for as long as possible, cutting out only the funny parts, and stringing them together, but a sense of “How can we make it funny with that substance and freshness?” the excitement and tension on their set is markedly different. It’s keenly conveyed to the audience that all the performers are unusually wound up. Because I’m in the position of being a musician, while there is tension in my performances, I don’t need to be funny, but the entertainers that appear alongside me are different. Sometimes I speak to performers before the show, and there are many who say, “I feel like I’m going to be sick…” Those two have something that makes not young performers, but famous performers who are used to TV shows and should be front and center, feel that way. They have good senses of rhythm and tempo, and leave no time for foot-dragging or lulls in the action. You can’t do it unless you have that policy and a strong awareness. And even if you do have that policy, actually pulling it off is no simple task.

Hamada is very strict about his work, but his love is deep and his sense of professionalism is unusually high. I’ve seen him start yelling at his staff countless times. Of course, I am probably also thought of as scary when I’m in charge, but the level of terror is different. It’s clear that the sense of tension he cultivates keeps control of those around him.

The producer of their shows said something very interesting. It was about the appeal of Hamada’s voice. “When Hamada announces the title of the show, his voice carries a long way no matter what he’s saying. There’s no one else with such a voice.” When he said that to me, I thought, “You’re right!” What do you mean, he’s entertaining just by announcing the title of the show? I don’t understand it.

A 500 Yen Coin

Of course, it’s not by coincidence that I answer the questions on Kakuzuke correctly. There are those who use unintelligent words like “It’s staged” and “Just a hunch,” but the show being staged is out of the question, and if I were getting them right based on hunches, then it would mean that I have more than astronomical good luck. And if I did, I’d be using it for other things. It’s simply that I’m competing based on my knowledge and experience. Of course, there are times when I don’t know. And also times when I got it right by coincidence. Those were questions on things that I was not interested in or bad at. But because of the format of the show, I have to give an answer with full confidence. On the show, we compete as teams of two, and there’s been plenty of times when I was wrong about a question that my partner was answering. When my partner gets it right and my prediction was wrong, I think, “Oh crap, I guess I was wrong. Glad it wasn’t me…” and feel relieved every time.

The genres that I think I’m good at are entertainment, music, dance, meat, wine, and those related to food ingredients. For music in particular, there are many questions where the level is so high that I think, “There’s no way that the actors are going to get this.” They’re quite high level questions even for those involved in music. 

At first, I began appearing on Kakuzuke with the feeling, “If I get it wrong, oh well.” But when I began to accumulate correct answers, other people decided to have expectations of me. “Give me a break, this is nothing but stress for me…” That’s honestly how I feel. This happened when I went to a hair salon several years ago. The salon owner suddenly pointed out, “GACKT, this is difficult to say, but you’ve got a bald spot.” When I saw it in the mirror, I blurted out, “For real!?” I had a round bald spot about the size of a 500 yen coin5 on the back of my head. This happened about one month before filming Kakuzuke for that year. He said to me with concern, “Perhaps you’d better quit Kakuzuke…” and that made me even more sad. “Don’t sound so serious about a variety show…” I took a photo. With my face twitching. At the time it was a shock, but I laughed at myself for being a mentally weak man. I’d been thinking of cutting my hair short but gave up on that idea with much reluctance.

I suppose I had, unintentionally, begun to feel the weight of my repeated wins. That’s why I’m always saying, “I’m not suited for variety shows.” I always end up getting heated up about it. My personality just isn’t suited to it. When we were filming Kakuzuke, after I answered the bonsai question, I said, “I don’t know anything about bonsai!” and after it was broadcast, for a while bonsai organizations were sending me a large amount of material. I stared at it in shock, thinking, “What are they expecting of me…?” But not doing anything would have made me even more annoyed, so I read all of the material and studied it intensely. Usually, I study the things I like on my own accord, so it was a strange feeling to study something out of sheer irritation. So I’ll say it over and over again. I’m not suited to television. I don’t know if this is the correct way to express how I am, but I’m just “a nerd with a habit of pursuing things”. I’m nothing but an old guy with obsessive tendencies. 

The question of the million yen wine in the episode of Kakuzuke that was broadcast on New Year’s Day 2023 was the most brutal ever. They didn’t show the estate that the wine was from. They always used to show the estate, Château Lafite, Château Mouton, etc. They’d also give the year. And then we’d compare it with the taste of a wine of unknown provenance that cost 5,000 yen per bottle, and determine which one was the expensive wine. That’s the usual format of the question, but for this round, there was no information at all. In other words, there were no hints to refer to. When we were filming the show and I heard this, I screamed internally, “Oh, fuck off!”. This is absolutely a test for the top sommeliers in the world. Even though there was already a ton of pressure on me doing my first show after my hiatus, they were making me do something absurd, and rage welled up inside me. In the end, it was the question that took me the longest to arrive at the answer in the history of the show. One glance at the color told me it was a Burgundy or a Bordeau. The deep, vivid, pitch-dark red told me it was a Bordeau. I took a sip and turned it over in my mouth. I began to think about the price. Something like, “The yen is currently weak. Two years ago, it would have been 700,000 yen… 1 million yen means it isn’t vintage…”

This time around, there were only two options, a merlot or a cabernet sauvignon. It was quite lucky that those are wines I drink often, and I was merely able to deduce it. Wine aficionados would naturally think it was a cabernet. If it were a merlot, there would only be two estates to choose from, but if it were a cabernet, then it would be extraordinarily difficult to arrive at a name. It’s only because it was a merlot that I was able to guess the estate on my own. Afterward, when I said to Hamada, “Could you ease up on the questions, please!?” I ended up getting told off— “You’re getting too many right! We’re working our butts off to make you get one wrong!” Why am I the one getting scolded?


There’s a question about wine on Kakuzuke every time, but I was 24 when I first began to like wine. At first, it was just at the level of thinking it looked cool to swirl it around in the glass. I didn’t know anything about what tasted good or not. The wine I drank was also low level.

Fundamentally, I have few celebrity friends so I mostly hang out with my entrepreneur friends, and the many pieces of knowledge they’ve taught me while I’ve been friends with them have been my food in life. When I am invited to places where business people gather, it’s practically inevitable that a high-class vintage wine is served. It was completely different to the wine I’d been drinking until then. I wondered, “Why is the taste so different, and the sensation completely different when you hold it in your mouth?” Then I asked the price and got a surprise. I asked them to share their knowledge of wine, got deeply into it, and began to collect wine from countries all over the world. I go overseas a lot for work, and in each country I sample their famous wines.

Out of the wines that I think taste good, what I like and drink is Burgundy. And the Burgundy that I feel is more wonderful than all the rest, and exceptional, is vintage Romanée-Conti. These days, a bottle probably goes for slightly over 7 million yen. I’ve been at several dinner parties where a bottle of Romanée-Conti was opened, but the first time I tasted it, I was amazed— “Wine can be like this!” And when I heard the price, I couldn’t understand, “Who would buy it?” After that I began to study DRC (Domaine de la Romanée-Conti). Of course, such high class wine is not the only thing I drink, and I don’t drink it frequently. A label I like that I drink frequently is Richebourg. When I drink with the people who are important to me, I drink that.

The bottles that I open when drinking with friends and when drinking alone differ. When I casually drink with friends, it’s usually Chambertin. It depends on the maker, but a reasonably-priced one can be had for between 150,000 and 250,000 yen. But there are so many types of Chambertin that preferences vary, so based on how I feel at the time, I divide it and compare the differences in flavor between different makers— Charmes, Mazis, Chapelle, Chambertin, Clos de Bèze, Ruchottes, Latricières, Griotte, Mazoyères— beginning with a long talk about basics such as, “What is the difference between Burgundy and Bordeaux?” and then nerd out with, “What is Armand Rousseau?” simply because I like to spend time sharing the knowledge of wine and how wonderful it is. When I went to Beaune in France, I was impressed by their stance of protecting French wine and the people associated with it. When I start talking about wine, such as the government policies in place to protect Beaune, I can’t stop. Incidentally, those who aren’t inclined to remember this talk no matter how many times I give it ask me the same questions over and over, like, “I think I’ve heard this.” This is reality.

Knowledge = Value

In my mid-20s when I was in a band, I had a friend in Kanagawa called Ichikawa who I often hung out with. From my mid-20s to my mid-30s when he passed away, I always bought cars from him, as he was a car dealer. The reason that I bought cars from him as an individual and not from a dealership was that, while of course he was particular about cars, he was wonderfully sensitive to other things as well and I was taken with his stance toward things. He lived in an absolutely massive mansion, with the cars that were for sale lined up at the entrance, and had the knowledge and skills necessary to service and refurbish them, as well as strong opinions on them. The drive to his mansion on the Tomei Expressway after I’d finished my night’s work was also precious relaxation time for me back then. I’d often crash at his place and head straight from there to where I was working in Tokyo at 5:30am the next day. That’s how precious the time I spent with him was and how big of an impact he had on me.

The things he was particular about were not only cars, but a broad range including coffee, alcohol, music, and movies, and I often discussed movies with him. He’d ask with a smile, “Want some coffee?” and in the time it took him to serve the coffee, he’d give a detailed explanation of how the beans were made, and their qualities and background, and finish by lining up the mugs and gently pouring the coffee. And then he’d say, “Here you go,” giving me a feeling like what I had just seen was a long commercial, and just like I was speaking with a barista. He was extremely good at drawing you into a conversation. What I learned from him was not only knowledge, but how important it is to have a unique way of speaking and creating an atmosphere. When he began talking about movies, he didn’t just remember the name of the director and all the actors, but incorporated all of the actors’ other movies into the essence of the conversation. I was impressed by his way of drawing others into a conversation, and he made me realize that this was the meaning of “learning”, the effort to take possession of knowledge, and being mentally prepared. I came to feel that, even when talking about a single movie, in order to tell someone not merely the title of the movie and the actors, but how much it moved you, you had to be able to construct a drama to convey it to them. If you simply talk about “that movie” with “that actor”, it will lack persuasiveness and your story will be flimsy. At the time, we didn’t have smartphones, and it was a pain to look anything up. But you can’t construct a narrative of how you were moved with, “This movie with that guy who was in the other thing.” In order to construct a story, in addition to the necessary basic action of learning, you also needed to understand specialized vocabulary. And if you want to dig into the background even further, then you need to remember even more things. I directly experienced how necessary it is to have serious mental preparation, and ability to act. Meeting him made me start to be aware of the depth of things and pursue them, no matter what it was. It was a large turning point in forming the GACKT that exists today.

I also received a similar motivation from the Hollywood actress Demi Moore. When she came to Tokyo for the premiere of a movie that her former husband, Ashton Kutcher, was starring in, I met with her for the first time in ages, and introduced her to my friends at the movie theater. That night, we ended up dining together after work, and I brought the friends I’d introduced along with me. At dinner, she casually called each of my friends (regular people) by name. There was a television writer among them, who was impressed and said, “Superstars really grasp different points to the rest of us… We’ve only met once, and we only said our names once, but she remembers them all!” Observing him, she acknowledged, “It’s the sum of these things that lead to a person having depth and being fascinating.” Since then, I have become conscious of remembering everyone’s names. There are people who say they’re bad at remembering names, but that’s just a case of insufficient motivation to remember them.

Getting back to wine, there are many factors that affect the value and price, and of course whether it tastes good or not is one of them, but the rarity, branding, and even the equipment, brewing method, and investment in facilities is part of the valuation. It’s not that the values of the majority determine the price of high-class goods, but that the value of it is determined by a subset of the wealthy. They raise the value and price. That’s why it gets so high. People without knowledge say, “Why is this so expensive!?” From their point of view, they could accept an expensive thing being expensive if there were a shared awareness among the majority that it is expensive, but if it’s not something already acknowledged, it’s “I can’t understand at all why this is so expensive!” “It’s pointless,” “What a waste of money.” In other words, you could describe this as “awareness = value”. It’s no overstatement to say, “Increasing your knowledge = Gaining the ability to understand the details and value of a thing = Increasing your own ability = Raising your own value.” That means, you will have to spend a lot of time to increase your knowledge, but the reward is far greater than you imagine.

Knowledge is an asset that no one can steal from you. There are many people who take increasing their knowledge lightly, but what they should do more is hunger for knowledge from now until the day they die. If you can become aware that it raises your own value, then increasing your knowledge, whether it’s through study or research, will become valuable time to you. And it will also be a big chance to meet people and enrich your life.

  1. The proverb he’s quoting here literally translates to “The tiger at the front gate, the wolf at the back gate,” except “wolf” is replaced with “Hamada Masayoshi”, the comedian who hosts Geinoujin Kakuzuke Check. []
  2. Fūjin and Raijin are a pair of gods representing wind and thunder, often depicted together. []
  3. The Records of Three Kingdoms are a Chinese historical anthology which the later novel The Romance of Three Kingdoms is based upon. These literary works are widely known and referenced in Japan. Zhang Fei and Guan Yu are two historical generals who feature as characters in the novel, and along with the lord that they served, Liu Bei, were sworn brothers. Incidentally, the Oath of the Peach Garden that the three of them swear in the fictional version of the tale is quoted in GACKT’s MOON SAGA plays and the song ARROW. []
  4. Downtown is the name of the comedy duo formed by Hamada Masayoshi and Matsumoto Hitoshi. []
  5. The largest coin commonly used in Japan, about 2.6cm (1 inch) across. []