By all accounts, Gachapin didn’t need this. After all, he’s already got millions of adoring fans and superpowered “energy balls” on his wrists. But when the Killers came calling, offering him a starring role in the video for their new single, “Read My Mind,” there was no way he could say no. After all, who else could serve as the band’s unofficial Tokyo tour guide?
By now, you’ve probably seen the “Mind” clip, in which the Killers engage in various Tokyo-related shenanigans — directing traffic near Shinjuku Station, playing “DrumMania” in one of the city’s mega-arcades, getting down with an Elvis impersonator in the fabulously seedy Kabukicho district — all while being followed by a plump green monster with buckteeth and a striped belly.
And while most of the imagery in the video is recognizable to tourists (or those who have seen “Lost in Translation”), that green monster is most likely not so familiar.
But to millions of Japanese kids, said monster is more recognizable than Big Bird and Mickey Mouse combined. He’s better known as Gachapin, the co-star of “Ponkikki,” one of Japan’s longest-running children’s programs. And he’s not actually a green monster, but rather — as Fuji TV, which has aired “Ponkikki” in various forms since 1973, will have you know — “a child dinosaur.”
Along with his co-star Mukku — who could charitably be described as a giant slab of shag carpeting with googly eyes and a propeller cap — Gachapin is one of the country’s most beloved icons, a plucky and plush daredevil and a mega-marketing superstar to boot (his green mug can be spotted on everything from lunchboxes to cell-phone covers). And yet, all this popularity is sort of mind-blowing, because unlike any of the happy creatures you’ll find gallivanting around “Sesame Street,” Gachapin is, well, sort of a badass — a bizarre and kind of awesome combination of Barney and Bam Margera.
In 1975, he recorded a quaint little ditty called “I’ll Eat You,” which instructed children to listen to their parents lest he’d devour them (the song was pulled from radio stations after being deemed too scary for young listeners). And he’s never one to shy away from sports of the extreme variety, thanks in large part to the energy balls on his wrists, which Fuji tells us “enable him to fly, dive underwater and gives him strength and courage whenever he faces a challenging situation.”
In fact, a quick jaunt through the wilds of YouTube brings up a host of Gacha’s finest moments, including this clip, in which, over the course of just two minutes, we see him climb a cliff, water-ski, scuba dive, go off-roading (and bust a sick wheelie on an ATV), paddle a canoe, pilot a Jet Ski, land some awesome ski jumps, race a motorbike, battle five dudes at once with his karate skills, go BMXing (and bust another sick wheelie), do more karate and then ride an exercise bike — and, in the process, make Big Bird look like a total wuss.
And that’s just the beginning. In this clip, he rips his way through a figure-skating routine that would make Michelle Kwan jealous. Here he battles Ryu of “Street Fighter” fame. And finally, check him out as he dons a Santa cap and descends an escalator at a Tower Records store … in a totally extreme manner.
As for his role in the Killers’ “Mind” video, well, Gachapin doesn’t really get to show off his daredevil skills all that much, but he does get to share a tooth-brushing scene — and a bed at one of Tokyo’s famous capsule hotels — with drummer Ronnie Vannucci. As a result, you get the feeling that Gacha’s appeal is sort of lost on most Killers fans. One sample reaction to the video on the message board at TheKillersMusic.com reads, “I really liked the little green man, and when Ronnie was teaching it to brush its teeth (aw, so cute!)”
When the bandmembers spoke with MTV News just before heading to Tokyo to film the clip, they weren’t even sure who the director was going to be (see “Killers Hop On Bikes In Tokyo For ‘Read My Mind’ Video” ), so we’re willing to bet they weren’t made privy to any casting decisions.
Which is kind of a shame, really … but hopefully, thanks to this helpful primer, the next time the members of a rock band are looking to fill the role of “giant, fuzzy baby dinosaur with extreme athleticism and cojones to spare” in their music video, they’ll think of Gachapin first. Then again, we’d be hard-pressed to come up with anyone they’d think of second.