Japan’s Soul Tunnels

The Japanese version of anything is a beartrap baited with pocky and used panties: It might hurt you, sure, but pocky is sweet and those panties look salty. It’s worth a shot! I would like you to carefully nurture that mindset as I take you through… Japanese Soul Train.

It’s called Soul Tunnels, I guess because that’s what Soul Trains use to get through mountains? That’s actually a perfect title, since this is quite a bit like Soul Train, but not as expansive, way darker, and there will absolutely be phallic things going into dank orifices. 

We are in trouble so quickly: The very first thing you see after that shameless ripoff of the Soul Train title sequence is our announcer, DJ Problematik.

I know you’re squinting at all four of those terrible pixels and trying to figure out what you’re looking at. The fake afro could be pretty harmless, but is he…? No, this took place in the ‘90s, surely he’s not in blackface. And you know what? I just can’t tell. The DJ pixels never resolved enough for me to tell whether or not this whole show is an extremely racist reboot of a black institution. 

So please allow the host of Soul Tunnels to remove any doubt.

This isn’t just blackface, it’s the worst blackface I’ve ever seen. Klan members tell that guy he doesn’t need the shoe polish AND nose prosthetics. He looks like somebody exaggerating blackface to try and make a point about how bad blackface really is, only he just realized the second he stepped on stage that it still means he’s doing blackface. Is it the laziness that’s most disturbing? The uncolored ears poking out of the sides, the ill-fitting bald cap, the makeup that crudely ends in jagged smears on the neck? This is a man who has done blackface so many times that it doesn’t even give him a thrill anymore. He hastily slaps on racism like I slap on pants so the mailman can’t sue again.

I know the old excuse: That Japan’s relationship to blackface isn’t meant to be offensive, so it’s not offensive. Kind of like how Australians say “cunt” and they really just mean “any human being, anywhere, of any gender or disposition, dead or alive.” But that’s like saying that flashing the mailman isn’t offensive because you didn’t mean to have your dick out — he just happened to be at the bottom of the stairs on Kilt Day. It won’t hold up in court, is what I’m getting at here.

But while the blackface is – oh god, definitely the biggest thing here — there are a lot of other bizarre issues with Soul Tunnels. For example: everyone is wearing costumes that feel like stereotypes I don’t know about Americans, but that the rest of the world thinks are hilarious.

What is with all the cutesy overalls that look more like Adult Osh Kosh B’Gosh than actual farm gear?

Is Disco a hillbilly thing in Japan? Because I would watch a program about Okinawan Disco Hicks and the minor tragedies of their day to day lives as long as the blackface was tastefully done. 

It’s either huge toddlers playing farmtime dress-up, or it’s men in suits and dark sunglasses wearing fake afros, like somebody installed a funk mod in a John Woo game.

Here’s the Japanese King of Soul:

Looking like an unsuccessful speedboat salesman. He always shows up with three henchmen dressed just like him, which is to say they’re all dressed like background Robocop villains. It’s the least Soul Train thing I can imagine, outside of an Intro to Business class at a Vermont Community College taught by a divorced, former unsuccessful speedboat salesman.

Every episode of Soul Tunnels opens with the Human Hatecrime in a new crazy costume, and so obviously in blackface that it feels weird even mentioning it. I might as well specify he’s not on fire. He then performs a wacky little skit that always feels like he’s mocking a cultural pun that gets lost in translation. Here he is angrily storming out, freezing in place:

Then dropping to the ground to mime the careful insertion of a microphone into his rectum. It’s so specifically, slowly, grossly done that they actually had to pixelate it:

I don’t know what this is. Is the Japanese phrase for “dance competition” phonetically close to their phrase for “surprise anal”? Even if that’s true, I can think of three skits to better capitalize on that observation, and only one of them needs to be digitally altered for decency. After a solid minute of silent, uncomfortable butt stuff, this Japanese man wearing blackface and Berry Gordy’s pajamas just gets up and goes about explaining the rules of this, again, dancing show.

It’s too bad I was wildly distracted by the second worst mime routine in this article, because I really needed to know those rules. Sometimes it seems like Soul Train, where people just dance for the love of it. Sometimes it’s like Britain’s Got Talent, where bullshit and skill are put on equal footing. And other times it’s like MadTV, if they were allowed to air their first drafts. 

It is definitely a competition, but I have no idea who or what to root for. There are very good dancers going so hard they injure themselves…

Have to be carried off-stage…

And then later return to finish their routine, clearly in pain and using a crutch to Hustle.

This is the end of a tragic sports drama. This is the Disco version of collapsing and shitting yourself at the end of a marathon and then not giving up — crawling, screaming, shit-smearing yourself over that finish line as a testament to the human spirit. People are really trying in this competition, when bad dancers do exactly as well by doing nothing except sucking gently to music. Hold on, that’s not fair: Sucking gently and committing race crimes.

These ladies get the same two-minutes of screentime, and they use it to lip sync badly, dance like an unwelcome aunt at a wedding, and run out of shoepolish at the neck. 

And yet they made it through, same as the dude that exploded his kneecap so hard he had to scotch tape the pieces back together and crutch-boogie the rest of his routine just so he could have the honor of finishing.

This high drama was wisely saved for the end of the season, but early episodes were more heavily into bad comedy sketches, like the Disco Mime:

Who combined two of everybody’s least favorite things into something worse, much like racism and dry anal.

While the boneless dental assistants absolutely blew up the house:

They clearly cannot dance and aren’t trying, but the audience goes ballistic for them. This has to be a hilarious reference to something I don’t understand, because when the head labtech does the electrocuted octopus:

The crowd loses their shit! There is no explanation! Wearing your work uniform while having a seizure is the least Soul Train thing I can think of, except for maybe receiving a cancer diagnosis by text while standing in line at the bank.

But things really take a turn a few episodes in, when the biggest god damn twist in the world happens. You will never see this coming. You won’t even believe me when I type it.

Soul Tunnels


An actual black guy!

He’s not the worst dancer on Soul Tunnels. He does two minutes of moving invisible boxes while trying to dislodge a wedgie. It looks like he’s about to start a dance forty-two times. It’s kind of a freestyle Beavis and Butthead

And he makes it through!

Listen: He got up there and danced, possibly for the first time ever, while a Japanese man dressed like an old racist ad for cough medicine laughed at him ten feet away. That’s what courage looks like. He deserved this win. Though maybe not the next seven — even though he was so shocked by his victory that he never prepared another dance, they kept putting him through, all the way to the final. Where his brother and his brother’s wife, dressed like they’re making fun of white people, were watching from the crowd.

That’s the only thing he says, and he delivers it like an actor trying to read a line with a typo in it. Like he knows there’s something wrong with what he’s saying but it’s not his job to think about it. It’s such a strange and uneven moment that I am now questioning all of Soul Tunnels. Was I wrong about this whole thing? Was it ever a reality show, or was it a scripted Kaufman-esque spoof of a spoof? 

You know what? That’s what we’re going with. This was all a cutting meta-parody that ended with the only black contestant standing next to a hateful caricature of himself, smiling triumphantly because of his ability to do the Funky Forklift for up to two minutes, seven times. Because the other option is that this actually happened.

This post was brought to you by a hot tip from Br_At! Th…thanks?

5 replies on “Japan’s Soul Tunnels”

I had to put down my phone a few times from laughing so hard. I’d like to think that Brockway was joking about the pixilated microphone raw dog action last ing for a whole minute, but I’m too experienced and know he speaks the truth.

No one would dare to lie about that! It would break the circle of trust that makes the internet function.

I’m an anime fan and I kind of knew about very unfortunately blackface of the 80’s Japan. I discovered it because there was a Japanese theme song that slapped and I decided to look up the singer. Turns out he was an older man who was “Japan’s King of Love Songs”. Oh, and also his first group wore blackface. I mean, not since the mid 80s but 1) not good still and 2) in 2015, another pop group payed homage to his old group with him in a photo op and… yeesh.

This is definitely the least funkalicious thing I’ve seen in quite some time, and I’m a white Texan. My entire day is made up of seeing the whitest shit that anyone has ever seen outside of a New England Ice Cream Social, and this still pings an instinctive level on my “Problematic” meter that I can’t honestly describe with words.

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