BATSU!, New York City’s only Japanese game show
Eggs smashed on heads, sushi eaten off hairy bodies, and the booming chants and laughter of Sake-induced individuals.
That is just some of the things you should expect to see in the basement of Jebon Sushi on the weekends at BATSU!, the live Japanese game show hosted by comedy improv group, Face Off Unlimited, which is the only one of its kind in New York City.
BATSU!, which is the Japanese word for “punishment”, is inspired and adapted from Japan’s long tradition of interactive game shows such as Gaki no Tsukai which are known for its wacky challenges and humiliating its contestants.
The show, which has been running for 5 years, starts off innocently, with dancer Makiko Nakamura, mesmerizing the crowd with her moves. However, once the lights go dim and co-host, Noriko Sato, bangs the gong, things get even stranger and crazier as shots of liquor go down and the night progresses.
It begins with host Brian “Bu Chan” Walters coming out onto center stage and introducing the contestants, also known as the comedy warriors. The warriors, who switch off every week, consist of the Face Off Unlimited troop which includes Joe Tex, Jay Painter, Eric Robinson, Alex Hill, Whit Baldwin, Hettie Barnhill, Kae Soto, Josh Goergen, Nicholas Sotack, and JC Ceccherelli.
The show features various games, from beer drinking challenges to quick wit ones and even rap battles. The challenges occasionally change and rotate from week to week. Here’s how one of the games works; for example, with rap roulette, each contestant asks for an audience member’s name and they have to think of a rap verse that rhymes with it and it goes on until someone can’t think of a rhyme or messes up. The loser is either punished by Sato or forced to do something insane, like drink dirty mop water out of a bucket.
Some of the challenges are interactive, allowing participants from the audience to come on stage and play the game as well as face the consequences, if they end up on the losing team.
Sato, the show’s co-host who has been with the show since it started, got the role by as the BATSU! punisher by auditioning for the casting call and is known for smacking the comedy warriors and shooting paintball guns at them when they lose a challenge.
“It feels great,” Sato exclaimed. “At first, I used to feel so bad. I don’t anymore, but I remember when I started, I tried to do it lightly. They told me I was going to easy on them so I had to go harder and go 100 percent now.”
Walters, who joined as the host a year after BATSU! premiered, said when he first attended a show, he had a lot of ideas he wanted to bring to the table. Being born and raised in Japan and having previous experience as an emcee for game shows as a child, Walters wanted to bring more authenticity to BATSU!
Walters said that he thinks America’s fascination with Japanese game shows stems from their interest in what’s unfamiliar and shocking to them.
“The schadenfreude aspect,” Walters said referencing off-broadway show, Avenue Q. “It’s the fascination of watching people in pain, and my personal answer is that I think Americans have become too careful or too offended. People sue each other for the smallest things and then you see something like this on a game show in Japan where a man gets thrown in boiling water and Americans are shocked that they aren’t getting sued. I think people are drawn to a complete opposite spectrum then what they’re used to and I think Japanese game shows are an extreme that American culture is still not used to sometimes.”
Walters said it was just within the last year that the show has gained significant popularity with every weekend being sold out.
“Just within the last year we’ve been sold out,” Walters said. “I still remember the first year I hosted when there were more comedy members than audience members. It’s hard to get 10 people to chant “batsu!” with me and now I have the opposite reaction of how to try and calm down an audience when they get too rowdy or too drunk.”
Walters said him and the rest of the group have a vision for the future of BATSU! that includes a television studio and national attention.
But until then, you can find the Face Off Unlimited crew every night at Jebon Sushi located at 15 St. Mark’s Place every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night at 8:00 PM and Sunday afternoons for BATSU! Brunch at 2 PM. Be sure to buy your tickets in advance because it sells out fast.