Japan's pineapple pen song goes highbrow with Kabuki makeover

Story highlights

  • PNSP is Japan's National Theatre's first attempt at a YouTube promo clip
  • Pen-Nurisampo-Sampo-Pen remixes PikoTaro's viral hit with traditional Japanese music

(CNN)Remember that Japanese comedian who set the internet on fire with a song about a pineapple apple pen?

Now PikoTaro, the leopard print-clad singer endorsed by the likes of Justin Bieber and MIA is back -- albeit in a more old-school guise.
    Japan's National Theatre -- better known for puppet shows and traditional drama Kabuki -- has taken inspiration from PikoTaro's viral YouTube clip PPAP (Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen).
    They've come up with their own PPAP parody -- PNSP (Pen-Nurisampo-Sampo-Pen) in a bid to revive interest in traditional Japanese arts.
    And their video's racked up more than 1.7 million views in the space of four days.

    'Jam session'

    In the parody, a group of elite Japanese musicians clad in formal outfits re-imagine PikoTaro's song with the help of Kurogo-chan, the theater's stagehand mascot.
    The National Theatre's official mascot Kurogo-chan performs Pen-Nurisampo-Sampo-Pen with a group of elite musicians.
    In the video -- designed to promote the National Theatre's current Kabuki production -- the musicians perform to the beats of PPAP while the mascot makes motions, not with an apple and pen, but with a retro pen, a nurisampo (a lacquered stand used in shrines) and a sampo (a wooden stand used in shrines).
    They're joined by Saki Kineya, a young vocalist who comes from a family of traditional hougaku singers with a two-hundred-year lineage.
    "We didn't know what kind of reception we'd have and we were only hoping for around 100,000 views," Kirita Koji, a spokesperson from the National Theatre's publicity division, told CNN.
    An actor dressed as Japanese comedian Piko Taro makes an appearance in the Kabuki play 'Shiranui Monogatari.'
    According to Kirita, the National Theatre's publicity team got the idea for the promo video when one of Japan's most-respected Kabuki actors Onoe Kikugoro VII suggested he might reference Piko Taro's song in his January performance during a press conference in December 2016.
    The publicity team pitched the idea to make a classical version to a group of musicians who usually provide the backing track to the National Theatre's Kabuki performances.
    "The musicians were happy to be involved and have the opportunity to show people their craft," said Kirita. "It's not like we went in with a plan. The musicians decided how they'd reconfigure Piko Taro's song during a three-hour jam session."

    Household name

    So far, the reactions to PNSP have been positive, with Japanese Twitter users sharing the video widely and one tweeting that the National Theatre's version of PPAP was "luxurious."
    PikoTaro himself is also enthusiastic about the National Theatre's rendition.
    "This is an amazing collaboration between PikoTaro and the Japanese tradition piko. The 'earnest' and 'craziness' of Japan fusing together with the 'uhhh'," he told CNN.
    The remixed version of PPAP featuring musicians from Japan's National Theatre and their mascot Kurogo-chan.
    YouTube commentator Punie Tanaka suggested that even though people nowadays consider Kabuki as a formal, highbrow art, in reality, it had been created to amuse people.
    "In some ways (the National Theatre's clip) marks a return to Kabuki's original light-hearted ways," wrote Punie.
    Kirita told CNN that as young people in Japan had less interest in the traditional arts, the National Theatre had wanted to try something new and out-of-character to stay relevant.
    "(PikoTaro's) a household name in Japan. Even my three-year-old knows about him," said Kirita.