Makoto Okunaka’s Final Departure: PASSPO☆’s Marathon New Year’s Day Concert!
Travel-themed girls rock unit PASSPO☆ celebrated their 5-year anniversary, welcomed in 2015 and bid farewell to member Makoto Okunaka in grand fashion at Tokyo Dome City Hall on New Year’s Day.
The sold-out audience of 3,500 “passengers” (PASSPO☆ term for fans) were taken on a “flight” (PASSPO☆ term for performances/events) that spanned 67 songs and more than 6 hours. The concert titled “PASSPO☆ Kessei 5 Shuunen Count UP Tour, Tour Final “Shinnen dayo! 5 Shuunen to Sukoshi Bin ~Zenkyoku Wasurezu Odoreru kana~” (English: 5th Anniversary Count UP Tour, Tour Final “It’s New Year’s!” 5 Years and a few days Flight ~ Can we do all of our Songs Without Forgetting Anything?)” was an unprecedented event and impressive display of the growth of PASSPO☆ as performers.
The quartet of Shiori Mori, Yukimi Fujimoto, Naomi Anzai, and Natsumi Iwamura, also known as the Hacchake-tai opened up the show with a rousing rendition of “Hacchake Sensation” before the familiar sounds of “Full Throttle” filled the hall and PASSPO☆ took the stage as 9 members for the final time. Dressed in their red, blue, and white uniforms from “Perfect Sky” and grey New Balance sneakers, they began with their Oricon weekly #1 ranked “Shojo Hikou”. As it was New Year’s Day in Japan there were kadomatsu (traditional decorations) on both sides of the stage and they even broke open a barrel of sake with wooden mallets on stage, resulting in Natsumi Iwamura being splashed. Additionally, audience members received omikuji (fortunes available at Shinto shrines) that were written in the 9 different colors of the members of PASSPO☆.
As they continued on through their major label singles, videos from the songs played on the screen behind them, offering glimpses into the history of PASSPO, especially when seeing the group’s first graduated member Kaho Sakuma (graduated in December of 2011) on the screen. During “With XXXX” there was even a shadowy dancer on the screen holding a green penlight (Sakuma’s color) but she did not make an appearance on this night.
Fan favorite “Pretty Lie” had passengers shouting out the call-and-response enthusiastically along with the first of many instances of the arena floor being engulfed in pink penlight kechas when Makoto Okunaka delivered her solo lines. Ai Negishi, Mio Masui, Anna Tamai, Sako Makita, and Okunaka may have been saddened by the fact that this was the last time for them to be performing “Shang Shang Chandelier” as they attempted a feeble victory cry but they powered through it, waving their fans elegantly and hopping around like jiangshi (Chinese hopping ghouls).
Compared to other graduation concerts filled with tearful heartfelt speeches, Makoto Okunaka’s graduation was handled by the Hacchake-tai, which meant lots of cardboard box art and general silliness. The Ground Crew (PASSPO☆’s backing band) made their first appearance on stage as “teachers” and Naomi Anzai read a message from graduated member Kaho Sakuma before the Hacchake-tai joined by Okunaka launched into “Kibun wa Saikou! Saikou! Saikou!” to dispel the earlier gloomy mood completely. Okunaka tried her best to keep up with the wild dancing and bid farewell to her pink happi coat as it was lifted away on a wire. At the end she was asked how she felt, to which she responded “I don’t really get what’s going on!”, which might be a typical response when seeing the Hacchake-tai for the first time.
PASSPO☆ continued with a 20-song medley split into four parts, with the first part including “Muteki GIRL”, “Natsuzora Dash””Go On A High Way”, “Hareruyo” mixed together with “Halleluiah”, “Hello”, and “Hakana” before taking a quick water break.
The medley transitioned into the slower softer songs “Truly” and “Sakura Iro” before gradually speeding up with “See You Again” and the harder rock guitar sounds of “Final Vision” and “Tap My Toe”, highlighted by Sako Makita and Anna Tamai’s cartwheels and Mio Masui and Makoto Okunaka’s ninja star throwing moves (no actual ninja stars were thrown) during the agressive funk rock of “Street Fighter”.
Shiori Mori sang out the end of “RUIN” while the other 8 members ran off stage. They returned having donned baseball jerseys to sing “No.1 Boy” as scenes from their variety show “Shaku Uma TV” played on the screen. The jerseys came off as they continued with the punk rock “Thank You Birthday”.
The medley came to an end with Ai Negishi, Anna Tamai, Natsumi Iwamura, and Sako Makita rocking out to “Starting Over” which transitioned into “Turn Around” with Naomi Anzai switching out with Tamai. Mio Masui carried Makoto Okunaka on her back as she ran on stage before they sang the retro-rock duet “Yume Passport”. All 9 members returned to the stage for the spicy “Kimi Iro no Samba” and the extra sweet “Pink no Parachute” as the venue was bathed in pink lights.
Returning to full-length versions of songs, the first part of the concert ended with fan favorites “Love Diary”, “Sakura Komachi”, “Cosmic You”, and “Natsuzora Hanabi”.
The members then moved to the back of the stage for the “Band PASSPO☆” section of the show, taking up their instruments and began a 6-song performance which included “Perfect Sky”, “BREAK OUT!!”, “2DAYS”, “Candy ・Room”, “Shiny Road”, and GPP”. This was the first time for them to perform “BREAK OUT!!” and “2DAYS” live as a band but their practice paid off as they sounded a lot better than they had last spring (when “Perfect Sky” went on sale and they performed it at several release events).
A video showing a rehearsal of The Ground Crew played on the screen as the stage was rearranged according to the specifications of their all-star backing band lead by producer Penne to Arabiatta (guitar/keyboards) with ex-Sex Machineguns members Panther (guitar) and HIMAWARI (drums), Gargoyle’s KENTARO (guitar), and $pyke (bass). A second introduction video played as The Ground Crew launched into a live version of “Ignition” and PASSPO☆ returned in their TRACKS outfits adorned with angel wings for “Baby Jump ~ Tengoku he no Toujou-bin~”.
The angel wings were thrown down and the temperature in Tokyo Dome City Hall began to rise with “Uhae!” and “WANTED!!”, which was ended by Makoto Okunaka sounding a gong. Sako Makita and Anna Tamai continued with their graceful dance solos during “Rock Da Week”. Heels were kicked up and fists pumped during the fast punk of “Pock☆Star”. Mio Masui and Okunaka got the audience even more riled up as Penne to Arabiatta showed off his tremolo bar skills during the intro for “Dom Dom Freedom”. Hawaiian 6 guitarist Yuta Yasuno made a guest appearance for “Mousou no Hawaii” and “Mudai”, which he wrote for PASSPO☆ in 2013. Tamai seemed to be overcome with emotion during the middle of “Mudai” but pulled it together to finish the song. Yasuno tossed his guitar into the audience before walking off stage.
The Strings Airport Quartet provided an ominous intro for “BEAST IN YOU” and orchestral flourishes to “Wish on a star” and “Bathtub”, which also featured soap bubbles floating around the stage.
Continuing on with “Next Flight”, “MASK”, and “WING”, Mio Masui seemed to be getting emotional as well, mentioning things that made her shed tears in 2014 before starting off “Onegai” as light blue penlights lit up the audience. Masui then took up the bass that she inherited from Akihiro Yokoyama (longtime bassist of The Ground Crew and thrash metal band UNITED that passed away unexpectedly in 2014), tears rolling down her cheeks as she started off “Himawari”.
The crowd ran back and forth on the floor and followed the movements of PASSPO☆ during “Step and Go”, rocked back and forth to “Material Girl”, and jumped tirelessly to 「I」. After “Kucha Love”, it was time for Makoto Okunaka to say her goodbyes to the 8 members of PASSPO☆ who had been with her for the past 5 years. At the risk of being disrespectful, this moment should have been better organized. Okunaka wandered back and forth on the stage, pulling aside each member one-by-one, sometimes forgetting what she had planned to say to them. The main part of the concert came to a close with Okunaka’s farewell song “TRACKS”.
Even after almost 6 hours, the audience showed no signs of fatigue, chanting “Makoto!” for several minutes and stringing blue lights from the front of the stage to the back of the floor, making a sort of makeshift runway. The encore began as PASSPO☆ returned to the stage in their usual tutu skirts, this time coordinated with pink Makoto Okunaka graduation T-shirts. Despite Okunaka having a tiara balanced on her head, it remained there during the wild towel waving of “LALA Love Train”. A spring Kanto solo tour titled “PASSPO☆ One-Man Flight Tour 2015～More Attention～” was announced and Okunaka reminded fans to watch her in the upcoming horror film “Shinrei Shashinbu”. Shiori Mori reminded Okunaka that “no matter where you go, we’ll be here for you” before singing “Dear My Friends”. Okunaka’s eyes welled up and her voice was hoarse and shaky as she sang her solo line in “Growing up”, a song she described as her “decisive song”. The encore came to a close with “Let It Go!!”, PASSPO☆’s very first single, as specifically requested by Okunaka.
The stage went dark once more and the “Makoto!” chants continued until PASSPO☆ returned for a second encore, this time in the shredded denim tops from “Shojo Hikou”. The Ground Crew and Strings Airport Quartet also returned for the grand finale. Leader Ai Negishi, perhaps hit by the finality of the moment, became emotional, musing about what the appeal of PASSPO☆ is and what it would have been like if “better” members had been chosen but also feeling grateful that it was the 9 members standing next to her on stage. Ending with the song that began the night almost 7 hours earlier, the audience loudly sang several verses of “Shojo Hikou” as gold confetti fluttered down from the ceiling.
While people all over Japan were braving long lines and cold weather for their first shrine visit of the year, PASSPO☆ provided a warm welcome for the Year of the Sheep. It was truly a rare event that tested the mind, body, and spirit of the “passengers” on PASSPO☆’s first flight of 2015. Makoto Okunaka may no longer be part of PASSPO☆ but you can experience this amazing concert over and over again when the 2-disc DVD is released on March 25th.
Opening Act – Hacchake-tai (Naomi Anzai, Yukimi Fujimoto, Shiori Mori, Natsumi Iwamura)
00. Full Throttle
01. Shojo Hikou
02. Vivi Natsu
03. Kimi wa Boku wo Suki ni Naru
04. Kiss = Suki
05. With XXXX
06. Jaa ne
07. Pretty Lie
08. Shang Shang Chandelier
09. Kibun wa Saikou! Saikou! Saikou!
10. Muteki GIRL
11. Natsuzora Dash
12. Go On A High Way
18. Sakura Iro
19. See You Again
20. Final Vision
21. Tap My Toe
22. Street Fighter
24. No. 1 Boy
25. Thank You Birthday
26. Starting Over
27. Turn Round
28. Yume Passport
29. Kimi Iro no Samba
30. Pink Parachute
31. Love Diary
32. Sakura Komachi
33. Cosmic You
34. Natsuzora Hanabi
35. Perfect Sky
36. BREAK OUT!!
38. Candy ・Room
39. Shiny Road
41. Baby Jump ~ Tengoku he no Toujou-bin~
44. Rock Da Week
46. Dom Dom Freedom
47. Mousou no Hawaii
50. BEAST IN YOU
51. Wish on a star
53. NEXT FLIGHT
58. Step and Go
59. Material Girl
61. Kucha Love
63. LALA Love Train
64. Dear My Friends
65. Growing up
66. Let It Go!!
67. Shojo Hikou
Photo by Yasuhiro Okada
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