"Chubo desu yo!" translates into English as “It's the Kitchen!,” and it's a mainstay of Japanese TV. Each week the show's jovial host Masaaki Sakai, a singer-comedian and household name, cooks a meal while engaging guests in humorous off-topic banter. Tonight's lone participant is an American musician with whom Sakai prepares sumptuous shrimp tempura. The long-haired guest speaks fluent Japanese and pokes fun at a musician whom both he and Sakai know, causing the studio audience to burst into laughter. When it's time to taste their gustatory creation the musician admits to having an aversion to eggs and declines the homemade tartar sauce. Sakai begins cajoling and prodding the guest to consume the condiment and the crowd goes into hysterics. Finally, the guest relents and, tightening his face, consumes the creamy concoction. The audience roars with laughter.
While it’s not quite the same roar Marty Friedman once heard during his 10-year stint as a guitarist for Megadeth, he'll gladly take it.
"It's like being on another planet," says Friedman of his first visit to Japan in 1989. Back then he was in Cacophony, a metal band based in San Francisco. "You can't read the signs, you can't read the menus, you don't know which bathroom to go into, you don't know what most of the food is — it's very disorienting in a good way if you're not too freaked out by it."
While transcending the lost-in-translation syndrome Japan can inspire is one thing, it's another to become a staple of Japanese pop culture. Friedman, whose been there since 2003, has logged more than 600 TV appearances; landed major endorsements with such companies as Coca-Cola (Fanta), Sumitomo Bank and Suntory; written a monthly J-pop column and two best-selling books; acted in a feature film; become a manga comic and performed with some of J-pop’s biggest stars. It’s an incredibly long way from rocking a million faces with Dave Mustaine and Megadeth in their 1990s heyday.
Most interesting of all, is that the metal guitarist-turned-Japanophile is returning to his roots and releasing his 12th solo album, the super-heavy “Inferno,” on Prosthetic Records (Universal Music in Japan). And this time the 51-year-old virtuoso shredder is teaming with a generation of musicians he's influenced: Rodrigo y Gabriella, Children of Bodom’s Alexi Laiho, Skyharbor’s Keshav Dhar and Revocation’s David Davidson are among the platoon of metal youth joining him on "Inferno"'s dozen epic metal tracks. He also reunited with Jason Becker his former Cacophony bandmate.
“This is the absolute ultimate music of my entire career,” says Friedman.
The collaborators were brought together in part by L.A.-based Prosthetic (Lamb of God, Animals As Leaders, All That Remains), who compiled a list of people who cited Friedman as an inspiration. “I was taken aback by all these wonderful things people were saying about me and how I shaped their music identities and whatnot,” says Friedman, citing his own experience of working with German metal guitarist Michael Schenker (Scorpions, UFO). “When I was a kid I looked up to him unbelievably.”
The video for 'Inferno' is an homage to and parody of one of Friedman's favorite Japanese TV shows, 'Zenryokusaka' ('Full Power Hill'), a weekly five-minute show where the entire premise is absolutely nothing but a girl running up a hill.
The metal project, however, required Friedman to pull back from his Japanese TV and J-pop duties over the past 14 months while he woodshedded in the studio. “I've basically only done the most important television and musical things that I needed to do,” he says. Now the question is, Can Friedman retain or even regain the fans he once had while he zig-zags between shredder, J-popper and Japanese TV personality?
"For better or for worse, there is a lot of fans who’ve supported me through everything and a lot of fans who loved what I did until I went to Japan,” says Friedman. “But the thing is, I always knew that at one time I was going to do something for all those people and just blow their minds."
It is all but inconceivable to imagine a hessian metallurgist like Friedman as a staple of Japanese prime-time TV, which is littered with all manner of variety shows. Here music competitions rub up against wacky comedy programs and bizarre quiz shows and Friedman, during his hundreds of appearances, has graced many of them. He’s been a “presentah” (host), panelist and guest — and sometimes several roles simultaneously. On one show he bunked with a K-pop boy band for four days; on another he solved geographical quizzes; and he played searing metal guitar while ordinary Japanese acted out their metal alter-ego's fantasies. All of which raises the salient question: Huh?
“Marty is a very good balance between the two cultures,” says Minori Takao, an NHK news anchor who has watched Friedman's career evolve over the past ten years. “He brings knowledge of the American music scene, of course, because he was in it. And the Japanese audience has a lot of respect for the American music scene. But he is also really down to earth, kind of a guy next door.” That may be true now, but there’s also the fact that for ten years he was in one of the most fearsome thrash metal bands of all time formed and fronted by a lightning rod of a lead singer.
Megadeth: Dave Mustaine, Nick Menza, David Ellefson, Marty Friedman
Dave Mustaine formed Megadeth in 1983 after he was unceremoniously booted from Metallica. The group sold 9.2 million albums in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan, including 1992's Grammy-nominated album "Countdown to Extinction," which featured Mustaine, Friedman, David Ellefson and Nick Menza and debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 (thanks to Miley Cyrus' dad Billy blocking the No. 1 spot). That Friedman lasted a decade in a band where interpersonal relations, chemical dependencies and at least one very strong personality (Mustaine) caused many a musician to rotate in and out is a testament to Friedman's ability to adapt.
“Dave and I got along just great,” Friedman says. “We were both very focused on getting our work done and making great music. The problem comes up when somebody gets that rap for being a jerk to someone who deserves being a jerk to and it gets taken out of context. I can't speak for [Mustaine], but I certainly had no problem with him whatsoever.” Friedman's ability to get along with Mustaine certainly improved both his financial situation and his professional stature (throughout his years with Megadeth he released solo albums), but more than that, Megadeth helped feed his fascination with — and ultimately his move to — Japan.