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Drum Master snares game boys and girls

October 12, 2003|Jade Chang

Forget about killing zombies or racing away from a hit man in a flashy car -- the biggest crowds in Japan's video game arcades are gathered around Taiko no Tatsujin (Drum Master), an innocuous-looking rhythm game that is insidiously addictive.

Two fat little drums make faces on the screen, calling out shrill encouragement as two human opponents beat on two drum-shaped consoles with attached sticks, trying to follow the increasingly complex beat of the traditional Japanese enka music.

This Namco-designed game (they also produced the popular Dance Dance Revolution) combines the best of old and new Japan. Taiko (literally "big drum") has been part of village life in Japan for over a thousand years, and in the past 50 it has evolved into a popular performance art. These ancient sounds, coupled with the game's quintessentially Japanese style of crazed-but-cute animation -- dancing drumsticks, dancing onigiri (rice balls), dancing bells, all with little faces -- make it a hit with everyone from drunken businessmen eager for a little macho contest after a night out to pigtailed schoolgirls who love Hello Kitty.

For the younger crowd there are also J-pop alternatives, including the tuneful numbers of Morning Musume. Sony PlayStation has an all-Japanese version of the game, but for those just anxious for a glance, Taiko no Tatsujin makes a cameo in Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation," set in Tokyo.

-- Jade Chang

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