I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube, Oricon charts are courtesy of and my research is translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Gesu no Kiwami Otome -- Watashi Igai Watashi ja nai no (私以外私じゃないの)

Just a few minutes ago, I finished up writing the article on Superfly's "Beautiful" since the performance of that song on last year's Kohaku Utagassen was one of the high points for the broadcast for me.

I could say the same thing for a band that also made its first presence on the show. However, as soon as I saw the original kanji for this group from Western Japan and the Kanto, I just thought, "Yep, that's eclectic...that's properly eclectic." To be honest, I didn't even know to how say it until I looked it up on Wiki. But it was a string of kanji that I had seen a few times before but never got to hear until Kohaku time.

It doesn't happen all the time but sometimes I feel that a Kohaku performance by a singer or a group is fine but not the best. I got that impression from Gesu no Kiwami Otome(ゲスの極み乙女。)when they did "Watashi Igai Watashi ja nai no" (Not A Me Other Than Me). Basically as the song title implies, I discovered a tune that wasn't quite that tune when I first heard it on the Shibuya stage on December 31st. However, I could feel that this was a good tune.

Thankfully, I was able to find the original music video for "Watashi Igai Watashi ja nai no" which was released in April 2015 as Gesu no Kiwami Otome's 2nd single. For the band's J-Wiki entry, I read a whole shopping list of musical genres that they include: rock, jazz-rock, progressive rock, post-rock, math rock, indie rock, experimental rock. More rock in there than in a small hunk of granite but I think "Watashi Igai Watashi ja nai no" isn't so much rock but some nice and healthy eclectic pop. I like the rolling piano along with the indie-ish of it all with spurts of fusion and some pure jazz. There's nothing I appreciate more than a tune that masterfully blends disparate genres into a wonderful whole.

"Watashi Igai Watashi ja nai no" hit No. 11 on Oricon and earned a prize for either Best Song or Best Composition at the Japan Music Awards last year. The song, by the way, was written and composed by Gesu no Kiwami Otome's main songwriter and vocalist Enon Kawatani(川谷絵音). The other band members are Kyujitsu Kacho(休日課長)on bass, Chan Mari (ちゃんMARI)on keyboards and Hona Ikoka(ほな・いこか)on drums. From what I've read on their Wikipedia page, most of them have positions in other bands as well.

Ah, before I forget, the song was also used in a Coca-Cola campaign.

Superfly -- Beautiful

When it has come to the last two Kohaku Utagassen broadcasts, I think I've started to look forward to a couple of things. Of course, for comfort's sake, there are the enka and pop veterans with some of their chestnuts that they've dusted off. And then there are the few new acts that have been invited to see what kind of oomph they provide.

For Kohaku No. 66, I was actually rooting for Shiho Ochi(越智志帆), aka Superfly. Now, Superfly isn't exactly a new act since she's been around since I was still living in the Kanto. Just to recap, one of my hippie-ish students happily introduced the singer to me in one of our first lessons together near the end of the last decade. So, perhaps she isn't a new face overall but it was her first appearance on NHK's venerable (if no longer quite venerated) New Year's Eve special.

Just to see her by herself on the Shibuya stage perform the upbeat and inspiring "Beautiful" (she provided words and music) did put a thrill through me for some reason. Although I can't say that I've become a die hard fan of hers, I was happy to see Superfly with those vocals of her joyfully press forward with those optimistic lyrics about getting past the gloom and into the sunlight. I think she gave one of the highlights for the broadcast and she got some appreciative applause for her performance.

"Beautiful" wasn't even an official single but a track on her most recent album, "White" from May 2015. It's her 5th studio album which peaked at No. 2 on Oricon and became the 23rd-ranked album for the year. The song itself was used as the theme for the TBS drama "Mother Game".

Saruganseki -- Shiroi no Kumo no You ni (白い雲のように)

My YouTube browsing habits (and it is a bit of a bad habit, I have to confess) have now included a late-night variety show originating on Kansai TV called "Ariyoshi Hiroiki no Daretoku!?"(有吉弘行のダレトク!?)starring tarento Hiroiki Ariyoshi(有吉弘行)and announcer Maasa Takahashi(高橋真麻). Being broadcast at 11pm on Tuesday nights means that the humour can get pretty raunchy, often at the expense of poor Maasa. The other observation is that Ariyoshi has become quite the well-known TV emcee over the past several years. I rather see him now as the second generation of the legendary Tamori(タモリ)who also has a somewhat similar style of bawdiness in his banter.

However, I first got to know Ariyoshi when he was with his comedic partner Kazunari Moriwaki(森脇和成)as the manzai duo Saruganseki(猿岩石)back in the 90s. The two of them have known each other since their elementary school days back in Hiroshima and came up through the ranks from regional celebs to the national stage. Along with their routines, what also helped them climb the ladder to fame was an extended stint on the NTV variety show "Susume! Denpa Shonen"(進め!電波少年...Forward! Radio Kids)when the two were drafted to hitchhike all the way from Hong Kong to London. Yep, I did say hitchhike. The running segment became so popular that the two of them were "asked" to do the same thing starting from Bangkok to Ankara. Tarento definitely have to pay their dues on their way to the top.

One of my other memories of Saruganseki is in the form of their music career which lasted 10 singles for a little over 2 years. Their debut began with "Shiroi no Kumo no You ni" (Like A White Cloud) which came out in December 1996 after the producer of "Denpa Shonen" and other folks working at the duo's representing agency had found out that Ariyoshi and Moriwaki did possess better-than-average sets of pipes for comedians (I guess there were a few joint visits to the karaoke boxes during the hitchhiking).

"Shiroi no Kumo no You ni" was written by former Checkers' vocalist Fumiya Fujii(藤井フミヤ)and composed by his brother Naoyuki(藤井尚之)who had been the saxophonist for the band. The lyrics rather fit Saruganseki's adventure to a T as they related about aiming for that goal off in the distance despite the obstacles in the way.

What helped the laid back guitar-based melody was the music video which had the duo languidly singing in the middle of a dreamy gently undulating field. With their jackets and Moriwaki's toque, I just thought there was some Canadiana in there. They should have been made honourary citizens of Saskatchewan!

The song was a big hit for Saruganseki as it soared up to No. 3 from an entry level ranking of No. 23. Initially selling 20,000 copies, "Shiroi no Kumo no You ni" eventually broke the million barrier and became the 11th-ranked song for 1997.

After a decade together, Ariyoshi and Moriwaki decided to break up the act in 2004 citing different ambitions. The former, as mentioned before, has found further success in the geinokai while the latter decided to go back to civilian life. That was what I had known up until I decided to write the article; from what I've read in the J-Wiki articles covering him and Saruganseki, Moriwaki had a tough time working as a regular businessman and after a divorce, he has started to get back into show business although there hasn't been any news about Saruganseki re-forming.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Crystal King -- Ai wo Torimodose!! (愛をとりもどせ!!)


Ahhh...."Hokuto no Ken"(北斗の拳...Fist of the North Star). In complete honesty, I have to confess that I never saw a single episode of this popular 80s anime in its entirety but even I know its reputation of a post-apocalyptic Earth filled with tyranny and horrors only for a hero the size of a small truck inflict some major whup-ass to the bad guys as he travels the ravaged land. Of course, I remember Kenshiro's way of fighting with those Gatling guns he calls hands and the "ATATATATATATATATATATATATATA!!"

And then there is the famous opening theme song for the series, emphasized by those three words at the very top of the article. I don't know the rest of the lyrics but if anyone ever said "YOU WA SHOCK!" to me at an anime convention, I would probably counter with my incredible "ATATATATATATATATATATATATATA!!" (verbally, not physically) in knowing response.

But the crazy thing here is that I had no idea...not one iota...that it was the band Crystal King(クリスタルキング)which was responsible for one of the most famous anison in history. I should have realized it from Masayuki Tanaka's(田中昌之)scream of those 3 words but I never made the connection. My knowledge of Crystal King wholly stemmed just from their most famous hit, "Dai Tokai"(大都会)in 1979 in which Tanaka blew out that ear-piercing shout (and perhaps many a stereo speaker) at the very beginning of that song.

Perhaps the song can be just known or titled as "YOU WA SHOCK!" but its official title is the strangely soft "Ai wo Torimodose!!" (Take Back The Love!!). Coming out in October 1984, the muscular anison was written by Crystal King pianist Kimiharu Nakamura(中村公晴)and composed by band guitarist Michio Yamashita(山下三智夫). I mentioned above that I had no idea that Crystal King would ever perform an anison. Well, I guess that may have been the case with vocalist Tanaka as well. According to the J-Wiki write-up on Crystal King, Tanaka despised anime and when he was handed an issue of the original "Hokuto no Ken" manga, he refused to open a single page. And he just wondered why he deserved the ignominy of singing an anime theme song. I guess he wa shock.

Well, as it turned out, "Ai wo Torimodose!!" became a big hit as it went as high as No. 53 on Oricon, and it cracked the million barrier in sales. I guess after all those accolades, Tanaka mellowed out considerably on his least for this particular song anyways, and now admits that he is happy that he did get to co-sing it with lead vocal Monsieur Yoshizaki(ムッシュ吉崎). It may be anime history but it's history nonetheless, Tanaka my man!

Hiroshi Itsuki -- Deai Bashi (であい橋)

There's always a first to everything, so at the start of the month it was the first time I felt an absurd amount of glee in flipping a calendar. What you see up there is the Itsuki photo for February in his 2016 calendar. I like it more than January's; I prefer him in a suit than a kimono, all the more without any sort of tie; it makes him look suave. And it has a nice colour scheme too.

Well, coming back to the topic at hand. I have to admit that I hadn't been checking in on my Hiroshi Itsuki (五木ひろし) playlist all that much and there are still quite a number of songs from his 2014 compilation album I have yet to sample. That was until I discovered "Deai Bashi" which was one of the later tracks. After doing my article on "Hakata A La Mode" (博多ア・ラ・モード) and checking out the 2 versions of that single, having already taken a liking to three-quarters of what they had to offer, I had the urge to listen to "Deai Bashi", the B-side of the first version of "Hakata A La Mode"

Anyway, I thought that "Deai Bashi" was quite a good follow up to it's A-side. Composed by Itsuki himself, though there's not much of a Latin flavour to it, it proceeds at a somewhat brisk but steady pace and leans more to the genre of pop, especially with the muscular notes from the electric guitar comes in. "Deai Bashi" is also set in Fukuoka, this time featuring the bridge was built over the Nakasu river, the Fuku-Haku Deai Bridge, so named because it was where the towns of Fukuoka and Hakata met way, way, way back in the day, according to this site called "TENJIN STYLE". In Ryusei Sameshima's (鮫島琉星) lyrics, I'm guessing that the bridge is used as a rendezvous spot for a couple. I can imagine that half of our pair here lives on one side of the river while the other on the other, and having not seen each other for a while due to other commitments - I don't know, maybe a week? A month, to make it more dramatic? - they greet each other with a passion-filled embrace in the middle of the titular bridge with the night scene glowing behind them... Sounds like music video material right there.

Just a little something to wrap up the article: while in Taiwan last year, besides some CDs, I managed to find 3 somewhat recent editions of this enka-yo book called "Shin-kyoku Kayo Hit Sokuho" (新曲歌謡ヒット速報). It's basically a compilation of the lyrics and score to 2 months worth of new enka/kayokyoku, and in volume 125 (for September and August 2013) I managed to find Itsuki's "Deai Bashi" under the "Request Corner".

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Mieko Nishijima -- Jealousy

Completely forgot that I heard this old chestnut by Mieko Nishijima(西島三重子)on "Sounds of Japan" long ago. Nishijima has often done a number of lilting countryside folk ballads although one of her most famous songs was "Gin Lime"(ジンライム), a 70s City Pop/Mood Kayo standard with Mancini-level aspirations which definitely fits the atmosphere of a hotel top bar.

But then, she has also crafted these other types of ballads which take things closer to the city but have a much more old-fashioned bent to them thanks to some lush strings. "Jealousy" is one of those examples that I've often equated with Nishijima who composed it. Kenji Kadoya(門谷憲二)wrote the lyrics about an old flame or didn't-quite-reach-romantic-potential friend who comes to see the protagonist to tell him the good news that she's found a new guy. Meanwhile the sad hero is mightily biting his tongue at realizing that he may have lost the love of his life since he wants to keep her happy. I guess this would be the ultimate in bittersweet balladry.

"Jealousy" was a track on Nishijima's 7th album from 1982, "Image".

Kingo Hamada -- Mayonaka no Tennis Court (真夜中のテニスコート)

I think instead of a tennis court at midnight, as "Mayonaka no Tennis Court" means in English, this ballad is the musical equivalent of soaking in a nice hot tub at the end of a long day. And as someone who usually came home at the bewitching hour every night, I know the feeling quite intimately.

Kingo Hamada(濱田金吾)is a figure that I've across a fair bit in "Japanese City Pop" but is also someone that I also see quite often on YouTube so he's got his dedicated base of online fans which would include me. I did get his "Golden Best" compilation based on those two sources after all. Unfortunately, this particular ballad didn't get onto that BEST album, but it did wrap up his 4th album from October 1982, "midnight cruisin'". The cover of that album does look like a photo that I would take being such a neophyte with the camera.

"Mayonaka no Tennis Court" has got that extra something about it thanks to the introduction of a cello in there which provides a bit of old-fashioned timing to the otherwise urban pop. I couldn't find out for certain who took care of music and lyrics but I'm assuming that Hamada was at least taking care of the former.

In any case, I think I might try to get this album in a few months' time.

If Hamada can do wobbly, so can I!