I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Masa -- Danshari Dance


Ah...yes, Marie Kondo(近藤麻理恵). There was that time in ancient pre-pandemic history where the KonMari Method was grabbing our inner neat freaks, wasn't there? If it sparks joy, keep it; if it doesn't, ditch it. Regrettably, if any of you see my room, it will be become painfully obvious that I never cottoned onto the method. However, my collection of music still sparks plenty of joy within me.😁

According to singer-songwriter and City Pop educator, Masa, Ms. Kondo was the one who inspired my friend to create his latest treat, "Danshari Dance" which came out on platforms such as Apple and Spotify only a few days ago. For him, "Danshari Dance" is all about "...throwing away both physical and mental mess to be free!". He is right, y'know. You can't have all sorts of crud on the disco floor if you wanna properly boogie all night.

Masa has created what he has described as a disco funk City Pop song in the vein of Kirinji(キリンジ)in the late 2010s. Specifically, I do believe that he was further inspired by the band's catchy tune "Jikan ga nai"(時間がない)which came out back in 2018. Good to have his annual song on board and "Danshari Dance" can be compared to the Tatsuro Yamashita-influenced(山下達郎)"No Matter What, No Matter Where" debut single in 2020, and his 2021 Hiroshi Sato-vibing(佐藤博)"Komorebi"(木洩れ日)

Where will the lad go next? Fujimal Yoshino(芳野藤丸)? Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子)? The sky's the limit.

Teruyo Mitani -- Zekkou(絶交)


Through the cavalcade of pop music from yesteryear, Little Peggy March's "I Will Follow Him" (1963) will always be a song whose music and lyrics of "I love him, I love him, I love him" I will remember better than the singer or the title. That insistent pushing melody is eternally memorable as one that I've associated with the old-style pop. And of course, the sweet bloom of puppy love and intrepid need to follow one's beloved idol everywhere and every time was adorable to the max back then, but now it's probably considered stalking.

It is "I Will Follow Him" that I was reminded of when I first heard Teruyo Mitani's(三谷晃代)November 1976 debut single "Zekkou" (Breakup), and I'm pretty confident that composer Juichi Sase(佐瀬寿一)must have had at least some inspiration from the 1963 hit when he came up with some of the main melody. Ironically, Kazuya Senke's(千家和也)lyrics are the absolute opposite of the message in "I Will Follow Him". A young woman goes ballistic on seeing her boyfriend with another woman and without that ring on his finger. Ouch! There will be no more following here. Motoki Funayama(船山基紀)arranged "Zekkou".

Mitani, who hails from Hokkaido, began attending a music school in 1975 and soon after, songwriters Senke and Keisuke Hama(浜圭介), who were judges on the Fuji-TV audition program "Kimi Koso Star da!"(君こそスターだ!...YOU Are the Star!), were searching for contestants for the show when they discovered Mitani and brought her into show business. Following the release of "Zekkou", Mitani came down to Tokyo in early 1977 and even attended Horikoshi High School, an equivalent of Beverly Hills High, but would only release another three singles and one studio album by the end of that year before her recording career ended. She would take on a few acting roles on TV and the big screen but her time in showbiz ended sometime in 1980. However, with the re-release of that lone album "Omoide no First Kiss"(想い出のファースト・キッス...The First Kiss I Remember) on CD in 2016, Mitani decided to revive her performances.

Zariba -- Kowareta Tokei no You ni(こわれた時計のように)


Happy Monday! As I was saying to Marcos V. earlier today, I'm getting the impression that summer in Toronto is starting to wind down a bit. It's still plenty warm out there but the temperatures have been gradually decreasing over the past number of days, and I'm expecting that the evenings may even demand a light jacket. Ah, as for the Ginza clock in the photo above, I'm not insinuating that it's not working (according to what the title of this song means); I'm sure that the timepiece is still doing well, but I couldn't track down another photo of a clock fast enough.

But I digress. Getting to that title, it's "Kowareta Tokei no You ni" (Like A Broken Clock) which was the B-side to short-lived band Zariba's(ザリバ)lone single from 1974, "Aru Hi"(或る日). I wrote about that one back in 2018, and it was a revelatory tune since the lead vocalist was teenager Akiko Suzuki(鈴木顕子)who would later become much more famous as singer-songwriter Akiko Yano(矢野顕子).

Additionally, back then, the vocal style of Yano was quite different. In fact, I compared her heart-on-a-sleeve delivery to that of a young Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)and Akiko Kosaka(小坂明子). With this B-side, "Kowareta Tokei no You ni", the New Music melody by Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平)takes on that contemplative late 60s-early 70s feeling thanks to that electric piano as this time, Akiko Suzuki's voice here reminds me of Mariko Takahashi's(高橋真梨子)vocals when she was with Pedro & Capricious(ペドロ&カプリシャス)at about the same time. As with "Aru Hi", the lyrics were written by Yoshiyuki Ishizu(石津善之)and the arrangement was handled by Makoto Yano(矢野誠)who ended up marrying Suzuki in 1974 although they would get divorced in 1979.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Mondo Grosso feat. Hikari Mitsushima and Ryuichi Sakamoto -- In This World


Almost five years ago in 2017, I put up an article on the groovy "Labyrinth"(ラビリンス), a collaboration between musician/producer extraordinaire Mondo Grosso, aka Shinichi Osawa(大沢伸一), and actress/singer/dancer Hikari Mitsushima(満島ひかり). I had been reminded through Mitsushima's tripping the light fantastic through Hong Kong that she was indeed that third descriptor because of her time as a kid in the song-and-dance group Folder decades ago.

Well, this year, Mondo Grosso and Mitsushima got back together again, and this time, they had a couple of more big names in Japanese music helping out. Not only was Osawa providing music and Mitsushima singing, but R&B chanteuse UA wrote the lyrics and Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一)was on the piano for the March 2022 digital download single "In This World". A song hauntingly delivered by Mitsushima, "In This World" is a siren song set to beats as if an angel hit the dance floor and had to interpret the music (wouldn't that be an idea for an anime?). UA's lyrics seem to feel as if they were addressing the urge to get out of the shadows of self-isolation due to the pandemic and actually engage the five senses once again beyond the computer screen in a world that's worth experiencing and saving. 

In an article on "In This World" for Anime News Network, there was a comment from Sakamoto stating that he hadn't been sure how he could actually contribute to such a song but Osawa's music was able to lead the way. For me, I'm glad that MG did ask The Professor to help out. It was a sign that I had wanted to hear for some time that Sakamoto was still able to work despite his cancer battles over the past few years.

The music video with Mitsushima literally dancing in air in a theatre is quite the tour-de-force performance, and it gave me a "What If?" thought. A couple of years, there was that NHK Kohaku Utagassen in which the annual New Year's Eve special had to be held without any spectators due to COVID regulations. It would have been quite the thing if "In This World" had been formulated and recorded earlier with Mitsushima appearing as part of the Red team to do this at NHK Hall. I'm not sure if that would be done now in the now-renovated facilities with full audience participation expected (unless the situation really worsens in Tokyo).

A couple of weeks following the release of the original single, an EP of "In This World" came out, and this particular track has Sakamoto performing "The Piano Mix" an orchestral instrumental.

Penthouse -- Yoru to Yume no Hazama de(夜と夢のはざまで)


A couple of days ago, I mentioned about vocal group The Gospellers'(ゴスペラーズ)cover of Daichi Miura's(三浦大知)debut single "Keep It Goin' On" and that they collaborated with another group called Penthouse.

Well, having never heard of Penthouse, I decided to satisfy my curiosity and so I was happy to discover that there is a J-Wiki article on this sextet and their own website. The group first formed from five men and one woman through a music circle at the University of Tokyo in 2018; while guitarist Shintaro Namioka(浪岡真太郎), guitarist Shintaro Yano(矢野慎太郎), bassist Takuma Ohara(大原拓真), pianist Hayato "Cateen" Sumino(角野隼斗)and drummer Tatsunori Hirai(平井辰典)all hail from Todai, the lone female member, vocalist Maho Oshima(大島真帆), attended Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo. Penthouse centres around the two main singers of Namioka and Oshima.

According to that J-Wiki article, the band had wanted to explore the concept of stylish music as applied to everyday life and found that they wanted to express themselves through the catchiness of Japanese City Pop combined with the power of old soul music which thereby begat the description of Penthouse as a City Soul unit. What has also added further flavour to their music is that all of the members have musical backgrounds covering classical, R&B, pop and hard rock to name a few genres. Oshima, for example, was greatly inspired by Miwa Yoshida(吉田美和)of Dreams Come True.

My first taste of Penthouse through one of their own songs has come from their July 2019 second single as an indies band "Yoru to Yume no Hazama de" (Between the Night and Dreams), a quiet 70s soulful ballad beautifully sung by Oshima (reminds me of Miki Imai). Written and composed by Ohara and revolving around the emergence from a rough patch into a better tomorrow, this is the type of song that one would love to listen to while decompressing at home. The music video with Oshima walking through the nighttime streets of downtown Tokyo as she looks like she's actually illustrating the intent of the lyrics hits the mark.

As an indies group between 2019 and 2021, Penthouse released nine digital download singles. As of late 2021, they have gone major through a contract with Victor and have put out two singles and one EP.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Shunsuke Kikuchi -- Abarenbo Shogun no Tehma(暴れん坊将軍のテーマ)/Ken Matsudaira -- Matsuken EDM(マツケンEDM)


Almost a decade ago when I first started the blog, I wrote about my memories and the famous theme song for "Mito Komon"(水戸黄門), the televised jidaigeki that my family used to watch in the early days of the VCR when the local Buddhist church held video nights on Wednesdays. The theme song's title of "Aa, Jinsei ni Namida ari" (ああ人生に涙あり)was most likely far harder to remember than simply calling it the "Mito Komon" theme, but it's about as memorable and epic as the lightning-fast swordplay which inevitably results in the penultimate scene of an episode.

One of the other famous jidaigeki that has lasted long over the decades is "Abarenbo Shogun"(暴れん坊将軍...The Unfettered Shogun) which first began its run in 1978. Starring veteran actor Ken Matsudaira(松平健), the story revolved around the shogun Yoshimune Tokugawa(徳川吉宗)who brought swordsman justice to the corrupt and evil while in disguise as Shinnosuke Tokuda(徳田新之助), the employee of a fire brigade in the capital. I would have loved Stan Lee's take on this.

As with "Mito Komon", "Abarenbo Shogun" has had its own legendary theme song, simply titled "Abarenbo Shogun no Tehma" (The Theme of Abarenbo Shogun). Not quite the march that "Aa, Jinsei ni Namida ari" is, this theme still reflects the wisdom and intrepidness of Matsudaira's shogun, and the introductory seven-note fanfare is the equivalent of the opening brass blast from the "Dragnet" theme. They both mean "Evildoers, you are so done!"

The late composer Shunsuke Kikuchi(菊池俊輔)who passed away in April 2021 was responsible for the theme song. He's been the one behind themes and incidental music ranging from anime such as "Doraemon"(ドラえもん)to cop shows including "G-MEN★75". For the "G-MEN★75" article on "Kayo Kyoku Plus", I lifted a quote from the Wikipedia article on the composer and would like to use it here again: "...people began to say that 'if Kikuchi Shunsuke is in charge of the music, the show will be a hit.'". Well, "Abarenbo Shogun" did last well into the 21st century, and its theme song is probably as well as known as the one for "Doraemon".

Taking things all the way into this year, this video got put up just yesterday on Matsudaira's own YouTube channel, and it features a new song by him called "Matsuken EDM". Since his fighting shogun days, the actor has also gotten further fame from performing his flamboyant "MatsuKen Samba"(マツケンサンバ). Well, this time, if you're willing to download or stream, you can now also get his latest as he moves away from Rio over to the electronica dance music club. It's basically the techno version of "Abarenbo Shogun no Tehma" surrounded by some extra music and lyrics for Ken-san, thanks to anime songwriter Kenichi Maeyamada(前山田健一). If you can imagine the shogun spinning discs rather than waving katana, then "Matsuken EDM" is for you.

Say bye! Seibai!(成敗...Judgement)

Hikaru Utada -- Bad Mode(BADモード)


My good friend here in Toronto who, along with his wife, has collected their fair share of Japanese pop albums over the years told me about Hikaru Utada's(宇多田ヒカル)"Bad Mode" for a while. He's pretty particular about what he likes in J-Pop, and nope, that doesn't necessarily include City Pop. I've actually had the song in the backlog for a while now; my affinity for Utada was really just in the late 1990s and early 2000s so up to now, I hadn't really been gnashing my teeth to listen to this one song.

But I have seen the light and heard the siren. "Bad Mode" which is the title track from Utada's 8th studio album released in January this year really is a groovaliciously attractive song. As the old Meme Man would say, it's cool and good. Created by Utada and composer Jodi Milliner with production by British electronic music producer and DJ Floating Points, I was struck by that intro which sounded a lot like the introduction to "Deacon Blues" by Steely Dan from their iconic album "Aja". Sure enough, in the J-Wiki commentary for "Bad Mode", that song was directly quoted as an influence with Floating Points having wanted to bring in a little City Pop into the proceedings, although I wouldn't say that the song fits into that genre. It is quite the soulful song and it takes me back to some of the J-R&B which was coming out in the early 2000s.

Utada's lyrics were also interesting and I'm glad that I could see their translations in the above video. At first, I'd assumed that the singer was expressing her desire for a new romantic relationship especially with that suggestion of getting something from Uber Eats (someone in that company must have punched the air triumphantly at the shoutout...Mac n' Cheese for everyone!). But actually, what Utada was singing about was trying to get in touch and being happy with oneself, something that probably has been emphasized especially during the pandemic. After all, there was a saying that I heard in something else many years ago about how in the world a person could love someone if that person couldn't love himself, and that point has also been made clear in "Bad Mode". Heal thyself and things will get better...or so the theory goes.

"Bad Mode" the album hit No. 1 on Oricon. For another song lyrically influenced by the pandemic, you can check out this recent entry by Tomori Kusunoki(楠木ともり).