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, November 30, 2015

Fantastic Plastic Machine -- City Lights

I had actually mentioned about "City Lights" by Fantastic Plastic Machine in my first article concerning FPM, "Electric Ladyland" all the way back in 2013, and was actually thinking about promoting it to full article. Well, fate was kind enough to lend a hand tonight. The original video had been deleted there so I decided to transfer the whole kit and kaboodle to a new page with the video re-uploaded.

Perhaps in a way I should have picked a more appropriate day of the week to feature "City Lights" since Monday night is hardly a great time to talk nighttime fun in the city. Friday or Saturday nights are far better but, hey, I might as well get it out of the way. The jazzy and snazzy song just flies at a mile a second thanks to that virtuoso saxophone fueling the ride through the Tokyo highways in the video above. It was featured in FPM's remix album "Contact" in October 2001.

I guess my affinity for the title can be explained by a couple of local Toronto TV shows I used to know. There was a fairly verbose celeb interviewer by the name of Brian Linehan who back in the 70s and 80s gained an admirable or irritating reputation depending on the interviewee in the way he asked questions. His show was called "City Lights" on City-TV, and Linehan basically rolled out a 1-minute preamble filled with encyclopedic historical knowledge on the celeb right in front of the celeb that he/she had thought was only known to him/her before the host finally unleashed the question. Below is his interview with James Earl Jones. If you have never seen a Darth laugh...

Also on City-TV, there was a late-night video show called "City Limits" (nope, not the same title but close enough) hosted by Christopher Ward which featured the more avant-garde, grungier and just plain weirder music videos from the 80s. I think "City Lights" by Fantastic Plastic Machine would have been featured just for the fact that it was an international video with some panache.

Chikuzen Sato/Daisuke Inoue/Junko Yamamoto -- I Feel Coke

I still remain a Coca-Cola fan after all these decades although my intake has been curtailed somewhat since I returned to Toronto back in 2011. My imbibing of the quintessential drink for hamburgers and pizza (with the accompanying increase in gas afterwards) probably started right from the 1970s just when the famous US commercial campaign jingle for Coke, the hippie-folkie "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing In Perfect Harmony" wormed itself into millions of pairs of ears. Yes, people linked hands for world peace in tribute to a drink that can most likely melt enamel and internal organs.

Many years later when I was in thrall to my Japanophilia, I learned that the Japanese were also in thrall to Coke. And a certain advertising company over there came up with a simple Japlish (or Engrish) catchphrase that has lasted for years: I Feel Coke. Not "I feel like a Coke". That would be too drawn out and grammatically correct. Just those three words.

And there was a jingle under the same title whipped up by composer/saxophonist Daisuke Inoue(井上大輔)for the campaign which began in 1987 with lyrics by Toshiya Mizoguchi(溝口大輔). Unlike the world peace folkiness of "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing In Perfect Harmony", "I Feel Coke" was all about happy happy fun fun even if it was during lunch break during a 12-hour day in Tokyo. And it was sung by soulful Chikuzen Sato(佐藤竹善)just at the time that his group Sing Like Talking was making inroads; couldn't have asked for a better calling card than his vocals here.

Although it was Sato's voice on the commercials, composer Inoue also had to get his two cents in with his own version, of course, with appropriate saxophone accompaniment. I think it's one of the few times that I've seen a yellow double-breasted suit work. Could be the lighting.

I only found out by accident but apparently Junko Yamamoto(山本潤子)of Hi-Fi Set also gave her own version of "I Feel Coke". As for Inoue, he was also behind songs such as "Hurricane" by The Chanels and "Taboo" by Hiromi Koide(小出広美).

Chage and Aska -- if

Single version.

Ah, at last, I'm able to think clearly again... A cold can do more than just clog one's nose, as I had the pleasure of finding out, and simple tasks like the spelling of the word "fungus" took some time to register in the noggin. Well, but at least I'm glad to say that I feel a lot better right now.

During the week when I was down with the flu, I had the urge to listen to the more mellow sounding stuff that come from the genre of Pop as, at that moment in time, I thought of enka as being too... depressing or just too much, to put it very bluntly, for my state of mind and I didn't want to feel any worse than I already was. So who would be better to listen to than Chage and Aska? I stuck to some of my favourite tracks from assorted albums, and there were these two songs in particular that would constantly be on replay: "NATURAL" and "if". The former due to its relatively quick pace and overall cheerful vibe - makes me think of a sunny and windy autumn day for some reason - and the latter for its comfortable and interesting melody.

Album version.

Composed by the taller half of the duo, most of "if" is rather quiet with the piano tinkling away and the strumming of the acoustic guitar and Aska's delicate vocals; it's only at the chorus after the chiming of the bells when this Checkers-like doo wop beat comes in and spices up the song. This, of course, is only in the single version of "if", which was released on 1st July 1992. In the other version, which was released in C&A's 15th album "GUYS" a few months later in November, "if" becomes more ballad-like and laid-back, but at the cost of that doo wop beat that I like so much from the single version. I wonder if its to allow this song to fit in better with the other tracks in that album as the other tracks in there do have that similar style. The album rendition of "if" is still enjoyable to listen to though. It gives off that same feeling of having the summer breeze blow through your hair.

As for its lyrics, I recalled not being able to make sense of them and I was desperately trying to find the "if-s" in what Aska had written. A few years down the road, when my understanding of Japanese improved and when I found the English translation (can't seem to find it now though), I realised that the "if" in "if" (haha) came in the form of "Moshimo", which is, you guessed it, if in Japanese! Glad that was settled. Anyway, the lyrics basically revolve around the fellow asking the question of what would happen if he hadn't met this person, or at least something on that line.

"if" (single version) did very well on the charts in 1992 and wound up becoming a million seller. It peaked at 1st place for 2 consecutive weeks and was best selling song for July before dropping down to 4th in August. By the end of the year it settled at a respectable 8th place.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


I usually don’t care for Johnny’s groups aside Arashi () or SMAP (when I’m in the right mood for KimuTaku [木村拓哉] and his “friends”, of course), but I came across NEWS’ “KAGUYA” and just had a serious reality shock: this song is pretty nice.

Musically, it’s a song that fuses traditional Japanese elements with electronic dance music, which, per se, is not that innovative at all. However, it results in a cool and energic song that loosely reminds me of the best moments from Korean boybands (SHINee, I’m looking at you).

Visually, I wasn’t expecting such a pretty, yet simple, music video, so it was a second reality shock. It’s all courtesy of famous visual artist Mika Ninagawa (蜷川実花), which was also responsible for AKB48’s or infamous “Heavy Rotation” video in 2010, and the visual design for Megumi Hayashibara’s (林原めぐみ) “Vintage White” compilation in 2011.

As I said, the video is simple, yet beautiful, with all the colors, traditional Japanese elements and homoerotic feel. Also, even though the guys aren’t the most amazing dancers in the world, at least a couple of them are charismatic. In fact, the blonde one, Yuya Tegoshi (手越祐也), keeps flirting with the camera through the whole video. Well, all of them are trying to flirt with the camera, but Tegoshi and Takahisa Masuda (増田貴久), the boy with a round face, are the ones who succeeds it in a more natural and suitable way. I liked it, even though I didn’t quite understand how the homoerotic appeal was related to the overall theme, which was the Princess Kaguya tale. In the end, it’s probably just insipid fan service for the fangirls.

“KAGUYA” was released as a single in January 2015, reaching #1 on the Oricon charts and selling 150,052 copies. Lyrics were written by MOZZA, while music was composed by take4. As for the arrangement, CHOKKAKU was the responsible.


Yoko Oginome -- Verge of Love (ヴァージ・オブ・ラヴ)

One of my all-time favorite 80s Japanese gems comes from Yoko Oginome (荻野目洋子) and her Narada Michael Walden’s produced album “Verge of Love”, which was released back in 1989. In fact, it’s exactly of the title track, “Verge of Love”, I want to talk about.

I don’t know, but maybe this groovy R&B song could have been an American hit. Instead, Narada Michael Walden gifted Oginome with this treasure, and I thank him for doing that.

“Verge of Love” is beautiful and features an array of interesting sounds through its arrangement. From the groovy bass line, a melodic guitar solo and all the delicate synths, it all comes down to Yoko’s soulful, yet vulnerable, delivery. Honestly, I could not think about another singer to record this song, and I’m not what one would call an Oginome fanboy.

Oginome’s “Verge of Love” album was released in two editions: an English one in December 1988, and a Japanese version in February 1989. She was probably trying to break out in America, which, I think is quite safe to say, didn't happen.

“Verge of Love” was released as a single in January 1989, and reached #5 on the Oricon charts. Lyrics, music and arrangement were composed by Narada Michael Walden, Joyce Imbessi and Carolyn Hedrich. As for the Japanese lyrics, Moritaro Hirai (平井森太郎) was the responsible.

Miki Imai -- Sleep My Dear

This article will have a few parallels with the one I wrote for "Pride" last year. For one thing, this is another 90s Miki Imai(今井美樹)song and for another, "Sleep My Dear" is another Imai song written and composed by Tomoyasu Hotei(布袋寅泰)as a theme song for another Shingo Katori(香取慎吾)of SMAP TV drama, "Yomigaeru Kinro"(蘇える金狼...The Resurrection of the Golden Wolf). Mind you, comparing this show with Katori's earlier "Doc" would be like comparing coffee and blood. In "Doc", the usual lovable goofball played a taciturn Vietnamese man living in Japan while in "Yomigaeru Kinro", he was a tightly-wound assassin disguised as a mild-mannered corporate cog out to destroy the company he was working for.

Another parallel comes up with the fact that I was doing some channel-surfing when I came across both programs. With "Yomigaeru Kinro", I had just finished watching one of my favourite travelogue shows on TV Tokyo when I switched over to NTV to see the ending credits of the show with Katori as Asakura walking alone in Odaiba while the Imai song was playing. My impression was that it was a pretty cool way to finish off a show.

"Sleep My Dear" has that perfect title for a theme song to a suspense-thriller series. I mean, it sounds like a title for one of those hard-boiled novels by Mickey Spillane before it gets made into a Humphrey Bogart film noir. And Imai's creamy and reassuring vocals work to make me feel as if she were an angel singing to Asakura to let go of the vengeance and rest (the dreamy arrangement especially at the beginning by Hotei also helped). Not that it really worked...Imai had a small role in the show itself and she didn't quite make it to the end. In any case, the song also had Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子)as one of the backup vocals.

This was Imai's 17th single from May 1999 which didn't quite have the Oricon success that "Pride" did, only getting as high as No. 25 on the charts. It was placed on her 2000 album, "Taiyo to Hemingway"(太陽とヘミングウェイ...The Sun and Hemingway)which peaked at No. 2. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Yui Horie -- Poker Face (ポーカーフェイス)

Marcos V's article on Aice5 was a revelation in that seiyuu Yui Horie(堀江由衣was part of the quintet. And so, that has finally gotten me to gab a bit on the role that I know her best at this writing: her alter-ego Miss Monochrome(ミス・モノクローム).

My anime buddy has been providing me with the information on her over the years. One tidbit was that Horie created Miss Monochrome as a character at her concerts when then either her or someone else decided that the young-looking but actually aeons-old android would be great having her own anime. Mind you, that first series in 2013 had each episode only being 5 or 10 minutes (can't remember) long. But even in those eps which took up just a fraction of the usual half-hour, I felt that there was a nice kind heart beating in "Miss Monochrome" with the dry deadpan humour of the title character and her sidekick, Ru-chan.

"Miss Monochrome" has now gone ahead into its 3rd season (with longer eps) as of this year, and I've enjoyed all of the theme songs so far, but the one that has been the earworm for me was the ending theme for the first batch of episodes, "Poker Face". Written and composed by Keiichi Kondo(近藤圭一), Horie should have been awarded "Miss Autotune 2013" for this song. Even without the CG video of Monochrome prancing about, I can still listen to "Poker Face" while doing my translation work and still end up bobbing my head rather animatedly.