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.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Hiroshi Miyama -- Kodama(谺-こだま)


"Uta Kon"(うたコン)was on last night and the hosts, actor Shosuke Tanihara(谷原章介)and announcer Nonoka Akaki(赤木野々花), were back up on the stage seating instead of the audience seats, so perhaps there has been a slight relaxation in the restrictions although I think that audiences are still not allowed into the hall. Well, baby steps and all that...

Enka singer and kendama master Hiroshi Miyama(三山ひろし)was back to perform his 14th and latest single, "Kodama" which was released on January 13th. As for the definition of the title, I took a look at once more, and initially I'd assumed that it meant "tree spirit" because like a lot of enka singers, Miyama has exhorted the wonders of certain topographical features in Japan such as rivers in his music.

However, looking at the lyrics by Haku Ide(いではく), kodama in this case means "echo". Miyama is relating the story of his yelling his fond resonant farewells to the grand mountains of his hometown before heading to the big city some five years previously. He also wonders about the young lady he left behind and whether she's already got married to another fellow. The melody strikes me as a signal that he will be coming back home for at least a triumphant visit.

Akito Yomo(四方章人)was responsible for the just-as-grand music which brings a lot of nostalgia to me especially during the winter months here since that sort of enka always seems to ring in my head during the cold season. Miyama comes from Kochi Prefecture on the island of Shikoku, so I'm not too sure whether snow falls down in his old hometown at around this time; "Kodama" strikes me as being more of a Tohoku kayo but that's just my opinion. In any case, the song peaked at No. 12 on Oricon.

(short version)

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Atarashii Gakko no Leaders -- NAINAINAI


It looks like we have our 2nd 2021 single for this year following Kaori Mizumori's(水森かおり)"Naruko-kyo"(鳴子峡).

However, it's not an enka tune but something more along the lines of hip-pop thanks to this song-and-dance group called Atarashii Gakko no Leaders (新しい学校のリーダーズ...New School Leaders). I'd seen this group on YouTube here and there over the past few weeks suddenly, and then I finally opted to give this particular song a try, "NAINAINAI" (No, No, No) which was released about a week ago on January 20th.

Written and composed by yonkey, "NAINAINAI" is very Yes, Yes, Yes about someone or a group of students in high school throwing out their frustrations about their current state of life in the world of social media, adolescent insecurities and raging hormones. The song and performance are funny and cool at the same time, and as someone commented, the whole Atarashii Gakko no Leaders thing seems like the anime "Asobi Asobase"(あそびあそばせ)brought to real life.

AGL has actually been around since 2015 and consists of Mizyu, Rin, Suzuka and Kanon. According to their J-Wiki bio, the whole concept of the group is standing out with their individuality and freedom over a crappy intolerant society which is in more in praise of just the so-called cream of the crop. I'm going to have to check out more of their past music videos, but I think, yeah, the ladies are fulfilling their mantra. Looking at their Wikipedia page, AGL has released eleven singles and two albums. The above video has everyone giving out some more information about themselves.

Sheena & The Rokkets/Yellow Magic Orchestra -- Rocket Koujou(ロケット工場)


In the last number of days, I've been hearing some rather sad news about musician/producer (among other hats that he wears) Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一). Remembering a few years ago that he had been diagnosed with throat cancer, something that he eventually did beat into remission, it was heartbreaking news on reading that he has now been diagnosed with rectal cancer. He is undergoing treatment and on his website, he has left a message for fans to keep everyone's spirits up. Of course, I am hoping that The Professor will defeat this one, too.

One song that he composed was for the rock band Sheena & The Rokkets back in 1979 as the final track for their 2nd album, "Shinkuu Pack"(真空パック...Vacuum Pack) released in October. Titled "Rocket Koujou" (Rocket Factory), it's a brief robotic instrumental coda to wrap things up but although I can hear some of that New Wave among the bleeps and bloops, I think it was a bit of an odd way to finish "Shinkuu Pack" for a band of the mentai rock vein.

I mentioned in the article for The Rokkets' "You May Dream" which is also a part of the album that Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣), Sakamoto's bandmate in synthpop legend Yellow Magic Orchestra, had produced "Shinkuu Pack" and that there were some conflicts between him and the band about the direction that the album was taking. Perhaps "Rocket Koujou" was one of the points of contention. Still, it was also stated that any arguments were all for getting the best out of the project, and the song was in there at the end.

Sakamoto and YMO did a cover of "Rocket Koujou" as a track for their May 1991 album "Faker Holic" which consisted of their live appearances in London, Paris and New York City in October and November 1979 (which is why I threw in the two years in Labels). Considering the brevity of the song, the video above has the first two-and-a-half minutes devoted to who I think is Sakamoto introducing the band members through his vocoder before going into "Rocket Koujou". If anything, the YMO version isn't too different from the one for The Rokkets except for a sudden onrush of YMO-esque beats. I think especially for this version, there is a feeling that the factory isn't producing rockets but a robo-Frankenstein of Asian design. The album reached No. 50 on Oricon.

Once again, I'm wishing for Sakamoto's complete recovery.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Da Capo -- Souya Misaki(宗谷岬)


Often when it comes to the kayo of Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost main island, the genres revolve around enka and Mood Kayo. I gather that there is something about the striking topography and the climate of the prefecture that lend themselves to the traditional music.

For that reason, I think "Souya Misaki" (Cape Souya) by the folk duo Da Capo(ダ・カーポ)is a bit of an outlier. For one thing, it's actually a relaxing folk song and not an epic enka about Cape Souya right at the northern tip of Hokkaido, and in terms of meteorology, the lyrics by Hiroshi Yoshida(吉田弘)depict the gradual warming-up of the region as spring approaches. 

Another thing is that the melody is composed by the late Toru Funamura(船村徹), someone that I usually expected an enka from through the songs that Noelle and I have covered over the years. But "Souya Misaki" is as gentle as a children's folksy lullaby as the environment thaws out from the winter. The song was released as a track on Da Capo's May 1978 album "Yuuhodou"(遊歩道...Promenade).

You can read more about Da Capo including how the duo got their name at my first article about them, "Yuki Moyo"(雪もよう).

Hisaaki Kanzaki -- You Are Falling On My Star


Well, on the COVID front, there are issues on the vaccine supply front since Canada will not be getting anything from Pfizer this week and there won't be much coming in next week. However, the daily infection rates seem to be flattening out and perhaps even decreasing somewhat. Still high at just a little under 2,000 cases but we're hoping that we are slowly getting out of the second wave though we have to face February

In any case, let's start the week on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" with something nice and cheery to complement the sunny afternoon we have in Toronto. This is "You Are Falling On My Star", the first track from Kochi Prefecture-born saxophonist Hisaaki Kanzaki's(神崎ひさあき)1981 album "Long Romantic Road" with his band Kanzaki On The Road.

"You Are Falling On My Star" is a nice way to start off with the album due to the intro seeming to start off someone's fine sunny morning. We can all do with a pleasant walk outside before heading to our favourite diner for a good hearty breakfast. Some nice Latin beats in there but basically the song is some refreshing jazz/AOR instrumentality.

Soon after graduating from Aoyama Gakuin University, Kanzaki formed Kanzaki On The Road and released three albums in short order in 1980 and 1981 including "Long Romantic Road". He also put out a solo release in 1988, "Kanzaki" with artists such as pianist David Benoit and bassist Rickey Minor pitching in.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Etsuko Yakushimaru -- Houkago Di(e)stra(u)ction(放課後ディストラクション)


If memory serves correctly, Etsuko Yakushimaru's(やくしまるえつこ)"X-Jigen e Yokoso"(X次元へようこそ)isn't the first song by the singer-songwriter that I've heard, but it is the first one that made an impression on me. It certainly didn't hurt that it was the ending theme for one of anime's most enjoyably loopy shows in recent memory, "Space Dandy", but under her songwriting name of tica alpha(ティカ・α), Yakushimaru made one really catchy techno-disco masterpiece which fit exactly with the look of the series.

Another Yakushimaru distraction has been "Houkago Di(e)stra(u)ction" (After School Distraction) which served as her 9th single from August 2018. It has that blippity-bloppity technopop sound and the singer's distinctive whispery voice describing some rather Dadaist images in the lyrics combining what seems to be a few news headlines and a student's rather boring lifestyle at school. Although the disco isn't there this time, "Houkago Di(e)stra(u)ction" has the above plus some nice twangy guitar going for it.

Let's add to the avant-garde dreaminess here. The official music video above is a 360-degree visual experience that you can control with your mouse.

For some reason, my anime buddy never included this show into the schedule when we used to do our biweekly Sunday routine, but "Hi Score Girl"(ハイスコアガール)was a 2018-2019 anime adaptation of a 2010-2018 manga by Rensuke Oshikiri(押切蓮介), and it turned out that "Houkago Di(e)stra(u)ction" was the first ending theme. Coincidentally, one of the minor characters in this gamer romance anime is Junichi Suwabe(諏訪部順一), the seiyuu who played Space Dandy himself.

The Works of Mitsuo Hagita(萩田光雄)


As promised when I wrote up on his lone solo album "Secret Love" back on Thursday January 21st a few days ago, I'm bringing you here a Creator article on the works of very prolific arranger Mitsuo Hagita. I actually saw what he looked like for the first time on a variety show not too long ago and I also found this cute ad above featuring him and singer Hiromi Ohta(太田裕美)for some live event that he was to appear in.

But man, it was difficult narrowing down the examples of what he has arranged for this article since he's been behind so many famous kayo over the years. And even with myself, I had to react "Hagita arranged THIS?!" a number of times because until recently I had the temerity to not include the names of arrangers in either the articles or the Labels, once thinking that the composer and the lyricist were enough. Not anymore, especially since he's come in at No. 3 as one of the Oricon Top 5 Most Commercially Successful Arrangers. So I'm doing a lot of catch-up on articles these days to include his name.

In terms of background for Hagita, according to a book on his life via J-Wiki, he was born in Fukushima Prefecture in 1946 but moved to Saitama Prefecture and their parents had a house in Tokyo. His family ran an electronics parts business and though his father wasn't into music, his mother played the koto and his older brother created his own phonograph to which young Mitsuo listened to Beethoven and Mozart. There was also a piano in the home on which his sister practiced but he himself didn't touch the instrument in his younger years.

However on entering junior high school, Hagita entered the brass band club in which he was in charge of percussion but then moved onto tuba. During university, he joined the classical guitar club. Having all these musical influences during his formative years had him decide that music was his future, and at the age of 22, he entered a songwriting contest sponsored by a music journal in which he won top prize. Furthering his education, he wanted to get involved with orchestras so at 24, he began studying composition and arrangement at the Yamaha Music Foundation.

The debut of his arranging career started with this 1973 song with the country swing lilt:

Masa Takagi -- Hitoribocchi no Heya (ひとりぼっちの部屋)

Now, as I hinted earlier, it was hard to stuff the Hagita hits in here since for one thing, my Labels won't allow any more than 20 items. But I will try my best. The thing is that even though with his "Secret Love" album, he was dabbling into funk and jazz, it looks like the arranger took on pretty much everything excluding enka and Mood Kayo. His J-Wiki article listed his genres as aidoru, New Music and pop.

For example, Hagita arranged a lot of the aidoru in the 1970s and 1980s including Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵), Hiromi Ohta, Hideki Saijo(西城秀樹) and Hiromi Go(郷ひろみ)each with their own different sounds. He could do wistful and snarly.

(1975) Hiromi Ohta -- Momen no Handkerchief (木綿のハンカチーフ)

(1977) Hideki Saijo -- Boomerang Street (ブーメランストリート)

(1977) Momoe Yamaguchi -- Imitation Gold (イミテイション・ゴールド)

(1979) Hiromi Go -- My Lady (マイレディー)

In 1975, Hagita won for Best Arrangement at the Japan Record Awards for Akira Fuse's(布施明) "Cyclamen no Kaori" (シクラメンのかほり).

Into the 1980s, he also handled some City Pop including a Junko Ohashi(大橋純子)tune that has had fans from all over the world remember a certain series of numbers.

(1981) Junko Ohashi -- Telephone Number

Hagita also was in charge of arranging a song that not only adorned an 80s anime but has since become a heartwarming classic for graduations.

(1983) H2O -- Omoide ga Ippai (思い出がいっぱい)

(starts at 3:56)

Just one more here but I've included this one since it's a nostalgic song from my Kuri karaoke nights as a university student. 

(1985) Akiko Kobayashi -- Koi ni Ochite (恋におちて)

Hagita may have enjoyed his funk and stuff but as the above two show, he could also help shape some of the marshmallow-soft ballads. But as I said, there are so many of his works even on this blog that I would just scroll through his KKP file. However, you can also check out the list at J-Wiki.