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.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Noriyo Ikeda -- Dream In The Street

This is another track I found in one of my CDs of the long-running series of "Light Mellow" representing City Pop/J-AOR, this one being labeled "Moment".

"Dream In The Street" is originally the title track from the debut album of Noriyo Ikeda(池田典代), another one of those hidden treasures in the world of urban contemporary Japanese pop from way back when. There is virtually nothing written about this mysterious singer aside from what I could find on one Yahoo Japanese-language music blog which had getting her start in the late 1970s as a performer in clubs located in Shinjuku and Shimo-Kitazawa in Tokyo.

There is even some dispute as to when the album "Dream In The Street" was released with the liner notes in "Moment" stating it was in 1980 whereas a few online sites state that it was actually 1979 (I will go with 1980 for now). In any case, what is notable about this City Pop gem is that was composed and arranged by Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)with Ikeda providing the lyrics about the general goings-on on a night in the big city. The late Hiroshi Sato(佐藤博)was on keyboards and even Yamashita was there as one of the guitarists providing backing vocals.

Ikeda has vocals here which remind me to a certain extent of the voice of Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)...that breathy and coquettish quality. Plus "Dream In The Street" just bursts onto the street with that familiar City Pop beat shuffling things happily along the sidewalk, and as much as I've mentioned the Doobie Brothers whenever I write about the genre, this particular song has that little addition of Steely Dan this time around. And to wrap up, there is that cool little bit near the end when you hear the drums rattling away and then the bass doing its fine plucking. Those were grand years by Tats.

I don't know how many albums Ikeda released but my impression is that "Dream In The Street" may have been the only one.

Isao Sasaki & Mitsuko Horie with Columbia Yurikago Kai -- Susume! Gorenger (進め! ゴレンジャー)

Today I spent the day with some friends for lunch and a movie, the latter being "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back" starring Tom Cruise. I had seen most of the first Jack Reacher movie on TV and wasn't particularly thrown over the moon with it, so it was nice that I actually enjoyed "Never Go Back" a bit more. However, I still thought the movie was rather paint-by-the-numbers. It could have been any of the episodes of "NCIS" with Jethro Gibbs played by Cruise instead of Mark Harmon.

As for my thoughts on the annual rash of superhero blockbusters, it was also as hit-and-miss as "Never Go Back". "Captain America: Civil War" was fine although the story became increasingly sadder, while the earlier "Superman v. Batman" was disappointingly dire. "X-Men: Apocalypse" was also another missed opportunity and I didn't even bother with "Suicide Squad" due to the unhappy reviews despite all of the hoopla of last year's filming of a pivotal chase scene down on Toronto's Yonge Street. I'm hoping that "Doctor Strange" will end this year on a high note and from what I've heard from the early reviews is that it will be good if not spectacular.

In a year when the thought of a superhero team on the Hollywood screen was probably a mere dot of out-there-in-left-field fantasy, I had heard that Japan concocted a live-action show of a group of five human superheroes in contrast with the lone warrior of Kamen Rider(仮面ライダー)and the gigantic Ultraman (ウルトラマン) along with the anime Gatchaman (ガッチャマン). The 1975 show was "Himitsu Sentai Gorenger"(秘密戦隊ゴレンジャー...Secret Task Force Five Rangers), produced by Toei Company and televised on TV Asahi as the first of the long-running Super Sentai series. One of its descendants ended up getting over to America in the early 1990s and transformed into the "Power Rangers" series.

But going back to "Gorenger", I first saw this team on those thick children's readers that were sold in the front of the Furuya Japanese food shop in Chinatown, and boy, did I want to know about these guys. I was amazed by the costumes and the weapons that were miraculously stored in their masks such as the whip in leader Red Ranger's mask and the bow-and-arrow setup in Blue Ranger's mask. However, the 1970s were the pre-Internet, pre-VCR prehistoric age so the best I could do was read one manga involving the team when they were going up against a villainous skeleton with a long cape. Fairly disappointed was I.

Things are obviously quite different now, but when I finally got over to Japan again in 1981, there wasn't any mention of any Super Sentai series and my interest had already waned down to a nub by that point. Still, I could find that little bit of the Gorenger in action above.

Also, there is the theme song, "Susume! Gorenger" (Go! Five Rangers) as sung by Isao Sasaki (ささきいさお) and Mitsuko Horie(堀江美都子)with the chorus group Columbia Yurikago Kai (コロムビアゆりかご会). Of course with Sasaki, I've always seen him as the king of the songs used in the "Uchuu Senkan Yamato"(宇宙戦艦ヤマト)franchise, and Horie has also contributed one or two songs to the adventures of the Yamato. But I think this is the first time I've heard them sing a good ol' tokusatsu tune.

And what a heroic tune it is. There is the urgent first part before the melody gives way to something hopeful with the combination of horns and plucky electric guitar. I've heard "Susume! Gorenger" used in parodies of the Super Sentai format by various comedians over the years but never knew that it had been the theme song for the pioneer show. Shotaro Ishinomori(石森章太郎)wrote the lyrics while Chumei Watanabe(渡辺宙明)took care of the music.

Missed opportunity, to be sure. But at least, I get to see some of what made the show so popular with the kiddies and my parents were able to save a ton of dough and frustration toward me for demanding that I get one of the team costumes.

Also, have a look at JTM's playlist for tokusatsu theme songs since he also mentions about the ending theme for "Gorenger" among some of his other favourite tunes from the genre.

Yoshio Tabata -- Kaeri Bune (かえり船)

Out of all the songs in Yoshio Tabata's (田端義夫) discography, I'm confident in saying that "Kaeri Bune" is his most popular and well known single, and it sold about 1.8 million copies. It's the Batayan song that's often sung on the music shows at this day and age by a myriad of enka singers, and even Tabata himself performed "Kaeri Bune" on his second (out of two) appearance on the Kohaku in 1989. Ironically, though, I can't say I'm a big fan of it (yet?) especially when compared to his other tunes I've covered on the blog.

"Kaeri Bune" comes in at the 10:18 mark.

What made me finally decide to put up an article for "Kaeri Bune" was hearing it on a "Shin Nippon no Uta" episode a couple of weeks back. I thought it was high time the song deserved a write-up. This time it was the enka brothers, Ichiro Toba and Yutaka Yamakawa (鳥羽一郎 . 山川豊), who tackled this hit during the Special Stage show. The first half of the segment was dedicated to their late mother who loved Haruo Minami (三波春夫), Koichi Aoki (青木光一), and Tabata - Mrs. Kimura sure had good taste in music. According to Toba, Batayan was Mrs. Kimura's no.1 favourite so naturally the haunting intro of "Kaeri Bune" began to play. At that point in time, I was reminded of a black and white clip that is usually associated with the song. It had dozens of people at the harbor enthusiastically receiving their loved ones who are on board the docking ship. This then kick-started the brain's thinking mode.

A little summary of enka singers who have sang this song.

With "Kaeri Bune" being released in post-war Japan (1946), I found out from the description in the video at the very top that the lyrics are about soldiers returning (by ship) to Japan after the war. I'm pretty sure that it can be applied to folks who are coming home from working/studying abroad as well. That being said, one would think that the melody would be a jaunty one to celebrate the joyous reunions, but it's not. Instead it's solemn and leans to the melancholic enka side, plus the resonant twang of Batayan's electric guitar makes it all the more unsettling. Perhaps "Kaeri Bune" is trying to highlight the sadness and bitterness beneath the happiness felt by those on the boat; possibly caused by being away from home for a long time.

Minoru Shimizu (清水みのる) had written the lyrics and Haruo Kurawaka (倉若晴生) had composed the music. Together with Batayan, the three had spawned a number of other hits like "Wakare Bune" (別れ船) - probably the opposite of "Kaeri Bune" - and "Shima no Funauta" (島の舟唄) - his debut single.

With the extra number of times I have listened to "Kaeri Bune" while writing this article alone, I feel it slowly latching on to me... I think. Wonder if it'll have that "Wakare no Ippon Sugi" (別れの一本杉) effect.

Oh my goodness, it's Batayan without his trusty guitar! He looks so incomplete without the instrument - it's as if he lost an arm or something. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Yasuhiro Abe -- Tight Up

If you see this photo above, then it's time for a City Pop article.

And what better person in this genre on a Saturday than Yasuhiro Abe(安部恭弘)? I'm not quite sure about the grammatical accuracy of the title of "Tight Up" but I guess since Archie Bell and the Drells took "Tighten Up" years back, singer and composer Abe along with lyricist Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)had to come up with a compromise.

Furthermore, any silly niggling by an old English teacher like me quickly flew away on hearing this tight piece of City Pop. With that rousing piano intro launching into that combination of thrilling strings, dynamic horns and boppy bass (and don't forget the guitar-and-sax solo), I can only imagine bright lights and big city. And as one YouTube commenter put it, this should have been assigned as the theme song for an action-adventure anime. "City Hunter" would have been one fine candidate.

"Tight Up" was Abe's 4th single from February 1984 (and the above is the single version), and it is a track on his 2nd album, "Moderato" which was released a month later.

I have to leave off by saying that those horns had me thinking of Kahoru Kohiruimaki's(小比類巻かほる)later R&B material.

Kazuko Kawashima -- Mugen ni Hirogaru Dai Uchuu (無限に広がる大宇宙)

Yup, after all these years, I still have that poster of "Be Forever, Yamato" on my wall. When Toronto's legendary comic book shop, The Silver Snail, could still afford to have Japanese products at its old Queen West location back in the 1980s, I bought a fair amount of paraphernalia regarding "Uchuu Senkan Yamato"(宇宙戦艦ヤマト...Space Cruiser Yamato)mostly in the form of books. However, I did find this poster as well and after some hemming and hawing, I finally pulled the financial trigger.

One of the first articles I ever wrote on this blog happened to be the opening theme for "Uchuu Senkan Yamato" by Hiroshi Miyagawa(宮川泰), the triumphant march that I remember alongside John Williams' "Star Wars" and Alexander Courage's original theme for "Star Trek" as one of the most famous sci-fi overtures. Even today, when I listened to "Uchuu Senkan Yamato", the lumps were still forming in my throat (or as they are now labeled on Twitter, the feels). And then there is the Mood Kayo-esque ballad of "Makka no Scarf"(真っ赤のスカーフ)that can also press a few emotional buttons. Both of them were sung by the anison singer emeritus Isao Sasaki(ささきいさお).

However, not all of the memorable music was performed by Sasaki. There is still one ballad that I had yet to cover until now which remains as one of the musical touchstones for "Yamato". And yet, I didn't know the title of this piece until today. That would be "Mugen ni Hirogaru Dai Uchuu" (The Infinite Universe) which I assume was also composed by Miyagawa although no mention of the song or even the title was made on the song portion of the J-Wiki article for the series, although I think the alternate title was "The Scat" (ugh...nope that doesn't work).

All of the Yamato fans will know "Mugen ni Hirogaru Dai Uchuu" from Kazuko Kawashima's(川島和子)haunting voice and Miyagawa's ethereal music. It's the counterpoint to the Yamato march. Whereas the march signifying the ship boldly going where no one has gone before, "Mugen ni Hirogaru Dai Uchuu" is the song always present in the universe...never needing to move, it's always there.

If memory serves me correctly, this secondary theme was used at the beginning of almost each episode of the first season when the Yamato was heading to Iscandar while the narrator caught everyone up on the story. And it was also used in the more poignant scenes when someone or something was about to end up in the eternal ether. It probably never failed to elicit throat lumps at the very least. And for a lot of us in my generation originally watching the dubbed version of the show in the form of "Star Blazers", this was probably the first TV cartoon to have us tearing up a bit (although most of us will not admit it).

A new version was made for the rebooted 2199 series.

Plus of course, I gotta finish up with the Miku Hatsune(初音ミク)version.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Top 10 Albums for 2009

1. Arashi                                         All The Best! 1999-2009
2. Mr. Children                               Supermarket Fantasy
3. GReeeeN                                    Shio, Kosho
4. EXILE                                        Ai Subeki Mirai e
5. EXILE                                        EXILE BALLAD BEST
6. Ayaka                                         Ayaka's History 2006-2009
7. Dreams Come True                    Do You Dreams Come True?
8. Remioromen                              Remio Best
9. Superfly                                     Box Emotions
10. Kobukuro                                CALLING

Top 10 Singles for 2009

1. Arashi                                          Believe/Kumori Nochi, Kaisei
2. Arashi                                          Ashita no Kioku/Crazy Moon
3. Arashi                                          My Girl
4. Junko Akimoto                            Ai no Mama de...
5. Arashi                                          Everything
6. B'z                                               Ichibu to Zenbu/DIVE
7. KAT-TUN                                   Rescue
8. Yusuke                                        Himawari
9. KAT-TUN                                   ONE DROP
10. Kan Johnny Eight                     Kyuu☆Jou☆Show!!

Geez, I think I'm detecting a pattern here or a storm brewing at the top. Yup, Arashi got four out of the top 5 best hits of 2009 while KAT-TUN grabbed a couple of spots themselves. Still, it was great to see Junko Akimoto get the No. 4 spot with an old kayo.