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, September 12, 2012

Akina Nakamori -- Cruise

About a few weeks before I was to leave for the JET Programme on my very first post-university job, I received the shocking news that one of my favourite aidoru, Akina Nakamori(中森明菜), had attempted suicide on July 11 1989, just a couple of days before her 24th birthday. Of course, this was back in the pre-Internet days so I couldn't exactly rush to a computer terminal and find out lickety-split about what her status was. Also knowing that a few years previously aidoru Yukiko Okada(岡田有希子)had killed herself didn't help my fears about Akina. As the days toward my departure for Japan drew near, I was able to piece together that the attempt had occurred supposedly because her long-time boyfriend, aidoru Masahiko Kondo(近藤真彦), had dumped her and that Akina had made the attempt in his apartment.

Although I was relieved that Akina would recover from her injuries, the fact that she had actually tried to kill herself and that she would take a year off did sadden me since I was such a big fan of hers. When I finally got to Japan at the end of July, I had known that her 14th album, "Cruise" was coming out. It had come out just a few days before my arrival and I was in Tokyo for 5 days of orientation before being shipped out to the mountains of Gunma Prefecture, so during the little free time I had I was able to find a major CD shop in Shinjuku to search for the album.

It would turn out that I didn't need to look too hard. As soon as I entered the very air-conditioned store, "Close Your Eyes", one of the tracks, was playing over the store speakers and the album was featured very prominently on the wall. I had bought her albums during the late 80s, and frankly found them not too listenable since she seemed to get a bit too avant-garde or hard rock for me. But I was struck by "Close Your Eyes", a very atmospheric piece with a Mediterranean feel; her voice sounded different, too. The huskiness that had been her trademark since her mid-80s peak was still there but transformed into something more delicate. This was an Akina who sang as if she were a seen-it-all, heard-it-all, felt-it-all diva in resignation. The lyrics, by the way, were provided by Masako Arikawa(有川正沙子), who had written many of Akira Terao's(寺尾聡)tunes on his hit album, "Reflections" (already profiled) in 1981.The music was composed by Brazilian artist Osny Melo, who has written songs for a number of Japanese singers like Hiromi Go(郷ひろみ)and Akiko Kobayashi(小林明子).

When I bought "Cruise", the significance of the situation hadn't been lost on me. I did feel somewhat eerie about buying an album just a few weeks after the artist had tried to leave this mortal coil.

(karaoke version)

Because of the attempted suicide, "Cruise" took on a more poignant meaning for me. I found that there were no uptempo songs on the album at all, and tracks were given titles such as "URAGIRI"(Betrayal) and "Liar". How much of her life was flowing into these songs? Were her collaborators aware of what was going on in her life? The songs seemed to be linked by a theme of ennui and sadness. "Sayonara ja Owaranai"さよならじゃ終わらない....It Won't End With Goodbye)is one of the relatively more mid-tempo tracks in which she finds it difficult to leave her beau. It was written by Goro Matsui (松井五郎) and composed by Anzen Chitai(安全地帯)vocal Koji Tamaki(玉置浩二). What is remarkable about some of her appearances for this song and "Close Your Eyes" is how fragile Akina looks in them. She sang the song as if she were keeping up a brave face under difficult circumstances.

"Liar" was the only track that had been a single release back in April. Written by Mitsuko Shiramine(白峰美津子)and composed by Kazuya Izumi(和泉一弥), this was a song of lost love. Not quite sure if it had been meant for Matchy. The single hit No. 1 from the get-go and ended up as the 28th-ranked song of the year. "Cruise"itself also reached the No. 1 mark and became the 31st-ranked album of 1989.

As much as the Yellow Magic Orchestra's debut album had become my very first J-Pop purchase on cassette tape almost 10 years previously, "Cruise"was my very first CD purchase of a J-Pop singer. Unlike some of her past albums, I bought this one without feeling any trepidation at all.

Akina Nakamori -- Cruise


  1. What I like the most about your posts is that you have a story for each artist/song/album you talk about, because you were in Japan when some of them were active/released. That's really nice, because, for me, it's like a trip in time and space.

    But talking about "Cruise", what's most incredible to me is that the album was in perfect synch with what she was passing at the time. As you questioned in the post, "How much of her life was flowing into these songs? Were her collaborators aware of what was going on in her life?". I always thought about the same thing, because, as you've pointed above, Akina did not write those songs.
    In reality, I think we can't really know. The only way would be asking Akina, but it wouldn't be very pleasant to talk about those things.

    I don't listen to this album very often. To tell you the truth, I don't really like it as a whole. I enjoy some songs like "LIAR", "Close Your Eyes" and "RANBI", and that's all.

    And I can't listen to LIAR without thinking of her relation with Matchy. I tried, but I really can't.

    As always, thanks a lot for sharing your stories, feelings and thoughts in this blog!

    1. Afternoon, Bode. Thanks again for the compliment. I figured when I started this blog out that I just couldn't give out stats and the technical side of the music. The former would just be too dry and boring, and I simply can't talk about the latter competently enough. But the personal anecdotes I can supply. Obviously, the longer write-ups from me will indicate the songs that mean the most.

      As for "Cruise", it was pretty darn eerie about the timing. According to the J-Wiki writeup on the album, the main recording had been completed between April 3 and 4, 3 months before release, in New York City. So it wasn't as if the recording of these songs suddenly sparked what happened on July 11. The other surprising thing is that she was able to record all 10 songs in 24 hours!

      To date, I haven't come across any interviews in print or on TV which has her talking about the incident. Most likely she won't ever talk about it which is of course her very personal business.

      In my case, the only Japanese albums that have been getting anything close to heavy rotation are the ones by Taeko Ohnuki. I listen to Akina's "Cruise" and "Bitter and Sweet"(the latter being my favourite original album by her)once or twice a year each. "Cruise"isn't a perfect album by any means since having an entire album devoted to ennui can be somewhat draining. But it's still a significant album.

  2. Akina's performance of LIAR in Best Ten 22.06.1989 is one of those clips I find painful and heartbreaking to watch. She has lost weight, her voice is trembling, and her appearance can only be described as fragile.

    Ai wa warui yume nee.

  3. It's always heartbreaking when I see someone who's obviously in ill health trying to put on a brave face when he/she appears on TV or in person. I can't quite imagine what the hosts and the other guests must have thought when Akina appeared.

    I actually bought the 2-volume set of her photographs after she made her comeback. She was looking better but still very very thin.

  4. I have a clip of Dear Friend performance in Yoruhit (unknown date 1990) and she is still skin and bones, yes.

    I remembered another occasion when she clearly wished to be somewhere else. It was Best Ten in the week when Yukko-chan died. Akina went through Desire like a pro but seemingly reluctantly, without a single smile. In the end when Kuroyanagi spoke farewell to Yukko, Tomomi Nishimura on coach looked like a deer in headlights, not knowing at all how to relate in that situation. Akina, meanwhile, stared at floor and didn't move.

    No business like show business...

    1. It was obviously a very uncomfortable moment for all concerned. I remember watching a late night program around late 1989 or early 1990 when the host and guests (including Akiko Wada) were looking at some music retrospective.Everyone was joking and laughing but when Akina appeared and performed in the highlights, the room went deadly quiet.


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