Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Nami Shimada -- Onegai Kiss Me Again
This track is the end of an era.
Youthful innocence and purity were the requirements of 1980’s female idols. The era idolized the image of the girl from next door and preferred humour and silliness to professionalism. All this was embodied in the freshness and strict rules by Onyanko Club, founded by young Yasushi Akimoto (秋元 康). Even today seitouha (正統派,), orthodox, is the adjective that defines the idols who obey the rules and maintain an image of pure virginity, never mind how imaginary that image might be.
The most important rival to Onyanko Club, both on TV and charts, was Momoco Club. Originally a photo magazine of Gakken publishing, they followed Akimoto’s first success and created a tv show that lasted from October 1986 to September 1987. It was clear that the target of both shows were primarily boys and young men. However, Momoco Club wanted to appear as a show from girls to girls, hosted by 15-year-old Noriko Sakai (酒井 法子), who charmed female and male viewers alike with her bright personality and silly Nori-P language. To add credibility, the icon of Japanese TV entertainment, Ken Shimura (志村 けん), was involved too. His consent was required in the case member wished to appear on TV.
Nami Shimada (島田 奈美) was one of the aspiring idol singers of Momoco Club. She had a very pure and girlish appearance and a charming smile that guaranteed that her face was seen as well in TV commercials of Clearasil and Sapporo Ichiban ramen (with famous actor Takuya Fujioka 藤岡琢也). Nami Shimada never had a real hit song, but she was always present in chart shows like Top Ten and Best Ten, usually in a place 9 or 10. A fact that might give some ideas to those, who have for a long time suspected that the lowest places on chart shows were open to the highest bidder.
In Oricon single rankings Nami Shimada’s best achievements were two consecutive number 7’s. First in May 1987 with Uchiki na Cupid, a lively piece written by EPO, who penned some very successful songs to herself too. In August 1987 Pastel Blue no tameiki achieved the same position in single charts. Nami Shimada was never such a commercial success as Noriko Sakai, but she had a fan club and devoted followers, who claim even today that she is the cutest girl in the world. (Just take a look at Verne Innhel’s idollica.com – after a quick brainwash it’s difficult to disagree.) She was a perfect example of everything 1980’s wanted.
Here is Nami Shimada performing Uchiki na Cupid in Momoco Club in spring 1987 wearing those difficult and slippery high heels. The song played during talk is her first top10 song Free Balloon.
In her final recordings Nami Shimada was no more an idol singer. She had become a club beat vocalist, whose voice was distinctive and clear. Sunshower (1990) became a much played house hit thanks to remixes by Larry Levin and others. It made Nami Shimada’s name known in brand new musical circles. However, Nami was no longer around. In the last releases she didn’t even appear as Nami Shimada. She used her real name Naoko to point out that the idol career was over. This was the case with her probably last recorded song, Onegai Kiss Me Again, that was included in City Hunter ’91 anime soundtrack a year after the release of box set Farewell - Nami Memorial Best 30. Her farewell concert took place July 30, 1990.
Onegai Kiss Me Again is a beautiful tune, composed and impeccably produced by Soichi Terada (寺田 創一) with lyrics by NAOKO (yes, it’s her). The track is full of atmosphere. The synth patterns create excitement, weeping saxophone solo creates a romantic mood, and Nami’s voice is flowing over the tapestry like a cool whisper in the night of humid and hot summer city, where heart is burning even more than the air. The steamy sigh of streets is even mixed into the track after the first chorus.
This post-career release is really an epilogue to an era. 1980’s end right here with this song. The sunny and happy-go-lucky time of old fashioned idol singers was over and the storm clouds were slowly gathering over Japan. The next decade would be very different and economically much more problematic. In the course of one year all the dozens idols created by Onyanko Club or Momoco Club disappeared. (Noriko Sakai was the only exception, but that’s another story.) New idols like Super Monkeys with Namie Amuro introduced American R&B sound with rap parts and acrobatic choreography that used to be the privilege of boy groups only. Old chart shows like Best Ten closed down because it was useless and expensive to arrange modern hit music to big acoustic orchestra. Onegai Kiss Me Again was the last breath of the era of simple innocence. Keep on smiling, keep on holding. I don’t wanna say goodbye. Who else had been more suitable to nail it so brilliantly, if not Namirin.
Naoko Shimada is still around in the music business. She is a music journalist and hosted some years ago a jazz programme on Nikkei radio. Oh, and in the case you wonder: yes, she is still a very beautiful woman.