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.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Okada Yukiko - 『ザ・プレミアムベスト』

Following up on J-Canuck's great post on 岡田有希子/Okada Yukiko, I wanted to post this "Best of" entry focusing on Pony Canyon's recent 2012 singles collection entitled 『ザ・プレミアムベスト』  "The Premium Best" released on 11/21/12. April 8th will mark the 27th anniversary of her tragic death and in her memory, I wanted to write a post detailing her life and musical legacy.

Okada Yukiko was born 佐藤佳代/Sato Kayo on August 22, 1967 in Ichinomiya City in Aichi Prefecture. ユッコ's family later moved to Nagoya City where she was grew up and went to school. In elementary school, Okada loved to read, especially comic books, and she was a talented artist. From a young age, ユッコ always dreamed of being a singing idol and in her second year of Junior High School decided to enter a number of talent contests including talent agency Horipro's 「ホリプロタレントスカウトキャラバン」 "Talent Scout Campaign" and Nikon's 「フレッシュギャルコンテスト」 "Fresh Girl Contest" in which she made it to the Grand Prix finals but ultimately not winning.

She finally got her big break when in her third year of Junior High School, ユッコ secretly entered Nippon TV's famed 『スター誕生!』 "Star Tanjo!" singing contest for Nagoya City and won the regional competition. Yet when ユッコ asked her parents for permission to travel to the National Competitions in Tokyo, her parents absolutely oppossed it telling her to focus instead on her school studies. Defiant, ユッコ protested with a "hunger strike" until her parents relented. Her mother finally issued an ultimatum that if ユッコ was serious about entering the entertainment industry then she would need to be No. 1 in her class level, place in the top 5% of High School entrance examinees for the Chuo Region and pass the entrance exam for Nagoya's Koyou High School. Determined, ユッコ focused on her studies and met every requirement asked of her far surpassing her parent's expectations. Reluctantly, her parents gave her their blessing and ユッコ went to finals.

That March 1983 at the 第46回決戦大会/46th Annual National Competitions, ユッコ won the Grand Prix with her rendition of 中森明菜/Nakamori Akina's 「スローモーション. She was only 15 years old.  She was immediately recruited to join サンミュージック/Sun Music Productions agency. That August she moved to Tokyo where she roomed in an apartment with fellow singers 滝里美/Taki Satomi and 桑田靖子/Kuwata Yasuko (who would also be her classmate in High School).  Transferring from Koyou High School ユッコ entered the elite Tokyo Private School 堀越高校/Horikoshi High School where ユッコ's classmates included a who's who of young talents and future idols including 田中久美/Tanaka Kumi, 長山洋子/Nagayama Yoko, 倉沢淳美/Kurasawa Atsumi, 高部知子/Takabe Tomoko, 本田美奈子/Honda Minako, 南野陽子/Minamino Yoko, 石野陽子/Ishino Yoko, 宮崎萬純/Miyazaki Masumi, 永瀬正敏/Nagase Masatoshi, 柴田くに子/Shibata Kuniko, 岡村有希子/Okamoto Yukiko, 河上幸恵/Kawakami Yukie, 菊地陽子/Kikkuchi Yoko, 松本友里/Matsumoto Yuri, 長沢ゆりか/Nagasawa Yurika and 片岡孝太郎/Takaoka Takataro. Sun Music Productions manager 沖紘子/Oki Hiroko, who served as godmother to over 50 idols and talents for the agency acted as ユッコ's mentor, also gaving ユッコ her stage name.

Prior to her debut, ユッコ participated as a regular on a number of radio programs including 『とびだせ!ポップシティ』"Tobidase! Pop City" and 『サトミ・ヒトミ・ユキコの何かいいことないか仔猫ちゃん』 "Satomi Hitomi Yuki No Nanaka Iitonai Ka NekoChan".

On April 21, 1984, Okada debuted with her first single, ファースト・デイト」 "First Date" which was composed by New Music singer/songwriter Takeuchi Mariya. Later that same year ユッコ won "Best New Artist" on the 『第26回日本レコード大賞』 "26th Annual Japan Record Awards" as well tying with 吉川晃司/Kikkawa Koji for "Best New Artist" on TBS' 『日本歌謡大賞』 "Nihon Kayou Taisho".

In 1985, ユッコ landed the leading role in her first television drama, TBS' sci-fi teen drama 『禁じられたマリコ』 "Kinjirareta Mariko" (The Forbidden Mariko) in which ユッコ portrayed Mariko, a girl who possessing Psychic and Pyrokinesis powers and who struggled against various personal challenges and setbacks while attempting to deal with her father's criminal past. While not as complex as 工藤かずや/Kudo Kazuya and 工藤かずや/Ikegami Ryoichi's similar manga work 『舞』 "Mai (The Psychic Girl)" which debuted in 少年サンデーコミックス/"Shonen Sunday Comics" that same year, the two stories did share some similarities. As in that manga,  ユッコ's character also fought agaist other "evil" ESPers.

In January 1986, ユッコ would release her biggest hit 「くちびるNetwork」"Kuchibiru Network", written by 松田聖子/Matsuda Seiko and composed by 松田聖子/Sakamoto Ryuichi. The song was an phenomenal success and quickly reached No. 1 on the オリコン/Oricon charts.

Yet what was supposed to be a career triumph eroded in a mere few weeks. On the morning of April 8, 1986, a Sun Music Productions manager stopped by ユッコ's apartment to check in on her as he was unable to reach her by phone. When he opened the door to ユッコ's apartment, he was shocked to discover that the apartment was filled with noxious gas from a unattended gas stove. ユッコ was crouched in a closet and sobbing with her wrists slashed in a suicide attempt. She was rushed to a nearby hospital for treatment and released to  Sun Music Production's management team that same day.  Taken to Sun Music Production's main office she met with concerned staff and managers including Sun Music's President, 相澤秀禎/Aizawa Hideyoshi. While staff stepped away to discuss how to avoid a media scandal, ユッコ bolted from the office and took the stairs to the roof of the seventh floor building where she then proceeded to jump to her death. The time was 12:20 PM. She was only 18 years-old. A reporter from one of the daily news magazines happened to be at the scene to cover the initial news of ユッコ's suicide attempt and was first on the scene of her tragic death. He took the first of several infamous black-and-white photos of ユッコ's body.  

The reason for the suicide is still unknown although in the subsequent weeks wild rumors and speculations surfaced in the tabloids of a secret affair and breakup with a married and much older man. In his facinating article "The Suicide of Okada Yukiko -Japanese Youth and the Yukko Syndrome", writer William Wetherall explored another possible motive, that ユッコ may have suffered from manic-depression and had been emotionally and negatively impacted by the suicide of 17-year-old Yasuko Endo, a friend and fellow idol hopeful.  Endo jumped from the roof of a seven-story Tokyo building to her death on March 30 (just 10 days earlier) just months before she was scheduled to start her career as a singer in May.  Endo had committed suicide only minutes after a long discussion with her manager and mother about an intimate relationship she was having.

It was rumored that a detailed diary belonging to ユッコ which may shed light into her emotional state at the time is locked in a safe within Sun Music Production's office. 

Inconsolable fans crowded the site where ユッコ died and kept all-night vigils in the days after. Alters and offerings placed at the site had accumulated so much that by the 14th, they had to be moved to a nearby shrine to be burned in offering. Fans also converged at her family's home in Nagoya to pay their respects.

Her untimely death resulted in many copycat suicides in Japan in the days to follow beginning with the suicide death of 16-year-old Pak (Matsubara) Migi who leapt to her death from the 13th floor of an apartment building in Kobe after purportedly telling her younger sister "I want to become like Okada Yukiko." 21-year-old Masahiro Majima, the last of the 10 clearly "related" suicides which were sensationalized in the media as "ユッコ シンドローム", jumped from the same Sun Music Production office building as ユッコ months later.

In just two years ユッコ had released eight singles and six albums and was well on her way to becoming one of the most popular idols ever (many compared her to 松田聖子/Matsuda Seiko). Canyon Records postponed the release of a ninth single "Hana No Image" that was to have been released that April 14, in deference to popular sentiments that its sale could induce more suicides. 「花のイマージュ」"Hana No Image" was eventually released nearly 16 years later.

『ザ・プレミアムベスト』 "The Premium Best" chronicles all of ユッコ's single releases from her debut single "First Date" to her post posthumously release "Hana No Image" to some of her B-Side songs like "Koibito Tachi No Calendar". Unlike her 2002's All Songs Request, this collection has all of her singles.

Here is the tracklist:

1. ファースト・デイト    
2. そよ風はペパーミント    
3. リトル プリンセス    
4. 恋のダブルス    
5. -Dreaming Girl-恋、はじめまして    
6. 気まぐれTeenage Love    
7. 二人だけのセレモニー    
9. Summer Beach    
10. 星と夜と恋人たち    
11. 哀しい予感    
12. 恋人たちのカレンダー    
13. Love Fair    
14. 二人のブルー・トレイン    
15. くちびるNetwork
16. 恋のエチュード    
17. 花のイマージュ    
18. Believe In You (2003 Strings Version)    

1. ファースト・デイト (オリジナルカラオケ)    
2. そよ風はペパーミント (オリジナルカラオケ)    
3. リトル プリンセス (オリジナルカラオケ)    
4. 恋のダブルス (オリジナルカラオケ)    
5. -Dreaming Girl-恋、はじめまして (オリジナルカラオケ)    
6. 気まぐれTeenage Love (オリジナルカラオケ)
7. 二人だけのセレモニー (オリジナルカラオケ)    
8. PRIVATE RED (オリジナルカラオケ)    
9. Summer Beach (オリジナルカラオケ)    
10. 星と夜と恋人たち (オリジナルカラオケ)    
11. 哀しい予感 (オリジナルカラオケ)    
12. 恋人たちのカレンダー (オリジナルカラオケ)    
13. Love Fair (オリジナルカラオケ)    
14. 二人のブルー・トレイン (オリジナルカラオケ)    
15. くちびるNetwork (オリジナルカラオケ)    
16. 恋のエチュード (オリジナルカラオケ)
17. 花のイマージュ (オリジナルカラオケ)    
18. Believe In You (2003 Strings Version) (オリジナルカラオケ)    

J-Canuck has already covered 「くちびるNetwork」, ロンサム・シーズン and ―Dreaming Girl― 恋、はじめまして in previous posts so I'll focus on some of her other hits.

「哀しい予感」 (which is inexplicably missing from "All Songs Request") is perhaps my second favorite song next to 「くちびるNetwork」. Written by 竹内まりや/Takeuchi Mariya and composed/arranged by the great 松任谷正隆/Matsutoya Masataka (Yuming's Husband) this single has a much more somber tone than 「くちびるNetwork」 and its lovesick lyrics really resonates sadness and longing. It seemed to eerily foreshadow the turmoil that would befall ユッコ in the months leading to her death. It was another Top 10 hit for her ranking in at No. 7 on the オリコン charts.

「Love Fair」 is an up-tempo song with somewhat haunting lyrics. Written by かしぶち哲郎/Kashibuchi Tetsuro and arranged again by 松任谷正隆, 「Love Fair」 was used as the image song for グリコ's 「恋セシルチョコレート」 campaign. In the CM, ユッコ is smiling amid a field of flowers eating Cecil Chocolates while her voice narrates - 「恋 を 捜せます 花少女 C-E-C-I-L」. グリコ would use a number of ユッコ's songs as their campaign CM songs including 「ファースト・デイト」, 「Dreaming Girl」 and 「Summer Beach」.  It did fairly well on the charts reaching No. 5 on オリコン.

 「花のイマージュ」 was to be ユッコ's 9th single release after 「くちびるNetwork」 and was in the final stages of being prepared for its 5/14/86 release (the track had been finalized and the album cover had already been done). After ユッコ's tragic death, its release was cancelled and Pony Canyon refused to allow the song to be played (one station did manage to play an advance copy of the song once ironically the day before ユッコ's death).

Over the subsequent years, a number of fans had signed petitions requesting the song be released as "Yukko's Final Single". Among those who joined the call for its release included close friend and fellow idol 荻野目洋子, ユッコ's manager 溝口伸郎/Mizoguchi Nobuo and ビートたけし's apprentices in the たけし軍団. After 12 years, the single was finally released on 3/17/99 as part of ユッコ's 『メモリアルBOX』 set. Written/produced and arranged by かしぶち哲郎, it definitely had the potential to be being another hit for ユッコ. The B-Side for the single was to have been 秘密のシンフォ ニー (which was also included in the "Memorial Box" but is sadly missing from this Premium set). 

For ユッコ purists, the limited addition, 4 CD set 『メモリアルBOX』 may prove to be a better choice as it also features a number or ユッコ's other lesser known songs including  「WONDER TRIP LOVER」「愛…illusion」, 「ヴィーナス誕生」 and 「眠れぬ夜のAQUARIUS」 (all featured on the 3rd disc). However it is currently listed as OOP and may be hard to find making this 『ザ・プレミアムベスト』 the next best compilation in my opinion.

ユッコ was blessed with gifted talent but also suffered with inner demons that eventually took their toll on her. She passed away well before her time but thankfully her music lives on and will continue to live on hopefully winning new generations of fans.
August 22, 1967 - April 8, 1986


  1. There are still many rumours around about what happened. Some people claim the unfortunate love affair was with Yukko-chans manager who had no intention to divorce. As recently as some years ago there was floating around on web a video clip of actor Toru Minegishi's press conference held in the evening of Yukko-chan's death. In the beginning of video there was a claim that if you watch closely, you can tell Minegishi is lying. I am sure there are even more theories. And all that means nothing because it changes nothing.

    I have always wondered might the whole concept of idol life play any part here. So many young people want to become top stars, and when it finally happens, they often realize it's not at all what they really wanted. That has happened so many times.

    Some years ago I tried to find out Kinjirareta Mariko, but it seems it has never been rerun on TV since 1985.

  2. *27th Anniversary of Okada Yukiko's Passing*

    Dear Yukko: You May 'Be Gone' But Never Forgotten!

    ~*~ Yukko-chan... Arigato! ~*~

    Just a Rose From Me to Her... @}-'-,--

    Best Wishes.

  3. I think it's not only a pity that this young lady felt so terrible that she felt that she had to take her own life but also that a number of others decided to follow suit.

    Unfortunately, we'll never know for sure why she decided to commit suicide, but at the very least, in her brief time in the limelight, she was able to leave a small but lasting legacy in music.

  4. JTM, thanks very much for putting up this comprehensive article on the life and times of Ms. Okada. 27 much time has gone by, but her music still seems to have had quite a hold on a lot of people.


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