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 20, 2013

Follow-up - Kome Kome Club - 「君がいるだけで」/Kimi Ga Irudake De - Theme Song to 『素顔のままで』/Sugao No Mama De

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Fuji TV's 『素顔のままで』/"Sugao No Mama De" (1992) is one of the quintessential "Trendy Dramas" of the 90s. With its infectious title song, its amiable and cute lead stars and its bittersweet story of a friendship that spans the course of several years, it garnered huge viewership ratings when it debuted in early 1992 and has since gone on to become one of the most beloved Japanese dramas of all time. "Sugao No Mama De" not only made a star of its young lead 安田成美/Yasuda Narumi but also revitalized the waning career of 80s J-Pop idol and singing diva 中森明菜/Nakamori Akina after tabloid scandal and a suicide attempt in 1989 nearly ended her successful career.    

In his invaluable reference guide "The Dorama Encyclopedia" (2003) author Jonathan Clements notes that the series seems to borrow quite a bit from the sentimental, tear-jerker "Chick Flick" "Beaches" (1988) starring the "The Divine Miss M" Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey (something that J-Canuck also picked up on in his post on Kome Kome Club - 「君がいるだけで」/"Kimi Ga Irudake De").  

As in "Beaches", the story of "Sugao No Mama De" revolves around the deep friendship between two very different woman, the conservative and somewhat withdrawn 香坂優美子/Kosaka Yumiko (portrayed by Yasuda Narumi and similar to the Barbara Hershey role) and the feisty, vivacious and emotionally sensitive 月島カンナ/Tsukishima Kana (portrayed by Nakamori Akina and similar to the Bette Midler role).  The two could not be more opposite in personality yet they somehow are able to put aside their differences to become the very best of friends.

Odd Couple - Yumiko (Yasuda Narumi) and Kana (Nakamori Akina)
As the elaborate and inventive Opening Credit Sequence details, both Yumiko and Kana have had very troubled and tragic pasts.  Although Yumiko comes from a privileged and wealthy family in Ashiyashi near Kobe, she has had to deal with two heart-crushing events in her early years - the death of her mother while still a little girl and the decision to abort her baby while still a student in high school.  This gut-wrenching decision has haunted Kana ever since (she had wanted to go through with the birth) and has made very sheltered and shy and she was complacent to live a lonely and uneventful life as a librarian at a local Tokyo library.  On the other hand, rebellious Kana has always wanted to find her true love. After being abandoned by her mother while still a child, she was neglected and abused by her stepmother while growing up. In High School she met her best friend 沢田卓郎/Sawada Takuro (的場浩司/Matoba Koji) and together they were part of a High School "Bousouzoku" gang that caused no end of trouble.  Yet despite Kana's spunky and rough-and-tumble outward personality, she always had deep romantic longing. While Takuro had always loved her from afar, Kana would seem to always fall for those who would break her heart such as her School's High School Soccer Star.  Kana would eventually leave High School midway to pursue her dreams of becoming a dancer (shades of the iconic 80s film "Flashdance") and would find an artistic kindred spirit in fledgling dance coordinator and writer 村上一也/Murakami Kazuya (幹久/Azusa Mikihisa). Although Kana is deep in love with Kazuya, Kazuya unfortunately only thinks of Kana as a close friend. 

In typical melodramatic fashion, Yumiko and Kana's friendship is tested when Kazuya falls in love with Yumiko which incurs the jealous wrath of Kana.  While Kana eventually comes to terms with and accepts Yumiko and Kazuya's relationship, tragedy strikes yet again and Yumiko and Kana are forced to deal with Yumiko's terminal illness and Yumiko's decision to proceed with the birth of her baby with Kazuya.  

Love Triangle - Kana (Nakamori Akina), Kazuya (Azusa Mikihisa) and Yumiko (Yasuda Narumi) along with "Chibi" the dog.
北川悦吏子/Kitagawa Eriko, who is credited with the screenplay for "Sugao No Mama De", is perhaps one of the most successful screenwriters in Japan during the 90s and early 2000s. She has written the screenplays for some of the most successful and best romantic Japanese dramas such as 『ロングバケーション』/"Long Vacation" (1996), 『ビューティフルライフ』/"Beautiful Life" (2000), and 『オレンジデイズ』/"Orange Days" (2004).  Kitagawa started out as a copywriter for an advertising firm after graduating from Keio University. After a series of other odd jobs, Kitagawa was able to get a production assistant job with the famed Daiei Studios. There she also worked writing the plots and scenarios for various TV drama projects. She also wrote the screenplays for several episodes of the Fuji TV Mystery/Suspense anthology series 『世にも奇妙な物語』/"Yonimo Kimyona Monogatari" (1991). Amazingly "Sugao No Mama De" was her debut as lead writer for a drama series and was both a hit among audiences and critics alike. 

"Queen of J-Drama" Writer Kitagawa Eriko - Coutesy of her Official Blog -
安田成美/Yasuda Narumi entered show business while still in High School when she was scouted by talent agents in 1981. She appeared in various CMs for such companies such as Kao Beauty Products and had bit roles in a couple of dramas but oddly enough her first big break was as a singer when she was selected to sing the title song for 宮﨑駿/Miyazaki Hayao's 『のナウシカ』 AKA "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" (which was used for the trailers and promotional purposes but not used in the actual Anime film).  After "Sugao No Mama De", Yasuda would go on to star in a few other TV Series and movies over the subsequent years such as in NHK's 1994 drama series 『春よ、来い』/"Haru Yo Koi" but she wouldn't obtain the same success as some of her peers such as 鈴木保奈美/Suzuki Honami.  Ironically, Yasuda would go on the marry 木梨憲武/Kinashi Noritake, the other half of popular 80s comedy/singing duo とんねるず/The Tunnels of which partner 石橋貴明/Ishibashi Takaaki was married to Suzuki.

Cute Yasuda Narumi - Image courtesy of
中森明菜/Nakamori Akina certainly deserves a separate post devoted to just her as she is perhaps one of the most influential and successful J-Pop idols of the 80s and has had a remarkable career producing numerous top selling Oricon hits, most of which have hit No. 1.  Nakamori's rise to fame began when she was only 16 years old, when she appeared on Nihon TV's influential 80s music program 『スター誕生!』/"Star Tanjou". Talent Scouts immediately signed the pretty singer with the power vocals up to a record contract with Warner Music Japan. Her debut single 「スローモーション」/"Slow Motion" (1982) would become the first of many hits of which which include 「少女A」/"Shojou A" (1982), 「セカンド・ラブ」/"Second Love" (1982), 「禁区」/"Kinku" (1983), 「北ウイング」/"Kita Wing" (1984), 「飾りじゃないのよ涙は」/"Kazari Ja Nai No Yo Namida Wa" (1984), 「ミ・アモーレ」/"Meu amor é・・・" (1985) and 「DESIRE -情熱-」 (1986) to name but a few.  Akina would win the coveted "Grand Prix" award for the later two songs becoming the youngest artist to win those awards for two consecutive years. Many of her later songs including  「SOLITUDE」(1985),  「SAND BEIGE -砂漠へ-」(1985), 「TANGO NOIR」 (1987), 「BLONDE」(1987), 「難破船」/"Nanpasen" (1987), 「AL-MAUJ (アルマージ)」 (1988),  「TATTOO」 (1988) and 「I MISSED "THE SHOCK"」(1988) would not only display the versatility of her song choices and musical influences (Latin, European, Jazz, Middle Eastern, Rock) but her accompanying live performances would also show off her dramatic and flamboyant fashion sense. and flair for the dramatic.  Akina would even attempt to release a song for the American charts with "Cross My Palm" (1987) but it would prove to be one of her few and rare missteps.

Like iconic 70s singer 山口百恵/Yamaguchi Momoe, Akina's powerful and empowering vocals had a raw, strongly defiant and rebellious tone even when most of her songs talked of sad breakups and lost love. Yet in most personal interviews she seemed very much private and almost fragile. Akina's personal life would become tabloid fodder when she would be involved in a very public romantic breakup with longtime boyfriend and fellow former teen idol 近藤真彦/Kondo Masahiko in 1989.  Tabloids would later report a suicide attempt by Akina after Kondo would cancel their pending engagement.

Shojou 'A' (Akina) - Nakamori Akina- Image courtesy of
It would not be until later in 1990 before Akina would return to the spotlight with the song 「Dear Friend」(1990) which was a surprisingly optimistic and positive song.  Her appearance in the drama "Sugao No Mama De" would be an attempt to redefine and repair her tarnished career, following the lead of other J-Pop idol/singers who ventured into acting as a second career like 菊池桃子/Kikuchi Momoko, 小泉今日子/Koizumi Kyoko, 中山美穂/Nakayama Miho, 斉藤由貴/Saito Yuki, 南野陽子/Minamino Yoko and 松田聖子/Matsuda Seiko.  In fact Akina would often be rumored to be in a contentious professional rivalry with Seiko.  

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The character of Kana wasn't much of a huge stretch for Akina (being both a fashion trend setter and an entertainer/dancer).  While I wasn't all too convinced of Akina being a former "yankee"/Sukeban (she seemed more like a "Harajuku" street performer) but her persona seemed to be very much an extension of Akina's brash and gutsy vocal personality.

Narumi and Akina have a great onscreen chemistry and they seem to be genuinely affectionate towards each other.  I love Narumi's performance in particular. She really gave an enchanting performance (I especially loved seeing Narumi's cute pouting face which was absolutely adorable).

The subtitle 「JUST THE WAY WE ARE」was indeed inspired by Billy Joel's signature 1977 class "Just The Way You Are" which was a favorite of writer Kitagawa and whose lyrics seemed to fit with the drama (in the drama, the title "Sugao No Mama De - Just They Way We Are" was used for Yumiko's final children's book which gave a fantasy account of her relationship with Kana).

Confusingly, the title 「君がいるだけで」 is also used as the Japanese movie title for the 1996 Andrew Bergman erotic comedy "Striptease" which famously starred Demi Moore as a FBI Secretary who moonlights as a stripper to pay the court fees to get back custody for her daughter from her estranged husband.

Image courtesy of

J-Canuck has already covered Kome Kome Club's 「君がいるだけで」/"Kimi Ga Irudake De" in his excellent post on the song, but I wanted to just add some additional commentary.

"Kimi Ga Irudake De" is perhaps one of the all-time best J-Dorama theme songs. It's cheery lyrics, catchy hook and K2C frontman 石井竜也/Ishii Tatsuya AKA カールスモーキー石井/Carl Smokey Ishii's amazingly dynamic and powerful vocals make this song an all-time classic.  

Kome Kome Club were first formed in 1979-1981 by Art College classmates Ishii Tatsuya, Onoda Yasuhide, Okubo Kansaku and Tokuno Ritsuo. Ishii had aspirations of being a painter and was also studying art history. His great fashion and art sense gave him a keen eye for style and composition and he often was asked to help evaluate and critique other student's works. They were all part of the school's film society 「A-Ken」 and it was there that they first came up with the idea of forming a performance/parody band.  Onoda was a huge fan of the American New Wave Band and Talking Heads side project "Tom Tom Club" (formed by husband and wife duo of Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz) and wanted to come up with a name in homage to them.  While initially they came up with the name "Come Come Club", they eventually refined it to the 「クラブ」 which eventually was written out as 「CLUB」. 

The inital lineup comprised of Ishii and Onoda on vocals with Okubo on Bass and Ritsuo on Guitar. They played mostly parodies and covers of various other artist's songs. They recorded a demo tape to distribute to various record companies but did not get much interest from it. After graduating from college in 1982, the four friends went off their separate ways (Onoda went off to find work and Ishii did occasional street performances).  It would be later that year that the four would reunite again to perform for various colleges and small venues as CLUB.  It was Ishii's idea to incorporate "Edo Yakugou" elements into their styling and music which would explain a lot of the double-meanings and comical word play that would eventually become their signature schtick. 

They would recruit additional members for the group (including Ishii's younger sister Minako) and the line up would swell to over a dozen members. As part of their "performance band" roots, the various members would adopt colorful and flamboyant stage persona. Onoda in particular would don elaborate "Kabuki" inspired face makeup and costuming during his stage performances.

Kome Kome Club - Then and Now - Images courtesy of  &

The main core of the group comprised of:

小野田安秀/Onoda Yasuhide AKA  ジェームス小野田/"James Onoda" - Vocals, Chorus, Guitar

石井竜也/Ishii Tatsuya AKA  カールスモーキー石井/"Carl Smokey Ishii" - Main Vocals, Chorus

大久保謙作/Okubo Kensaku AKA "BON" - Bandleader, Bass

得能律郎/Tokuno Ritsuo AKA  ジョプリン得能/"Choplin Tokuno" - Guitar, Keyboards   

林部直樹/Hayashibe Naoki AKA "Be" - Guitar

坂口良治/Sakaguchi Ryoji AKA "RYO-J" - Drums

BIG HORNS BEE - Horns/Supporting Instrument Section金子隆博/Kaneko Takahiro AKA フラッシュ金子/"Flash Kaneko" -Keyboard, Sax, Flute, Shamisen

河合伸哉/Kawaii Shinya AKA 河合わかば/"Kawaii Wakaba" - Trombone, Sax 

織田浩司/Oda Koji AKA 織田ノボッタ/"Oda Nobota"  - Alto Sax 

小林太/Kobayashi Takahiro AKA   フッシー小林/"Fish Kobayashi" - Trumpet

佐々木史郎/ Sasaki Shiro  AKA シローブラッキー/"Shiro Blackie" - Trumpet
SUE CREAM SUE - Chorus/Backup Dancers

天ヶ谷真利/Amagaya Mari AKA "Suzie Sue・MARI"  - Percussion, Vocals

金子美奈子/Kaneko Minako AKA "Suzie Sue・MINAKO" - Dancer, Vocals

Former members would include guitarist 坂本琢司/Sakamoto Takuji AKA 博多めぐみ/"Hakata Megumi" (Sakamoto in drag); Percussionist 丸山龍男/Maruyama Tatsuo AKA マル/"Maru"; Dancer 松井聡美/Matsui Satomi AKA Sweet Sue・サトミ/"Satomi" and Trumpet player 下神竜哉/Shimotsuwa Tatsuya AKA ヒマラヤン下神/"Himalayan Shimotsuwa".
Their unique musical style seemed to draw from many different genres - New Romantic, Ska, Pop, New Wave and Big Band among others.

Their first single was the 1985 song  「I CAN BE」 (a play on the Japanese term あっかんべー) and it would be a moderate hit.  They would soon follow up with a number of subsequent singles which would showcase their unique blend of tongue-in-cheek humorous lyrics, elaborate theatrics, New Wave aspects, funky pop beats and big band/ska influences.  Their other hits would include Shake Hip! 」(1986), Paradise 」(1987), 「Sûre Danse 」(1987), 「KOME KOME WAR」 (1988), FUNK FUJIYAMA」 (1989) and 浪漫飛行」/"Romanhiko" (1990).

"Kimi Ga Irudake De" would be Kome Kome Club's most conventional single and would also be their top selling single up until that point. It is a straightforward love song that proved to critics and audiences that Kome Kome Club wasn't just a "one trick pony" performance band and that were capable of producing touching and sentimental love songs as well.

There have been a number of covers for this song including versions by SOTTE BOSSE (2007),  プッチモニV/Puchi Moni V (2009),  島谷ひとみ/Shimatani Hitomi (2010), aiko (2013), Psycho le Cemu, among others but my favorite has to be by all-girl R&B/Hip Hop Dance Unit trio YA-KYIM which did a pretty nice cover of the song (2008) that samples Ishii's distinct refrain and is a nice compliment to the original.

"Sugao No Mama De" is yet another iconic 90s drama that has been denied a DVD or Blu-Ray release. Perhaps it has to do with licensing issues but it is a shame that this great drama can't be enjoyed by new generations of drama watchers.  "Sugao No Mama De" has however been rebroadcast recently in 2012 on the satellite channel BSフジ.

I really enjoyed revisiting this series for this post and really appreciated Kitagawa's touching tale of friendship.  It is a refreshing and nice change from the dark, brooding and cynical dramas of Nojima Shinji (and Akina and Narumi are so darn captivating).


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