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, October 2, 2013

Naoko Ken/Southern All Stars -- Natsu wo Akiramete (夏をあきらめて)

I often took photographs within the schools I'd taught at....candid, slice-of-life stuff of the students having fun since I preferred those over the usual composed, "look-at-the-birdie" shots. When I showed one photo to the kids, they all laughed at one girl in the picture (as did the girl herself) since she was draped on the lounge sofa with her head on one arm of the couch looking resolutely sleepy. They all called her "ennui"....just like the French word for "boredom". But of course, when the Japanese take a "gairaigo" (foreign loan word), it takes on a certain nuance. "Ennui" in Japanese takes on a more studied meaning as in a person who has more money than he/she knows what to do with saying something like "Oh, bother....I am so consumed with tedium here on my chaise longue in the Hamptons. I should really go out and get some air. Oh, Jarvis! Hail the jet....I'll be having dim sum for dinner tonight in Hong Kong."

Uh, yeah. Anyways, whenever I hear "Natsu wo Akiramete" (Giving Up On The Summer) by Naoko Ken(研ナオコ), I get that Japanese air of ennui. The song was written and composed by Keisuke Kuwata(桑田佳佑)of Southern All Stars (who provided hits as well for other singers at that time such as Mizue Takada and Masatoshi Nakamura), and Ken did her own cover of the originally SAS-sung song in September 1982. I guess it is the world-weary way that Ken sings it along with the sophisti-pop arrangement that has brought me to think of it in those French terms. And Kuwata's lyrics relate a mood of the melancholy ending of the hot season as I imagine the protagonist looking out the window of his/her hotel room and seeing the ominous clouds rolling in from the sea and assuming the end of some romance somewhere on the beach.

Naoko Ken, who hails from Shizuoka Prefecture, has been a staple not only on the music shows but also on the variety programs as well as a tarento and comedienne. In fact, I know her more as Japan's tomboyish-looking version of Carol Burnett coming up with a smart remark or completely bumbling around in physical comedy, notably with the notorious Ken Shimura(志村けん) from The Drifters. She debuted all the way back in 1971 but had her first big hit, "Guzu"愚図) in 1975, thanks to songwriters Ryudo Ozaki and Yoko Aki(宇崎竜童・阿木耀子), and then her biggest one with the Miyuki Nakajima(中島みゆき)-penned "Abayo"(あばよ) the following year.

"Natsu wo Akiramete" was Ken's 29th single which earned her a high place on the Oricon weeklies, reaching as high as No. 5. It also received a number of awards, including the Gold Prize at the 1982 Japan Record Awards, and an invitation onto the Kohaku Utagassen. In fact, that is where I first heard the song; it was kinda weird seeing Ken singing rather seriously on stage. On the yearly rankings, the song was ranked at No. 74 in 1982, but actually finished 1983 at No. 68.

As I mentioned above, the original version was sung by Kuwata....not as a single but as a track on Southern All Stars' 5th album, "Nude Man" which was released in July 1982. I had never heard Kuwata's version but it sounds less ennui-laden than the Ken cover and comes across to me as a straight-up pop ballad. In the lyrics, there is a shout-out to a hotel from his hometown of Chigasaki in Kanagawa Prefecture. In the 2nd verse, there is a reference to the "Pacific Hotel" which was actually The Pacific Park Chigasaki, a hotel that had been in operation from 1965 to 1988 and was once run by the father-son tandem of actors Ken Uehara and Yuzo Kayama. Sadly, the hotel was left to basically rot since its closing until its final teardown a decade later. Currently, an expensive condominium complex known as Pacific Garden now exists on the old site.

1 comment:

  1. I wanted to post this video somewhere, but I can't find a better place. Since this post mentions Yoko Aki and Ryudo Uzaki, it can go here. It's another Aki/Uzaki song sung by Naoko, Tokyo Mikaeri Bijin, performed in the 1986 Koharu. She's presented by Yuki Saito (as were all female performers that year), but it's the backing dancers who appear halfway through who steal the show. And what a distinguished troupe it is.


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