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, November 17, 2013

Follow-up - Kubota Toshinobu - 「LA・LA・LA LOVE SONG」 - Theme to 『ロングバケーション』/Long Vacation

2012 Released DVD Set Cover - Image courtesy of
Fuji TV's  hugely popular 1996 "Trendy Drama" series 『ロングバケーション』/"Long Vacation" AKA 「ロンバケ」 is perhaps one of the mostly fondly remembered and beloved of the 90s TV romance dramas, ranking alongside 『東京ラブストーリー』/"Tokyo Love Story" (1991) and 『101回目のプロポーズ』/"Hyaku Ikai Me No Propose" (1991).

"Long Vacation" was another hit for prolific screenwriter 北川悦吏子/Kitagawa Eriko following the successes of her earlier works such as 『素顔のままで』/"Sugao No Mama De" (1992) and 『愛していると言ってくれ』/"Aishiteru To Ittekure" (1995). Kitagawa would later go on to write the screenplays for other hit dramas including 『最後の恋』/"Saigo No Koi" (1997) and the landmark 『ビューティフルライフ』/"Beautiful Life" (2000).

Image courtesy of
The drama follows the life of 葉山南/Hayama Minami (her character often joked that her parents named her after the famed Enka singer 三波春夫/Minami Haruo), a country bumpkin from Yoshikawa, Saitama who had won a regional beauty contest in her teens and which led to a short-lived career as a swimsuit model. With her career in a bit of a downturn as she reaches her thirties (she often lost out on modeling assignments to much younger, high school-aged models) she decides to marry her longtime boyfriend Asakura. However when he inexplicably jilts her at the alter on the day of their wedding, a furious Minami (Yamaguchi Tomoko) decides to confront her former lover at the apartment he shared with another roommate, 24 year-old Sena Hidetoshi (Kimura Takuya). However when she goes to the apartment, Sena is unable to tell her where he has gone.  To make matters worse Minami had entrusted Asakura with most of her savings and is unable to pay the rent for her own apartment. With nowhere else to go, she reluctantly asks to move in with Sena (much to his chagrin and protests). Sena and Minami become roommates and thus begins a love/hate relationship between the two.  Their blooming romance is made complicated by the appearance of Minami's estranged younger brother Shinji (Takenouchi Yutaka), a playboy lothario who had recently hooked up with a young runaway, Himura Ryumiko (Ryo) he had met at the Horse Racing tracks and who is hopelessly in love with him.  Sena's life is also in a bit of a rut as he had aspirations of being a concert pianist but with his self-consciousness and lack of confidence in his skills, he had resigned himself to being just a piano teacher at a local kid's music school.  He has always loved his fellow music school graduate Okuzawa Ryoko (Matsu Takako) but was too shy to confess his feelings to her. The title refers to a comment Sena makes to Minami regarding her situation and says that perhaps their recent problems with their careers is a turning point in their lives and is God's way of saying that they should take a break from life and take "a long vacation" in order to find themselves again.

First Kiss - Sena (Kimura Takuya) and Minami (Yamaguchi Tomoko) - Image courtesy of
While "Long Vacation's" charming tale of the "roller coaster" romance between a brash 31 year-old former gravure model and a much younger struggling concert pianist certainly touched the hearts of Japanese audiences, it was its attractive and comely ensemble cast which really caught the most attention of viewers.  

"Long Vacation" was 木村拓哉/Kimura Takuya's (AKA Kimutaku) first leading role in a drama series (he had previously starred in a two minor dramas before "Long Vacation") and his role as the shy and self-conscious musician 瀬名秀俊/Sena Hidetoshi, catapulted the former "Johnny's idol" and SMAP group member into the spotlight, making him not only a household name and heartthrob among teen girls and young women everywhere but would also make him a major breakout drama and film star. He would go on to star in a number of hit dramas thereafter including ラブジェネレーション』/"Love Generation" (1997), 『ビューティフルライフ』/"Beautiful Life" (2000), 『HERO』(2001), and 『GOOD LUCK!!』(2003) among others.  With his dashing and youthful looks, tall slim frame and trademark rebel attitude he would frequently be ranked among the Top 10 of all-time favorite actor lists and would also win numerous other popular social awards such as the Annual "Best Jeanist" award. At age 40, he looks just as youthful as he did in "Long Vacation" and is still a major TV star.  He is currently starring along singer/actress 柴咲コウ/Shibasaki Kou in the "Terminator"-inspired Sci-Fi action/love comedy 『安堂ロイド〜A.I. knows LOVE?〜』(2013).  

Minami (Yamaguchi Tomoko) and Sena (Kimura Takuya) at their favorite ramen hangout
Leggy former model 山口智子/Yamaguchi Tomoko reminds me a lot of current TV drama star 米倉涼子/Yonekura Ryoko as they share a similar type of comical, tough girl on-screen persona.  Yamaguchi first gained fame as a swimsuit model and campaign girl for such companies as Asahi Beer. Later, she branched out to appearing in CMs and was eventually given her big break as an actor when she was selected to be the heroine in NHK's 1988 family drama series 『純ちゃんの応援歌』/"Jun Chan No Oh Enka". From there she appeared in a number of other early 90s family dramas such as 『ダブル・キッチン』/"Double Kitchen" (1993) and スウィート・ホーム』/"Sweet Home" (1994) usally playing young wife roles  Similar to her previous drama series 『29歳のクリスマス』/"Nijyu Kyuusai No Christmas" (1994), Yamaguchi's role in "Long Vacation" was another older character who was at a critical turning point in her career and love life. During the course of filming "Long Vacation", Yamaguchi who at 170 cm (5.8 Ft) and is already tall to begin with asked to wear high heels to increase her height even more so that she would be able to match Kimura's height at 176 cm (5.9 - 5.10 Ft) as she felt it was important to show the two as being equal in height.
Don't Worry - Outside their shared apartment in Tokyo - Image courtesy of
Before "Long Vacation", 竹野内豊/Takenouchi Yutaka was already making a name for himself as a male fashion model (Takenouchi began his modeling career after being encouraged and promoted by his mother and elder sister who both had previous experience in the magazine business). When his modeling career stalled in the early 90s, Takenouchi transitioned into acting and got his big break in the sentimental and tearful, love drama 星の金貨 AKA "Die Sterntaler"/"Heaven's Coins" (1995) portraying Takumi one of 酒井法子/Sakai Noriko's Aya's love interests. His performance as playboy 葉山真二/Hayama Shinji in "Long Vacation", led to him to star in a string of other popular dramas including ビーチボーイズ/"Beach Boys" (1997), 世紀末の詩 AKA "Last Song", 氷の世界/"Kouri No Sekai" (1999) and BOSS (2009). Like Kimutaku, Takenouchi was also quite popular with female audiences and frequently played upon his rough-and-tumble/bad-boy image by sporting facial hair, riding motorcycles and chain smoking cigarettes. He was most recently seen starring along with popular actress 上戸彩/Ueto Aya in the tearful drama 流れ星/"Nagareboshi" (2010) and with former Takarazuka star 天海祐希/Amami Yuki in action/comedy series BOSS 2 (2011).

Sibling Rivalry - Shinji (Takenouchi Yutaka) and Minami (Yamaguchi Tomoko)

松たか子/Matsu Takako is from a prestigious traditional Japanese Buyo (Japanese Theatrical Dance ) family with her father, uncle and elder brother all being famous Kabuki stage actors. Matsu (who took her stage name to honor her family's Buyo House) debuted as an actress at age 16 in 1993 taking parts in Japanese theatre. Her first TV role came a year later when she appeared in the NHK Taiga drama 花の乱/"Hana No Ran". "Long Vacation" was her first major role and her likeable portrayal of 奥沢涼子/Okuzawa Ryoko led not only to other roles in popular drama series such as ひとつ屋根の下2 (1997) but also began her longstanding partnership with fellow castmate Kimutaku. They would play an onscreen couple twice more, first in ラブジェネレーション/"Love Generation" (1997) and later in the hugely popular drama HERO(2001). In subsequent years, Matsu would be voted by fans as one of the most popular drama actresses. An accomplished singer, Matsu would also release several music CD albums and singles.

Part-Time Lovers - Ryoko (Matsu Takako) and Sena (Kimura Takuya)

Model and actress 稲森いずみ/Inamori Izumi has had an interesting upbringing. Born and raised in Kagoshima prefecture, Inamori studied abroad after graduating from high school. At her Aunt's urging, she studied English at a school in Arlington, TX (just outside of Dallas) for a year and a half. After finishing up her ESL courses there, she returned to Japan to pursue her dream of becoming a model. With her alluring looks, tall thin frame and newly acquired English proficiency, she was signed by the prestigious Blooming Agency and did modeling work primarily in the Kagoshima area.  While modeling she was asked to appear in a number of TV variety programs and it was during these appearances that she was approached by talent agents with the famed Burning Productions Talent Agency (who represented other talents/stars such as 小泉今日子/Koizumi Kyoko, 郷ひろみ/Go Hiromi, 小柳ゆき/Koyanagi Miyuki and 藤あや子/Fuji Ayako).  Inamori soon transitioned to acting and had previously appeared with fellow model and castmate Yamaguchi in 『29歳のクリスマス』/"Nijyu Kyuusai No Christmas" (1994). Inamori certainly steals the show in "Long Vacation" as the ditzy but absolutely adorable 小石川桃子/Koshikawa Momoko, best friend of Yamaguchi's Minami character. Her cute and fun role is in stark contrast to some of her later roles in dramas such as ビーチボーイズ/"Beach Boys" (1997) and the live-action movie adaptation of the popular 80s manga CAT'S EYE』(1997) where she portrayed lead heroine Kitsugi Hitomi.

Best Friends - Minami (Yamaguchi Tomoko) and Momoko (Inamori Izumi)

The enigmatic りょう/Ryo (real name 宮田ゆみ子/Miyata Yumiko) has previously worked as a model and appeared in numerous magazine ad campaigns and CMs. "Long Vacation" was her first foray into acting and she does a pretty amiable job portraying 氷室ルミ子/Himuro Rumiko. With her cryptic name and exotic looks, she certainly stood out among the beautiful cast and captured a lot of attention in her role. However, unlike her castmates, Ryo choose to not ride the fame and success that came from "Long Vacation" opting to continue her work in modeling and CMs, not really appearing that many dramas in the subsequent years after. While she did appear in small roles in such films as CASSHERN』(2004) and GOEMON』(2009) she has stayed pretty much low key. Like Matsu, Ryo has also released ventured into music and released a few singles.

Troubled Lovers - Rumiko (Ryo) and Shinji (Takenouchi Yutaka)

As with 東京ラブストーリー』/"Tokyo Love Story", "Long Vacation" certainly benefits from its choice of theme song with the very catchy tune 「LA・LA・LA LOVE SONG」

As J-Canuck mentions in his informative Dec 2012 post for the song, 「LA・LA・LA LOVE SONG」 was a mega-hit for R&B singer/songwriter and "King of J-Soul", 久保田利伸/Kubota Toshinobu, selling 2 million copies and becoming his 1st No. 1 single.  

Kubota grew up in Shizuoka where his family ran a farm that grew and sold fruit. Growing up he was very much into sports especially baseball. All throughout Elementary and Junior High School Kubota played baseball and was on the baseball team for his school. However, during his first year in High School, he was exposed to the music of Stevie Wonder and instantly fell in love with his music. Throughout High School, he continued to expand on that interest by forming a high school band and singing primarily R&B and Soul songs.  After High School, Kubota went to a local University where he studied Economics but also continued his interest in music by joining a friend's band - 「HOTTENTOTS」. After one year, Kubota eventually left the band to try his hand at singing solo and sang at various bars and clubs in Tokyo.  Kubota gained some fame when he entered a local Yamaha sponsored amateur singing contest - the East West '82 and won the award for best Male Vocalist.

Encouraged by this success, Kubota entered the music business after graduating from University and found work as a Music Producer position at Kitty Music. There he helped compose and produce songs for a number of artists.  Some of the songs he wrote for other artists include - Tahara Toshihiko's/田原俊彦 「It's BAD」, Koizumi Kyoko's/小泉今日子 「MOONLIGHT」,  Oginome Yoko's/荻野目洋子LAZY DANCE」 and ANRI's/杏里TIME OUT」.

In the mid 80s Kubota would release his first single 失意のダウンタウン」/"Shitsui No Downtown" (1986), which was a minor hit.  His song non-single 流星のサドル/"Ryusei No Sadoru" (1986) would also become very popular however it would not be until a year later that Kubota would finally find success with the first of a string of hit songs for him -  GODDESS ~新しい女神~/"Goddess - Atashi Megami" (1987).  He would follow up with the singles CRY ON YOUR SMILE (1987) and You Were Mine (1988) which would become hits as well. 

It was during this time period that Kubota would relocate to New York city to further evolve as an artist.  "La La La Love Song" would one of the fruits of his labor in New York.

There have been a number of covers of this great song including version by BoA and SOUL'd OUT, an all English version by Holland Jazz singer Laura Fygi, a version by Korean pop singer Park Yong Ha, a Malaysian version by singer Karen Kong, singer/musician 三浦大知/Miura Daiichi, Rebecca lead singer NOKKO, British singer Stevie Hoang, a concert version by EXILE, Jazz singer Julee Karan and singer 絢香/Ayaka.  My favorite cover however is J-Pop singer BENI's soulful English rendition which I thought was pretty nice.

Finally, an interesting bit of trivia regarding "Long Vacation".  The moving and memorable last scene with Sena and Minami running along the street to the church alter to get married after moving to Boston, Massachusetts (so that Sena can play piano for the World Renowned Boston Symphony) was surprisingly not really filmed in Boston.  The producers filmed in sequence in London, England (on Holland Park Avenue to be specific).  

"Long Vacation" isn't one of my personal favorite dramas from the 90s (I still think "Tokyo Love Story" has this beat) but it certainly has one of the most likeable and beautiful casts and Kubota Toshinobu's "La La La Love Song" stands as one of the all-time best Japanese TV Drama theme songs.

Going To Get Married - Images courtesy of


1 comment:

  1. Hi, JTM, and thanks for the fine write-up to what was probably the most popular drama of the 90s. Can't believe we're approaching the 20th anniversary of this one as well. Quite the star-studded cast, even for a Monday-at-9 Fuji-TV drama.

    I think the theme song by Kubota has had great staying power. I wouldn't be surprised if every karaoke box in Japan had it playing at least once over the weekend.


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