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.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Stardust Revue -- Mokuren no Namida (木蘭の涙)

My memory of my first encounter with Stardust Revue (スターダスト・レビュー) is pretty vague and it's been a while ago. I do remember that they won me over quickly with their AOR and jazzy material from the 80's. So many memorable melodies in their catalogue. One of those is their 25th single, "Mokuren no Namida" (木蘭の涙...Tears of Magnolia), which came out in July 1993, though it originally appeared on the band's studio album "Sola" back in March that year. I had no idea how big that song was until I saw it performed numerous times on Japanese music programs by different singers and then came to Japan only to catch it on speakers in various stores I entered. In fact, they played it at a local supermarket just this past week. When the single originally came out, it peaked at #54 on Oricon weeklies and sold about 150,000 copies. Not exactly major hit material (considering how huge J-Pop sales generally were in those years), though it did chart for 20 weeks. Around the turn of the next decade, it was revived from the ashes thanks to the cover versions that started popping up everywhere. It eventually became one of the most recognizable songs by the band. In 2005, they re-released the single with a stripped-down acoustic arrangement, and that one peaked at #15. You can listen to it here.
My preference, however, is with the original. It has this nice oriental vibe that, according to this page, reminded the band of Shanghai when they first composed the melody. It's a gentle melancholic piece that (surprise surprise) laments the loss of the beloved. Kaname Nemoto (根本要) sings it so elegantly, and the bassist Kiyoshi Kakinuma (柿沼清史), who composed it, also lends his voice in the interlude. Love that part along with the saxophone. The page linked above offers a detailed blow-by-blow account from a radio talkshow on how the song was created. Here are two pieces of trivia I got from it. First, it was originally titled "Roman no Hanasaku Koro" (浪漫の花咲く頃...The Time When Romance Bloomed) and featured more saccharine lyrics, which lyricist Hiroshi Yamada (山田ひろし) thought would fit the Chinese-sounding melody. The members of Stardust Revue didn't like it much and asked Yamada to revise the song to make it more down-to-earth and genuine.

The other piece of info is that the intended protagonist was male. However, when it came to karaoke, both men and women would perform this comfortably. Must have something to do with gender-neutral pronouns and Nemoto's high voice. Now, I don't know for sure how loyally the Japanese follow this rule, but I heard that in karaoke women are not supposed to sing songs with a male perspective. (I gotta admit, I break it shamelessly all the time.) However, with this song, anyone could interpret it from whatever angle they wished. It's a universal and timeless heartbreak theme.

As I mentioned above, many artists have covered "Mokuren no Namida" so I'm going to highlight a few versions. Perhaps the most famous one is by Chikuzen Sato (佐藤竹善) with the vocal duo Kobukuro (コブクロ), which they released as a single in 2004. This arrangement is more straightforward AOR with all the guitars. Nemoto's voice will always be the one, but their interpretation is also good.

This is my first time embedding something from xiami, so hopefully it works, because the 2002 cover by Satoru Sakamoto (坂本サトル) happens to be my favorite. It's all vocals and piano, similar to Stardust Revue's acoustic remake. Sakamoto's delivery is so piercing, it gives the song an extra layer of sadness. Another singer joins him as it goes along. You have to be a total newbie to kayo kyoku if you don't recognize that voice. :)

And last but not least is the vocal duo Alma Kaminiito (アルマカミニイト), who decided to turn it Spanish in 2012. I'm not sure what to think of this other than that their pronunciation is pretty good. I only came across this cover while doing research for the entry but hey... why not share.

Source: massimo_motti from

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, "Mokuren no Namida" is a nice song to listen to. For me, the original by Stardust Revue is the one. It has that wonderful fusion of jazz, AOR and exotic. And the video is very refreshing; nothing fancy...just the band and a pleasant countryside setting.

    I think that karaoke rule is pretty much smashed all the time nowadays. Heck, if female enka singers can sing their hits from the male perspective, then there is nothing to stop female karaoke singers. :)


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