It's with some great sadness that I have to report the sudden passing of Eiichi Ohtaki（大滝詠一）. I only learned about the news about half an hour ago via Yahoo Japan. Apparently, in the early evening of December 30th, after choking on an apple in his home in Tokyo, he collapsed and was rushed to hospital but was soon pronounced dead. The singer-songwriter-producer was 65 years old.
Ohtaki as the producer started up his own record label, Niagara, in the mid-1970s....a name which refers to the meaning of his family name: "Big Waterfall". However, when I listened to an Ohtaki song, whether it was one of his tracks from his hit 1981 album, "A Long Vacation" or one of the many songs that he had created for singers like Hiromi Ohta（太田裕美） or Shinichi Mori（森進一）, I never got that feeling of the northeastern United States. Instead, I always got that geographic, and temporal, impression of either the Wild West of the late 19th century or 1950s Midwest America. Still, it was often referred to as the Niagara Sound. It just had such a distinctive aural footstep that whenever I hear something like "Saraba Siberia Tetsudo" （さらばシベリア鉄道）by Ohta or the Ohtaki-penned "Fuyu no Riviera" （冬のリビエラ）for enka singer Mori, I can just go "Yep, that's an Ohtaki tune".
However, it was when the man himself got behind the mike to sing one of his creations that his Niagara Sound really resonated, and brought me back to some old days that I had never lived except through ancient 45" records from my father and movies like "American Graffiti". And perhaps it is right that I use my elegy of sorts to introduce a quintessential Ohtaki entry, "Shiawase na Ketsumatsu". Released in November 1997 as the theme song for the Fuji-TV drama, "Love Generation", I had first thought it was a rather odd selection for a guy from the yesteryear of Japanese pop music to come up with the theme for a romantic-comedy/drama in the coveted Monday-at-9 p.m. slot....and especially a drama that starred brooding heartthrob Takuya Kimura（木村拓哉）.
But the match worked. And in retrospect, I guess having "Shiawase na Ketsumatsu", a song that once again brought up those old Americana memories and perhaps an image of the lone wolf looking far off into the sunset, paired quite well with KimuTaku who had often struck me as a Japanese version of a rebel with a cause, although I admit that comparisons with James Dean may be stretching a things a tad.
I think what gives "Shiawase na Ketsumatsu" that old-fashioned romantic feel are those lush strings and Ohtaki's laconic "Lonesome Boy" croon. And although I don't think the song itself quite matches the images of nighttime Tokyo running through the opening credits of that pilot episode in the same way that Kazumasa Oda's（小田和正） "Love Story wa Totsuzen ni"（ラブ・ストーリーは突然に）did several years earlier, the song seems to give that reassurance to the viewer that no matter what fate throws at Kimura and his love, played by Takako Matsu（松たか子）, they will come out OK in the end. And sure enough, the title does indeed mean "Happy End"....which was also the name of Ohtaki's old band in the early 70s which also included Shigeru Suzuki, Takashi Matsumoto and Haruomi Hosono.
"Shiawase na Ketsumatsu" was Ohtaki's 14th single, his first release in 12 years. It peaked at No. 2 on Oricon, and although it finished the year at 167th place, it would go all the way up the chart to finish at 24th place for the 1998 Oricon annual.
I think Japanese popular music lost a true original today. However as with any artist, even though the man has departed, his works are still very much with us to be enjoyed for far longer.