Credits

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.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Eiichi Ohtaki -- Shiawase na Ketsumatsu (幸せな結末)



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.

10 comments:

  1. Hi J-Canuck.

    It's very sad to hear about this notice in the last day of the year. Although I can't say I'm a fan of his work (I've only heard "Shiawase no Katsumasu"), "Shiawase no Ketsumasu" was surely one of the songs I listened the most in late 2012/early 2013. The overall melancholic vibe really got me, and I always remembered of "Love Generation" while listening to it. Kimutaku's romance with the beautiful Takako Matsu was the first "prime time" one I watched. It helped me respect Kimutaku, and also SMAP, a little more.

    It's surely a big loss to the history of Japanese music. And thanks for this entry, it made me revive Eiichi's hit.

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    1. Thanks very much, Marcos.

      Putting his work aside, it's just so sad that he passed away doing something so innocent just at the beginning of one of the biggest holiday seasons on the Japanese calendar.

      I didn't get to see the whole Kohaku Utagassen this year but I don't think NHK would have been able to plan any sort of tribute to Ohtaki. However, I hope that one of the TV shows will mention something about his career in the days to come.

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  2. I was speechless when I read the news. So much for that "an apple a day keeps a doctor away". Loved his music very much, and "Long Vacation" will always be a timeless classic of an album. Though "Shiawase na Ketsumatsu" was released in 1997, it just takes me back to those early 80's days with its innocent and nostalgic sound. There will be a big tribute dedicated to him for sure in the near future.

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    1. I hope so. He and the other members of Happy End just became so intertwined in the history of Japanese popular music and were responsible for leaving their marks in the genres of City Pop, New Music, Technopop, etc.

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  3. I didn't really like this song the first time I heard it, but the more I rewatched LoveGen, the more I like the song. It was released in the 90s but I felt it was much older than that. Maybe because of Ohtaki's voice, but still, I slowly slowly loved the song.

    Earlier this year, Suzuki Masayuki covered Shiawase na ketsumatsu in his new album, he sang it with Matsu Takako. I think they did a good job.
    (http://www.mediafire.com/download/dbkb5uttuk0u88w/Suzuki+Masayuki+with+Matsu+Takako+-+Shiawase+na+Ketsumatsu+2014.m4a)

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    1. Hello, May.

      It took me a while as well to finally "get" Eiichi Ohtaki since I hadn't been sure at the time if he was paying tribute or trying to parody American pop in the 50s. Now I think it's a bit of the former with his own sound via the Niagara label. This particular song seems to have grown into THE tribute song for Ohtaki since his untimely passing, especially with the title being a direct translation of his old band's name.

      Thanks for introducing the cover version with Martin and Takako. The arrangement is lovely and makes for a fine salute to Ohtaki.

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  4. Hi! What can you say about Ohtaki's "new" album which was released this year? It's titled "Debut Again", I can't find any info about it, does it contain old unreleased songs or new versions of already released songs?

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    1. I checked out the J-Wiki article on "Debut Again", and outside of the released re-mastered albums, it's Ohtaki's first posthumous BEST collection. It's an album of self-covers of songs that he had created for other singers. Plus, there is a bonus disc of his versions of Western songs. In terms of Oricon success, it peaked at No. 3.

      At least for now, some of those tracks are on YouTube such as "Atsuki Kokoro ni" which was originally sung by Akira Kobayashi:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFxoikVAef8

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    2. Any info on when he recorded these songs?

      (Also, are going to make a post about it?)

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    3. Hello there.

      I'm afraid that the article doesn't reveal anything about when the individual tracks were originally recorded unfortunately.

      As for my making an article on it, I won't be writing one in the immediate future, although if I do decide to get "DEBUT AGAIN", I will think about it.

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