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.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Kazuhiko Kato – Small Café

As far as the work of the late Kazuhiko Kato (加藤和彦) is concerned, he is primarily known for Sadistic Mika Band, his numerous compositions for 70's and 80's singers and The Folk Crusaders, the folk group from the late 60's that scored the first hit in the genre in Japan. That was the order in which I listened to his music myself. Just to reiterate my comment for JTM's great first entry on SMB, “Kurofune” is a must-listen album for any Japanese rock fan. But Kato also had a wealth of solo material, which I discovered through the pages of Japanese City Pop. The best of it came out between 1976 and 1994 when he was married to Kazumi Yasui (安井かずみ), also known as Zuzu. She became not only his close life partner, but also his lyricist. The two were an inseparable songwriting duo that brought us some fine tunes from various idols and artists, including Mari Iijima's timeless “Ai wo Oboetemasuka”. When it came to Kato's solo work though, they focused on European music, inspired by the couple's travels and residences in places like Paris, Venice and Berlin. He even dabbled into some reggae and American jazz from time to time.

The above song, “Small Café”, is an opening track from his 5th studio album from October 1979, “Papa Hemingway” (パパ・ヘミングウェイ), and right from the get-go it just oozes with everything Europe. For the most part, it plays like a French chanson but Kato also throws a tango rhythm in there and sings the line “Auf Wiedersehen” in the chorus (I like how he pronounces it). If you can understand some of the lyrics, you'll notice how purposely exaggerated it all is, and not in a comical way. The picture is of a pensive personage reminiscing over a past romance in a small cafe somewhere in Paris as he admires the beauty of the interior and the autumnal surroundings. This is an opinion I borrowed from another site, but perhaps Kato was trying to reverse one of YMO's motifs “the Western perception of the East” into “the Eastern perception of the West”. Walking by some French-styled cafes here in Japan, I can see where he was coming from. At the same time, the song sounds pretty earnest and not parodic like some of those YMO creations. Kato and Yasui did show real interest in the elegant side of European cityscapes. And speaking of YMO, there's Yukihiro Takahashi (高橋幸宏) on drums (the two go back to SMB days) and Ryuichi Sakamoto (坂本龍一) on keyboards playing on this track. Sakamoto also arranged the strings for various songs on “Papa Hemingway” including this one. It's a lovely piece, not just for the lyrical melody but also with how it blends the antique with a subtle tint of new wave. Though it never crosses over into techno like Taeko Ohnuki's (大貫妙子) European creations from 1980 on – some of which Kato happened to arrange on her “Romantique” and “Aventure” albums.

Kato would stop recording solo after Yasui passed away from lung cancer in 1994.

I also found a portion of what looks like a promotional video for “Small Café”, complete with monochrome shots. Thank you for your music.


1 comment:

  1. Hi, nikala.

    Kato looked like a combination of KAN and comic actor Yo Oizumi back in those days. :) That was a really imaginative song by, those must've been some days for the New Music/City Pop crowd.

    Listening to "Small Café" had me thinking of Joel Grey's character on the Oscar movie, "Cabaret"....the over-the-top master of ceremonies.


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