Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Hibari Misora -- Kanashiki Kuchibue （悲しき口笛）
On this day 25 years ago, Japan lost one of its great singing legends in Hibari Misora（美空ひばり）. 1989 was a year in which there was no Internet as we know it and there was no TV Japan cable service so news about her passing didn't have the immediate impact on us here as it would have if she had passed away today. Even so, somehow news of her death managed to reach us relatively quickly. I don't recall how we were able to know but I figure that Misora cast such a huge shadow on Japanese contemporary culture that perhaps international news services such as CNN had to have made some mention about it. I could only imagine how the news hit the Japanese population on June 24 1989.
On tonight's episode of NHK's "Kayo Concert"（歌謡コンサート）, there was a full-length show devoted to the late Misora which featured a number of her greatest hits, some of which I have already profiled. When it comes to the genre of enka, it seems that my raison d'etre for creating this blog and watching shows like "Kayo Concert" is to re-discover some of the long lost songs of my childhood at home. And sure enough, lightning struck once more when singer Aki Yashiro （八代亜紀）paid tribute to the Grand Dame of Kayo Kyoku via her version of "Kanashiki Kuchibue" (Sad Whistling). As the song was performed, I remembered a lot of the notes from the old-style jazzy ballad.
But there was a lot of information about the song that I did not know about. It was released in September 1949 as the theme song for a musical-comedy movie of the same name starring a 12-year-old Misora. The video above has that little girl performing "Kanashiki Kuchibue" at what was most likely the climax of the movie. She was also wearing that full tuxedo and silk hat that has become one of the most famous images that everyone has of the singer. It was amazing watching that performance as this diminutive girl who looked younger than 12 sang in a voice and traipsed around the floor in a fashion that made her much older than 12. The song was written by Ko Fujiura（藤浦洸）and composed by Tadashi Manjome（万城目正）, and was fashioned to describe Misora's hometown of Yokohama (the movie was also set there). The lyrics describe a somewhat melancholy night there as the hotel lights and the light in the protagonist's heart go out and the titular sad whistle is echoing through the dark like rain at the port. The song then progresses into the bittersweet aftermath of romance gone. "Kanashiki Kuchibue" is listed in J-Wiki as a ryukoka (literally, pop song in Japanese) but I thought there was so much atmosphere in it that I also had to label it as a Mood Kayo. Would love to have a drink to it.
The above video has Misora performing the song years later, and the vibrancy of her vocals is just incredible. It's how I remember listening to her. And this is how I had always seen her. Instead of the little wunderkind in the black-&-white movies, I remember seeing this glamourous middle-aged woman lighting up the stage and probably terrifying her fellow celebrities at the same time considering how big she was.
"Kanashiki Kuchibue" became the highest-selling record in the postwar era at the time, selling about 450,000 records. It was Misora's first bona-fide hit and currently resides in the 10th position in the Top 10 of her most popular singles.