Monday, September 29, 2014
Mariko Nagai/Midori Karashima -- Hitomi - Genki （瞳・元気）
My impression of both good buddies Mariko Nagai（永井真理子）and Midori Karashima（辛島美登里）is that they are, for the lack of a better word, clean...as in squeaky clean. Karashima has that elegant look which befits her nickname of Karashima-sensei; if she had gone into the acting world, she could have easily been typecast as the pretty old-school marm. Meanwhile, my image of Nagai has always been of that slightly rambunctious but basically decent tomboy-next-door; she might get herself muddy from playing out in the fields but her mother guaranteed that she would always be out the next day in the brightest and cleanest of T-shirts.
Before Nagai hit it really big at the end of the 80s with songs like "Miracle Girl", there was her 2nd single from November 1987, "Hitomi - Genki" which was composed by Karashima and written by Natsumi Tadano（只野菜摘）. At the time that I first heard it, I didn't know it was one of her very early contributions to her discography. It's more of a slightly slower ballad but even so, the song has a hard time to keep down the irrepressible Nagai cheer completely. As for the translation of the title, I wasn't sure if the "hitomi" was referring to a girl with that name or her eyes themselves, and the lyrics don't really make that crystal clear although they describe a very happy young lady going through her life. For the sake of argument, though, I'll just go with the former choice and translate it as "Cheerful Hitomi".
For some reason, the arrangement and Nagai's slight echo in her vocals has often gotten me into a very nostalgic zone. Her vocals, by the way, come off as being very crystal-clear...and clean.
Strangely enough, the first time I had ever heard of "Hitomi - Genki" was through the old Fuji-TV Monday night comedy-variety program "Shimura Ken no Daijoubuda" (志村けんのだいじょうぶだぁ...way before "HEY! HEY! HEY! Music Champ"). Comedian Ken Shimura (formerly of The Drifters) had a number of warped characters that he played, and one of them was the elderly and innocently deranged Hitomi（ひとみさん）. In a bit of a tribute montage to the character, the show used Nagai's single as a theme of sorts.
Since at the time, I hadn't known the exact title of the song, I wasn't sure if I would ever hear it again. But some years later, I ended up buying a Mariko Nagai album, "yasashikunaritai"（やさしくなりたい...I Want to Be Nice）, a BEST album of her ballads up to 1992, and luckily enough, the single was included in there. I'm not sure if the original single ever got into the Oricon rankings but "yasashikunaritai" did get No. 1 status on the album charts. The original was also on her 2nd studio album, "Genki Yohou"（元気予報...Happy Forecast）from January 1988; it peaked at No. 35.
Well, how about that? I was able to get a fan-made montage for the Shimura character and the Nagai song!
Karashima did a cover of "Hitomi - Genki" a few years later as a single released in December 1992, Although her version has a bit more of an urgent beat to it, Sensei's pure and crystalline vocal quality still come through...almost as if it were an even more refined version of Nagai's voice.