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.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Hiroko Yakushimaru -- Yume Juuwa (夢十話)

There was once a fellow back in Japanese Language School 40 years ago or so, and my brother and I remarked to each other that he had the saddest puppy-dog eyes that if he even glanced at us, we probably would have offered to help with virtually anything. That's quite the superpower.

I think the same can be said for pop singer Hiroko Yakushimaru(薬師丸ひろ子). She's got the same sort of eyes and her high whispery vocals could more than likely have me offering to carry her bags...even if she weren't carrying any, in which case I would have scrounged around for some and then carry those.

One of the two audiotapes of Hiroko's that I bought at Wah Yueh back in university was her 2nd album, "Yume Juuwa" (10 Dreams). Released in August 1985, it was also the 2nd in her first 4 releases which went with a 3-kanji title, the first being "Kokinshuu"(古今集)in 1984, her 3rd album, "Hanazukan"(花図鑑)in 1986, and her 4th, "Hoshi Kikou"(星紀行)in 1987.

(cover version)

I just recorded my old audiotape onto a CD-R so age has brought a certain tinniness to the process, but it was still good to hear. My impression is that although "Yume Juuwa" doesn't have any particularly timeless tracks, whenever I have listened to it, I have been given a pretty pleasant ride. A number of famous songwriters lent their good hands to the 10 songs (referred to as "dreams"), including the prolific team of Takashi Matsumoto and Kyohei Tsutsumi(松本隆・筒美京平)for the opening dream, "Ten ni Hoshi, Chi ni Hana"(天に星、地に花...Stars to Heaven, Flowers to Earth). It's a smooth ballad that gives a hint of European and folk while the lyrics are basically a man's poetic description of how he thinks of the woman he is courting. When the first line goes, "Stars to heaven, flowers to earth, and love to you...", I can only imagine either the target of his affections will happily fly into his arms or gleefully collapse into a pile of giggles.

"Ten ni Hoshi, Chi ni Hana" was also Yakushimaru's 6th single from September 1985 with the B-side being "Anata wo Motto Shiritakute"(あなたを・もっと・知りたくて...I Want to Know More About You). Strangely enough, her 5th single from a couple of months earlier consisted of the same two songs switched around.

Track 3 is "Tsumetakusaretai"(冷たくされたい...I Want You To Treat Me Coldly), written and composed by Masao Urino and Tetsuji Hayashi(売野雅勇・林哲司). It has that appealingly urban and mellow melody that Hayashi can weave in his sleep but that "wah-wah" intro bothers me for some reason. Urino's lyrics has that somewhat complicated situation in which that young lady in question would prefer to have that man who has suddenly fallen for her not be so nice to her though she has quietly also fallen for the guy as well.

The final track on Side A is "Sennen no Kodoku"(千年の孤独...A Thousand Years of Loneliness)by the same duo of Urino and Hayashi, and it's my favourite song on the album. The underlying rhythm track reminds me somewhat of a more famous nighttime song, "Lonely Chaplin" by the Suzuki siblings (Masayuki and Kiyomi), and despite the smooth sounds, Yakushimaru sings about some of the rough n' tumble young punks and their lonely journeys through life and love.

It's possible that Yakushimaru has sung tunes with totally English lyrics since this song, but I have yet to come across one. "Welcome Back To My Heart" is a track that I first encountered as a jingle accompanying a commercial starring the actress/singer. To be honest, it's a bit hard to cut through her Berlitz English which was provided by Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや), but the adorable music by Daisuke Inoue(井上大輔)had me thinking this could have made for a nice accompaniment for those Nyan-Cat videos a few years ago.

My final song for this entry is "Aru Hi Inshouha"(ある日印象派...Impressionists One Day)which was written by that late lyrical master, Yu Aku(阿久悠), and composed by Yasuhiro Suzuki(鈴木康博). I'm not sure about whether this song has anything to do with that particular way of painting, but it certainly seems that Yakushimaru is creating her own picture of bittersweet memories of a lost love.

"Yume Juuwa" peaked at No. 2 on Oricon. Though the title and tracks refer to dreams, I think the theme of the album has more to do with the joys and tribulations of love given that extra spoonful of sugar by Yakushimaru's vocals to help the medicine go down. The musical arrangement also pushes a bit into some of the easygoing genres such as City Pop and J-AOR, but the album as a whole is solidly in the pop realm. 

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