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.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Junko Sakurada/Miyuki Nakajima -- Shiawase Shibai (しあわせ芝居)

Back in the early 60s and 70s, either or both the media and the talent agency marketing department loved to package their new talent in trios, often known as Gosanke(御三家), which was originally meant to refer to the three major branches of the ruling Tokugawa family during the 17th-19th centuries. But in modern entertainment, the term could be translated as The Big Three. There was the Gosanke in the 1960s with male singers Yukio Hashi, Kazuo Funaki and Teruhiko Saigo(橋幸夫・舟木一夫・西郷輝彦). Then there was the bell-bottomed Shin-Gosanke(新御三家...The New Big Three)of the 1970s with Hiromi Go, Goro Noguchi and Hideki Saijo(郷ひろみ・野口五郎・西條秀樹).

In that same decade, there was a female trio marketed for stardom known as The Hana no Chuusan Trio or The Trio of 3rd-Year Junior High School Beauties (花の中三トリオ...yup, my translation for that name on another article isn't too good). I never knew this particular trio as that trio; actually I just knew them individually and that was enough for me and most fans. They were Momoe Yamaguchi, Masako Mori and Junko Sakurada(山口百恵・森昌子・桜田淳子). Of the three, I knew Junko Sakurada the least, although all three were big in show business. I'm sure there are kayo kyoku fans out there who have read the blog going "J-C, you've been writing about these singers and songs for over 3 years, and you DON'T KNOW anything about Junko?!"

Guilty as charged. I don't really know why although Sakurada is a name that I have heard over the decades. Both Yamaguchi and Mori are ladies that I saw and heard quite often; maybe my parents were simply not renting the right videos to feature that last member of that particular trio. In fact, I only know Sakurada from her appearance on the fateful (for me anyways) 1981 Kohaku Utagassen to perform one of her final singles, "This is a Boogie". And for many years, I hadn't even known that it was her to sing that one; she struck me as one very vivacious singer judging from her performance on the NHK stage that night.

Well, just to make some amends, I'm going to go with Sakurada's 21st single since her debut in 1973. "Shiawase Shibai" (Pretending to be Happy)  was released in November 1977, and just from the melody and the lyrics alone, I figured it must have been a Miyuki Nakajima(中島みゆき) creation. And sure enough, it was. Sakurada delivers the song accompanied by that defiant melodic strut that I've often associated with a number of Nakajima tunes. And the lyrics depict that typically sad situation of wanting but not getting that love, although it seems that the woman in question is actually hooked up with someone.

"Shiawase Shibai" was the first Nakajima-Sakurada collaboration with three more songs coming up to 1981. It peaked at No. 3 and later became the 44th-ranked song for 1978, winning two prizes at that year's Japan Record Awards and an invitation onto the Kohaku.

Whenever I think of Miyuki Nakajima's body of work, I often split them between the defiant (Wakare Uta) and the tenderhearted ( of my favourites by her). At the same time, I also use the dance analogy. Her songs often come off as being a graceful ballet (I think that cover from her 1984 album, "Hajimemashite"(はじめまして...How Do You Do)fits that description to a T) or as a particularly intense tango.

(cover version)

Nakajima did a cover of "Shiawase Shibai" for her November 1979 album "Okaerinasai"(おかえりなさい...Welcome Home). I had been fully expecting an even more tango-esque version by force-of-nature Nakajima...enough to bring in some Class 200 winds, but instead I heard a really flavorful and whimsical ballet...almost a ballad. The Sakurada original up above may have sounded like someone with a very sharp axe to grind, but Nakajima's own cover sounded apt for that shy bookish lady sighing resignedly behind large glasses and a tome on Advanced Psychology. Genius move, Lady Nakajima.

As for "Okaerinasai", her 6th album hit No. 2 on the album charts and became the 5th-ranked album for 1980. Y'know, I saw that album cover at Wah Yueh along with a number of her albums, and I never picked any of them up. Time to slap myself.

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