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, May 3, 2015

Yen Town Band -- Swallowtail Butterfly ~ Ai no Uta (あいのうた)

The singer CHARA was a pretty big presence in the early years of my second long-term stay in Japan, but I never really became a big fan of hers for some reason. However, I always remembered her breathy voice and those somewhat Betty Boop looks.

However, there was one ballad that of hers that remains a musical counterpoint in my memories of my life overseas. That was "Swallowtail Butterfly ~ Ai no Uta" (A Love Song) that came out in July 1996. It was the theme song for a Shunji Iwai(岩井俊二)film, "Swallowtail" about life in a future dystopian Japan that also starred the singer-songwriter in the role of a Chinese prostitute. The song was also released not under her usual nom de plume but under the name Yen Town Band in homage to the nickname of the movie's Tokyo. Although I never caught the film, it and the the song got a lot of attention at the time....also enough for me to buy the CD. According to her J-Wiki article, CHARA was labeled partly as an alternative rock singer, and at least for this ballad, it had that languid exotic sound that was atypical during the time of Tetsuya Komuro's(小室哲哉)reign atop the Oricon charts and even Shibuya-kei.

"Swallowtail Butterfly" was written by CHARA, the director Iwai and Takeshi Kobayashi(小林武史), who was helping out bands Spitz and My Little Lover at the time. Kobayashi also took care of composing duties here. A couple of months after its release, it hit the top spot on Oricon and later became the 26th-ranked song of the year.

Personally, the song has attached itself to my memory of going up to a friend's house in the student district of Takadanobaba for a dinner party one Saturday night. I remember the walk from Takadanobaba Station being particularly long since that friend wanted to keep his rent as low as possible so the long trek was the sacrifice made. He must have played the song on his stereo, but at the time, the 1996 Atlanta Olympics were also on the telly, so there was a rather interesting contrast seeing all the rabid sports activity while this laid-back ballad was playing over the speakers.

1 comment:

  1. Hello J-Canuck,

    I must say, I enjoyed Chara's music during the 90's along with a bunch of other pop-rock and alternative material from the era. Her voice took some time to adjust to, but songs like "Swallowtail Butterfly" and "Milk" made a strong impression on me. She's got that honest and vulnerable presence about her, along with some Bjork-esque eccentricity, which doesn't hurt either. :)

    It's been a while since I watched Iwai's film, but I remember how grungy and dreamy the whole set-up was, just like its theme song.


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