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.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Works of Etsuko & Takao Kisugi (来生えつこ・来生たかお)

Although I've enjoyed the vast majority of genres in Japanese popular music over the decades, I've usually gravitated toward some of the more urban contemporary and/or mellower compositions. And when it comes to the two expressions of "urban contemporary" and "mellow", my mental files on the various composers and lyricists focus on two people: singer-composer Takao Kisugi and his sister lyricist Etsuko Kisugi. Now, the two of them have often created works for other singers separately but they have also come up with songs in collaboration, a number of them having become hits.

For this Creator entry, I'll be focusing on those collaborations (although I may cover them separately sometime in the future). However, I have to admit that being more focused on the melodic side of things, the balance will be more weighted on composer Takao since there is a whole lot more information written about him than there is on his sister, Etsuko. As for the elder Kisugi, she was born in Tokyo in 1948, and initially began her career as a magazine editor and freelance writer, but after providing lyrics to her younger brother's early works, she became a professional lyricist. And she is still wearing that other hat as a writer of short stories and essays.

Takao Kisugi was born in 1950, and in his early 20s, he and two others created a band called Because (named after the song by The Dave Clark Five) which toured through a number of musical cafes in Tokyo. Although he was also able to participate in the production of Yosui Inoue's(井上陽水)first album in 1972, "Danzetsu"(断絶...Extinction), as the acoustic guitarist, Kisugi had to go through the usual paying of dues through demo tapes getting rejected while he was working part-time jobs for the next few years. Then, he finally got his big break with his 1976 debut single, "Asai Yume" (浅い夢)which both he and Etsuko worked on. (The information from this paragraph was found in J-Wiki, but the original source was an interview on a 1996 episode of a TV Asahi program by the name of "Music & Talk: Ano Kyoku, Kono Hito".

According to the J-Wiki article on Takao, his musical influences come from The Beatles and Gilbert O'Sullivan. The Beatles are, of course, legends, and O'Sullivan I know because of "Alone Again". When I listened to this song again, I just went "naruhodo...". There is quite the similarity between him and Takao.

As I said at the top, I think of "urban contemporary" and "mellow" when I think of the siblings Kisugi. And probably his most representative song with that description is "Goodbye Day" from 1981. It fits the two expressions to a T, and the man himself was considered to be a New Musician which meant that he occupied another different niche in that 70s-created genre alongside the more janglier Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)and the slightly more whimsical Yumi Arai(荒井由実).

Takao and Etsuko were also coming up with love songs for the aidoru in the early 1980s. Among them, Akina Nakamori(中森明菜)is always at the top. Her debut was a Kisugi collaboration, "Slow Motion" (1982) about the gradual emergence of love between two kids at the beach.

(Sorry but music163 is now dead.)

Back in 1979, though, the two of them came up with a breezy number for Hiromi Ohta(太田裕美)titled "A Distance" which was in her album, "Feelin' Summer". a release that was more in the City Pop/J-AOR vein. It's definitely a friendly and strolling song, complete with rolling surf and kids playing on the beach.

I will also have to add in another dimension to the Kisugis' overall approach to songwriting. Hiromi Go's(郷ひろみ)"Onna de are, Otoko de are"(女であれ、男であれ...If A Man, If A Woman)is definitely not mellow nor particularly urban, but it does that have that whiff of nostalgia which is another adjective that has been placed with Takao. I can't particularly see Takao suddenly lighting his piano on fire and playing the keys with his bare feet but "Onna de are, Otoko de are" is pretty darn jaunty. As for the song, it was Go's 42nd single from May 1982 which peaked at No. 19.

I had already known about Tomomi Nishimura's(西村知美)time as an 80s aidoru, but most of my exposure to her was through variety shows, especially one Sunday night show that had her show off her ditzy side in all its glory. As with Akina, Tomomi's debut single was also a Takao-Etsuko creation, "Yume Iro no Message"(夢色のメッセージ...Dream-Coloured Message)from March 1986. As Etsuko wrote about the trials and tribulations of falling in love with a fellow who may never realize that he's the target of her affections, there is the sense that Takao created aidoru music with plenty of strings to whip up an image of a fantasy-like scene mixing in flowers, castles and girl-next-door types in cute skirts and cardigans. Despite that fluffy description, I think the music added a bit more sophistication to the proceedings.

"Yume Iro no Message" peaked at No. 2 and sold about 200,000 copies, pretty darn good for a debut. It was also used as the theme song for the movie "Don Matsugoro no Seikatsu" (ドン松五郎の生活...Don Matsugoro's Lifestyle)which also starred Tomomi.

A bit of a surprise here. I had known that the Kisugis, together and apart, helped make tunes for a wide variety of singers but never did I imagine that The Queen of Kayo Kyoku, Hibari Misora(美空ひばり), would be one of them. And yet, she did release a single created by them, "Waratte yo, Moonlight"(笑ってよムーンライト...Laugh It Up, Moonlight), a jazzy number that would be right up her wheelhouse and also fit the criterion of Takao Kisugi's nostalgia. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the original with Misora behind the mike, but there is Takao's own cover of it through his album, "Egalite" from 2004.

(cover version)

Takao and Kisugi came up with some further sophistication with the definitely un-aidoru stylings of Mariko Takahashi(高橋真梨子). With "Mizu no Toiki"(水の吐息...Water Sighs), there is no fantasy castle here....this torrid romance is taking place probably at the real thing somewhere in the French Riviera. Again, this isn't a mellow song but a lush dramatic ballad with those shimmering strings at the fore to fit Takahashi's vocals. "Mizu no Toiki" was on her 17th album from August 1992, "Lady Coast". I think the nostalgia element is in here since I imagine some of the old Hollywood flicks whose settings were in Europe when I listen to this.

I'll finish things off here with another song that I have already profiled, "Sailor Fuku to Kikanjuu"(セーラー服と機関銃), the 1981 song that was yet another debut for another ingenue, Hiroko Yakushimaru(薬師丸ひろ子). Just getting through this article had me changing my feelings about the Kisugi siblings. It hasn't always been about the mellow and wonder of love with them. Their creations could also go to the opposite end of the spectrum in that they could express the dramatic and difficulties of the concept as well. "Sailor Fuku to Kikanjuu" would be one of the latter examples as Etsuko talks about two lovers hoping to be together again in the future but not being able to at present due to various obstacles in their path.

At this point, I don't really know of any current singer-songwriters who have that similar Kisugi-esque approach to their music, so in a way, that sepia-toned element that has often been used in Takao's music has gotten even more nostalgic as the decades have passed. But you can take a look at the rest of the Kisugi collection for both him and Etsuko in the Labels section.

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