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, October 25, 2015

Kazuo Funaki -- Zessho (絶唱)

Another old 45" I managed to dig out of the home collection was Kazuo Funaki's(舟木一夫)"Zessho" (Superb Song/Poem) from 1966. For those folks who know their kayo singers, his most famous hit is the proud "Koukou Sannen-sei"(高校三年生)from 1963, and from that song and one other tune, my image of Funaki had always been that of him singing the salad days about the ol' alma mater.

(cover by Hiroshi Itsuki)

Well, as soon as I put the needle onto "Zessho" on my turntable, I quickly found out that this was no jaunty tribute to the old days. There was the mournful chorus and then Funaki's heartbreaking lyrics about a love lost. I was particularly struck by the last line of verses 1 and 3 "Naze shinda, aa, Koyuki"(なぜ死んだ、ああ、小雪...Ahh, why did you die, Koyuki?). After going to J-Wiki, I found out that "Zessho" was the theme song for the movie of the same name which was produced in 1966; in fact, it was the 2nd version of 3 motion pictures whose story involved a doomed love affair along the lines of "Romeo & Juliet" and "Love Story" with Funaki himself portraying the Romeo of the story, Junkichi Sonoda, while the character of Koyuki was his Juliet (as acted by Masako Izumi/和泉雅子). The movies were based on an original novel by Kenji Oe(大江賢次), and there were even 5 televised dramatizations between 1961 and 1990.

(karaoke version)

According to J-Wiki, Funaki had once stated in an interview for the Nikkan Gendai newspaper that he wasn't supposed to have been the one singing the elegiac ballad. However, the PR department for the movie studio complained that it wouldn't be right for anyone other than the star of the movie himself to sing sing. And I think the folks in PR were right; "Zessho" is sung from the lead character's point of view so to have anyone else sing it would have reduced the pathos somewhat from the story. But the impression I got from the article was that the song was to have been a pure instrumental with no lyrics since there was a statement that Funaki himself made a direct appeal to lyricist Yaso Saijo(西條八十)at his house to provide the words. By the way, the above video has "Zessho" being performed in the middle of a trio of songs.

The ballad, created by Saijo and Shosuke Ichikawa(市川昭介), ended up earning a prize at the 8th Japan Record Awards in 1966 and getting an invitation onto the Kohaku Utagassen. Seeing the grown-up Funaki on stage in a solemn yukata instead of a high school uniform singing his tribute to the departed Koyuki probably had much of the audience reaching for their hankies. Score more points for the PR department.

The above karaoke video has clips from the 1966 movie starring Funaki and Izumi.

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