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, October 24, 2015

Shigeo Kusunoki/Hideo Murata -- Jinsei Gekijo (人生劇場)

Over the course of these few months, I had been watching a bunch of Japanese dramas, both old and new, and most of them have been pretty good, but the one that takes the cake is "Sanbiki no Ossan" (三匹のおっさん... Three Geezers). It's basically about three old men - Kiyo, Shige and Nori - who, disgusted by how unruly and petty-crime-ridden their neighborhood is, decide to take matters into their own hands by becoming the town's secret law enforcers. Though advanced in age, they are not to be trifled with as they would always deliver a beat down to the bad guys when threatened and give them a taste of justice - Kiyo would strike them hard on the head with his wooden sword, Shige would flip them over Judo-style, and Nori would zap them senseless with his homemade tasers. Ah, ain't nothing better than seeing a trio of geriatrics beating up ne'er-do-wells! That aside, it also teaches some good ol' fashioned values, so there's more to it than just comedy and comedic violence. The video above with the DVD commercials for the drama sums up what I'd just mentioned.

Another thing that I enjoy in "Sanbiki no Ossan" is that an enka song or kayokyoku would be sung in every episode by Kiyo, with Nori occasionally providing the backup "Wah, wah, wah, wah". Unfortunately, I haven't been able to figure out the majority of the songs they had sung, but one thing's for sure, the very first one was Hideo Murata's (村田英雄) "Jinsei Gekijo". This was one of the tunes that Kiyo sang before a serious showdown with the baddies. Kinya Kitaoji (北大路欣也) singing to the song playing on his cell phone (it's the character's ring tone) in his husky voice made for an amazingly cool entrance to a fight.

Moving on to the song itself. J-Canuck's article on "Jinsei Gekijo" served as my introduction to Muchi and the composer responsible for spawning many enka classics of that era, the great Masao Koga (古賀政男). I wasn't a big fan of the song when I first heard it, but what made me come back to it was its haunting music. The instrument used throughout (it may be some string instrument. A mandolin, perhaps. Whatever it is, it's used in many of Koga's works) and the lonely blare of the trumpet of some sort gives "Jinsei Gekijo" a melancholic and slightly sinister air, while Murata's fierce and forceful delivery brought a manly edge. Accompanying Koga's score is Sonosuke Sato's (佐藤惣之助) lyrics.

Apparently many think that "Jinsei Gekijo" was originally by Murata. Who wouldn't, though? I mean, it sounds like it was tailor-made for the intimidating veteran, and if I were to listen to Muchi's version without any prior knowledge of the song, I wouldn't have thought that it was sung by anyone but him. However, as learnt from J-Canuck's article and the J-Wiki, ryukoka singer Shigeo Kusunoki (楠木繁夫) was the first to sing it. The video up there plays Kusunoki's rendition, and his vocal delivery actually sounds somewhat similar to Murata's, though not as growly at the lower notes and not as whiny at the higher notes. Though both versions have no particular differences in my ears, I find myself marginally favouring Murata's, simply because it's by Murata.

"Jinsei Gekijo" was first released in 1938 as Kusunoki's 12th single, then came Muchi's version 21 years later in 1959. Murata got to sing it on the Kohaku twice, in 1971 and 1978.

Finally, to wrap things up, this is what Mom calls Muchi: Bobo. I am not kidding. I am still trying to wrap my head around it. Out of all the nicknames I had shared thus far, this one made the least amount of sense. A while ago I was showing her a video of the Yonin Shu performing together with Muchi taking the lead, and she just looked at him and called him "Bobo". Well, at least she doesn't dislike him... or any of the Yonin Shu for that matter. She thinks they look fine and not annoying. It's their singing styles and the type of enka they sing that she doesn't like.


  1. Looking at the "Sanbiki no Ossan" commercial, I think the only guy those three were missing was Tommy Lee Jones. :) One of my former regular students in Tokyo was a HUMONGOUS fan of Kitaoji...along with Arashi. So I gather that she probably purchased the series already.

    Good insight into Muchi's approach to "Jinsei Gekijo". He definitely made the song his own, and it would have made for the ideal theme for a retired and regret-filled hitman.

    1. Tommy Lee Jones sounds like the perfect addition to the trio with his gruff exterior. :) One of your former students was a fan of Kitaoji... and Arashi... oh wow, that is some contrasting preference.

    2. Basically throw in Clint Eastwood and you've got an unbeatable geriatric Avengers.

      Yeah, my student had some rather interesting choices for celebs. I'm pretty sure Kitaoji has shown up on one of Arashi's variety shows...she probably marked those appearances on her calendar in deep red.


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