Man, what an intense face! No fooling around here...indeed that is the young Saburo Kitajima（北島三郎）years ago, now the elder statesman of enka.
Back in May 2015, I wrote about Sabu-chan's debut song, "Bungacha Bushi"（ブンガチャ節）which was perceived fairly or unfairly as being a little too racy for aural consumption (you can read about the issue here) when it was released in early 1962. I've got no idea how he and his minders felt on getting his television performances summarily yanked because of his very first song. However, I don't think he or lyricist Tetsuro Hoshino（星野哲郎）or composer Toru Funamura（船村徹）cried very long at all since the three of them got another song dispatched later in June, titled ironically enough "Namidabune" (Ship of Tears).
Now, this is what we all recognize as the quintessential Saburo Kitajima song, and perhaps it could have been the template for all the songs that followed to a certain extent. It's got the singer on a fishing vessel fighting the rough seas and trying to grab as big a haul as it can. For me, though, I can only imagine the lad standing at the bow of the ship, arms crossed and staring straight ahead as "Namidabune" is playing. He might be staring down the roiling ocean as a samurai would against an opponent in a katana match but there is probably also a single tear rolling down his cheek. The battle against the ocean may be won but he just lost the war of love.
As comical and suggestive as "Bungacha Bushi" was, "Namidabune" was as epic as a mighty chanbara conflict with the wall-of-sound chorus, Funamura's military melody and Kitajima's full-throated delivery hinting at both defiance and mourning. This was definitely OK with the censors, I'm sure. There was no Oricon at the time, but its success was reflected through the singer winning the Newcomer Prize at the Japan Record Awards that year and breaking the million barrier in sales. His long history with NHK's Kohaku Utagassen would begin the following year in 1963 but it wouldn't be until 1982 when he finally got to sing his first big hit on the Shibuya stage.
|I wonder if that tux cost more|
than the ship.