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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Masao Kusakari -- Sentimental City (センチメンタル・シティー)

I ought to be using this photo more whenever I write a City Pop article. It's a shot of an intersection in the skyscraper-filled district of West Shinjuku, notable for this huge ring over the crossing itself. Scenes like these on travel posters are what made me so enamored with Japan, and especially Tokyo, in the first place.

My impression is that the old cop shows on Japanese TV had a thing for showing the megalopolitan mass that was Tokyo during the ending credits while the star of the show such as Yujiro Ishihara(石原裕次郎)for "Seibu Keisatsu"(西部警察)or Shigeru Matsuzaki(松崎しげる)for "Uwasa no Keiji Tomi to Matsu"(噂の刑事トミーとマツ)would croon some sort of ballad.

I found another example of this by accident a couple of days ago on YouTube. Currently, I know the finely-aged actor Masao Kusakari(草刈正雄)for portraying the character of crusty Masayuki Sanada on the NHK taiga drama "Sanada Maru"(真田丸). Although I am not a devout follower of the actor, I knew that he once played the young rebellious tough guy back in his early days as a thespian. And apparently, back in 1977, he had the role of a young detective on the short-running Fuji-TV show "Karei naru Keiji"(華麗なる刑事...The Magnificent Detectives)for which he also got to sing the ending theme, "Sentimental City", written by Konosuke Fuji(藤公之介)and composed by Makoto Kawaguchi(川口真).

The first video is just of the song itself but I also wanted to include this video here as well since it has the song and the night view of the city....kinda helps the mood, I guess. "Sentimental City" came out as Kusakari's 9th single in April 1977, and although I still primarily categorize it as a City Pop tune, it starts out sounding like a Mood Kayo thanks to the backup chorus. Perhaps I can consider it a hybrid of sorts which would make a nice comparison with Ishihara's purely Mood Kayo "Yoake no Machi"(夜明けの街)and Matsuzaki's Resort Pop "WONDERFUL MOMENT".

Kusakari doesn't strike me as being a great singer but at least I like the arrangement of the song which has that requisite bluesy saxophone bursting in as one of the ingredients of City Pop. The mood is also nicely set of taking that long walk through the streets of Shinjuku to de-stress after a long day on the beat and then hit the local bar.

Kusakari was born in September 1952 to an American father (sadly killed in the Korean War before he was born) and a Japanese mother. Growing up, he became a model, actor, singer and a TV host. In fact, he was even the captain for the White Team in the 1976 edition of NHK's Kohaku Utagassen.

I see him most often on TV Japan, though, as the handsome if somewhat eccentric character hosting the NHK half-hour series "Bi no Tsubo"(美の壺...The Vase of Beauty), a culture program on some of the lovelier products of art that may populate the general house or cafe.

And to wrap up, here is Kusakari as pere Sanada.

Keiko Fuji -- Kasuba no Onna (カスバの女)

Even though enka is not my thing, since I listened to Sanae Jounouchi’s (城之内早苗) “Ajisaibashi”, but also began researching Oricon’s singles charts from the 80s, the genre became more tolerable to my ears. That’s probably why I ended listening to Keijo Fuji’s (藤圭子) debut album “Shinjuku no Onna / ‘Enka no Hoshi’ Fuji Keiko no Subete” (新宿の女/“演歌の星藤圭子のすべて), originally released in March 1970.

At first, based on my limited knowledge, Keiko Fuji was solely the mother of famous J-Pop singer Hikaru Utada (宇多田ヒカル). However, I soon discovered she was a very famous enka singer in the 70s as well, so – as I’ve been a little bit more open to enka recently – I decided to check her debut album to see what it sounded like.

To my surprise, the majority of the songs are a little bit far from the enka I’m used to when watching NHK’s year-end extravaganza Kouhaku Uta Gassen (NHK紅白歌合戦). Keiko’s songs are more akin to Showa Era Kayo Kyoku – with all the influences ranging from Jazz, Blues and other Western genres – than to the epic and more Japanese-like enka songs.

One song from the album that quickly caught my attention was “Kasuba no Onna”, a cover of a song originally released in 1955 by Eto Kunieda (エト邦枝). What I liked the most in Keiko’s version was the Mood Kayo sound that made me travel in time to Japan’s post-war period. Something in the melancholic arrangement, coupled with Keiko’s draggy yet emotional performance, made me fall in love with this number.

In the end, even though it was not quite the enka album I was expecting, I liked its overall Showa Era sound a lot. Unfortunately, Keiko retired from the music scene after a decade of success in the industry. Recently, in 2013, she died after commiting suicide.

To finish, here’s Eto Kunieda – the original singer – performing “Kasuba no Onna” with all the elegance and class of a veteran in 1976, 21 years after her original recording.

Lyrics for “Kasuba no Onna” were written by Hisawo Ootaka (大高ひさを), while music was composed by Akira Kugayama (久我山明). Keiko’s “Shinjuku no Onna...” album reached #1 on the Oricon charts, staying in the top position for more than 20 weeks (21 or 22 weeks, depending on the source).


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Yoichi Sugawara -- Shiritakunaino (知りたくないの)

Tonight's theme on "Uta Kon" (うたコン) was about the heart of a man and a woman, usually after they've been ripped up, stomped on and generally destroyed. Well, OK, maybe I'm being a bit harsh on the description here.

However, there were a few ballads in which there was still a chance of recovery in the relationship, one of which belonged to veteran Yoichi Sugawara(菅原洋一). I first wrote about him all the way back in early 2013 for his duet with Silvia, "Amant" (アマン). I believe I mentioned that the old crooner was once a mainstay on the Kohaku Utagassen with his renditions of jazzy Mood Kayo which stood out among all of the aidoru, enka and pop stuff that was going on during the rest of the show.

The ballad that he performed tonight was "Shiritakunaino", a heartfelt ballad about a fellow who doesn't care about the past of a woman he loves. On first listen, I thought that Sugawara was crooning that his love would still remain strong no matter what kind of trouble the lady had found herself before, but as it turned out, it was more about him pleading that she not remember any of her past affairs and just focus on the current one between him and her.

"Shiritakunaino" was actually a cover of a 1953 pop ballad, "I Really Don't Want to Know" created by Don Robertson and Howard Barnes. The Japanese version had its lyrics written by Rei Nakanishi (なかにし礼) and then released in October 1965 as a B-side to one of Sugawara's early singles "Koi Gokoro"(恋心...Heart of Love). It may have been a B-side ballad but later in 1967, the song actually caught fire with listeners to the point that the crooner finally got his first invitation onto the Kohaku Utagassen that year (he would appear a total of 22 times on the New Year's Eve special until 1988). And for veteran Nakanishi, it was his first success as a lyricist.

After all these years, I'm still a sucker for these corny jazz ballads that would be the ideal accompaniment in an old-fashioned nightclub or bar. May I say that Sugawara is still doing fine at the age of 83?

The original song has been covered by a number of singers including Andy Williams and Elvis Presley but the most famous version according to Wikipedia is the one by the legendary Les Paul and Mary Ford as the husband-and-wife duo.

And hey, just for the heck of it, here's the couple's take on the classic "How High The Moon".

Hiroko Yakushimaru -- Hoshi Kiko (星紀行)

"Hoshi Kiko" (Star Travelogue) is the 4th and final album by Hiroko Yakushimaru(薬師丸ひろ子)from July 1987 that went along with the pattern of a three-kanji title before she would release "Sincerely Yours" in 1988. The one other album that I've talked about so far when it comes to her discography is "Yume Juuwa"(夢十話)from 1985.

As you can see above, I bought the actual LP from Wah Yueh. It wasn't because I wanted to follow the tradition of that three-kanji title that I got it, though. Nah, it was because of that cover with Yakushimaru looking pretty darn high...and beaming a smile! When I took a gander at that album, a few words came to mind such as "electric socket" and "marijuana" since usually my image of the singer-actress had been that of the demure young lady with the bob hairdo. Instead, for "Hoshi Kiko", it looked like she fully enjoyed a university kegger!

I listened to "Hoshi Kiko" for the first time in well over 15 years on the record player, and although I can't honestly say that it is quite on the same level as "Yume Juuwa", the album has its moments. The one song that I still remember quite well is the opening and title track itself which has the added title of "Caramel no Densetsu"(キャメルの伝説...Caramel Legend).

The melody by Tetsuya Tsujimata(辻畑鉄也)reminds me of all those kayo describing exotic climes that had their heyday in the late 1970s, something that is further confirmed by Shizuka Ijuin's(伊集院静)lyrics about the trials and tribulations of love somewhere in an arid country. I gather that from the get-go, Yakushimaru and her colleagues had wanted to release an album with some more oomph this time.

The second track, "Koufuku no Kishi e"(幸福の岸へ...To The Shore of Happiness)takes things back a bit to her cuter and softer roots. However, there is a bubblier and happier layer to this song that the title hints at. With Yasuhiro Mitani(三谷泰弘)providing the music this time, Ijuin once again wrote the lyrics which seemed to hint at Hiroko-chan happily running away from home to see her true love at a new place she's never been to. The above video is a short cover by sundaytube02 and I think she does a very nice job of singing it.


The last song I could find from the album on YouTube is Track 3, "Marine Blue no Sasayaki"(マリーンブルーの囁き...Marine Blue Whipsers)which stands out for those soaring strings. The music here is provided by the late Yoshiaki Ohuchi(大内義昭), the composer who often partnered up with R&B singer Kahoru Kohiruimaki(小比類巻かほる), but this melody is all Yakushimaru as she sings Ijuin's lyrics of being blissfully in love in the summer. Of the three songs that I've put in tonight, I think this one is the most reminiscent of the mellow tunes from "Yume Juuwa" but even so there is that added layer of happiness. That certain jauntiness with "Marine Blue no Sasayaki" also had me thinking of another departed songwriter, Eiichi Ohtaki(大瀧詠一)especially when it comes to those strings..

"Hoshi Kiko" peaked at No. 3 on Oricon selling a little over 20,000 albums.

Masa Takagi -- Suri Garasu (すりガラス)

Still enjoying the works of this mystery lady (at least to me) who I only discovered thanks to this blog. Of the singles that I've covered for singer-songwriter Masa Takagi(高木麻早)thus far on "Kayo Kyoku Plus", I have yet to be steered wrong.

And so I'm also enjoying the down-home strumming of "Suri Garasu" (Frosted Glass). Her 5th single from August 1975, it kinda straddles that line between folk and regular kayo as Takagi sings her creation's wistful look into the past whether it be through the usual talismans of a faded photograph, a worn-out guitar or an old sweater. The song stands out from my impressions of 1970s kayo: enka, aidoru and even New Music. Takagi seems to be reminiscent of early Miyuki Nakajima(中島みゆき)and the recently departed Lily (りりィ) in terms of a guitar-driven song clopping along at a goodly tempo. Plus, there is the singer's voice which sounds ideal for Mood Kayo but instead of the izakayas of Tokyo, she's doing her thing out in the fresh air of the countryside.

trf -- Love & Peace Forever

The above is "Works - The Best of TRF" which was released back in 1998. Although trf at that point was doing a slow fade from the scene, I still grabbed this one since I had already gotten rather nostalgic about one of the prime actors during the Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉)stranglehold on J-Pop during those mid-90s.

One of the tracks on the 2-CD set which was the very first BEST compilation by the unit happened to be their 13th single from March 1996, "Love & Peace Forever". And man, it looks like nostalgia may be the overarching theme for this article. This time, it wasn't just Komuro handling words and music but he also had Takahiro Maeda(前田たかひろ)helping out on lyrics and Cozy Kubo(久保こーじ)providing a hand on the melody.

And the collaboration between Komuro and Kubo does show a difference. Instead of the usual dance techno that populates many a trf hit, there is a very sunny throwback to disco in "Love & Peace Forever" although the music video has YU-KI, DJ KOO and the rest of the gang look like a bunch of hippies on Phuket Island, and in other parts of the video, it looks like they raided a secondhand United Colours of Benetton store. Well, I guess the song is well titled then.

YU-KI's delivery of the refrain also seemed rather sing-song as if she were channeling her inner elementary school student. It kinda sums up this feeling of the past being seen through rose-coloured glasses. The overall message is one of chilling out, calling out to old friends and sloughing off the bad stuff, and perhaps for people of a certain generation (which would probably include me), it's a tempting invitation to go back to those old disco days. Certainly after hearing this song for the first time in so many years, it's a sense of compounded nostalgia as I listen to this 1990s "Love & Peace Forever" in the 2010s as it brings that feeling of the 1970s.

The song went Platinum as it peaked at No. 2. Apparently, "Love & Peace Forever" was the last single to feature the name of the band in small letters. From the next single forward, Komuro's group would go full caps...TRF. By the way, the video above has Ran Ran Suzuki(鈴木蘭々)and MAX doing their own karaoke cover.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Aiko Hirano/Kazuko Matsuo/Saki Takaoka -- Kimi Mate Domo (君待てども)

During last week's NHK-broadcast special charity concert in Shizuoka Prefecture, I did hear a lovely bluesy ballad called "Kimi Mate Domo" which was originally sung by Aiko Hirano(平野愛子)in 1948. Written and composed by Tatsuzo Azuma(東辰三), it was a torch song about pining for that special someone who would probably never come or come back. The original recorded version has that old-fashioned stateliness.

(Sorry but the video has been taken down.)

However, to be honest, I have much preferred the later versions of "Kimi Mate Domo" since they have possessed more of that good time swing. And apparently it has been covered a number of times by a lot of different folks. Kazuko Matsuo(松尾和子), for example, gave her cover of the song in 1963. And that picture of her above sums her stylings on the song perfectly: as someone who is by herself for another night at the bar while sucking back on that cigarette. Plenty of atmosphere there as she seems happily resigned to her fate.

The big surprise for me is that actress Saki Takaoka(高岡早紀)has given her own sultry take on the song with the added English title "I'm Waiting For You". When I first knew her, it was as the buxom tarento on the variety show circuit, and Marcos V. has written about one of her early tunes as an aidoru, "Nemurenu Mori no Bishoujo"(眠れぬ森の美女)from 1988.

But it's been many since that song. And in 2013, she performed "Kimi Mate Domo" as the ending theme for one of her movies from that year, "Monster" where she played a woman who had undergone serious plastic surgery to escape from a horrific childhood of being bullied due to her facial deformities. I'm actually quite impressed with her vocals here. The song itself was a track on her album of standards, "Sings-Bedtime Stories" from October 2014.

The Square/Sound! Euphonium -- Takarajima (宝島)

Happy Monday to all! Last year, when the anime "Hibike Euphonium"(響け!ユーフォニアム...Sound Euphonium)had its debut season, things were running well enough when Episode 5 was broadcast, but then delights and ears were further raised with the Kitauji High School Band doing their own version of Yellow Magic Orchestra's classic "Rydeen". After the ultimately successful first run of the show, all of us including myself and my anime buddy were wondering if something similar were going to happen in the second season which is starting to approach its endgame.

Sure enough, there were the band versions of "Gakuen Tengoku"(学園天国)and an old Eiichi Ohtaki(大瀧詠一)tune but they were excerpts and there was the feeling that these weren't the big songs. Well, it took 7 episodes this time and it came in the middle of some rather turbulent (and frankly overwrought) drama (did I mention that I'm no longer a huge fan of J-dramas?), but this season's "Rydeen" finally entered the picture. The Kitauji High School Band did their own take on another 80s song "Takarajima" (Treasure Island) at Kyoto Station, and once again the animators stepped up to the plate and hit a home run. I loved everything about the scene since it emulated the buildup for the "Rydeen" performance...a quiet happy scene before it, closeups of the individual sections of the band clearly enjoying themselves this time, and even the leader of the band club, the much put-upon Haruka Ogasawara (played by the popular Saori Hayami/早見沙織), not only getting some redemption in the series but also her 15 seconds of fame with a solo on the baritone sax. And it was thrilling hearing those French horns as well.

However, unlike my beloved "Rydeen", "Takarajima" and the original band, The Square, were completely unknown to me. The Square (now known as T-Square) is a jazz fusion band that started its long run in 1976 at about the same time as another famous genre band, Casiopea. Apparently, according to J-Wiki, its name was inspired by a piece of apparel...the Madison Square Bag from New York City.

"Takarajima" which has become one of The Square's signature songs, was a track on the band's 11th album, "S・P・O・R・T・S" from March 1986. The description for this track is the longest among the tracks on the album as written up in the J-Wiki article on the album, but the biggest thing I got out of it was that it was voted No. 1 in the categories of "Favourite Song" and "Most Memorable Song" by EMI Music Japan which has been releasing the long-running record/CD series "New Sounds in Brass" since the early 1970s. It might explain why this particular song was chosen for "Sound! Euphonium".

So last season it was technopop. This season, it is AOR. "Takarajima" as composed by then-band keyboardist Hirotaka Izumi(和泉宏隆)is as relaxing as a slowly fizzing glass of Perrier. And the strange thing is that I may have heard this song a number of times before especially when that weird woodwind comes in right after the intro. If that is the case, then it's been used for many a feature on the wide shows and variety shows over the years. I might have discovered that "Takarajima" is the Japanese pop equivalent of Chuck Mangione's "Feels So Good".

In any case, I was so charmed by "Takarajima" that I've just bought the band's self-cover album tonight with the song, "Takaranouta ~T-SQUARE plays THE SQUARE~"(宝曲~T-SQUARE plays THE SQUARE~)from 2010 at Tower Records. Hopefully, it will get here by Xmas.

And here is the real band performance at Kyoto Station by Heian High School in the city of Kyoto. Too bad about the sound, though.

January 13 2017: Well, whaddaya know?

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Carlos Toshiki & Omega Tribe -- Aquamarine no Mama de ite (アクアマリンのままでいて)

After Tokyo gets snow in November for the first time in 54 years and following our first hit of winter some days before that, summer is basically a very fond memory for a lot of folks on either side of the Pacific.

So it wasn't too difficult a decision to bring this song in. Plus, it is most likely the first time in "Kayo Kyoku Plus" history that I've used the same video for two different articles on the same day. Yup, I just used the opening credits of 1988 trendy drama "Dakishimetai!"(抱きしめたい!...I Wanna Hold Your Hand)for a different purpose in my previous article on Yuko Asano's(浅野ゆう子)debut single, but for her, it is specifically for the theme song used for this show.

With perennially evergreen 80s summer boys band Omega Tribe taking care of "Aquamarine no Mama de ite" (Stay Aquamarine), this time it's indeed Brazilian-born Carlos Toshiki Takahashi (カルロス・トシキ・タカハシ) captaining the ship vacated by Kiyotaka Sugiyama(杉山清貴). This is Carlos Toshiki & Omega Tribe's (カルロス・トシキ&オメガトライブ) 2nd single under this band name released in August 1988.

Listening to Carlos Toshiki and remembering Kiyotaka Sugiyama, I realized that the former has a slightly more ethereal quality in his delivery which seemed to take his contributions to Omega Tribe to a more atmospheric level. I kinda feel like that symbolic City Pop airplane taking off. But it's anchored nicely by that snazzy arrangement of synths, guitar and horn section (Jerry Hey helped in that) that Tsunehiro Izumi(和泉常寛)composed.

As for Masao Urino's(売野雅勇)lyrics, I'm not crystal clear on the meaning although the impression that I'm getting is that some fellow is still admiring a former flame from afar. Perhaps that flame was burning a little too brightly for the protagonist and he now has to keep his distance despite retaining some residual feelings.

"Aquamarine no Mama de ite" got as high as No. 3 on Oricon and ended up as the 51st-ranked single of the year.

Yuko Asano -- Tobidase Hatsukoi (とびだせ初恋)

As I intimated for my other article on actress Yuko Asano(浅野ゆう子), I first got to know her through all those sparkly trendy dramas that she starred in the late 1980s and early 1990s such as the one above, "Dakishimetai!"(抱きしめたい!...I Wanna Hold Your Hand). With the face and body of a model but with the temperament of a good buddy, it was no surprise about how popular she became as the face of the trendy drama. Plus there was that whole Double Asano fad whenever she appeared with fellow thespian and fellow beauty Atsuko Asano(浅野温子), although they weren't related to each other...Yuko Asano was actually born Yuko Akazawa(赤沢裕子)in 1960.

So I had to play some catchup when I discovered that she had once owned a career as an aidoru in the early 1970s. In fact, I managed to find a short version of her debut single "Tobidase Hatsukoi" (Jump Out, First Love) from May 1974. Yep, she's doing the cute teenybopper thing but the thing that floored me was that she was just at the higher end of 13 when she released this song! I'm looking at that video above and trying to wrap my head around the fact that she was just barely into adolescence as she was go-go dancing.

Mieko Arima(有馬三恵子)took care of the lyrics while Makoto Kawaguchi(川口真)composed the light and fluffy tune. Of course, her biggest hit would be "Sexy Bus Stop"  a couple of years later.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Taeko Ohnuki -- Keibetsu (軽蔑)

Time to once again return to the wonderfully amazing world of Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)from decades back. I'm going to take a look at one of her tracks from "Romantique", the 1980 album that was the starting point of a new fascinating turn for the former member of Sugar Babe. That rather stark picture of her in the inner booklet pretty much said it all. She was no longer the same City Pop/New Music singer of the 1970s.

(check 29:44)

I was once watching an anime in which a character had an internal monologue fearing that a friend that she greatly admired and loved was looking at her with keibetsu. I didn't know exactly what she meant by that expression although I could gather the basic meaning from the scene.Well, all I really had to do was look up "Romantique". There is a track in there with that very same word as the title. And it means "disdain".

As I mentioned, "Romantique" was the launching point of a new Taeko Ohnuki. She was now dabbling in the wonderful world of technopop (with the help of her good buddies at Yellow Magic Orchestra) and some romantically European sounds. However, with "Keibetsu", Ohnuki decided to take yet another musical dip, and it sounded like New Wave. Specifically I was thinking Blondie. I can't think of any other songs off the top of my head right now but as much as Debbie Harry and her band's hits of "Heart of Glass" and "Call Me" were major parts of the musical memories of my youth, my impression is that a lot of songwriters in Japan were also inspired by that band. And I think Ohnuki was one of those folks when it came to "Keibetsu".

Lyrically, Ohnuki may have been ahead of her time or perhaps the Japanese entertainment media was always supremely nosy in the affairs of singers, tarento and actors. In the J-Wiki article for "Romantique", the singer-songwriter used "Keibetsu" to rail against the morbid need for folks to delve into the lives of celebrities and then fill in the blanks among the bytes of information that they could get to create the latest rumours. Certainly her melody had that sort of protest march sensation to it. Man, I wonder what she must be thinking about some of the stuff that's happening in America with the Kardashians and even Justin Bieber. Mind you, there's plenty of local stuff to keep the geino reporters very happy.

I've enjoyed all of the songs in "Romantique" and although I'm not sure whether Ohnuki's pipes quite fit the New Wave mode (a tad high?), "Keibetsu" is still one of the more intriguing ones in her long discography.

May'n -- Hikari Aru Basho e (光ある場所へ)

Had some extra stress added to my life today with the sudden emergency request for translations by the end of the month and then the final arrangements before some needed work inside the home gets done tomorrow. I need a few hours to relax before I hit the hay.

For this season, another anime that we've been watching has been "Shuumatsu no Izetta"(終末のイゼッタ...Izetta The Last Witch)which started out as something akin to "Raiders of the Lost Ark" with plenty of derring-do escapes starring a princess of a besieged European country who has as much spunk as another princess long ago in a galaxy far far away. There's also that feeling of a Studio Ghibli production as well...not surprising considering that the princess has a secret weapon/best friend in the form of a witch. However over the past number of weeks, the World War II setting and the interplay among the various characters including Princess Fine and Izetta The Last Witch have given me the impression that the plot is heading down through some very dark territory. Perhaps the best I might hope for by the end of its 12 or 13 episodes is a very bittersweet epilogue.

What keeps that impression within me is the ending theme "Hikari Aru Basho e" (To A Place With Light) that starts out with some dramatic and all-together not particularly happy piano. However it is arranged beautifully as the darkness turns into hope through Kazao Fujisawa's(藤澤風緒)melody; I can hear that light peeking through the middle part of the song before that piano crashes again on that last note. Man, I hope it isn't trying to warn me about how the story is going to unfold in the last half of the series.

May'n is the songbird behind "Hikari Aru Basho e" with Yuuho Iwasato(岩里祐穂)providing the evocative lyrics of trying to persuade the listener that there is no light without the dark. The singer's voice reminds me a little of Ayumi Hamasaki's(浜崎あゆみ)delivery as she tenderly navigates through the sensitive topic of having to get hurt to get stronger and that all the prayers in the world won't help you unless you take the difficult steps yourself. Tough love, folks.

"Hikari Aru Basho e" is May'n's 14th single since her debut under her stage name in May 2009 (she did release 3 earlier singles under her real name of Mei Nakabayashi(中林芽依)back in 2005 and 2006). There are no reports on how it has been doing since it literally got released a couple of days ago. Her biography can be found at Wikipedia while the translation of Iwasato's lyrics can be found at Lyrical Nonsense.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Akira Fuse -- Ai wa Fushicho (愛は不死鳥)

In place of the usual "Uta Kon"(うたコン)a few nights ago, TV Japan presented the 54th Annual Kayo Charity Concert(第54回 歌謡チャリティーコンサート)from the city of Shizuoka. Basically the special is a bit more dressier than the weekly kayo broadcast but has the customary mix of old kayo and new J-Pop with a large symphonic orchestra in back.

One of the singers featured that night was perennial favourite Akira Fuse(布施明). Some months ago, one commenter took him to task for always shifting his larynx into overdrive and blowing out his vocals like the Wave Motion Gun on the Yamato. I have to admit that his performance of "Ai wa Fushicho" (Love Is A Phoenix) on the Tuesday concert sounded like listening to my favourite song at a few levels of volume too high. It all came out too fuzzy and garbled and loud. Not quite sure if he were trying to compensate for something but perhaps he felt like he needed to come up with the showstopper to wrap up the broadcast.

Noelle came up with one of his most recent songs a few weeks ago, so let me go way back for the Fuse fix tonight. "Ai wa Fushicho" was one of the boomer's singles, his 20th, from 1970. As the title would hint, Kohan Kawauchi's(川内康範)lyrics are all about eternal love...quite the high-flying concept, and so Masaaki Hirao's(平尾昌晃)music matched it with something of an epic operatic European bent. Plus, of course, Fuse's vocals were more than happy to take the challenge although I think his performance in the above video (that video has been taken down) was rather more controlled and easier to listen to.

The arrangements for the song here had an interesting feel of a Hollywood Western as if Fuse was getting ready for that showdown in the middle of the dusty street in 19th-century Nevada. I wish there were an actual recorded version of "Ai wa Fushicho" on YouTube but for now, we just have the performed versions on TV.

No mention was made on J-Wiki on how the song did on Oricon strangely enough, but it must have done quite well since Fuse was able to make it onto the 1970 Kohaku Utagassen for the 4th time to perform it. Apparently, he was wearing clothes that resembled the outline of a phoenix. I would be very interested to see what he looked like in that outfit.

67th (2016) NHK Kohaku Utagassen (第67回NHK紅白歌合戦)

Signs that December is approaching:

1. I've started writing my Xmas cards.
2. My anime buddy has sent out feelers for the annual year-end get-together.
3. The Japanese media has announced the lineup for this year's Kohaku Utagassen.

Guess which sign I'll be focusing on tonight.😉

Yup, it's nearly that time of year when The Avengers of J-Pop and enka singers get together to have their so-called "battle" on the massive Shibuya NHK Hall stage on December 31st. I'm continuing on the tradition of putting up the lineup for the Red and White teams that I began last year for the 66th annual presentation. The above video is for the 34th edition of the special in 1983 (or at least the first several minutes).

The main NHK host will be newscaster Shinichi Takeda(武田真一)who usually takes care of the 7pm broadcast. It looks like the company is giving Yumiko Udo(有働由美子)time off after having her host the show for several years.

So without further ado, here are the teams for the 67th NHK Kohaku Utagassen brought to you by the good folks at Wikipedia:

Akagumi/Red Team
Captain: Kasumi Arimura

Ai (2)
Ayaka (8)
E-Girls (4)
Ikimonogakari (9)
Sayuri Ishikawa (39)
Yukino Ichikawa (debut)
Hikaru Utada (debut)
AKB48 (9)
Shinobu Otake (debut)
Keyakizaka 46 (debut)
Kaori Kozai (19)
Fuyumi Sakamoto (28)
Ringo Shiina (4)
Aya Shimazu (3)
Mariko Takahashi (4)
Yoshimi Tendo (21)
Kana Nishino (7)
Nogizaka 46 (2)
Puffy (debut)
Perfume (9)
Seiko Matsuda (20)
Kaori Mizumori (14)
Miwa (4)

Shirogumi/White Team
Captain: Masaki Aiba

Arashi (8)
Hiroshi Itsuki (46)
X Japan (7)
Kanjani 8 (5)
Kenta Kiritani (debut)
Kinki Kids (debut)
Hiromi Go (29)
Sandaime J Soul Brothers (5)
The Yellow Monkey (debut)
Sekai no Owari (3)
Sexy Zone (4)
Tokio (23)
AAA (7)
Kiyoshi Hikawa (17)
V6 (3)
Kohei Fukuda (3)
Masaharu Fukuyama (9)
Gen Hoshino (2)
Hiroshi Miyama (2)
Keisuke Yamauchi (2)
Yuzu (7)
Radwimps (debut)
Radio Fish (debut)

This year's theme is "Yume wo Utao"(夢を歌おう...Let's Sing The Dream). As for who I'm especially looking forward to...well, on the Red Team, there is enka singer Yukino Ichikawa(市川由紀乃), the Queen of 80s Aidoru Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子), and it'll be nice to see Puffy on the screen after a good long time. On the White Team, I am interested to see Gen Hoshino(星野源), maybe Hiromi Go(郷ひろみ)to see if he can still bust a move (or a hip), and Kohei Fukuda(福田こうへい)after a year's absence from the Kohaku stage. Although I realize that the Kohaku has been trending more towards J-Pop for the past several years, it's still a pity that I won't be able to see the stalwarts from the bygone age, Takashi Hosokawa(細川たかし)and Shinichi Mori(森進一)back on the show after announcing their retirement from the annual special.

It will all be starting up at 7:15 pm Japan Standard Time on December 31st so prepare for another marathon fest of music. Wouldn't mind some mikan on that night.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Ann Lewis -- Shampoo (シャンプー)

Not sure if this also applies in the West, but in Japan whenever there is a romantic breakup, especially when the relationship had been a long one, the custom is that a woman with long hair would cut it down to a bob (the guy can apparently keep his money on haircuts). So I guess if any woman heads out to work or play with a radically different do, her colleagues may exclaim "Oh dear, I hope it wasn't too painful..." or "Why, that jerk! Dumping her like that...". Therefore, it's not just the fall season that signifies the end of a beautiful relationship but a drastic visit to a hair salon.

(cover version)

I decided to start off with this tonsorial anecdote since it would seem to be the theme of this unusual but lovely ballad by Ann Lewis (アン・ルイス). The reason I say "unusual" is that I've never heard Lewis sing something that wasn't hard rock from her 80s period or one of her very early sweet songs from the first half of the 1970s.

As it is, "Shampoo" is a track from her 8th album from August 1979, "Pink Pussycat". I've seen the cover for this album numerous times in books and at the CD shops in Japan, and yep, that was my image of Lewis because of all of those rock tunes. I would have approached her with trepidation. And yet, here is "Shampoo" done in this slightly gospel bluesy style almost along the lines of Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子). Perhaps it's not surprising then that Yoshida's frequent songwriting partner, Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎), was behind the composition of this ode to the breakup while Chinfa Kan(康珍化)took up the duty of writing the melancholy lyrics.

There was that old chestnut in America titled "I'm Washing That Man Right Out of My Hair" which was always performed gleefully as if the woman was celebrating a lottery win by finally ridding herself of that jerk. "Shampoo" instead has quite the opposite emotion in which the protagonist is crying her tears in the shower as she tries to wash away the sadness of the breakup from her now-shortened hairdo. Lewis tries to encourage her to forget about the past and look forward to the future. There are other fish in the sea, y'know.

Always nice to hear a new side from a singer that I've known for decades.

SHAMBARA -- Solid Dance

There was a spoken intro on some ancient TV show about there being a million stories out there in the city. Well, in my beloved hobby, I've come across quite a few stories myself as we have worked on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" as we approach our 5th anniversary.

But first some prelude. During my short walk through YouTube last night, I encountered another one of those Future Funk creations by Macross 82-99 with Conscious Thoughts titled "Idol Talk Pt. II". Sometimes I give these videos a shot since I have heard some pretty good Japanese City Pop through all the remixing, and that was certainly the case back in the summer when I discovered Cindy's "Watashi Tachi wo Shinjiteite"(私達を信じていて)through an Artzie Music video.

Lightning struck again! I found the song being kneaded and molded in the Macross remix to be quite cool so I started searching. And it didn't take too long before I found out that the original was "Solid Dance" by the group SHAMBARA.

Perhaps I should say supergroup here since the band consisted of folks from the realm of J-Fusion and City Pop. There were two members from the legendary fusion group Casiopea (カシオペア), Tetsuo Sakurai/櫻井哲夫 (bass) and Akira Jimbo/神保彰 (drums & percussion), joined by two lovely vocalists, Yurie Kokubu(国分友里恵)and Kaoru Akimoto(秋元薫)who have given their contributions to the Japanese form of urban contemporary during the 1980s, and the latter lady has even had one of her own songs made into a popular Macross 82-99 piece. Nozomi Furukawa(古川望)and Kunihiko Ryo(梁邦彦)rounded out SHAMBARA on guitar and keyboards respectively. Although I have only heard the one song by the band so far, it seems like Sakurai and Jimbo wanted to go for a more active and funky sound.

I don't know about the dance in "Solid Dance" but the song is solid. You've got these funky musicians and songbirds putting out this tune that rather screamed out Bubble Era Tokyo just before the bubble did inevitably burst. There is the fat bass, the champagne synths and the wonderful shared vocals by Kokubu and Akimoto for a musical trip through the nighttime megalopolis.

The track which may have been whipped by the two fellows from Casiopea (couldn't track down the information on words & music) was put onto SHAMBARA's first and, I assume, only self-titled album from 1989.

As for the story part, I got this from the J-Wiki article on the band which dealt virtually with just some of the sturm und drang that accompanied the birth of SHAMBARA. Supposedly, Sakurai and Jimbo had been having some differences in opinion in terms of the direction of the band with the rest of the Casiopea members for some time so when they decided to start up this SHAMBARA project in 1988, there was resistance from those members. At the time, Casiopea had just decided to take a break from performing but its leader and guitarist Issei Noro(野呂一生)along with keyboardist Minoru Mukaiya(向谷実)believed that the continuation of SHAMBARA would lead to some problems in getting Casiopea back up and running so they demanded that Sakurai and Jimbo cease and desist. But the conclusion was that the two decided to leave the band permanently (although according to the Casiopea J-Wiki article, it looks like Jimbo at least mended fences as a current support drummer). Usually I'm not too crazy about airing dirty laundry on these pages but it was interesting on how the band got started. Still, if any of the members do read this article and disagree with what I've translated above, please let me know.

However for all that, the life of SHAMBARA didn't last that much longer. In 1990, Sakurai and Jimbo decided to bring things back to fusion but instead of heading back to Casiopea, the duo created another unit called Jimsaku (ジンサク) which lasted for 8 years. From what I've read, the album "SHAMBARA" is about as rare as one can get since any production has been discontinued.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Meiko Kaji/Tetsuya Watari/Hiroko Takekoshi -- Tokyo Nagaremono (東京流れ者)

Last night, I was doing my occasional browsing through YouTube when I saw the above video which had the still of this "don't-fool-around-with-me" lady striking an intimidating pose. Well, I should have known that this was singer-actress Meiko Kaji(梶芽衣子). She was playing all sorts of deadly rebels and perhaps she is most famous in the West as the singer behind the song that was playing immediately after Uma "The Bride" Thurman scalped her enemy, Lucy Liu as O-Ren Ishii, in "Kill Bill: Volume 1".

Well, the song that she sings here is called "Tokyo Nagaremono" and as soon as I heard the quiet guitar and harmonica and her voice, I knew that the second word in the title had to mean "drifter", and sure enough, the English translation is "Tokyo Drifter". What better way to describe the characters that Kaji has played...that of a lone wolf bumping into trouble or trouble bumping into her and then taking care of it?

"Tokyo Nagaremono" then took me on a short journey which led me to the actual yakuza movie of the same name for which it became the theme song. I've only seen the first few scenes of the 1966 movie and read the Wikipedia description of it and was impressed by the story behind it. The director, Seijun Suzuki(鈴木清順), was apparently quite the firebrand at his craft and his bosses over at Nikkatsu tried to tone him down (or take him down a few pegs) by slashing the budget for his next film. I'm sure the big guys had initially crossed their arms in glee at the thought of their uncontrollable director finally being made to heel...only for Suzuki and his staff to be inspired as they "....pushed themselves to new heights of surrealism and absurdity."

I caught a few more scenes here and there and there's quite a bit of day-glo colourful psychedelia and even some fast motion almost along the lines of a silent movie but I've got a feeling that my eyes haven't gotten quite the full experience of Suzuki's tour de force film. As for me, I'm not a yakuza film fan at all. However, considering the tidbits I've seen, I would be willing to take a longer look at "Tokyo Nagaremono", the story of a young hitman who has just been laid off, only to get himself involved in some nasty give n' take between two gangs. Who knows? This could have been one of the movies that inspired Quentin Tarentino to make "Kill Bill" in the first place.

Now, to the theme song itself which was actually released in 1965. The star of the movie, Tetsuya Watari(渡哲也)who plays that young assassin sings "Tokyo Nagaremono" in its full Mood Kayo (with a bit of Hawaiian) glory. And yep, it's that same Watari who would play Yujiro Ishihara's(石原裕次郎)right-hand man in those cop shows many years later. He looked quite a bit burlier back in his early days.

The intriguing thing is that the composer of the song is unknown. Maybe he got rubbed out? And as for the lyrics, they seem to have shifted. Watari sang the song for two different recording studios, Teichiku and Crown Records, each with a different lyricist, Kotoba Takatsuki(高月ことば)for the former and Kohan Kawauchi(川内康範)for the latter company under the pseudonym Kazuko Kawauchi(川内和子). No matter what the words were, though, Watari's forlorn if somewhat defiant delivery pretty much spoke for his character, Phoenix Tetsu.

That same year, another version of "Tokyo Nagaremono" was released by Osaka-born singer Hiroko Takekoshi(竹越ひろ子). Once again, the lyrics were done by yet another writer, Hiroshi Nagai(永井ひろし). With a similarly Hawaiian Mood Kayo arrangement (that steel guitar seems to take a louder role in this take), Takekoshi sounds as if she were the unlucky lady that got dumped by Phoenix.

Takekoshi was born in 1941 and after graduating from Kishinosato Music Academy in 1959, she started performing as a jazz singer in nightclubs and US military camps before making her recorded debut in 1963 with King Records. With her version of "Tokyo Nagaremono" though, she sold 300,000 records in about 6 months which perhaps made it her biggest hit.

Of course, I cannot finish this article without including Keiko Fuji's(藤圭子)take on the song since she was indeed the Queen of Down-and-Out Kayo. It sounds as if the steel guitar has been replaced with an organ and saxophone, though. Her cover was apparently recorded in 1970 and once more, a different lyricist, Masao Ishizaka(石坂まさを), put his own stamp on it. I'm kinda wondering if there was an unwritten rule that "Tokyo Nagaremono" could be re-written anytime.

Junko Hirotani -- Mizuiro no Machi (水色の街)

I'll be looking forward to another NHK kayo special in about 25 minutes so I'm gonna be fairly racing although I intend to put out a decent written product in that time.

My feelings are that Junko Hirotani(広谷順子)is one of those unsung heroines in the music industry. She's provided her own singles and albums along with songs for other singers and yet I never heard anything about her until I started perusing that book, "Nihon no Josei Singer-Songwriters"(日本の女性シンガー・ソングライター...Japan's Female Singer-Songwriters)and building "Kayo Kyoku Plus".

However, she's got a lovely voice and has impressed me with the songs that I have heard and listed on the blog so far. It's solidly pop, tending toward the Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)side of things. One example of this is the subject of this article, "Mizuiro no Machi" (Water-Coloured Town) which is a track on her 2nd album "Blendy" (I also feel like having a cup of coffee whenever I hear of this album....sorry that's a small joke about a brand of Japanese coffee with the same name) from 1980.

As soon as it starts, I get that Ohnuki feeling of a trip through Europe. There is that sense of innocent traipsing through some of the older architecture of the various capital cities as I listen to "Mizuiro no Machi". Unfortunately, I couldn't confirm whether Hirotani actually composed or wrote this but she seems to have stepped into an area which would include singers such as Takako Okamura(岡村孝子)later on in the decade. And she does remind me of a contemporary of hers who would debut at around this time, Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子), one of my all-time favourites.

There was an article on a Japanese site that I've often referred to in the pages of this blog, "Music Avenue" in which "Blendy" was featured. And in it, I found that the author stated that "Mizuiro no Machi" is so exquisitely arranged that even an aidoru could sing it well (that could be praise or condemnation). I could imagine an aidoru singing this song but I don't think it would be the case until later in the 1980s when some of those teenyboppers were tackling a more fancier aesthetic in the arrangement. Perhaps Hirotani was someone ahead of her time when it came to aidoru music? However, I would still place her solidly in the pop genre.

Not being able to find out about the information behind the making of the song gives me further incentive to see if I can purchase "Blendy" soon. Plus, I've already written one other tune from the album "Blue Rainy Station". Besides, I really like that cover.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Ichimaru -- Shamisen Boogie-Woogie (三味線ブギウギ)

First off, I did catch that tsunami alert on NHK which went on 4 hours earlier today. The earthquake which had preceded it was moderate but nothing like the 2011 temblor at a Shindo 5 minus, but that tsunami warning immediately had everyone on edge. When I saw that large red-and-white banner on the screen literally screaming 「にげて」(flee!), that definitely held my attention and concern for a good long while. I am hoping that the only damage to the Pacific coast was just to everyone's wits.

Continuing on, last week during the Kyoto-themed episode of "Uta Kon" (うたコン), I heard a rather unusual song on the show called "Shamisen Boogie-Woogie". In recent years, there have been some attempts at melding genres such as rock with traditional Japanese music. Little did I know that the mixing and matching had been occurring as far back as the immediate postwar era.

So it was in 1949, when this song combined some nice old enka with something jazzy and had it performed by Ichimaru(市丸), a singer as well as a professional geisha. Born in 1906 as Matsue Goto(後藤まつゑ)in Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture, she left home in her mid-teens to work at a geisha house and gradually went up through the ranks to become a geisha but also did extra training to improve her singing skills. In 1931, the Victor Recording Company took notice and signed her up so that she could record 3 songs to start her career that year.

Following World War II, Ichimaru, who already had recorded numerous songs to her credit, took an interest in American culture and especially one of America's greatest exports to the world, jazz. From this admiration was born the hit "Shamisen Boogie-Woogie", this rather eclectic mix of shamisen and swing. Written by Takao Saeki(佐伯孝夫)and composed by Ryoichi Hattori(服部良一), I think "Shamisen Boogie-Woogie" could have the progenitor for a number of Hibari Misora's(美空ひばり)uptempo songs (she was just a kid when this song was released) and maybe even the whole dodonpa music fad a number of years later.

And here I was thinking that New Music and City Pop were the original Japanese music genres to meld Western melodies with Japanese lyrics. Well, perhaps I'm being a bit overly generous with that assessment. "Shamisen Boogie-Woogie" still sounds mostly like a tune that I would hear at a summer festival in Japan but still, it does have that melodic feeling of a glass of shochu spiked with a few hits of scotch.

Strangely enough, Ichimaru hasn't been the only geisha-singer that I have written about in the last few weeks.

George Yanagi -- Burning (バーニング)

Yesterday, I wrote an article about a song by Tessei Miyoshi(三好鉄生)which was also covered by George Yanagi(柳ジョージ). a musician who was adept at both the guitar and the bass. Now, Yanagi has been a figure in Japanese music that I had heard about for years but never got to know all that well. However, there was one really cool video which got a lot of play on the regional Gunma TV between programs which, I believe, featured him and his blistering guitar in a really good mood. Unfortunately, I have yet to find out what the song is titled although I did see it in through 1990 and 1991 which narrows things down slightly.

But since I still wanted to give him his due, here is his take on his 1996 single "Burning". As you can see, he was quite the kakkoii middle-aged dude on his guitar. Although I would like to say that he reminded me of Eric Clapton, according to the J-Wiki article about him, Yanagi was apparently not a big fan of his; he actually admired Dave Mason from the band Traffic. Anyways, this song has struck me as being the ideal tune to play on the car stereo while bombing down the Kan-Etsu or the Wangan highway in Tokyo....provided that there is no traffic jam. Lots of energy in there. And as the singer himself cries out in the song, there is "burning in your heart".

Yanagi himself started his career with his own band, George Yanagi & Rainy Wood in 1978 with the album "Time In Changes". Since then, his solo career has produced singles from 1982 to 2008 with many albums to boot. Tragically, the musician passed away in October 2011 from renal failure at the age of 63. However, I'm still looking for that elusive song and I've read about some even more representative tunes by him so there will be more articles.

As for "Burning", this was written by Koki Ikenaga(池永康気)and composed by Nobuhiko Kashiwara(樫原伸彦).

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Tessei Miyoshi -- Sugoi Otoko no Uta (すごい男の唄)

If there is one thing that I've learned about Japan, it's that beer is considered to be an all-year drink (just like in Canada). Those thirsty folks in the commercials may bellow out that "AHHHHHHHH!" after swallowing a big gulp of suds during those hot summers, but the golden brew is still much appreciated in the winter months as well.


Of course, there had to be a kayo which involved the joys of drinking beer. And I found it as Tessei Miyoshi's(三好鉄生)"Sugoi Otoko no Uta" (The Song of an Amazing Man), his 7th single from July 1987. Strangely enough, it is a song that I did hear often at my old karaoke haunt of Kuri since I distinctly remember that chorus of "Don, don!" whenever some fellow decided to give it a shot.

Written by copyrighter Takashi Nakahata(仲畑貴志)and composed by Katsuhisa Hattori(服部克久), Miyoshi has come up with another manly and genki singalong ditty to join his other famous tune, "Namida wo Fuite"(涙をふいて)from 1982. But "Sugoi Otoko no Uta" is not only a melodic excuse to drink beer but also the equivalent of the exaggerated fish tales that the fishermen loved to troll each other with around the campfire. As quickly as anyone says "I caught a fish that was THIS BIG!", Miyoshi happily trills about a man who is so amazing that bears flee from him and alligators beg to become his servants.

Of course, all this is happening while one of Miyoshi's hands is firmly gripping the handle of his dai jokkii of beer while the other is beckoning the server to come over to take another order for a round of brewskis. All those suds are needed to further fuel further rounds of bulls**t, after all. Plus although I cannot remember it exactly, I'm fairly sure that there were indeed more demands for the good stuff once the song was over.

In the same year, the late guitarist George Yanagi(柳ジョージ)also gave his gruffer version of "Sugoi Otoko no Uta" as the commercial jingle for Suntory Draft Beer (which probably explains a copyrighter coming up with the lyrics for the song). Yanagi frankly sounds like that bear who fled from that amazing man.

Monday Michiru -- Play It By Ear

The first time I wrote about Monday Michiru (Monday満ちる) here on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" was back in June when things were heating up for one of the hotter summers on record in Toronto. Well, this is my second go and now it's quite the opposite. I think it's barely above freezing at the moment and I saw some flurries outside my window earlier this afternoon.

Therefore, it's rather nice to bring in something nice and tropical sounding with Michiru's "Play It By Ear". This was her 5th single from July 1999 and unlike the happy-go-lucky strutworthy soul of "You Make Me" which was my first article on the singer-songwriter, "Play It By Ear" is more of the relaxing bossa nova. She worked on this alongside Mondo Grosso who just loves to bring in the Latin elements into his remixes.

"Play It By Ear" despite what the title says is anything but improvisational. It just seems tailor-made to bring down the heart rate and get you into a calmer state of mind...until that bit of Rio trickles in near the end. I actually found it in that BEST album of Michiru's "Selections '97-'00" which was released in 2001.

Ichiro Toba -- Casablanca Goodbye (カサブランカ・グッバイ)

It has been quite a long time since I've posted articles regarding Ichiro Toba (鳥羽一郎) and, for that matter, Yutaka Yamakawa (山川豊). It has probably been more than a year since so I've decided to do just that, starting with the older of the enka siblings.

In terms of appearance and demeanor Toba is the gruff and scrappy one;  as I've said in one of my earlier articles on him, I find that he looks like a surly old bear that got rudely woken up from its nap - it amuses me every time I see him on stage. Complementing his looks is his type of enka - the manly man, and quite often the sea-faring sort that would showcase his roots as a gritty fisherman. With that in mind it seems as though he wouldn't deviate from his usual shtick, and yet there is "Casablanca Goodbye" to prove me wrong - that Toba is able to pull off something softer and elegant.

What makes "Casablanca Goodbye" stand out to me is that, for starters, it is written in all katakana, which is a rare sight in Toba's discography. And rather than the raging sea or a boat or a location in Japan, this kayokyoku revolves around a white lily (Lilium Casa Blanca) - nope, not the romantic drama film with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Playwright and author Makiko Uchidate (内館牧子) penned the lyrics about what I think tells of both sides of a breakup. The man parts from his lady who seems to have feelings for someone else. But rather than talking things out or getting into a heated argument, the disappointed fellow simply throws a Casablanca lily at her doorstep and walks away without a word, leaving the woman to realise that their relationship is over once she sees the abandoned flower (ouch).

As for the melody, Takashi Miki (三木たかし) had put together something rather European with the forlorn strings, and the rhythmic beat and what I think could be the high-pitched twang from the mandolin gives "Casablanca Goodbye" this ballroom dance music feel. Speaking of dancing, you can watch Yamakawa (unfortunately that video has been taken down) providing an accompanying dance routine as Toba sang. He didn't seem particularly amused though at his brother's endeavor though.

"Casablanca Goodbye" was released on 21st August 1996. I'm not sure how well it did on the charts, but since Toba still sings it from time to time, and that he performed it twice on the Kohaku (once in 1996 and again in 1997), I'm guessing that it fared quite decently.

(Sorry but the video has been taken down)

Here's Hiroshi Itsuki's (五木ひろし) attempt at "Casablanca Goodbye". Itsuki is actually the one whom I felt this tune would fit better, especially in terms of the music. But then when it comes to the lyrics, I find that the "leaving without a word" sort of breakup fits Toba more - assuming he's not in his pugnacious mood.

(Sorry but the video has been taken down)

To round things up for this write up, since I've been talking about Toba being able to channel his soft side, I've recently found out from the video above that this grumpy-looking enka singer that many fear enjoys lazing around on a Hello Kitty mat that's lined with hearts... Toba Jr., Ryuzo Kimura (木村竜蔵), brought this hilarious habit to light in his parody of "Road" (ロード), aptly renamed "Ichiro", on one of Sanma Akashiya's (明石家さんま) variety shows. It was also later revealed that Toba bejeweled his cell phone under the influence of his daughter, whom he has a soft spot for. Well, so much for the fearsome man of the sea. I can never see Toba the same way ever again...
Deco Kitty-ro...

Image result for casablanca lily
Casablanca Lily by David Pomfret