Now that I've gotten myself Yutaka Yamakawa's (山川豊) 2015 compilation album (one from my online CD haul) I've come to realise that the enka crooner's vocals have two sides to it - nasally and strange, but can be deep and resonant. For the longest time I tend to notice just the former especially whenever I were to see him on TV, which I can't say I'm very fond of. It's only after getting the album and listening to the tracks when I got to hear the latter, and subsequently surprisingly good combinations of both. To me, where I found the fruity side of his voice shone the brightest was, ironically, in "Hakodate Honsen".
Ah, "Hakodate Honsen"... It feels like this song and I have finally come to amicable terms. Almost three years of constant enka and countless appearances of Yamakawa performing his debut on the NHK stage, but all it took was a purchase of a CD to make me like "Hakodate Honsen" (a lot). While I wasn't particularly thrilled when I played the track upon receiving my order, what managed to grab my attention and made me come back for more was Yamakawa's rumbling delivery that felt different from what I'd hear on "Uta Kon" or "BS (Shin) Nippon no Uta" nowadays. Being most likely the original take on the song his voice was all the aforementioned resonant side, and that I find strangely warm and comfortable to listen. At the same time, it gives an extra layer of melancholy to a song that already has a heavy atmosphere.
With a positive point to look forward to in "Hakodate Honsen", I then turned my attention to the melody. Composed by Yoshiaki Komada (駒田良昭), the slow and rhythmic beat with the drone of what may be some kind of horn makes it sound very somber, but the shrill strings makes it a little more exciting and gives it a slightly dramatic edge. As for the lyrics, brought to you by Eiji Takino (たきのえいじ), they have Yamakawa singing in the perspective of a sad woman who had left her lover to return to Hokkaido via the Hakodate Main Line, or Hakodate Honsen. The scene is set as the train heads towards the Ishikari Plains, and our protagonist is gazing at the rolling fields and despairing about having to leave that fellow.
"Hakodate Honsen" was released on 5th February 1981, and while there's no record of how well it sold, it managed to shoot Yamakawa to stardom and won him the "Best Newcomer Award" at the 23rd Japan Record Awards in that year. However, he only sang it once during his 10th appearance on the 54th Kohaku, 22 years after it came out. I really hope Yamakawa gets to sing "Hakodate Honsen" on TV again soon, even though Yamakawa would be singing it in that strange voice he's been using in the recent decade - nope, my past self would never have thought I'd ever say that.
Man, that was a tough and annoying writer's block. Don't think I've worked on one article for more than two weeks!