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.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Koji Tsuruta -- Kizu Darake no Jinsei (傷だらけの人生)

The record cover among the pile of old 45"s that has remained in my memory the longest is in the picture above. At the time that I had first seen it, I had no idea what it was about and why the old guy in the photo needed to expose his right shoulder like that. I couldn't read the kanji at the time but seeing some of the old videos at the Wednesday night VCR showings at the former site of the Toronto Buddhist Church on Bathurst had me thinking that this guy was some samurai warrior without the chonmage.

Well, as I would later find out much later, that rather dramatic-looking fellow was singer-actor Koji Tsuruta(鶴田浩二). Noelle has already started the Tsuruta file with his 1953 song "Machi no Sandwich Man"(街のサンドイッチマン), the ballad about the working man in postwar Japan. As my fellow writer would put it, the song had that certain jauntiness that was reminiscent of a score on an old-fashioned Walt Disney picture.

Tsuruta's biggest hit would come some 17 or 18 years later with his 16th single "Kizu Darake no Jinsei" (A Life Filled With Scars) which was composed by Tadashi Yoshida(吉田正), the same man who had created the melody for "Machi no Sandwich Man", and written by Masato Fujita(藤田まさと). Supposedly when Fujita had first come up with some of the lyrics, he had Tsuruta in mind.

On that above point, I have to say that I barely know anything about the life and career of Tsuruta (1924-1987), but the lyricist must have seen in the late singer a time of struggle and hard work in his life. According to the Wikipedia bio for the Shizuoka-born/Osaka-raised singer, his parents had divorced and he ended up as an underachieving delinquent before getting drafted into the Imperial Army. When he entered show business, he gained a reputation as one of the hardest-working thespians around.

I'm not sure whether Tsuruta's life had been as tough but "Kizu Darake no Jinsei" certainly has its protagonist crying some major blues. Perhaps the hero was a world-weary warrior in the Edo Era or the Showa Era but Fujita's lyrics made it rather clear that he was pretty much at the end of his rope and wanted to relay his story to someone who would listen...maybe at some bar or at lonely stand serving oden. There were a couple of lines which particularly intrigued me:

It's said that the old guys in particular want to have the new things.
Well, where are these new things?

I wonder if Fujita had been bearing in mind a certain group of people at a major change in Japanese history. Would it have been the tumult that accompanied the opening of Japan when Commodore Perry and his ships sailed in or was it when the nation went through its high-growth period after the war. Perhaps there were people who had felt left behind with the change in society. And especially considering the title, did the protagonist wonder if all of his efforts were for naught?

Although I'm not sure whether Tsuruta had done this with every performance on stage and/or in front of the camera, but according to J-Wiki, it was his habit whenever he sang to have a handkerchief in his right hand when holding the mike while his left hand would go to his ear. Apparently, his right hand got very sweaty during performances and his left ear had been injured while serving in the army so he needed that left hand in helping to hear the music.

"Kizu Darake no Jinsei" was not a happy ballad at all but it struck a huge chord with fans since it was his first song to break into the Top 10 when it was released on Christmas Day (of all days) 1970. In fact, it hit No. 2 on the Oricon weeklies and was the No. 4 song of 1971 as it stayed in the Top 10 for 3 months straight, selling close to a million records. Tsuruta also earned a Japan Record Award. And furthermore, two movies were made based on the song, both with the same title.

You would think that such a hit would have gotten Tsuruta a place on NHK's Kohaku Utagassen in 1971. However, all the national broadcaster got at the time was enmity from Tsuruta. For some reason, someone at NHK decided to make up a list of "Songs Not Preferred for Public Broadcast" and "Kizu Darake no Jinsei" was included. The singer was said to have become furious when he heard about this and boycotted any future appearances on the network for about 6 years. When Tsuruta and NHK finally buried the hatchet though, the former did perform the song on the various music programs.

Hiroshi Itsuki(五木ひろし)would perform a cover of the ballad on one of his albums in 1988.

And Keiko Fuji(藤圭子)also gave her version.

Even the crusty Dad from venerable anime "Tensai Bakabon" (天才バカボン...Genius Bakabon) addressed those two lines that I'd mentioned before launching into his cover of the song on a "Nodo Jiman"-like program. And he won a prize, too!


  1. Hi J-Canuck.

    "Kizu Darake no Jinsei" is a lot darker than what I had initially thought, but it is indeed really popular - I still hear it from time to time on "Nippon no Uta". Oh, and Tsuruta's hand on his ear thing, he does do it very often - I recall seeing a picture of him doing so while recording songs in the studio as well. The handkerchief bit is new to me though.

    Man, someone at NHK must've been out to get/spite some singers including Tsuruta. However, I have to admit that a list of "Songs Not Preferred for Public Broadcast" makes for quite an exciting program. Perhaps it was aired to get views in this respect.

    1. Hi, Noelle.

      It was either spite or naivete. I would kinda think that singers and songwriters are pretty sensitive about having their works slagged in public.


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