Ah, seeing the Oricon article on Toru Funamura's (船村徹) passing hit me harder than I had expected. I guess it's because he was behind the scores of a number of my favourite songs, most notably Hideo Murata's (村田英雄) "Osho" (王将), and he was one of the famed showa era songwriters I had the chance to see alive on TV - I was ecstatic when "Kayo Concert" did a special on him a couple of years ago. However, he did look rather frail, and at over eighty years of age, it was only a matter of time... That didn't lessen the shock and sadness of seeing him go though - those ninjas had chopped some onions.
J-Canuck had recently done an article aptly summarizing the life and works of this big figure in the world of enka, but I'd like to pay tribute to him as well by writing about one of his pieces. My choice was Saburo Kitajima's (北島三郎) "Fusetsu Nagare Tabi". I believe I had mentioned that Funamura's musical style had two extremes: Heavily melancholic with a mysterious atmosphere - like a thick layer rolling over a lake at night, or grandeur and powerful - like the theme song of a noble man. This iconic single falls under the latter category, and I do love hearing stuff from this category.
"Fusetsu Nagare Tabi" was able to grab my attention with its dramatic score. Those blaring trumpets with that manly thumping of the drums and the hissing of the shakuhachi makes for a quite the grand entrance for an enka singer of Ol' Sab's status, especially in the past two decades. The only bit that is on the milder side is during the Tsugaru shamisen solo, which gives a little tranquility to the melody that sounds like a raging blizzard itself - that is, of course, if there is only one shamisen player at work and not a whole army of them. As forceful and impressive as Funamura's melody is, there is this wistful undertone to it to match the lyrics of another great showa era songwriter, Tetsuro Hoshino (星野哲郎). Over here, Sabu-Chan emotively warbles about the struggles of a weary Tsugaru shamisen player travelling around northern Japan (correct me if I'm wrong). Interestingly, the "Fusetsu" in the title can mean a snowstorm or refer to hardships, and in the case of "Fusetsu Nagare Tabi" I think both meanings were intentionally used.
Sabu-Chan's 37th single was released on 15th September 1980, and it allowed him to win the grand prize for the 1st Koga Masao Commemoration Music Awards (古賀政男記念音楽大賞). He had sung "Fusetsu Nagare Tabi" a total of 7 times out of his 50 appearances on the Kohaku with the first being in 1980 and the last being in 2012. As to why I say this is one of his iconic works, it's due to a confetti storm (or sometimes shower) that engulfs the singer whenever he were to tackle it - both an awesome and hilarious spectacle, the latter from seeing Sab's struggling to sing with confetti in his mouth.
While this is Kitajima's tune, it almost wasn't as the first person chosen to sing "Fusetsu Nagare Tabi" was in fact Murata. However, he declined the offer as, quoting and roughly translating from the J-Wiki, "Although I am born and raised by the shamisen and rokyoku, this is about Tsugaru shamisen". Not exactly the reason why I'd think someone would turn down a song, but I'm sure Muchi had his reasons for sticking to the non-Tsugaru shamisen... initially. In his later years he gave it a shot, which you can listen to in the link below. Personally, I think Muchi's image fit Funamura's melody better and he give a rougher edge to "Fusetsu Nagare Tabi", but then again, I feel that Sab's could bring out the character's angst better.
"Fusetsu Nagare Tabi" has been attempted by many enka singers, but the one I see the most has got to be Aya Shimazu's (島津亜矢). She does it justice with those muscular vocals of hers.
|Rest in peace, good sir.|