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.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Works of Toru Funamura (船村徹)

As has been the case since I started "Kayo Kyoku Plus", whenever I hear of a death in the Japanese music world, it's always been in the morning, specifically through NHK's "Newswatch 9", and this morning was no different. Composer Toru Funamura(船村徹)passed away at the age of 84 the day before. According to J-Wiki, he may have created more than 5,000 songs in a career that lasted over 60 years.

Unfortunately, I can't really impart any deep insights off the top (although in writing this article, that may change) about his musical style but his genres were most definitely enka and the somewhat poppier kayo of a past age. Just from some of the hits that he was responsible for, though, Funamura's enka melodies ranged from the poignant to the proud with the common point being the rich Japanese-ness of it all.

Funamura was born Hiroo Fukuda(福田博郎)in Tochigi Prefecture in 1932 and studied piano at what is now the Tokyo College of Music. His university days were during the postwar period when US military forces were frequently seen on the streets, and so he participated and even led a band which toured the US bases. He also collaborated with another budding composer, Kimio Takano(高野公男), to create music but tragically, Takano would pass away at the age of 26 in 1956.

The last time I saw Funamura on TV was on an episode of NHK's "Kayo Concert"(歌謡コンサート)early last year, I believe. And I think he also performed one song himself on stage. During the 1950s, he had his time behind the microphone, and according to his bio on J-Wiki, one of his four singles was "Shinjuku Jouwa"(新宿情話...Shinjuku Love Story)although I couldn't find out the exact year of its release. Composed by Funamura and written by Ryo Inomata(猪又良), it was the melancholy story of a man trying to comfort a young woman in distress in the titular neighbourhood of Tokyo.

I couldn't find an original copy of Funamura actually singing "Shinjuku Jouwa" but according to YouTube, it has been covered by a number of singers including Eisaku Ohkawa(大川栄策), one of his apprentices who would become one of the premier enka singers. That lone guitar expresses the tenderness of the situation and it would be one of those fine ballads to be sung by that traveling balladeer who used to walk the side streets of Shinjuku.

Officially, though, his debut as a composer came in 1953 when he made "Tasogare no Ano no Hito"(たそがれのあの人...That Man At Sunset), although I couldn't find out who the original singer was.

His first bona fide hit though came a couple of years later in 1955 when he composed "Wakare no Ippon Sugi"(別れの一本杉)for Hachiro Kasuga(春日八郎). The video above has Funamura himself singing the song about longing for home. Noelle has already fashioned an article about it right here.

I wrote about a Funamura-penned song just a couple of weeks ago called "Odorou Boku to"(踊ろうぼくと)from 1963 with all-Japanese guy Kazuo Funaki(舟木一夫). Revisiting this one and listening to some of the other hits, I've been getting the impression that Funamura enjoyed expressing aspects of the Japanese man's heart although he also made songs for female singers. This one was a bit less enka but there was that streak of gallantry in there.

In 1961, he composed one of Hideo Murata's(村田英雄)symbolic tunes, "Osho"(王将), a muscular enka that made the game of shogi into an epic battle. The above is a cover by Hiroshi Itsuki(五木ひろし).

Another one of his manly-man songs was his 1982 hit for Ichiro Toba(鳥羽一郎), another one of his apprentices, the ode to a couple of fishermen brothers battling the elements, "Kyodai Bune"(兄弟船). No matter if it's a single piercing trumpet or a whole orchestra, the song packs a wallop of an impression. I can smell the sea salt from here.

Then a year later, "Yagiri no Watashi"(矢切の渡し)became one of the biggest hits for 1983 for Takashi Hosokawa(細川たかし)although it had first been sung by Naomi Chiaki(ちあきなおみ)as a B-side back in 1976. For me, it's one of the most recognizable enka.

Another kayo legend that Funamura created songs for was the one and only Hibari Misora(美空ひばり). In 1962, she released "Hibari no Sado Jouwa"(ひばりの佐渡情話...Hibari's Sado Love Story). As far as I know, Misora may be the only singer who had kayo titles with her name on them. Although the lyrics by Sou Nishizawa(西沢爽)may have had Misora femininely lamenting a lost love, Funamura's melody still reflected a strength of character that was part and parcel of the Misora mystique...the same mystique that was rumoured to have often terrified her fellow singers at any of the Kohaku that the Queen of Kayo appeared on. And yes, she also performed this song on the NHK New Year's Eve special.

Speaking of another famous singer from the old days, Funamura created a Mood Kayo for Keiko Fuji(藤圭子)as her 40th single in February 1987, "Shinjuku Banka"(新宿挽歌...Shinjuku Elegy). And it sounded like the composer crafted the ballad perfectly for his client: that late-night bluesy music paired with Rei Nakanishi's(なかにし礼)lyrics of shattered dreams that had exemplified Fuji's songs from the very beginning.

As I said at the top, Funamura composed over 5,000 songs since 1953. So if my descriptions here are a bit chintzy, I'm sure the articles that have already been written for some of his hits will be more illuminating and there will definitely be more Funamura-penned songs coming up in the future. I might even end up writing up on "Shinjuku Jouwa", "Shinjuku Banka" and the Misora ballad since they have yet to get their own articles as of this writing (but Noelle, if you want to give them a shot, please be my guest).

To finish, I managed to find one interesting story from the J-Wiki bio of Funamura. The original source is a Japanese webpage showing a conversation between him and fellow songwriter Eiichi Ohtaki(大瀧詠一). In 1959, an animated movie for which Funamura was responsible for the score had won a grand prize at a London-based movie festival, and the composer somehow was able to attend an audition for bands. After seeing the whole lot, he was then asked which groups were good. Funamura answered, "That slovenly group of four was the most interesting."

What floored Ohtaki was who that group was. Funamura may have thought the four were slovenly...and interesting, but the world kinda found out later that they were actually quite fab!

April 4th 2017: On the above paragraphs concerning Funamura's alleged encounter with The Beatles, I received word from a commenter below that he couldn't find any information about this online so I decided to do a bit of research myself. His comments and my response are below. As such, I am providing this disclaimer but not erasing the paragraphs since Funamura did indeed give those comments in that webpage interview. However, if there is anyone out there who can offer further clarity to this matter, I would appreciate it.


  1. Hi J-Canuck.

    Well, there goes another famous showa era songwriter.

    Thanks for the Toru Funamura tribute. As a fan of a number of his works, it's sad to see him go but I guess it was a matter of time, and I'm glad I was able to see him live on "Kayo Concert" that once. I wonder if "Uta Kon" will do a tribute to him in the coming week or the week after. Hope the ninjas and their onions will be on break if that happens though.

    I'm not sure if I'll do an article on one of the 3 songs you mentioned, but I am intending to write about some song of his after my Nissy one.

    1. Hi, Noelle.

      I'm pretty sure that "Uta Kon" will give him a tribute of some sort next week even if that just means the performance of one song of his and then a deeper retrospective of his works a few episodes later.

      Looking forward to that article.

  2. Hi J-Canuck.
    I found here to google "toru funamura auditions", wanted to know more his episode about Fab Four.
    Do you have any chances to know what is the name of that London movie Festival?
    Exact data would pull the truth from his episode. It's wonderful if Mr. Funamura really found them before debut.

    1. Hi, Martin.

      I wanted to find out myself so I checked that Japanese webpage again, and indeed according to the interview, Funamura said that he was at that audition for these guys in London who turned out to be the Beatles. He didn't make clear whether he was the one helping to audition them or was just a member of an audience. I did find out via Wikipedia that Lennon, McCartney and Harrison were at an audition as Johnny and The Moondogs for "TV Star Search" in Liverpool in November 1959.

      The animated movie that he provided the score for was titled "Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke" which was given the English title of "Magic Boy".

      I also tried to use the Google engine to find out any information pertaining to Funamura, that London film festival, the movie and The Beatles. As it turned out, there was no mention of the movie at a London festival but "Magic Boy" did win a prize at the Venice Film Festival that year. Therefore, I'm not sure whether Funamura had made a mistake in terms of the band or the city, or perhaps he was giving some form of huge fish tale. However, the late songwriter did say this and apparently Ohtaki was more than willing to believe it.

      At this point, since I have discovered that there is uncertainty with Funamura's story, I will make a disclaimer above. Thanks for letting me know!


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