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, April 5, 2017

Chieko Baisho -- Shitamachi no Taiyo (下町の太陽)

I still don't quite know how far the borders of Tokyo's shitamachi or the old downtown area extends, but I do know that places like Ueno, Kanda and Asakusa are included. And it was during the first few years of my 17-year-stay that I had a strong connection with shitamachi. For one thing, I was working in Asakusa at the local NOVA English conversation school branch there for about 2 years. Sensoji Temple, Nakamise-dori and Asakusa ROX were common places and most of the students were very amiable.
Even before I took my first step into NOVA Orientation as a relatively green teacher, I got my first accommodations (for a couple of weeks) in Shibamata, which is definitely shitamachi, and the setting for the beloved folk hero of Japanese cinema, Tora-san(寅さん). There is even a statue in tribute to the character immortalized by the late Kiyoshi Atsumi(渥美清)right by Shibamata Station. I will definitely have to visit the old neighbourhood again next time I head to Japan. Perhaps I will drop by Taishakuten Temple or even the Tora-san Museum again.

Last night's "Uta Kon" (うたコン) focused on songs of spring as well as theme songs for NHK's long line of morning serial dramas. Well, one of the tunes that was performed didn't quite figure in either category but it was a kayo that I had meant to write about some time ago but plainly forgot.

Titled "Shitamachi no Taiyo" (Sun Over Shitamachi), this was a tune sung sweetly by singer-actress Chieko Baisho(倍賞千恵子)in 1962 (it was her debut single) about no matter the good times or the bad times in the old town area in Tokyo, the sun will always dependably be up there. Written by Hiroshi Yokoi(横井弘)and composed by Koji Eguchi(江口浩司), the following year had the movie with the same title starring Baisho as a young lady in her twenties working away in a soap factory somewhere in the shitamachi district and then finding love with an up-and-comer in the cosmetics company which owns the factory. Of course, the plot gets more complicated.

I'm not sure whether that was indeed a mandolin playing in the song but it did give that atmosphere of being in a village in Europe. Considering that Mood Kayo often used Latin melodies, perhaps some of the old kayo songwriters also wanted to bring that folky feeling into the straight pop of the time.

Baisho won the Best Newcomer Prize at the 4th Japan Record Awards for "Shitamachi no Taiyo" at the end of 1962 and then earned her first appearance on the Kohaku Utagassen a year later to sing that very song.

"Shitamachi no Taiyo" was venerated Yoji Yamada's(山田洋次)2nd movie as a director and with the success of his project, he found that Baisho was the quintessential actress with the common touch for any of his movies thereafter. Some years later, Yamada would launch the long-running "Tora-san" franchise with the actress taking on the role of Sakura, Tora-san's younger and sensible sister.


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