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.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Masashi Sada -- Kita no Kuni Kara (北の国から)

Probably anyone in their teens and older in Japan know this song. As soon as they hear Masashi Sada's(さだまさし) first crooning "la, la, la", they can name that tune as the theme song from the 1981 series "Kita no Kuni Kara"(From the North Country). The famous Fuji-TV franchise that spanned from 1981 to 2002 only had the one original successful serial from October 1981 to March 1982, but the periodic specials that popped up in the ensuing years guaranteed huge ratings with the finale in 2002 getting an average rating of around 35%....something that I'm sure a lot of drama producers would kill for nowadays.

I only saw bits and pieces of the franchise starring veteran actor Kunie Tanaka(田中邦衛) as Goro Kurosaka as he, a Tokyo gas station employee, decides to move his two adorable children up to his old home of Furano in Hokkaido Prefecture on hearing of his wife's affair. From a rather dark plot point, the show opens up on how the Kurosaka family adjusts to their new life in a land that may have as well been northern Canada in terms of the very different landscape. When I went to Sapporo for a brief vacation several years ago, as my plane was landing at Shin-Chitose Airport, I just saw all the pine out there and wondered if my flight had been diverted to the Yukon Territory.

As for the song's origins, I actually didn't have to go to J-Wiki to find out. A couple of weeks ago, Masashi Sada himself appeared on one of the many variety shows hosted by the current top-of-the-heap Johnny's Entertainment group, Arashi, where he explained how he came up with the song in all of 10 minutes! According to Sada, the creator of"Kita no Kuni Kara", Soh Kuramoto(倉本聰) invited the singer up to his house in Furano City and asked him to take a look at the first two episodes, and especially at the opening over and over, after getting the request (the order?) to come up with the score and the theme. Imagining the rolling lavender-covered hills of Furano, Sada created the basic rolling melody within a few minutes. With further encouragement from Kuramoto, he was able to come up with the entire theme within those 600 seconds. When Sada asked about lyrics, Kuramoto shot back that words weren't necessary; the song was already perfect.

The above video is of the opening of the pilot episode of the original series (unfortunately, that video has been taken down so here's one other particular scene). Although the series premiered in late 1981, the song itself wouldn't be released as a single until the following year. However, over the decades, it has come out on a number of releases, including a series of Sada's singles on CD during the 90s.

The completed song included the Hakucho-za(白鳥座) chorus group near the end, and in the middle, there was that wonderful trumpet solo. Sada was the perfect person to perform the theme since his soft and sensitive voice conveyed that heartwarming feeling that seemed to roll over the hills of Furano and towards the viewers. I'd always thought that the show had some resemblance to that old American drama, "Little House on the Prairie", and sure enough, I read on J-Wiki that the concept for "Kita no Kuni Kara" took a bit of a bow towards that show, which was also a huge hit in Japan.

I've mentioned this analogy before for another song somewhere on this blog, but as much as composer John Williams and his works have usually acted as that 10th baseball player on those teams that were Steven Spielberg/George Lucas movies, I think Sada's theme and the score for this drama acted in pretty much the same fashion. You can't think of one without thinking of the other.


  1. This was such a great drama! I had the pleasure of watching the original series thanks to Chuks' subtitles and found it very engaging. This is one of those rare shows where the characters behave and talk so naturally that you forget that it's scripted. The show didn't contain much of a story, but rather a series of situations through which the characters and their relationships evolved. Some valuable lessons about family and love as well as countryside life.

    I agree with you about Sada's song and the drama being so closely intertwined. I started listening to his songs thanks to this tune and for a while had trouble separating his music from the images associated with "Kita no Kuni kara". Those opening credits would always spring to my mind. :)

  2. From what I've seen of the actual drama and some of the parodies of it on shows like the one from comedy duo The Tunnels, "Kita no Kuni Kara" just seemed to have this gentle "The Waltons"-like flow to it. There were, of course, bursts of drama....I recall Goro being involved in an accident, for example....but for the most part, it just seemed to wrap around the viewer like a nice warm blanket.


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