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, March 8, 2013

Tomio Umezawa/Kei Ogura -- Yume Shibai (夢芝居)

As I've said a number of times before, enka is not one of my strong points when compared to some of the other sub-genres within the world of kayo kyoku, but I've been able to remember some of the biggies in this most Japanese of Japanese popular music through their intros. A few of those intros come to mind so easily: the jaunty beginning to Takashi Hosokawa's "Kita Sakaba", the dramatic start to Sayuri Ishikawa's "Tsugaru Kaikyo Fuyu Geshiki", and then the intro to this one.

"Yume Shibai" (Theatre of Dreams) launches with some seriously muscular strings before an electric guitar cuts through like a lightning bolt after which a gentle synth tinkles a few notes before the strings and guitar jump in for one more retort. It sounds like a drama was taking place just in those first several seconds....and that's even before Tomio Umezawa(梅沢富美夫)opens his mouth. Umezawa sings the theme that a lot of enka songs follow....that of the trials and tribulations of love. However, he sets that theme as a metaphor for the stage, something that the singer knows like the back of his very gentle hand.

Y'see...Umezawa is a kabuki onnagata actor, a specialist in female roles. When I first found out about him, I only used to see him in full costume and makeup as his characters moved along the stage and gestured with all feminine grace. It was a shock to find out that this was actually a guy....his training and education were that deeply ingrained. But getting back to the lyrics, Umezawa sings about how love is the stage debut where men and women are pulled about on metaphorical strings while they try to say the script lines without enough time to practice.

Judging from the writeup on J-Wiki and his own website, it seems that singing has been a very occasional sideline compared to his stage activities. However, the original version of "Yume Shibai" was a huge hit for him when it was released late in 1982. Supposedly, the key to its hit status (according to J-Wiki) was Umezawa's onsite appearance on stage on an episode of "The Best 10" back in May of 1983 with the kabuki troupe of his elder brother, Takeo. It doesn't go into any detail after that but I think it probably involved one of the troupe, perhaps even Takeo himself, in full onnagata garb performing while Tomio sang the song, since I've often seen him perform it in this way on television over the years. "Yume Shibai" peaked at No. 8 on Oricon and was the 44th-ranked song of 1983. It also earned him a place on that year's Kohaku Utagassen.

The song was written and composed by Kei Ogura(小椋佳), a Tokyo singer-songwriter who had, at least initially, also been working at his job as a clerk for the Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank. And when I've seen him appear on shows like NHK's "Kayo Concert", he comes across as that typically mild-mannered and buttoned-down salaryman, but his voice is wonderfully resonant....not like what the usual businessman would sound like in a karaoke box.

Here is Kei Ogura giving his softer version of "Yume Shibai". Ogura is also famous for composing and writing "Ai San San"愛燦燦), another huge and wistful hit for Hibari Misora(美空ひばり).

Below is Teresa Teng's(テレサテン) version which in terms of arrangement seems to hover somewhere between enka and City Pop. I could imagine someone like Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子)singing this. Considering how popular the song has been, she probably has.


  1. I've just heard this song a coupla days ago when I was watching a June episode of another Enka-based show NHK's 'BS Nippon no uta', but instead of Umezawa, it was this other Enka singer, Kenji Ninuma - known for the songs 'Headlight' and '嫁に来ないか' - who sang it instead. He has a pretty pleasant voice, by the way.

    Anyway, what caught my attention (because sometimes the songs can be quite boring/hard to listen to) and made me want to listen to this song again was the electric guitar parts of the song. I just found it so cool! Especially after an...average line up of songs. I mean, sure, there was Ninuma, Ichiro Toba and Hiromi Iwasaki... but eh...

    And I feel that the lyrics (as I've just found out the meaning from your explanation) really match the strength of the music! Makes me visualise Umezawa singing this in his full Kabuki garb + makeup.

    Ninuma's version was less intense, compared to the original with Umezawa's lower, more husky vocals. But it was good, nonetheless.

    1. Hi, Noelle.

      Yeah, "Yume Shibai" has probably one of the most famous openings with those dramatic strings. I like Kenji Niinuma as well...I should do an article on him one of these days.

      As for Kei Ogura, he seems to have this wonderfully tender ability that he applies into his lyrics...I'm kinda thinking about "Ai San San" as I write this. Perhaps it's no surprise then that both songs have been popular ones at the karaoke box.


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