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, August 31, 2013

Oricon Top 10 Singles for 1996

1.  Mr. Children                                Na mo Naki Uta
2.  globe                                            Departures
3.  Toshinobu Kubota                        La La La Love Song
4.  Spitz                                            Cherry
5.  Mr. Children                                Hana (Memento Mori)
6.  Spitz                                             Sora mo Toberu Hazu
7.  Southern All Stars                       Ai no Kotodama - Spiritual Message
8.  Tomomi Kahala                            I'm Proud
9.  Namie Amuro                              Don't Wanna Cry
10. Namie Amuro                             Chase The Chance

I love the lineup here for that year. I think the only songs that I'm not familiar with are the No. 1 song and the Southern All Stars entry.

(Follow Up) Ozaki Yutaka - Oh My Little Girl - Theme to 『この世の果て』/Kono Yo No Hate (1994)

Image courtesy of
野島伸司/Nojima Shinji's この世の果て』/"Kono Yo No Hate" (1994) is often regarded by Japanese Drama fans as being one of the "darkest" Japanese drama ever (which is somewhat of a dubious distinction). Indeed the drama is very depressing at times and as the title implies is a bit nihilistic in its outlook regarding life yet it is also a brilliant character study of characters that are "on the edge". 

With its themes of sacrifice, salvation, redemption and devotion, it a surprisingly very spiritual story with its frequent refrences to Catholicism, the Virgin Mary, Heaven and Hell. 

In typical Nojima fashion, the drama's cast of characters are a collection of deeply troubled, emotionally damaged, self-destructive and needy individuals who are all trying to survive admist life's harsh obstacles but who end up hurting themselves and those around them with their desperate actions. The drama's underlying themes could best be illustrated through the telltale psychological test and question that is frequently proposed throughout the drama --  

"It is the end of the world and if you are given a chance to escape on a boat with only one animal as your companion which would you choose?" (A) A Horse; (B) A Peacock; (C) A Tiger or (D) A Sheep. 

As explained in the context of the drama, the test is said to be a fairly accurate identifier as to what one most cherishes and values in life as that each animal represents a certain human desire. When the lead character, the tragic and self-destructive 高村士郎/Takamura Shiro (played with absolute abandon by the great 三上博史/Mikami Hiroshi) is confronted with this theoretical question, he non-chalantly answers - "I wouldn't get in the boat". 
Blessed Maria - A very different role for Suzuki Honami
This indifference and apathy are what causes Shiro to decend in a downward spiral to his own personal hell. A famed concert pianist with a celebrated and bright future, Shiro decides to throw his fame and fortune away one day and runs away from his lavish lifestyle and wife, the cold and distant 高村百合子/Takamura Yumiko (「スチュワーデス物語」/"Stewardess Monogatari's" 高樹澪/Takaki Mio), whose father had plucked Shiro from obscurity and mentored him to become a worldclass pianist. It is through a random accident and chance encounter that he meets up with the feisty and brash, tomboy 砂田まりあ/Sunada Maria (the beautiful 鈴木保奈美/Suzuki Honami, portraying a character the complete polar opposite to her fun loving and carefree Akana Rika from 東京ラブストーリー/"Tokyo Love Story" -1991) who has a dark past. Maria is moonlighting as a hostess inorder to pay for operations to help restore her younger sister なな/Nana's (another great role by the brilliant 桜井幸子/Sakurai Sachiko) eyesight which was lost when their family home was burned down. Shiro (who is feigning amnesia) is recovering at a hospital from injuries suffered in a hit and run accident. With seemingly no one to contact or take care of Shiro, Maria reluctantly tells the hospital that she will let the handsome stranger recover in her apartment until he recovers his memories. As Shiro and Maria get to know each other and share experiences, they soon begin to fall deeply in love. However their blossoming romance is soon disrupted when Yumiko and former Police officer turned shady Private Investigator 二村浩一/Nimura Koichi (加藤善博/Kato Zenpaku) discover his deception and whereabouts and attempt to force him back to his old life. 
Doomed Lovers - L-R - Shiro (Mikami Hiroshi) & Maria (Suzuki Honami)
Not wanting to leave his new life with Maria and desperate to not be anyone's "robot" anymore, Shiro takes drastic action and mutilates his own hand with a broken wine bottle so that he can never play the piano again. 

Yet this self-sacrificing action of pure devotion to Maria backfires on him and he ultimately loses his only true talent in life. With no other useful talents or marketable skills, Shiro suffers through a succession of humiliating menial jobs. As his selfworth and confidence waning, he becomes increasingly resentful towards Maria whom he blames for his deliema. However despite Shiro's declining mental state and increasing dependence on her, Maria never complains and infact falls even deeper in love with him and even takes on an almost motherly role caring for him. 

Feeling like a "leech" and a burden, Shiro eventually falls victim to the seductive influences of the manipulative and absolutely depraved 加賀美ルミ/Kagami Rumi (played with villainous glee by 横山めぐみ/Yokoyama Megumi) who is also in love with Shiro. Under Rumi's evil influence, Shiro becomes addicted to heroin and soon becomes a drug trafficer for a criminal syndicate. 

When Maria tries to save Shiro from his addiction, Shiro, in a violent and hysterical rage, beats Maria so savegely she has a miscarriage (she was pregnant with Shiro's child). Maria in desperation soon turns to rich playboy 神矢征司/Kamiya Seiji (the wonderful 豊川悦司/Toyokawa Etsushi) heir to a vast corporate dynasty and who has come to frequent the high class lounge that Maria works at. Their love/hate relationship soon shifts from one of platonic respect to one of romantic love. Seiji's normally aloof and indifferent demeanor melts the more he becomes aware of what Maria is suffering through. Seiji vows to save her and does what he can to help Maria deal with Shiro (even going so far as to introduce Shiro to a decent job with a Planitarium) but when Shiro's erractic behavior and increasing drug dependence causes him to fall deeper in despair, Maria takes drastic measures and with the help of Nimura forces Shiro into isolation to free him of his drug dependence. 

Shiro's cold and controlling wife Yumiko (Takaki Mio)

Throwing It All Away - Shiro (Mikami Hiroshi) mutilates his own hand to stay with Maria
Maria's younger sister Nana has her own issues to content with as she gets involved with the brooding and troubled mechanic 三島純/Mishima Jun (大浦龍宇一/Oura Ryuichi). Severely disfigured from a car accident that killed his parents, Jun is hesitant to get close to Nana for fear of being rejected by her but at the same time is desperate to win her love even though he has a criminal past (he and an associate had robbed a convenience store in which Nana was an unwitting witness). 

When Nana eventually discovers Jun's involvement in the robbery and fearful for her safety, she drives Jun away. Unwilling to let Nana out of his life Jun decides to to learn braille and begins sending Nana touching heartfelt letters under the alias of another individual living with blindness. Nana soon learns of Maria's dark secret (that Maria was responsible for the fire that caused her blindness and the death of their father, who she felt had not paid her enough attention). Nana also discovers that she and Maria are actually step-sisters as Maria's biological father left their mother before she met Nana's father. Feeling betrayed Nana decides to distrance herself from Maria by agreeing to be adopted by the kindly elderly couple whom she has been working for in their flowershop. Yet when the couple's morally corrupt and vile only child 村井道夫/Murai Michio (沢向要士/Sawamukai Yoji) gets wind that Nana will be inheriting not only his parents' store but also their inheritance, he conspires to marry and then kill Nana. Together with his girlfriend 博実/Hiromi (土屋久美子/Tsuchiya Kumiko) the pair trick Nana into signing a marriage form and proceed with plans to kill her until Jun intervenes and beats Michio near death. 

Sisters Maria (Suzuki Honami) and Nana (Sakurai Sachiko)
Mad Love - The both physically and emotionally scarred Jun (Oura Ryuichi)
Later in the series Shiro eventually kicks his addiction and finally resigns himself to leading a more decent and quiet life, while Nana gets her sight back through the efforts of her mother (who commits suicide with Maria's biological father) and gives permission for the hospital to use her corneas to replace Nana's.

The cruel bitch Rumi gets her comeuppance when a former lover gets his final revenge on her for destroying his life by throwing acid in her face, disfiguring her. In one of the most shocking and melodramtic scenes in the drama, Rumi's hulking degenerate henchman, 井野仁/Ino Hitoshi (松田勝/Matsuda Masaru) who has secretly longed for her, in a sign of pure love destroys his own eyes to prove to her that her now severely scarred visage means nothing to him and that he still loves her.

The beautiful yet utterly ruthless bitch Rumi (Yokoyama Megumi)

A crazed and now horrifically scarred Rumi attempts to kill Maria one last time.
Love is Blind - Rumi's loyal Henchman Hitoshi (Matsuda Masaru) gouges his own eyes for Rumi.

However Nojima leaves the best for last as he pulls the ultimate "WTF" ending -- Maria decides to marry Seiji who promises to finally give Maria the happy life she has always longed for. After their lavish wedding celebration aboard a private cruise boat, they take a corporate helicopter to the wedding chapter to exchange vows. When Maria sees Shiro at the launch pad and remembers the happiness she had with him at the very beginning of their relationship, she decides to throw away her future life with Seiji and jumps from the helicopter into the ocean. While Maria survives the fall, the resultant impact with the water not only shatters her legs (making her a paraplegic), the resultant severe head trauma has also made her catatonic. Guiltridden by all the pain and suffering he has caused Maria, Shiro has finally found purpose in his life and vows to take care of Maria for as long as she remains alive. The final scene shows a strangely content Maria, smiling as she is clutching the "blue bird of happiness" that Shiro had given Maria when they first moved in together.

Saving Maria - Wealth benefactor Seiji ( Toyokawa Etsushi) tries to save Maria from her troubled life.
Paradise Lost - Maria (Suzuki Honami) literally throws her life away so that she can be with Shiro.
Oh My Little Girl - Maria (Suzuki Honami) has finally found happiness
The all-star cast is absolutely brilliant and their performances are not only truly memorable but incredibly poignant as well. "Kono Yo No Hate" features a number of actors who have or would star in other Nojima scripted projects. As mentioned Suzuki Honomai (who starred in Nojima's "Ai To Iu Nano Moto Ni" - 1992) played against type and her chain-smoking, rough-and-tumble, tough-girl portrayal here was in nice contrast and a welcomed change from the overly sweet characters she portrayed previously. 

The fetching Suzuki Honami - Image courtesy of

Mikami Hiroshi (who would also star in Nojima's sublime 「世紀末の詩」/"Seikimatsu No Uta" - 1998 and the fan favorite リップスティック -1999) played a truly morally conflicted and pitiful character in this drama. As much as one hates his continual self-destructiveness and tired of his pathetic, self-loathing behavior, he still managed to make his character sympathetic and likeable. Sakurai Sachiko (who was the heroine in Nojima's 高校教師」/ "Kou Kou Kyoushi" - 1993 and would later go on to co-star in several of his other projects including 人間*失格/"Ningen Shikkaku" - 1994 and 未成年/"Miseinen" - 1995 delivers a very nuanced and convincing portrayal as a blind woman. With her alluring and beautiful features and ability to play complex and empathetic characters, it is little wonder why she became Nojima's "go to" actor for his screenplays. The beautiful Yokoyama Megumi gives a commanding and often times chilling performance as the truly villainous Kagami Rumi. Rumi certainly ranks as one of the most hateful villains in Japanese drama history with her cold, calculating ruthlessness (Rumi proudly exclaims that she will not allow anyone else to enjoy and experience the true love that is denied her). Yokoyama would go on to play other morally ambiguous characters like the indifferent Vice Principal Mayuzumi in the recent drama 35歳の高校生/"35-Sai No Kou Kou Sei" - 2013.

The theme song for this series was appropriately Ozaki Yutaka's sentimental and tearful love ballad "Oh My Little Girl" which was released posthumously in 1994, two years after his untimely death and which eventually went on to become one of his most popular and signature hit songs. J-Canuck has already covered this great song back in his 2012 post but I just wanted to add some additional trivia for the song and how it relates to the drama. 

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

"Oh My Little Girl" was originally titled "Sailor Fuku To Little Girl" on a demo tape which Ozaki recorded early in his singing career. It went through several iliterations and title changes ("Tonari No Little Girl") until finally becoming the song we know now. It was featured with little fanfair on Ozaki's debut album 『十七歳の地図』/"Jyunanasai No Chizu" (1983) but it wasn't until the song was used as the title song for "Kono Yo No Hate" that it got the attention it deserved. The song was released as a single that year and it went to No. 1 on the Oricon charts the week of its release. 

As with his breakout hit "I Love You" in 1991, "Oh My Little Girl" is a quintessential love song filled with heartfelt lyrics about true love and eternal devotion. It was tailor-made to be the perfect song for weddings or other events where proclamations of love are exchanged. Yet series director Nakae Isamu (who also directed the similarly dark "Lipstick") and music arranger Mizoguchi Hajime (who would also work on such future series as "Pure" and "Beautiful Life") do something really devilishly clever - they twist the meaning and lyrics of the song and warp it into a sad, foreboding and almost darkly prophetic indicator of how things will turn out in the end (that Shiro has found purpose caring for a caotonic Maria who now depends on him for everything).  Even Ozaki's refrain of "Oh My little girl" begins to sound more and more like "Oh Maria" in a haunting unconscious way.

While "Kono Yo No Hate" was released to VHS a few years after it aired on TV, it has sadly and inexplicable not been released to either DVD or Blu-Ray. This is a complete shame as despite its dark tone and tragic ending, it is perhaps one of Nojima's most poignant and heartbreaking drama series. Ozaki's bittersweet theme "Oh My Little Girl" is the perfect compliment to this story and I can't help but be reminded of this unforgettable series whenever I hear this song. 


Shinji Harada -- Time Travel

Face of an idol, talent of a songwriter. The wonder-boy Shinji Harada (原田真二) definitely made a lot of girls happy in 1977 when they caught his performances on music shows like The Best Ten and Yoru no Hit Studio. Looking at that picture above, I could easily associate him with singers like Hiromi Go and Hideki Saijo if I hadn't read all that info about him. The media made a pretty big deal of the fact that Harada was 18 years old at the time of his debut and already so accomplished. Indeed, he started playing piano at the age of 3 and eventually became a multi-instrumentalist proficient with guitar, drums, bass and percussion, amongst others. It also helped that Takuro Yoshida (吉田拓郎) sponsored and produced his debut album "Feel Happy" while Yosui Inoue and Shigeru Izumiya participated in the recording.

"Time Travel" (タイム・トラベル; "Joy" was the other a-side) was his fourth single, released in April 1978. It was composed and arranged by Harada, with lyrics provided by the ever-present Takashi Matsumoto (松本隆). This song works for me on many levels. First, it starts off as a gentle 70's-style ballad backed by breezy strings and acoustic piano and then suddenly turns into a groovy number that makes your head bob in different directions. It's a musical equivalent of being awoken from a pleasant dream and then hurriedly getting ready for the day you're really looking forward to. Yeah, those happen from time to time. I also like the whole bounciness of the refrain "jikan ryoko no tour wa ikaga" (="How about a time travel tour?"). Then there's the line that references "The Charleston" and mentions FBI breaking into a tap dance that I found oddly charming, especially hearing it with that tack piano in the background. And of course, Harada's youthful husky voice is quite appealing.

Here's Harada's performance of the song on The Best Ten. The single peaked at 4th spot on Oricon weeklies and eventually became the 50th-ranked song of 1978. It was also the one he performed for his sole appearance on Kohaku Utagassen. From 1979, he pretty much fell off the radar popularity-wise while getting adventurous with music itself. He has since released 40 singles and 22 albums while composing and writing songs for other singers. I gotta admit, his material after those early days has been hit-or-miss for me, and the outfits he sported in the 80's often got ridiculously tacky. But there were real gems like "Ame no Highway" and "Breathe".

"Time Travel" was revived in 2011 as a theme song for the Fuji TV drama Boku to Star no 99 Nichi (僕とスターの99日), this time performed by the band Spitz (スピッツ). The studio version of their cover appears on their album "Orutana". I think Masamune Kusano's voice suits it well.


Stardust Revue -- Kimi no Subete ga Kanashii (君のすべてが悲しい)


(I'm afraid the above video is just a karaoke version.)

I came across Stardust Revue for the first time while I was lazily watching some music videos on Gunma TV one Sunday night in the early 90s. I had never heard of this band before although they had been around since the late 1970s. But in any case, I started watching the video for "Kimi no Subete ga Kanashii"(You Are So Sad) and was struck by that opening urban saxophone. Strangely enough, though, then the song kinda goes a bit folkie before it returns to that night time City Pop rhythm for the refrain. And throughout it all, Kaname Nemoto's clear-as-a-bell vocals just flies above it.

I never got around to buying a full album by Stardust Revue although I liked this song enough that I did purchase the CD single. The band first came into the limelight when Nemoto(根本要)along with Kiyoshi Kakinuma(柿沼清史), Masami Terada(寺田正美)and Toshikatsu Hayashi(林紀勝), all amateur musicians from Saitama Prefecture at the time, formed the band Gypsy and Arere-no-re in 1979 to take part in the Yamaha Popular Song Contest. It was a fateful decision since they won The Best Song Award, and then decided to go professional as a unit. A couple of years later, they changed the band's name to Stardust Revue (good idea, that) in tribute to that famous jazz ballad, "Stardust" (one of my favourite jazz tunes....Nat King Cole is the go-to guy).

"Kimi no Subete ga Kanashii", the band's 20th single released in September 1990, was composed by Nemoto and written by Shun Taguchi(田口俊), a singer-songwriter who has been involved musically with everyone from Hi-Fi Set to Coco to Jackie Chan. In this song, Nemoto sings about the aftermath of a relationship in which there is now a very empty space where a lover used to be....I think a lot of us have been there. Lyrically and melodically, there is a past and a present involved represented by that innocent-sounding folk verse for the former (hinting at better days) before it gives way to the lonely urban contemporary sound of the latter. Maybe it's good to listen to this song with a glass of Suntory.

Stardust Revue -- Kimi no Subete ga Kanashii

Friday, August 30, 2013

Jitterin' Jinn -- Nichiyoubi (にちようび)

If it weren't for the fact that Jitterin' Jinn had started life from Nara, I would've pegged the band as a Shibuya-kei unit since it has that somewhat retro Western vibe (although I can't really pinpoint a specific country), but lyrically, I think Reiko Harukawa(春川玲子) and company are very much grounded in old-fashioned Japanese culture. "Natsu Matsuri"夏祭り)is one fine example, and then there is this song, "Nichiyoubi"(Sunday).

I like the original music video for this song with its humourous mix of old film footage and DIY kinda reminds me of the video for PSY-S' "Teenage". Released in June 1990, "Nichiyoubi" was written and composed by Jitterin' Jinn guitarist Jinta Hashi(破矢ジンタ) and has this galloping and playful beat while Harukawa is more than willing to gallop along with it and show off her yodeling prowess. 

The one line I remember from the song is "Buy me a Ramune and let's drink it together". Nothing screams a Japanese summer more than that bottle of Ramune (a phonological variant on "lemonade"), basically Japan's equivalent of Sprite notable for its container, a Codd-neck bottle, which is sealed with a glass marble that the drinker has to plop in with the assistance of a pushing device to be able to drink it. And then he has to be able to take in the pop while making sure that the marble doesn't block the flow. Not easy for newbies.

"Nichyoubi" was Jitterin' Jinn's 3rd single and their first hit to reach No. 1 on Oricon. It was also the 26th-ranked song of 1990.

Jitterin' Jinn -- Nichiyoubi

Megumi Hayashibara -- Half and, Half

Being my first full album entry, I had to talk about Megumi Hayashibara (林原めぐみ), as she is the artist I had listened the most in the past 10 years. Also, it's no mystery that her discography is the biggest treasure in my music collection (Yeah, I'm like a proud dad when it comes to my Megumi's CDs). But trying to pick one album from her big discography was kind of difficult for me. In the end, I chose “Half and, Half”, her debut album and, surprisingly, the one I find most cohesive (“SpHERE”, her fifth album, and “Fuwari” [ふわり], her ninth, are two close runner-ups).

Released in March 1991, “Half and, Half” is an interesting aidoru crafted album. Strange enough, besides Megumi being almost 23 years old when the album was released, the team responsible for the “artist image” decided to make her a kawaii aidoru. Based on that, we can take the “Why Don’t You Come Into My Heart?” question placed in red right below the album title as a warm invitation from a Japanese aidoru singer aiming at the public to follow her in this new path (not so new if we take in consideration that Megumi started recording some anime songs back in 1989). Talking about anime, it's worth note that "Half and, Half" is Megumi's only album to date with no anime-related songs placed in it. I only put the anime tag in this article because of Megumi's huge relation with the genre.

The aidoru approach per se is more than enough for we to conclude that “Half and, Half” is full of cute, dreamy, playful and saccharine songs, like “a Late Comer”, “Don’t Say ‘Wake Up Baby’” and “College Ring wo Kai ni Yukou” (カレッジリングを買いにゆこう). Of that bunch I selected just “A Late Comer” to talk about, as the other two are kind of too much for me in normal days. So, please, enjoy the “A Late Comer” video (sorry the video has been taken down) where Megumi acts like the typical innocent and girly aidoru.

(excerpts only)

“a Late Comer” is the second song of the album and, although cute and silly, shows some interesting musical elements accompanying Megumi’s vocals. Maybe it’s too much, but “A Late Comer” is for me a “Nu jazz” song, where the traditional feel and sound of Jazz is mixed with other styles and instruments. If anything, it can also be called “aidoru Jazz” (if that means something at all). I don’t know how to categorize it, but I can hear some Jazz in it, and it’s a nice variation to the album, while not sounding too out of place.

(Sorry but the video has been taken down)

On the other extreme, songs like “Kimi no Answer” (君のAnswer), “Nijiiro no Sneaker” (虹色のSneaker) and “Manatsu no Valentine” (真夏のバレンタイン) are perfect examples of the heavy “eurobeat-esque” synth-pop sound that was so used in Japanese aidoru songs during the late 80s/early 90s. These three are very nice songs, and just like “A Late Comer”, they have videos, so I recommend the reader/listener take some time to watch them while enjoying the songs. After all, who doesn’t like to have fun watching a young Megumi running and smiling to the camera? As for the other selected songs, they are just audio videos from YouTube.

Apparently, a video for “Kimi no Answer” exists as it was released in a Video Single Format back in the days. It’s nothing more than a compilation of scenes from her other videos of the era and some backing scenes as well. Quality is horrible, but this is a rare video. As for the song, aside being the album opener and a nice synth-pop tune, it has quite an story behind, as Megumi, in her “VINTAGE A” compilation liner notes, remembers that she was recording the song while the Operation Desert Storm was taking place in the Gulf War and somehow she connected the lyrics with that moment. As I know nothing about “Kimi no Answer” lyrics, I can’t share my own opinions about the subject, though.

“Nijiiro no Sneaker” is the mellow synth-pop aidoru song, which has also served as Megumi’s major label debut and lead single of “Half and, Half”, released a few weeks before the album. Also, the song was used as the theme song of Megumi’s “Heartful Station” radio program until 2003, when it was replaced by “Makenaide, Makenaide…” (負けないで、負けないで…), a beautiful Megumi song, more mature than the “Half and, Half” stuff. Back to “Nijiiro no Sneaker”, I find the guitar solo at the end quite nostalgic.

(Unfortunately the video has been taken down. Please refer to the Amazon link above.)

About “Manatsu no Valentine”, the summer tune about Valentine’s Day, I consider it one of the strongest songs of the whole bunch. It’s very bouncy and cute with the whole “in-your-face” aidoru vibe. As I’ve already talked in Megumi’s “Forever Dreamer” entry, “Manatsu no Valentine” serves as a good example of an eurobeat song with an aidoru approach, or vice-versa, which was a very common combination at the time.

(Unfortunately the video has been taken down. Please refer to the Amazon link above.)

“Ame no Hi no Shakespeare -TO FLY AWAY-” (雨の日のシェイクスピア-TO FLY AWAY-), is easily one of my favorites. It has a more serious vibe than the other songs presented until now. It also gives me an airy feeling when the song breaks for a bit and Megumi starts the “la la la” thing before the full arrangement moves it forward again. Also, Megumi’s vocals are very lovely in this song.

(Unfortunately the video has been taken down. Please refer to the Amazon link above.)

NOTE: The name of the song is mistaken in this video. The actual song is "Friends". As for "College Ring wo Kai ni Yukou", it's a song from "Half and, Half" that I chose not to feature in the article.

Right after “Ame no Hi no Shakespeare -TO FLY AWAY-”, “Friends”, one of the catchiest songs of “Half and, Half” and another personal favorite, sees Megumi using her deeper tone in the verses just to release her cute and child-like voice for the joyful chorus. Also worth of note is the very well put together arrangement of the song. It’s full of infectious guitar solos and sharp synth riffs that make me feel truly happy every time I hear it.

(Miku Hatsune version)

With Regret ga Naiteiru” (リクレットが泣いている), we’re facing one of the two ballads of the album. Megumi’s voice is very lovely in this beautiful song, probably making this her best deliver in the album. As a side note, “Regret ga Naiteiru” is another favorite of mine (Yeah, I really like this album).

(Sorry but the video has been taken down.)

Near the end, we have “EL WAKT”, your typical Latin inspired song that must appear in almost all pop albums. Megumi has a bunch of Latin songs in her discography, and this one was her first try. It’s an OK song that, unfortunately, kind of drags a bit because of the elongated notes. Also, I’d love to know what “EL WAKT” means.

(Unfortunately the video has been taken down. Please refer to the Amazon link above.)

The last song of the album is the classical inspired ballad “BECAUSE”. This one always makes me sad because I know the album is almost finishing, and the song itself is, in essence, well, …kind of sad. Megumi’s vocals are very angelic and vulnerable. As for the arrangement, the orchestra is just beautiful, which makes “BECAUSE” a great way to finish Megumi’s first album, “Half and, Half”.

All in all, “Half and, Half” is a very nostalgic album with a specific sound that throws the listener back to the mainstream dance-pop sound of the early 90s combined with the usual aidoru cuteness. It’s a very dated sound to today’s standards but, in my opinion, that just adds fun to the game. Also, it’s important to note that Megumi was a very raw singer at the time, which makes the whole “Half and, Half” album an interesting listen. This notable rawness was also something that, alongside the arrangements, added a naïve feeling to most of the songs. I remember reading in Megumi’s manga autobiography that she sounded awful during the recording sessions for the album, but her producer, then, said that the way she sang it was more important than the actual quality of the singing. And, to be honest, that’s probably the true essence of a Japanese aidoru. And for a registered nurse who turned into a seiyuu (voice actress), and then into a singer, Megumi did quite a good job in this album. Of course she got better with time, but that’s subject for future posts.

The album reached #45 on the Oricon chart, selling 20,180 copies. The edition I bought is a 2005 reissue that reached #288 and sold 763 copies.

And here are the names responsible for lyrics, music and arrangement of each song presented in this article.

Track 1 - "Kimi no Answer": lyrics by Yumi Yoshimoto (吉元由美), music and arrangement by Haruhiko Nishioka (西岡治彦).

Track 2 - "a Late Comer": lyrics by Keiko Kimoto (木本慶子), music by Masaya Ozaki (尾関昌也) and arrangement by Toshiyuki Omori (大森俊之).

Track 3 - "Nijiiro no Sneaker": lyrics and music by Midori Karashima (辛島美登里), and arrangement by Yasuhisa Murase (村瀬恭久).

Track 4 - "Manatsu no Valentine": lyrics by Yui Nishiwaki (西脇唯), music by Cozy Kubo and arrangement by Takashi Furukawa (古川貴司).

Track 6 - "Ame no Hi no Shakespeare -TO FLY AWAY-": lyrics by Miho Matsuba (松葉みほ), music and arrangement by Toro Okada (岡田徹).

Track 7 - "Friends": lyrics by Keiko Kimoto (木本慶子), music by Masaya Ozaki (尾関昌也) and arrangement by Toshiyuki Omori (大森俊之).

Track 9 - "Regret ga Naiteru": lyrics by Yumi Yoshimoto (吉元由美), music by Katsuki Yamaura (山浦克己) and arrangement by Norimasa Yamanaka (山中紀昌).

Track 11 - "EL WAKT": lyrics by Yui Nishiwaki (西脇唯), music by Katsuki Yamaura (山浦克己) and arrangement by Yasunori Nakamura (中村康就).

Track 12 - "BECAUSE": lyrics and music by Yui Nishiwaki (西脇唯), and arrangement by Tomoki Hasegawa (長谷川智樹).

To finish, here are some photos of my “Half and, Half”.

Cute Megumi with Hello Kitty in bed!

Megumi preparing some great food in the kitchen!

She surely eats a lot!

Cute Megumi with an old phone!

Early 90s fashion style!

The whole "Half and, Half" package!

CD back!

Taeko Ohnuki -- la mer, le ciel

Continuing on the nice and summery here before September comes around, I have Taeko Ohnuki's(大貫妙子)"la mer, le ciel"(The Sea and The Sky). This came from her 5th album, "Aventure" that I've already profiled. I mentioned in that article that the album was arguably Ohnuki's most adventurous during her early career in the late 70s and early 80s in that it was a potpourri of different genres coming into play: a bit of technopop, European, and Latin. And "la mer, le ciel" falls into the last category.

The song is very bright and sparkly bossa nova, again written and composed by Ohnuki, that nearly demands me ordering one of those huge cocktails with a straw in it. And with the different types of songs even on the Side-B alone of the original LP, "la mer, le ciel" very nicely carves its own niche and further shows Ohnuki's versatility in creating and singing her own tunes.

If you like, there is another song from "Aventure" which I've covered in its own article, "Koibito Tachi no Ashita"恋人たちの明日), which was the first track on the album and a song that is so cute and adorable that it could almost earn an aidoru label.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Anzen Chitai -- Delicacy (デリカシー)

"Delicacy" is the 2nd track on Anzen Chitai's(安全地帯) hit album, "Anzen Chitai IV" which came out in November 1985. As with all of the songs on the album, it was written by Goro Matsui(松井五郎) and composed by leader Koji Tamaki(玉置浩二), and is this rather playfully ayashii (sleazy) song sandwiched between the tender-as-filet-mignon ballads of "Yume no Tsuzuki"夢のつづき) and "Aoi Hitomi no Elis"碧い瞳のエリス).

Matsui's lyrics tell of a tale about someone preferring to covet rather than actually having that desired woman of his dreams, and Tamaki's partially filtered voice gives off that shadowy illicit vibe. He sings about the delicacy of leaving his mark on that woman without any hint of consequences....or perhaps even without her knowledge. Even Tamaki's melody sounds properly sneaky. Not surprisingly, "Delicacy" was used as the theme song for the 1986 TBS comedy "Oya ni Naisho de..."親にナイショで....Keep This Secret From The Parents) which was about a group of young guys in Akihabara, at least two of who have a crush on the comely female home tutor who enters their lives.

Actually, I had first heard this song on a compilation tape before I finally got that treasured album by the band.

Toshinobu Kubota -- Be Wannabe

I've always thought R&B as a nighttime genre, but Toshinobu Kubota's(久保田利伸) "Be Wannabe" has struck me as being the first morning R&B tune. And it's some fine OJ, too. Everyone in the recording just sounds like they're having a ball in the studio (someone yelling "Where is the toilet?"in Japanese while some other guy is muttering "What is this dreck?") before Kubota joins in with his fun musical strut. It's a percolating tune, but there are some good spots where he shows off how he can soar in his vocals.

I picked up Kubota's 4th album, "BONGA WANGA" within several days of its release in July 1990 where I discovered "Be Wannabe". The track automatically imprinted itself onto my brain and has never really let go after all these years. Written and composed by the singer, it was also released as a single a few months later which peaked at No. 16 on the Oricon weeklies. As for the album, it became Kubota's first one to hit No. 1 on the charts and would later become the 8th-ranked album of the year.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

TUBE -- Dance With You

Gotta have another TUBE song in there before the summer goes out. "Dance With You" was the band's 6th single, released in August 1987. I hadn't heard this one in years, and I guess it's one of those cases where absence makes the heart grow fonder since my body suddenly became flush with endorphins and my mind flooded with all those engrams of years ago.

Although the lyrics were by frequent collaborator, singer-songwriter Tomoko Aran(亜蘭知子), the melody was by musician Seiichiro Kuribayashi(栗林誠一郎). When TUBE bassist Hideyuki Kakuno(角野秀行) had to recuperate from a traffic accident, Kuribayashi stepped in as the replacement bassist during the band's live tours. He was even the bassist participating in the recording of B.B. Queens' megahit, "Odoru Ponpokorin"おどるポンポコリン).

Kuribayashi definitely got the TUBE vibe down pat when he came up with the song. I couldn't notice any difference between his composition and any of the songs by regular TUBE composer, Tetsuro Oda(織田哲郎). The dynamic summery style is still happily imbued into "Dance With You" as well. It peaked at No. 3 on Oricon and it was also a track on the band's 6th original album, "Twilight Swim".

Hikaru Utada -- Distance/Final Distance

After giving Hikaru Utada's(宇多田ヒカル)debut album, "First Love" some heavy play on my stereo over the months, she finally released that 2nd album, "Distance"in March 2001. Of course, there were her big singles such as "Wait and See", "Addicted to Love" and "Can You Keep a Secret?"But the one that I really liked was the title track itself. It had that mellow mid-tempo AOR melody paired with Utada's now-familiar vocal style, and it made for a nice contrast with some of the other songs on the album. Of course, Utada was responsible for the writing and composition of all of the tracks.

One of the things I've always said about Japan was that it has been one of the safest places on Earth....but what relatively little crime there is there can be shockingly horrific at times. Over the last decade that I was living in the country, there were bursts of sudden violence in which very disturbed people would go on indiscriminate stabbing sprees in various public places. The Akihabara Massacre in 2008 is one example. However, there was another one years earlier in June 2001 when a deranged former janitor stabbed 8 children and injured 13 other children and 2 teachers at Ikeda Elementary School in Osaka Prefecture. One of the slain students, Rena Yamashita(山下玲奈), had once told about her respect and love through an essay for Hikaru Utada, and her desire to become like her idol.

"Distance" had been slated to be released as a single from the album, but when Utada heard about the mass murder at the school and about Ms. Yamashita, she decided to re-arrange the song into an elegiac ballad in tribute to her. The song was now titled "Final Distance" and was released in July 2001 as her 8th single. It peaked at No. 2 on the Oricon weeklies and eventually became the 24th-ranked song of the year. With this release, Utada broke the 10-million mark of career single sales; to have done this in the 2 years and 8 months since her debut made her the singer to have reached this mark in the shortest period of time....a record that is still unbroken.

"Final Distance" even became a track on Utada's next album, "Deep River" which came out in June 2002.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Kahoru Kohiruimaki -- Come On

I've been basically covering Kahoru Kohiruimaki's(小比類巻かほる) funk/R&B side from the early 90s onwards for the past several months, so I wanted to get back to her earlier pop/rock side in the late 80s. "Hold On Me", her breakthrough hit, was one example from that era. I would also like to introduce the dynamic "Come On". It was one of the standout tracks on her 5th original album, "So Real"(November 1988) as well as her 7th single which was released in September 1987.

"So Real" was one of my early purchases after arriving in Japan in 1989, and I bought it solely on the aforementioned "Hold On Me". There were a number of good tracks on it, but I also especially liked the being-invited-to-a-great-party feeling with "Come On". Written by Kohhy herself and composed by Yoshiaki Ohuchi (大内義昭)who would further collaborate with her on those future R&B songs of hers), "Come On" sounds perfect for the singer with the huge smile and the punchy style (I could probably say it would also be fine for Misato Watanabe). Those horns, especially near the end of the song, were just pumping it and the sax solo kinda reminded me of the late great Clarence Clemons.

"Come On" was used for for a Daihatsu Mira car commercial back then. It managed to peak at No. 24 for the month of October. This song on "So Real" amongst the other great tunes finally hooked me as a Kohhy fan.

Kahoru Kohiruimaki -- So Real

Sachiko Nishida -- Tokyo Blues (東京ブルース)

Well, "NHK Kayo Concert" came back tonight after a few weeks off....perhaps on summer hiatus, and the theme for that show was "Dramatic Kayo". This time, the producers decided to take that theme and bring a bit of "Enka no Hanamichi"演歌の花道) to the proceedings on the big Shibuya stage by having some of the performers play it up some on a set which was supposedly an intimate restaurant/bar (but looked more like a set-up in a food court). One of the performers covered an old song from 1964, "Tokyo Blues".

Sachiko Nishida(西田佐知子), who was famous for "Coffee Rumba", that Latin-infused kayo from 1961, went more Mood Kayo/Big Band here. Written by Kaoru Mizuki(水木かおる) and composed by Hideyuki Fujiwara(藤原秀行), "Tokyo Blues" has that nighttime downtown Tokyo feeling from way back led by that trumpet and Nishida's singing of how she can't help but be twisted around every paramour's finger. When I heard the song tonight, I got the feeling of those legendary jazz orchestras from the 40s with a featured female singer.

The song was released in January 1964, the year of the Tokyo Olympics. In reflection of that fact, using the word "Tokyo"for the titles of songs and for commercial products was the "in"thing.  "Tokyo Blues", in fact, was one of four songs with the metropolis' name to be featured in the 1964 Kohaku Utagassen. For Nishida, it was her 4th straight appearance in the New Year Eve's special.

Its nostalgic value was also not lost on the people of Studio Ghibli. The song was used during the animated feature "Omohide Poroporo"おもひでぽろぽろ....Only Yesterday), starring Miki Imai(今井美樹) back in 1991.

Here is an even jazzier version of the song by singer Kye Eunsook(桂銀淑).