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.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Kaho - 「Every Hero」 - Theme song to 『ミス・パイロット』/Miss Pilot

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One of my all-time favorite dramas of the 80s was the Daiei and TBS TV's inspiring, sentimental and extremely melodramatic drama series 『スチュワーデス物語』/"Stewardess Monogatari" (1983) which starred J-Pop idol and Daiei regular 堀ちえみ/Hori Chiemi. Chiemi who portrayed Matsumoto Chiaki, a petite, clumsy and somewhat naive girl from an abusive home, who had dreams of becoming a JAL (Japan Airlines) Stewardess. Following her ambitions, she bravely enters the elite JAL Training Academy where she endures all sorts of hardships, trials and tribulations during her training program. While she suffers through various humiliations and setbacks, she achieves her goal and becomes a JAL stewardess thanks in part to her spunky determination.  She even finds time to fall in love with her handsome and dashing training instructor Murasawa Hiroshi (風間杜夫/Kazama Morio), a former JAL Purser with an equally tragic and troubled past. While sometimes over-the-top, sappy and a bit contrived, it was a superb teen soap-opera style drama with heart. 

There have been other subsequent other airport-themed dramas and films since then including Fuji TV's 2006 comedy 『アテンションプリーズ』/"Attention Please" (a remake of a 1970's TV drama) with 上戸彩/Ueto Aya; Fuji TV's 2012 drama/thriller『TOKYOエアポート』/"Tokyo Airport" with 深田恭子/Fukuda Kyoko and the hilarious 2008 film 『ハッピーフライト』/"Happy Flight" with 綾瀬 はるか/Ayase Haruka, yet none have really come close to matching the spirit and feel-good nature of "Stewardess Monogatari", that is until this 2013 Fuji TV drama series came along.  While maintaining "Stewardess Monogatari's", "cinderella" like feel,『ミス・パイロット』/"Miss Pilot" successfully updates the story for today's generation and also redefines the role of female airline employees in Japan, while giving audiences a detailed look into how a major modern airline conducts it's daily operations and explores the rigorous training that is involved by airline pilots.

"Miss Pilot" revolves around the life of plucky, young high school graduate 手塚晴/Tezuka Haru     (portrayed by the incredibly cute and likable star 堀北真希/Horikita Maki). Haru (who has always had an easy-going and carefree personality) is trying to find her purpose in life as she works part-time for her parent's at their family owned Izakaya/restaurant. Frustrated with all the rejection notices and interviews she has been getting while trying to decide on a career, on a whim, she decides to try out for a pilot trainee position which she saw in an employment recruiting magazine.  Her naivete and infectious positive demeanor wins over the interviewing staff and she is surprisingly accepted as one of the pilot candidates.  

The stellar cast of "Miss Pilot" - Image courtesy of
At the ANA - All Nippon Airways (全日空輸) training academy, Haru is introduced to her fellow pilot hopefuls including - Brash and arrogant 小田千里/Oda Chisato (the wonderful 相武紗季/Aibu Saki), a Tokyo University graduate who had previously attempted to become a pilot but did not make it to the final rounds of testing; Playboy lothario, 岸井泰治/Kishi Taiji (間宮祥太朗/Mamiya Shotaro); Gentle-giant 小鳥翔/Kotori Sho (小柳友/Koyanagi Yu), the son of a airplane mechanic who had dreams of becoming a airplane mechanic himself but failed the mechanic's test; Country-bumpkin 山田 一男/Yamada Kazuo (Johnny's Jr.'s 藤井流星/Fujii Ryusei), a good-natured, Osaka native who wants to be a pilot to get laid; and the Intellectual 諸星麻也/Moroboshi Maya (庄野崎謙/Shounozaki Ken), a distant and somewhat cold rich boy who defied his parents wishes of following the family tradition of becoming a doctor to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot.

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Under the watchful eye and "iron hand" of lead flight instructor 国木田孝之助/Kunikida Konosuke (斎藤工/Saito Takumi) and supervising lead pilot 篠崎一豊/Shinozaki Kazutoyo (the great 岩城滉一/Iwaki Koichi), who also happens to be Chisato's estranged father, the trainees endure a lot of pain, tears and hardships as they undergo the grueling and unforgiving training process, including hours of simulation work, stints working as "Grand Staff" employees at Haneda Airport and undergoing an extensive one-and-a-half year pilot training course in North Dakota.

L-R - Iwaki Koichi, Sakuraba Nanami, Aibu Saki, Horikita Maki, Saito Takumi and Nanao
After watching "Miss Pilot", I have a newfound respect for airline pilots and the training that they have to undergo. It is certainly not easy to become a pilot and even though "Miss Pilot" is a fictionalized account, it is none-the-less a sobering experience to see the types of skills that are required of pilots.  I was particularly surprised by the fact that ANA (and probably also JAL) pilots train in the United States as well.  I always assumed that pilots train at local airport facilities but it does make sense given that pilots need to clock-in so many hours of solo flight time and that can't realistically be accomplished in Japan's limited airspace.

Miss Maki - Image courtesy of
Lead actress 堀北真希/Horikita Maki is great as Haru, the "Miss Pilot" of the title. Even before her star-making turn as the lead heroine in the NHK morning drama series 『梅ちゃん先生』/"Umechan Sensei" (2012), Maki was a well established actress and talent having had memorable parts in a number of various movies and drama series including 『ALWAYS 続・三丁目の夕日』/"Always Zoku - San Chome No Yuhi" (2007), 『電車男』/"Densha Otoko" TV Series (2005), 『クロサギ』/"Kurozaki" (2006),『イノセント・ラヴ』/"Innocent Love" (2008) and 『花ざかりの君たちへ』/"Hanazakari No Kimitachi E" (2007). J-Dorama fans however will most remember her as Kotani Nobuko in the cult TV series『野ブタ。をプロデュース』/"Nobuta Wo Produce" (2005).  Born October 6, 1988 in Kiyose, Tokyo, Japan, Maki was the eldest of three daughters. Maki was a very popular student in school, voted Vice President of the Junior High School class. A bit of a tomboy, Maki played both basketball and softball in school and was also Vice Captain of her basketball club in Junior High. It was during this time that she was scouted by talent agents and signed up as both an actress and model.

Aibu Saki - Image courtesy of
Co-star 相武紗季/Aibu Saki is another one of my favorite actress, having starred in a number of J-Doramas including 『リッチマン、プアウーマン』/"Rich Man, Poor Woman" (2012), リバウンド/"Rebound" (2011) and 『絶対彼氏』/"Zettai Kareshi" (2008).  Ironically, Saki also starred in "Attention Please" where she portrayed another rival to lead heroine Ueto Aya.

L-R - Sakuraba Nanami; Nanao
In fact there a lot of actors in this series who make surprisingly but welcomed appearances including 桜庭ななみ/Sakuraba Nanami, who had just finished up her impressive turn as lead heroine 今野水希/Konno Mizuki in the TV Tokyo live-action adaptation of Sueno Keiko's dark manga series 『リミット』(2013) and leggy model 菜々緒/Nanao, who had portrayed the villainous 大神千代子/Ogami Chiyoko in the romance drama 『ラスト♡シンデレラ』/"Last Cinderella" (2013), both playing airline "Grand Staff" employees for ANA.

The scenes shot in America weren't all that bad and the actors hired for the various supporting parts were surprisingly decent, thanks mainly to the hiring of actual minor actors like Brett Gillen (who portrayed one of the pilot instructors) as opposed to amateur, part-time actors as had been used in the past. Even guest star kickboxer/wrestler and "Gaikokujin" talent Bob Sapp's (as dorm cook Roy) acting wasn't all that offensive or off-putting.
L-R - Shounozaki Ken, Fujii Ryusei, Horikita Maki, Bob Sapp, Aibu Saki, Koyanagi Yu and Mamiya Shotaro - Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of
The theme song for "Miss Pilot" is the catchy and emotional "Every Hero", the single debut for 15 year old J-Pop phenom "Kaho" who has been heralded by Japanese press as being one of the singers in the so-called "Post Utada" wave of young and talented power vocalists who have been influenced by trailblazing Utada Hikaru and are looked to be the heirs apparent to fill the void left by her, when she announced her indefinite retirement (24 year old, R&B singer Jasmine is also considered among that group).

Even more so than others, Kaho's background is eerily similar to Utada.  As with Utada, Kaho is a second-generation singer, the daughter of 80s J-Pop idol 河合 奈保子/Kawai Naoko (whom she bears an uncanny resemblance).  Naoko had a string of hits including 「THROUGH THE WINDOW〜月に降る雪〜」/"Through The Window - Tsuki Ni Furuyuki" (1985),  「エスカレーション」/"Escalation" (1983) ,
スマイル・フォー・ミー」/"Smile For Me" (1981), 「夏のヒロイン」/"Natsu No Heroine" (1982) and 「けんかをやめて」/"Kenka O Yamete" (1982) among others.

In 1996 Kawai Naoko married famed hair/makeup artist to the stars, 金原宜保/Kanehara Takayasu whose clients included a who's who of J-Pop talents including ironically enough rising star Utada Hikaru who was at the time on the verge of releasing her landmark debut album "First Love" (1998).

The family moved from Japan to settle in Australia where Kaho was primarily raised. Naoko groomed Kaho as a musician and singer early on and nurtured her natural musical talents. From the age of 12, Kaho began to compose her own songs and at age 13, she recorded her first demo CD.  With the help of Naoko, Kaho was able to circulate her demo CD to music companies in Japan and she was eagerly signed up by prolific Sony Music producer Miyake Akira, who had also helped Utada with her debut album "First Love".

"Every Hero" was released on 11/27/13 amid some fanfare (it was teased via short PV clips on YouTube as well as via the "Miss Pilot" drama series for a good month prior to its release date).  However when it did debut it didn't quite achieve the type of sales numbers that Utada had generated with her debut singles "Automatic", "Moving On Without You" and the massive hit "First Love" - "Every Hero" topped at No. 34 on the Oricon charts.  However it was a respectable debut for the young fledgling singer and a good test run of her ability to crack the Japanese Music scene.  J-Canuck briefly referenced the song in his article for Kawai Naoko's 「ハーフムーン・セレナーデ」/"Half-Moon Serenade" last October.

While Kaho's music is a bit more rock inspired than Utada, they do share not only a similar vocal style and proficiency in English but could also pass as sisters as they bear a very strikingly similar look and appearance.

L-R - Kawai Naoko, Kaho and Utada Hikaru
Kaho is just one of many in a long line of 帰国生/"Kikokusei" (returnee) singers past/present who have been born, lived or been raised abroad and have since returned to Japan to pursue their dreams of being entertainers.  The list includes a diverse group of singers such as BENI, JUJU, Angela Aki, Leah Dizon, MiChi, Rihwa, ベッキー/Becky, 早見優/Hayami Yu, 青山 テルマ/Aoyama Thelma and 観月ありさ/Mizuki Arisa.

"Miss Pilot" was one of the better Japanese dramas that showed this past Fall and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It was moving, inspirational and sometimes overly emotional but was very much a "cinderella" type of story where one woman's dream of becoming a pilot becomes a reality.  Kaho's powerful theme song is a perfect fit for the drama and definitely sets the tone and mood.  While "Stewardess Monogatari" still is my sentimental favorite airport-themed drama, "Miss Pilot" certainly ranks as a close second.

The NGN/Japan TV satellite cable network will begin broadcasting "Miss Pilot" beginning tomorrow (1/13/14) in select cities.  Definitely check it out!

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