Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Yutaka Mizutani -- California Connection （カリフォルニア・コネクション）
Usually I catch NHK's morning variety show, "Asaichi" at about 1 p.m. on TV Japan on the weekdays, but perhaps because of the O-Bon holidays, the show's currently on hiatus. However, for the past several days, our cable channel for Japanese TV has supplanted it with reruns of the long-running detective show "Aibou"（相棒...Partners）starring actor Yutaka Mizutani（水谷豊）as the urbane, tea-sipping master detective Ukyo Sugishita. He's the calm, older and intelligent brains while three actors have played the eager young brawny partners.
Considering how much of a Yoda-like figure Detective Sugishita is, it was a bit of a revelation to realize that he once played a much goofier detective in the 1979 series, "Necchu Jidai"（熱中時代...The Zealous Times）. Let's say that if Sugishita is indeed Yoda, then his former role as Detective Takeshi Hayano was Grover from "Sesame Street", judging from the opening credits above. The show itself was rather unique in that its first season, the setting was an elementary school in which Mizutani played Kitano-sensei before making that abrupt switch in setting to a police station for the 2nd season.
According to his Wikipedia biography, Mizutani was more of a reluctant thespian who finally got accustomed to his career. Well, perhaps that was also the case with his singing career since it was his managing company at the time that gently prodded him to release a few tunes or so. Up to 2009, he has been able to spin out 18 singles and several albums, but his most famous one is his 5th which was the theme for the Detective Version of "Necchu Jidai", "California Connection".
Released in April 1979, "California Connection" was written by Yoko Aki（阿木燿子）, one-half of the married songwriting duo behind a number of Momoe Yamaguchi's（山口百恵）hits in the later years of her career, and composed by Masaaki Hirao（平尾昌晃）, the man who took care of "Canada kara no Tegami"（カナダからの手紙）a year previously. I think there was an unwritten rule at the time about detective-portraying actors-turned-singers that said that they to sing somewhat shibui downtown pop, and I think that rule applied with Mizutani. He sounded like a pro actor putting out a single than a pro singer doing the same, but he acquitted himself well enough here. And as it turned out, the song about someday settling down with that beloved girl and making do in the big city got as high as No. 3 on the Oricon charts and ended the year as the 12th-ranked single of the year.
(Unfortunately the video has been taken down.)
Some years ago, Mizutani did a self-cover of his old hit with a full-on music video parodying the opening to "Necchu Jidai", to boot. He even got one-half of comedy duo Tunnels, Noritake Kinashi（木梨憲武） to come in and help out as the befuddled police man. It was a bit odd seeing Mizutani looking a lot more like his serene Ukyo Sugishita clowning around like a combination of Charlie Chaplin and Mr. Bean, but hey, I'm happy he doesn't take his most famous character too seriously.