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, October 31, 2015

Harumi Miyako -- Anko Tsubaki wa Koi no Hana (アンコ椿は恋の花)

On that episode of NHK's "Kayo Concert" I caught a few nights ago from which I was inspired to talk about "Futari no Ginza"(二人の銀座), I also heard a number that sparked some old familiarity of what was playing on the ancient RCA Victor in my old apartment in St. James Town. Venerable and venerated Harumi Miyako(都はるみ)appeared once more on the program to perform "Anko Tsubaki wa Koi no Hana" (The Camellia of a Young Lady is the Flower of Love) in the shitamachi district of Shibamata, Tokyo, and for those who have heard the name before, it is indeed the hometown of Japanese cinematic movie bumpkin hero, Tora-san from the "Otoko wa Tsurai yo"(男はつらいよ...Tough to be a Man)series. In fact, Miyako performed the song right in the sweets shop Toraya whose counterpart in the franchise was the home for Tora-san's family.

Miyako's connection with the Tora-san series comes from her appearance as the love interest (or Madonna as the ladies were nicknamed) for good ol' Torajiro in the 31st entry in 1983. Although she played a fictional character, she did perform "Anko Tsubaki wa Koi no Hana" for the Shibamata folks right at Toraya in the movie.

I caught this particular entry with my family since back then it was often a Sunday afternoon tradition to head over to the nearby Japanese-Canadian Cultural Centre to catch another in the Tora-san movies. When I heard the song in the movie, I had also detected some familiarity but didn't know of the long history of the enka ballad. As far as I knew, it may as well have been created right in that year of 1983.

As it turned out, it was released as Miyako's 3rd single in the year before I was born, 1964. And it was her first big hit as it sold over a million records and earned the then-16-year-old (that voice!) a Japan Record Award for Best Newcomer. According to J-Wiki, it stacks up with her later hits of "Osaka Shigure"(大阪しぐれ), "Naniwa Koi Shigure"(浪花恋しぐれ), and "Kita no Yado kara"(北の宿から). Written by Tetsuro Hoshino(星野哲郎)and composed by Shosuke Ichikawa(市川昭介), it struck me as being the quintessential enka tune with those sibilant strings and Japanese instruments, and of course the warble and gusto with which Miyako handled the lyrics.

However, finally knowing the title to the song, I was a bit confused about the meaning of it, partially because I first related the song to the Tora-san setting of Toraya. After all, it is a traditional Japanese sweets shop so I had imagined that the "anko" in the title referred to the sweet bean paste that was squeezed into the buns to form manju. But actually, the "anko" in the title is actually a regional expression on Izu-Oshima Island which refers to the standard "onee-san" or young lady. I believe Hoshino's lyrics talk of the young fellow now working and residing on the mainland sending love letters back to his home island to the lass perhaps not knowing whether they have reached her or not. Overall, I think the message is about pining for home, a theme that probably imbued a lot of enka songs back then while the young masses moved to the major cities like Tokyo and Osaka to help Japan get back on its feet.

The 1983 Tora-san movie wasn't the first to feature "Anko Tsubaki wa Koi no Hana". The ballad was such a hit that it got made into its own movie in 1965.

Takashi Hosokawa -- Kita Dake (北岳)

Following up from his powerful and menacing "Enka Bune" (艶歌船) is the equally manly "Kita Dake". Takashi Hosokawa (細川たかし) sure has a knack for singing songs like these that combines enka and rock, and exude machismo, and that's what I like about this singer with a voice as loud as a bull horn.

So far, I have seen Hosokawa belt out "Kita Dake" three times on "Kayo Concert", and every time he's decked out in a jet black kimono decorated with ferocious-looking motifs - an enormous gold dragon coiled across the width of his chest as seen in the excerpt of the MV above, and in the most recent episode, a large snarling tiger. I don't know about you, but I thought that's insanely cool when combined with that seasoned, confident expression on his tanned face.

"Kita Dake", like "Enka Bune", has a dramatic and intimidating score with the electric guitar wailing away, brought to you by singer and composer Goro Mochizuki (望月吾郎). But I find that "Kita Dake" is more melodious than its predecessor and has a certain airiness to it that makes you feel like you're looking up at the towering snow-capped mountains rather than at the dark, choppy sea. Daisuke Shiga's (志賀大介) lyrics seem to highlight the grandeur and mystique of the northern alps, and Hosokawa is able to convey that with ease by switching his shrill vocal delivery from gentle and modulated to an intense growl at different parts of the song.

Hosokawa's 74th single was released on 19th August 2015 and it did well on the Oricon charts - peaked at 30th place on the regular charts and 1st on the enka-yo charts during the week it came out (it's still floating around in the enka charts). I like this song and half of me is really tempted to get this online on my next round of shopping at CD Japan, but the other half is adamant on doing so only during the next trip to Japan... I intend to get the poster too, if available...
By the way, contrary to what I had initially thought, "Kita Dake" centers around Mount Kita, a mountain in the Yamanashi prefecture, and isn't referring to some northern mountain range. Mount Kita is also the 2nd tallest mountain in Japan, right after Mount Fuji. (Noelle from 20/12/15)

Yoshie Kashiwabara -- Jikan wo Kudasai (時間をください)

I can't quite remember under what circumstances I ended up purchasing the audiotape of Yoshie Kashiwabara's(柏原芳恵)15th album, "Machikutabirete Yokohama"(待ちくたびれてヨコハマ)from Wah Yueh. Possibly it was due to hearing all those renditions of her "Haru Nanoni"(春なのに)on episodes of "The Top 10" and enjoying her voice.

In any case, that's what I did. And for the first time in perhaps a quarter of a century, I opened up the old tape of "Machkutabirete Yokohama" and put it into the player. To be honest, the only song I remember from the album is the title track by Toyohisa Araki and Takashi Miki(荒木とよひさ・三木たかし)because of how sprightly it sounded. So perhaps I can say that I was listening to the album again with fresh ears. My impression at my re-acquaintance is that the 80s aidoru was singing a mix of ditties that could have either taken place in the city or in a small town.

The first track, "Jikan wo Kudasai" (Give Me Your Time Please) can probably sit between those two perhaps it is a suburban aidoru tune? Also created by Araki and Miki, Yoshie-chan's vocals and that arrangement provide instant nostalgia of how aidoru tunes sounded a few decades ago with the combination of strings and twee synths. I could say that the melody about pining for love has that innocence of a high school girl back in those days with the sailor suit uniform and the dome of short hair that was fairly common back then.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Isao Sasaki with the Suginami Junior Chorus -- Ginga Tetsudo 999(銀河鉄道999)/Aoi Chikyuu(青い地球)

The very first anison article I did for "Kayo Kyoku Plus" back in early 2012 was the epic theme for "Space Cruiser Yamato" by Leiji Matsumoto(松本零士). The second article was for another Matsumoto sci-fi franchise, "Galaxy Express 999" via a lovely ballad that was featured in the first motion picture treatment for the most famous train in anime, "Yasashiku Shinaide"(やさしくしないで)by Kumiko Kaori(かおりくみこ). Since then, I've done a couple of more articles for the main themes for the movie by Godiego(ゴダイゴ).

Well, it's time to talk about the theme songs for the original TV series which ran from 1978-1981 on Fuji-TV. The opening theme, "Ginga Tetsudo 999" still manages to raise the hair on the back of my neck even though the melody by Masaaki Hirao(平尾昌晃)comes across as milder when compared to the Yamato theme but I think that's the wonder of the professor emeritus of anison Isao Sasaki(ささきいさお)with the Suginami Junior Chorus(杉並児童合唱団). He could make "Happy Birthday" sound like the finest battle anthem!

And not to put down the may be milder in comparison but in its quieter but no less epic way, Hirao and lyricist Jun Hashimoto(橋本淳)have been able to convey the incredible adventures that the Three-Nine has experienced. I also enjoy how the song just fades in after the train starts chugging down the tracks. Furthermore, I'm not sure whether Hirao had been aiming for this combination, but I could pick up hints of Mood Kayo and City Pop through the arrangement such as the percolating bass. "Ginga Tetsudo 999" is the musical passport for your voyage through the stars.

I still get rather verklempt whenever I listen to the ending theme, "Aoi Chikyuu" after all these years, again thanks to the triumvirate of Sasaki, Hirao and Hashimoto. The title might mean The Blue Earth, but it strikes me as being a lullaby between mother and son or Maetel and Tetsuro. As soon as the whistle and the strings begin before Sasaki's voice enters, I sometimes have to set the Kleenex box near the computer. I guess in a way, it would make for a fine Mother's Day kayo.

"Aoi Chikyuu" was actually the first song that I had heard which was connected with "Ginga Tetsudo 999" via the instrumental version in the trailer for the first movie in 1979. The single, and I'm assuming that the two songs occupied the same 45", became the No. 1 song on Oricon in the Anime/Children's Songs category for that same year.

I borrowed the videotape of the original first movie only having seen certain pictures of the mysterious Maetel and the train along with catching some scenes here and there from the TV show. So I didn't know too much about what "Ginga Tetsudo 999" was all about and since my copy of the movie had no subtitles, I couldn't understand everything about the plot. However in compensation, the animation and soundtrack were just gorgeous so by the end of the movie, I really wanted to live in the far future. The above video shows the movie, and at the 2-minute mark, the orchestra ramps it all up with what I think is a short but magnificent tribute to "Aoi Chikyuu". Fans couldn't have asked for a finer musical introduction.

Kana Hanazawa -- I♥New Day!

Dang! For a roly-poly girl panda, she sings pretty well. Yup, I still got Mei-Mei on the brain whenever I think of seiyuu Kana Hanazawa(花澤香菜)although I've seen her in a number of anime such as "Sasami-san@Ganbaranai"(ささみさん@がんばらない)and "Bodacious Space Pirates". And she has provided her singing voice in other anime productions as well such as "Shirokuma Cafe"(しろくまカフェ)and "Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin"(世紀末オカルト学院).

However, coming across her 3rd album from 2015 "Blue Avenue" which was released a number of months ago on YouTube, I was pretty darn impressed with the opening track " I♥New Day!". It has a mellow Sunday afternoon Smooth Jazz arrangement that I've rather missed since its appearance in Japanese pop music in the late 90s and early 00s. As soon as I heard the popping percussion in the intro, I automatically got reminded of an old Original Love number. And although I could imagine a songstress with a slightly more huskier delivery tackling " I♥New Day!", I also enjoyed the high-toned Hanazawa.

The lyrics were provided by Yuuho Iwasato(岩里祐穂)who has also written songs for Miki Imai(今井美樹)and provided an anison theme for one of my favourite shows in 2015, "Koufuku Graffiti"(幸腹グラフィティ). As for the melody, it was created by Katsutoshi Kitagawa(北川勝利), the bassist/guitarist/vocalist for the band Round Table which specializes in anime soundtracks.

"Blue Avenue" managed to peak at No. 12 on the Oricon album charts.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

AKB48 -- Halloween Night(ハロウィン・ナイト)

Man, oh man...I've always thought that whenever Japan (or Tokyo) adopts a foreign holiday, the place goes all out. That's been the case with Christmas all these decades and now it's the case with Halloween. When I arrived in Tokyo in 1994, the spooky holiday was only celebrated by a smattering of drunken English teachers when they hijacked one car on the Yamanote Line for an entire loop; it wasn't too long before there were extra cops at the ready to prevent that from happening.

However over the years, I and probably thousands of English teachers have brought more and more students into the mix of the former All Hallows' Eve with costume parties and Jack O'Lantern carvings. Resultingly, you get the above humongous Halloween party in Shibuya. The video was from 2013. NHK News was reporting earlier this morning that it will be all hands on deck for the Tokyo police for the next couple of nights with Halloween parties all over the place. Halloween has finally arrived. And y'know...I think even more than Christmas, Halloween seems to have the perfect fit for the Japanese since the people there are also all into costumes and spooky stories, although we did have to help them with the pumpkins.

I was talking with good ol' contributor JTM the other night about J-Pop when he told me that AKB48 had come up with their own Halloween song. There are tons of Japanese Yuletide songs in the massive kayo kyoku/J-Pop discography of history, but I haven't come across too many Halloween tunes in the Land of the Rising Sun, but when my friend told me about this one, I was rather intrigued. Sure enough, I found the short version for AKB48's 41st single "Halloween Night" on YouTube today. It was released just a couple of months ago in August 2015 and not surprisingly it went all the way up to No. 1.

The Wikipedia article compared it to the happy disco of "Koi Suru Fortune Cookie"(恋するフォーチュンクッキー)as being "...done in a dark disco style...", although I think it's still cheerfully poppy and jumpy as if the songwriters were reminiscing over the oeuvre of Boney M. And the music video above has gotten the atmosphere of a Tokyo Halloween right...J-Xmas has that mood of high style and dining but J-Halloween is all about the massive cosplay partying.

"Halloween Night" was written by Yasushi Akimoto(秋元康)and composed by Yoshimasa Inoue(井上ヨシマサ)who had also created the spicy "Rosa" for Miho Nakayama(中山美穂)and the theme song for the anime "Nadia - The Secret of Blue Water", "Blue Water" for Miho Morikawa(森川美穂)a couple of decades back. It's nice to see Inoue bring back the disco nights of yore.

Now that Halloween has been internalized into the Japanese cultural events calendar, I can only figure that it might be a matter of time before Easter is the next target...with all those cute rabbits and chocolate.

Yup, nothing says Halloween more than
squid-ink burgers at McDonalds!
Ah, just before I forget....this is the other song that I know off the top of my head which has that connection to Halloween.

Tomoe Shinohara -- Kurukuru Miracle (クルクル ミラクル)

Y' the mid-90s when I landed in Japan once more, it wasn't just one Shinohara who was getting her fame at the time.

It wasn't too long after I had arrived in Tokyo that I had my first glimpse of the teenaged and deranged force-of-nature that was Tomoe Shinohara(篠原ともえ). In fact, at about 5:30 into the above video, that first glimpse can be seen. It was on "HEY!HEY!HEY! MUSIC CHAMP" when Tomoe first appeared within my range of vision as this weird pop-punk figure with the whiny-growly voice and day-glo fashion sense. I could say that she was about as far from Ryoko Shinohara(篠原涼子)as Ryoko Shinohara was from a kodiak bear.

The over-the-top entertainer from the western tip of Tokyo pulled off a cultural coup in that she was unlike anyone who had come before her and anyone who followed her. Pretty soon, she was everywhere on the Japanese tube, and in the age of Amurers (Namie Amuro fans), Shinohara had her own following in the form of Shinorers. Although she was an everywhere-to-be-seen tarento, I saw her regularly on the Saturday-night Fuji-TV music-interview show, "LOVE LOVE Aishiteiru"(LOVE LOVEあいしてる...Love Love I Love You)as not only part of the backing band for the Kinki Kids but also as the overcaffeinated interviewer of the show's guests which included some American celebs (who didn't appear on the show itself to sing thankfully) such as Robin Williams...and to see Shinohara and Robin together in a segment is something to behold.

Of course, being a truly out-there tarento meant that a trip to the recording studio was also a foregone conclusion. Between 1995 and 2011, she released 18 singles. One of the two singles that I actually remember is "Kurukuru Miracle" (Round-and-Round Miracle) from August 1996. Written and composed by Takkyu Ishino(石野卓球)from fun techno unit Denki Groove(電気グルーヴ), there is that sample of a bunch of histrionic strings that I used to hear in commercials from the States that starts things off as if it were the beginning of some sort of old Western movie. Then it's time for the Tomoe crazy patter. I think the lyrics serve as the grand introduction to the legend that is Shinohara.

However, for the last several years of my time in Japan, she rather disappeared from public view...or at least her profile was nowhere near as huge as it used to be in the 1990s. Then, when I got back to Toronto in 2011, I actually started seeing her again as a guest on various NHK shows via TV Japan. She apparently had focused more on her fashion design business, and now as a TV personality in her mid-30s, although she still has that eclectic style (techno-ojousan?), Tomoe Shinohara is now a whole lot calmer, often discussing about fashion and the more refined aspects of Japanese culture such as visiting temples and shrines.

But, man, what an adolescence...

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Akiko Kobayashi -- Superstar no Baai wa (スーパースターの場合は)

Man, is it pouring buckets in Toronto today, thanks to the remnants of Hurricane Patricia. I'm definitely grateful that the distance between my workplace and my bed can be measured in millimetres rather than kilometres.

Also, I'm a bit lacking for translation work this week which means that I can get some blog articles up in the afternoon. And when it comes to the afternoon, Akiko Kobayashi(小林明子)often comes to mind. It's that mellow voice of hers which brings up images of chamomile tea and comfy armchairs. Of course, a lot of her work in the early years of her singing career in the mid-80s could be categorized as AOR-friendly, and her 2nd album, "Kokoro no Mama ni"/心のままに (1986) which I have already written about is one of the prime examples.

Track 2 from that album is "Superstar no Baai wa" (As A Superstar). Kobayashi's music is a bit more uptempo here with a bit of comical here and a bit of glamour there. Reiko Yukawa's(湯川れい子)lyrics about the titular superstar could be referring to anyone from a movie star to an all-star hockey player who has to not only handle the superficial aspects of the celebrity life but also take care of the serious and more heartfelt part of keeping an eye on the kids. Overall, I think it almost rolls out like the theme song for a Japanese comedy-drama on the subject.

Ken Yamauchi & Masako Izumi/The Ventures -- Futari no Ginza (二人の銀座)

I was watching "Kayo Concert"(歌謡コンサート)last night with the theme being movie songs. A lot of the entries were songs that I had already covered in the blog, but then I came across this one titled "Futari no Ginza" (Ginza for Two), which I actually had referred to in passing for "Kyoto Bojou"(京都慕情)about 18 months ago. Like that song, "Futari no Ginza", which is officially known in English as "Ginza Lights", was composed by surf rock legends The Ventures with lyrics by Rokusuke Ei(永六輔)who had written the just-as-legendary "Ue wo Muite Arukou"(上を向いて歩こう).

The singers behind this one were actors Ken Yamauchi and Masako Izumi(山内賢・和泉雅子). The two of them had actually been releasing records as well before "Futari no Ginza", but to be honest, listening to the two behind the mike, I got the impression that acting was more their gig. However, I think it was their somewhat amateurish delivery that may have been the charm as a couple of young folk in love dashing through the bright lights of one of the planet's most expensive neighbourhoods. And The Ventures created the music based on their observations of Ginza at night which is still pretty dazzling even now.

Released in September 1966, "Futari no Ginza" was actually first offered to chanson singer Fubuki Koshiji(越路吹雪)according to an interview with Izumi, but after listening to The Ventures' melody, she felt that Izumi was a far better choice. Considering that Koshiji was already well into her forties when she was approached while Izumi was all of 19 at the time, I think it was the right decision. The former may have been far more skilled as a singer but the latter was the more appropriate partner for the 22-year-old Yamauchi in terms of the overall footloose-and-fancy-free tone.

"Futari no Ginza" was such a hit that in 1967, a movie was made based on the song starring Izumi and Yamauchi. I've never seen it myself but I'm pretty sure it was just as footloose.

To finish off, here are The Ventures with their own take.

Ginza 4-chome with the Wako Clock

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Bread & Butter -- Nagisa ni Ikou (渚に行こう)

Well, I need not regret anymore. I finally got that Bread & Butter album, "Late Late Summer" that I had been wondering about back in my last article on the folk/AOR/City Pop duo. And as my former student had said, it's a very comforting album.

"Nagisa ni Ikou" (Let's Go To The Beach) is another track from Bread & Butter's 6th album (1979), but I don't think the Iwasawa Brothers really wanted to invite us for a sweaty game of volleyball on the shore. Instead, they wanted us to just lie down on the sand at sunset, judging from the really laid back melody which was made by one of the siblings, Fuyumi(岩沢二弓). However, the lyrics by Ayumi Date(伊達歩)describe that romantic stroll by the beach. Those sparkling keyboards automatically had me thinking pouring Perrier. Such were the days of City Pop back then. By the way, the arrangement was handled by Haruomi Hosono and Shigeru Suzuki(細野晴臣・鈴木茂)from Happy End.

Listening to Bread & Butter especially here, I couldn't help but feeling that they sounded like a really mellow version of ALFEE or Spitz.

GO!GO!7188 -- Jet Ninjin (ジェットにんぢん)

I saw this video for the rollicking "Jet Ninjin" (Jet Carrot) starring rock band GO!GO!7188 years ago on one of the local music channels, and thought it a hoot. My first impression of the group had been that they were a trio of no-nonsense take-no-guff rockers from Kagoshima Prefecture but when I saw this video, I realized that they actually had a sense of humour about themselves.

"Jet Ninjin" was GO!GO!7188's 2nd single from August 2000 which would truly have been made into the coolest tokusatsu TV series theme song with the all-business guitar rumbles. Guitarist Yuu, bassist Akko and drummer Turkey were all in for the video which takes an affectionate poke at that genre plus the one for all those old Japanese police shows as the guys pretend to be an elite squad for good armed with the world's most lethal vegetable.

And yet, as I was to find out, the humour went even deeper. The title actually came from a mispronunciation from Akko's old boss at her part-time job when he/she was trying to actually refer to the eclectic Nara band Jitterin' Jinn. Not sure whether Akko just stared at her employer for the longest time or she crumpled into a bag of giggles. However, riffing from that genius expression, the song was born.

Yuu and Akko created the song, and although most of the song spoke about the superhero Jet Ninjin flying through the air, there was one line at the end which revealed the joke: "Jet Ninjin is actually the once-popular band named Jitterin' Jinn". According to J-Wiki, the band had actually gone to Jitterin' Jinn themselves to get their blessing to use the lyric but were politely declined. However, for whatever reason, the line remained intact when the song was about to be released, something which prompted Jitterin' Jinn lead vocalist Reiko Harukawa(春川玲子)to write an entry in her blog on August 26 2000, just a few days before the release date. I tried to see the entry myself via a link on the J-Wiki article for GO!GO!7188 but just got gibberish; you can check to see if you are more successful. In any case, I don't quite know what Harukawa's exact reaction was but it is interesting to note that GO!GO!7188 didn't play "Jet Ninjin" during their concerts for a short time. Sometime later though, an accord of sorts was reached through staffers who had connections with both bands which resulted in the band agreeing to change that line for any future performances of the song.

"Jet Ninjin" managed to sprout as high as No. 48 on Oricon. You can take a look at another song by the band, "Kokoro no Tabi"(心の旅).

Some carrots...and lettuce

Hiroshi Tachi -- HIROSHI TACHI sings YUJIRO

From one of my favourite genres to another... Besides enka and Mood Kayo, I really enjoy jazz, and I've made that known when I did the article on Duke Aces' cover album filled with ancient jazz tunes. The combination of sounds in such music - the not too boisterous tapping of the drums, the tinkling of the piano, the blare of the trumpets, and the rich notes from the saxophone - brings relaxing thoughts and images to mind. And that was what compelled me to get this album by Hiroshi Tachi (舘ひろし).

After hearing his rendition of "Arashi wo Yobu Otoko", which was where I got to see the current-decade-Tachi being as suave or even more so as he was back in the 80's, I was pleased to know that he had done a cover album solely on the hits sung by his senior and former leader of the Ishihara GundanYujiro Ishihara (石原裕次郎). It was released on 26th September 2012, and it peaked at 128th place on the Oricon charts. Through an episode of NHK's "SONGS" online that featured this very album, I was glad to know that his renditions all had the familiar, comforting sounds of jazz, which was probably why I accepted them fairly easily even though I wasn't familiar with or didn't liked the originals.

The tracks for "HIROSHI TACHI sings YUJIRO" are as follows:

1. Prologue (序章)
2. Yogiri yo Konya mo Arigato (夜霧よ今夜も有難う)
3. Arashi wo Yobu Otoko (嵐を呼ぶ男)
4. Akai Handkerchief (赤いハンカチ)
5. Iki na Wakare (粋な別れ)
6. Brandy Glass (ブランデーグラス)
7. Futari no Sekai (二人の世界)
8. Ginza no Koi no Monogatari (銀座の恋の物語)
9. Kurutta Kaijutsu (狂った果実)
10. Mina Dare ka wo Aishiteru (みんな誰かを愛してる)
11. Waga Jinsei ni Kui Nashi (わが人生に悔いなし)
12. Amai Seikatsu (甘い生活) - Bonus track, Tachi's own song.

On a whole, the covers are louder with a fuller arrangement, and the Mood Kayo feel is mostly lost to that of jazz - most sound like tunes you'd hear in jazz bars and Broadway shows rather than a little izakaya tucked away in some back alley in Ginza - but I like them anyway.

Alright, enough with the introduction, let's get on to the songs I enjoy from this album, shall we? For the tracks that I can't find online, I will put down the original instead.

Yogiri yo Konya mo Arigato (1967)

As you probably know by now, I LOVE this song, and I'm actually very particular about who sings this jazzy Mood Kayo hit - besides Tough Guy, of course. In fact, I can get quite ticked off if I don't think the singer has the right vocal delivery for it. Lucky for Tachi, I think his voice has some similar qualities to Yujiro's, those being low, smooth and gentle; he isn't able to reach the higher notes as easily though. If I were to use food as an analogy, Yujiro's voice would be something like a smooth and light hot chocolate, while Tachi's a thicker, heavier caramel.

Unfortunately, I'm unable to find Tachi's cover of "Yogiri yo Konya mo Arigato", but it is a lot louder than the original with the trumpets blaring away rather than just the lonely sax. It's nice, but frankly, I prefer the music to the original as it represents the loneliness of the song better.

Arashi wo Yobu Otoko (1958)

I enjoy both versions of "Arashi wo Yobu Otoko", but I think I prefer Tachi's by a slim margin. The original is more on the refined side if you take out the boisterous crashing of the drums and cymbals. The cover on the other hand is aggressive and combatant and very Tachi in its arrangement, and I think that it blends with the boxing-related taunt mid-way through the song.

Iki na Wakare (1967)

This one came across as slightly enka to me when I heard the sample of it on CD Japan, and I took a liking to it immediately. The laid back vibe of "Iki na Wakare" made by the horns and sax had me thinking of someone taking a leisurely stroll in a park with brown leaf litter crunching underfoot and the trees painted gold, red and orange by autumn. The original is softer and more deconstructed but it gives off a similar feeling, though instead of a park I envision the person strolling down a Parisian street at sundown. "Iki na Wakare" was the B-side to "Yogiri yo Konya mo Arigato", and Kuranosuke Hamaguchi (浜口庫之助) had also put this song together.

Ginza no Koi no Monogatari (1961)

"Ginza no Koi no Monogatari" was one of Tough Guy's songs that I never paid attention to even after hearing it a couple of times on "Kayo Concert", and for a while I was wondering why this duet was one of his most successful hits. And then Tachi's version, sung with jazz singer Karen Aoki (青木カレン), staved off the doubts I had. I think it has got to do with the arrangement of the song again, with the former being quieter and more subdued, while the latter being more Broadway-like and exciting. But either way, "Ginza no Koi no Monogatari" has found its way into my brain and it has no intention of leaving - it's been stuck in my noggin for a few days now... it's getting quite annoying. You can find the cover in the video above which shows that episode of "SONGS" I was talking about earlier. "Ginza no Koi no Monogatari" comes in at the 9:47 mark.

Waga Jinsei ni Kui Nashi (1987)

To end off the article, I'll talk about the last song in the album (not counting the bonus track). I think "Waga Jinsei ni Kui Nashi" translates to "I have no regrets in my life", and taking into account that this was Ishihara's last single released while he was still in the world of the living just makes it one poignant tune... It's one that would put a sad smile on your face. The music that Tokiko Kato (加藤登紀子) had composed starts of soft at first, and while Tachi/Yujiro sings during that bit, it sounds as if our protagonist is staring into the mirror and talking to himself, reviewing what had been happening in his life thus far. Then it picks up at the chorus where he then proclaims sort of triumphantly that he has no regrets in his life. Rei Nakanishi (なかにし礼) had written the lyrics. "Waga Jinsei ni Kui Nashi" did quite well on the charts in 1987, peaking at 12th place and selling about 840 000 copies. Ah yes, and you can find Tachi's cover in the "SONGS" video above at the 25:52 mark.

He looks really good in a tux... especially with
the bow tie undone... like that.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Yutaka Shimazu/Teresa Teng -- Hotel (ホテル)

Whatever happens in a hotel stays in a hotel.

Yup, I did adapt Las Vegas' famous catchphrase just now but it basically describes this Mood Kayo. I didn't encounter this song on an episode of "Kayo Concert" or "Nodo Jiman", but the fairly uptempo melody struck me as quite familiar, especially with the flute, so I gather that it must have popped up at a karaoke establishment sometime over the last 30 years (perhaps Kuri?)

However, what got me to write about it was seeing the above video with the picture of a sober-sided fellow holding a cigarette while the neon font of "Hotel" in katakana is glowing above him. Yep, nothing says Mood Kayo more than a record cover like that. And as soon as I heard the first number of bars of the music, I realized that I had heard this one in the past.

There seemed to have been quite the sweepstakes surrounding the song by Rei Nakanishi and Keisuke Hama(なかにし礼・浜圭介)starting with its original release in February 1984 as sung by Junichi Tachibana(立花淳一). According to J-Wiki, a number of singers have given their own versions of "Hotel", and although Tachibana's original sold over 800,000 records, it is the one in 1985 by enka singer Yutaka Shimazu(島津ゆたか)that has become the representative version and a hit also for Shimazu.

The karaoke video above explains what the lyrics are all about...and also about how the man in the song feels via my first statement at the very top. One of the big Mood Kayo tropes is about that side tryst in a hotel; have that one-night stand, enjoy a bit of brekkie in the lobby cafe and then part ways without respective family members or work colleagues none the wiser...perhaps. And there is also the one other trope about the enka genre in which female singers have sung from the point of view of the man and vice versa. "Hotel" fulfills both tropes as Shimazu and a number of other male singers have sung from the view of the woman in the affair who actually falls in love with her tryst partner and tries desperately to bring him around to her way of thinking. Meanwhile, the man is trying to put his selfish misdeed in the past. Would love to have heard a sequel song to "Hotel"..."Morgue", perhaps? (Sorry, I am writing this as I watch a particularly dark episode of "Gotham".) In any case, I don't think things will go well for either party.

And on that last part, Shimazu, who debuted in 1970 as an enka singer, had his first big hit 10 years later with "Hana kara Hana e to"(花から花へと...From Flower to Flower)before releasing "Hotel". However, his career imploded in 2002 when he said something inappropriate on an NHK radio program and suddenly found himself with a lot of free time on his hands. And apparently, things haven't changed much since then.

(Sorry, the video has been taken down.)

The late Teresa Teng (テレサ・テン...and I'm sure other female singers) provided her own cover of "Hotel", although it didn't come out as an official single. Unfortunately I don't know when exactly it was released.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ami Ozaki -- Cinematic Doll

One of my other acquisitions over the past couple of weeks was Ami Ozaki's(尾崎亜美)first album under the Pony Canyon label (her 6th overall) in September 1980, "Meridian-Melon". My sole inspiration for getting it was one track that I've already talked about, the disco-technopop of "Nijuu-isseiki no Cinderella" (21世紀のシンデレラ)that I had first come across when it was on the playlist on one episode of "Sounds of Japan" all those many years ago. Since then, I've gotten to know Ms. Ozaki better through her output over the decades.

There were her early gentle hits such as "My Pure Lady" and "I've Been Mellow", and then some of her later and more dynamic material. So I was rather curious about how "Nijuu-isseiki no Cinderella", which struck me as being quite different from what I've come to know her for, fit into her discography. So I got "Meridian-Melon". As it turns out, according to the information on the liner notes, Ozaki, who wrote and composed each song on the album, seemed to have wanted to give some of the more electronic instruments such as the Prophet-5 and Oberheim-8 Voice a try. And the album itself has that combination of the gentle and peppier stuff.

I would have talked about the whole album but I could only find one track on YouTube and nothing at music163 so here is "Cinematic Doll" which is a bit less technopop (although the Prophet-5 is in there) and more disco despite the fact that I don't think it quite fits into the City Pop or J-R&B scene. Still those strings and that thumpy bass bring back a whole lot of musical memories.

"Cinematic Doll" is a pretty uptempo track in which Ozaki sings (I think) about a young starlet who's the darling of the masses but is really quite a cold fish. I'm not quite sure whether the songwriter was aiming at any real celebrity in particular but I will just leave it at that. Listening to the melody, though, I feel like that it's a melodic trip to the bright lights and big city of the times, whether it's the Big Apple or the Big Sushi.

Kazuo Funaki -- Zessho (絶唱)

Another old 45" I managed to dig out of the home collection was Kazuo Funaki's(舟木一夫)"Zessho" (Superb Song/Poem) from 1966. For those folks who know their kayo singers, his most famous hit is the proud "Koukou Sannen-sei"(高校三年生)from 1963, and from that song and one other tune, my image of Funaki had always been that of him singing the salad days about the ol' alma mater.

Well, as soon as I put the needle onto "Zessho" on my turntable, I quickly found out that this was no jaunty tribute to the old days. There was the mournful chorus and then Funaki's heartbreaking lyrics about a love lost. I was particularly struck by the last line of verses 1 and 3 "Naze shinda, aa, Koyuki"(なぜ死んだ、ああ、小雪...Ahh, why did you die, Koyuki?). After going to J-Wiki, I found out that "Zessho" was the theme song for the movie of the same name which was produced in 1966; in fact, it was the 2nd version of 3 motion pictures whose story involved a doomed love affair along the lines of "Romeo & Juliet" and "Love Story" with Funaki himself portraying the Romeo of the story, Junkichi Sonoda, while the character of Koyuki was his Juliet (as acted by Masako Izumi/和泉雅子). The movies were based on an original novel by Kenji Oe(大江賢次), and there were even 5 televised dramatizations between 1961 and 1990.

(karaoke version)

According to J-Wiki, Funaki had once stated in an interview for the Nikkan Gendai newspaper that he wasn't supposed to have been the one singing the elegiac ballad. However, the PR department for the movie studio complained that it wouldn't be right for anyone other than the star of the movie himself to sing sing. And I think the folks in PR were right; "Zessho" is sung from the lead character's point of view so to have anyone else sing it would have reduced the pathos somewhat from the story. But the impression I got from the article was that the song was to have been a pure instrumental with no lyrics since there was a statement that Funaki himself made a direct appeal to lyricist Yaso Saijo(西條八十)at his house to provide the words. By the way, the above video has "Zessho" being performed in the middle of a trio of songs.

The ballad, created by Saijo and Shosuke Ichikawa(市川昭介), ended up earning a prize at the 8th Japan Record Awards in 1966 and getting an invitation onto the Kohaku Utagassen. Seeing the grown-up Funaki on stage in a solemn yukata instead of a high school uniform singing his tribute to the departed Koyuki probably had much of the audience reaching for their hankies. Score more points for the PR department.

The above karaoke video has clips from the 1966 movie starring Funaki and Izumi.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

ZAQ -- Sparkling Daydream/Black Raison d'etre -- Inside Identity

Ever have these memories from your younger and more foolish days that you just want excised from your cranium forever? Ever cringe at those "What the heck was I thinking of?!" acts from your adolescence? Yuta Togashi and Shinka Nibutani share your pain. For me, it wasn't just Eighth-Grader Syndrome...the condition was pretty much my entire educational history until university.

I've just been going through the first season of "Chūnibyō demo Koi ga Shitai!"(中二病でも恋がしたい!...Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions)from 2012 up to the episode where things got pretty darn serious all of a sudden with viewers finding out about Yuta's to-be girlfriend, kooky Rikka Takanashi's reason behind her syndrome. Up until then, things had been hilarious as the two other main characters of Yuta and Shinka tried to exorcise memories of their past embarrassing acts with mixed results.

One of the things I've enjoyed about "Chūnibyō " is the opening theme song by ZAQ, "Sparkling Daydream". Words, music and singing were all done by her, and it is a thoroughly soaring piece meshed well with the opening credits, especially with the left and right sides of the screen alternately flashing (not sure if that had been inspired by the fact that Rikka has that eyepatch). I just hope there have been no YouTubers uploading a loop of the credits with viewers watching them in a darkened room. Although "Sparkling Daydream" provides fine and fun background to the characters horsing around (Sanae Dekomori and her weaponized ponytails for example), I think the soaring aspect of the song can also be applied to the freedom in the characters' delusions whether through flight or power.

"Sparkling Daydream" was released in October 2012 as ZAQ's debut single (I've already written about her 2nd single) and broke through the Oricon Top 10 to reach No. 8. It is also a part of her 2014 album, "Noisy LAB." which also hit the No. 8 mark.

ZAQ was also responsible for words and music to the ending theme for the first season of "Chūnibyō ", "Inside Identity". However, instead of her singing it, she left it to the four main female seiyuu of the series as the show-specific unit Black Raison d'etre. The song has also gotten a lot of airplay on my hard drive just for the rock arrangement and the cute voices doing that near-rap. Once again, it worked well with the ending credits which kinda come off as one of those 80s music videos featuring dream states.

Just to inform you of those seiyuu, they are Maaya Uchida(内田真礼), Chinatsu Akasaki(赤﨑千夏), Azumi Asakura(浅倉杏美)and Sumire Uesaka(上坂すみれ).

"Inside Identity" peaked at No. 12 on the Oricon weeklies after its release in November 2012. Tap into that inner Dark Flame Master while you listen to it...and make sure no one sees you.

Masayuki Suzuki -- Perfume

I kinda feel that I've already covered this album by Masayuki Suzuki(鈴木雅之)since three of the songs on this release have already been talked about: "Shibuya de Go-ji"(渋谷で5時), "Koibito"(恋人)and "Kirai da yo"(きらいだよ). And like those three, pretty much all of the tracks would make for a fine musical backdrop for a drive downtown on a Friday night in any city. It was right after finding about "Kirai da yo" that I decided to get the album itself from the good folks at CD Japan.

"Perfume" was released in September 1993 as Martin's 6th album. As I hinted above, the entire album can act as the soundtrack for that evening jaunt through Tokyo. Track 3 "Mayonaka ni Kagayaite"(真夜中に輝いて...Shining at Midnight)makes for that fine early start to painting the town red late at night as the Ferrari bombs down the Kan-Etsu highway....hopefully, the traffic has eased up by then. The song was created by Norie Kanzawa and Yasuhiro Abe(神沢礼江・安部恭弘).

The cool times continue with "Bishonure Broken Heart"(びしょぬれBROKEN HEART...Drenched Broken Heart)as Suzuki croons about another lost love as she is seen off on the subway. Kitsuma Ohshita(大下きつま)provided the lyrics and Abe once again provides the sultry music (and some background vocals) which has a hint of a previous Suzuki hit, "Wakare no Machi"(別れの街). I especially love the mellow horn section that conveys some of the melancholy feelings.

Yep, "Shibuya de Go-ji" already has its own article but I just wanted to put in the video since I neglected to mention who was behind the making of the song. Suzuki himself took care of the rollicking music while Kanata Asamizu(朝水彼方)provided the lyrics.

"Midnight Traveler" was actually Martin's 17th single from October 1993 with Ohshita behind the lyrics and Yoshiyuki Ohsawa(大沢誉志幸)taking care of the music. The couple is back in the car traveling the nighttime streets probably enjoying the groove here. It only got as high as No. 53 on the Oricon weeklies but, hey, I'm still happy to have it here on "Perfume". Musician-songwriter Yoshiyuki Sahashi(佐橋佳幸)is the one doodling away on the guitar like a boss.

Just so that the album isn't all funk & soul & high energy, the finale is represented by the gospel & blues of "Mou Ichido Umare Kuru Naraba"(もう一度生まれ来るならば...If I'm Born Again), in which Suzuki prays for another chance to meet that soulmate in another life. Martin took care of both music and lyrics here. Although I wouldn't say that it is at the level of a lullaby, it's a nice ballad to wind things down to after that night out.

"Perfume" hit No. 2 on Oricon and I'm quite glad that I could get it at last. Try listening to some of the tracks while watching the above video of a drive through Tokyo.

Good gravy! The back of this CD is more stylish
than my entire wardrobe...

Shigeo Kusunoki/Hideo Murata -- Jinsei Gekijo (人生劇場)

Over the course of these few months, I had been watching a bunch of Japanese dramas, both old and new, and most of them have been pretty good, but the one that takes the cake is "Sanbiki no Ossan" (三匹のおっさん... Three Geezers). It's basically about three old men - Kiyo, Shige and Nori - who, disgusted by how unruly and petty-crime-ridden their neighborhood is, decide to take matters into their own hands by becoming the town's secret law enforcers. Though advanced in age, they are not to be trifled with as they would always deliver a beat down to the bad guys when threatened and give them a taste of justice - Kiyo would strike them hard on the head with his wooden sword, Shige would flip them over Judo-style, and Nori would zap them senseless with his homemade tasers. Ah, ain't nothing better than seeing a trio of geriatrics beating up ne'er-do-wells! That aside, it also teaches some good ol' fashioned values, so there's more to it than just comedy and comedic violence. The video above with the DVD commercials for the drama sums up what I'd just mentioned.

Another thing that I enjoy in "Sanbiki no Ossan" is that an enka song or kayokyoku would be sung in every episode by Kiyo, with Nori occasionally providing the backup "Wah, wah, wah, wah". Unfortunately, I haven't been able to figure out the majority of the songs they had sung, but one thing's for sure, the very first one was Hideo Murata's (村田英雄) "Jinsei Gekijo". This was one of the tunes that Kiyo sang before a serious showdown with the baddies. Kinya Kitaoji (北大路欣也) singing to the song playing on his cell phone (it's the character's ring tone) in his husky voice made for an amazingly cool entrance to a fight.

Moving on to the song itself. J-Canuck's article on "Jinsei Gekijo" served as my introduction to Muchi and the composer responsible for spawning many enka classics of that era, the great Masao Koga (古賀政男). I wasn't a big fan of the song when I first heard it, but what made me come back to it was its haunting music. The instrument used throughout (it may be some string instrument. A mandolin, perhaps. Whatever it is, it's used in many of Koga's works) and the lonely blare of the trumpet of some sort gives "Jinsei Gekijo" a melancholic and slightly sinister air, while Murata's fierce and forceful delivery brought a manly edge. Accompanying Koga's score is Sonosuke Sato's (佐藤惣之助) lyrics.

Apparently many think that "Jinsei Gekijo" was originally by Murata. Who wouldn't, though? I mean, it sounds like it was tailor-made for the intimidating veteran, and if I were to listen to Muchi's version without any prior knowledge of the song, I wouldn't have thought that it was sung by anyone but him. However, as learnt from J-Canuck's article and the J-Wiki, ryukoka singer Shigeo Kusunoki (楠木繁夫) was the first to sing it. The video up there plays Kusunoki's rendition, and his vocal delivery actually sounds somewhat similar to Murata's, though not as growly at the lower notes and not as whiny at the higher notes. Though both versions have no particular differences in my ears, I find myself marginally favouring Murata's, simply because it's by Murata.

"Jinsei Gekijo" was first released in 1938 as Kusunoki's 12th single, then came Muchi's version 21 years later in 1959. Murata got to sing it on the Kohaku twice, in 1971 and 1978.

Finally, to wrap things up, this is what Mom calls Muchi: Bobo. I am not kidding. I am still trying to wrap my head around it. Out of all the nicknames I had shared thus far, this one made the least amount of sense. A while ago I was showing her a video of the Yonin Shu performing together with Muchi taking the lead, and she just looked at him and called him "Bobo". Well, at least she doesn't dislike him... or any of the Yonin Shu for that matter. She thinks they look fine and not annoying. It's their singing styles and the type of enka they sing that she doesn't like.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Kanako Wada -- Hello My Radio

From the same duo of Kanako Wada/和田加奈子 (lyrics) and Hiroyuki Izuta/伊豆田洋之 (music) who came up with the hauntingly beautiful anime ballad "Ano Sora wo Dakishimete"(あの空を抱きしめて), here is a much more bouncier tune, "Hello My Radio" from Wada's 5th album "Vocu" (1988). Not quite sure what happened during the production of the album but the cover, the liner notes and even the CD have spelled the first word in the title "Hellow".

Starting off with a Doobie Bros. riff, Kanako sings about her love for the good ol' radio which was the prime source of pop entertainment before the television came in. I was born long after the telly made its presence known, but there was a period during high school and university in which my gray tape-recorder radio was indispensable for hearing the latest hits and remixes...and of course, "Sounds of Japan". "Hello My Radio" just served as a nostalgic reminder of how I used to get my first listen to music before the Internet took over.

Asami Kado -- Blue

I think the above picture says it all about Fashion Music singer Asami Kado(門あさ美). She not only can sing the martini-friendly, sophisticated stuff but the lady herself looks like someone who would belong in that certain environment. Yesterday, I pulled out her BEST album (so far the only tangible evidence of her musical existence on my shelves) and gave CD 1 another listening. As I remembered it, her body of work has been of the languid chaise lounge variety...some bossa, some West Coast, some other music which are all fine for the genre of City Pop.

"Blue" is one such track on that CD. Originally from her debut album "Fascination" (1979) whose title track was the first song I wrote about her, "Blue" was written and composed by Kado and has that atmosphere of fine wining and dining and romancing at a really nice restaurant in Aoyama. If a video had been made, it would have been filmed through a gauzy filter with perpetual close-ups on the youngish couple. Going through the lyrics, I believe the singer-songwriter was describing the feelings of one of the pair as he/she tries to get the other to step things up emotionally.

For a listener like me, I'm quite happy to avoid the sturm und drang of the relationship and just sit back and enjoy the melody on a quiet Friday night. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Swingout Sister -- Now You're Not Here

The first time I heard Swingout Sister's "Breakout" on the radio back in my university days, I fell in love with it...and the band...immediately. I've always had a thing for the somewhat hard-to-pin-down genre known as sophisti-pop; there may be a horn section but it's not strictly jazz and there might be some groove as well but I can't really say it's R&B. However, it is fun, classy and urbane...just like a night out on the town in some of the very nice areas. The Manhattan Transfer has that feeling and so does Swingout Sister.

And like The Transfer, Swingout Sister has that rabid following in Japan. I can probably say that it is up there with The Beatles and The Carpenters as acts that might have even more popularity in my nation of heritage than it does in America or the UK (oh, and I forgot Bobby Caldwell). Several years ago, I think one of the phone companies had a popular commercial on TV starring Cameron Diaz tripping the light fantastic while "Breakout" was playing. Not bad. And it was definitely nice to hear Corinne Drewery's voice again.

I'd bought a few of the remix LPs for Swingout Sister while I was an undergraduate at U of T, but it would be about another decade before I started re-enlisting my interest for the band with purchases of some of their original albums on CD. And I ended up picking up their first BEST album in 1996. All of those purchases were made since I was attracted to one of their new singles at the time, "Now You're Not Here". It had that Swingout Sister soulful style but all put into a wistful ballad of regret and remembrance of happier times.

"Now You're Not Here" was released as a single only in Japan although I'm sure it is a track on their albums released worldwide. I couldn't find out how it did on Oricon but it apparently sold in excess of 300,000 copies. Part of the reason was that it was used as the theme song for a 1996 TBS J-Drama "Mahiru no Tsuki"(真昼の月...Midday Moon) which starred Yuji Oda and Takako Tokiwa (or perhaps the drama became popular partially because of the theme song).

Ah, I did find that Cameron Diaz commercial.

Yumi Matsutoya -- Happy Birthday to You! Venus no Tanjo (ヴィーナスの誕生)

Well, it's been a while since I've had a Yuming song up so I decided to go with a track from an album that I wasn't all that enthused with when I first got it. "Dawn Purple" was Yumi Matsutoya's(松任谷由実)23rd album from November 1991. Mind you, all things being relative, a not-so-great Yuming album may actually be not all that bad by itself but when you compare it to some of the great past releases such as "No Side" and "Cobalt Hour"....well...

In any case, I did pass the half-century mark over the past couple of weeks so this is "Happy Birthday to You! Venus no Tanjo" (The Birth of Venus). Of course, it's Yuming-made but the song itself sounds like a mix between a Yuming tune from the late 80s/early 90s and a Pet Shop Boys entry especially in the beginning. It certainly has the kick to it, punctuated by the fact that Toshinobu Kubota(久保田利伸)helps out in the chorus; the arrangement has that feeling that something is about to launch...or give birth, as it were.

According to J-Wiki, the song was based in part on another tune that Yuming had created for Asami Kobayashi(小林麻美)"Tooku kara Happy Birthday"(遠くからHAPPY BIRTHDAY...Happy Birthday from Abroad)back in 1987, and "Venus no Tanjo" was used as the theme song for NHK's coverage of the 1992 Olympics in Albertville. Perhaps there were a bunch of athletes who were celebrating their special days back then.

And perhaps it might be time to give "Dawn Purple" another try.