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.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Daishiro Masuiyama -- Otoko no Koppu Sake (男のコップ酒)

I haven't known Daishiro Masuiyama(増井山大志郎)for a long time. It's just been through his appearances on NHK's "Kayo Concert"(歌謡コンサート)that he's come into my view but I quite like the fellow. Some of the other guests have all that glamour around them but Masuiyama, despite the fact that he reached the 2nd-highest rank of ozeki as a professional sumo wrestler decades ago and that he has garnered a solid reputation as an enka singer, has come across as the congenial humble fellow out on the stage to perform and then talk politely with the host.

A couple of weeks ago, Masuiyama came onto "Kayo Concert" again to perform his latest single from January of this year, "Otoko no Koppu Sake" (A Man's Cup of Sake) which is as pure an enka as the drink from the title. Written by Yurio Matsui(松井由利夫)and composed by Chiaki Oka(岡千秋), Masuiyama sings about taking solace in that cup of the good stuff either by himself or with a compatriot in the local watering hole while ministering over those old problems as best he can. It's quite the description of the neighbourhood nomiya that's homier and probably more comfortable and less expensive than the office of a counselor.

I never had all that much experience in a bar like the place shown in the above video since I was never much of a drinker. The izakaya was about as close as I ever got but that was often a much more raucous place to be enjoyed with a whole group of buddies, and I think beer was more the drink there rather than sake. But hey, I can live vicariously through those videos and reruns of "Enka no Hanamichi"(演歌の花道).

Harumi Miyako -- Ai wa Hana, Kimi wa Sono Tane(愛は花、君はその種子) / Ruiko Kurahashi -- Rose (ローズ)

I was surprised to hear back on Friday about the fact that the Studio Ghibli movie "Omohide Poroporo"(おもひでぽろぽろ)known here by its English title "Only Yesterday" (yes, much better than the direct translation of "Memories Plop") only got its first cinematic release in North America last weekend. It was originally released all the way back in 1991 but I never saw it on the big screen. Actually, I caught it one Friday night on TV in my Ichikawa apartment years ago. NTV always showed some sort of motion picture at 9pm on Fridays, and I could say that about once a month, there would usually be a Ghibli movie on.

As a lot of the critics are describing it, "Omohide Poroporo" is the one Ghibli movie without really any fantastical elements despite the main character of Taeko Okajima (played by singer-actress Miki Imai) having her reminiscences of her childhood. It was truly a drama rendered as an anime as Taeko takes a good hard look at her current life in Tokyo and wonders if she is truly happy while helping out a relative in rural Yamagata Prefecture. I only saw the movie once but I still remember a few scenes such as the one where the family is sampling a real pineapple for the first time, Taeko as a child marching to some old kayo, and the scenes of the adult Taeko working in the fields.

(empty karaoke version)

One of the annoying things about the TV broadcast of an NTV movie is that because the time slot was strictly set at 2 hours, chunks of the movie and the ending credits got cut out. So I never heard the finishing theme song which turned out to be a cover of Bette Midler's "The Rose", a song that I have heard a ton of times at various karaoke facilities including Kuri. For "Omohide Poroporo", the original Amanda McBroom song was given Japanese lyrics by the director of the movie Isao Takahata(高畑勲), re-titled "Ai wa Hana, Kimi wa Sono Tane" (Love is the Flower, You are the Seed), and tenderly sung by enka chanteuse Harumi Miyako(都はるみ). I wouldn't be surprised if a number of folks in the audience during the movie's original run got a bit teary-eyed with the stately arrangement.

The thing is that "The Rose" was covered many years earlier by balladeer Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子). And I think she was the ideal singer for this song since she just has that way of wringing a good deal of emotion out of her balladry in concert. However, a recorded version of "Rose" wasn't provided until her 1999 BEST album "My Name Is Ballad", and then as a coupling song to her 2005 single, "Hirenka"(悲恋歌...Sad Love Song). The Japanese lyrics were different here, being provided by Machiko Ryu(竜真知子).


I have to reveal another side of my geekiness when I remark at the surprise and amusement I felt years ago on finding out that the creator of "The Rose", Amanda McBroom, also starred on an early episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" as Starfleet JAG Captain Philippa Louvois in one of my favourite episodes "The Measure of a Man". Not quite sure whether there is an outtake of Data crooning that particular song as he was awaiting his fate, though.

Sorry, no roses...just tulips

ZAQ -- hopeness

Could you imagine "The Matrix" as a comedy? I mean, I know that there were the lines such as "I know Kung Fu" and "The other left" but basically The Movie of 1999 was one great sci-fi/film noir/thriller. I read somewhere that the Wachowski siblings based some part of the movie on the moody anime "Ghost In The Shell", and, yep, I could believe that "The Matrix" character Trinity played by Carrie-Anne Moss had some resemblance to the anime's protagonist Major Kusanagi especially the way Trinity was portrayed in one key scene in the sequel "The Matrix Reloaded".

Well, when I first laid my eyes on "Koukaku no Pandora: Ghost Urn"(紅殻のパンドラ...Pandora in the Crimson Shell)and was told by my anime buddy that this was based on an early story by "Ghost In The Shell" author Masamune Shirow(士郎正宗)whose ideas would then be used in his masterpiece, I was kinda like "Really...?" Heck, the main character looks like she belonged somewhere in the PreCure franchise while her partner/robotic pet should be working in a tsundere Maid Cafe. But apparently it is indeed true right down to the fact that the eccentric buxom inventor in the show, Uzal, is played by seiyuu Atsuko Tanaka(田中敦子)who had starred as the aforementioned Major Kusanagi.

As is the case with all of the anime I get to watch, there are no subtitles for me so "Koukaku no Pandora" has given me some issues about my overall understanding but although I've read that opinions have been very polarized about the series, I've been OK with it. It's been a very long time since I caught "Ghost In The Shell" and a light sense of humour is more my thing anyways. Plus, the last few episodes have been quite interesting especially.

The opening theme "hopeness" is frankly not my favourite tune by singer-songwriter ZAQ. That status still goes to her "Alteration" for "Sasami-san@Ganbaranai", but there is something about her vocals that reminds me of the boomer voice belonging to Kohmi Hirose(広瀬香美)and that "pah pah pah" chorus which pops up in the early part of the song that still kinda draws me to it. I just imagine Hirose going the route of Nana Mizuki(水樹奈々), and in a way, ZAQ's renditions kinda add to the anticipated excitement about the 30 minutes to come.

"hopeness" was released earlier this month as ZAQ's 10th single and managed to get as high as No. 39.

J-Canuck's 5 Leap Songs

Indeed it is February 29th 2016, Leap Day. In my view, we're in the midst of some rather unusual activities: we just had the Oscars handed out last night, tomorrow will be Super Tuesday in the United States, and today is the National Hockey League's Trade Deadline Day! For that last one, this has become such a quintessentially Canadian tradition that it should be made into a national holiday.

So, we've covered the cinematic, political and athletic. So why not go musical as well here?

These are my 5 choices for Leap Day since they all have something to do with jumping, flying and other synonyms within the title or the lyrics. The songs are not in any particular order.

1. Yoshie Kashiwabara(柏原芳恵) - Koibito tachi no Cafe Terrace(恋人たちのキャフェテラス)

This is the only entry on the list that has not had its own article on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" so I gather that I will be giving the largest paragraph here. The biggest thing I remember about the song is that lyricist Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子)provided the phrase "Hop, skip, jump" for a ditty about a girl who just can't seem to raise the gumption to meet up with a guy she likes at a cafe despite her ardent feelings for him. This was Yoshie's 8th single from February 1982 composed by Masami Koizumi(小泉まさみ), and it has that folky bouncy flavour that I often associated with the aidoru's earlier releases. It peaked at No. 9 on the Oricon weeklies scoring over 190,000 sold and was the 72nd-ranked song for 1982. "Koibito tachi no Cafe Terrace" (Lovers' Cafe Terrace) was also a track on her 6th album "Summer Sensation" from June of that year.

2. Mayo Shouno(庄野真代) - Tonde Istanbul(飛んでイスタンブール)

Part of the exotic climes kayo that was popular back in the late 70s, Shouno's most famous song has certainly got the right verb in the title. At the time, tourists were probably hankering to fly over to those amazing far-off places.

3. Hiroshi Madoka(円広志) - Musoubana(夢想花)

This was the song that sparked my idea to put up a Leap Song list in the first place. When you have that epic repeated lyric of tonde in there, it was pretty much fait accompli. For the above video, the song starts at 2:37.

4. Mariko Takahashi(高橋真梨子) - Anata no Sora wo Tobitai(あなたの空を翔びたい)

One of the classic Mariko Takahashi songs that has become rather rare to find on YouTube, so we've got enka singer Sayuri Ishikawa(石川さゆり)pitching in as a guest singer of the blissful soaring song.

5. Machiko Watanabe(渡辺真知子) - Kamome wa Tonda Hi(かもめが翔んだ日)

This is another song that quickly came to mind when I thought about the verb tobu. A bit of a sad ballad despite the flight of seagulls.

Happy February 29th, everyone!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Kaoru Sudo -- Front Glass Goshi ni (フロントガラス越しに)

Living in Gunma Prefecture in the winter was no different than living here in Toronto. My neck of the woods from 1989-1991 was up in the Japanese Alps so snow was not a rare thing as was the case in the years that I lived in the capital. During the early months of the year, getting on that local train for one of my schools was slightly arduous since I had to contend with the large number of skiers heading for the slopes packing that train although it was just for 1 stop. Nearly having one of those skis go up one of my nostrils didn't make for a pleasant journey, brief as it was.

But yeah, northern Gunma was definitely ski country during a time when ski was especially booming as a trend. And when you have a bunch of hot springs nearby, my area was bustling in tourism. In fact, a number of my students back then had parents who were working at the onsen and the hotels up in Minakami.

I'm not sure what the ski trade was like back in the early 1980s although with Japan in full bloom economically speaking, it wouldn't be surprising if I realized that skiing was a huge thing in the earlier part of the decade as well. The reason I mention this is that I came across a pleasant tune by the late Kaoru Sudo(須藤薫)called "Front Glass Goshi ni" (Beyond the Windshield) that was a track on her 4th album from March 1983, "Planetarium".


As the top video and the lyrics by Shun Taguchi(田口俊)will indicate, the song talks about that awaited trip to the slopes. And the melody by Masamichi Sugi(杉真理)has an inviting mellowness (thanks to that flugelhorn) that would put "Front Glass" into the subset of Resort Pop within City Pop although the resort is wintry rather than summery. The song sounds as if it would have been perfect for Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由実)back then, and strangely enough, it was arranged by her husband Masataka Matsutoya(松任谷正隆). The entirety of "Planetarium" was actually handled by Taguchi, Sugi and Matsutoya, and the album managed to peak at No. 48 on the charts.

Speaking of Yuming(ユーミン), here is another ski-friendly song.

Never got into skiing at all, unfortunately, despite my old surroundings. I went with a bunch of kids for ski school once and just ended up sipping hot chocolate in a warming shed all day.

Ayaka Hirahara -- Smile Smile (スマイル スマイル)

When it comes to my family's viewing habits, one thing hasn't changed in over 50 years. We're still suckers for animal documentaries. Yup, when the weekend came during the 60s and 70s, it would often be "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" (Mutual of Omaha being the name of an insurance company; considering some of the animals the cast literally tackled weekly, the producers were really hedging their bets here). The late Marlin Perkins, director of the St. Louis Zoo, would host the show about some of those big animals in the wild while two of his assistants, Jim Fowler and Stan Brock tried to make sure they weren't mauled or eaten.

Now that we're all in the teens of the 21st century, things seemed to have come full circle...or perhaps half of one since my family is watching an animal show on the weekends again but this one is produced in Japan. "Darwin ga Kita! - Ikimono Shin Densetsu"(ダーウィンが来た! 〜生きもの新伝説〜...Darwin Has Come! New Legends of the Animals)has been showing on NHK since 2006, and we get it here on Saturdays on TV Japan at 6:45 p.m. Completely devoid of animal wrestling, it involves an offscreen announcer and a cute anime figure called Hige-ji talking and broadcasting the exploits of animals in the wild ranging from the slow loris of Southeast Asia to the recovering if still endangered cranes in Japan. It's all very comfy viewing after a hearty dinner; I've certainly nodded off at times during the 30 minutes.

The current theme song for the show has been "Smile Smile" by the lovely Ayaka Hirahara(平原綾香)since 2012. And as you can see in the official video above, it's obvious that Hirahara has a love for the animals as well. Her rendition is just as comfortable as the typical episode of "Darwin ga Kita!". I've always liked her voice which I wouldn't say is completely husky; it's a bit lighter, perhaps the term sandy might be a better description.

"Smile Smile" was written by Hirahara and composed by Hidekazu Uchiike(内池秀和)as the singer's 29th single for release in July 2012. It didn't get too high on the Oricon charts, just topping off at No. 87. However, the song is such that I will probably want to pet my local squirrels on the head whenever it gets into my head.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Yoko Kuzuya -- ALL NIGHT

Another nice and groovy way to finish the work week here on "Kayo Kyoku Plus". I came across Yoko Kuzuya's(葛谷葉子)"ALL NIGHT" by accident on YouTube and the singer-songwriter came up with this urban soulful ballad filled with these shimmering strings that had me thinking of the 1970s again. Of course, it might not be the 20th century anymore in Japan but there is also that hint of City Pop and even that bit of Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子).

"ALL NIGHT" is a track from her 1999 debut album, "Music Greetings Volume One". I've already talked about another song that's on the album, "Koi"(恋).

I often pulled off some all-nighters, academically as well as recreationally back in my wayward 80s. Of course, I preferred one over the other although sometimes I inevitably overindulged on the cocktails. However, years in Japan and just plain age have blunted my inability to enjoy the overnight hours. Mind you, most of my fellows from those days are now far too busy with work and family to also pull off those extended hours at the discos, karaoke bars and drinking establishments. Still, there are the fine memories.

Takako Mamiya -- Chinese Restaurant (チャイニーズ・レストラン)

Ah, it's a Friday night. Time for some City Pop. But as a humble lead-up to a segue to tonight's song, I have to say that even some years after returning from Japan, I do miss the ol' Kanto a lot. However, coming back to Toronto, I think all of us here are quite blessed by the wealth and reasonable prices of Chinese food in my burg. We've got at least 5 Chinatowns here in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and meeting up with my anime buddy two Sundays a month, I've had a chance to sample some fine Cantonese/Mandarin/Szechuan fare pretty regularly. Of course, I also get the opportunity to have the usual takeout stuff as well which I also enjoy. Y'know...chop suey, sweet n' sour pork/chicken, etc. My buddy and his friends might pooh-pooh those last couple of items as the fake stuff but, hey, it's all good to me.

Now in Japan, there seems to be two classes of Chinese restaurant: the regular corner eatery which would be serving mainly ramen but also dishes like mabo dofu, spring rolls and subuta (sweet n' sour pork), and the places that have the high-end cuisine including dim sum and Peking Duck with restaurant exteriors that look like you need to surreptitiously pass the doorman a few bills to even get past the gate. And sure enough, the few times I've been able to get into those places in Yokohama, it cost me a pretty yen...thousands and thousands of them actually. Delicious stuff to be sure but my wallet and I are quite grateful here in Toronto.

So I present to you, "Chinese Restaurant" by Takako Mamiya(間宮貴子). Ms. Mamiya, due to the fact that she only released one album "Love Trip" in 1982 and also because I'm a huge City Pop fan, is perhaps the only singer on this blog whose category and album are one and the same. Yup, I've got three more entries covering tracks from "Love Trip" (well, two actually since I had to demote one article to Draft since any audio for "All or Nothing" has been cleared from the Net),

"Chinese Restaurant" was written by Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子)and composed by Katsu Hoshi(星勝), and as with the other songs by Mamiya, it's another mellow Perrier-friendly tune to be played over the speakers at some sunny lakeside cafe under a huge multi-coloured umbrella. I don't really think it quite fits the Chinese restaurant atmosphere but the lyrics only have the singer wistfully wondering whether her old lover still remembers their first meeting at such a restaurant. I'm sure the two cracked open fortune cookies at the end of dinner looking for affirmation of their burgeoning love....and feeling suddenly hungry again a few hours later.

As for this coming weekend, I will most likely be heading with my friend for some early lunch at an Asian Legend. Soymilk soup, here I come!

One of the mainstays in Old Chinatown

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Isao Tomita -- Clair De Lune (Suite Bergamasque, No. 3)

I had heard of the original "Ocean's Eleven" with the Rat Pack of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and at least 8 more ring-a-ding-ding guys but never caught it in its entirety. The reason I've held back is that I've read that it was basically Hollywood's Gang of Coolness just slumming it in front of the camera. On the other hand, I am a huge fan of the 2001 remake with George Clooney (Danny Ocean), Brad Pitt (Rusty), Matt Damon (Linus) and at least 8 more ring-a-ding-ding guys. The charisma that just overflowed from the screen was more than enough for a lot of us viewers to root for a gang of incorrigible criminals stealing from another shady type in Andy Garcia (Terry Benedict).

One of my favourite parts in the entire movie was the scene in which the big reveal of the heist was done and the humiliated Benedict not only lost a ton of money but also his girlfriend as played by a really dour Julia Roberts. The soundtrack for this updated "Ocean's Eleven" was pretty eclectic with a contribution of jazz to fit the old Las Vegas scene, but it was the scene and accompanying music which immediately came after Terry's comeuppance that hit me like a double-tap. And this was basically the epilogue for the epic heist.

Danny Ocean's ragtag team simply walked...not marched proudly...out of their hideout after pulling off the crime of at least a decade as if they had just finished a factory shift which made them look even cooler. And it was the music that followed them that I would later find out was the 3rd movement of "Suite bergamasque" titled "Clair De Lune" by Claude Debussy that just affected the heck out of me. I had only heard of Debussy through a reference in the Pet Shop Boys hit "Left To My Own Devices" and knew very faintly that he was in classical music. But to hear this version by the Philadelphia Orchestra after all of the cool jazz and other offbeat was a sweet denouement which likely expressed the well-earned fatigue and triumph and awed wonder that most of the Eleven were feeling at the fountain. Danny was taking one for the team by getting himself arrested and seeing him sheepish and satisfied as he got into the back of the police car while the oboe was playing a quiet section in "Clair De Lune" was a perfect matchup. I'm not a huge classical music fan but if I were to choose a favourite piece from the genre, this would be it.

All of that "Ocean's Eleven" prelude to talk about a Japanese artist whose work I don't even possess. I came close, though. It was just after returning from my very inspiring trip to Japan in 1981 that I got fully into music on both sides of the Pacific. I started becoming a fairly frequent visitor to the Sam The Record Man branch in my old shopping mall, and ended up purchasing my first pop single in the form of Chaz Jankel's "Ai no Corrida" there (I have my own story about that). But strangely enough, as I was flipping through the many LPs which were in the bins, I came across a few albums with the one word of "TOMITA" at the top in a futuristic logo. Just looking at the front and back of those albums, I could figure out that Isao Tomita(冨田勲)was into some of this newfangled electronic music. And at the time, I had a pretty bad case of Yellow Magic Orchestra on the brain. Also the early 80s were not an easy time for me to get access to a lot of Japanese music outside of the weekly broadcasts of "Sounds of Japan". However for whatever reason, I ended up not buying any of Tomita's albums. Perhaps I was a bit intimidated by some of the weirdness on the covers.

However cue ahead a few decades and we now have the benefit of YouTube to find out about music. And I could finally listen to this fellow Isao Tomita who so inspired a young Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉)that he would follow his own music career. In fact, I was able to listen to my beloved "Clair De Lune" through the spacy Moog synthesizers of Tomita and there was something very ethereal about the listening experience. And I think perhaps imbibing some alcohol could assist in that experience, too. :)

Tomita's "Clair De Lune" was a track on his 1974 landmark album "Snowflakes Are Dancing" which was nominated for 4 Grammy Awards in 1975. The album was basically a tribute to Debussy. And as synthy-sweet his "Clair De Lune" was back then, I have to admit that I will always be attached to the version for "Ocean's Eleven".

One interesting thing I found out about "Snowflakes Are Dancing" is that excerpts from one of its other tracks, "Reverie" was used for the nightly signoffs for Fuji-TV back in the late 1970s. Usually it would be the Japanese national anthem of "Kimigayo"(君が代)that would end a broadcasting day but having something as electronically progressive as a Tomita tune was quite the idea back then. However, if I had actually been listening and watching this as a kid in those days, I would have been majorly freaked out.

P.S. May 8 2016:  Isao Tomita passed away at the age of 84 on May 5 from heart failure.

Kiyoshi Maekawa & Cool Five -- Kanashii Machi sa ~TOKYO~ (悲しい街さ~TOKYO~)

Well, this week's "Kayo Concert" was... weird. As J-Canuck mentioned in the "Aux Champs-Élysées" (オー・シャンゼリゼ) article, the theme brought Japanese and Western songs to the Osaka stage, and I'd say his description of it was quite apt. One segment in particular had the pretty Keisuke Yamauchi (山内恵介) and Ai Takahashi (高橋愛) doing a medley of just that. It started off alright but then came a wedding dress, fir trees, monkeys, a car, a baseball jersey over a ronin outfit... The medley's finale had all that plus a backdrop of a chapel, people in old English/French wear to form a collage of chaos. Needless to say I was mostly speechless save for a, "This is getting weirder and weirder" to Dad. Didn't really help that I was in need of sleep after an early day. All I wanted was more Mae-Kiyo and his four cronies making takoyaki. Yup, interesting episode there.

While Kiyoshi Maekawa performs with the remaining, original members of the Cool Five during their own concerts, they don't come together often on TV so I was very glad to see the whole (sort of) gang singing their hit "Nakanoshima Blues" (中の島ブルース) outdoors in trench coats in Nakanoshima, Osaka, even though Mae-Kiyo's delivery was lacking that night; his voice isn't as strong as it used to be. But anyway, as I said this was one of the rare times when the Cool Five is actually five, so I was kinda hoping that they'd sing some other past hit like "Saikai Blues" (西海ブルース) or something a little more recent like "Kanashii Machi sa ~TOKYO~", which I will be talking about today.

Released on 19th December 2007, "Kanashii Machi sa ~TOKYO~" was the 1st original single that the Cool Five had came up with after reuniting in late 2006, almost a couple of decades since they split, when former leader, Hiroshi Uchiyamada (内山田洋), had passed away. From there Maekawa took over the reigns as leader and the group became "Kiyoshi Maekawa & Cool Five" (前川清&クール・ファイブ). The song peaked at 117th place on the Oricon charts.

With Shino Kinoshita (木下詩野) doing the lyrics and Takashi Tsushimi (都志見隆) the melody, I'd say "Kanashii Machi sa" is your typical jazz Mood Kayo about the metropolitan Tokyo with a nice pace and a nice touch of forlorn with the saxophone and Mae-Kiyo's intense vocals. It's also quite nostalgic-sounding. Of course, the best part was to hear that familiar "Wa, wa, wa, wa" chiming in from the Cool Five.

To wrap up, here are the names of the four other members of the group with description:

Etsuro Miyamoto (宮本悦朗); one of the two with glasses, big round head that's balding on top since the beginning of time while long hair grows at the back of his head. Plays the keyboard.

Masaki Kobayashi (小林正樹); my favourite and most stylish out of the four, wears a constant scowl on his face, braided one tiny bit of his long hair, may wear a hat. From what I've been seeing, it seems like Mae-Kiyo is most pal-ly with him as well as Miyamoto. Plays the bass guitar.

Shigemi Iwaki (岩城茂美); was once considered the good-looking one back in the 70's, the other one with glasses and has a full head of hair albeit receding. Plays the flute and sax.

Shigeru Morimoto (森本繁); the most normal looking out of the four and I had trouble recognizing him when I started listening to the Cool Five, may wear glasses. Plays the drums.

P.S. There's this old comment on the "Kanashii Machi sa" MV left by someone called MariaLisseth. She said that the Cool Five and Maekawa "look really handsome". Couldn't agree with you more ma'am... Especially Mae-Kiyo. :)  

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Danièle Vidal/Fubuki Koshiji/The Peanuts -- Aux Champs-Élysées(オー・シャンゼリゼ)

First off, for all those folks like Noelle and myself who watch NHK's "Kayo Concert"(歌謡コンサート)regularly, I have to announce as of April (which is the time when a lot of things do a reset in Japan), the title of the show will be changing to "Uta Kon"(うたコン). Nope, this isn't an early April Fool's joke (by me, at least); it is listed at its website. I'm assuming that it refers to "Uta Concert" (Song Concert) although the trendy abbreviation of the title scares me a bit. And I hope that it is only the title that is changing.

OK, getting back to the main point of this article, last night's edition of "Kayo Concert" had the bipolar theme of traditional Japanese music and Western music with Japanese lyrics. The gimmick worked for the most part although sometimes the sudden swing in tone between West and East was sometimes jarring. One of the songs on the Western side of things was an old chestnut titled "Aux Champs-Élysées" that I had heard a number of times sung here and there over the years whether it was on shows like "Kayo Concert" or even on TV ads. With the Japanese lyrics and the Japanese ability to adapt overseas melodies as one of their own, I had naturally assumed for years and years that this French-sounding ditty was an original clever kayo.

Well, my world view when it comes to "Aux Champs-Élysées" has been shattered. Not only was it not originally Japanese, it wasn't even French to begin with. In fact, it came over from the other side of the English Channel. There were neither croissants nor café au lait involved here...more like bubble and squeak. The original melody by Michael Wilshaw (whose name was shown on the screen last night when ex-Takarazuka Troupe member Risa Junna(純名里沙)sang her version on "Kayo Concert") was for the song "Waterloo Road" by British rock band Jason Crest in 1968. Michael Antony Deighan provided the lyrics for a song that sounded like good ol' Beatles tune for heaven's sake.

However in the next year, French singer Joe Dassin was able to give his own version of the song under "Les Champs-Élysées", thanks to lyricist Pierre Delanoe adapting the words to reflect one of the most famous streets on the planet. I'm not sure how "Waterloo Road" did on the UK charts but "Les Champs-Élysées" went to No. 1 for 2 weeks in France.

And then in 1971, the song didn't just hop a channel but an entire continent when it arrived in Japan. Moroccan-born Danièle Vidal had been scouted by the legendary Charles Aznavour and groomed to become a singer debuting at the age of 17 with "Aime ceux qui t'aiment" which also found popularity in Japan under the title of "Tenshi no Rakugaki"(天使のらくがき...An Angel's Grafitti)in 1969. It wasn't soon long after that Vidal started making long stays over there. In July 1971, her French-language cover of "Les Champs-Élysées" was released which got as high as No. 78 on Oricon with her own Japanese-language version under the slightly modified title of "Aux Champs-Élysées" coming out a couple of months later. My image of the song was always that it has been one sung by a woman, and perhaps it was indeed the Vidal version that I kept hearing. Her connection in Japan deepened when she married a member of a Group Sounds band, Isao Shibata(柴田功)of Chaco & Hell's Angel(チャコ&ヘルスエンジェル)in 1980 and gave birth to a son. However, the couple divorced and currently Vidal is living in France as a co-owner of a restaurant.

"Aux Champs-Élysées" now seems to be the Japanese theme song for any vacation in the City of Lights. Of course, perpetuating that image has been the number of covers of the song. The late chanson singer Fubuki Koshiji(越路吹雪)gave a great version with a New Orleans jazzy twist. I'm actually torn between this one and the version by Vidal. The lyrics were written by Tokiko Iwatani(岩谷時子).

The Peanuts got in on the act as well with their take on "Aux Champs-Élysées" which also sounds a bit Beatle-y with that fuzzy guitar in there but starts out like some sort of kayo march.

All this background on this adopted kayo reminds me of another tune originally from points beyond Japan.

Yoko Oginome -- Sayonara no Kajitsutachi (さよならの果実たち)

Back in university, I managed to borrow a tape from my fellow aidoru-loving friend which was for Yoko Oginome's(荻野目洋子)7th original album "246 Connexion"(246コネクション)from July 1987. I liked it so much that I bought my own copy from Wah Yueh.

Within it, I heard a pretty familiar track since it got onto the music shows a fair bit. And that was "Sayonara no Kajitsutachi" (The Goodbye Fruits) which was Yoko's 12th single from June of that year. It's been a long time since I heard this one; in fact, I have to sheepishly admit that I completely forgot about it for years with the increased access to a whole plethora of other singers when I was living in Japan. Of course, her even bigger hits of "Dancing Hero" and "Roppongi Junjouha"(六本木純情派)had a tendency to mask over some of those slightly smaller hits through the fog of long-term memory.

To be honest, although the electric guitar intro fired off some fond reminiscing, I can say that "Sayonara no Kajitsutachi" doesn't quite go on the same level as the above two songs for the angular-dancing Oginome but it does have that familiar sparkle that I've always associated with her songs. Written by Masao Urino(売野雅勇)and composed by Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平), the lyrics talk about some footloose high school girl perhaps gleefully blowing her air kisses to all of those guys she was romancing during the summer holidays in the big city. I think the young beaus are the kajitsu that is referred to in the title although looking on the Net, I couldn't find any similar slang reference to the expression. Maybe in proper colloquial English, kajitsu might be more like "fresh meat" here, although that could add an even more lascivious tone.

Urino is the same lyricist who provided the words for many a Checkers(チェッカーズ) song so I'm not surprised that "Sayonara no Kajitsutachi" also has that feeling of bad boys and bad girls having fun. And although I have never done a really in-depth analysis of the oeuvre of Oginome, my impression is that when the singer hit it really big with "Dancing Hero", a number of her songs took on that punky attitude that Akina Nakamori(中森明菜)had in her earlier works.

The song was another No. 1 for Oginome. However, I read in the J-Wiki article for "Sayonara no Kajitsutachi" that it had been the lowest-selling single in Oricon history to reach No. 1 in its first go-round with 41,680 copies sold. Apparently, it took a little over 18 years for that record to be broken by a Morning Musume(モーニング娘。)alumna offshoot called DEF.DIVA. Well, as her manager probably would have said somewhat defensively, a No. 1 is a No. 1. As for my old album, "246 Connexion" peaked at No. 2, and it was the only album by Oginome that I had until I got to Japan after graduation.

One of my favourite covers by Yoko.
This was either my 1st or 2nd album that I bought
in Japan in 1989. The other album? Also Yoko.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Mitsuo Kaji -- Seishun no Jokamachi (青春の城下町)

I was commenting to Noelle's article on "Seishun Cycling"(青春サイクリング)by Kazuya Kosaka(小坂一也) the other day and mentioned about how dear the word seishun was in the world of kayo kyoku. Referring to English terms like salad days and youth, I wouldn't be all that surprised if that expression was the 2nd-ranked go-to word for Japanese song titles way back when next to ai no (愛の....of love).

No real surprise at all. I think the Japanese have had that deep sense of wistful nostalgia in a number of aspects within popular culture. Movie and TV franchises like "Mito Komon" and "Tora-san" have or had thrived for decades although the basic story of each entry didn't really change all that much. It would also explain why music shows like NHK's "Kayo Concert" still go on with its look back at enka and Mood Kayo whose songs are often far older than a number of their singers.

So I tried to look up another song that has seishun in it, and it didn't take too long before I came across "Seishun no Jokamachi" (Castle Town of My Youth) by Mitsuo Kaji(梶光夫). That title makes for a fine pairing between my word of this article and jokamachi. What better place than a town built around a castle outside the main cities to engender that feeling of old-fashioned gentility? I've been translating my fair share of articles on the various jokamachi in Japan over the past several months, so in an example of an author falling for his own prose, I've been getting a bit more interested in visiting some of these places in areas like Kyushu or near the Japanese Alps. I have actually visited Kumamoto Castle and Osaka Castle but that was years and years ago. Knowing now what I didn't back then about aspects like castle towers and the overall structure of this architecture from the Edo Era and beyond, I wouldn't mind giving these places and the surrounding townscapes another visit.

Anyways, "Seishun no Jokamachi" was Kaji's 3rd single from June 1964. The young singer from Osaka debuted under composer Minoru Endo's(遠藤実)wing at the end of 1963 at the age of 18 with "Kurogami"(黒髪...Black Hair)and counted Kazuo Funaki(舟木一夫)as his senpai which might explain his delivery of his big hit of "Seishun no Jokamachi". Just like Funaki's evergreen "Koko Sannen-sei"(高校三年生), this particular song about promising to come back from the big city perhaps to his love still living in his old furosato of a castle town is delivered by Kaji as if it were some sort of proud anthem or musical declaration. The message is that when Kaji sings it, he means it. He's coming back home someday after making his money.

Not surprisingly, Endo composed both "Seishun no Jokamachi" and "Koko Sannen-sei" while Sou Nishizawa(西沢爽)came up with the heartwarming lyrics. As I mentioned, "Seishun no Jokamachi" was Kaji's big breakthrough after which he would gain some more hits not only in the music industry but also in TV as an actor. The remarkable thing, though, is that he placed a deadline on his career in show business and kept his promise. In 1970, at the height of his popularity, he announced his retirement as a singer and went into the family jewelry business, eventually becoming a jewelry designer. However, once in a while, he has returned to the stage to sing his seishun song.

I guess I'm no different when it comes to catching the seishun bug. I did start this blog, didn't I?

Monday, February 22, 2016

TECHNOBOYS PULCRAFT GREEN FUND feat. Yuki Otake -- Uchiyoserareta Bōkyaku no Zankyō ni (打ち寄せられた忘却の残響に)

Up to about the end of last year, my anime buddy and I were watching the suspense-drama "Sakurako-san no Ashimoto ni wa Shitai ga Umatteiru"(櫻子さんの足下には死体が埋まっている...Beautiful Bones: Sakurako's Investigation)which literally translates as "A Corpse is Buried Under Sakurako's Feet". Aside from the fact that the title of this 2015 anime for the fall season is so long that it and its translations took up three whole lines, "Sakurako-san" was also one of the few anime that I've seen which came across as a down-to-earth mystery drama without any out-of-left-field high technology, supremely cute characters or wild spots of wackadoodle humour.

I'm gonna quote the plot as is described in the Wikipedia article:

Sakurako Kujō is a genius beauty in her mid-twenties whose life is centered around one thing and one thing only: bones. With little tolerance for others, she would be completely isolated in her study full of skeletons if it weren’t for high school boy Shotaro—her new assistant and constant companion. Why exactly she has taken a shine to him remains a mystery, but one thing is clear: Whenever the two go out together, the chances are high that they will come across a human corpse.

As for that last sentence, that could also describe Detective Conan, Haibara-san and their elementary school buddies....which is terrifying to think in real life. No wonder they don't seem to have any friends outside of themselves.

In any case, when my buddy first introduced this series to me a few months back, I didn't quite hear him properly as I thought he said that "Sakurako-san" was a bit of a lift from the the American TV series "Bones". So I kinda popped up and thought "Wow! An anime version of 'Bones'?" I guess Japan must have been thanking Emily Deschanel and Hart Hanson for allowing Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)to guest star in an episode a few years ago.

But all kidding aside, the anime is based on the original mystery novel series written by Shiori Ota(太田紫織). I had to re-adjust my thought processes a bit when I saw the pilot episode since a lot of the usual anime wackiness was simply not in this series but once things got going, I started to enjoy each of the grim cases and their resolutions along with the overarching plot of this genius near-misanthrope with an obsession for bones, Sakurako Kujo(九条櫻子), still internally grieving over the death of her younger brother but being able to develop this somewhat warm relationship with her partner-in-crimefighting, high schooler Shotaro Tatewaki(館脇正太郎).


I thought the one thing that kinda stuck out like a sore thumb was this henshin-type scene in the first couple of episodes which seemed a little too whimsical for this show, so I was glad that the producers took it out lickety-split for the rest of the series.

Now, before we all forget that "Kayo Kyoku Plus" is a Japanese music blog and not exclusively an anime one, I have to say that the ending theme also gradually grew upon me. "Uchiyoserareta Bōkyaku no Zankyō ni" (The Reverberation of a Washed Up Oblivion) was written and composed by TECHNOBOYS PULCRAFT GREEN FUND with vocalist Yuki Otake(大竹佑季)providing the soft and haunting delivery. If that rather oddly-name band strikes a chord with you, it's the same group that provided one of the anison earworms of a couple of years back, "Witch Activity" for the anime "Witchcraft Works". I still enjoy drilling that worm into my head from time to time.

Otake's singing of this ending anison for "Sakurako" matches well with the closing credits of the main character swimming through a sea of water and skeletons. There is something very warm, watery and oddly comfortable about listening to "Uchiyoserareta Bōkyaku no Zankyō ni" that made me wonder which inspired which...the end credits on the creation of the song or vice versa. In any case, images of some nice warm milk tea came to mind. That would be quite an interestingly contrasting picture against the general nature of digging up human remains.

The anime is over now but I am hoping that there might have been enough interest in the first go that a sequel series may pop up in the near future.

The only spooky photo I could find for an article
like this. But the sight of a squid-ink burger at
McDs can be construed as terrifying.

Kaori Kobayashi -- Walk In The Night

I had been planning to be already in bed by now (it's 11:57 pm as I write this) but then I suddenly had a recollection of an old show from the 80s produced right here in Toronto. Well, perhaps it would be too ambitious to call it a show; it 's perhaps better to call it a video walk in the evening downtown.

Yup, way back when, there was a 30-minute program called "Night Moves" which aired in the overnight hours on Global TV (whose headquarters has continued to be not too far away from my home very close to the Japanese-Canadian Cultural Centre). It consisted of some night owl cameraman and producer prowling around the downtown streets of my hometown while some relaxing jazz-fusion music was playing in the background. According to the Wiki article, the producer had this brain wave of having something a bit more stimulating than a test pattern. Supposedly, the largest viewership came from insomniacs and prison inmates.

Hey, you can include all-nighter-pulling university undergrads like me as well. Not being a particularly prudent student, I did my share of overnight work on essays in my room and at the time, my room didn't have a television set (or a computer with YouTube capability...we are talking about the 80s, y'know), so when things were starting to get a little too tense there, I would sneak back into the living room at about 2:30 or 3 am and catch "Night Moves" or "Night Ride" or whatever title it came under just to unwind before hitting the books. It worked well...sometimes too well...let's say that I got multiples of forty winks at times watching this show.

During my years in Japan, NHK did its own similar thing in the overnight hours as well but it featured hit kayo kyoku from the past against daytime scenes of western Shinjuku or other places in Tokyo. Perhaps on that basis, it was more successful than Toronto's "Night Moves" in keeping the night owls awake.

Anyways, if "Night Moves" were still around, I wouldn't mind having the featured song for this article playing. This is "Walk In The Night" by jazz saxophonist-flautist-composer Kaori Kobayashi(小林香織). I don't often put up jazzy instrumental pieces but reminded of my old Toronto show, I started doing a bit of scouring on YouTube to see if there was some example of Japanese smooth jazz which could have fit into "Night Moves". So I came across this calm and collected and cool song by Kobayashi who hails from Kanagawa Prefecture and started her career in 2005. Perhaps it's a bit more uptempo for a show about walking the late night hours but it's still got a pleasant nocturnal urban vibe to it.

I was able to track down the song to her 3rd album from March 2007, "Glow" via her own website. seems that almost all of my Kobayashis on the blog have something to do with J-AOR/jazz. I've got Akiko, Kei and now there is Kaori to add. But then there is still Sachiko who is firmly in the enka genre.

Time to put this one to bed. It's 12:27am.

Shimbashi, Tokyo

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Wink -- Namida wo Misenaide ~ Boys Don't Cry (涙をみせないで)

I wrote my first article about Wink for "Kayo Kyoku Plus" back in August 2012, and it was about their smash hit "Samishii Nettaigyo"(淋しい熱帯魚)which came out in July 1989 just a few weeks before arriving in Japan. As I said in that article back then, I will say again here that  "Samishii Nettaigyo" will always be the song for the duo of Shoko Aida and Sachiko Suzuki(相田翔子・鈴木早智子) considering how extensive their appearances were on TV. In addition, I think it was from that big breakthrough that I had that ultimate image of the ladies in their emotionless porcelain doll poses and somewhat angular choreography.

So it was rather strange when I bought the VHS tape of their 1st compilation of their music videos, "Heart On Wave" and saw the above video of their 4th single, "Namida wo Misenaide" (Don't Show Me Your Tears) from March 1989. It was the single immediately preceding "Samishii Nettaigyo" and the video had the ladies just looking oh-so-genki and bouncy. Quite the contrast from what was to come. And I think I had to adjust the color control settings while the video was playing as well.

"Namida wo Misenaide" was given Japanese lyrics by Neko Oikawa(及川眠子). And it was another hit for the Wink girls as it hit No. 1 on the Oricon weeklies for 3 straight weeks and became the 10th-ranked song of the year. The above video is one of their performances on TV. I've always wondered what those orchestra members must be thinking when they are just watching the singers performing in front of them to the pre-recorded backing track without any need for their help.

As was the case with some of Wink's earlier material, "Namida wo Misenaide" was actually a cover of a Eurobeat tune. The originating band this time was Moulin Rouge from Slovenia which first started in 1985 and is still active today. Producer and keyboardist Matjaž Kosi was the one behind the music with vocalist Alenka Šmid-Čena singing the lyrics for what was their 3rd single in 1988.

Kazuya Kosaka -- Seishun Cycling (青春サイクリング)

Cycling, cycling! Yahoo! Yahoo!

That was the line from the classic kayo "Seishun Cycling" that kept going around in my head as I cycled down East Coast Park Wednesday afternoon to let off some steam - I was on study break before my exams next week. It was a clear day with strong winds blowing pushing me forward (and going against me in the return trip) and there were few people around as expected which made it peaceful and had me less on edge. However, rather than going, "Yahoo! Yahoo!" as actor-singer, Kazuya Kosaka (小坂一也), had so happily sang, it was more of "Uh-oh... Uh-oh..." for yours truly as the sun was burning hot in the early afternoon; my arms and knees were becoming more red the further I went. Thankfully I did not have to suffer from sunburns, but I did return home pink and eventually a shade darker.

Moving on, "Seishun Cycling" (released in 1958) is one of those popular old tunes I hear often on the music shows, more often than not being sung by all guests and sometimes by just one. I actually find it amusing that such a simple song about cycling can still be heard decades later. Contrary to what I had thought, the aged audience really love this song. Probably it makes them feel young again. Or perhaps it allows them to reminisce the times back in the day when they used to cycle about everywhere - cycling was one of the popular and primary modes of transport just like trains in that era, I learnt.

Writing the lyrics to "Seishun Cycling" was Kikuko Tanaka (田中喜久子). I can relate to the second stanza about riding down a path by the sea and taking in the salty breeze. As for its jaunty melody that makes you imagine coasting down a slope at high speed with the your hair billowing in the wind, Masao Koga (古賀政男) was responsible for it. Though I'm still having some trouble figuring out how to distinguish Koga's fast-paced works, I'm beginning to pick out 1 or 2 tropes, like hearing the clashing of cymbals.

During a break at a pavilion on my return trip, I was joined by this Common/Indian myna bird. With some thought I decided to name it Larry (by pure coincidence... One of the blog's contributors is also named Larry). He was first digging around in the sand for food, then came by and stood at the edge of the pavilion looking at me expectantly, no doubt hoping for a handout. Unfortunately for Larry the myna, I had nothing to offer but he just stood there fluffing his feathers. I enjoyed the company.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Tetsuro Oda -- Itsumademo Kawaranu Ai wo (いつまでも変わらぬ愛を)

Alright, those ubiquitous vending machines which seemed to occupy just about every street corner in Japan plied me with a lot of interesting drinks. During those 17 blazing-hot summers I spent in the Kanto, I got to know the international brands of Fanta and Coke and Canada Dry but there was also Suntory's oolong tea and milk tea, and the amazing Calpis. Then there were the isotonic drinks best represented by Pocari Sweat. If you've drunk Gatorade, you will know what I mean by isotonic drinks. My initial assessment of the blue-and-white Pocari Sweat was that it actually tasted like sweat, albeit cold and sweet sweat.

As you can imagine, it didn't leave a great first impression but over the years, I came to appreciate it and its rival in the market, Aquarius. In fact, not only did I invest my coins into the vending machines to actually get a can of Pocari but I even went to the trouble of bringing it home with me once in a while. It grew on me instead of exude from me. Hey, when I was battling 35-degree-plus temperatures with 80% humidity on a daily basis and losing tons of electrolytes and midi-chlorians through my pores, I was more than happy to gush anything isotonic down my throat.

Pocari Sweat held a good place within the Japanese market. And it didn't suffer from bad press, either, thanks to commercials like the above. I used to first see these TV ads for the product on some of the video tapes I got from friends or rented out. They starred the It Girl from the early 90s, actress Sae Isshiki(一色紗英), who when I looked at her again in one scene had a passing resemblance to actress Haruka Ayase(綾瀬はるか)who co-hosted last year's Kohaku Utagassen (and who also had her chance to shine as a Pocari Sweat girl.

Thanks to those ads, I often equated Pocari Sweat with summer. What also boosted that opinion was the very summery song provided by singer-songwriter Tetsuro Oda(織田哲郎), "Itsumademo Kawaranu Ai wo" (A Neverending Unchanging Love). It was almost Pavlovian how this commercial tune made me at least envision that blue-and-white can in my brain. I can see how the band TUBE got its mojo from Oda's creations. With that saxophone and sunny arrangement, winter is almost immediately forgotten, replaced by sand and surf.

As of this point, "Itsumademo Kawaranu Ai wo" is Oda's lone No. 1 single when it was released as his 12th single in March 1992. It ended the year ranked at No. 15.

Weatherwise, we reached a high of 11 degrees Celsius. Not too bad for February here. Just another 4 months and 14 degrees to go.

Mai Yamane -- In Love

I heard this song by Mai Yamane(山根麻以)"In Love" last night and I immediately exhaled as if I were unloosing some of the stresses of the day...which I was. At least for me, this song was that sort of song, the aural equivalent of that special someone to meet you at the door and escort you gently to your favourite area of the sofa before pouring you a Brown Cow (inside blog joke) following a hard day at work. Yup, it's that relaxing.

"In Love" was a track on Yamane's 2nd album, "Sorry" from 1981, and although her contributions to the legendary "Cowboy Be-Bop" were years away, I think this particular ballad would have made for a fine addition to that anime's soundtrack. And although I mentioned above that this would be a fine song to hear at home, I think this would also fit into a car stereo while taking a nice drive in the city.

The ballad was written by Kumiko Tomoi(友井久美子)and Funky Chick while the laid back music was provided by Makoto Matsushita(松下誠), a guitarist who is not unfamiliar with the slow groove. I've already got Yamane's debut album "Tasogare"...y'know, I wouldn't mind making another investment into one of her early releases.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Eiko Shuri -- Kitaguni Yuki de (北国行きで)

As I was watching the latest episode of "Kayo Concert"(歌謡コンサート)back on Tuesday night, I was especially attracted to one song that was performed by Midori Oka(丘みどり)in keeping with the episode's theme of heading out into the boonies due to some heartbreak. It was titled "Kitaguni Yuki de" (Heading North) and I liked the brassy horns which hinted to me that this was probably a song from the late 60s or early 70s.

My targeting scanner did well. "Kitaguni Yuki de" was indeed made and released in January 1972 as the 11th single for Eiko Shuri(朱里エイコ)who was born in 1948 in Tokyo. The song was most likely Shuri's biggest hit although I couldn't find out high it got on the Oricon singles charts in terms of weekly sales, but I did find out that it ranked No. 26 on the yearly charts with close to 360,000 records sold.

Shuri, who had been born Eiko Tanabe(田辺栄子), had an interesting back story in which she decided to strike it out on her own in the entertainment industry not in Japan but over in the United States all by herself at the age of 16 after releasing a couple of local singles. Unsuccessful her first time around, she returned to Japan in 1966 to have another go at releasing records and giving her own solo concerts before giving America another try in 1969. This time, she hit paydirt and with her band managed to score some good gigs in Las Vegas, New York, Los Angeles and so forth.

Coming back to Japan again for a brief time in 1971, she released one more single before the successful "Kitaguni Yuki de" came along. Written by Michio Yamagami(山上路夫)and composed by Kunihiko Suzuki(鈴木邦彦), the song dealt with Shuri's sad but determined decision to leave the man (and the city) that she had loved complete with a Dear John letter. Just my speculation, but I think the singer may have put something personal into her delivery considering her bicoastal career which likely lent to the song becoming a hit. And it was such a hit that Shuri was even able to appear on the 1972 Kohaku Utagassen which I think is the video above. Looking at the video, I do think that there was something rather striking about her fashion sense and how she moved across the stage that seemed to say Las Vegas to me...something very glitzy. Considering all the trials and tribulations, it must have been some triumph for her to appear on the NHK special. She would appear again the next year to sing "Jet Saishu Bin"(ジェット最終便...Final Jet Flight), her 15th single.

Shuri would release a total of 29 singles and 14 albums (including BEST compilations) up to 1992. Sadly, she would pass away in 2004 from heart failure at the age of 56.

Shuri's magnum opus would be passed down through other performers' takes on the song by songstresses such as Rumiko Koyanagi(小柳ルミ子)and Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美).

One rather interesting piece of trivia I did pick up from the J-Wiki article on the late Eiko Shuri. Apparently at one of her Las Vegas shows for which she received a standing ovation, none other than the Beatles' Ringo Starr was in the audience. He was able to meet her and even asked her out for dinner to which she demurely declined. She later related that she had rejected Starr's invitation since she felt that she was still too naive to handle the situation, stating that if she had accepted it, she could have ended up become the second Yoko Ono! (shuri, you jest...sorry, I had to get that one out)

And since I'm feeling rather whimsical tonight, here is a silly Japanese commercial starring Starr himself. Have a good weekend!

Yasuhisa Watanabe -- North Star from "Senko no Rondo" (旋光の輪舞)

During the music session at my anime buddy's house the other day, he decided to throw in a bit of game music and it happened to be track from some game called "Senko no Rondo" which translates directly as "Polarimetric Round Dance". However, the English version was gratefully re-named "WarTech".

I never played nor even heard of this game but as soon as my buddy played the track "North Star" on those huge airplane wing speakers of his, I sat up and took notice. Yup, I realize that it is background music for a couple of robots shooting the heck out of each other but still it's pretty compelling stuff to listen to on its own. Especially two-thirds of the way into the track when the dramatic dance-pop techno suddenly makes a shift into something that hit me like good ol' City Pop with a computer edge where I was in a car racing down a really cool low-ceiling tunnel before suddenly launching out into a bright and clean futuristic metropolis out of some utopian anime. I wish I could have this track in a sports car the next time I'm in Tokyo. Mind you, I wish I could just drive.

"Senko no Rondo" was released back in 2005 and game music composer Yasuhisa Watanabe(渡部恭久)was responsible for the soundtrack.

Nope, not "Senko no Rondo".
The guys decided to go with "Street Fighter".

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Ayumi Hamasaki -- LOVE〜Destiny〜/LOVE〜since 1999〜 (with Tsunku)

Digging through my old CD singles, I came across this Ayumi Hamasaki(浜崎あゆみ)number which represents the only music I actually own by a singer who at one point was pretty much the Queen of J-Pop for a number of years. Perhaps nostalgia for the 90s and early years of the 21st century will get me to buy a few more CDs by her in the near future, but at the time although I knew about her up-and-coming star power, I never really got into her music for the most part.

But I already made that point clear in my only other contribution to Ayumi Hamasaki, "SEASONS", and that was a ballad as is this one. "LOVE〜Destiny〜" was one-half of her 7th single from April 1999. So I gather with the associative property in gear, I probably just like her love songs. Unlike the driving dance-pop that she usually sang, this particular song written by her and composed by the vocalist of Osaka band Sharan-Q/the head honcho for the Hello Project, Tsunku(つんく), hooked me by the fact that the arrangement sounded a lot like those sappy 80s ballads created by folks like David Foster (I almost expected Rob Lowe to pop in with a saxophone solo in the video) and that Hamasaki sounded and appeared so tender and vulnerable. I remembered that the video got a lot of airplay and seeing the singer looking rather tired in her dressing room certainly showed a different side from the glam.

On the flip side, there is "LOVE〜since 1999〜" which was a more dramatic rendition of the above ballad fit as a theme song for a Japanese movie of intrigue filmed in Europe. Actually, though, it was the theme song for the Fuji-TV drama "Semi-Double" which I barely remember as a show about some affair or affairs exploding among the cast of characters. Although the music remained basically intact, Tsunku put in his own lyrics (and his vocals) for this version. "LOVE〜Destiny〜" was used as the love theme for the show.

Every time I've heard "LOVE〜since 1999〜", my ears have had to adjust to the duet of Hamasaki and Tsunku since the voices didn't quite mesh at the beginning for some reason. Thankfully, they seemed to blend a bit better by the middle of the song.

The single hit No. 1 (her first one) and ended up as the 30th-ranked song for 1999, going Double Platinum selling about 690,000 copies. It also appeared on Hamasaki's first BEST album "A BEST" from March 2001 which hit the top spot and became the 2nd-ranked album for the year. In fact, it is the 6th most successful album in Oricon history.