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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Anri -- Remember Summer Days

I shall certainly remember these summer days as we make the change into September very shortly. Compared to the past couple of years, Toronto got blasted with some major heat this summer which made a lot of sun-worshiping folks very happy. Being heat-proofed during nearly 2 decades in Japan, I was fairly OK with the 3H (heat, humidity, haze) weather but to be honest, I will be grateful for the eventual cooling down.

Now, here's a blast from the past...a very nice one, in fact. As I've most likely mentioned before in past articles regarding Anri(杏里), Ms. Eiko Kawashima(川嶋 栄子)has had a good run with her summery songs but I have to say that my favourite time with her has been during her collaboration with Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生)in the early 1980s. Whether her material back then could be called City Pop, its subset Resort Pop, or J-AOR, it was all those wonderful horns and thumpy bass that helped her star rise.

"Remember Summer Days" was a bonus track that was added to the remastered 2012 version of Anri's 6th album, "Timely!!", originally from December 1983. I'm not quite sure whether the singer was trying to be ironic with the title considering when it was released. Anyways, the song is a natural fit for the album with all of the ingredients I've mentioned in making a nice and mellow Anri song of the 80s. Yup, it was indeed Kadomatsu behind the words and music, and if "Remember Summer Days" had actually been included in the original album at its release date, then the title would have been perfect as a memory of the hot season while folks were shivering away and sipping their cream stew.

Apparently, a lot of YouTube folks cottoned onto the song when they discovered the Macross 82-99 remix. Welcome to the wonderful world of old-school J-Pop, folks! What I've liked about "Remember Summer Days" is how things start off and progress like a typical City Pop tune before the refrain gets a little old jazzy and whimsical...almost on a level of an aidoru song by two of the Tanokin Trio.

As for "Timely!!" (could never be sure whether it was 2 or 3 exclamation marks in the title), this was a No. 1 album for Anri. Good times, they were. The album also had a couple of singles, both of them bona fide hits: "Cat's Eye" and "Kanashimi ga Tomaranai"(悲しみがとまらない).

Into September, we go!

Joshiraku Girls/Miku Hatsune -- Hello, Sofmap World

Ahhh...Akihabara. I always liked that neighbourhood although ironically I never considered myself all that technologically inclined. (still don't have a cellphone). Still, it was interesting walking through Electric Town with all of its big and shiny stores on the main drag and the grimier shops on the side streets. That main street, Chuo Dori, had quite the heyday when it was closed down on Sundays and all of the street performers were unleashed. Unfortunately, a psychopath in 2008 went on a rampage on one of those Sundays by ramming his truck into the crowd and then killing seven people and injuring 10 others which led to the stopping of the tradition. Apparently the hokoten has started up again in recent years although I'm not sure if it has been allowed to approach the level of gaiety it once had.

As I said, I wasn't a huge buyer in Akihabara although I did purchase the digital camera that was used to take these photos. In fact, I bought it at the place shown above...the huge Yodobashi Akiba. It was just fun enough for me to browse around within Akiba itself (the store and the neighbourhood).Plus, I often took advantage of the free rubdowns via the demo models of massage chairs in any of the big stores!

When I first got to know Akihabara, food wasn't exactly a large priority, it seemed. The only eating places that I knew about was the McDonalds at the northern edge of Akiba on Chuo Dori and the Mansei Building at the southern edge with its many restaurant floors. However with the trendification of the area last decade, there are plenty of places to attract the foodies including this tsukemen restaurant that my friends took me to in 2014.

Anyways before I wax myself too poetically, I should get onto the music, shouldn't I? Of course, when one goes into any of the major stores of Akiba, there will always be the individual jingles that will greet you. They've all managed to get into my brain as part of my aural memories in Tokyo, including the one for Bic Camera.

Then there is the slightly funky jingle with an 80s dance sensibility from Sato Musen.

Finally, there is this one supremely cheerful jingle. I started watching the anime "Joshiraku"(じょしらく)again for the umpteenth time since its debut in 2012, and one of the things that cheered me up as the show was coming to an end was the above scene of the ladies from that last episode singing out that very jingle that I had heard numerous times when I was walking through Akihabara. I had first thought that they were singing a parody version only to find out that they were singing out the actual lyrics.

The jingle did work in that it now has permanent resident status in my brain but it had failed in that I couldn't remember which company it represented. Go fig! Well, I did some digging and found it is titled "Hello, Sofmap World", and of course, it represents Sofmap, the company selling new and used electronics. I also bought a number of my CDs in one of the branches in Akiba.

Sofmap is also a subsidiary of the aforementioned Bic Camera. However, as cheerful as the jingle for Bic is, "Hello, Sofmap World" has got that extra juice of a hundred My Little Ponys. It was actually released as a single in November 2004, and I was pretty gobsmacked to discover that the super-happy tune was composed by Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司)who provided all those summery mellow 80s kayo including the happy-go-lucky "September" by Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや)and written by Keisuke Yamakawa(山川啓介)who wrote a lot of songs in that decade as well including tunes for songbird Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美).

These two songwriting powerhouses must have really gotten into the pure happiness of what a jingle is all about. Not to sound like a jingle sommelier, but I can hear some Disney in "Hello, Sofmap World" via "It's A Small World After All" and perhaps even some of that standard "Happy Days Are Here Again". Whatever inspired Hayashi and Yamakawa, "Hello, Sofmap World" will have customers entering and exiting a Sofmap branch swinging their arms away like the Joshiraku girls. I couldn't really say what the mental state of the staff was after a regular shift of listening to it, though.

Apparently, the song can be sung at karaoke and is even available in English, Korean and Chinese, but the original single only has the Japanese and English versions.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Kazumasa Akiyama -- Dig My Style

Discovered another new and fun musician tonight. He's called Kazumasa Akiyama(秋山一将)and he's a jazz guitarist who started with 2 albums in the 1970s: "Dig My Style" (1978) and "Beyond the Door" (1979).

The title track from "Dig My Style" is an enjoyable slice of light funk n' fusion with Akiyama himself providing the vocals (pretty nice English there). It would be nice to strut down the main street of either Shinjuku or Roppongi to this one. I'm not sure who Akiyama modeled himself on but his guitar sounds somewhat like George Benson near the end.

Akiyama doesn't have a J-Wiki entry but he has his own website. From there, I found out he was born in 1955 and starting learning the guitar by himself at the age of 10. He listened to a lot of the Beatles and Ray Charles and then started getting into jazz. After several years of performing in various groups with artists such as jazz drummer Motohiko Hino(日野元彦)and singer Yasuko Agawa(阿川泰子), he released a couple of more albums in the 2000s: "Quiet Storm" (2005) and "Dr. Rain" (2008).

I was looking at the cast of musicians for "Dig My Style", and it turns out one of the backup singers was Etsuko Yamakawa(山川恵津子)who has already been mentioned for that other new and fun group I wrote about last night.

Yumi Adachi -- Kaze no Naka no Dance (風の中のダンス)

For anyone who was watching those J-Dramas in the 1990s, one of the more memorable shows was most likely "Ienaki Ko"(家なき子...A Homeless Child)from 1994 starring then-child actress Yumi Adachi(安達祐実)as a crafty kid who has to grow up and grow hard extremely quickly to get the cash to save her sick mother. The famous line was shouted out by Adachi's character herself "If you're gonna pity me, then give me money!"

Having only heard about the show by reputation, I never saw the toughened Adachi. Instead, I always saw her smiling visage on the many commercials she also starred in. At that young age, she was already becoming the It Girl on Japanese TV. Heck, she had entered show business basically from the age of zero as a baby model from 1981.

As would be the case for many ingenues during those days, Adachi also released her share of songs starting from 1993. Her most successful single was her 5th of eight releases from May 1995 while the sequel "Ienaki Ko 2" was on the air. "Kaze no Naka no Dance" (Dance in the Wind) wasn't the official theme song for the show but it was used at some point during the episodes.

Considering how it sounded, the song must have reflected the future that her character Suzu was hoping for. "Kaze no Naka no Dance" was written and composed by Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子), and it's a song about a boy and a girl happily and innocently in love just enjoying the day and relationship together. All that is missing is a bunch of puppy dogs and My Little Pony. And it has a bit of that Ohnuki melodic sweep that I often heard from her in the early 1980s when the singer-songwriter was fully in thrall to her European mood.

The song managed to reach No. 25 on Oricon and sold 150,000 copies.

When I arrived in Japan in late 1994 to start my stint at what was once the overlord of English conversation schools, NOVA, I was working at the Ueno branch for about 6 months. My immediate boss, a young lady from Wales, told me that she used to teach Ms. Adachi one-on-one in the far smaller Okachimachi school just around the corner. Of course, steps were taken to insure her privacy whenever she came over for her English classes but since she was so popular at the time, it was a matter of time before the word got out, and one day, her fans descended upon Okachimachi like seagulls on a new landfill. End of lessons.


Teiichi Okano -- Momiji (もみじ)

Officially, we're still a few weeks away from autumn. Yep, it is hard to believe that we will soon be approaching the season of changing leaves although the sunsets are becoming noticeably earlier here at least. However, it's also plenty warm in Toronto but knowing the crazy weather patterns in Canada's largest city, that could all change on a dime.

I was doing one of my translations yesterday when I came across one for an area in Gunma Prefecture involving the Usuitoge Pass which boasts that it was the inspiration for the children's song "Momiji" (Autumn Colors). It was composed in 1911 by Teiichi Okano(岡野貞一)and written by Tatsuyuki Takano(高野辰之), and like another beloved song also by them, it has been sung in all of the schools over the past century. In 2007, it was included as one of the Nihon no Uta Hyakusen(日本の歌百選...Collection of 100 Japanese Songs)which is a selection of classic songs and nursery rhymes. "Momiji" was selected as No. 93 on the list.

I managed to find an English translation for Takano's lyrics at a site called "Mama Lisa's World".  Of course, we gotta have Miku Hatsune(初音ミク)in on the act as well.

One of the great things about autumn in Japan is that not only does it eventually get cooler (very eventually in Tokyo), but it's also a great season for food. Considering the soul-draining nature of the Japanese summer and the fact that the Japanese are humongous foodies, mass media does go on overdrive talking about the latest crop of super-expensive matsutake mushrooms and ayu (sweetfish) grilling away.

Tohoku Shinkansen -- Tsuki ni Yorisotte (月に寄りそって)

It's not everyday that I listen to a song for the first time and enjoy it so much that I rush through my night shower and exercises so that I can give it another go. Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子)and Makoto Matsushita(松下誠)are a couple of singers whose works that I have treated in that way. I was about to close up shop for the evening after putting up three articles when for the heck of it, I gave a groovy Japanese compilation by a YouTube uploader a try. One of the songs is the topic of what will be my final article for tonight and it was one of the tracks on that compilation. I sought to see if the song did exist independently and, lucky me, it did.

At first, I couldn't quite figure out the name of this unit here: Tohoku Shinkansen(東北新幹線). I mean, who would name their group after a JNR Bullet Train line? Perhaps this was supported by a group of train otaku? No such animal, as it turned out. This was a duo comprised of the guitarist Hiroshi Narumi(鳴海寛)who sadly passed away last year and songwriter Etsuko Yamakawa(山川恵津子).

I had to look through at least 3 sources to get some information on Tohoku Shinkansen. Although there wasn't a J-Wiki entry on the unit per se, there was one for Yamakawa who is officially listed as a lyricist, composer, arranger, music producer and studio musician for a wealth of singers. But the term "singer" for herself isn't there. However in 1982, she and Narumi decided to actually work their voices in the recording studio and put out one album cleverly titled "Thru Traffic" which had the mellow ballad "Tsuki ni Yorisotte" (Cuddle Up to the Moon).

And I gotta say that this track is a wonderful slow groove of love for this AOR fan. This is the Sing Like Talking ballad before Sing Like Talking. Strangely enough, there was a double-Etsuko whammy behind it with Etsuko Yamakawa composing the music while Etsuko Kisugi(来生えつこ)provided the lyrics of getting up close and personal with ol' Luna. The Japanese music blog "Music Avenue" provided a further whammy when the entry listed one of the backup singers as Junko Yagami(八神純子)! I never thought I would ever see the day that Yagami would actually be backing up a singer, but it makes some sense here since Yamakawa actually sounds a bit like Yagami and perhaps needed her to provide that added depth. Yamakawa has helped Yagami as well in a couple of her songs.

One other site related a bit more about Tohoku Shinkansen's musical leanings which were urban contemporary, AOR and City Pop. Like with Makoto Matsushita's "First Light", the track "Tsuki ni Yorisotte" seems to bend more toward American AOR with that layer of soul just percolating underneath the vocals. It has certainly gotten me interested in listening to other tracks on "Thru Traffic".

Monday, August 29, 2016

Mariko Fuji -- Gemini Vs. Capricorn

I think I may have heard the name Mariko Fuji(藤真利子)before but it doesn't quite coalesce in the sieve that is my mind. According to her J-Wiki bio, she is an actress, singer and songwriter from Tokyo whose biggest claim to fame is that she has played the largest number of villain roles on the Tuesday night suspense dramas on NTV.

Her father was writer Shinji Fujiwara(藤原審爾)and as such, her childhood was filled with memories of movie directors and famous actresses coming to the house with the effect being that she once told her Dad that she wanted to become an actress too. Fujiwara put his foot down and forbade his daughter to follow the thespian route only for her to walk the path anyways. Teenage rebellion in action, folks.

Music was also another path for Fuji, and a couple of years after her debut as an actress, she released her first single, "S-C-E-N-A-R-I-O"(シ・ナ・リ・オ)in June 1979. However, it is the B-side for her 4th single from March 1981 that I discovered this singer. "Gemini Vs. Capricorn" may sound like an epic battle between the constellations but it's actually a cute little City Pop tune that I've taken a liking to like a puppy because of Fuji's just-as-cute voice (reminds me of Kyoko Endo) and the way she pronounces "Capricorn" (ka-puri-kon). I've also gotta say that I like the harmonica at the beginning and therefore give my tribute and condolences to the legendary Toots Thielemans who left this mortal coil a little over a week ago.

The song was also a track on her 2nd album which also came out in March 1981, "Romantic Game"(浪漫幻夢). It was actually written by Fuji under her pen name of Anri Bibi(微美杏里)and composed by one of the great City Pop princes, Yoshitaka Minami(南佳孝). As for that unusual pseudonym, the singer-songwriter was absolutely enamored by Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由実), and she may have gone into paroxysms of joy when her first single was composed by Yuming(ユーミン)herself under her own pen name of Karuho Kureta(呉田軽穂)which when read in the Japanese way sounds similar to Greta Garbo. Fuji, inspired by the idea, came up with the name Anri Bibi which when also read in the Japanese way amounts to Vivian Leigh. As Bibi, she has written songs for singers such as Kenji Sawada(沢田研二)and Yu Hayami(早見優).

If the description for this video is correct, then Fuji will appear in the 2nd commercial at 30 seconds. In any case, her music career wasn't too long ranging between 1979 and 1984 with 8 singles and 5 albums under her belt. But the meeting with her idol, Yuming, has developed into a close friendship and Fuji can also boast being good buddies with singer Ann Lewis(アン・ルイス).

Tomoyasu Hotei -- Battle Without Honor or Humanity

Years ago, when I saw the teaser for Quentin Tarentino's "Kill Bill Vol. 1" (much shorter than the above trailer), I thought it was vintage QT with his promise of a 1970s chop-socky flick. And there was that song...yes, that song. At the time I first heard it, I never imagined it was by a fellow who was part of a couple of 1980s J-Rock bands, Boowy and Complex.

My friends and I caught "Kill Bill" in Japan when it was released in 2003. I think everyone went totally gaga in the States and Canada but when we viewed it, the audience in Tokyo was somewhat more nonplussed and engaged in a mass headscratching session at some of the scenes. I was never sure whether the folks around me were aware of QT's love for the yakuza movie and his tribute to them through "Volume 1". By the way, the lady to the right of O-Ren in the dark suit is played by Julie Dreyfus who was a regular face on Japanese TV as a tarento and panelist. I was surprised to find out from Wikipedia that she is apparently distantly related to "Seinfeld" actress Julia-Louis Dreyfus.

Still for me, the one scene that made QT's movie all the memorable was O-Ren's entrance into The House of Blue Leaves with her lethal entourage (well, lethal until The Bride made mincemeat out of them)...all to the tune of "Battle Without Honor or Humanity" by the walking force-of-nature guitarist Tomoyasu Hotei(布袋寅泰). Along with the fact that he was the terrifying tower for those two bands I mentioned, I knew him later as the songwriter and later husband for Miki Imai(今井美樹).

And here I thought that the fellow was getting mellow in his middle age when he came up with the ultimate song for a power walk. Hotei is great with the guitar but then the horns come in and you feel as tall as he is as you're walking down the red carpet, and to me his 187 cm of height isn't anything to sneeze at.

The thing though is that "Battle Without Honor or Humanity" was actually lifted from the 2000 movie "Shin Jingi Naki Tatakai"(新・仁義なき戦い...New Battles Without Honor or Humanity), a remake of Kinji Fukusaku's(深作欣二)original 1973 yakuza film "Jingi Naki Tatakai". Hotei, who had also starred in the movie as a nightclub owner with no love for mobsters, created the song under the title of "Shin Jingi Naki Tatakai no Tema"(新・仁義なき戦いのテーマ...Theme from New Battles Without Honor or Humanity). Well, you can imagine the need to have the title shortened for "Kill Bill". And I think most folks would probably remember it more easily as the Kill Bill Theme.

Whatever the case, it is very cool. According to the liner notes for the song, the motif was not to have it bang you over the head immediately but to have it percolate slowly like water coming up to a roiling boil before it starts coming over the sides of the pot. Power walk, nothing....I wanna make a 12-minute egg to this song!

Maaya Sakamoto -- Million Clouds/Tekopikari -- Futari Shojo (ふたり少女)

My anime buddy and I have been doing our biweekly anime-and-meal sessions for over 4 years, and there has been a certain progression in the routine. What usually happens is that the wacky comedy (such as this anime this season) or action-packed stuff gets shown earlier in the afternoon while the final anime of the night is the calming show so that our stomachs can digest in relative peace. And especially after last night's tasty and very spicy Lahm ou'Ajeen (a Middle Eastern pizza) at a nearby restaurant, we needed some mellow fare. Something like "Corpse Party" would have had me producing some of my own "gore", if you know what I mean.

The seaside mall that has been featured in "Amanchu!"

Last anime season, that was fulfilled by the heartwarming "Flying Witch". But for this season, it is "Amanchu!"(あまんちゅ!)Both shows take place in an appealing sylvan environment way outside of Tokyo but unlike the northern city of Hirosaki from the former anime, "Amanchu!" takes place in the oceanside city of Ito(伊東)in Shizuoka Prefecture, a place that I actually visited in the fall of 2014 with my friend. It stars Eri Suzuki and Ai Kayano(鈴木絵理・茅野愛衣)as the wacky Hikari "Pikari" Kohinata and self-effacing Futaba "Teko" Ohki respectively as high school students who develop an unlikely friendship while being members at the school scuba diving club.

Man, as soon as I heard the opening notes of singer and lyricist Maaya Sakamoto's(坂本真綾)"Million Clouds", I knew my stomach would be cooing "calm blue ocean" along with the rest of me. It's about as sweet a ballad as I have ever heard for an anison. It begins with Sakamoto's feather-light vocals crooning along with a melody by Swedish singer Frida Sundemo that has a beginning which is the equivalent of a young girl with an innocent dream while Pikari and Teko look off into the sky in the opening credits. "Million Clouds" then quickly speeds up as the girls dive into the ocean as the dream seems to get closer to achievement before it all comes back to the song's original dreaminess. Wouldn't it be nice if this could be an inspirational song for some of those future Olympians out there?

I was hoping for the full recorded version of "Million Clouds" but happily I was able to find this unplugged version of the song by Sakamoto in concert. I don't know how well it did on Oricon but the song is indeed a perfect fit with the tone of "Amanchu!"

Ahhh...did find it!

Ito Station

Keeping in line with the purpose of this blog, I also enjoyed the score used for "Amanchu!" since it was by the guitar-playing duo of Gontiti(ゴンチチ). It's not just the opening and closing themes but the ever-present music that keeps things nice and mellow for the 20-or-so minutes of high school/scuba diving life in Ito.

(cover version)

Speaking of the closing theme, the two main seiyuu tackle it as Tekopikari(てこぴかり)for "Futari Shojo" (Two Girls). I had thought it was Gontiti who created the light Latin-flavoured song but it was actually singer-lyricist Hitomi Mieno(三重野瞳)and singer-songwriter Akino Arai(新居昭乃)behind the just-as-soothing ender.

Not surprisingly, my buddy is already planning to purchase both "Million Clouds" and "Futari Shojo". I'll be sorry to see this show go.

For you "Amanchu!" fans who may be tantalized by the thought of actually staying overnight in Ito, you can try out Daitokan(大東館)which has an interesting variety in onsen inside. You'll need to know Japanese to navigate the hotel's website but there is always the TripAdvisor page.

An Ito sunset

Interesting....a lot of anime fans head over to the actual place where their favourite shows were set such as the town of Oarai in Ibaraki Prefecture for "Girls und Panzer" or even the Tokyo district of Azabu-Juban for "Sailor Moon" after they've been viewed and enjoyed. However, this might be the one instance in which my friend and I got on the Ito bandwagon even before "Amanchu!" was televised.

A nice coffee shop on a shopping street

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Top 10 Albums of 2008

1.  EXILE                                 Exile Love
2.  Namie Amuro                      Best Fiction
3.  Kobukuro                             5296
4.  EXILE                                 Exile Catchy Best
5.  Hikaru Utada                       Heart Station
6.  EXILE                                 Exile Ballad Best
7.  B'z                                       B'z The Best "Ultra" Pleasure
8.  Ayumi Hamasaki                 A Complete - All Singles-
9.  Dreams Come True             And I Love You
10. Greeeen                              Ah, Domo. Ohisashiburi desu.

Princess Tenko -- The Magic (ザ・マジック)

I can't do any sort of magic aside from the rather sad ability to seemingly detach my thumb that I had learned from an old Laurel & Hardy movie decades ago. However, my mother has often "marveled" at how I can make 2 hot dogs disappear within a minute at lunch.

Bad segue aside, I'm not sure if there are too many folks out there who remember or even know about the Japanese magician known as Princess Tenko. I had just started my life in Ichikawa when the lady known as Mariko Itakura(板倉満里子)burst out onto the American stage and became this hugely successful performer of the magical arts from the 1990s. My impression was that she gained her fame mostly Stateside and Canada and although that fame even reached the Japanese shores, she didn't exactly become a household name in Japan like Ichiro or some of the other athletes making it big in the United States. Still, she became a darling in America to the extent that she even got her own cartoon.

One night though, I was watching the Fuji-TV variety program "Trivia no Izumi"(トリビアの泉...Fountain of Trivia) which challenged guest panelists to show how impressive a certain piece of surprising trivia could be when this certain morsel got featured. Apparently, the Princess had also been for a very brief time an aidoru! Yup, a magical aidoru. That got quite the reaction from the "Trivia" folks.

Before she took on the title of Tenko Hikita(引田天功)from her predecessor in 1980, she had been apprenticing under him from 1976 as a teenager when she took on the name of Mari Asakaze(朝風まり)and released a couple of singles in 1978 and 1979.

The first of those singles was "The Magic" (naturally) from June 21st 1978 which had somewhat of a Pink Lady-sort of uptempo melody. Not too surprising, considering it was Shunichi Tokura(都倉俊一)who composed it, and he was the one behind a lot of Mie and Kei's hits in the 70s. Akira Ito(伊藤アキラ)was the lyricist. Basically the future Princess Tenko sang about having those mesmerizing abilities to pull that special someone under her power...which she indeed did many years later, only it was more like millions of people. To continue with the Pink Lady comparison, Asakaze didn't have the spangly outfit or the high-kicking choreography but she did have her bag of magic tricks to charm the audience. 

It was quite the thing to see Princess Tenko as this aidoru of the late 70s since I never heard her talk, and so to hear her sing like a typical teenybopper was quite the revelation. "The Magic" wasn't particularly magic but its singer wasn't too shabby interpreting the words and music. However, we were all to find out where her real abilities lay. Incidentally, her 2nd single was released exactly a year later in 1979, "Kuse ni Naru kara"(くせになるから...It Will Become a Habit).

Kyu Sakamoto -- Hitoribotchi no Futari (一人ぼっちの二人)

(cover version)

Now, that's an interesting title, "Hitoribotchi no Futari". I was wondering how to translate it, and episode 37 of Steven Universe popped into my head with the reason being: it's called "Alone Together".

In the video above - knowing the uploader's history, it may not be here for long -  Hiroshi Itsuki was performing this during the "Tribute Time" part of his own music show, "Nihon no Meikyoku Jinsei, Uta ga aru" (日本の名曲 人生、歌がある). In this segment, the week's guests and Itsuki himself would have a go at the works of established singers or songwriters, alive or not. So who was the focus of the tribute in this episode in the clip? The whistling at the start was a huge give-away. From my knowledge of Showa era music, there's only one guy who'd whistle in his songs, and when the camera panned from Itsuki to the portrait, that guy was at his smiley best. It was none other than Kyu Sakamoto (坂本九). Also, I should've guessed that "Hitoribotchi no Futari" was by Sakamoto just by looking at the ones had put it together: Hachidai Nakamura and Rokusuke Ei (中村八大 . 永六輔), but I only realised the "6-8-9 combo" (Roku-Hachi-Kyu) much later.

Moving on, as I listened to the original and Itsuki's rendition of the ballad, I was again able to pick out one other trait that seems prevalent in Sakamoto's songs: a lighthearted melody. Done by Nakamura, what contributes to that is the nice rhythm, which feels like there's a slight Latin touch, combined with the whistling and (in the original) Sakamoto's lilting style. At the same time, to balance things out here, there are the soft strings that bring out a gentler and grounded side. It has me picturing a couple spending time with each other under the moonlight.

The original version.

For Ei's lyrics, I can't say I fully understand what it had Sakamoto singing about. However, I've come up with a couple of possibilities as to what "Hitoribotchi no Futari" may mean:

1) The happier option; the fellow enjoys being alone, but he prefers doing so with the one he loves.
2) The not so happy option; the relationship ain't fantastic and though together, the guy still feels lonely.

To better match Nakamura's music and Sakamoto's almost carefree delivery, I'm hoping it's the first option. But the more I read what Ei had written, I'm beginning to think that it may actually be the second option.

"Hitoribotchi no Futari" was released in November 1962. Out of the two renditions, I find myself preferring the cover to the original - this is purely objective. Itsuki's rendition feels smoother and more comfortable.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Top 10 Singles for 2008

1.  Arashi                                 Truth/Kaze no Mukou e
2.  Arashi                                 One Love
3.  Southern All Stars              I AM YOUR SINGER
4.  Greeeen                              Kiseki
5.  Shuchishin                          Shuchishin
6.  Mr. Children                       HANABI
7.  Thelma Aoyama                 Soba ni Iru ne
       feat. SoulJa
8.  KAT-TUN                           DON'T U EVER STOP
9.  KAT-TUN                           LIPS
10. Arashi                                Beautiful Days

bird -- Sora no Hitomi (空の瞳)

Another weekend is upon us so it's time for a bit of spice in my choice tonight. And since I've put up an article in the last few days about a turn-of-the-century J-R&B diva, I'll put up another one via the chanteuse bird.

This would be her 4th single from October 1999, "Sora no Hitomi" (Eyes in the Sky). I noticed that Yuki Miura (三浦有紀...bird's real name) had a really busy freshman year in music with her first 5 singles coming out between March and December of that year. Her inaugural single "Souls" was a lovely and light piece of disco soul introducing her and that huge ball of hair. But with "Sora no Hitomi", it was all about the more nighttime downtown brand of soul with those fine horns. Even the music video above had me imagining about these 1970s performances in those urban nightclubs although I was way way too young to ever enter those. Plus, there were enough flares to get J.J. Abrams' attention.

To date, "Sora no Hitomi" which was written by bird and composed by Shinichi Osawa (大沢伸一...aka Mondo Grosso), is the singer's most successful song in terms of chart achievements. It peaked at No. 14 on Oricon. Of course, I'm being biased here because I like her work so much but I was hoping that she would have scored even more highly (her next-highest-ranking singles were in the 20s). Then again, I don't think she particularly cares about rankings and TV appearances so why should I? She's been singing the music that she wants to sing.

Yumi Matsutoya -- Shiokaze ni Chigirete (潮風にちぎれて)/ Shoutou Hiko (消灯飛行)

For those superhero & kayo kyoku enthusiasts out there, does everyone remember that famous "Action Comics" Issue No. 1 circa 1938 which introduced Superman? Well, according to an online article from a couple of years ago, a "pristine" copy (and I do agree with putting up the quotation can anything that old be pristine unless it got a near-lethal dose of Botox?) of Issue No. 1 sold for $3.2 million via an eBay auction! I hope the fellow who bought (or invested in) it had that lead-lined Baggie or vault to store his acquisition.

This begged the question of what the most expensive J-Pop album that I have ever purchased was. Well, I remember that I did get that double-CD BEST album of Hitomi Tohyama(当山ひとみ)at Tacto for about 5,000 yen but I don't consider that a crazy collector's snag. There was another CD on the shelves there for a Mai Yamane(山根麻衣)disc that was going for 8,000 yen! I wasn't sure whether it was covering her earlier City Pop days or her later rock stuff or was spanning both periods. All I knew was that as much as I was curious about the singer, that CD was just too much cholesterol for my blood.

Now the reason I bring up this thing about rare releases and their corresponding costs is that I was looking for a new Yuming (ユーミン) tune to put up onto the blog when I came across "Shiokaze ni Chigirete" (Torn Apart by the Sea Breeze) which came out in May 1977. This was the singer-songwriter's first single (her 8th) since she switched names from Arai to Matsutoya when she got married. Perhaps that fact would have been reason enough to everyone go bonkers and buy it up considering how respected she was. But there's also the point that the A-side had never been put into an original album until it was placed as a track for a couple of her BEST compilations in the 21st century. The B-side, "Shoutou Hiko" has yet to be placed anywhere on an album, so basically it is that single that you have to get if you want your own copy of that particular song. And that single apparently costs close to 25,000 yen on Amazon! Nope, it's no "Action Comics" but still...

(karaoke version)

Anyways onto the main event. "Shiokaze ni Chigirete" may have been the first single in the new era of Matsutoya but the gentle ballad despite that violent title has that folksy Arai feeling (accentuated by that harmonica). Yuming still had more of that velvety flavor and less of the nasal tones in her voice back then which reminded me of those early days of New Music. Her lyrics go into a woman's visit to a favourite beach post-breakup as she struggles with her feelings on the matter. She wonders aloud why she is still wearing those sandals that he used to like so perhaps there is some ember that could be rekindled if the guy hasn't already hooked with someone else.

(karaoke version)

This is the true rarity here. I was wondering how to translate "Shotou Hiko" when I just decided to pitch the title into the Weblio search engine. It came up with "Lights Out Flight". Good enough, I say. For me, "Shotou Hiko" is a mix of her Arai days with some of that Matsutoya pop she would be bringing in over the next few years through some hints of urban contemporary...I hear a bit of jazz and soul with that piano in there. This song is the breakup in progress as a woman has got her visa ready to head out to a new country and leave her lover in the dust. There doesn't seem to be any regret in her decision. I'd say that the song is the Night to the Day of "Shiokaze ni Chigirete". And according to J-Wiki, the instrumental version of "Shotou Hiko" has regularly been used as the ending themes for radio programs.

"Shiokaze ni Chigirete/Shotou Hiko" went all the way up to No. 31 on the charts. It was a pretty quiet beginning for the newly-married Yumi Matsutoya but of course as we all know more successes came her way not too long after.

Strangely enough, about some days after the release of this single, there was a release Stateside of a movie with some Kurosawa elements about battles in space. It actually did gangbusters. And I only wonder how much a poster labeled "Revenge of the Jedi" would cost these days if the auction fans haven't already bought out the market.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Kiyoshi Nakajo -- Uso (うそ)

Well, let's see here....the Top 10 Singles for 1974 had a mellow enka, "Namida no Misao"(なみだの操)by Tonosama Kings(殿さまキングス)take the No. 1 spot while No. 2 belonged to Akiko Kosaka's(小坂明子)wonderful love anthem, "Anata"(あなた).

So, curious about No. 3 for 1974, I saw Kiyoshi Nakajo's(中条きよし)"Uso" (Lies) up there. I couldn't recognize it from the title or the singer behind it so I gave it a listen on YouTube. I didn't exactly give it a " I remember it!" but that intro was certainly familiar to me. Probably I've heard it on one of the NHK music programs or it was played on an episode of "Sounds of Japan".

In any case, "Uso" is another fairly mellow enka with a bit more Mood Kayo sung by Nakajo most likely from the point of view of the scorned other woman as she sees her soon-to-be-ex lover sleaze away to be with someone more "wholesome" to start a family. He may be using every platitude in his black book, but the lady can see right through his uso. Listening to this surprisingly wistful take on a bitter breakup, I already had the perfect setting mapped out in my mind. They were probably sitting at some sort of old cafe franchise such as Renoir in Tokyo or a cafe in one of the older hotels such as the good ol' Tokyo Prince. The tension was probably as thick as that strawberry shortcake I had at that cafe in the Prince.

Perhaps it was the knowing lyrics by Yoko Yamaguchi(山口洋子)or maybe it was the music by Masaaki Hirao(平尾昌晃)with that alto sax but "Uso" was that breakthrough hit for Nakajo when it was released in January 1974. It took 3 months for it to crack the Top 10 and another 6 weeks before it finally hit the top spot on Oricon where it would stay for a straight 8 weeks with sales of over 1.5 million records. When it rains, it pours as the saying goes and this time it was raining gold for the singer as it won a few awards at contests such as the Japan Record Awards. Of course, the Kohaku Utagassen dropped by and asked if he had some time on New Year's Eve, and of course, he accepted. However, although Nakajo had some more success, it would be his only time on the NHK special.

All that good news in the last paragraph must have sounded even sweeter and more poignant for Nakajo who was actually born Kiyoshi Shimomura(下村清)in Gifu Prefecture in 1946. It wasn't a particularly smooth ride to the top. After graduating from high school, Shimomura worked on a boat and then joined an acting troupe in Osaka where he tried to become an actor, sometimes coming in as a singer in the warmup before the main performance. A record company executive caught one of his performances and signed up him. Kiyoshi Shimomura was given the stage name of Akira Takanami(高波明)and he debuted in 1968.

Unfortunately, he didn't particularly sell so a second attempt was made in 1971 under the name of Ken Atsumi(渥美健)but the results were the same. So the singer went to a salaryman's life and in his mid-20s, he even set up his own little bar in Tokyo which drew regulars consisting of folks in the mass media industry (did this guy set up in front of NHK studios?!) and was encouraged to try once again to be a singer. In 1973, he tried out for the 1970s Japanese equivalent of "American Idol", "Zen Nippon Kayo Senshuken"(全日本歌謡選手権...The All-Japan Kayo Championships)on Yomiuri TV where he won the title of Grand Champion after winning 10 weeks in a row. The songwriters for "Uso", Masaaki Hirao and Yoko Yamaguchi were actually two of the judges on the show which set up the fateful meeting, and with that final name change to Kiyoshi Nakajo, the stage was all ready for him to finally grab that brass ring.

It still wasn't all wine and roses for Nakajo, though. Between the release of "Uso" and his appearance on the Kohaku that year, he and his manager ended up on a Japan Air Lines flight that was hijacked. They had the bad luck of being seated right up at the front of the plane so that they had to hear all of the vitriol spewing from the terrorists in the cockpit. Then, many years later, it was found out that Nakajo had been playing a round of golf with a mobster so his NHK appearances were curtailed for about a year. Such is life. And he survived both incidents to release a total of 38 singles including his last one to date in October 2015, "Tanpopo"(たんぽぽ...Dandelion).

The cake set at the Tokyo Prince Hotel

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Toshiki Kadomatsu -- No End Summer

Unfortunately, all summers eventually end but I understand Toshiki Kadomatsu's(角松敏生)sentiments here. At the risk of sounding like a beer commercial, it's wonderful to get together with friends, spend quality time at the beach, and watch the sunset. It's indeed Miller Time!

But hey, wouldn't it be wonderful if that commercial for the brewski had Kadomatsu's 7th single "No End Summer" tagging along for the ride? Released in August 1985, Kadomatsu's wonderfully summery creation was also the final track of his 5th studio album "GOLD DIGGER ~ with true love" (curiously ironic) from May of that year. That album peaked at No. 7 on Oricon. The song was also used as the image song for the famous long-running variety show on Fuji-TV "Naruhodo The World"(なるほど!ザ・ワールド).

To me, the original single sounded a little slow and incomplete since I had heard a re-done version from his 2012 album "REBIRTH 1 〜re-make best〜" first. This new version has a bit more oomph, and listening to this version, I felt as if there were a rousing round of windsurfing during that beach get-together.

Kadomatsu was having an intimate get-together of his own at Yokohama Arena with...oh, say, a hundred thousand of his buddies back in 2013. His performance of "No End Summer" starts at about 4:50. Please do listen to it. He certainly gave Tatsuro Yamashita (山下達郎)a run for his money in the Summer City Pop department.

Ruiko Kurahashi -- AM 10:15 18℃ Hare ~ Ii Koto ga Arisou (《AM1015 18℃ 晴》 いいことがありそう)

Well, I can imagine that the past couple of days have started out at 18℃ and sunny. Supposedly, we've still got some heat and humidity on the way but, by and large, autumn is around the corner, and it's been pretty comfortable out there.

Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子)is looking mighty comfortable there in that photo although I am wondering whether she was heading to view the Kentucky Derby in that getup. Anyways, it's notable to mention this about one of my favourite singers from the 80s since my default impression of the Hokkaido native has been of a lass with close-cropped hair and a placid expression of ennui singing rather melancholy if beautiful tunes. It's not that she has never sung a happy song in her career but I tend to see her more in ballad mode. Plus, she's got a whole lot of hair under that hat....and a shy little smile!

(excerpt only)

That photo of her at the top was actually from her 14th album "Jun'ai ~ Kono Ai ni Ikite"(純愛 〜この愛に生きて〜...Pure Love -- Live in This Love)from April 1988, and the song of the article is from there, "AM 10:15 Hare ~ Ii Koto ga Arisou" (10:15 AM and Sunny ~ Good Things are Around the Corner). It's quite the happy if not super bouncy tune by Kurahashi who sings Kyoko Matsumiya's(松宮恭子)lyrics of spending a nice relaxing morning making breakfast and looking forward to the rest of the day and some potential romance. Matsumiya was also the one behind the happy-go-lucky melody that might be considered downright skip-worthy. The arrangement was done by Keiichi Oku(奥慶一).

I'd even say that Kurahashi sounded almost like the truly happy-go-lucky EPO.

Jun'ai ~ Kono Ai ni Ikite

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Afilia Saga -- Magical Express Journey (マジカル☆エクスプレス☆ジャーニー)

Afilia Saga (アフィリア・サーガ) is definitely not a group for everyone! If AKB48 is considered unpleasant –  saying the least – to some people, this group, which is comprised of maids, can be even more cringeworthy with the gaudy cute vocals, clumsy dance moves, moe shouts and – sometimes – sexy cosplay-like uniforms. It’s a full-on cotton candy aidoru group.

I, however, enjoy some of the songs released by them, even if I can’t help but feel a little bit guilty while listening to them. “Magical Express Journey”, for example, is so cheerful and over the top that when the chorus explodes I imagine myself in a magical journey to the “Care Bears” land.

(short version)

“Magical Express Journey” was released in July 2014, reaching #3 on the Oricon charts and selling around 25,000 copies. Lyrics and music were composed by veteran anime singer/composer/seiyuu Haruko Momoi (桃井はるこ), while the arrangement was done by Kouji Ueno (上野浩司). In 2015, the song was included in Afilia Saga’s third studio album, “Realism”.

THE GOOD-BYE -- Kimagure One-Way Boy(気まぐれOne Way Boy)

Ah, the Tanokin Trio(たのきんトリオ), my first instance of seeing a Johnny's Entertainment conglomeration in action on the screen. Everyone knows about Matchy and Toshi-chan but there was the third member who I always thought was the quietest and frankly reminded me of WHAM!'s Andrew Ridgely in terms of profile. That would be Yoshio Nomura(野村義男)...the "no" of the Tanokin Trio who could handle the guitar, and it was the way that I always saw the fellow over the decades. He has always had that disarming Jackie Chan smile but never heard all that much from him, relatively speaking.

I was browsing through one of my ancient "Young Song" booklets, which was the inserted songbook in every issue of the pop music magazine "Myojo"(明星), when I came across the page for THE GOOD-BYE. This was the rock band with Yotchan (Nomura's nickname) that was formed in 1983. And I figured that if Matchy and Toshi-chan can get their day in the sun on "Kayo Kyoku Plus", well, then Yotchan has to have his due here as well.

At first glance, I was a bit surprised that the J-Wiki article on THE GOOD-BYE didn't categorize it as a Johnny's band but then I found out that Yotchan wasn't the leader but a fellow by the name of Yasuhisa "Yacchin" Soga(曽我泰久)who became the other guitarist and co-vocalist. The other two members were Hachiro "Hachi" Kaga(加賀八郎)and Koichi "Ko-chan" Eto(衛藤浩一). That same article mentioned that the band was supposed to have been just the backup for Yotchan's debut with the official name being Yotchan Band and then Yotchan & The Good-Bye before settling into its final form. Not sure how Yotchan must have felt with this lessening of his responsibilities.

Their first single came out in September 1983. Called "Kimagure One-Way Boy" (Moody One-Way Boy), I think one YouTube commenter hit it on the head when he remarked that the urgent intro sounded exactly like Frank Stallone's "Far From Over" from that "Saturday Night Fever" sequel. Ah, there was a fair bit of melody lifting at the time. However, the rest of the song by Kantaro Yamamoto(山本寛太郎)has that typical Japanese rock-n-roll beat from the early 80s trying to emulate the feel of the 1950s. Jun Hashimoto(橋本淳)took care of the lyrics about a James Dean type perhaps making his way into an early grave through all of his carousing. There's even a lyrical homage to the Beatles via "twist and shout" and those "Happy Days" tropes of the backseat and double dates. It's a wonder that the Fonz wasn't given a shoutout. Although the band would gradually have both Yotchan and Yacchin singing together, since this particular song was the debut, I think it's just Yotchan here, and to be honest, he doesn't sound too bad when compared to his old trio mates.

THE GOOD-BYE would release a total of 15 singles and 9 albums until they called it a day in 1990. However, the band did get back together in 2003 and has been touring around since then although no new material has come out.

Misia -- sweetness

I was referring to Misia a couple of times over as many weeks recently and discovered that I hadn't written a bona fide article on the singer in well over a year. The above picture is for her 7th album from 2007 "Ascension", and I had been thinking about selecting a song from that release for tonight's article. However, my personal feeling is that her earlier stuff was better for me (circa turn of the century), and I was able to find another song from that time period. Besides that cover kinda looks like a dream sequence for an environmentalist.

The song I've chosen from Misia's discography is "sweetness", her 5th single from November 1999. I realize that the song had all that contemporary arrangement but I can't help feeling that there is an old slow groove working in there that has me thinking of Michael Jackson and DeBarge from the 1980s. For me, when it comes to R&B, I'm such a sucker for slow groove...along with a darn tight horn section. "sweetness" doesn't have the horns but that's perfectly fine. Misia's vocals and the music by Satoshi Shimano(島野聡)satisfy me to a T.

Misia's lyrics go into some vague message about trying to reach that special someone among the clouds, and I think the original music video above rather sums up the imagery in part. It looks like all those models from the Apple commercials decided to take an intense break at the beach while the singer had fun on the swing. I guess it kinda sucks when everyone has forgotten to bring their iPods.

The original single managed to peak at No. 7 on Oricon and sold a little over 225,000 copies. "sweetness" was also a track on Misia's 2nd album "Love is the Message" which was released in January 2000 and scored not only a No. 1 on the charts but was the 4th-ranked album for the year, earning a Best Album prize at the Japan Record Awards. "Love is the Message" even registered on the 2001 yearly chart with a 169th ranking.

Still, even more than the original, I remember the amped-up version of "sweetness" by Satoshi Tomiie(富家哲)for her "MISIA REMIX 2000 LITTLE TOKYO" which came out in April 2000. Not surprisingly, that album also hit the top spot and was the 27th-ranked release for the year. Dang, I love the instrumental in the remix version although maybe it goes on a tad too long.

Hearing this song again, I'm wondering whether it would be too much of a stretch to wish for Misia to perform at the 2020 Olympic Opening Ceremonies in Tokyo.

Rie Sugimoto -- Yasuragi no Yubiwa (やすらぎのゆびわ)

Recently, I was giving a listen to my favorite album by Rie Sugimoto (杉本理恵), “Heal Ring”, from August 1992. One of its songs, “Beyond The Maze”, have already been covered by me years ago, but now I’m here to talk a little bit about the album’s last song, which is called “Yasuragi no Yubiwa”.

“Yasuragi no Yubiwa” is a ballad that seems to come out from a fairy tale. As I could see while doing a little bit of research, composer and pianist Hiroko Taniyama’s (谷山浩子) music style is described as fantastic and mysterious, so the song’s vibe is not a surprise after all. As for Rie’s voice, it’s what it is: very shaky and weak (well, she was crying too, but we all know she isn’t a great singer as well). However, she sompensates being a nice and tender girl, which coupled by the song’s beautiful melody and lovely piano-centered arrangement, makes for a very beautiful aidoru ballad.

Like I said before, Rie enjoyed some underground status as an aidoru singer who made vocal renditions of songs inspired by video game music (interesting enough, “Yasuragi no Yubiwa” is “Heal Ring’s” only original song, the other being reworked versions of video game music). It was an interesting niche concept, but didn’t help her in the mainstream scene at all. By the time she was releasing songs, the aidoru scene was mostly dead anyway...

Lyrics were written by Hiroko Taniyama. She also worked on the composition, but this time with Akimitsu Honma (本間昭光).

I want this album!!!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Mai Kuraki -- Stay By My Side

Squeezing among all of the rebirth of the female aidoru via Hello Project, the glory days of SMAP and the other young turks at Johnny's Entertainment, and the big burst of J-R&B at the beginning of the 21st century was Mai Kuraki(倉木麻衣). Well, I don't think it's fair to use the verb "squeeze" since it would hint that the lass was somehow struggling to keep her head above water at the time, and that certainly wasn't the case here. She carved a nice little niche for herself in terms of the charts and public attention as someone who was not an aidoru and not an R&B chanteuse but an up-and-coming singer with her own brand of gentle pop. Perhaps the reason that I had mistakenly assumed that she was a native or near-native speaker of English was that her delivery of her first few singles struck me as being so American...not along the lines of a Britney Spears but more along the lines of earlier teen popsters such as Debbie Gibson and Tiffany.

(short version)

Like her breakthrough single, "Love, Day After Tomorrow", her 2nd single, "Stay By My Side" was one of those songs whose video excerpt popped up all over the TV for months and yet, it was awfully hard to see her perform it on the telly through shows like "Music Station". But at the time, I found that a number of singers also refrained from TV appearances such as Misia and bird. Not that I complained too much since I could understand the desire to keep the mystery and freshness of a talented singer from getting overexposed.

In any case, "Stay By My Side" is a pleasant and gentle ballad written by Kuraki and composed by Aika Ohno(大野愛果)which came out in March 2000. Not only did it hit the top spot for 2 weeks on Oricon, it went Triple Platinum and became the 17th-ranked song of the year. And although it took a few years, Kuraki was finally invited onto the 2003 Kohaku Utagassen to perform it live from a temple in Kyoto. As for the setting in the music video, it was filmed at Oimachi Church in Tokyo.

Up to now, I never purchased a Mai Kuraki album or single but remembering some of the excerpts of songs that she has released over the past 16 or so years, I would be tempted in getting a BEST compilation. The only strike I might have against her is that I've perceived a certain sameness in her singles output at least. However, I hope that I can be proved wrong. Perhaps a Mai fan could give his or her opinion on this.