I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Kunio Muramatsu -- KATHARINA

Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)and Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)may have been the more prominent members of the New Music band Sugar Babe but I'm not counting out the other band member Kunio Muramatsu(村松邦男).

That is, especially not after listening to "Katharina", one of the tracks on Muramatsu's debut album "Green Water" from September 1983. It looks like he took a page out of Yamashita's playbook and came up with a good-time weekend driving song with this one. He's got a breathier voice than his old partner's but that just fits with the breeziness of the music. Definitely love the horns.This album could be something on my radar pretty soon.

Mondo Grosso feat. Hikari Mitsushima -- Labyrinth (ラビリンス)

The first time I heard about actress Hikari Mitsushima(満島ひかり)was through a review in "The Japan Times" for a local movie. I don't remember the title or the story behind the flick but the reviewer was fairly gushing about Mitsushima's performance as a quirky character working in a factory; the fellow even complimented the fact that Mitsushima would even allow the camera to film right up her nose. Must have been quite indie, that movie.

Since then, she's been gaining a fine reputation as a thespian over the years. Last year, she even portrayed one of the biggest celebrity icons in Japan, Tetsuko Kuroyanagi(黒柳徹子), so it was kismet that the real Kuroyanagi interviewed the Mitsushima Kuroyanagi on "Tetsuko no Heya"(徹子の部屋).

However, I'd had no idea that Mitsushima was one of the members of the teen idol group Folder and its descendant Folder 5 back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I remembered that unit mostly from their appearance on the Fuji-TV kids' show "Ponkikies"(ポンキッキーズ), and they were pretty darn dynamic on the stage.

Initially when I discovered this YouTube video of Mondo Grosso's latest single "Labyrinth" from April, I was caught a bit off-guard when I realized who this was skipping through the labyrinthine streets of Hong Kong. Then, I remembered that Mitsushima was once a song-and-dance lass from years ago. And she still is.

Compared to some of the other Mondo Grosso collaborations in the past, "Labyrinth" with Mitsushima is pretty laid back...a nice urban groove. But I think it's the video that has gotten my attention as Mitsushima is traipsing through the area. I couldn't help but remember a few movies as I watching: the recent live-action "Ghost In The Shell", "Absolute Beginners" with David Bowie, and even "Singin' In The Rain". I was half-expecting Scarlett Johannson's Major to jump out to do some jigging of her own.

Not sure if it will be enough for me to start searching for Mondo Grosso's latest but "Labyrinth" may be pleasant to hear over stereo speakers with a glass of brandy or a cup of coffee.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Kyoko Koizumi -- Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge (ヤマトナデシコ七変化)

Well, I caught the first 2 episodes of "Marvel's Inhumans" tonight. Urghhhhh. I can't really say it's the "Plan 9 From Outer Space" of the Marvel label but unless things improve quickly, it's probably going to disappear without a blip. I mean, Black Bolt looks mostly constipated, and frankly seeing the Royal Family flee to Hawaii had me thinking that Five-O was gonna get involved eventually.

Anyways, onto somewhat happier business here. When it comes to the early 80s aidoru, I've ranked them in terms of A B and C. For me, the A-team has always been Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子), Akina Nakamori(中森明菜)and Naoko Kawai(河合奈保子)with the B-team being Kyoko Koizumi,(小泉今日子) Yu Hayami(早見優), Hidemi Ishikawa(石川秀美)and Iyo Matsumoto(松本伊代). The C-team is everyone else. No offense to the fans for the B and C teams but that's how I always looked at the pyramid.

As such, I've been playing some catch-up with Hayami and Matsumoto for the past few years but thanks to those CDs I got last year of those two, I've been getting some more help. But for Kyon-Kyon, I have one CD single and one CD by her and they're from the 1990s. I didn't have much in the way of knowledge of her original 80s stuff as an aidoru but doing this blog for the past 5+ years has helped explain things a bit better. Still, I think I should invest in at least a BEST compilation of the lass.

In any case, I did find this interesting single, her 11th to be exact, titled "Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge". That title, first of all, threw me for a bit of a loop. The first two words, yamato nadeshiko, I've known for a few years as referring to a woman showing the virtues of old-fashioned Japan. The shichi henge was something I had never heard of before. However, the one definition on that struck me as intriguing was "kabuki dance in which the dancer quickly changes his clothes seven times".

Taking a look at the lyrics by Chinfa Kan(康珍化)and then taking that above definition into mind, my impression is that of a young woman huffily thinking that all of those goody-goody girls around her are actually dragon ladies in disguise. Perhaps she is one herself and with that definition of the kabuki dancer doing those quick changes in wardrobe, maybe she is the type that would change her personality to suit whoever was suiting her at the time. And since I've always had the impression that Kyon-Kyon was the cheeky aidoru of her day, Kan picked the right song for her.

Plus, what was also interesting about "Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge" was the music by Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平). It had that rousing beat reminiscent of an adventure on either the Silk Road or the Old West or Edo Era Japan, and the thing is that it was a melody that I would have initially pinpointed as something the late Eiichi Ohtaki(大滝詠一)would have whipped up. In a way, it had that air of some of that exotic kayo that was fairly popular in the late 1970s such as Judy Ongg's(ジュディ・オング)"Miserarete"(魅せられて)and Saki Kubota's(久保田早紀)"Ihojin"(異邦人).

The song was another No. 1 for Koizumi as it sold a little over 300,000 records. Plus, it was the 35th-ranked single for 1984. It was also a track on her 6th album "Today's Girl" which was released in February 1985. That album was also a No. 1 hit for her and finished that year in 21st place.

Miki Nakatani -- Yogoreta Ashi(汚れた脚)

It's been a good while since I put up a Miki Nakatani(中谷美紀)song so welcome back! As I've mentioned in the past, Nakatani is more famous as an actress than as a singer. She's been getting more attention on TV, movies and the stage, and generally I think her singing is OK but not great (can be ethereal sometimes, sometimes droning).

A couple of nights ago, I discovered this song from her debut album from April 1996, "Shokumotsu Rensa"(食物連鎖...Food Chain). Titled "Yogoreta Ashi" (Dirty Legs), I wasn't quite sure whether the ashi here was referring to actual feet or legs. Mind you, the kanji being used in the title is 「脚」referring to the full leg instead of 「足」which is feet although I think dirty feet might sound more logical. In any case, there is an official English subtitle for the song: "The Silence of Innocence".

The lyrics by Masao Urino(売野雅勇)are a tad cryptic (to me anyways) although the gist is about a woman who still hasn't quite gotten over a past romance but may be on the cusp of moving on. Those dirty legs do show up in his lyrics near the end in a figurative sense in that the next time she sees her former flame anywhere, she will be able to face him standing up. Perhaps by referring to those dirty legs, she might be meaning that she's gone through a lot including getting dumped by the guy?

I don't know but the Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一)melody as played in the above live video is quite soothing. I don't have "Shokumotsu Rensa" with the song so I'm not sure how the original version sounded but I can take this version any time.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Ichiro Araki/BEGIN -- Sora ni Hoshi ga Aruyou ni(空に星があるように)

As there are stars in the sky
As there is sand on the beach
In my heart, I just had
One small dream

The above is the translated beginning for the lovely and sad ballad titled "Sora ni Hoshi ga Aruyou ni" (As There Are Stars in the Sky), written, composed and sung by Ichiro Araki(荒木一郎)for his debut back in September 1966. It was performed on a recent "Uta Kon"(うたコン), and I thought it was a pretty song so I tracked it down.

Listening to Araki's lyrics, I thought that there was something quintessentially Charlie Brown about it and something that most everyone could relate to. Ol' Chuck is lying on the pitcher's mound long after another losing effort and just wondering what else he could have done, and I think the late Charles M. Schultz was reflecting about anyone who has gone through failure after failure. Considering how kayo kyoku is, when I took a look at his lyrics, I had expected the song to be about a failed romance but there was nothing in there to imply any girl running away. It was merely the expression that a dream for something had run off.

"Soni ra Hoshi ga Aruyou ni" apparently did touch a lot of people. It sold over 600,000 records and earned Araki Best New Artist honours at the Japan Record Awards that year but it didn't get him onto the Kohaku Utagassen for some reason.

In March 1997, the Okinawan band BEGIN did a cover of "Sora ni Hoshi ga Aruyou ni" as their 12th single that, despite the lyrics, sounded more hopeful and perhaps even quietly defiant.

Junichi Sawabe and company -- All is All (Viva All)

It's been a while since I covered anything from the oft-fun and always way-out-there "Space Dandy"(スペース☆ダンディ). This time, my memories go back to that episode from the 4th season in summer 2014, "Tenkosei wa Dandy, jan yo"(転校生はダンディじゃんよ...The Transfer Student is Dandy, Baby).

The fans will know it. It's the one where Dandy heads to a spacy high school and ends up as part of a "Glee"-type musical. The guys behind this one went all out on this one: Dandy as the slick dude, a bespectacled young innocent girl, Freckles, struggling to fit in, the cool arrogant kids, and musical interludes.

Finally comes the big number near the end at the annual prom (of course) in which Dandy and Freckles show off and convince everyone that everyone is cool and fine and all that. Maybe that's why the song is called "All is All" but unfortunately I couldn't find out who created the tune.

It's pretty ambitious as well. The above video is a condensed version of the final part of the episode but the uploader does a good job in having "All is All" start off with a cute technopop number then morph into an 80s dance club bit before going quiet for Freckles' heart-on-a-sleeve ballad and before the entire cast goes into a barnstorming finale reminiscent of "Grease" and "Footloose". The only thing missing is the anti-grav car taking Dandy and the girl off into the wild blue yonder as it did John and Olivia at the end of "Grease".

"Space Dandy" has gone off into all sorts of musical directions so why not the high school musical? "All is All" would never have set off any Tony Award alarms but that wasn't the point. It was simply a nice affectionate poke at the genre and the songwriters and animators pulled it off. I even have a favourite point during the finale which is 4:20 of the video where Freckles and Dandy beam for the camera.. There was even a small part in me who wished that the lass joined the crew of the Aloha Oe but I figured that she earned her space in the high school community so why would she want to give that up?

All in all, "All is All" was another nice highlight from the series, and it's one spark that has me still wishing that a third season can be pulled off, or at the very least, a movie can be made of Dandy and his crew. That music is part and parcel of the experience.

I figure it would be nice to have the English version of the finale on as well.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Akina Nakamori -- Yoru no Doko ka de ~ night shift ~ (夜のどこかで)

Just went through a blackout in my neighbourhood for half an hour. Nothing too bad although a number of fire engines whizzed past the condo during that time. Happily, things came back on at about 10 pm.

Anyways, years ago when I was browsing around the Shibuya branch of the old/used CD store RecoFan, I came across the CD single trays near the entrance. Now those quaint little discs in those quaint little foldable covers were starting to get pretty rare even back then but there was a whole bunch of them, each costing about 100 yen.

I saw this one by Akina Nakamori(中森明菜)which happened to be her 29th single from September 1994. Now, this was several years after its release, so my interest in the singer had waned slowly away to be replaced by interest in other artists but I was rather intrigued by that violet tone on the cover and the fact that nighttime NTV newscaster Yoshiko Sakurai(桜井よしこ)was on the telly behind Akina. Plus, I wanted to see and hear whether the song "Yoru no Doko ka de ~ night shift ~" was any good. So I plunked down my silver yen.

(empty karaoke version)

Well, it is dramatic and it was used as the ending theme for the late-night NTV news program "NNN Kyou no Dekigoto"(NNNきょうの出来事...NNN's Today's Happenings)which explains Sakurai's presence on the cover. But it still isn't quite my cup of tea after popping it into the player a few days ago. It doesn't quite have the pop that I used to remember when it came to her songs so perhaps if it had been a matter of arranging it a little differently, then maybe I would have liked it better.

According to an interview in the TV magazine "The Television" from the month that "Yoru no Doko ka de" was released, Nakamori, on hearing that her song was to be used as a theme song for a news broadcast, had wondered about how she ought to approach singing the tune. In the end, she decided to go for a tribute to all working women.

The single was written by Kinshi Natsuno(夏野芹子)and composed by Tsugutoshi Goto(後藤次利). It went all the way up to No. 14 on Oricon.

Akira Terao -- Cinema Hotel

I probably have mentioned this before in another article but when it comes to hotels in Japan, my favourite will always be the Tokyo Prince Hotel near Shiba Park. It's not as if I've been living out of my suitcase for the past 36 years going from temporary lodging to temporary lodging but I've patronized a few nice places then and again but for me, ToPuri will always be the one.

Even when I first stayed at the hotel in the summer of 1981 with my fellow classmates, it may have already been treated as being somewhat dated although at the time, it was still the premier form of accommodations. A number of celebrities have gotten married there including Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)and her first husband, I think. But I think that's why I liked it so much...even when I visited it again for a tea break back in late 2014, the place really hadn't changed all that much from its opening in October 1964 when the first Tokyo Olympics had come to town. It still had that 1960s esthetic...kinda "Mad Men".

The Tokyo Prince Hotel is the place that I consider to be Square One for my relationship with Japan. Basically, I see it as no hotel, no falling in love with Japanese pop culture including music, no blog. And earlier in that year, one of my touchstones for the origins of my love for Japanese pop music, Akira Terao(寺尾聰), released that amazing single, "Ruby no Yubiwa"(ルビーの指輪)that became the hit of 1981 and one of the sparks for my blazing interest.

Up to now, though, I hadn't known about the B-side to the single, "Cinema Hotel". Also created by lyricist Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)and composer Terao who had come up with the A-side, "Cinema Hotel" is more on the day side of City Pop via Margueritaville compared to the night side where "Ruby no Yubiwa" lives.

Terao sings about the tryst that has just happened between a man and a woman at a resort hotel. I would say that it was a hotel out around Hakone or Izu because of that bouncy tropical beat which deserves to be rewarded by a cute cocktail. "Cinema Hotel" gets further mellower, thanks to Terao's crooning delivery. His music is also fairly intoxicating as it weaves between dreamy fantasy and summery reality, but the beat keeps incessantly on from initial seduction to afterglow cigarette to sunrise peeking through the curtains.

I heard that the Tokyo Prince has undergone some renovations over the past couple of years. I certainly couldn't blame the powers-that-be for changing the place after so many decades but I'm kinda hoping that the next time I visit (would love to stay there again but I don't think I can quite afford it), it still has retained some of that old-style glamour. And I certainly wouldn't mind having that strawberry shortcake set in the lobby cafe once more!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Masaaki Hirao -- Koi no Katamichi Kippu(恋の片道切符)

Tonight's "Uta Kon"(うたコン)had the well-deserved tribute to the late singer-songwriter Masaaki Hirao(平尾昌晃)as the episode's theme. And so a number of the veterans showed up to sing the Hirao-penned songs that became hits for them. Hiroshi Itsuki(五木ひろし)started things off with a misty-eyed performance of "Yokohama Tasogare"(よこはま・たそがれ), Rumiko Koyanagi(小柳ルミ子)sang the wistful "Seto no Hanayome"(瀬戸の花嫁), and as the second-last tribute number, Yoko Hatanaka(畑中葉子)performed "Canada kara no Tegami"(カナダからの手紙), her duet with Hirao via some old video footage.

But then the last number in the tribute came from Hirao's old friend and comrade-in-arms, fellow rockabilly singer Mickey Curtis(ミッキー・カーチス). To be honest, when I saw him sitting with the hosts and the rest of the singers tonight, I was a bit nervous about whether he would be up for the performance considering how wizened and hunched over he looked. However, his jazzy cover of Hirao's "Koi no Katamichi Kippu" (One-Way Ticket of Love) was something he pulled off with aplomb, even finishing things with him on the harmonica.

Yep, "Koi no Katamichi Kippu" was one of Hirao's singles during his time as a rockabilly star. It came out in 1960 with Takashi Otowa(音羽たかし)providing the Japanese lyrics.

And yep, I did mention Japanese lyrics since "Koi no Katamichi Kippu" was actually the Japanese cover for a Neil Sedaka B-side to his 1959 single "Oh! Carol". The song was titled "One-Way Ticket (To The Blues)" with Jack Keller and Hank Hunter as the original songwriters. According to the Wikipedia article for the song, Hirao's cover went up to No. 1 on the Japanese pop charts although Oricon was several years away from launching.

I've gotta say that Hirao does a fine job with "Koi no Katamichi Kippu"; I'd say that for me, it's his best cover of an American song that I've found while doing the blog.

I also found this footage of Hirao performing the song in some movie which actually has him dealing with a rather deranged critic. Mind you, the only casualty here was the raspberry that provided the "blood".

Anri -- Bring Me To The Dance Night

Committed a couple of sins when it comes to "Kayo Kyoku Plus". First off, I hadn't put up a single City Pop number in almost 10 days so I deserve to smack myself with an empty Perrier bottle upside the head. Secondly and more seriously, I hadn't even written an Anri(杏里)article any time during this summer! My last article was on June 17th this year...technically a few days before summer arrived, and that simply won't do for one of the great princesses of summery pop.

But hey, I might have an out over here since summer has refused to leave my city for the past several days, despite the fact that it is now autumn. In fact, we had another 40-degree-Celsius Humidex today with plenty of sun. The weather folks, though, are saying that the temperatures will plummet by tomorrow night to more seasonal values. And heck, out in the Maritimes, some areas are threatening frost and snow!

Anyways, I'll gladly take the out to bring Anri back into the KKP fold, so here is "Bring Me To The Dance Night". The opening track of her 7th album "COOOL" from June 1984, those Anri fans will know that this was the era of Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生)producing her albums, and he was the one behind the creation of the track. Therefore, there is enough 80s Japanese funk in here to choke a brontosaurus.

This Kadomatsu song, it's quite interesting. The first half of the song is pure major-chord disco joy bringing to mind some of those dance halls that held sway in Tokyo back then like The Lexington Queen. But then the second half brings things down half a gear to something a bit more urgent and cooler (or should I say "coooler"?). It's as if Anri and Kadomatsu decided to ditch the disco and go driving onto the Kan-Etsu. The car, of course, is a top-down convertible.

I think "Bring Me To The Dance Night" was good enough to merit its own single but then again, there were probably a lot of tracks on all of those Kadomatsu-produced albums that could have stood on their own but the fellow had to make those tough decisions. As for "COOOL", it peaked at No. 5.

By the way, for those who may not know, YouTuber Van Paugam has set up his own City Pop radio on the site at Enjoy!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Chiyoko Shimakura -- Tokyo da yo, Okkasan(東京だョおっ母さん)

Considering the article I did for the opening theme song for the movie "Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni"(この世界の片隅に)early this morning, I was reminded of my university days. Specifically, although I never became much of a history buff, my favourite era in Japanese history has been the 20-25 years immediately following World War II. I was interested in how Japan was able to rise out of the ashes of the war, dust itself off and gradually become the 2nd-largest economy on the planet (although its standing has since dropped down in the 21st century).

So, of course, there was the music of those days as people set out to find work and get the nation back on its feet. And my impression has been that there were many songs reflecting this fact including beloved chestnuts such as "Ahh, Ueno Eki"(ああ上野駅)as young people started flooding into Tokyo and even kayo showing the opposite with folks heading out of the metropolis such as "O-Saraba Tokyo"(おさらば東京).

But within these songs of coming and going with the accompanying emotions, there were tunes about life in the big city for these workers who came out from the countryside regions. One was sung last week on NHK's "Uta Kon"(うたコン)during its theme of Tokyo tunes. This was Chiyoko Shimakura's(島倉千代子)big hit "Tokyo da yo, Okkasan" (It's Tokyo, Mom), a gentle enka ballad involving the singer taking her mother who has come to visit her daughter for the first time since moving away with Chiyoko giving her a tour of the recovering city.

The song isn't just about the tour, though, but also about the joy of mother and daughter reuniting again after so long and also giving tribute to an older brother who perished during the war. As someone who gave the parents a tour of Tokyo and Yokohama years back, I can understand some of the emotions involved in showing them what was then my haunt. And as you can hear in "Tokyo da yo, Okkasan", Shimakura's voice is wavering somewhat.

For the singer, this was a huge hit as it sold around 1.5 million records after its release in March 1957. Written by Toshio Nomura(野村俊夫)and composed by Toru Funamura(船村徹), it has become one of Shimakura's trademark songs, even sparking a movie based on it starring the singer herself. Furthermore "Tokyo da yo" was inspired itself by an earlier kayo sung by kayo kyoku legend Hibari Misora(美空ひばり)who released "Hatoba da yo, Otottsan"(波止場だよ、お父つぁん...It's The Waterfront, Pop)in 1956. Shimakura wanted to sing something similar in tone to that song, and it was lucky that Funamura had also composed that Misora song.

Although Shimakura made her first appearance on the Kohaku Utagassen in the same year that "Tokyo da yo" had been released, the song itself was never performed as a Kohaku song even during the singer's long history of appearing on the NHK special. However, it has been given its due since its debut in 1957 over the decades via other singers such as Yukino Ichikawa(市川由紀乃)below.

Rie Miyazawa -- Gokigen na Heart (ごきげんな HEART )

I can't remember the article for it right now, but I did mention that after listening to a long-neglected album once more and being surprisingly more reasonable toward it now, I would probably be inclined to give the only album I have of Rie Miyazawa(宮沢りえ), "Mu", another go of it. Admittedly, I was being a bit sarcastic about that.


And yet, I did play the album again last week for the first time in probably close to 25 years. Strangely enough, I'm still hitting 1.000. Not to say that "Mu", Miyazawa's debut album from 1989 is any classic. She didn't particularly possess a robust set of vocals but the songs and arrangement behind them are not too bad.

The opening track of the album "Gokigen na Heart" (Happy Heart) is a generically pleasant pop song of that time period with Rie-chan breezily singing away about waking up all cheerful and stuff and sending off the darling with a blown kiss. The lyrics were provided by Masami Tozawa(戸沢暢美)who's written a number of songs for Miki Imai(今井美樹)and the melody was whipped up by Takashi Tsushimi(都志見隆)who has often made music for Kiyoshi Maekawa and The Cool Five(前川清&クールファイブ)!

I don't know how the album did per se but I wonder how "Gokigen na Heart" would have fared under stronger singers such as Misato Watanabe(渡辺美里)or Mariko Nagai(永井真里子). Still, I can say that "Mu" can come back in from the cold.

Yellow Magic Orchestra -- La Femme Chinoise(中国女)

Happy sweltering Monday! We're just some days away from October but I think we may have a Humidex of 40 degrees Celsius right now. I don't think we're gonna get relief from the July heat until Thursday at the earliest.

I'm surprised that I didn't cover this before. However, I remember "La Femme Chinoise" by YMO as being the 2nd song on Side B following "Tong Poo"(東風)on that old Alfa audiotape of the band's first self-titled album from 1978.

Both "Tong Poo" and "La Femme Chinoise" have that exotic Asian mood imbued into them but whereas the former has that dreamy feeling with a light funky City Pop centre later added with Minako Yoshida's(吉田美奈子)silky ruminations, "La Femme Chinoise" has this eager-beaver bounciness as if a tourist is rabidly exploring the Jiufen district of coastal Taiwan (also visited the area and it's worth the trip). I'd probably end my analysis and compare the two songs as two sides of the same coin.

Drummer Yukihiro Takahashi(高橋幸宏)and lyricist Chris Mosdell created the song, and although I have described "La Femme Chinoise" in the previous paragraph as this example of exotica, it's got plenty of those technopop bleeps and bloops. As for those sexy-sounding female French vocals, according to J-Wiki, Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣)got the brainwave to recruit the secretary to the president of Alfa Records; not quite sure how she felt about adding her voice to what is now one of the classic YMO tunes.

Also, sticking with Hosono, (according to some interview in the Japanese journal "Aspect" in 2007) the bassist/keyboardist felt that "La Femme Chinoise" was an important entry in the mighty YMO discography since it opened up the opportunity for the band to be seen not just as an instrumental group but a vocal one as well. And it cemented Takahashi as the main vocalist with his somewhat droning delivery of "...Suzy Wong and Shanghai dolls". Not sure how the thrashing punk guitar fit into all of this, though.

Kotringo -- Kanashikute Yarikirenai(悲しくてやりきれない)

Back from another round of anime at my friend's house. For me, it was a bit strange today since today, September 24th, was the debut of the latest "Star Trek" show that is being filmed here in Toronto, "Star Trek: Discovery". Perhaps 20 years ago, I wouldn't have hesitated...I would have given my friend an excuse not to come out today and wait fervently in front of my TV to catch this new show. However, the "too little, too late" feeling of "Star Trek: Enterprise", followed by the not-so-great Abramsverse part of the franchise (I mean, I liked the first "Star Trek" in 2009 despite the plot progression), and the relative indifference to the 50th anniversary of Gene Roddenberry's space adventure last year in my opinion has ended up dulling my enthusiasm to the point that I'm not even sure I can call myself a dedicated Trekkie/Trekker anymore. However, I got home in time to see the last 10 minutes of the 2nd episode of "Discovery" and it does look markedly different from any of the past series although it does remind me of the Abramsverse (are those lens flares again?).

Instead, the main feature today at my friend's house was the second of the three big anime motion pictures from 2016. A few weeks ago, I caught "Kimi no Na wa"(君の名は。), the space-and-time-cross high school romance. Tonight it was "Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni"(この世界の片隅に...In This Corner of the World), a film that I think is even better than "Kimi no Na wa" although my friend liked it even better than I did.

From what I had heard from my anime buddy and had read online, the movie is supposed to be a slice-of-life flick about wartime Japan in the city of Kure near Hiroshima. Well, my first thought was how can a slice-of-life flick traipse around the first nuclear bomb blast. After seeing the movie, my answer came: it doesn't. There is a lot of lightheartedness and gentle humour in "Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni" but it doesn't hold back on the tragedy of war especially in a couple of scenes. Still, it's not a war movie or an anti-war movie.

My friend actually saw the movie in Japan during his trip last year at a Tokyo theatre and he said that although he saw it some three months after its premiere, there was still a full house at the first morning show and there were a lot of folks who he considered to be not regular anime-watching folks in the seats.

The movie starts out with the opening theme, a wistful tune by Kotringo(コトリンゴ)as people are going about their daily lives. As the song went along, I detected a certain familiarity when the words "kanashikute, kanashikute" were heard, and I realized that the singer-songwriter was doing a cover of the old 1968 folk song by The Folk Crusaders, "Kanashikute Yakirenai"(I Can't Bear How Sad It Is). Noelle has already provided an article of that chestnut here so you can listen to the original version. But Kotringo makes the song her own with her soft-as-cotton delivery and that ethereal combination of piano and guitar and chorus before it rises into a brief boil and quickly subsides.

Kotringo's cover of "Kanashikute Yakirenai" originally came on her 2010 album "picnic album 1" and although that version was used in the trailers, an interview with the singer on the website OtoCoto via J-Wiki back in March 2017 noted that it couldn't be used for the movie itself due to the usual red tape so I guess what I heard tonight during the opening credits was made specially for the movie.

Anyways by the end of "Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni", I felt like I caught one of the best movies that I'd seen this year.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

ONE III NOTES -- Shadow and Truth

For a recent anison article, I received a comment from someone recommending this theme song for an anime titled "ACCA". When I first read the title, I assumed from the short acronym all done in caps that the show must be something very ethereal or hardcore military. The original manga's full name is "ACCA Juu-san-ku Kansatsu-ka"(ACCA13区監察課...ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.)and it actually didn't fall into either category. From what I've seen of the trailer for the anime that came out during the Winter 2017 season above, it seems to be about some internecine intrigue within this massive police organization on the lines of the FBI.

Along with my original assumption of the anime, I had also thought that the theme song would similarly go along the lines of ethereal or military march. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find "Shadow and Truth" is a catchy R&B number by ONE III NOTES. I'm not sure whether this unit led by bassist Ryo Takahashi(高橋諒)and vocalist PON from ORESAMA is going to be a dedicated band or just a one-off project since it's only listed for this one song, but ONE III NOTES nicely puts its all into "Shadow and Truth". I actually had to find out from the ORESAMA J-Wiki article that PON was singing for the unit.

This has got a fun mix of rap and good old-fashioned funk and soul which reminds me more of a theme song for a 1970s/1980s gritty cop show instead of a monolithic intelligence agency. Composed by Takahashi and written by Konnie Aoki, I actually started shimmying to the music and this was pretty late in the evening when I'm usually quite ready to hit the hay. Unfortunately "ACCA" probably didn't pass muster with my anime buddy so never got to see the show but at least I'm happy to be acquainted with the cool opening theme.

Yumi Arai -- Watashi no Francoise (私のフランソワーズ)

Starting to get into Japanese pop music when I did, I found myself having to go back through a singer's catalogue as much as I did following him/her into the future. Made things quite an adventure. That has certainly been true with Yumi Arai/Yumi Matsutoya(荒井由実・松任谷由実)whose career is steadily approaching 50 years. With things beginning in the early 1980s for me, Yuming(ユーミン)was already an established pop star and accomplished songwriter with her eminently listenable music. So it was an interesting journey going back into early days when she had her maiden name of Arai and was being a part of this New Music trend in Japanese music back in the 1970s. Her voice was surprisingly mellow back in the day.

I pulled this one out of the vaults, specifically from her 2nd album "MISSLIM" from October 1974. When I first listened to "Watashi no Francoise" (My Francoise), I felt it was quite a tribute to this lady who I hadn't known about. Was she a departed friend or someone that inspired her from Yuming's past?

Well, according to the J-Wiki article on "MISSLIM", this heartfelt ballad was created in honour of French singer-songwriter Françoise Hardy. Yuming, who has made a reputation for weaving her songs out of her observations of women in regular life, probably didn't hesitate to talk about her own loves and feelings so I think her admiration and love for Hardy poured out as her words for this song. I translated one verse which says it all:

My Francoise
I come home to your music
Whenever I feel sad

I think singer YO-EN does a great version of the song as seen above, and she does sound like Yumi Arai here. Considering her musical love letter, "Watashi no Francoise"  reminds me to a good extent of Anri's(杏里)debut single "Olivia wo Kikinagara"(オリビアを聴きながら)which came out 4 years later.

Referring back to the video at the top, after merely listening to Yuming's body of work for a number of years, to see the singer show some excellent chops as a concert entertainer on a videotape of her "Wings of Light" tour was quite the revelation. But I also realize that even earlier than that, she had quite the style and presence on stage.

As for "MISSLIM", it reached No. 8 on Oricon and became the 44th-ranked album for 1975. A year later, the Oricon rankings had it all the way up to No. 14.

To wrap up, here is Yuming's own idol with her breakout hit, "Tous les garçons et les filles" from 1962.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Crazy Ken Band -- Hirugao (昼顔)

I was quite fortunate living where I was in Ichikawa City, a burg that really spread out like crepe batter. The subway station was a 10-minute walk away from my apartment (that could be great or bad depending on your own circumstances), but my community and I were blessed with having a lot of convenience stores and four supermarkets within walking distance. One of them is in the above picture, Y's Mart. That used to be my main market in the early years of my stay but with the renovation of the supermarket across the street and right under the subway tracks, my loyalty gradually shifted over there. Still, if I did come home early before lunch, I still dropped by Y's Mart to grab a bento.

Including Y's Mart, three of the four supermarkets were fairly small affairs but the fourth was a Daiei department store that had a massive supermarket in the basement on the size of the SuperCentres we have here in Toronto.

There was no Seiyu supermarket near my place but that is also a famous brand that was actually close by my friend's old apartment in Jiyugaoka way out in the western end of Tokyo. And at the end of the last decade, they had a pretty funky campaign song.

Name of said song? It's "Hirugao" by the Crazy Ken Band(クレイジーケンバンド). Released in July 2009 as one of four songs on the band's 11th single, "Girlfriend"(ガールフレンド), I wasn't quite sure how to translate it initially. According to, it can be defined as a type of plant called the Japanese bindweed but I have a feeling that vocalist and songwriter Ken Yokoyama(横山剣)wasn't particularly trying to pay tribute to a weed. The word was also the Japanese title for the 1967 French film "Belle de Jour" starring Catherine Deneuve as a wife who secretly worked as a daytime prostitute while the husband was off at work.

Hmmm...if anything, the lyrics by Crazy Ken have a fellow declaring his undying love for an older woman (married/single) and willing to do anything for her at any time at any place. The fact that he keeps calling her "okusan"(奥さん...madam)almost as if she's a potential client might make the guy a gigolo although I think he's more of a desperate suitor. In any case, it's an interesting song for a supermarket but I gather that the point here is that it's willing to do anything to keep its customers satisfied. And dang, isn't it catchy?

"Girlfriend" peaked at No. 12 on Oricon. Meanwhile, "Hirugao" and the main song of the single were also on Crazy Ken Band's 11th album from August that year "Girl! Girl! Girl!"(ガール!ガール!ガール!)which scored a No. 4 ranking.

Satoko Shimonari -- Aki no Ichi Nichi (秋の一日)

Autumn arrived officially at 4:02 pm today on September 22nd. However, a certain season apparently didn't get the memo. Yep, summer is making up for what was basically not all that hot (literally and figuratively) with a final week of blazing weather here in Toronto. Until this time next week, there will be plenty of sun and heat and humidity with the highlight possibly being tomorrow as the Humidex pops off potentially at 37 degrees Celsius or 97 degrees Fahrenheit. Finally, true to how quickly weather in my city can turn, once fall truly arrives next Friday or Saturday, the temperature will drop as much as 20 degrees within a day. Even for weather masters such as Torontonians, that could take a toll on the good ol' metabolism.

Still, as I am wont to do on this seasonal day, I try to find an autumnal kayo somewhere. And that I did with Satoko Shimonari's(下成佐登子)"Aki no Ichi Nichi" (One Fall Day). Shimonari has been one of the many singers that I have been able to discover because of my work on the blog and strolls through YouTube.

For the last couple of articles on her, I was looking at her contemporary (for that day) pop work such as "Time goes by" from 1987. Well, I've gone back to her beginnings with her debut single from August 1978 which was written and composed by Shimonari.

As I've mentioned before, autumn, when it comes to kayo, often signals the loss of a relationship, and "Aki no Ichi Nichi" continues that tradition. Her wistful debut depicts a woman dealing with such a loss or lamenting something that never came to pass as she ends up folding up some stationery in her home into a paper airplane and simply tossing it into flight.

Shimonari's melody certainly gives off that melancholy feeling in waves. The version near the top is the original single from 1978 and has that typically wistful feeling thanks to those violins. The one immediately above has a slightly different arrangement with a more intimate-sounding intro with a guitar and an addition of a soft chorus. This version is the title track from her debut album that actually didn't come out until November 1981. I like both versions but if I had to choose, I would probably go with the album take. In any case, I'm a sucker for the nostalgic stuff.

Fall is my favourite season, partially because when I was living in Japan, it was a great time for food. Although the late summer burst will be much appreciated, I will also be grateful when the temps finally get a little more bracing.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Logic System -- Domino Dance

I realize that I could have chosen a photo of a synthesizer for the greeting picture above but I couldn't find one so I decided to go with my ancient copy of "Star Trek III: The Search For Spock" since we are going to be entering logic here.

Logic System, ロジック・システムto be exact. Good heavens....all these years thinking that Yellow Magic Orchestra was the only technopop band in town back in the early 1980s. But actually speaking, Hideki Matsutake(松武秀樹), who was seen as the 4th member of YMO as the band programmer (although I think Akiko Yano(矢野顕子)should also get at least honorary band member status), started up his own unit by the name of Logic System in 1981.

For the next year or so, Logic System released 2 singles and 3 albums with the first single being "Domino Dance", a bouncy number that alternately reminds me of the B-52s and surf rock bands. And for another reason, I get images of ska music and Adam West's Batman doing the Batusi. Not cold at all...there's a nice sense of warmth buried in all those circuits.

I'm going to have to listen to some more of Logic System's output to see if Matsutake wanted to make his own techno sound apart from what YMO was doing at the time. With "Domino Dance", it doesn't sound too vastly different from the music of Sakamoto, Hosono and Takahashi.

I didn't realize that Matsutake had been into electronic music for much of the 1970s and was even an apprentice to the late Isao Tomita(冨田勲). Then after helping out on Ryuichi Sakamoto's(坂本龍一) "Thousand Knives" in 1978, he joined the YMO ship.

Logic System took a long hiatus after 1982 but then after Matsutake had been involved in some other projects, he decided to bring back the old band in 1991 for a couple of more years. Three more singles and two more albums came out during that time. Then, in 2003, there was another go at it with one single, "Clash" coming out in 2011 with three albums having been released between those two years. According to J-Wiki, the band is still going on and it even has its own store.

Of course, there was another dance of dominoes done by another technopop band.

Taeko Ohnuki -- History: 1978-1984

All the way back in early 2012, I wrote my first article on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" regarding singer-songwriter Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)through her early song "Itsumo Douri". In it, I spoke about how the very first album by Ohnuki I had purchased was her 2-CD BEST set of "History: 1978-1984". Her name was something that I had heard for years through various sources and never knew the lady, but finally my curiosity got the better of me, so when I came across this BEST album, I decided to invest my yen and check it out.

Well, as I also mentioned in "Itsumo Douri"(いつも通り), I guess I wasn't quite ready for the alternately quirky and sweeping stylings of Ms. Ohnuki since after giving it one listen, I simply put it back onto the shelf and let it stay there for a number of years. And I guess I really wasn't ready since at the time I bought it...perhaps in its release year of 1999 or shortly thereafter, Japanese pop music was in a much more different space.

Obviously, I finally got over my hangup and gave it another go into the 21st century. And this time, I had to slap myself in the back of my head since I wondered whatever would possess me to ignore the songs by this lady.

Anyways, the lineup over the 2 CDs represents Ohnuki's output through the following albums:

A) Mignonne (1978), B) Romantique (1980), C) Aventure (1981), D) Cliche (1982), E) Signifie (1983) and F) Cahier (1984)

I've yet to actually cover "Cahier" which is why it hasn't been linked. The other albums have been covered and the songs that appear on "History" will have the corresponding letter next to it to refer to their original albums and follow-up articles. At the same time, there will be linked entries without any letter since they already have their own individual articles.

CD 1

1) Tema Purissima
2) Kuro no Clair (黒のクレール)D)
3) Ai no Yukue(愛の行方)C)
4) Bohemian B)
5) Aventure(アヴァンチュール)C)
6) Kaze no Michi(風の道)
8) Mitsuya Cider '84(三ツ矢サイダー’84)
9) El Tourmanie(エル・トゥルマニエ)
10) Umi to Shonen(海と少年) A)
11) Shikisai Toshi(色彩都市) D)
12) Peter Rabbit to Watashi(ピーターラビットとわたし)
13) Cosmos Mitsuketa(宇宙みつけた)
14) Mizuumi(みずうみ)
15) Yokogao(横顔) A)
16) Atarashii Shirt(新しいシャツ)
17) Totsuzen no Okurimono(突然の贈りもの)

Basically although from the title for those dedicated Ohnuki fans, it's assumed that this BEST album is covering her era of French-titled albums and collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一), a few songs from beyond that time into the late 1980s have managed to sneak into the set. In fact, the very first song on CD 1, "Tema Purissima", is the first track from her 13th album, "Purissima" from September 1988.

"Tema Purissima" is away from that European/French sound and the technopop influence that characterized much of Ohnuki's work during the early 1980s. In fact, I'd say that it even sounds like a ballad from a Disney musical, several months before even "The Little Mermaid" was released, starting that whole musical animation ball of wax rolling.

But of course, that period is well represented by "Kuro no Clair". I've already written about it, but it still remains one of her best songs, in my estimation.

"RECIPE" is from "Signifie" and I'm happy to cover it here. It's about the joy of whipping up a dish for that beloved one, and one of the highlights is hearing Ohnuki rattle off her the contents in her spice rack.

Along with creating all those wonderful singles and albums, Ohnuki was also known for whipping up commercial jingles for a number of products. "Mitsuya Cider '84" which starts popping up at the 57-second mark in the above video is one example. I personally miss the drink myself.

CD 2

1) Cahier(カイエ)
2) Grand Prix(グランプリ) C)
5) Genwaku(幻惑) E)
6) Natsu ni Koi suru Onna Tachi(夏に恋する女たち) E)
7) Rinbu(輪舞)
8) Amour Levant
10) Ame no Yoake(雨の夜明け) B)
11) Saigo no Hizuke(最後の日付) C)
12) Metropolitan Museum(メトロポリタン美術館)
13) Hikari no Carnival(光のカーニバル)
14) Kuro no Clair (Reprise)
15) Himawari (ひまわり)

"Cahier", as I said off the top, is an album that I have yet to cover. It is her 8th album from June 1984, and its first track, "Cahier I", is another memorable jingle that Ohnuki had created for Konica Film. I used to hear this "pom pom" song all the time on TV but hadn't known it was Ohnuki. For a camera film ad, the song sounded rather "Lord of the Rings" during a more introspective scene to me.

At 5:50 of the video above is "Rinbu" (Round Dance), a pleasant little ditty that has an arrangement of what sounded like "sweet music" that was popular almost a century ago. I'm sure you can even dance to it....provided with a bit of help of some sherry or something as strong.

At 6:56 of this video is "Amour Levant" which is the French version of "Wakakihi Bourou"(若き日の望楼), a song that was first performed in her album "Romantique". It's pretty rare to see Ohnuki in any sort of conceptual music video and I have to say that she looks lovely in this short version.

The final track of the whole album is "Himawari" (Sunflowers), the theme song from the soundtrack of the 1997 movie "Tokyo Biyori"(東京日和...Fine Tokyo Weather)starring Naoto Takenaka(竹中直人)and Miho Nakayama(中山美穂). It was also released as an Ohnuki single and it's quite the mellow song for a lazy Sunday afternoon. One of the scenes from the movie is the couple enjoying a boat ride..."Himawari" would be the ideal tune for that especially with that liquid introduction, thanks to the guitar and keyboards.

Glad to have gone through the two discs again in preparation for this article. Once I finally "got" Ohnuki, "History: 1978-1984" was the starting point for me to start tracking down those original albums and then going back further in time to her New Music days. What I will need to do now is find out more of her discography from the late 1980s onwards.

Hachiro Kasuga -- Otoko no Butai (男の舞台)

Lookin' pretty good there, Hachi. Kinda prefer the white
double-breasted blazer though.

Seeing Hachiro Kasuga (春日八郎) decked out in a proper kimono feels like sort of a rarity. I'd usually find pictures of him in either in suits or tuxedos, but I suppose those suit (haha, pun intended) the image for most of his songs in his discography better. However, there are a few of his entries where I find western outfits would not suffice, like one of his earlier singles from September 1955, "Otoko no Butai".

The premises of "Otoko no Butai" revolves around what may be a kabuki actor and his struggles that come with the profession. What I find interesting is that Hiroshi Yokoi's (横井弘) incorporated certain elements that relate to a kabuki play, such as the geza - as I learnt from this site, it's basically like the performance's accompanying score - to make the fellow Hachi sings about look like he's an actor in his own play. In that sense, it reminds me of Tomio Umezawa's (梅沢富美夫) "Yume Shibai" (夢芝居), although that one seems to lean more to using theater to describe the ins and outs of love rather than the life of a thespian.

Of course, like most songs, what first drew me to "Otoko no Butai" was none other than its music. Brought to you by Tadaharu Nakano (中野忠晴), the melody leans to the traditional side with the shakuhachi rasping away and the shamisen taking the lead - must be because of the kabuki theme. It's also got this dramatic and even slightly regal flair when the trumpets and western strings kick in, especially at the start. I can just imagine what an entrance that would have made with Hachi marching on to the stage in a kimono and hakama as this song plays. Actually, I think "Otoko no Butai" could fit someone like Michiya Mihashi (三橋美智也) too - I was thinking, maybe Hideo Murata (村田英雄), but the melody feels a bit too light (for want of a better word) for him.

To end off, here's a video that's a mix of Hachi's songs taken from his recitals from 1964 to 1976. I love the version of "Otoko no Butai" here for its fuller arrangement and - oh boy, Hacchan's vocals here - hot dang, it was amazing... I'm not sure exactly which recital it was from, but his voice sounded a little less shrill and slightly lower so I'm guessing it'd most likely be from the 70's. The song is in at the the 10:58 mark.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Marcos V.’s Special Selection Vol. II

Miho Fujiwara – Streets Are Hot

Probably the rarest song featured today, Miho Fujiwara’s (藤原美穂) “Streets Are Hot” is a true 80s gem, direct from 1986. Apparently, it was one of the songs used in “California Crisis”, an obscure anime OVA that seems not very great aside from its OST. Anyway, the song is a great example of City Pop from its time, with the irresistible groove, catchy melody, and sunny feeling. Even Miho’s vocals, which may sound a little too Kate Bush at some points, adds an admirable heat to the song.

Takako Ohta – MAGICIAN ~in the midnight~

And here’s another 80s gem, but now in the form of Takako Ohta’s (太田貴子) “MAGICIAN ~in the midnight~”, from 1989, that was produced by jazz saxophonist and composed Bobby Watson, and features a delicious and funky singalong chorus. Aside from all the Creamy Mami (魔法の天使クリィミーマミ) stuff that Ohta recorded in her aidoru days, she also released some interesting City Pop/R&B albums during the late 80s. Unfortunately, her fame has always been restricted to the anime niche, and true funky gems like “MAGICIAN ~in the midnight~” just got buried with time.

CHAGE and ASKA – Trip

After becoming with “Boku wa Kono Me de Uso wo Tsuku” (僕はこの瞳で嘘をつく) earlier this year, I had the pleasure of buying CHAGE and ASKA’s “SUPER BEST II” compilation from a fellow Brazilian for a very cheap price. Time passed by and it became the album I listened to the most this year (2017 is not over yet, but still). Aside from the aforementioned upbeat tune, “Trip” is the one song I keep returning to, thanks to its gorgeous melody and ASKA’s powerful delivery. Well, he’s always great, but there’s something special in “Trip”, and even a hint of sadness at some points. It’s interesting how it wasn’t a true hit when it was released back in 1988. The duo had to wait until the economic bubble burst to have their second, and definitive, wave of success.

The Checkers – Sea of Love

Even though it’s was not released as a single, “Sea of Love” is a big highlight from The Checkers’ (チェッカーズ) final album, “Blue Moon Stone”, which was released in 1992. Coupled with the band’s usual groove, the charming and soulful Fumiya Fujii (藤井フミヤ) delivers a sexy vocal performance that represents very well their maturity in this last effort.

Rica Matsumoto – Alola!! (アローラ!!)

Pokémon is a big part of my life, since my childhood days. Last year, when new titles Pokémon Sun and Moon were announced for the Nintendo 3DS, I knew it was my chance to buy a Nintendo portable for the first time in my life (a very old dream, since the Game Boy days) and start a new journey in a place called Alola, which was heavily inspired by Hawaii. Game story aside, new Pokémon games means a new season of the anime, which also got me pumped (I stopped watching the anime years ago, but playing the new games just got me interested in accompanying Ash/Satoshi and Pikachu in their journey again). So, after a few episodes, I started liking the opening a lot, even if it’s just another upbeat tune for a kids show. Maybe it was the Hawaiian touches, such as the timid inclusion of ukulele in the arrangement, or the infectious chorus sang by Rica Matsumoto (松本梨香), or the wild horns playing non-stop… or even that cute singalong interlude featuring Pikachu. The thing is, “Alola!!” (2017) became one of my favorite Pokémon opening themes, right next to the very old ones.

Hikaru GENJI – Nettaya (熱帯夜)

I remember talking about Hikaru GENJI’s (GENJI) “Waratte yo” (笑ってよ) a while ago, and “Nettaya” is somewhat similar in the sense that both are Latin-inspired songs. Released in 1991 as the coupling song to the single “WINNING RUN”, “Nettaya” explodes in an exuberant and glossy summer song that almost makes me want to sing the owaranai masquerade… owaranai natsu (終わらないマスカレード終わらない夏) from the first chorus together with the boys. The melody is so vibrant that almost masquerades (yeah, pun intended) Hikaru GENJI’s limited vocals, and I also love the arrangement composed mostly by keyboards, strong horns and the main synth line that shares its melody with the chorus. Great summer song by the guys!

Chisato Moritaka – Kanojo (彼女)

I generally tend to write about Chisato Moritaka’s (森高千里) Eurobeat tunes, but the hard rock of “Kanojo” just hit me hard since she released 1991’s “The Moritaka Tour” DVD/Blu-Ray (「ザ・森高」ツアー1991.8.22 at渋谷公会堂) for the first time ever a couple of months ago. The song is almost a duet of Chisato with the guitarist, thanks to the well-executed guitar solos. Of course, the rest of her band was also essential, like the omnipresent bassist, and it’s strange to almost see her as part of a band instead of as a solo artist. In the end, rather than the colorful and light sound we’re used to from her, I see “Kanojo” as a grey and hard song thanks to its very specific sound (at least in Moritaka’s overall discography).

Takuya Nakazawa – Aoi Diamond (青いダイヤモンド)

“Aoi Diamond” was a nice surprise that was released at the beginning of this year (2017). Takuya Nakazawa (中澤卓也) was also a new name for me, since I don’t follow the enka world with dedication. In fact, I don’t know if the song can be classified as pure enka, since it misses some of the genre’s main quirks and characteristics. Maybe some sort of Kayo Kyoku or Showa Era pop would be more adequate, even if rather vague… and I really like how the meaty vocal performance are a good show off of Takuya’s crooner skills (the big smile and plastic appearance helps too). As for the song, it’s surprisingly catchy for what it is, and I just love to sing it while watching the live performances. I want to hear more from Takuya, since he has such a beautiful voice and pleasant style.

Greeen Linez – Sallot Ski

After “Hibiscus Pacific”, “Sallot Ski” (2012) is my favorite offer from the British duo Greeen Linez and their obsession with 80s Japanese aesthetics. There’s some sort of mystique in this song that I’m not even able to explain, but I drown into this strange feeling every time I play it. Of course I do a little head dance as well, but that’s only because of the obvious groove. In the end, this is a gorgeous underground tune.

Tatsuro Yamashita – REBORN

To end this list, a song from a true master! Honestly, I’m not well familiarized with Tatsuro Yamashita’s (山下達郎) songs, but I know how the singer-songwriter is considered a legend in the Japanese Record Industry. And “REBORN”, released in 2017 as a theme for the movie Namiya Zakkaten no Kiseki (ナミヤ雑貨店の奇蹟), showcases a basic element that Japan seems to like very much: melancholy. Thanks to the keyboard bits, coupled with Yamashita’s soulful vocal, all the melodic shifts, and the song’s overall ethereal mood, we’re simply in front of a great song.