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, October 31, 2018

Kahoru Kohiruimaki -- Halloween wa Curiosity(ハロウィンはCURIOSITY)

I'm sure that at about this time the kids in my neighbourhood have been getting their candy. And not surprisingly, the weather forecaster on my local news show has been decked up as Frankenstein and making all sorts of merry. This kinda brings about this cross-cultural observation from me. Weather forecasters over here in North America seem to be the Court Jesters of the news teams while their equivalents in Japan are all very button-downed professorial types. Things that make me go Hmmm...

OK, this will probably be my last Halloween J-Pop song for this year, and it's one by Kahoru Kohiruimaki(小比類巻かほる), "Halloween wa Curiosity" (Halloween is a Curiosity), a track from her 1991 album "Silent". For me, my favourite track from that album is the first one "Mirage Mirror" especially because of that amazing bass intro.

"Halloween wa Curiosity" probably won't ever become one of my favourite Kohhy songs although it was created by the singer and her longtime songwriting partner, Yoshiaki Ohuchi(大内義昭). The pair have come up with many other songs that I like better, including "Mirage Mirror". Still, this one is interesting to hear since the two seemed to have wanted to go for a Beatles/Rolling Stones vibe. I mean, I think there is a melodic shoutout to "Day Tripper" at the beginning. Also, taking into account that at the time, Kohiruimaki was going more for an R&B sound, I think this particular track takes things back more to her late 80s pop/rock days.

It looks like "Halloween wa Curiosity" goes into a couple's date during October 31st, and considering the time that it was first released, Halloween truly was a curiosity for a lot of Japanese at the time. Perhaps Kohhy encountered the annual hijinks during a trip to Los Angeles which is the city out of Japan that I often associate her with. Evolving from the hijacking of a Yamanote Line train car by drunken English teachers back in that decade to that now-annual massive party in Shibuya, Halloween is as much of a holiday in Tokyo (at least) as Xmas is.

Well, since I'm here, I might as well put up a couple of my favourite Halloween-themed songs. Of course, there is "Ghostbusters" by Ray Parker Jr. Despite the fact that it was the conglomeration of folks from both "SCTV" and "Saturday Night Live", I don't recall laughing too hard (except for that "This man has no dick" snark) when I first saw the movie in 1984. Still, I enjoyed it since it did have a heart among the Ghostbusters themselves. The theme song itself was definitely a hit as one of the most muscular (fictional) commercial jingles ever made, although its performance at the Academy Awards for that year fell regrettably flat for some reason.

The other one is "The Great Pumpkin Waltz" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio for "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" from 1966. I don't think anyone would have thought about creating a romantic jazz waltz as a Halloween song, but Guaraldi did, and even hearing it tonight, I still got that ASMR shiver as soon as I heard that opening piano. Truly one of the classics.

Franchouchou -- Adabana Necromancy(徒花ネクロマンシー)

Happy Halloween 2018! We're still a few hours away here in Toronto before the kids go out trick-or-treating but the furor and craziness of a Shibuya Halloween have largely passed by, although when I checked the live stream camera for the main intersection a few minutes ago, there were still some hardy costumed folks walking about in the wee morning hours of November 1st. Not sure if my good friends were in the middle of that party that walks like a traffic jam but I'm sure that I will find out after they return in a few days.

Back on Sunday, I wrote that there were a couple of anime this season that has been reflecting some of that Halloween spirit. One is "Tonari no Kyuuketsuki-san"(となりの吸血鬼さん), about the world's most adorable vampire. The other is the subject for this article, "Zombie Land Saga"(ゾンビランドサガ)which apparently has grabbed a lot of folks already, although I can't say that I'm one of the converted...yet. One reason is that I got accustomed to the mile-a-minute gag-a-thon that was "Back Street Girls ~ Gokudols"(ゴクドルズ), an anime that had transgendered chinpira becoming a successful aidoru group much to their chagrin. For that matter, I may have OD'ed on a whole lot of zany gag anime in the summer.

This time, it's zombie girls getting the aidoru treatment and unlike "Back Street Girls", I was a bit caught off-guard that "Zombie Land Saga" has been more along the lines of last year's "Cheer Fruits" with the slower building up of a local aidoru group. Even my anime buddy has conceded that a good balance hasn't quite been achieved yet although we're going to catch Episodes 4 and 5 this weekend.

The opening theme is pretty interesting. "Adabana Necromancy" (Fruitless Necromancy) by this motley zombie aidoru group Franchouchou(フランシュシュ)has got a fair dollop of pizzazz that seems to incorporate elements of Takarazuka Revue and old tokusatsu/cop show theme tunes. It zigs and zags all over the place like a terrified inhabitant of a haunted house trying to flee from its confines.

Written by Shin Furuya(古屋真)and composed by Yusuke Kato(加藤裕介), "Adabana Necromancy" is sung by cast members Kaede Hondo(本渡楓), who I last saw as the hapless bartending Hitomi in the hilarious "Hinamatsuri"(ヒナまつり), Asami Tano(田野アサミ), Risa Taneda(種田梨沙), from "Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka?"(ご注文はうさぎですか?) fame, Maki Kawase(河瀬茉希), Rika Kinugawa(衣川里佳)and Minami Tanaka(田中美海). I was kinda hoping that the Kotono Mitsuishi(三石琴乃...yep, Sailor Moon)was in the recording booth but her character still merely growls a lot and eats dried squid. "Adabana Necromancy" ended up peaking at No. 13 on Oricon.

And just so you know that Xmas is around the corner...

Megumi Hayashibara -- Northern Lights

One of the first songs, if not the first, by Megumi Hayashibara (林原めぐみ) I ever listened to almost fifteen years ago, “Northern Lights” is also one of Megumi’s most iconic songs. I wouldn’t say it’s one of my favorites today, even if it’s one of her concert staples (which means I end listening to it more than I like to think), but it serves, alongside “Give a reason”, as that ever-present hit song every successful artist has.

“Northern Lights” is a powerful and urgent song, but it sounds too much like a shounen/adventure theme song. In fact, it was used as the second opening theme for the Shaman King series, a funny and interesting anime based on a manga of the same name. Overall, I like how catchy and singalong it is and Megumi’s vocals are pretty good, but I think it’ll never be my favorite Megumi song again, just like it was in 2004.

Maybe I enjoy its slow version more, thanks to a down to earth arrangement and a focus in Megumi’s vocals. It’s strange, but the song became quite dramatic too, which is a nice change of pace if compared to the explosive original version. Unfortunately, the “<ballade version>”, as it’s called, is nowhere to be found on YouTube and similar sites.

Released as Megumi’s 41st single in March 2002, it reached #3 on the Weekly Oricon chart and ended selling 93,080 copies. Both the original version and the “<ballade version>” were included in Megumi’s “center color” album, released in January 2004. Lyrics were written by Megumi herself, while music and arrangement (both versions) were composed by Go Takahashi (たかはしごう).

"center color"

Marcos V.’s Special Selection: Omega Tribe

Recently, I’ve been listening to Omega Tribe (オメガトライブ) on a regular basis, in all of its incarnations, thanks to the amazing “Good-bye Omega Tribe 1983-1991” compilation I won in an auction. Their professionalism and polished music is truly astonishing, which makes many of their songs classic standouts. In fact, a lot of them were already covered here in Kayo Kyoku Plus by J-Canuck. Songs like “Summer Suspicion”, “Futari no Natsu Monogatari” (ふたりの夏物語), “Kimi no Heart wa Marine Blue” (君のハートはマリンブルー), “Kimi wa 1000%” (君は1000%), “Super Chance”, “Stay Girl, Stay Pure”, “Crystal Night” and the amazing “Aquamarine no Mama de Ite” (アクアマリンのままでいて) are surely among my favorites, but today I wanted to bring other tunes I’m not capable of skipping while listening to them.

Starting with the band’s first incarnation, Kiyotaka Sugiyama & Omega Tribe (杉山清貴&オメガトライブ), “Asphalt Lady” is one of their most emblematic songs, and also their second single, released in October 1983. Included later in the band’s sophomore album “River’s Island”, from March 1984, it follows that subdued disco pattern of Omega Tribe’s early hits. It also introduces a more epic route, with a vigorous city feel and great arrangement comprised of the fantastic fat bass, strings, horns and the anthemic guitar.  Truly a different side of the band originally not seen in the melancholy portrayed in debut’s “Summer Suspicion”.

Following with another gem from the early years, here’s “Glass no PALM TREE” (ガラスのPALM TREE), the final single with Sugiyama’s lead vocals, which was released in November 1985. Different from the more urgent and shining “Asphalt Lady”, “Glass no PALM TREE”, follows a cooler and mysterious vibe during the verses, even if it stills unleashes a melodic nostalgy-fueled chorus. On a side note, I’ve always been curious about Sugiyama’s reasons to leave the band, since he basically continued recording that same type of smooth City Pop music.

Released as a single in October 1988, “REIKO” is probably the most different song from this particular selection, since it’s not into the band’s traditional City Pop sound, relying in a more typical 80s American funky sound. It’s funny because, even though it loses Omega Tribe’s unique feeling in favor of a more generic dance sound, it sounds like a positive innovation to the band. It also turned into one of my favorite songs from them, thanks to the arrangement (and yeah, I hear a nod to Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Let’s Groove” in some parts, but that's okay), even if the lead vocals were commanded by neither Kiyotaka Sugiyama nor Carlos Toshiki, but by American member Joey McCoy (just like RA MU [ラ・ムー], Omega Tribe was quite multiethnic in the late 80s, which is another interesting thing about the band).

Not released as a single, but part of 1989’s “Bad Girl” album, “Miss Dreamer” is a bouncy song by Carlos Toshiki and Omega Tribe (カルロス・トシキ&オメガトライブ) with a catchy chorus and a great vocal performance by Carlos Toshiki. It’s interesting to notice how, by 1989, the band was changing their sound a little bit. Unfortunately, they were not able to pursue such growth since the 80s were already ending and their songs were kind of difficult to transcend. In the case of “Miss Dreamer”, it’s full of 80s glory, such as the horns, wild guitar solo, synths sprinkling through the arrangement and an explosive chorus. Great non-single cut, for sure.

My last song on this list is “Doushite Suki to Ittekurenaino” (どうして好きといってくれないの), which is a return to the typical Omega Tribe sound with that melancholic vibe. As it was released in July 1989, I immediately feel even more nostalgic, because of how ‘the end of an era’ that particular year represented. The song helps a lot, and it’s one of their most natsukashii-sounding songs since Kiyotaka Sugiyama left the band. About some specific details, the verses are what I like the most in this song (I usually like the verses even more than the choruses in Omega Tribe’s songs), but the expansive horns are great as well.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Ritsuko Tanaka -- Fried Frustration(フライドフラストレーション)

Appropriate commercial since we're looking at Halloween tomorrow. Anyways, Ritsuko Tanaka(田中律子)has been a fairly common presence on TV since she has worn the three hats of aidoru, tarento and actress. She appeared on that 1991 drama "Hyaku-ikkai me no Propose"(101回目のプロポーズ...The 101st Proposal)with Tetsuya Takeda(武田鉄矢)and Atsuko Asano(浅野温子), and was a co-host on a popular Saturday morning variety show on TBS, "Ousama no Brunch"(王様のブランチ...The King's Brunch)in the mid-1990s.

However, the first time that I saw Tanaka was on those Halls Lozenges commercials where she sang some cute little jingle.

I didn't know that this was actually a single by Tanaka. In fact, it kinda surprised that his was her 8th of 11 singles from November 1990 that she released in her relatively brief singing career since this was the only song that I've registered with her. None of her songs ever got anywhere near the Oricon Top 10; the "closest" one ranked in at No. 109. She also put out 5 albums.

"Fried Frustration" is a tune that I would never have imagined with those two words put together. If I've read the lyrics by Natsumi Tadano(只野菜摘)correctly, it's just about the trials and tribulations of trying to get into love. As for the music, that is by Tadashi Uchiyama内山肇...I hope that I got the first name right), and it's pretty catchy although the song will never threaten my Top 10 list. However, I do like the synth work and the chorus with their "SHOO-BE-DOO-WOP-BOP!"

Toshiki Kadomatsu -- Step Into The Light

(Sorry but the video has been taken down.)

A YouTuber by the name of Rodion Drozdov created a spiffy video bringing together the main cast of the anime "Hisone to Masotan"(ひそねとまそたん)from their dancing end credits and some spunky 80s dance music via Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生).

Drozdov already mentioned the source of the song in the comments, but I will identify it as well. It's "Step Into The Light", a track from Kadomatsu's 1984 album "After 5 Clash". Aside from all of the rapping and chorus work, it's an extended musical riff whose funkiness reminds me of The Dazz Band to a certain extent.

It may remind me of The Dazz Band but it isn't from The Dazz Band, and this is why I like to read the comments sometimes under a video. One never knows what kind of information can be gleaned. The uploader for the "Step Into The Light" video provided above and a commenter talked of the fact that Kadomatsu had gotten the basis for the song from a creation by an American R&B act known as Unique. The song is titled "What I Got Is What You Need" and it was released in 1983.

There was no mention of this point in the J-Wiki article for "After 5 Clash", but it did make it into the article for the band under "Legacy" at the bottom. The source was a page on "Japanese Soul" on which the author had made the comparison with a couple of videos (the "Step Into The Light" video has been taken down unfortunately).

In any case, joining Kadomatsu's funk here are Eiji Nakahara and Noriko Miyamoto(宮本典子)in the rapping portion. Kadomatsu, Yurie Kokubu(国分友里恵)and Keiko Toh provided the chorus.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Banana Zero Musica -- O-Kome Kakurenbo(お米かくれんぼ)

Due to my upbringing, the carbohydrate that I have the most loyalty to is, of course, rice. If there is any sort of protein on the table during dinner, I simply gotta have my gohan as accompaniment. I was once a two-bowl guy (o-kawari was something that I used to say) but now I'm down to the one bowl although my stomach hasn't exactly shrunken too much.

But it's not just the nightly bowl of hot white rice that I seek. I also enjoy it as fried rice, onigiri (as you can see above) and even outside of Japanese cooking, I also love it as nasi goren and jambalaya.

So, I can truly understand where the comedic duo of Bananaman(バナナマン)is coming from when they sing their "O-Kome Kakurenbo". Actually for the purposes of this song, taller Osamu Shitara(設楽統)and portlier Yuuki Himura(日村勇紀)are known as Banana Zero Musica(バナナゼロムジカ)since "O-Kome Kakurenbo" was a 2017 project from their now-defunct NHK program "Banana Zero Music"(バナナ♪ゼロミュージック). The guys and the staff from the show put heads together to come up with this pretty dandy ode to rice that is directly translated as "Rice Hide & Seek", but I prefer to be cute and go with "Rice & Seek".

Although the full song is in the YouTube video above, I also like the colourful video that was produced with "O-Kome Kakurenbo", so I've added the link to the page which is the only place that I could track it down. As Banana Zero Musica delve into their gusto-filled love of rice anywhere around the planet to the extent that some dried examples seem to pop up somewhere on their clothing, the song does some melodic shifting on its own with its own samples of comical kayo, festival enka, funk and rap.

The video even had its fifteen minutes of fame through regular appearances on NHK's "Minna no Uta"(みんなのうた)in 2017. Moreover since I got to see both "Banana Zero Music" and "Minna no Uta" regularly via TV Japan, "O-Kome Kakurenbo" was also oft-seen by me.

Kiyoko Suizenji -- O-shoubu(大勝負)

Being just a wee lad at the time, whenever I did see some old footage of Kiyoko "Chiita" Suizenji(水前寺清子)singing her heart out on stage, I did wonder whether I was witnessing a woman or a man. Despite the cute face, Suizenji's short haircut and that forceful gravelly delivery of hers had me somewhat confused for a good long while. Of course, at the time, I also had little knowledge of Japanese nomenclature.

I listened to all four songs from the maxi-single at the top and the one that caught my ear the most was "O-shoubu" (Do-or-Die) which was Chiita's 36th single from November 1970. Starting off with a fanfare of traditional instruments and low horns that seem to portend a monumental storm or a major battle in feudal Japan, the singer proudly throws out with much brio a story of how men could win back in those days.

Listening to "O-shoubu", it is indeed a truly shibui enka ballad composed by Sanechika Ando(安藤実親)that I remember hearing as a kid, especially with the way those strings just bend and wail before Suizenji starts singing. Shinichi Sekizawa's(関沢新一)lyrics have her giving the rules for being a winner: 1) Men must win 2) Men must not fall in love and 3) Men must not cry. I can hear those katana or lightsabers being unsheathed right now.

Considering how much George Lucas dipped into Japanese historical culture for "Star Wars", I'm now kinda wondering whether he had discovered this Suizenji song and used the verse to concoct those Jedi rules. I also scrolled down the list of her singles and found out that she had been releasing six to seven singles a year at one point, including 1970, with "O-shoubu" being her 6th single for that year. She must have already achieved the level of Jedi Master with that sort of energy and stamina.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Takako Minekawa -- Fantastic Cat

Once again, I have to marvel at some of the things that I have learned in the years of doing "Kayo Kyoku Plus". Even the little things make me want to go "Oh-HO!". Case in point, the Japanese voice that pops up whenever the Sony Playstation logo appears. The voice belongs to one Takako Minekawa(嶺川貴子), singer-songwriter.

Now I've heard the name off and on over the years but never bothered to research about her. But then last night, I was listening to one of the "Japan Top 10" podcasts hosted by Ethel about Shibuya-kei (Episode 245: August 2018). There were the familiar sounds of Flipper's Guitar and Pizzicato Five, of course, but then came Takako Minekawa who hadn't automatically registered as someone who was in the Shibuya-kei genre. But from reading her Wikipedia profile, I found out that she loved French pop and the works of Kraftwerk. Incidentally, that is also where I realized her Playstation connection.

"Fantastic Cat" was the song played on the podcast and it's this catchy love child of the theme from the old "Batman" TV show and cute minimalist technopop ditties delivered with a breathy sex appeal, reminiscent of Kahimi Karie(カヒミ・カリィ)....if Karie had grown up as a Valley Girl. Looking at the music video, I would definitely nominate it as a "City Limits" entry.

This ode to this amazing cat was also a track on Minekawa's 3rd album "Roomic Cube" released in May 1996.

I also read on Wikipedia that "Fantastic Cat" had also been used in a commercial for Miller Beer. Happily, I was able to track down that ad and wondered about the possibilities of recursive environments and Dyson Spheres afterwards.

Hiromi Go -- Kimi no Na wa Psycho(君の名はサイコ)

Your name is PSYCHO!

Yes, quite the line of romance to throw out on a first date...after which the next thing thrown will be a glass of that red wine.

And yet, that is the translation of a track from Hiromi Go's(郷ひろみ)"Hiromi-kyo no Hanzai"(比呂魅卿の犯罪), his 21st album from April 1983. Judging from the titles of both the track and the album which translates as "Lord Hiromi's Crimes", and even the look of the cover, I take it that the folks behind the production of the album were going for something Halloween-y.

However, there is a nice feeling of urban contemporary with "Kimi no Na wa Psycho". Although I could hear the synths and a slight echo with Go's voice, I don't think it's so much a technopop tune than it is something in the City Pop genre. But no need for me to fret too much over that since it is Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一)who concocted and arranged the music (in fact, he was the sound producer for the entire album), and he's had plenty of experience in both genres. Shigesato Itoi(糸井重里)wrote the lyrics about a woman that Lord Hiromi may be simultaneously infatuated with and afraid of. The music is cool and the story might be just as cool...although as cool as a knife going between your ribs.

Kana Yuuki & Saki Miyashita -- FLY two BLUE

Just a few weeks ago, I featured a cute-as-heck fictional commercial jingle used in the anime "HaruKana Receive"(はるかなレシーブ)as sung by Chisaki Kimura(木村千咲).

Well, let's get onto the opening theme for the show titled "FLY two BLUE", sung by the two lead seiyuu Kana Yuuki(優木かな)and Saki Miyashita(宮下早紀)as Haruka Ozora and Kana Higa(大空遥・比嘉かなた)respectively.

"FLY two BLUE" fairly soars off into the big blue yonder right after the twinkly synths bring our ears in. Listening to it again after getting our first snowfall last night made me even more nostalgic for the summer days that didn't seem to be too far off in the past. Makoto Nishikawa(西川マコト)wrote and composed the opener that could even reflect a typically fun if strenuous beach volleyball session between HaruKana and the Thomas Sisters.

Miyu Tomita, Yu Shinohara, Lynn, Azumi Waki -- HAPPY!! Strange Friends(HAPPY!!ストレンジフレンズ)

Yes, indeed, the bewitching holiday is once again upon us. Although the above picture was taken back in October 2014, I'm fairly sure that McDonalds Japan is once again serving its annual squid-ink burgers. Happy Halloween, everybody!

We got our first meteorological scare last night after I finished my chat with JTM. I looked out the window to see a clean layer of snow outside; it's about the earliest I've seen of the white stuff in many a year, but it was all gone by this morning. I also took a look at YouTube's live stream camera onto the main intersection of Shibuya. There was a Halloween presence including a couple in corny prison uniforms and another couple that I can only describe as "Stripper Precure". However, maybe it was the timing but my impression was that the celebrations seemed a little more subdued this time. Then again, we still have a few more nights before the 31st.

Happenstance perhaps, but this season's crop of anime includes at least a couple of Halloween-friendly shows that my buddy and I have started watching. There is one that I would like to label as "Gochuumon wa Kyuuketsuki desu ka?" or "Is The Order A Vampire?", but its actual title is "Tonari no Kyuuketsuki-san"(となりの吸血鬼さん...Ms. Vampire who lives in my neighborhood.).

It's another cute slice-of-life anime starring Miyu Tomita(富田美憂)as the 360+-year-old vampire Sophie Twilight who is far more grounded than a lot of humans. Tomita is no stranger to supernatural and horror since she was in last year's just-as-goofy "Gabriel Dropout"(ガヴリールドロップアウト)and later in the beautiful if oft-horrifying "Made In Abyss".

And as was the case with the theme songs for those shows, Tomita jumps in with the rest of the main cast to perform them. In this case, I want to feature the ending "HAPPY!! Strange Friends" as sung by Tomita, Yu Shinohara(篠原侑)as the vampire-obsessed Akari who becomes her BFF (or tries to, anyways), Lynn as Akari's human BFF from school, and Azumi Waki(和氣あず未)as fellow vampire Erie who I will probably see for the first time next week.

I did mention that shoutout to "Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka"(ご注文はうさぎですか?)at the top there. Well, "HAPPY!! Strange Friends" is rather reminiscent of the theme songs used for that popular series, and I gotta say that I enjoy how Tomita draws out those first few lines in the verses. Junko Miyajima(宮嶋淳子)took care of the lyrics while Yu handled music and arrangement.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Ami Suzuki -- love the island

Marcos V. wrote the first two articles for Ami Suzuki(鈴木あみ), a teen singer who had been coming up the ranks in the late 1990s when a combination of dirty dealings from her management company and legal pushback from her parents ended up in industry blowback against her, and she was deemed persona non grata by the geinokai for a while at least.

My memories of her coincide with the beginnings of my time at my second of third schools during the late 1990s in Tokyo. I remember riding the Sobu Line along the Kanda River and seeing those fishermen dropping their lines. Yep, when I hear the name Ami Suzuki, that's what comes to mind. Oh yes, there was also that McDonalds that I used to frequent as well. It's a miracle that I've managed to survive to this day considering how often I visited the Golden Arches.

The one Ami-Go(あみ〜ゴ)song that I've always remembered is her debut single "love the island" which had come out in July 1998. Written by Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉)and Marc Panther from Globe and composed by Komuro, I hadn't been aware that "love the island" was meant to be a promo tune for commercials sponsored by the Tourism Bureau of the government of Guam (Guam is to Japan as Florida is to us snowbirds in Toronto). In any case, those three words of the title chirped by Suzuki automatically set off those engrams of life in Tokyo at the turn of the century.

"love the island" peaked at No. 5 on Oricon and ended up as the 90th-ranked single for 1998, selling nearly 300,000 copies. It also got placed onto Suzuki's debut album "SA" from March 1999. It hit No. 1 and was the 9th-ranked album for that year, selling over 2 million copies.

According to Wikipedia, once Suzuki got blacklisted in late 2000, all production and sales of the single were stopped cold. However, a new version was recorded and released online in 2011 and was also included in "Ami Selection", an album of her hits.

Yumi Matsutoya -- Mizu no Naka no ASIA e(水の中のASIAへ)

Two weeks ago, an old friend of mine called me up to say that his wife was giving away a lot of her Japanese pop albums, and of course, knowing that I'm the big kayo kyoku fan, offered me some of the discs including a number of Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由実)releases. The only thing is that they were coming in naked, so to speak; without any jewel cases or cover booklets. But that's long as the music is coming across fine, I'm fine.

One of those albums is Yuming's(ユーミン)"Mizu no Naka no ASIA e" (To ASIA in the Water) from May 1981. What I found out is that although it had been released originally as a 12-inch EP with just four songs back then, it's been considered to be the singer-songwriter's 11th studio album.

The cover for "Mizu no Naka no ASIA e" is one of the more striking ones that I've seen on a Yuming album. According to the J-Wiki article for the album, the singer was photographed at The Raffles Hotel in Singapore, wearing a kimono that she brought over herself and dressed herself in. I think the fact that her family operated a Japanese fabric store may have given her some expertise. However, in the same paragraph, she also conceded on a radio show that she had gotten the position of her obi wrong.

Short but sweet "Mizu no Naka no ASIA e" seems to be a musical travelogue through the various nations of the titular continent itself. I've already written about one of the four tracks, "Hong Kong Night Sight", a pretty giddy traipse through the then-British colony.

"Hong Kong Night Sight" is Track 2 but what starts the album off is "Subaraya Douri no Imouto e"(スラバヤ通りの妹へ...To The Little Girl on Subaraya Street)which Yuming based on her encounter with a little girl in Jakarta, Indonesia some years before. Unlike the exciting urban tour of that second song, "Subaraya Douri no Imouto e" takes things a lot slower and easier as if Yuming herself was musically relating a very pleasant walk on Subaraya Street which is apparently famous as an area of antique shops. She also uses an Indonesian phrase repeatedly, "Rasa sayange" (Loving Feeling), which refers to a popular Malay folk song.

(cover version)

Track 3 is "Dairen Bojou"(大連慕情...Dalian Yearnings), another mellow tune in which a young woman finds an old crumpled letter from her dead father, who had lived and died in Dalian, China, to her mother. Despite the perhaps bittersweet feeling from the lyrics of a time long passed by, the arrangement by Yuming's husband, Masataka Matsutoya(松任谷正隆), is pretty breezy and kinda straddles the line between urban and suburban.

To wrap up the album, here is "Wakiyaku de Ii kara"(わき役でいいから...Just Happy Being A Sidekick). The music by Yuming is pretty darn uplifting but the song is actually about a final wish from a woman to an ex-boyfriend who's now working in another country, with the hint that he simply didn't want to get married. She simply gives a final request that he remembers her once in a while. Pretty sad and I wanted to encourage the lass to let go of the heel and find someone worthier.

"Mizu no Naka no ASIA e" broke into the Top 10 by peaking at No. 9 and won a Best Album prize at the Japan Record Awards for 1981. I will always treasure Yuming's voice in the early days.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Superfly -- Gifts

Whenever I think of Superfly, I am always reminded of that wonderfully cheerful student with the worst post-nasal drip who came in for that model lesson around a decade ago, since she's the one who first introduced me to singer-songwriter Shiho Ochi(越智志帆), aka Superfly. Back then, Ochi and her former partner, Koichi Tabo(多保孝一), were making that mix of alternative pop and music from the late 60s and early 70s.

I think since then, Superfly has swung herself to become a more conventional pop singer with that powerful voice who can still rock it out. I hadn't heard from her all that much recently, but then a few months ago, I was catching NHK's "Minna no Uta"(みんなのうた)between programs when a new Superfly song came on accompanied with some mesmerizing animation.

This would eventually become her 24th single, "Gifts", released a few weeks ago on October 10th. For those who might be feeling the blues, I think this ballad, written and composed by Ochi with Koichi Tsutaya(蔦谷好位置)also helping out in the music, is an inspiring one as the singer encourages listeners to remember that everyone has their friends and family supporting them and places to explore, so they ought to get out of their shells and go for it.

The music video for "Gifts" seems to be a combination of Ochi's performance and visits to a number of high schools in Japan seeing what inspired and encouraged students can do. At this point, the song has reached No. 7 on Oricon.

Not surprisingly, the message behind "Gifts" has gotten it performed by various school chorus groups according to YouTube, such as this performance by the Koriyama No. 2 Junior High School in Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture. I think it wouldn't be out of the ordinary if "Gifts" became (or has already become) a standard to be sung at the annual chorus group contests. And I certainly wouldn't be surprised if Superfly gets to appear at the Kohaku Utagassen again at the end of the year.

Kumiko Ohsugi -- Rock River e(ロックリバーヘ)

(That 2018 video has been taken down
but did find a 2016 sighting in Tokyo.)

I remember last Thursday when I woke up and was watching "NHK News at 9", and the top news story was about a wayward raccoon that improbably found itself in the urban jungle of Akasaka, Tokyo. Raccoons are simply not seen in that fancy neighbourhood (and at those prices, I'm not!) unless "Guardians of the Galaxy" was playing at a theatre there. I was also rather amused and bemused by all of the excitement surrounding the capture of this brand of Procyon lotor, as if it had been Mothra or Godzilla in the nets.

My neighbourhood here doesn't have too many raccoon sightings although we've got plenty of squirrels and one time, I did manage to see a porcupine almost crossing a street one night before a truck tragically ended its life. Raccoons tend to be more of an issue where my brother lives quite a ways up north since they do tend to go after the garbage bins and leave brown land mines as parting gifts. I guess in Japan, they must be seen as rare novelties especially in the big cities.

The raccoon sighting in Tokyo last week reminded me of the time when I kept hearing about this old anime from the 1970s involving a rather intelligent raccoon named Rascal. In fact, I was wondering whether the Japanese started just calling the Procyon lotor a rascal in the same way that we here call any sort of facial tissue Kleenex.

Actually, the raccoon is still referred in Japanese as araiguma and the anime in question is "Araiguma Rascal"(あらいぐまラスカル...Rascal The Raccoon).  Based on the novel, "Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era" by Sterling North, the anime was brought to Fuji-TV in 1977 and had its run between January 2nd and Xmas Day. I only know the show through clips on retrospectives, and so I only got to know the theme song "Rock River e" (To Rock River) very recently.

And to show how little I knew of the song, I kept hearing the opening chorus done in English and initially assumed that this must have been a full English version of "Rock River e" done for the dubbed versions that went overseas. In fact, after the initial intro by the Sentimental Children's Chorus, singer Kumiko Ohsugi(大杉久美子)and another children's choir group, Columbia Yurikago Kai(コロムビアゆりかご会), sing the Japanese lyrics.

"Rock River e" sure is a jaunty square dance-friendly tune (with a hint of disco) that was written by Eriko Kishida(岸田衿子)and composed by Takeo Watanabe(渡辺岳夫)who was in charge of the soundtrack for "Araiguma Rascal". It won the Golden Hit prize at Japan Columbia in 1977. Strangely enough, the song reminds me of the theme song from the far rowdier "Blazing Saddles".

As for Ohsugi, she has become even more famous for her rendition of the "Doraemon"(ドラえもん)theme song.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Kinokuniya Band -- Hangin' Around

I first encountered Kinokuniya Band(紀の国屋バンド)through their cover of Taeko Ohnuki's(大貫妙子)"4AM" on their 1979 album "Street Sensation".


Here is another song from that album, "Hangin' Around" although in the video above, vocalist Masako Takasaki(高崎昌子)identifies it as "Hangin' Around Downtown". Still, the vibe is definitely in that neighbourhood of the city whether you're taking that stroll through Tokyo's Ameyoko as shown in the top photograph or striding down glittery Omotesando. Unfortunately, I couldn't find out who wrote and composed "Hangin' Around", but it's chock full of Takasaki's rich voice, jazzy riffs and good dollops of bass. Makes one wonder what it must have been like being in Japan's largest metropolis at the turn of that decade.

Mari Natsuki -- Ichiban Suki na Mono(いちばん好きなもの)

Over the years on "Kayo Kyoku Plus", we've covered a fair share of female singers who's possessed that mixture of style, class and even a hint of...danger. I'm thinking of ladies such as Maki Nomiya(野宮真貴)of Pizzicato Five, Ringo Shiina(椎名林檎)and Kaori Momoi(桃井かおり). Now, I would like to introduce Mari Natsuki(夏木マリ).

Perhaps for international audiences, Natsuki may be known as the voice of Yubaba on the Studio Ghibli film "Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi"(千と千尋の神隠し...Spirited Away), but I've seen this actress/singer a number of times on TV over the years. By my impression, she has that sort of presence which would demand the best armchair at a swanky soiree at some mansion where she could gleefully hold court as one of the best raconteurs that any of the partygoers ever met. I think the adjective "vivacious" would be an ideal one for her.

Beginning her recording career under her stage name of Mari Natsuki in 1973, she released her first single, "Kinu no Kutsushita"(絹の靴下...Silk Stockings)and since then she's released 26 more singles up to 2012 and several albums. The subject of this article "Ichiban Suki na Mono" (My Favourite Things) is a track on her 2013 album "Natsuki Mari ~ Inshouha Collection"(夏木マリ 印象派コレクション...Mari Natsuki ~ Impressionists' Collection).

Purring her way through, I can imagine her singing an acapella version of "Ichiban Suki na Mono" under a spotlight in a darkened intimate live house in the basement while sucking back on a cigarette. However, I do like the full version here with that Latin jazz and Shibuya-kei vibe. Not surprisingly, it was Yasuharu Konishi(小西康陽)from Pizzicato Five who wrote and composed this one for Natsuki as she sings about her love of makeup, cigarettes and wearing fur coats (and nothing underneath). However, there is some darkness as she also mentions about crying within all that luxury. Still, it wouldn't do for her to show that side to her admirers.

Megumi Hirota -- Senaka Awase no CRESCENT(背中あわせのCRESCENT)

Found another one of those mystery singers with a nice song who never got detected on my sensors.

This is Megumi Hirota(広田恵), and yep, I could find extremely little about her anywhere. Most of what I could dig up was the description for this video itself. "Senaka Awase no CRESCENT" (The Crescent Moon On My Back [?]) is from Hirota's 2nd album, "Gray", released in 1991.

Written by Goro Matsui(松井五郎)and composed by Hideya Nakazaki(中崎英也), "Senaka Awase no CRESCENT" starts with an exotic flourish before going into a beat that I knew had to be from the late 1980s/early 1990s even before I saw the year of release. I've cottoned onto it and there's a synth solo in the middle which reminded me of Steve Winwood's 80s stuff to a certain extent. Apparently, one Twitter fan even likened "Gray" to "Style", the debut album for Keiko Kimura(木村恵子), so that has got me rather interested in the former.

At the risk of sounding like a scriptwriter for the hilarious "Zoolander", I think I can now put my own moniker onto the sound of those synths that seemed to be de rigueur during that part of the 20th century: Cool Steel. It's the type of sound that I also heard on a lot of those old 80s action movies starring Sly Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Tatsuhiko Yamamoto -- Yume yori Kurushiku(夢より苦しく)

Eating by yourself in a pretty classy restaurant? Not the most comfortable situation...believe me, I've been there. It's one thing to have dinner at a ramen restaurant or a McDonalds where solitary dining is common. But at a place that offers fine dining where it's considered appropriate to have at least one other person with you? I did get my fair share of stares.

That seems to be the topic of "Yume yori Kurushiku" (More Painful Than A Dream) by City Pop prince Tatsuhiko Yamamoto(山本達彦). Etsuko Kisugi(来生えつこ)provided the lyrics of the hard and lonely experience while Yamamoto composed the urbane and breezy melody that I could consider to be Sad Steely Dan. It's a cool song regardless as long as I don't linger too much on the lyrics...brings back too many memories.

"Yume yori Kurushiku" is a track on Yamamoto's 10th album "Music" which was released in June 1984 according to J-Wiki (although iTunes states that it came out in December 1987). The album managed to get as high as No. 6 on Oricon. I don't have "Music" but luckily, the song is part of his BEST compilation "70s & 80s BEST" which came out in 2008.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Michiya Mihashi -- Ringo Mura kara(リンゴ村から)

Apples are my fruit. I was practically weaned on Macintosh, Golden Delicious, etc. and apple pie (especially the crumble-top variety) will always be my favourite form of the pastry. When we were kids, it was an October tradition for the family to head over to Chudleigh's Apple Farm just west of Toronto to go pick those apples. That crisp autumn morning over there provided some wonderful goodies in the form of the aroma of baking apple pie and apple strudel, and often enough, we would be plied with warm and sweet apple cider. It's one of the things that I miss doing nowadays.

On tonight's episode of NHK's "Uta Kon"(うたコン), the theme was the autumn festival in Sendai, and the Tohoku area of Japan is well known for its own apple orchards. I got to hear an enka tune performed originally by Michiya Mihashi(三橋美智也), sung tonight by Midori Oka(丘みどり), that I'd never heard before titled "Ringo Mura kara" (From The Village of Apples).

This was a single released back in 1956 by Mihashi that has the sentimental ring of the old hometown, a trope in kayo kyoku that was quite popular back then for all those folks who made the journey to the big cities like Tokyo to find work. The lyrics by Ryo Yano(矢野亮)start right off the bat with "Do you remember?" which could have set a lot of eyes watering up at the memories.

The music was composed by Isao Hayashi(林伊佐緒), and Mihashi's delivery is strong but perhaps also somewhat mournful as if reflecting the feelings of all those who made that big move to the city but will not be able to return for a long while. "Ringo Mura kara" is considered to be one of Mihashi's classics and it ended up selling around 2.7 million records which is apparently his 2nd-most successful hit among his kayo songs. According to J-Wiki, "Ringo Mura kara" is tied with "Hoshikuzu no Machi" (星屑の町), and both songs are behind his No. 1 kayo hit, "Kojou"(古城).

Rumi Koyama -- Sasurai no Guitar(さすらいのギター)

Currently, a couple of my good friends are having their vacation in Japan, but before they left, I was able to have lunch last Friday with the husband half. Over my medium-rare steak, he rather surprised me when he told me that he had downloaded some of the 1960s kayo since up until now, I knew him as being more of a contemporary music fellow. But as you know, I'm always welcoming of folks discovering some of the old stuff.

Perhaps one of the songs in his download was this one by singer/tarento/actress Rumi Koyama(小山ルミ). "Sasurai no Guitar" (Wandering Guitar) was her 6th single from June 1971, and yep, although I did mention that my friend had downloaded 1960s kayo, I kinda think that this snazzy number retained some of that go-go feeling from the decade before. Koyama no longer sings but I think that she had a pretty strong voice to accompany "Sasurai no Guitar" which also seemed to possess a layer of French pop with its "Yeah, Yeah" melody by J.A.Schatrow. Kazuya Senke(千家和也), who would also later provide some hits for Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵), took care of the lyrics of a woman falling in love.

Koyama herself was born in Sapporo to a Japanese mother and a father who was an Irish soldier. Beginning a career in modeling while she was in junior high school, she soon got into acting in the late 1960s with her singing beginning with "Hajimete no Date"(はじめてのデート...First Date)in 1968. With her final single coming out in 1974, she moved to the United States and met a Japanese jeweler whom she married after which she retired from show business. According to J-Wiki, she's currently living in Los Angeles.

Hiroshi Sato -- On The Wind

I believe that this song by the late and great Hiroshi Sato(佐藤博)would fall under the "So-80s-it-hurts" category...but in a nice way. Kinda like musical shiatsu.

Reading somewhere on YouTube that basically Sato could do no wrong with anything he came up with, I could certainly agree, especially since coming across his summery "On The Wind". Oh, it's liquid sunshine for the soul that could potentially render any listener light and mellow. It's funky and groovy at the same time, and I think this is the second time listening to Sato that I couldn't help but feel that he was the Japanese version of Howard Jones based on his vocals.

According to an Ameblo blog, "On The Wind" was released as a 12-inch single back in October 1985, and the song was used for a commercial. However, since then, it has been added to the re-released version of his 1988 album "Aqua". Fine addition, if you ask me, but I have also written on another good track from that release, "Seat For Two".

Monday, October 22, 2018

Hiroaki Igarashi -- Twilight Bossa(トワイライト・ボッサ)

Monday night...the evening to get over the first day of the work week, and perhaps the toughest night next to Wednesday (Hump Day) to salve those existential blues.

Well, allow me to help out a bit with this short and sweet article. This is based on Hiroaki Igarashi's(五十嵐浩晃)song "Twilight Bossa" from his 5th album "Soyokaze no Koro"(そよ風の頃-SEASON OF BREEZE-)which came out in May 1983. As the title says, it's some nice light Latin to have that first drink of the week with. Igarashi's brand of soothing AOR was written by the singer and Shun Taguchi(田口俊)with Igarashi taking care of the music.

Strangely enough, with all of the City Pop/AOR albums that I've been purchasing over the years, I've yet to get an Igarashi album. Something to mull about as the year starts winding down. Of course, this would be dependent on how that Canada Post strike goes.

Tomoko Izumi -- Aoi Suiheisen(青い水平線)

This is another chance encounter with an aidoru who never really made it big but listening to "Aoi Suiheisen" (Blue Horizon), I think that there is some pleasant nostalgia when it comes to this teenybopper tune.

"Aoi Suiheisen" was sung by Tomoko Izumi和泉友子...not sure about the reading of that first name; if it is actually Yuko, please let me know)as her first of only two singles according from what I could find on this archive for 70s and 80s aidoru. It was released in June 1981 and the timing was pretty appropriate since it does have that summery and breezy feeling. There is unsurprisingly no J-Wiki entry for Izumi because of her very brief discography but from that archive, the author mentioned some similarity to an aidoru who was becoming very big at the time, Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子). 

The arrangement is quite reminiscent of that time going from the late 1970s to the early 1980s when it comes to aidoru music, but listening to "Aoi Suiheisen", I'm also reminded of the music of Yoshie Kashiwabara(柏原よしえ)and the vocals of perky Ikue Sakakibara(榊原郁恵). The song, which apparently didn't even break into the Top 100 on the Oricon weeklies, was written by Kazuko Katagiri(片桐和子)and composed by Yusuke Hoguchi(穂口雄右).

Vickeblanka -- Buntline Special

Buntline Special

We're a few weeks into the anime season for Fall 2018 but I got to see some of the new entries yesterday. I had been expecting a more introspective lineup but there were quite a few zany ones in there, including this one whose ending theme I will be writing about tonight.

I never caught "Tiger & Bunny" in its entirety although I remember catching several minutes of one episode on Tokyo MX in my final year in Japan, and the biggest thing that caught my attention was seeing the decals of real corporations pasted on the main characters' uniforms.

Well, the same folks and company behind "Tiger & Bunny" have come up with another intriguing justice-based show called "DOUBLE DECKER! Doug & Kirill"(ダグ&キリル). Half-sardonically, I had first assumed that the anime was about London-based trolley buses which metamorphose into heroic mecha named Doug and Kirill. Instead, there is indeed a Doug and Kirill but they are actually an initially mismatched duo of special cops on a very colourful team. I saw the first three episodes last night and "DOUBLE DECKER!" seems to be filled with shoutouts across the pop culture geek spectrum. There were tributes to cop shows such as "Hawaii Five-0", "Abunai Deka"(あぶない刑事)and "Taiyo ni Hoero!"(太陽にほえろ!), and some hints of "X-Men", "Men In Black" and perhaps even "Strikeforce: Morituri". Heck, Episode 1 threw in a "Terminator" reference.

Plus, you got mysterious Doug looking like a young Bruce Greenwood ("Star Trek", "I, Robot", "Thirteen Days") and usually creamy-voiced seiyuu Saori Hayami(早見沙織)playing an extremely tough and sweary Seven-0 team member. My attention has been caught.

Another catchy thing? That ending theme by singer-songwriter Vickeblanka(ビッケブランカ), "Buntline Special" which comes across as hard as a bullet from the actual gun that it's named after. Let's take that song onto an Anthem raid. It's the one theme song from yesterday's batch of anime that launched as an automatic earworm. So far, it's just been the ending credits that I could find, but I'm hopeful that a full version will hit YouTube pretty soon.

Vickeblanka, who hails from Aichi Prefecture, was born Junya Yamaike(山池純矢)and touts his influences being Elton John, Billy Joel and Michael Jackson. He released a couple of indie albums in 2014 and 2015 along with a downloadable single before making his major studio debut release in 2017, "Fearless" and two singles this year.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Shiho Nanba -- Cobalt Blue(コバルトブルー)

Last night, I wrote an article on another one of Blue Peppers'(ブルー・ペパーズ)mellow tracks from their 2017 album "Retroactive", "Hachi-gatsu no Kageboushi"(八月の影法師), and in fact, much earlier this year, I had written about the album itself.

One of the tracks that was tackled on the article for "Retroactive" itself was the innocent and warm "Cobalt Blue" as sung by former AKB48 member Michiru Hoshino(星野みちる). Well, in the last few days, I found out that this particular track was actually a cover of the original version provided by Blue Peppers to Fukuoka-born singer Shiho Nanba(南波志帆).

Nanba has been around as a performer since 2008 with her major debut beginning in 2010. "Cobalt Blue" is a track on her third album "meets sparkjoy" released in April 2016 (and reaching No. 45 on Oricon). With only a few differences in the arrangement (including some electric guitar at the end), and a slightly less whispery delivery by Nanba, the song is an ironically titled track. On first seeing the title, I would have thought that it was prefacing a cool-as-ice hard techno tune. Instead, it's referring to a girl's accessory on the ideal day to have that wonderful date in the park.