Credits

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

Monday, August 31, 2015

Ray -- Hajimete Girls! (初めてガールズ!)



I guess this has been the season for bite-sized anime for me. First off, there is the 2-minute "Wakako Zake"(ワカコ酒)whose good old-fashioned theme song "Shiawase no Kaeri Michi"(幸せの帰り路)has been as appetizing as some of the dishes Wakako has been noshing in each episode.

And then there is "Wakaba Girl"(わかば*ガール)whose episodes are only 10 minutes long but also provide a goodly amount of comedy as Wakaba Kohashi, as the proverbial rich fish out of water, struggles happily with being a regular high school girl while her 3 buddies of Moeko, Mao and Nao show her the way. Once again over here, the theme song has also been the extra spice although this one is definitely another earworm.



"Hajimete Girls!" (First Time Girls!) basically laid its eggs in my ear canal right from the beginning pin-pon. Mito(ミト)from the band Clammbon came up with the super-catchy rapid-fire melody (with a bit more rock in the full version) while the prolific Aki Hata(畑亜貴)provided the lyrics. The can't-stand-still music sounds perfect for the goofiness of the show. 


(starts at 4:25)

Singer Ray, aka Reika Nakayama(中山怜香...according to Wikipedia but her full name isn't listed in J-Wiki), seems to have a grand ol' time with her 7th single from August 2015. She was born in 1990 in Sapporo, and got the singing bug when she was listening to some of anison goddess Nana Mizuki's(水樹奈々)CDs in her brother's car. Her debut was in 2012 with the song "Sign" as the theme tune for anime "Ano Natsu de Matteru"(あの夏で待ってる...Waiting in the Summer)which peaked at No. 11 on Oricon. As for "Hajimete Girls!", it managed to get as high as No. 21.


The Kuricorder Quartet -- Theme from "Pythagora Switch" (ピタゴラスイッチ)


When I was but a wee (figuratively speaking) lad, I used to catch this ad for this wacky game called Mouse Trap on TV which was ostensibly a board game. However what made it interesting was that the rules called for the kiddies to create a Rube Goldberg contraption to capture the plastic rodent. I have to admit that I was fairly intrigued in getting this game but, gosh darn it, I never got around to it.



No worries. All I had to do was wait a few decades and head for Japan to watch TV. Good ol' NHK started up a nifty educational program from 2002 titled "Pythagora Switch" which aimed to have the children look at things such as problem solving in new ways. However, the most famous segment on the show is the various Rube Goldberg devices which start and end each episode. Every time I see one of those get launched, the creators get my respect. They don't necessarily need my time since it's apparent they already have a lot of that on their hands.


Plus, there is the famous theme by the Kuricorder Quartet with all of the recorders whimsically tooting out. The song was composed by the leader of the quartet, musician Masaki Kurihara( 栗原正己). It's pretty much Pavlovian now...as soon as I hear it, I immediately start thinking of a particularly convoluted trap.



Fuyumi Sakamoto -- Otoko no Hi Matsuri (男の火祭り)


What I've come to like about Fuyumi Sakamoto (坂本冬美) is that she can be elegant and genteel, and at the same time able to pull off aggressive and macho songs with that voice of hers that can turn from mellow crooning to forceful growling at the drop of a hat, like when she sang Muchi's "Osho" (王将) during last year's "Osaka Melody". Not going to lie, I was expecting a manly man to sing it, but Sakamoto's rendition left me thoroughly impressed. That reminds me, I wonder if NHK will air another round of the "Osaka Melody" this year. If they are, I hope someone sings "Juso no Yoru" (十三の夜)!

Anyway, Sakamoto has got a couple of songs in her own repertoire that show off her tough side, for instance, "Otoko no Hi Matsuri" (Man's Fire Festival), which is also one of those festival-based enka I enjoy listening to. The thumping of the taiko, the electric guitar revving away, it's actually not far something that Takashi Hosokawa (細川たかし) would belt out, all that's missing is the shamisen. But there is still a feminine touch to this masculine tune, probably from the strings and the acoustic guitar. This was composed by singer-songwriter Masato Sugimoto (杉本真人).

As seen in the title, "Otoko no Hi Matsuri" centers around the Fire Festival, but as to which one of the many variations , I'm not too sure. Takashi Taka's (たかたかし) lyrics don't seem to give me a clear idea about the exact Fire Festival being sung about, so I wonder if he's just writing about the festivals that involve fire in general. A number of prefectures hold their own Fire Festivals at different times of the year, and prefectures can have more than one of these festivals. From what I've been seeing, they each have their own reasons for it, though something is bound to be set on fire, that's for sure, be it massive torches, wooden shrines with people on it - don't worry, I think those poor fellas get off the structure first before the others actually viciously burn it to the ground - or just trees.


All this talk about fire and things being set on fire brings back hilarious memories from my mildly dysfunctional Chinese language class from secondary 3/grade 9 where a classmate of mine's signature answer for every scenario imaginable was "It/he/she explodes/exploded." It got to the point where my teacher (who had remarkable patience and humour) banned him from saying the word explode, and so the classmate switched from "explode" to "catch fire". From then on everything was "on fire" or "caught fire". My teacher gave up. Ah, it was moments like these that made me forget about how much I hated learning the language. In fact, it actually made me do pretty well by the end of that year... and then I got dropped into the supposedly better Chinese class on the next year. Think of this situation like putting a minnow into pool filled with barracudas being ruled by a tiger shark. I was the unfortunate minnow. Quite terrible, I can tell you that.


Okay, coming back to the main topic, "Otoko no Hi Matsuri" was released as Sakamoto's 42nd single on 2nd October 2013, and apparently, it was her first single in 5 years that's an enka song. It did well on the regular Oricon charts, peaking at 31st position, and she sang it twice on her recent appearances on the Kohaku (2013 and 2014). I remember watching that performance on the Kohaku last year (it feels good to finally be able to say that!), and if my memory serves, she wore a pair of black high-heeled boots with a stylish red kimono. The first person that came to mind was Akina Nakamori (中森明菜) since she wore a similar-looking outfit when she sang "DESIRE" back in the 80's.

fuyumi-fc.com

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Koji Tamaki -- Suna no Machi (砂の街)



After listening to Koji Tamaki's(玉置浩二)"Roman"(ロマン)on his 1993 album, "Akogare"(あこがれ), it was just about enough to grab a few tissues from the box and dab the eyes. So I was rather glad that the following track from the album was a good bit lighter and more wistful. This was "Suna no Machi" (The Streets of Sand) which was written by Akira Sudo(:須藤晃)and composed by Tamaki himself.

If Tamaki had been born a few decades earlier, he probably would have become a fine balladeer of standards in some nighttime joint in the metropolis. He was able to craft "Suna no Machi" to sound like some Parisian tune that Charles Aznavour could have tackled with the whistling, all those wonderful shimmery strings and that lonesome trombone near the end. Akira Sudo took care of the lyrics about searching for that lost significant other in the big, big city. I kinda wonder if Tamaki took a walk down the Champs-Elysees at night to get that inspiration.


The above video is a cover version done by rejector1000 who does a pretty good job at Tamaki's distinctive vocals. Plus I like the imagery.


Off-Course -- Shio no Kaori (潮の香り)


Man, the gems you re-discover after so many years. During my time in Gunma, I bought a quartet of Off-Course(オフコース)CDs, each a compilation that has some connection with a season. I pulled out the one representing summer and put it into the player. I was pleasantly surprised at some of the really lovely tunes that had never been released as singles by Kazumasa Oda's(小田和正)old band. And there was quite some variety in the tunes as well as they ranged from Folk to J-AOR to Rock.

But I wanted to feature this one particular number that was not only on the summer compilation but was also originally on Off-Course's 5th album from September 1977, "Junktion". The track is called "Shio no Kaori" (Fragrance of the Sea), and it's this wonderfully comfortably breezy number sung, written and composed by band guitarist Yasuhiro Suzuki(鈴木康博). This is the sort of song that I would like to hear while driving down the highway from Tokyo to Shonan sometime in the late summer. While listening to the entire compilation today, I noticed that Off-Course over the years took in a number of influences from what sounded like Santana, The Doobie Brothers and perhaps even Yes. With "Shio no Kaori", I thought there was a bit of Santana and perhaps even some late 70s Billy Joel.

(Unfortunately that video did get taken down. 
But here is the karaoke version.)

I'm hoping the video stays up for a while at least. The uploader said that it's an excerpt from a live performance of Off Course in 1977. The first song performed is "Shio no Kaori" but it sounds like Oda is singing here rather than Suzuki. As for "Junktion", it peaked at No. 21 on the Oricon album charts, and it also has one of my very favourite Off-Course ballads, "Aki no Kehai"(秋の気配).

The coast by Ito City, Shizuoka Prefecture.

Miki Imai -- Caribbean Blue no Yoake (カリビアン・ブルーの夜明け)

(cover version)

I hadn't realized it's been quite a while since I put up my most recent Miki Imai(今井美樹)article. Of course, I've been covering a lot of her big hits over the years but there have been some non-hit non-official singles that have also stayed in my mind as well.

Case in point: "Caribbean Blue no Yoake" (Caribbean Blue Sunrise) from her 1988 album, "Bewith". I first came across this song on one of her concert videos that I have on VHS, and as Imai scampered all over the stage, I kept hearing one of Masami Tozawa's(戸沢暢美)lyrics which went "I'm a hurricane". It was rather ironic since I could never imagine the sylph-like figure of Imai approaching anywhere near even a Cat.1. Still, the lyric embedded itself into my long-term memory all these years. Plus, despite the somewhat now-cheesy-sounding synths, the music by Hideya Nakazaki(中崎英也)still has its Latin charms and has been a nice reminder about how the Imai tunes sounded way back when.


This may have been the excerpt from the video but I can't be certain since it's been such a long time since I popped this one in the ol' top loader. But I gotta admit that Imai looks rather quaint in that sparkly form of Spanx. As for "Bewith", her 3rd album reached No. 1 and it also has one of my favourites, "Natsu wo Kasanete"(夏をかさねて).


Hideko Takamine/Hibari Misora/Yosui Inoue -- Ginza Kankan Musume (銀座カンカン娘)


Less than an hour ago, I was watching the latest episode of NHK's "Nodo Jiman"(のど自慢)singing contest show which had guests in the form of SMAP and Fuyumi Sakamoto(坂本冬美). One of the participants was a 75-year-old lady who wanted to sing a song in tribute to her recently departed husband who had sung the song to her.

The song was "Ginza Kankan Musume" from 1949 as originally sung by the late actress Hideko Takamine(高峰秀子). When I listened to the lady's rendition and then the original, the old-fashioned boogie beat was front and centre, and I kinda realized where eclectic 90s band Jitterin Jinn got its inspiration. The song was created by Takao Saeki and Ryoichi Hattori(佐伯孝夫・服部良一)as the theme for the movie of the same name which starred Takamine. According to J-Wiki, by 1952, Takamine's single had sold about 420,000 records.

At first, I thought the meaning of the title was referring to can-can dancers performing in some Ginza nightclub, but according to the explanation in the J-Wiki article for the song, the kankan was actually a word derived by a movie director Kajiro Yamamoto(山本嘉次郎), although he wasn't the one behind this particular movie (Koji Shima「島耕二」was the actual director). It was a play on words for panpan musume which referred to "unlicensed prostitutes". The kankan musume meant "short-tempered ladies" who had to somehow survive the immediate postwar years.

As for Takamine, she was born in 1924 in Hakodate, Hokkaido and entered show business as a child actor who gained so much fame that she was seen as the Japanese Shirley Temple. As she grew up, she started getting roles as tough-minded and hard-working women, Although she retired from acting in the late 1970s, she continued working as an essayist.




Being a kayo classic, "Ginza Kankan Musume" was covered by a number of singers including Hibari Misora(美空ひばり). I'm uncertain when Misora's smooth and nimble version was originally recorded but it is on an album titled "Misora Hibari Cover Song Collection" from 2007 by Columbia Music Entertainment.


In 2001, Yosui Inoue(井上陽水)provided his own cover with a rock beat in his album, "United Cover". Leave it to Mr. O-genkides'ka to give a fresh perspective to an old chestnut.



Friday, August 28, 2015

Candies -- Anata ni Muchu (あなたに夢中)


The last time I wrote about the famed aidoru trio of Candies(キャンディーズ), it was about their spiritually final single in 1978, "Hohoemigaeshi"(微笑がえし)which pretty much threw in every reminder regarding Miki, Su and Ran.

But this time, I'm going all the way back to the beginning. To 1973, to be specific. Candies debuted with "Anata ni Muchu" (Crazy for You) in September of that year, and like "Hohoemigaeshi", it was a song that I had heard before but hadn't known the title or its place in Candies' history. As with all debuts of legendary singers/bands, it's interesting to see and hear these ladies in the beginning. "Anata ni Muchu", which was written by Michio Yamagami(山上路夫)and composed by Koichi Morita(森田公一), had them singing with a slightly bigger emphasis on different harmonies, and Su was in the centre position as she would be for the early singles up to their first big hit, "Toshi Shita no Otoko no Ko"(年下の男の子)in 1975, when Ran would be switched in as the permanent centre.


Candies' debut single peaked at No. 36. It was also a track on the unit's debut album, "Anata ni Muchu - Uchiki na Candies" (あなたに夢中〜内気なキャンディーズ〜...Crazy for You - Bashful Candies) that came out in December 1973. A modest beginning but the best was yet to come.




Naoko Gushima -- Candy


I remember picking up this album "miss G" by Naoko Gushima(具島直子)a couple of decades ago, probably because I heard some of the tracks being played on the store speakers...most likely Tower Records. And in all likelihood, one of those tracks was "Candy". As was the case with all of the other tracks, Gushima provided the words and music for this softly bouncy song which the blogger for Japanese-language "Music Avenue" described as being an example of Urban Mellow.

Not sure if Urban Mellow is an actual genre name (a love child of J-AOR and City Pop?), but I guess "Candy" would fit the title. In any case, it is a cafe-friendly tune with Gushima's velvety vocals reminding me a bit of another singer who was in the same ballpark, genre-wise, Toko Furuuchi(古内東子). "miss G", by the way, was Gushima's debut album from 1996.

There's not a whole lot of information on Gushima unless you go straight to her website...not even a J-Wiki entry. She was born in 1969 in Tokyo, started learning piano at the age of 4, and then at 21, took those first steps into a music career as a backup singer and singer for commercials before releasing "miss G" some years later. According to her website, Gushima has released 5 albums up to now including her latest, which is also her BEST compilation, "magic wave" from 2009.


Daisuke Kitagawa -- Hama no Odoriko (横濱の踊り子)


It's been a while since I've picked out a song from the Oricon enka-yo charts, so I thought I'd do so on Wednesday since the new weekly list was out. A couple of the singles I saw had been there for about half a year and I'm still trying to fathom how they are still within the Top 20, some are new releases that came out just last Wednesday, and some have been there for about a month or so. Falling into the last category is "Hama no Odoriko", sung by one of enka's Ikemen 3, Daisuke Kitagawa (北川大介). Frankly, I don't think the Ikemen 3 are particularly good-looking. I mean, Kitagawa is sort of cute with that snaggle-toothed, dimpled smile, but the other two - Keisuke Yamauchi (山内惠介) and Hiroshi Takeshima (竹島宏) - are... well... not much to behold. And then again, I have hugely differing standards for what is considered a handsome dude from the typical Japanese woman, as you already may have noticed.

Moving on, ever since it's release on the 1st of July 2015, I've seen "Hama no Odoriko" floating up and down the enka-yo charts - it did well on the regular charts too, peaking at 25th - and since it was one of the few singles up there that left me curious as to how it sounded like every time I left the ranking page, I finally decided to give it a listen.

"Hama no Odoriko" is a catchy, jaunty and very cabaret-ish enka tune. The disco ball and that clubby beat at the start of the MV already gives you a pretty clear indication of what you're in for. And then you have two ladies joining the husky-voiced Kitagawa in a Michael Jackson-like blazer that's as shiny as the disco ball dancing up a storm - choreographed by afroed dancer and talent Papaya Suzuki (パパイヤ鈴木), who also made a cameo. It's actually quite cheesy when I think about it. However, from what I saw in the video's description, the song focuses on nightclubs anyway and is supposed to be a throwback to the mid 50's, so I guess they are on point.

Well, he looks cooler in a black blazer.

Makoto Kitajo (喜多條忠) was the one responsible for writing the lyrics to "Hama no Odoriko", and Gendai Kanou (叶弦大) composed it. Ah dang it, now I want to see Kitagawa sing this on "Kayo Concert" or "Nippon no Uta".

Shiny.
crowntokuma-shop.com

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Top 10 Albums of 2004

1.   Hikaru Utada                                    Utada Hikaru Single Collection Vol. 1
2.   Mr. Children                                     Shifuku no Oto
3.   Queen                                               Queen Jewels: The Very Best of Queen
4.   Exile                                                 Exile Entertainment
5.   Ayumi Hamasaki                             Memorial address
6.   Utada                                                Exodus
7.   Mai Kuraki                                       Wish You The Best
8.   Avril Lavigne                                   Under My Skin
9.   Pornograffitti                                    Pornograffitti Best Blue's
10. Pornograffitti                                    Pornograffitti Best Red's





Kazumasa Oda -- Kira Kira (キラキラ)

(cover version)

Around the Yuletide, the usual spate of Xmas-themed movies come out on the telly, especially on the Turner Movie Classics channel. Of course, one of them is "It's A Wonderful Life" with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed which, try as I might, still gets me lumping up in the throat and tear ducts at the end. Of course, that entire last act of the movie when bumbling-but-good Clarence the Angel convinces suicidal George Bailey to see that he is needed in the world has become the most famous part and has been used in TV shows and perhaps other movies since 1946 to the point of hoariness.

However, there was one other scene in "It's A Wonderful Life" that also pops up to mind whenever I remember it. It was the one where a much younger George woos his future wife, Mary, by promising no less than the moon itself if she so desired it:

"What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That's a pretty good idea. I'll give you the moon, Mary." (copied from www.imdb.com)

It's also that particular scene which comes to mind whenever I think of Kazumasa Oda's(小田和正)21st single "Kira Kira" (Twinkle). His lyrics about enticing that special someone to come with him for a better life together had me thinking about good ol' George Bailey in Bedford Falls.

But "Kira Kira" was actually meant for the characters of Toko and Kotaro on the J-Drama "Koi no Chikara"(恋ノチカラ...The Power of Love)back in 2002. Both of them start out as folks down on their luck before meeting up again and trying to get some redemption with the usual snarky back-and-forth. And I think there is that musical feeling of positivity and the light at the end of the tunnel in Oda's melody right from the opening strings.

The single was released in February 2002. When it comes to Oda's contributions to theme songs for dramas, all directions will inevitably point to "Love Story wa Totsuzen ni"(ラブ・ストーリーは突然にー), the theme tune for "Tokyo Love Story"(東京・ラブ・ストーリー)back in 1991. I mean, I still consider that particular song as Oda's magnum opus when it comes to his singles as a solo artist, but there is something that is also very attractive about "Kira Kira". With "Love Story wa Totsuzen ni", that single pluck of the guitar string in the first second launches the listener into the organized chaos that is Tokyo with the turbulence and excitement of metropolitan life and romance. "Kira Kira", on the other hand, has those strings taking us to a quieter and nicer neighbourhood away from the hustle and bustle. The neighbourhood may still be in Tokyo but it's now a decade later and perhaps the main characters from "Tokyo Love Story" are now settling into a more grounded bliss.


(cover version)

There is also something that is very comforting about listening to an Oda song. In a way, it's almost like listening to chamomile tea. Now I realize that there are J-Pop fans for whom Oda is not their cup of tea for the reason that I laid out in that first sentence, but to me, especially with some of his more uplifting songs such as "Kira Kira", I do finish that time listening to him feeling somewhat more buoyed for the experience.

"Kira Kira" got as high as No. 3 on Oricon, and compared to "Love Story wa Totsuzen ni", it finished the year somewhat more modestly at No. 33. Still, I cannot deny some of its more therapeutic effects. Perhaps, Oda might be acting like a Clarence here, too.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Megumi Hayashibara/Miku Hatsune -- Osorezan Revoir (恐山ル・ヴォワール)

(Sorry but the video has been taken down.)


Megumi Hayashibara (林原めぐみ) may not be very active in recent years, but she’s still able to surprise her fans with golden gems when she wants to. That’s what she did in late 2011 after recording her own version of “Osorezan Revoir”, a song originally sung by the famous Vocaloid Miku Hatsune (初音ミク).


“Osorezan Revoir” is a poem from the famous Shaman King series (シャーマンキング). Megumi voiced the protagonist’s bride, Anna Kyouyama (恐山アンナ), and also sang the openings and endings to the anime series, with one of them, “Northern Lights” (2002), being the highest charting single of her career at a solid #3 position.

Back to “Osorezan Revoir”, one fan took the poem, created a gorgeous song and recorded it using Miku Hatsune. It soon became famous at Niconico (ニコニコ), and Megumi, after noticing it, recorded her own version of the song, which was also posted on Niconico. That was enough for making every Shaman King or Megumi Hayashibara fan crazy.

The song itself is great, thanks to the beautiful melody and the  traditional Japanese-styled arrangement. As for Megumi, being very honest, I don’t thing she was flawless in her rendition, but it’s surely one of the most emotional performances she ever gave. The high-pitched voice she chose to sing it may not be the best one out there, but I think it’s the pitch she is most confortable with.

To finish, here’s the original version sung by Miku Hatsune. Even though Megumi is not the greatest singer on earth, I still think she portrayed the emotions in a way that’s impossible for a Vocaloid. In the end, I’m always biased when it comes to Megumi.


“Osorezan Revoir” was uploaded on Niconico, but it was also released in very limited quantity on a rare CD that accompanied a magazine. As a fan, I hope she includes it in a future album. It’s difficult, but not impossible.

Lyrics, or words, as it’s originally a poem, were written by Shaman King’s creator Takei Hiroyuki (武井宏之), while music was composed by Vocaloid producer Capitaro.

Riho Iida -- Hajimaritai Kanon (始まりたいカノン)



One of my recent frustations was not being able to see Riho Iida’s (飯田里穂) live performance in last July’s “Festival do Japão” (Japan’s Festival). It would be my first true aidoru experience, and, who knows, maybe I could take a picture with her. In the end, I couldn't attend the festival, which made me feel a little bit gloomy for a while.


Well, at least I can listen to the nice songs from her debut album, “rippi-rippi”, which was released in July 2015. One of them is “Hajimaritai Kanon”, the lead song.

My first contact with Riho was watching this music video, but I soon discovered she’s a famous seiyuu and sexy gravure aidoru, so it was kind of weird to see her so light and immaculate in the music video for “Hajimaritai Kanon”. However, as I’m not really in the anime niche, I’ll probably only listen to her as a cute aidoru, so it’s okay. Well, I’m a liar... I will also see some of her bikini shoots sometimes as well.

“Hajimaritai Kanon” is not revolutionary by any means, and is quite a plain pop song driven mostly by acoustic intruments, which is something I usually avoid when listening to 21th century aidoru music. However, there are some lovely and dreamy synths being used here and there through the song, and I especially like when their sound appears between the first chorus and the second verses.

As for the lovely Riho Iida, her vocals are cute, but not very high-pitched, so that’s a good reason for trying out her full album. Believe me, she’s not overly “saccharine” as one might expect. Songs like “Love Motion” and “Stargazer”, for example, are great options for newcomers.

Lyrics were written by Hata Aki (畑亜貴), while music was composed by Yasuo Sakai (酒井康男).

Source: Amazon.jp

Miki Fujitani -- Believe in Myself

(Sorry the video has been taken down.)


It’s not so hard to find underground aidoru stuff nowadays, but it’s always a challenge to find old underground aidoru stuff. That said, I was really happy to finally have a somewhat audible mp3 file (thanks Jun Lee, if you’re reading this) of Miki Fujitani’s (藤谷美紀) “Believe in Myself”, a song she originally released in February 1990.

Before having the full song, I had already listened to the short version posted above a couple of times, but, although I really enjoyed it, I don’t like to be addicted to a song I can’t listen to in its full magnificence.


Miki Fujitani was an okay aidoru at her time, but what I really liked about “Believe in Myself” was, of course, the Eurobeat-inspired arrangement with all the squeaky synths involved. Also, one nice detail was the explosion sounds used in the background during the beginning (0:04, 0:08) and end of the song (2:27, 2:35). Maybe it’s just me, but I think it was an edgy choice.

“Believe in Myself” is a nice throwback to the time when SAW (Stock, Aitken and Waterman) was a major influence in Japanese pop music and “the female aidoru stereotype”, as we all know, was facing a big crisis of popularity. That’s probably why I see Fujitani’s whole performance as something dusty, lonely and almost cold.

“Believe in Myself” was the ending theme to the movie version of the manga turned-into-anime “Nozomi Witches” (のぞみウィッチィズ), starring Miki Fujitani. Here’s an old CM.


Lyrics were written by Jun Kagemori (影森潤), while music was composed by Ken Kobayashi (小林健). As for the arrangement, Motoki Funayama (船山基紀) was the responsible.

Top 10 Singles of 2004

1.  Ken Hirai                                  Hitomi wo Tojite
2.  Mr. Children                             Sign
3.  Ayaka Hirahara                        Jupiter
4.  Orange Range                          Hana
5.  Mr. Children                            Te no Hira/Kurumi
6.  Ko Shibasaki                            Katachi Aru Mono
7.  Orange Range                          Locomotion
8.  Southern All Stars                   Kimi koso Star da/Yume ni Kieta Julia
9.  Kyogo Kawaguchi                   Sakura
10. Gorie with Jasmine & Joanne Mickey





EPO -- Poptracks


As I mentioned when I wrote the article on EPO's oh-so-sunny single, "Sanbanme no Shiawase"(三番目の幸せ), I had first received the album that it appeared on, "Poptracks" as a tape lent to me by a university friend over a quarter-century ago. It was the first EPO album that I had heard and gave it my frequent ear on the tape recorder. Many years later, I would finally get the CD itself. Speaking of the CD, I get the impression that EPO may have had a bigger say than most in how the cover was photographed. Usually with an Akina Nakamori(中森明菜)or a Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)album, there would be a full head shot of the singer either beaming at the camera or giving a come-hither expression. On the other hand, EPO seemed to want to become part of the pop art cover design on a number of her albums aside from her first two releases "Downtown" and "Goodies". Not that I'm complaining at all...she was rather fetching back then. Another more vivid cover would be the one for "Vitamin EPO".

In any case, getting to the topic at hand, I wanted to talk about a few of the tracks on EPO's 10th album from December 1987, "Poptracks". As the lead track "Sanbanme no Shiawase" would hint, the singer-songwriter has gone further afield from her City Poppy beginnings; in fact, I would say that first song is perfect for a seaside town away from the metropolis.


(from 4:05)

Track 2 is "Someday". I also wrote on the original article for "Sanbanme no Shiawase" that this song by Tatsuro Yamashita and Minako Yoshida(山下達郎・吉田美奈子)was created as a rebuttal tune for the former song. While "Sanbanme" touted the joy of enjoying life solo, the peppier "Someday" had EPO singing about trying to find that special someone. 

The two impressions I got from "Poptracks" is that, as the title indicates, the songs are all more on the straight pop side without too much of the urban feeling.


The other impression is that the album also has its share of covers. EPO tries her hand at a number of the older poppier kayo. Track 3 is a cover of Yuko Asano's浅野ゆう子)bizarrely titled "Sexy Bus Stop" by Jun Hashimoto and Kyohei Tsutsumi(橋本淳・筒美京平)from the early 1970s which seems to start off like a country hoedown. It's not the best track on the album since I think the backup vocals sound a bit off for some reason but Ms. Sato keeps her usual high energy levels so that I still like it to a certain extent.





Track 4 is my favourite original track, "Sayonara wa 2B no Enpitsu"(さよならは2Bの鉛筆...Goodbye is a 2B Pencil), written and composed by EPO. Although I said that "Poptracks" was more on the straight pop side, there's something quite cool and urban contemporary about the arrangements. The song is about the sad kiss-off to a summertime romance...in pencil, apparently (maybe the lovebirds are still in elementary school?). The AOR/City Pop band Sentimental City Romance is backing her up here and they also do so for two of the cover songs on the album.

I have to say that I'm a huge fan of Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子), but I think even EPO gives an even better performance of one of Ohnuki's standards, "Yokogao"(横顔)which is Track 5. It's because EPO has that ability to up the cheeriness quotient and also to bring in one of her vocal signatures of scatting.


My final song from the album tonight is "Try to Call" which was naturally used for a KDD phone commercial. This was another EPO creation on the soul/funk side of things with the singer going for a surprisingly high-pitched Minnie Ripperton-like intro. Here, EPO is encouraging those lovers, post-spat, to pick up that phone and make amends before it's too late. Coincidentally, the final track of the album is her cover of Ripperton's "Loving You". To be frankly honest, I don't think Ripperton's spirit has anything to worry about with EPO's cover.

(full album)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Aming -- Coffee wa Kirai (コーヒーはきらい)


After writing about their monster hit, "Matsu wa"(待つわ)from 1982, I had thought that I would probably never be able to write another article on the duo Aming(あみん), who are Takako Okamura and Haruko Kato(岡村孝子・加藤晴子), since their debut song was the only song that I knew them for.

But then some weeks ago, I came across this ballad titled "Coffee wa Kirai" (I Hate Coffee) which was a track on the duo's debut album, "P.S. Anata e..."(P.S. あなたへ…P.S. To You)from April 1983. And like caffeine, I was hooked...despite the title. Sung by Kato here, the lyrics by Kyoko Matsumiya(松宮恭子)struck me as a bit vague about why the protagonist hated coffee. Was a past love an avid java drinker or did they happen to break up in a cafe?

I'm not sure about the answer to the above questions but I did like the music which was also by Matsumiya. I guess there's something about a light piano ballad that just gets me at ease. And it would actually be chamomile tea, not coffee, that would get me in the same state. Although Okamura was the one who would find lasting success as a solo artist in later years, I think Kato did a fine job here. But despite what she sings in this particular song, I do love my joe.



Kome Kome Club -- Aishiteru (愛してる)


Well, it's been close to 3 years since I wrote up about Kome Kome Club's(米米クラブ)"Kimi ga Iru Dake de"(君がいるだけで), the huge hit that was the theme song for the drama "Sugao no Mama de"(素顔のままで)which had one of the most tissue-drenching endings in Japanese dramas.


"Kimi ga Iru Dake de" was this supremely sunny and cheerful song that ended up as the No. 1 song for 1992, but the single also had this B-side which was also heard during the episodes of "Sugao no Mama de" starring Narumi Yasuda(安田成美)and Akina Nakamori(中森明菜). "Aishiteru" (I Love You) also created by Kome Kome Club is this very soft ballad tenderly sung by lead vocalist Tatsuya Ishii(石井竜也)that also seems to have a certain old-fashioned feeling to it thanks to the languid horns in there. I think as much as the A-side musically identified the drama, "Aishiteru", both the original and the instrumental version used as BGM, made its own mark on the show as well. To be honest, I would have preferred to have heard this song at the end of the series when Akina's character of Kanna was remembering her old late friend, Yumiko; now that would have really put the tear ducts in overdrive.

For all the accolades on "Kimi ga Iru Dake de", you can check out the original article.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Yuuka Ueno -- Shiawase no Kaeri Michi (幸せの帰り路)

I lived in a very convenient neighbourhood just south of Minami-Gyotoku Station on the Tozai Line in Ichikawa City, Chiba Prefecture. There are four supermarkets within good walking distance of my old apartment and a number of restaurants and izakaya, including the tonkatsu restaurant that you see to the right. Tonki was there long before my 17-year-stay in Nangyo (the local nickname for Minami-Gyotoku) and it is still there. It still has the inviting decor, the TV and the collection of manga.





Sometimes when I just didn't feel like cooking or picking up a bento on the way home, I often made a beeline to Tonki in the station mall just under the tracks. I ordered my usual which was the hire katsu teishoku, the lean deep fried pork cutlet meal with bottomless rice, miso soup, green tea and a mountain of shredded cabbage. It was so satisfying especially when I dipped the piece of tonkatsu into the thick brown tangy sauce mixed in with sesame seeds that I ground while waiting for the meal. Plus, the dab of pungent Japanese mustard added further flavour notes. Simply remembering shoveling the pork, cabbage and rice into my mouth has me in a state of bliss.

I've taken friends from Toronto there for lunch or dinner to Tonki (and some of the other places in the station mall) when they've come to visit, and when I went back to my old neighbourhood last year, of course, I had lunch there with one of my old students. 


In the last month or so, my anime buddy has been showing episodes of a new series called "Wakako Zake"(ワカコ酒)which has been adapted from an original manga continuing since 2011. Watching it reminded me of the soft food porn anime (just tongue-in-cheek there) "Koufuku Graffiti"(幸腹グラフィティ)which I saw earlier in the year, except that "Wakako Zake" is just a tenth of the length of an average episode of the former show at just 2 minutes. But, boy, does it make sure we get our money's worth of bar food vicariously through the company employee, huge-eyed Wakako Murasaki, as she goes into loving detail about each dish served such as the fried salted salmon from Episode 1 above while she downs some of that booze. And she always goes alone on the way home. My friend always shows it before we head out for dinner just to get our stomach juices flowing. 

(karaoke version)

And what always adds to the inviting atmosphere is the theme song sung by 17-year-old singer/actress Yuuka Ueno(上野優華), "Shiawase no Kaeri Michi" (The Happy Way Home). Written and composed by Yuuta Matsuura(松浦雄太), it has that great country swing feeling as Ueno sings about coming home after a hard day at work and having those familiar and appetizing smells from the various eateries around her home erase any of the bad feelings as they entice her in like a beloved aunt offering to serve dinner. I can certainly relate to that feeling. Of course, making something out of the fresh produce and other fare at the supermarket can ensure a healthier meal but having a fine meal at the local izakaya, ramen-ya or tonkatsu-ya sometimes can be quite nourishing for the soul as well.



For Ueno, "Shiawase no Kaeri Michi" is her 6th single from July 2015. I don't know how it has done on the anison charts, but I will be more than happy to use it as my own theme song for memories of my visits to Tonki.



That's my baby at the top there!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

LONG SHOT PARTY -- Ano Hi Time Machine (あの日タイムマシン)


It's quite rare for me to start watching an anime on a whim like that, but after getting a birthday gift for my anime-loving friend in the form of a little Nyanko-Sensei plushie a couple of weeks ago, I just had to check out the show this character comes from. The anime was titled "Natsume Yuujincho" (夏目友人帳... Natsume's book of friends) and what piqued my interest besides the adorable maneki neko was the horror aspect of the show - it featured Yokai, which are morally ambiguous ghosts, ghouls and monsters that are unseen by most humans but tangible to our protagonist Takashi Natsume. It was an ironic choice, I must add, as I'm very easily frightened and some of the designs of Yokai I've seen thus far (I'm currently at season 3), whether malevolent or benevolent, made my skin crawl. But it's quite an enjoyable show with many heartwarming, funny and down right creepy moments. There have been a handful of freaky jump-scares as well...

Anyway, as with most animes I watch, I tend to end up liking at least one song over its course. In this case, it's "Ano Hi Time Machine" (That day's time machine), which was the opening theme to the show's 2nd season, "Zoku Natsume Yuujincho" (続 夏目友人帳). Although the episodes were set in autumn and winter, "Ano Hi Time Machine" has a more summery vibe to it. That combined with the breezy vocals of sasaji, the leader of the former rock band LONG SHOT PARTY (disbanded in 2010), makes me think of someone relaxing under the shade of a large tree on a bright, clear day with the warm wind whisking by. What I like most about this tune is that it has the trumpets blaring away in the back that gives the song a feeling of jubilation, and the inclusion of the saxophone gives "Ano Hi Time Machine" its refined side.

"Ano Hi Time Machine" was written by sasaji himself and was composed by the entire band. It was LONG SHOT PARTY's 3rd official single, 5th if you count their first two indies singles, released on 28th January 2009. The song did decent on the Oricon charts, peaking at 38th place.


The opening sequence to "Zoku Natsume Yuujincho" was also quite interesting and was something I would watch rather than just skipping ahead to the show itself. In the first half, it showcased some shots of scenery and a few characters going about their daily lives, then in the later part, the same sequence was played again, but this time with the addition of the now visible (to the audience) Yokai doing their own thing as well beside the humans. And when you see this huge, wolf-like creature in there with red markings on its head, that's Nyanko-Sensei a.k.a Madara in his real form.

mery.jp

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Toshiki Kadomatsu -- After 5 Crash


Dang, Japanese funk indeed. I think the concert version above is even better than the original recording with those disco flutes added in there. I'm talking about "After 5 Crash", the semi-title track from Toshiki Kadomatsu's(角松敏生)4th album, "After 5 Clash" from April 1984 (I'm sure the conscientious students of English/Kadomatsu fans tried to improve their pronunciation of their r's and l's). I have always been drawn to the album because of that cool record cover that I first saw in "Japanese City Pop": a red woman's pump with the "bright lights, big city" background. Should include that in my next purchase of CDs. No wonder Anri(杏里)wanted to work with him.


Kadomatsu took care of music and lyrics of all of the tracks, but I've only gotten a taste of "After 5 Crash", a bass-thumpy tune with some fine instrumental solos about getting into the metropolitan night action once the sun sets, and it sets pretty quickly in Tokyo...no Daylight Savings Time in the country. And according to the brief J-Wiki article on "After 5 Clash", the album's theme was on "night and the city". Tokyo must have been some swinging city back in the 80s. I was still impressed getting there after the Bubble burst.

Shibuya...definitely after 5.

Sakanaction -- Ame (B)


A little over a year and a half ago, I wrote an article about the eclectic band Sakanaction which had its debut at the 2013 Kohaku Utagassen. With its entry of "Music", it definitely stood out among the other acts...something that's not too easy to do anymore in my eyes. Although I listed the band members, I didn't bother to write about the derivation of the name although for those who know at least some Japanese, it shouldn't have been too difficult to figure out. According to the band's official website via the Wikpedia entry on the band, the "...name Sakanaction is a portmanteau of "sakana" (魚?, "fish") and "action". In the band's own words, their name reflects a wish to act quickly and lightly, like fish in the water, without fearing changes in the music scene."  Sounds like the musical equivalent of a rapid strike Special Forces team....pretty darn cool.

Tonight's Sakanaction entry was a song that I found out about from an interesting source. I've often gone to the website "TV Tropes" as a source for trivia on various old TV programs and anime. Last night, I decided to take a look at their trope "Mundane Made Awesome -- Music"; this particular section profiles various instances when amazing music was made around something that really wouldn't be all that exciting. 

I was surprised to find Sakanaction in there (close to the bottom) with a song from their 2009 album, "Shinshiro"(シンシロ), titled "Ame (B)". The lyrics were simply about some guy getting an umbrella from his girl but still getting his left shoulder drenched in the rain. In most cases, that would merely get a snarky comment from the boyfriend and an argument. However, the good folks of Sakanaction were able to weave a catchy melody around it with some good thumps and a guitar in there. Short and sweet and appropriately eclectic.

Ahh...Y's Mart. I did get some good bento there.
One of four supermarkets in my old neighbourhood.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Apple Pye -- Calpis Soda no Natsu (カルピスソーダの夏)


Man, I thought I was just merely going to be talking about a pleasant summery contemporary number that I discovered on YouTube, but it looks that I can go personal with this (as I usually try to do) from two different angles.

First off, during my very first trip to Japan as a little kid in 1972, I fell hard for the manna from heaven, the elixir, the ultimate Japanese summery tonic known as Calpis. I didn't know what it was made from...it just came in this nearly opaque brown bottle wrapped in blue-and-white and was this thick white syrup that was mixed in with some cold water and ice to provide instant refreshment. Couldn't get enough of the stuff while I was staying in Wakayama with the grandparents. It would be several years until I had my second culinary epiphany in Japan during the 1981 trip when I discovered the joy of unagi!

Next, early in my life, as an avid TV watcher, I used to see the famous singing family, The Osmonds (Donny & Marie, Jimmy) in various guest appearances on the old variety shows, notably "The Andy Williams Show". Of course, for those of a certain age, Friday nights were made for "Donny & Marie" on ABC back in the 1970s. However, the littlest Osmond, Jimmy, made it big in Japan at the veteran age of 5 with his first Gold Record, "My Little Darling". So, of course, commercials came knocking, including the one above for...yep, you guessed it...Calpis. The Osmonds do appear and even the matriarch has a go at the jingle. Ahhh...those crazy Japanese ads.

All that preamble to introduce a very nice and soothing (just like Calpis) song titled "Calpis Soda no Natsu" (A Calpis Soda Summer). To be honest, I'm not quite as big a fan for the fizzy Calpis as I am for the straight stuff, but I digress. The song is a track on the debut album of a group called Apple Pye (and yes, that is how they spell it in English). The album "Apple Pye" came out in 2012. And the interesting thing about the university-born unit is that according to a Japanese-language article, they've likened themselves as a 21st-century version of the New Music group, Sugar Babe.

The author for the article said that Apple Pye(あっぷるぱい)was a Sugar Babe with "...a  young, cool and cynical feel...". Not quite sure about that last adjective but I have yet to hear the whole album. Still "Calpis Soda no Natsu" has that breeziness which reminded me faintly of Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)when she performed "Itsumo Doori"(いつも通り)on the lone Sugar Babe album, "SONGS". In fact, the two vocalists of Apple Pye have paid further tribute to the old band by taking on the names of Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)and Ohnuki, the two main vocalists on Sugar Babe. The guy is Yamashita while the woman has taken on a moniker variant of Ohnuki's nickname of Ta-bo(ター坊)by going with Da-bo.

I haven't exactly gotten cold sweat cravings for Calpis since I returned to Canada in 2011, although I was more than happy to guzzle down the stuff when I went to Japan last year for a 2-week vacation. Still, it's times like these when it's hot and humid that I do appreciate drinking down a plastic bottle or can of the white stuff. Mind you, Calpis is indeed available here in Toronto at different places such as an anime and manga shop in Chinatown, but at about $3 a pop (no pun intended), I have somehow been able to resist its considerable charms.




The mixed fruits-au-lait version. Not too bad, either.
Took this photo at work years ago.

Masatoshi Nakamura -- Ore tachi no Tabi (俺たちの旅)



I used to hear excerpts of this song a fair bit over the years on TV but didn't hear the whole thing until just recently. Masatoshi Nakamura's(中村雅俊)4th single "Ore tachi no Tabi" (Our Voyage) came out in October 1975 and was the theme song for a 1-year-long drama of the same name about a trio of buddies who have to make that hard transition from the good ol' days of hanging out in school to the everyday of corporate life (which they hate) to starting up their own company.


When I found out that "Ore tachi no Tabi" had been written and composed by Kei Ogura(小椋佳), I simply uttered "naruhodo". The ballad just has that distinctive Ogura wistfulness which would force any singer to look longingly up at the ceiling with moist eyes. Nakamura's vocals have that laconic "shuffling-introspectively-on-the-pavement" feel which is perfect for the song. It's quite soothing for the soul, just as any cup of chamomile would.


"Ore tachi no Tabi" managed to peak at No. 2 on Oricon and became the 6th-ranked single for 1976,


Thursday, August 20, 2015

trf/Prizmmy☆ -- Crazy Gonna Crazy


As I mentioned in my very first article featuring the song & dance unit, trf, my first encounter with the big Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉)project was through a couple of Japanese siblings that I was tutoring here in Toronto in the early 90s (I wonder whatever happened to them). The brother was kind enough to lend me his CD single of "Boy Meets Girl", and I even received a tape of that song plus "EZ Do Dance" from another source...all before I hit Japan again for another round of work in late 1994.

So I already had a taste of trf even before leaving my native Canada. And when I did arrive in Tokyo, the group was still on the rise. Basically then, the very first new single by trf  that I heard in Japan was "Crazy Gonna Crazy" which was released on New Year's Day 1995. Of course, Komuro took care of the words and music, and it was another dance-poppy hit....despite the failure in English syntax in the title. Unlike "Boy Meets Girl", this particular song wasn't soaring like a rocket but just kept things nice and happy on the dance floor, melodically speaking.


Instead of being a campaign song on a commercial, though, "Crazy Gonna Crazy" became the theme song for a Fuji-TV comedy-drama "Gaman Dekinai!"(我慢できない!...I Can't Take It!) I barely remember the opening credits for the show which had the cast running around as if they were in a Benny Hill sketch and acting appropriately crazy. Still, the song was far more memorable for me.

"Crazy Gonna Crazy" ended up being trf's biggest hit to date, selling close to 1.6 million copies. Hitting No. 1 on Oricon was pretty much obvious and by the end of the year, it was the 11th-ranked song for the annual charts. It also got onto the group's 5th album, "dAnce to positive" which also hit No. 1 and was the 2nd-most successful album for 1995. It even broke the 2-million barrier. At the time, being in the sway of the Komuro magic, I did get the album.


Almost a couple of decades later, the Avex Entertainment girl group Prizmmy☆ covered "Crazy Gonna Crazy" as their 9th single in October 2013. In fact, they also covered the other two trf songs I mentioned above earlier in the year. Their cover of this song, though, peaked at No. 71. The members at that time were Mia Kusakabe(日下部美愛), Reina Kubo(久保玲奈), Karin Takahashi(高橋果鈴)and Aya Sema(瀬間彩海), none of whom were even close to being born when the original had come out. I guess I will be downing that bottle of Geritol later on tonight.