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, May 25, 2016

Noriko Watanabe -- Hare, Tokidoki Kill Me (晴れ、ときどき殺人)

(song starts at about 1:23)

I first introduced the singing actress Noriko Watanabe(渡辺典子)a little over a month ago with her 2nd-last single, "Sora Iro no Pierce"(空色のピアス). Well, here is her 2nd single, "Hare, Tokidoki Kill Me" (Sunny with a Chance of Kill Me) from April 1984, and with a title like that, I was quite intrigued.

The song was the title theme for a movie with the same title starring Watanabe which was based on a mystery novel by Jiro Akagawa(赤川次郎). I don't really have to watch the movie to get that strange feeling of mystery since the trailer as seen above depicts some rather dark happenings involving poor Watanabe's character of Kanako while this happy-go-lucky aidoru-style song is playing in the background. It's almost as if a theme from a Hayao Miyazaki(宮崎駿)movie was grafted onto an Alfred Hitchcock flick. "Tonari no Totoro"(となりのトトロ)for "North by Northwest", anyone?

The other surprising thing is that "Hare, Tokidoki Kill Me" was created by the husband-and-wife team of Ryudo Uzaki and Yoko Aki(宇崎竜童・阿木耀子)who were whipping up all those muscular hits for Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵)in the latter half of her career such as "Playback, Part II". This is probably the cutest song I have ever heard by that duo.

Sachiko Nishida -- Furusato no You ni (故郷のように)

Usually when I see the word furusato in a kayo title, I think of a sentimental ballad with the singer warbling emotionally about heading back to the old hometown after years toiling away in the big city. However, such is not the case here with Sachiko Nishida's(西田佐知子)"Furusato no You ni" (Just Like My Hometown).

Released in March 1963, Nishida goes through this like a boogie-woogie march on the same level as anything by the Andrews Sisters back in World War II. "Furusato no You ni" was created by the same duo, Rokusuke Ei and Hachidai Nakamura(永六輔・ 中村八大), who had come up with the classic "Ue wo Muite Arukou"(上を向いて歩こう)...aka "Sukiyaki"...for the late Kyu Sakamoto(坂本九)a couple of years earlier in 1961. Nishida sings about how much she wants to hold onto her guy like her memories of home, and dang it, if that arrangement is any indication, she will probably end up asphyxiating him in the process.

If I understood the J-Wiki article on the song correctly, the song got its fame during its introduction on a segment of the old NHK program "Yume de Aimashou"(夢であいましょう...Let's Meet In A Dream).


Steadily getting through the now-annual traffic jam of superhero TV shows and motion pictures. I caught "Captain America: Civil War" (pretty good), "Batman vs. Superman" (not very good) and the season finales for "Gotham" (fine), "Agents of SHIELD" (bittersweet but good) and "The Flash" (hmmm...the jury is still out on that one). And there is another movie around the corner with "X-Men: Apocalypse" coming out this Friday here in North America.

The movie and the marketing seem to be shivering in the huge shadow left by the latest movie in the "Captain America" franchise, and apparently the reviews haven't been all that great although they should still better those for "Batman vs. Superman". I still want to see "Apocalypse" nonetheless because I have been an "X-Men" fan for decades. In fact, among my scattered collection of comic books, "X-Men" has taken up the most space.

Just a few minutes ago, I came across another video in the long series of the hilarious "Honest Trailers" series, and strangely enough, the (mutant) powers-that-be over there decided to aim their ruby quartz visors at the 1990s X-Men cartoon. Broadcast a good chunk of a decade before the very first "X-Men" live-action film launched the franchise of mixed results, for mutant fans like myself, the cartoon was manna from heaven. It may look rather clunky and dated now but back then, I was quite happy catching it on Sunday mornings. Plus, I have to say that the theme song for the cartoon is still more memorable than the theme for the movies.

Now, lest you folks start thinking about why I am dragging in a purely different pop cultural fave into a blog about Japanese popular music, that Honest Trailer on the X-Men cartoon series also briefly featured the theme song used for the Japanese broadcast of the show. As Mr. Honest Trailer Man quipped, "Sugoi".

I think that urgent original theme by Ron Wasserman was still being used but the Japanese broadcast also used a hard rock anison titled "RISING" along the lines of "Ai wo Torimodose!!"(愛をとりもどせ!!)for "Hokuto no Ken" (Kenshiro vs. Wolverine?...yeah, I'd see that) whose melodic legacy has been passed onto JAM Project for "THE HERO!" from "One-Punch Man" ( about Saitama vs. Wolverine?). There is even the word "SHOCK" in the lyrics (one personal pronoun and a definite article away from copyright litigation).

Looking at the Japanese opening credits, I think the animators were chomping at the bit to give their ode to the X-Men. Anyways, "RISING" was written, composed and sung by the rock band AMBIENCE as the theme song for the first half of the episodes shown. Junichi Kurata(倉田順一)who had been part of a Johnny's Entertainment aidoru group known as SHADOW, brought together a few other guys to form the band in 1993. Kurata was the first lead vocal for AMBIENCE until Hiroshi Kitagawa(北川浩)took over.

"RISING" was released as the band's 2nd single in May 1994 as one-half of the disc "DREAMIN'/RISING". It didn't rise too high though as it peaked at No. 95 on Oricon and sold 4000 copies which contrasted with its debut in November 1993 of "Saigo no Yakusoku: See You Again"(最後の約束...The Final Promise)which hit No. 10 and was even used as the theme song for a Fuji-TV drama.

In any case, I will be looking forward to reading those reviews for "Apocalypse" in the next couple of days.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Sachiko Shiina -- Debune Sanbashi (出船桟橋)

I heard "Debune Sanbashi" by enka singer Sachiko Shiina(椎名佐千子)last week on NHK's "Uta Kon"(うたコン)and remember being quite entranced by it. And I'm not quite sure why. The title meaning Wharf of a Departing Ship along with the lyrics by Toshiya Niitani(仁井谷俊也)aren't particularly revolutionary as far as an enka song goes. There have been plenty of enka about the sad story of a couple being separated at the docks due to various circumstances. And certainly, Chiaki Oka's(岡千秋)melody doesn't particularly stand out among the other enka melodies to have been composed.

But somehow, Shiina brings all the elements together quite nicely. I'm not sure whether this will ever eventually become a classic someday but when the singer performed it last week, "Debune Sanbashi" felt quite comfortable. Perhaps it was the strong and steady delivery that helped steer the titular ship forward although it left that poor forlorn lady at the pier. And I can hazard a guess that it made for that nice contrast with the previous pop songs which had been performed...something that "Uta Kon" is now mixing far more than its predecessor show "Kayo Concert"(歌謡コンサート)did.

Unfortunately, I don't know when exactly "Debune Sanbashi" was released although the year is most likely 2016 since there is no particular record of her output beyond 2015 according to her J-Wiki entry.

Shiina is an enka singer that I have seen a number of times now on the two NHK music programs. Born in Asahi City, Chiba Prefecture in 1982, she had been inspired by her grandmother who had also wanted to become a singer, and entered her fair share of karaoke competitions since her elementary school years, winning a number of them. As another winner in such a contest when she was a junior high school student, she was scouted out by composer Jun Suzuki(鈴木淳)which started her 4-hour round-trip commutes between Asahi City and studio offices in Roppongi, Tokyo for lessons. Suzuki and the aforementioned lyricist Niitani would create her debut single "Go-iken Muyo no Jinsei da"(ご意見無用の人生だ...A Life of Useless Opinions)in April 2002.

Yosui Inoue -- Kaerenai Futari (帰れない二人)

I mentioned in yesterday's article on that collaboration between Yosui Inoue(井上陽水)and Anzen Chitai(安全地帯)"Stardust Rendezvous" that there were a number of songs sung that deserved their own entries on "Kayo Kyoku Plus". Well, I'm making good my promise from today.

The one song from that 1986 album between Inoue and Anzen Chitai that stood out for me was the wonderful ballad "Kaerenai Futari" (The Couple That Doesn't Go Home). As I remarked in the article, it was the Side B to Inoue's 9th single from September 1973, "Kokoro Moyo"(心もよう...Pattern of a Heart), but although Side A seems to have earned a ton of respect over the decades by its covers by many an artist, I have yet to hear it myself and will in the near future. However for the meantime, I am falling for the charms of "Kaerenai Futari".

Jointly created by Inoue and the late firebrand rocker Kiyoshiro Imawano(忌野清志郎), the original recorded version has plenty of power in spots that I didn't pick up on during the performance by Inoue and Koji Tamaki in "Stardust Rendezvous". But I'm still going with the label that it is at its very heart, a romantic folk ballad. Looking at the title, I thought the song was rather sad but listening and reading the lyrics, I've come to the realization that it is actually quite hopeful. The words relate the story of a boy and girl or a man and woman who are apparently just on the cusp of a romantic relationship. Even though it's the dead of night as Inoue sings that even "...the stars are getting ready to go home...", the couple still doesn't want to call it a night quite yet...they simply want to spend every waking moment together until sleep finally does beckon.

"Kokoro Moyo" peaked at No. 7 on Oricon and ended up as the 39th-ranked single of 1974. Both sides of the single were also tracks on Inoue's acclaimed 3rd album "Kōri no Sekai"(氷の世界...World of Ice)which was released in December 1973. The album not only hit No. 1 on the Oricon weeklies but was the No. 1 album of the year for 2 years in a row for 1974 and 1975. And it still did very well in 1976 as it was the 23rd-ranked album for that year.

"Kokoro Moyo" wasn't the only classic to be covered. "Kaerenai Futari" also got the respect it deserved. Here is Superfly with her cover of the song.

And even Soul Man Masayuki Suzuki(鈴木雅之)provided his soothing vocals for his version of the song.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Yosui Inoue & Anzen Chitai -- Stardust Rendezvous Live at Jingu Stadium

How is this for a team-up: singer-songwriter Yosui Inoue(井上陽水)rocking away with his old backing band, Anzen Chitai(安全地帯), which, by the time this album was released, had already become a successful act in its own right? And thus, "Stardust Rendezvous Live at Jingu Stadium" was born with the album being released in November 1986.

But wait, there's more! I didn't even purchase this at Wah Yueh. I got it at the store across the street called Sun Wa for the ridiculous price of $6.95 CDN. That isn't even the price of a CD single! And perhaps the reason is that the record inside looked like a piece of vinyl that had small ambitions on becoming a Moebius strip. Yep, it was quite wobbly but the record still holds up to the stereo needle even today.

"Stardust Rendezvous" had its Side A devoted to Anzen Chitai's hits while Side B was almost all dedicated to Inoue's discography. For example, the above stormy "Yudachi"(夕立...Evening Squall)which was Inoue's 6th single from 1974.  Now, I think most of the tracks for the singer on this album deserve their own entries (which I have yet to write about at this time) so I will keep things brief for now. But let it be known that "Yudachi" has got him and buddy Koji Tamaki(玉置浩二)unleashing their vocals.

Then, there is Inoue's most excellent cover of the song that he had created for Akina Nakamori(中森明菜), "Kazarijanainoyo Namida wa"(飾りじゃないのよ涙は)that helped her make the transition from aidoru into pop superstar. I think his rendition has more of a spooky thriller aspect.

"Kaerenai Futari"(帰れない二人...The Couple That Doesn't Go Home)was the B-side to his 4th single "Kokoro Moyo"(心もよう...Pattern of a Heart)from 1973. It's a wonderful ballad that I will be more than happy to further peruse in the very near future. I especially love the harmony between Inoue and Tamaki for this one.

Speaking of harmony, the final track on the record is "Natsu no Owari no Harmony"(夏の終わりのハーモニー).  I already wrote about this ultimate kayo kyoku bromance tune all the way back in September 2012, but I think it's worth putting this into this article as well. I could imagine that after the concert was over, a whole bunch of guys headed over to all of the nomiyas and izakayas around Jingu Stadium to have that bromantic brewski.

Not sure how well "Stardust Rendezvous" did on the charts but just talking for myself, I think I got myself a great bargain at less than $10 for this record...and that's considering the record's Pringles potato chip-like shape.

Aya Endo -- Mizuiro (みずいろ)

I made my semi-annual binge purchases of CDs the other day via CD Japan (thank you very much) and one of the discs happens to be the soundtrack to one of my beloved anime "Shirokuma Cafe"(しろくまカフェ...Polar Bear Cafe)from 2012-2013. As some of the viewers may be aware, I've written up a number of articles on the various opening and ending themes for the show which seemed to have had the policy of promoting an ending theme of the month as sung by each seiyuu from the cast.

Ending theme No. 3 which was featured in June 2012 was notable for me in that it wasn't a super quirky or barnstorming epic such as the tour de force effort of all of the seiyuu doing their covers of the song "Shirokuma Cafe". As befitting Aya Endo's(遠藤綾)calm and sweet (well, at least, most of the time) character of Sasako(笹子), her "Mizuiro" (Water Colours) is also just as calm and sweet and very comfy. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any evidence of that particular ending credit sequence on YouTube, but it featured a supposedly live-action Sasako riding through the town on her bicycle while she sang the nice mix of folk, pop and Latin.

As with all of the ending themes for "Shirokuma Cafe", "Mizuiro" was written and composed by the virtuoso Saki(紗希). And Endo has a pretty nice set of pipes. I read that she had gotten married recently and although I don't know if she has entered motherhood quite yet, I would think that she would be able to sing some fine lullabies to her kids with that voice. Alas, the ending themes are not included on the soundtrack I got but perhaps someday I will make that investment to get those as well.