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.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Ryotaro Sugi -- Yatate no Sugi (矢立の杉)

Hur hur, Ryotaro Sugi (杉良太郎) is singing about a sugi (cedar tree)... ... Sorry, I couldn't help it.

In my article on Harumi Miyako (都はるみ) a week ago, I mentioned that there was a single by the Taiga drama star I found on a "Nippon no Uta" binge. That single is "Yatate no Sugi". 

Coming from another Special Stage that paired Sugi with enka singer George Yamamoto (山本讓二), "Yatate no Sugi" was sung during the time when both singers showcased their new tunes for that year/around that year. Yamamoto first put out a rather bluesy Mood Kayo that was quite easy on the ears - it feels like you're in a smokey bar with a glass of the hard stuff in hand after a hard day of work, listening to "Naitara Ii sa" as you wait for the rain outside to ease before leaving. Then when it was Sugi's turn, those delicate strings and soft trumpets of "Yatate no Sugi" make it feel like you just left said bar and got transported to some nature trail in the middle of a forest where the air is crisp and you can see the clear sky between the branches of the cedar trees. In other words, it was very refreshing to hear this song after much "hardcore" and aged enka earlier in the show.

The focus of "Yatate no Sugi" is the sacred cedar of the same name in Yamanashi prefecture. This huge tree stood east of the peak of the Sasago ridge for more than a millennium and it's still going strong today along a hiking trail. I'm not entirely sure why it is worshiped, but back around the Edo era, samurai would pray to the Yatate Cedar before a war in the hopes that they will emerge victorious; an arrow, which in Japanese is "Ya" (矢), would be shot at the tree afterwards - that's how the tree got its name. I got this information from the Otsuki City tourism website which you can check out here

"Yatate no Sugi" was released on 21st May 2008. Writing it was Sugi himself under the pen name, Ryo Daichi (大地良), and he seems to be talking about the strength and comfort it still gives the people of Yamanashi (or minimally Kuronoda Village which is in the tree's vicinity) even after all those years. It's a nice and noble tribute to one of Yamanashi's natural wonders. There's even a plaque to commemorate this song and a speaker playing it near the tree. Yup, this is definitely the flavour of the month, besides Miyako's "Sen'nen no Koto". Come to think of it, I like both songs because they give me a similar vibe - airy and dignified - just that Sugi's has a slightly more enka feel that Miyako's.

Monday, January 16, 2017

World Order -- Have A Nice Day

It was definitely nice getting back to Tokyo again in late 2014. As I've said before, the city is a great place to take a walk during the year...excepting the dog days of summer. There are a lot of interesting neighbourhoods and because of the somewhat more relaxed zoning regulations, even the local areas can be packed with flavour. Walk along the sidewalk, you can come across a dry cleaners squeezed in between a tonkatsu eatery and a toy store specializing in Gundam figures.

But just to divert from the conversation a bit, the above fellow is former mixed martial artist Genki Sudo(須藤元気). I was never a fan of MMA but his face rings a bell and I figure it's because he has also been a fairly familiar face on Japanese television as a tarento. I guess I can also call him a Renaissance man of sorts because he is also an actor, a singer, a choreographer, an author, a representative for an English conversation school and even a sommelier. My impression is that in all likelihood I've seen him participating on that Arashi(嵐)game show "VS Arashi".

What I hadn't been aware about was that Sudo had also created his own unique band called World Order in 2009. I caught one of their videos today and it was for their December 2014 song "Have A Nice Day". Their schtick was that the former MMA fighter and his crew made like sober-suited automatons doing some cool and comic routines in some of the famous areas of Tokyo. It's tourism with a twist! And any video showcasing parts of the megalopolis will always be welcome with me.

Sudo wrote and composed this nifty technopoppy tune, and although I think it needs the video to be really fun, I was kinda reminded of Denki Groove(電気グルーヴ)since those fellows also have a sense of humour with their music and videos as well.

I have read the comments from YouTube that World Order ought to have their time in the sun (or under the stars) at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremonies. That wouldn't be a bad idea at all. However, Sudo resigned as the lead vocalist back in October 2015 and is now helping World Order on the production side of things. Perhaps, though, he can be persuaded to put on the suit and glasses one more time for the team.

fhana -- Aozora no Rhapsody (青空のラプソディ)

According to the mass media, today is supposed to be Blue Monday. This was so coined due to the combination of post-Holiday blues, the continuing shorter period of sunlight during the winter, and the bills coming in from all that Yuletide carousing last month. I should have my own bills coming in over the next couple of weeks, but I don't think they will be too painful.

But never let it be said that "Kayo Kyoku Plus" can't at least try to blow back some of those blues so I've brought in the first entry for the blog categorized as a 2017 song, the opening theme for the new anime "Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon"(小林さんちのメイドラゴン...Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid)by pop group fhana as their 10th single.

Along with the fact that it is the first song to be given the 2017 tag, "Aozora no Rhapsody" (Blue Sky Rhapsody) has my own little distinction of being the first article I'm providing of an anison of a show that I have the potential of seeing next Sunday (I believe my anime buddy just came back home yesterday) or at the end of January, provided that he is interested in "Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon". I've usually touted my like on KKP for an anime theme after viewing at least the first couple of episodes of the new show.

However, I first found out about the song a few days ago while perusing YouTube and catching the lively video of the actual band prancing about. It and the song are pretty fun and catchy, especially with that opening lyric of "Chu, chu, YEAH!". Plus that bouncy arrangement and towana's rapid-fire vocals helped me get out of my funk that night.

There's also something rather sweet about hearing and writing about fhana again since a few years ago I wrote about their debut single, the amazing "Que Sera Sera" (ケセラセラ) which was the ending theme for the gloriously animated "Uchoten Kazoku"(有頂天家族). It remains one of my favourite anison. But the mellowness of "Que Sera Sera" certainly contrasts with the super happy nature of "Aozora no Rhapsody" with both songs being contributed by band leader Junichi Sato(佐藤純一)and lyricist Hideki Hayashi(林英樹).

No Oricon rankings as of yet since the single itself won't be out until January 25th, still over a week away.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Keiko Kimura -- Good Morning

Long time, no see, Ms. Kimura. It's been quite a while.

Although it wasn't an official New Year's Resolution (I have steadfastly refused to make any of those anymore), I have decided to go back to the shelves and pull out a CD at random every day or every two days to listen to the various purchases. So, today was Keiko Kimura's(木村恵子)"Style" album from 1988. And indeed right from that cover photo to the music itself, there is that certain stylish mellow pop ripe for urban life.

I've already given the spotlight to two other tracks from "Style": "Denwa Shinai de"(電話しないで)and "Coltrane de Aishite"(コルトレーンで愛して), so today's article is on "Good Morning" which is appropriately the first track. Written by Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆)and composed by Shigeru Suzuki(鈴木茂), "Good Morning" has that easy and breezy melody incorporating a languid version of the town clock's hourly chimes. Meanwhile, Kimura sings about a possible morning after scenario with a woman who invited over a male buddy to sleep the night. Some of the copious drinking is still giving her a bit of a buzz. According to the lyrics, she still considers the fellow a good friend since she feels that the wonderful city is truly her lover. From that line, I wonder whether Kimura's photo was meant to envisage Holly Golightly from "Breakfast at Tiffany's".

So far, I've only written about songs from "Style", so I figure sometime later, I'm going to have to try to get at least one of her other three studio albums....if they are still around online.

Sumiko Sakamoto -- Yume de Aimashou (夢であいましょう)

I was born in the 1960s so my television viewing from what I can remember of that decade involved the tail-end of the big age of American and Canadian variety shows with comedy and music.

For instance, one of my earliest memories was watching The Red Skelton Show. There were others as well such as The Jackie Gleason Show, the Bob Hope specials, and of course, Ed Sullivan.

During last week's "Uta Kon" (うたコン), Hiroshi Itsuki and Yukino Ichikawa(五木ひろし・市川由紀乃)sang "Yume de Aimashou" (See You In My Dreams) which was the theme song for a long-running musical variety show that had its run between 1961 and 1966. I had always heard about this program since there were often excerpts popping now and then on NHK retrospectives, and there was something very sepia-toned and nostalgic about that theme song as sung by singer-actress Sumiko Sakamoto(坂本スミ子). As I recollect, a couple of other American variety shows from my childhood had similar ending themes: The Lawrence Welk Show and The Carol Burnett Show. There was just the way that those strings trailed off at the end of "Yume de Aimashou" that has had me imagining that old movie ending scene of slowly lifting off from the roof of a brownstone apartment and into the night sky.

The song was created by the famous songwriting duo of Rokusuke Ei and Hachidai Nakamura(永六輔・中村八大). Not surprisingly, then, a number of songs created by the pair which were featured on the show's segment "Kongetsu no Uta"(今月のうた...Song of the Month)became huge hits. They would include "Ue wo Muite Arukou"(上を向いて歩こう), "Konnichiwa Aka-chan"(こんにちは赤ちゃん)and "Tooku e Ikitai"(遠くへ行きたい).

"Yume de Aimashou" was televised weekly on NHK on Saturday nights during the 10 pm hour. Watching some of those old scenes gave me the impression that although the show may not have been the very first variety show to be aired on Japanese TV, it probably did influence the beginning of a number of future long-running shows such as Fuji-TV's "Music Fair", TV Tokyo's "Enka no Hanamichi"(演歌の花道)and even "Uta Kon". The show also had a number of still-familiar faces in entertainment history such as actor Kiyoshi Atsumi(渥美清), singer Kyu Sakamoto(坂本九)and Tetsuko Kuroyanagi(黒柳徹子)who would later host another famous music program, "The Best 10" along with her own long-running afternoon interview program "Tetsuko no Heya"(徹子の部屋...Tetsuko's Room).

As for Sumiko Sakamoto, although the Osaka-born singer had a slow start to her career, her stint in 1959 as a 23-year-old opening act alongside singer Joji Ai (アイ・ジョージ) for the Latin group Los Panchos brought her overnight fame and soon she was known as one of the Queens of Latin Music. Then came her time with "Yume de Aimashou". During that time, she also appeared on the Kohaku Utagassen every year singing Latin tunes. In addition along with her music career, she also appeared regularly on other TV shows including her own "Sumiko to Utao"(スミ子と 歌おう...Let's Sing with Sumiko).

Many years ago, I heard about this award-winning Japanese movie called "Narayama Bushikou"(楢山節考...The Ballad of Narayama)which had been released in 1983. The story involved a small 19th-century village whose population practiced the custom of ubasute in which when a person reached the age of 70, he or she had to go to a mountain to die. According to the J-Wiki account of the movie and from what I was told by my mother, one of the cast had actually decided to grind down four of her front teeth to make her appearance as the elderly mother even more convincing. That actress happened to be Sakamoto and afterwards she had implants for those four missing teeth.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Taeko Ohnuki -- Aventure (アヴァンチュール) Follow-Up

All the way back in the early days of the blog, I wrote about Taeko Ohnuki's(大貫妙子)5th album from May 1981, "Aventure". Since then, I've given some of the other tracks from the album their own articles, so I figure it was time to wrap things up and cover the remaining songs on this disc. For the record, the individual songs are the Latin-themed songs of "la mer, le ciel" and "Samba de Mar", "Bleeker Street no Seishun"(ブリーカーストリートの青春), and the poppy tune that starts things off "Koibito Tachi no Ashita"(恋人たちの明日). Another reason for revisiting "Aventure" is that I listened to it again for the first time in several months, and I guess it was a case of absence making the heart grow fonder since I truly enjoyed each track as if I were listening to them for the first time.

The one thing I realized that I had left out were those tracks that have been imbued with the European sound that critics were talking about when it came to this new Ohnuki entering the 1980s. And it is that European sound that finally hooked me into her albums. Case in point: Track 3, "Ai no Yukue"(愛の行方...The Fate of Love). In collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一), Ohnuki sounds absolutely lovely as her voice is matched with his glacial synthesizers to create this old but new techno waltz. And then in the second verse, this pop percussion comes in all of a sudden to add another interesting layer this song about lost love. The above video has a concert performance of the song.

The title track "Aventure" (11:58) is truly a melodic adventure as the song starts off with an intro consisting of these constantly slicing violins and a piano creating a soundscape of heading off to work in the bustling city, whether it be Paris, Brussels or Berlin. Then things get dreamier for a short bit when Taeko sings as if the protagonist is zoning out while on the subway or bus before a jauntier dance sequence enters the equation. But those strings are simply wonderful.

"Terminé"(16:42) is another great chance for the strings to shine but with a more contemporary beat. And the ballad is a bit more romantic and wistful. Images of ballet dancers floating across in front of the Louvre come to mind.

And the final song for the article and the final song for the album itself is "Saigo no Hizuke"(最後の日付...Final Date)at 35:37. As the melody will hint right from the intro, it's a somewhat bittersweet song about moving on from a former relationship despite the difficulty. The last date refers to the final entry of that relationship as written in the diary. I'm sounding like a broken record, I know, but again I love those strings especially when they soar up in volume with the deeper sounds of the cello and bass coming through. And in the back, there is always that layer of technology by Sakamoto, but it is definitely not a YMO product. It's a nice finish for a great album.

Come to think of it, "Aventure" is a most appropriate title for this Ohnuki album since although it was released in Japan, the songs don't have that feeling of City Pop or New Music in its country of origin per se. Instead, you're already transported to some place in Europe or South America.

Bakumatsujuku/TM Network -- Come on Let's Dance

Back on Christmas Eve last year, I wrote about the song "Yodel Tabehodai"(ヨーデル食べ放題), a musical ode to the love of yakiniku dining since it was featured on the end-of-year NHK special, "Osaka Melody". And during the performance of that song by Sachiko Kobayashi(小林幸子), a rather dapper if immense tarento popped up to ham (no pun intended) it up. This would be Hikomaro(彦摩呂), the ultimate foodie TV personality in Japan.

During my years in Japan, I would see the fellow appear on many a segment noshing happily on the grand variety of dishes served all throughout the nation while giving his thoughts. As the template for all tarento sampling the fare in the myriad restaurants, Hikomaro would be extremely loud and ingratiating...and that was even before he took a single bite. When he did, though, he would look like as if he were having an orgasm (man, I hope his pants were sturdy) and declare a whole ton of analogies as compliments such as "Aji no IT no kakumei ya!"(味のIT革命や〜)which translates as "This is the IT revolution of taste!" The above video has him explaining very much tongue-in-cheek about how to behave as a properly appreciative foodie tarento with the dish of choice being gyoza.

Hikomaro is about the same as me at about half a century. It's time for the shocker. Back in the late 1980s, the above video is what he looked like back then. Yep, he was a hunk back then instead of being a hunk of Jabba du Hutt now. So that you readers don't end up hurting your necks pulling multiple double takes between the two above videos, let me reassure everyone that both folks are indeed the same man...just in different times and weight classes. I've heard that whenever a retrospective is done about Hikomaro, the hosts always show the before/after photos of the fellow just to screw around with everyone's heads.

Back then, Hikomaro was Yoshihiko Hara(原吉彦)who was a member of a street performance team-turned-aidoru group called Bakumatsujuku(幕末塾...Bakumatsu Cram School)which had nothing to do with Johnny's Entertainment. The street performers based in Harajuku was scouted out one day and 11 of them decided to become a bona fide boys' aidoru group in 1988. Hikomaro became the 2nd leader of the group.

In April 1989, Bakumatsujuku debuted with "Come on Let's Dance", a high-energy and synth-heavy tune written by Norie Kanzawa(神沢礼江)and composed by Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉). As an aidoru tune, it's actually not too bad in execution. However, only three more singles were released with the last one coming out in late 1990 and 2 albums. Apparently, although there was no official declaration of the group breaking up, Hikomaro and any other members who have still remained in the geinokai have referred to themselves as former members of Bakumatsujuku.

"Come on Let's Dance" by Bakumatsujuku is actually a cover of the original 6th single by TM Network (there is that Komuro connection). This version is one that I actually like better since there is even more guitar-driven oomph along with Takashi Utsunomiya's(宇都宮隆)percussive voice. The single came out in April 1986 (peaked at No. 19) and was also laid down as a track on the band's 3rd studio album, "GORILLA" from later in June. The album got as high as No. 12 with a little under 420,000 in sales.

Let's finish things off with another orgasmic performance by the legendary Hikomaro!

Curry Tonkatsu at Haneda Airport