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

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Minako Ito -- Derringer(デリンジャー)

I guess it's time to add another Minako to the "Kayo Kyoku Plus" roster. And like Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子), she also belongs in the City Pop genre.

Found this one purely by accident a number of days ago. Minako Ito(伊藤美奈子)is a singer-songwriter from Tokyo who was inspired by Mayumi Itsuwa(五輪真弓)and Mariko Takahashi(高橋真梨子)when she was in junior high school, according to J-Wiki and the footnote from the liner notes of her debut album "Tenderly", and so she started on her path toward a music career.

Not quite sure why this particular song "Derringer" is named after a famous gun since I couldn't catch all of the lyrics (can't find them online) but it was a track from her 2nd album, "Sasoi Gyotou" or "Yuu Gyotou"(誘魚灯...Inviting Fish Lights)from March 1984. Still, it's got that nice City Pop beat with the tight horns and mellow keyboards. And yes, I also like the album cover. Shun Taguchi(田口俊)wrote the lyrics while Ito and Jin Kirigaya(桐ケ谷仁)composed the music.

I've just heard another one of her songs on YouTube. Will most likely cover that next month.

J-Canuck's Earworms

As much as the departing airplane has been my unofficial logo for the genre of Japanese City Pop, I think for me, the Ceti Alpha eel from "Star Trek II -- The Wrath of Khan" (still the best "Star Trek" movie in the entire franchise) will be unofficial symbol for the musical earworm.

But unlike the eel and poor Commander Chekov's and Captain Terrell's reactions in the scene above, I've happily accepted my earworms wrapping around my cerebral cortex over the years. And since I've mentioned some of my favourites as such, I've decided to give a list here of some of those great tunes. Now, I've separated my choices by genre, and by no means is this the ultimate comprehensive list of my favourite earworms. That would go way too long past my bedtime. These are merely the representatives and they've each been covered already in past articles so I won't be providing too much of a commentary but of course, they've been linked to the original articles. So, here goes.

J-Rock: B'z -- Love Phantom

Still marvel how well this song fit as the companion tune for TV Asahi's broadcast of "The X-Files". There should have been a video made with clips from the old show to go along with "Love Phantom".

Anime: KMM Dan -- Witch Activity

After I saw the ending credits to "Witchcraft Works" for the first time, it took all of my strength once I got home NOT to end up watching the YouTube video for "Witch Activity" ten times in succession. That tickety-tackety delivery by the seiyuu and the technopop...damn you, TECHNOBOYS PULCRAFT GREEN-FUND! Perhaps out of all of the genres here, I think anime has got the largest crop of earworms.

City Pop: Tatsuro Yamashita -- Itsuka

Such an uplifting song that whenever I need it, I play it! So cheerful and it comes with bass that hits the pavement like Size 14 shoes. Tough call but this may be my favourite Tats song.

City Pop: Mariya Takeuchi -- Plastic Love

I was surprised and delighted that "Plastic Love" has been given a second life, so to speak, after being discovered by the Japanese Future Funksters and/or Vaporwavers. Kinda wonder if Takeuchi herself has realized all of these YouTubing fans going ga-ga over one of the most urban contemporary songs that she has created. Believe me, folks, I empathize...I think at one point, I was putting this on repeat play.

Aidoru: Morning Musume -- The Peace

Yup, even more than "Love Machine". The catchy chant, a bit of old-style jazz and full-on disco. I never stood a chance! I think this earworm gave multiple births in my head.

Enka: Takashi Hosokawa -- Kokoro Nokori

Indeed, I've had earworms in this genre too. I fell in love with the sax in the intro and there was that drum-and-strings riff which comes tumbling down just before Hosokawa sings that has stuck with me all these decades. One of my memories involved me at a family friend's house on New Year's Day while being right beside the stereo with a digital display that absolutely bubbled when our host played "Kokoro Nokori".

Pop: Eri Hiramatsu -- Suteki na Renaissance

Wanted to have a representative from the straight pop genre so I went with Hiramatsu's "Suteki na Renaissance". It's those jingly keyboards and Eri's happy delivery. So very early 90s!

Aidoru: Akina Nakamori -- Lonely Journey

Perhaps at this point, Nakamori was already transitioning from popular aidoru to pop superstar but I can't deny that "Lonely Journey" was also a song that took up long-term residence in my head. Catchy and cool...I never mentioned this in the original article but I think this could have been a good theme song for a cop show.

Technopop: Yellow Magic Orchestra -- Rydeen

What can I say about "Rydeen"? If there were an ultimate theme song for not just YMO but for techno kayo in general, this would be it. I remember being especially desperate to get this song into my collection.

Well, these are some of the earworms that have infected me over the decades. What are yours?

Hiroko Ohgi/Mina Aoe/Meiko Kaji -- Shinjuku Blues(新宿ブルース)

Yes, it's indeed a Saturday night. Perhaps it's time for something a bit more shibui. So, get those tumblers and ice buckets out. Old Parr coming up!

I found a song on that compilation of Mood Kayo tunes photographed at the top of the article titled "Shinjuku Blues". Seeing a title like that, I would have immediately thought of Keiko Fuji(藤圭子), the Queen of Kayo Blues, but actually I couldn't find any video on YouTube with her. And that is also because the original version was sung by a singer-actress from Hiroshima Prefecture named Hiroko Ohgi(扇ひろこ).

Debuting in 1965 with "Aishuu Kaikyo"(哀愁海峡...Sorrowful Strait), she had a huge hit in 1967 with "Shinjuku Blues", the story of a disconsolate lady slowly pacing through the streets of the area after losing a love. Ironically, there had been naysayers, presumably before its release, crowing that the single wouldn't sell outside of Shinjuku itself and that the lyrics were too dark. Well, it looks like the Japanese version of the cry-in-your-beer ballads was becoming the big thing in kayo kyoku at that time, so "Shinjuku Blues" made its mark.

The remarkable thing about Ohgi while performing "Shinjuku Blues" is her delivery which is mostly in the lower registers but then suddenly soars up high above the izakaya and bars. That slow steady performance accompanied by the organ really gives this song a elegiac feeling. I could imagine Ohgi in her kimono sadly walking through streets like Golden Gai holding a framed picture of her lost love as if he left this mortal coil suddenly.

"Shinjuku Blues" was written by Akiko Takiguchi滝口暉子...not sure if that is the correct reading of the first name)and composed by Kanae Wada(和田香苗). On the strength of the ballad, Ohgi found herself appearing on the 1967 Kohaku Utagassen for the first time. She would appear one more time the following year. Oddly enough, although she is listed as an enka singer on J-Wiki, there is no listing of her discography aside from this song and a couple of others.

I think another sign of success for a song is the number of times it has been covered. I'm sure that Keiko Fuji has covered it sometime but not finding her version anywhere, I did find other covers although I don't know when they were recorded. The late Mina Aoe(青江三奈)gives a slightly more upscale version with the bluesy sax and horns, and to be frank, I think this is the one that I like the most out of the three featured here.

Then, there is "Shinjuku Blues" by actress-singer Meiko Kaji(梶芽衣子). Strangely enough, although I've had this image of Kaji as being a tough suffer-no-fools-period kickass character in the wilds of Shinjuku, her take on "Shinjuku Blues" is probably the sweetest of the three, thanks to the light piano and flute. It kinda takes things into a more pop vein.

Enjoy your scotch-on-the-rocks while listening to this one!

Hachiro Kasuga -- Ore wa Nora Inu (俺は野良犬)


Back during my internship at AVA (Singapore's Agri-Food & Vet. Authority), because of my constant trips out to the boondocks with my colleagues for ornamental fish farm inspections, I got more than my fill of dogs in the span of four and a half months. There were a couple of hyper-excited corgi mutt-things, both taught me what it meant to be play bitten and had my friend Mr J. tutting at my ability to be bullied by the little rabid creatures; there was also trio of dobermans who were intimidating at first, but they turned out to be affectionate. However, I have a soft spot for the giant brindle mastiff Arnie who, despite his size, wouldn't hurt a fly. I mean, look at the derpy face! Any intruder would get to experience being lovingly leaned on or licked... before getting viciously chomped on the butt by the ferocious resident cane corso.

Those were some of the canines whom I had successfully made a rapport with - all owned by the farmers and at some point were meant to be guard dogs. However, there were also a number of strays hanging around the quiet roads and skulking about in the tall grass. I can't say that sentiments towards them were particularly nice, and they were being frowned upon or shooed. And unlike the likes of Arnie, I was constantly being told to stay away. Cut to late last year (and how this anecdote relates to anything in this article) when I got introduced to Hachiro Kasuga's (春日八郎) "Ore wa Nora Inu" (I'm a stray dog), I couldn't help but wonder if the main character in the song was being subjected to the above mentioned treatment.

As I mentioned in my list of Hachi songs, "Ore wa Nora Inu" is one of my favourites from the enka veteran. With just the melody alone, the strings and slow waltz-like rhythm makes for an elegant albeit dated sound.This contrasts with the words that feature a fellow who's the complete opposite of elegant. I'm guessing he could be a hobo-nagashi or hobo-ruffian, drunkenly wandering around the dark and dank uramachis, and thus being shunned by the masses as if he were a stray dog. An interesting juxtaposition, but what made it latch on to me, besides its surprisingly catchy tune, is how Hachi's forlorn and tender vocals convey Mr Hobo's possible loneliness and hopelessness of being stuck in his current predicament. I feel that it sounds more obvious in the original take of "Ore wa Nora Inu", which is in the video above, when the singer had a higher and shriller voice. His self-cover in his 3rd Deluxe album (春日八郎デラックス第3集) from 1972 (video below), had him sounding more lax.

"Ore wa Nora Inu" was written by Hiroshi Yokoi (横井弘) and composed by Toshio Kamata (鎌多俊与) - I think that's how his name is pronounced? - and was originally released as the B-side to "Gomen yo Kanbenna" (ごめんヨかんべんナ) in 1957. I think it was decently popular, considering Hachi's character sang it in a film (as with many singers of that time, he had roles in some movies too), which I think is called "Aoi Umibara" (青い海原) from the same year that starred Hibari Misora (美空ひばり) and Ken Takakura (高倉健).

Dang, he was cute when he smiled... ...


OKAY, on an ending note, I'd like to wish everyone a Happy Chinese New Year! And wouldn't you know it, it's the year of the dog. :)

Friday, February 16, 2018

Anri -- Earring~Tears of Two(イヤリング)

Kinda surprised that I hadn't included this song in my write-up on Anri's(杏里)15th album from 1991 "Neutral".

But perhaps that reflects well on the album since for me "Neutral" came out during Anri's heyday of many years in the 80s and into the early 90s. There are just too many fine songs to choose from. She could do no wrong at this point.

The track here is "Earring~Tears of Two" which was written by Yumi Yoshimoto(吉元由美)and composed by Anri (as was the case with all of the tracks on the album). The story has it that an old flame suddenly calls up a woman for the first time in many years, and the woman has to once more sort out all those feelings that she probably sealed up inside. But for me, it's the music that attracted me because of that battery of horns. So mellow. I could imagine someone coming up to Anri after recording and saying "Bobby Caldwell called. He would like his horns back." And considering how much of a legend Caldwell is in Japan, it's very possible that he and Anri could have met.

Ringo Shiina & Tortoise Matsumoto -- Menuki Dori(目抜き通り)

When I first heard about the Ginza Six complex opening up in...well, Ginza, naturally, I just thought that most of that high-priced neighbourhood was already difficult to enter for a bloke like me. Now, Ginza Six seems to be an even more exclusive place with representation from stores like Fendi, Yves Saint Laurent and Vivienne Westwood. I'm being a bit snarky here but I think to get in, you have to show proof in the form of an American Express Centurion Card or its equivalent at the entrance to the doorman (WHAT? Only a Gold card? Shoo! There's a Fujiya family restaurant across the street..go!). One of my students actually possessed that card, and yes, she was that wealthy. She could buy her own island with that card (maybe she did).

G Six is built upon the former site of the venerable Matsuzakaya Department Store, an old-style emporium that I sometimes visited with friends for some tea on the first floor. The most notable thing for me there was the bakery which sold the Baumkuchen cake, a dessert from Germany that has long taken hold and gained a popular following in Japan. It was a trademark for Ginza Matsukaya to have those spits rolling the iced cake. Ah, times do change.

Anyways, the new place came with a theme song. Titled "Menuki Dori" (The Main Street), it was released around the time of the opening of G Six in April 2017 as a digital download song and was performed by Ringo Shiina(椎名林檎)and Tortoise Matsumoto(トータス松本)from the Osaka band Ulfuls(ウルフルズ). Written and composed by Shiina, it was the song that the two performed on last year's Kohaku Utagassen with plenty of glitz and glamour.

I will be honest here. I like Ulfuls' hits from the 1990s such as "Gattsu Daze!!"(ガッツだぜ!!)and of course, I've got a good listing of Shiina's songs on the blog all the way from her debut in the late 1990s including her later, more jazzier offerings and have loved them all. Having said that, watching her and Matsumoto perform on the Kohaku, it was frankly a bit of a hot mess on the Shibuya stage on New Year's Eve so I was a bit disappointed. It just sounded like all of the instruments including Shiina's and Matsumoto's voices were all ferociously competing to get on the Olympic podium and there was only room for Gold.

Watching the short version of the song and the campaign video for Ginza Six, there was a better fit between the two, and I think Matsumoto looked a whole lot more dapper. I gather that the tone was supposed to be one of giddy chaos and glamour in good ol' Ginza so having the recent Shiina tropes of urgent orchestral strings followed by the fast n' hot jazz were no surprise. And the producers of the video certainly wanted to match that with some pricey fast-paced scenes of life there with the tempo of a screwball comedy. But for me at least, the song seemed a bit too scrunched in. As I said, it was the short version so if I ever decide to download my own copy, I hope that the full version has a larger opportunity to breathe.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Kenji Sawada -- Yamato yori Ai wo Komete(ヤマトより愛をこめて)

I think "Kayo Kyoku Plus" readers who are also fellow "Uchuusenkan Yamato"(宇宙戦艦ヤマト...Space Battleship Yamato)fans know of my love for the classic anime series. Of course, I've also been watching the episodes of the redux version that have come out in dribs and drabs over the past few years beginning with "Yamato 2199" and currently with "Yamato 2202".

"Yamato 2202" is the new version of the Comet Empire saga and both my anime buddy and I agreed that with all of the addition of new characters and drama, things have gotten perhaps a bit too melodramatic. However, these may just be the quibbles of an aging anime fan. Still, seeing the old "Star Blazers" (the American dub of the series) video above, all those beloved feelings of nostalgia rushed back in like a flood...everything including the amazing theme song, the smoother animation compared to the rougher stuff from the Iscandar series, and the drama (still remember the moving confrontation between Nova and Desslok over the injured Derek Wildstar).

Of course, at the time in North America, no character in cartoons ever died. So it was quite the shock to see Captain Avatar (still going with the "Star Blazers" character names) actually die on screen. What I didn't realize was how many characters actually died (or almost died) in the Comet Empire saga; the producers behind the American version did some fairly nifty editing to make sure that we fans in the United States and Canada did not see the deaths of some regular crew.

Some years later, I learned about the fact that original Comet Empire series on TV was based on the 2nd (and as had been assumed at the time, the final) movie in the "Uchuusenkan Yamato" franchise that came out in the summer of 1978. The deaths in the TV version were nothing compared to the main officers getting picked off in the movie. If you want to, you can see all the deaths in the video above. I personally can't.

It was obvious that "Saraba Uchuusenkan Yamato ~ Ai no Senshi-tachi"(さらば宇宙戦艦ヤマト 愛の戦士たち...Arrivederci Yamato)was created to be a heroic tragedy for Kodai-kun and the crew of the mighty space battleship. And the pathos was certainly delivered. Back in my university days, I was reading an issue of the journal "Japan Echo" dealing with this very movie, and apparently in at least one theatre, there wasn't a dry eye in the audience and folks even threw bouquets at the screen! Now, that is a sendoff!

The reason I'm writing about all this is that when I was watching "Yamato 2202", the ending credits have been featuring various singers and songs, and with the second batch of episodes that had come out several months ago, it was legendary singer Kenji Sawada(沢田研二)who provided the ending theme, and it turned out that the song was actually the ending theme for the original 1978 Comet Empire movie.

"Yamato yori Ai wo Komete" (From Yamato With Love) was Sawada's 24th single released in August 1978. The mournful feeling fits perfectly with the tone of the movie right from the opening notes of that piano as Sawada gives his musical elegy to the audience and the brave crew of the Yamato. Considering how popular he was at the time, to have him sing this final number for the ship must have increased the chances of water works gushing from everyone's tear ducts.

For the Yamato, nothing but the best. Famed lyricist Yu Aku(阿久悠)wrote "Yamato yori Ai wo Komete" while composer Katsuo Ono(大野克夫), who has come up with some famous themes of his own, came up with the sad melody. The arrangement was by Hiroshi Miyagawa(宮川泰), the man behind the famous original theme song. It took 3 weeks after its release to break into the Top 10 by getting as high as No. 4 and ending the year as the 46th-ranked single. The first album it was placed on was Sawada's 11th album "Kondo wa, Karei na Utage ni Douzo"(今度は、華麗な宴にどうぞ。...Next Time, Help Yourself to the Gorgeous Banquet)(although the arrangement is supposedly somewhat different) which was also released in August 1978. It also peaked at No. 4.

Well, after all of the thrown bouquets, flooded theatres and most likely demands for the Yamato crew to survive, I gather that the producers relented and came up with a more hopeful TV version. Then that continued on to "Uchuusenkan Yamato Aratanaru Tabidachi"(宇宙戦艦ヤマト新たなる旅立ち...Yamato The New Voyage)as a Fuji-TV made-for-TV movie in 1979 with some new characters to replace the dearly departed. I actually got to see that version on rental VHS tape from the Sanko Japanese food store in downtown Toronto.