Credits

I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube, Oricon charts are courtesy of entamedata.web.fc2.com/music and my research is translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Yuri Shiratori -- Heart Break Down

From left to right: Bloodberry, Lime and Cherry


When it comes to anime, my favourite era is certainly the 90s. Also, it’s not a mystery that my favourite series of all times is Saber Marionette (セイバーマリオネット). So, today, let’s talk about “Heart Break Down”, which was the third ending theme to “Saber Marionnette J Again” (またまたセイバーマリオネット), the OVA series aired from late 1997 until mid-1998.

“Heart Break Down” is performed by aidoru/seiyuu Yuri Shiratori (白鳥由里), who was responsible for voicing Cherry (チェリー), one of the main Marionettes of the series. As a good seiyuu, Yuri incorporates very well Cherry’s characteristics as the cute and romantic housewive of the group, which was also comprised by the “Lolita-esque” Lime (ライム - voiced by Megumi Hayashibara [林原めぐみ]), who had the mentality of a child, but a body of a woman, and Bloodberry (ブラッドベリー - voiced by Akiko Hiramatsu [平松晶子]), an adult and seductive woman with short temper. Closing the main cast, there was also Otaru Mamiya (間宮小樽 - voiced by Yuka Imai [今井由香]), a poor young man who was lucky enough to awaken the three special Marionettes.

Unlike Lime and Bloodberry, who were more direct about what they wanted from Otaru (yeah, you guessed right), Cherry was shy and romantic, which is why she was always caught fantasizing about Otaru being a prince in love with her. Based on that, “Heart Break Down” is a cute pop song with those lovely synths that were used a lot in the 90s. The song is so cute that, when I was younger, I was kind of ashamed to listen to a girly song like that. Nowadays, though, I listen to songs that are more saccharine-filled than “Heart Break Down”, so this is not a problem anymore.

On a side note, I still have a VHS tape with a Brazilian Portuguese dubbed version of “Saber Marionette J Again”, which I recorded from TV in 2005. I remember the day very well, as I let the machine scheduled to record the entire show while I went out to eat pizza with my parents. When I arrived home, it was late to watch, but the next day, when I came back from school, I watched the whole series (six episodes) and heard “Heart Break Down” for the first time. It was love at first listen. These are very fond memories from almost ten years ago, and it was great to finally share it here.


Apparently, “Heart Break Down” was never included in any CD released by Yuri Shiratori. However, it was included in some “Saber Marionette Again” OST CDs through 1998, and also in the definitive “Saber Marionette Vocal History”, which was released in 1999. Lyrics were written by Miho Matsuba (松葉美保), while music was composed by Gouta Wakabayashi (若林剛太). As for the arrangement, Shou Itsushima (五島翔) was the responsible.

Yosui Inoue/Masahiro Motoki -- Higashi e Nishi e (東へ西へ)


When it comes to the Kohaku Utagassen, the first few years that I viewed the program were the ones that I generally have a good idea about what happened there. I guess it's as the saying goes, "You always remember your first one". After the mid-80s, it was more about which highlights/lowlights I remember throughout my viewing history than the actual particular year's performances. So, of course, I can recall Sachiko Kobayashi's(小林幸子)appearances in dresses bigger than Godzilla, Rie Miyazawa's(宮沢りえ)cringeworthy cover of David Bowie's "Game", and Koji Tamaki's(玉置浩二)triumphant return from serious illness singing "Den'en"(田園)with the band TOKIO.


Then there is Masahiro 'Mokkun' Motoki(本木雅弘). I remember him from his days with Shibugakitai(シブがき隊)appearing on "The Best 10" and "The Top 10". And of course, many years later, there was his starring role in the Oscar-winning "Okuribito"(おくりびと...Departures) as the jaded cellist who finds a new calling as a mortician. However, Motoki entered my list of special Kohaku performances when he appeared on the 1992 show for the first time as a solo act. Until I looked up his article on J-Wiki and found out which year it was, I had completely forgotten when he made that notorious appearance. I certainly remember what that appearance was, though.

He sang "Higashi e Nishi e" (To The East, To The West) and the lyrics I recall were "Ganbare, ganbare"(がんばれ、がんばれ...Keep on going). However, what probably had the audience in NHK Hall in Shibuya and millions of television viewers lollygagging was him dancing about seductively with a necklace of gigantic condoms filled with stuff. I wasn't quite sure whether he was channeling a mix of Klaus Nomi and Prince, but the piece de resistance happened during the musical interlude when he turned his back on the camera and promptly unzipped his butt. GOOD NIGHT, EVERYONE! I bet the NHK switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree....as perhaps did his ardent fans during his aidoru jidai. According to that J-Wiki article, Mokkun had intended to send a message about the AIDS situation.


"Higashi e Nishi e" was Motoki's 2nd single from May 1992. What I hadn't known until I started looking up the information last night was that the song was originally by singer-songwriter Yosui Inoue(井上陽水), all the way back to his 2nd album in December 1972, "Yosui II Sentimental". Instead of the rock treatment by Mokkun, "Higashi e Nishi e" started life as a folk song in which Inoue was giving the young rebellious man's view of why people around him were just running in all directions like ants studying like crazy for university, and then once graduated and into society, why they were expending all that energy as corporate cogs or executroids day in and day out. From the way that he was singing it though, I wasn't quite sure whether he was being sarcastic or perhaps envious. In any case, I could easily imagine him strumming his guitar in front of Shibuya Station just watching the hordes zip around him everyday. Of course, Inoue wrote and composed the song but what really stuck out was the inclusion of that French horn near the end, giving the original song some more gravitas.

As for "Yosui II Sentimental", it peaked at No. 10 on the album charts, but it became the 8th-ranked release for 1974 and then the 15th-ranked album for 1975. Good ol' staying power there.


Apparently the above video features Inoue's performance of "Higashi e, Nishi e" at NHK Hall itself in March 1982. I actually like this rolling arrangement most of all out of the three versions I've featured. Aside from Motoki, Tomoyasu Hotei (2004) and Ayumi Nakamura (2010) have also covered the song. 


Michiru Hoshino -- “Seikan Renrakusen ~Night Voyage~” (星間連絡船 ~Night Voyage~)


A couple of nights ago, I had a great surprise with a song called “Seikan Renrakusen ~Night Voyage~”, which was recorded by an aidoru called Michiru Hoshino (星野みちる). After listening to it two or three times, I quickly learned, thanks to the video, that “Seikan Renrakusen ~Night Voyage~”, which was originally the b-side to her “Ame no Naka no Dreamer”, ended as the promotional song for her second full-lenght album “E.I.E.N Voyage”, which was released in July 2014.

According to generasia, Michiru Hoshino is an ex-AKB48 member who graduated from the group back in 2007 with plans to become a singer/songwriter. Based on that, it’s obvious that she didn’t experience what AKB48 became after it finally reached the top spot on the Oricon charts in late 2009.

When I listened to “Seikan Renrakusen ~Night Voyage~”, some things caught my attention. In a more general view, it’s a bubbly pop song that’s not over-processed like the majority of today’s aidoru music. Thing is, the arrangement is airy and can breath at some points. Also, the sparse piano twinkles are a lovely addition.

The video is also a nice piece of “art”, as, although simple, it drinks from the “retro” fountain in a very interesting way. Somehow, it made me think about the 70s and 80s, when the capitalist societies shared a dream about what the future in the 21st century would be like. This dream, which is called “retrofuturism” by the specialists, shows how the futuristic beliefs of not-so-long-ago were more on point with the society of its time than with the future itself. It was something like “imagining the future based on what we already have”.

In a more specific way, I just loved the silly dance routines performed by Michiru (her faces were a mixture of fun and shame while doing them), and also when she acted as if the yellow game boy was a cell phone. In the end, although light and happy, the video, plus the song, shared some melancholy... no, maybe nostalgy is the right word... or both melancholy and nostalgy.

The “E.I.E.N Voyage” album reached #240 on the Oricon charts.

Hiromi Ohta -- Te no Hira no Natsu (掌の夏)


The high temperature got only as high as -13 degrees C yesterday, and so a few of us guys got together for dinner last night at the local gyudon shop in Old Chinatown where we tucked into the gigantic King Curry Platter to warm ourselves up. That was our gastronomic method,

My musical method for warming up today is with Hiromi Ohta's(太田裕美)"Te no Hira no Natsu" (Summer in the Palm of My Hand). Why this didn't get into my BEST album for Ohta I will never know, but it's nice to hear it over here. This first track for the veteran singer's 10th album in 1979, "Feelin' Summer", and for that matter, the entire album, is a continuation from her previous release recorded in Los Angeles, her 1978 "Umi ga Naiteiru"(海が泣いている...The Sea is Crying)in terms of her delving into the warm and laidback genre of City Pop. I was talking with one commenter about how in the late 1970s, there was this trend where kayo kyoku singers were exploring the planet through their releases at that time via an exotic-sounding beat. I should also mention that a number of already-established singers were simultaneously trying out City Pop through their albums. 

"Umi ga Naiteiru" and "Feelin' Summer" were at least two of Ohta's contributions to the genre. As for the former album, nikala provided an article on one of the tracks, "Scarlet no Moufu"(スカーレットの毛布...Scarlet Scarf). "Te no Hira no Natsu" is another summer-inspiring ballad with Ohta's light and warm vocals along with that sax and those horns whipping up those images of sun and sand and sea. The Kingo Hamada(浜田金吾)melody doesn't quite take things into West Coast AOR territory; there is very much a Japanese feeling that has me thinking of some of the early Anri(杏里)songs. The seasonal lyrics were provided by Etsuko Kisugi(来生えつこ).


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

George Yamamoto -- Oirase (奥入瀬)


On Sunday, during an episode of this travelogue  "Japan Hour" on Channel News Asia - it's the only thing I'd watch on that channel - that featured Aomori, I had myself a good look at one of the prefecture's natural prides, the Oirase river. The hosts were there on a hike in early summer, so you could see the very green foliage hanging over and surrounding the gently flowing stream. I'm usually not the outdoor-sy type, but such scenery really makes me want to just get out there and join the fellas on their hike to admire its beauty.

That brings me to the song of the day, George Yamamoto's (山本譲二) "Oirase", which is based on this very river that drains from Lake Towada. I've been to the lake once a number of years ago in winter... there were dozens upon dozens of black and white swans, and ducks skimming along the frigid water's surface. I wonder if they were looking for handouts.

Anyway, just like the real thing, "Oirase" sounded really comfortable and relaxing with its easy pace and overall soft feel. This song may most likely be considered an Enka song from its lyrics, which I'm guessing is mostly about our protagonist saying his goodbyes to his lover, and hopes that one day they'll have the chance to meet again... by the river, I reckon. There is also a shout out to the Asura no nagare, mighty stunning in autumn, I must add. However, it hardly sounds like one with the un-enka-like score (by the late Nobuyuki Sakuraba (桜庭伸幸)) and Yamamoto, who I would usually consider quite Enka, sang in such a way that you could hardly hear the genre's trademark singing style's strong vibrato/peaks and dips... it sounded like a Pop song, or at least a Kayokyoku.

"Oirase" is a pretty good song to listen to if you just want to wind down after a long day. You know, like playing at a low volume at home while you kick back and relax with a cup of tea. Or in my case, it helps me take my mind off things during the long train rides home after a harrowing day of the nightmare spawn: Molecular and Cell Biology or Biochemistry. Urk, the thought of those things sends shivers down my spine. Just listening to Yamamoto's smooth, deep vocals already calms the nerves...

There's no write up on Yamamoto's 27th single (released on 21/6/1992) , but the J-Wiki page on the singer mentioned that "Oirase" is one of the handful of representative singles he's got under his belt... 6 in total, including this one.


Oh wow.
www.suruga-ya.jp

Wink -- Celebration


Vanessa Williams...it took me a number of minutes to even recall the name. I initially plugged in Deniece Williams into the search engines, only to find out that she was the singer who had that hit, "Let's Hear It For The Boy" in the original version of "Footloose" back in the mid-80s. The target of my search though did, as I recall, appear on the American remake of "Ugly Betty" and a couple of episodes of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine". And of course, there was all of that early kerfuffle about her having to resign as Miss America after a scandal arose.

However, all I really had to do was plug in "Save The Best For Last" (January 1992) into YouTube, and out popped her name. I got to see that Xmas video of hers and then the most famous scene of her singing to the camera in black-&-white. And of course, there was the smooth chart-topping radio-friendly ballad which became a theme song for Williams.


I've bought my fair share of Wink albums during the early 90s, and "Nocturne" was my final purchase of the ladies. It came out in November 1992, and a couple of singles were on it: "Real Yume no Joken"(リアル夢の条件...Conditions of a Real Dream)and their cover of the kayo classic "Furimukanaide"(ふりむかないで)by The Peanuts.

However, I was rather surprised to hear a familiar tune done in Japanese on the album. It came under the title "Celebration", but it was no doubt "Save The Best For Last" as done by Shoko Aida(相田翔子). Rui Serizawa(芹沢類)came up with the Japanese lyrics, and the arranger was Satoshi Kadokura(門倉聡), but frankly, I couldn't really tell the difference between his music and the arrangement for the Williams original. I would have said that it was basically Aida doing karaoke...except that Aida's version was beyond-karaoke good! Although it was a pretty straight-on interpretation of "Save The Best For Last", I have to say that it was one of the better covers of an English-language song by a Japanese singer. In fact, it was the one song I remember from "Nocturne". For about three minutes, I rather forgot that she was one-half of a Eurobeat-driven aidoru duo that took the late 80s by storm. Good on her!


Monday, January 26, 2015

Kaientai -- Omoeba Tooku e Kitamonda (思えば遠くへ来たもんだ)


Along with discovering new old songs via "Kayo Kyoku Plus", another one of my pleasures from my pet project has been discovering new old songs because commenters or my fellow collaborators wrote about or inquired about them.

The former is indeed the case here with Kaientai's(海援隊)"Omoeba Tooku e Kitamonda" (I've Come So Far When I Think About It). Commenter Ranawaka Aruna asked me about it on the one other song I wrote about the band, the graduation season favourite, "Okuru Kotoba"(贈る言葉). Veteran actor Tetsuya Takeda's(武田鉄矢)folk group released "Omoeba" as its 2nd single under the Polydor label (they had 11 previous singles with 2 other recording companies since their debut in 1973) in September 1978, more than a year before their most famous hit, "Okuru Kotoba" came out.


To be honest, I had thought that the go-to song for graduation ceremonies would be the only song by Kaientai that I would ever add to KKP. Happily, I am wrong. "Omoeba" was written by Takeda and the wistful melody was composed by Yasuyo Yamaki(山木康世), who was one-half of the folk duo, Fukinoto(ふきのとう). In the song, Takeda sings about a man at the ripe old age of 20 as he remembers what he was like 6 years previously when he was still living in his small town. He reminisces about that train track which ultimately led him away from home and that love he left back there, although he also states that he now has a wife and kid(s) and has been hitting the booze at night. Man, middle age already?!

Still, the sentiment is there and I'm sure that there a lot of businessmen in their 40s or 50s who would hear this song and get all swoon-y. And there is something about that melody that gets me all sepia and nostalgic for all those old J-Folk ballads. Incidentally, "Omoeba" was the theme song for a TBS drama of the same name starring Takeda in which he played a substitute teacher straight from Kyushu who had to teach at a school up in the northern prefecture of Akita...perhaps this was good training for him before he got that even more famous teaching role later on.

The song was also included on Kaientai's first album on Polydor, "Tsuirakuhen"(墜落編...Falling Edit), which came out in November 1978. One other thing...on how the group decided on its name. Apparently, Kaientai (Maritime Support Group) came from the first modern corporation in Japan founded by Ryoma Sakamoto in 1865. Sakamoto is one of the most famous folk heroes in Japanese history as he attempted to overthrow the Tokugawa feudal government in its last years.

Courtesy of
Rob Zabroky
from Flickr