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, September 28, 2016

Chisato Moritaka -- Let's GO!

The impression that I've been getting from Chisato Moritaka(森高千里)after her chart-topping techno aidoru phase from the late 1980s going into the next decade is that she took on a slightly more down-to-earth Beatles-y sound. But I think she also wanted to achieve a summery stop-and-smell-the-roses tone in her songs as the 1990s passed by. "Watashi no Natsu"(私の夏)and "La-La-Sunshine" were two examples of the more laid back Chisato who seemed to want to now play on the sands of Shonan rather than among the towers of Tokyo.

Another later example was her 29th single "Let's GO!" from February 1997. During a time when the club pop sounds from Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉)and his folks were in the ascendant, it was nice to hear Moritaka, who had once brought her own form of boppy technopop years earlier, bring something more relaxing. I first heard "Let's GO!" on a series of  Lawson's convenience store commercials which starred her and YMO's Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣)along with actor Masanobu Takashima(高嶋政伸), and there was just something that clicked between that soft and wistful song and the appeal of hitting the conbini for that wonderful karaage bento. Considering that the weeks leading up to the release of the song were in the winter months, it added that further incentive to me at least to head out for some warm (or warmed over) goodies from Lawson.

I was fortunate to live in a neighbourhood which was chock-full of convenience stores, and the local Lawson was the closest one to my apartment in Ichikawa. It was virtually a minute away just around the corner. The above video apparently has a few aidoru, perhaps members from Morning Musume(モーニング娘。)since Sayumi Michishige(道重さゆみ), the former leader of not only the Musume but of Hello Project in general, is in there. I just found out that she was the member with the longest-serving tenure in the group at 11 years and 10 months. Geez, she's 27 years old as of this writing...they grow so fast! Anyways, they are apparently going through on-the-job training. Well, it's kinda nice that Musume alumni have something to fall upon.

Getting back to the song, Chisato took care of the lyrics while Hiromasa Ijichi(伊秩弘将), who had helped out on a number of songs for Misato Watanabe(渡辺美里)and SPEED, composed "Let's GO!". It peaked at No. 19 and was included on her 12th album "Peachberry" from July 1997. In a Pavlovian sense, every time I hear the tune, I get this saliva-filled craving for bento with either karaage or hambaagu.

Shigeru Matsuzaki -- WONDERFUL MOMENT

Rather like all those supporting actors on the original "Star Trek" such as George Takei (Sulu) and the late James Doohan (Scotty), singer Shigeru Matsuzaki(松崎しげる)will probably end his days always being known for just that one song despite having released 44 singles to date since his debut in 1970. That would be the heart-on-your-sleeve ballad "Ai no Memory"(愛のメモリー)from 1977. Plus there is that perpetual tan of his and his appearances on all of those variety programs and commercials (in voice as well as in person).

However, Matsuzaki has also done his fair share of acting over the decades including this zany detective show on TBS from 1979-1982 called "Uwasa no Keiji Tomi to Matsu"(噂の刑事トミーとマツ...The Famous Detectives Tomi and Matsu). From what little I've seen of the show, the singer played the somewhat grumpy Detective Susumu Matsuyama who has to partner up with the faint-hearted Officer Tomio Okano to take care of cases that improbably get solved despite all of the comical stumbles that the team experiences.

The ending theme of the show turned out to be Matsuzaki's 21st single from September 1979, "WONDERFUL MOMENT" which is also a love song of sorts. However unlike the heartrending "Ai no Memory" with its touch of Latin, this ballad is as mellow and tropical as a trip down to Margueritaville. Perhaps it is where Matsuzaki's tec wanted to flee to after every case with his dopey partner. The singer's crooning style in this case reminds me of rocker Eiichi Yazawa(矢沢永吉)when he is at his most tenderhearted.

Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子), who took care of a lot of those early Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)tunes among her huge list of creations, wrote the lyrics while Juichi Sase(佐瀬寿一)composed the song. Sase, incidentally, was the same composer behind the hugely successful and legendary Oricon hit, "Oyoge! Taiyaki-kun"(およげ!たいやきくん)a few years earlier.

The above video is the only sign I could find of a scene from "Uwasa no Keiji Tomi to Matsu" which looks like the producers wanted a nice dose of Hope & Crosby's "Road" pictures injected into the usual Japanese police procedural.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Hideaki Tokunaga -- Saigo no Iiwake (最後の言い訳)

Welcome back to "Kayo Kyoku Plus", Hideaki! It's been a good long while!

Starting off with a bit of an aside, as I've mentioned in a lot of my articles, in the late 1980s, my old friends from university and I used to hit this karaoke spot called Kuri in the tony Yorkville area at the end of the week for several hours of drinking and singing. Well, once I graduated from U of T, I had those 2 years in Gunma Prefecture on the JET Programme after which I came back for 3 years in T.O. for study. Joining up with my old university club for a second round, this next generation of members had a whole lot more working-holiday visa students so the karaoke routine was further perpetuated.

But it looks like Kuri went the way of the dodo during my time away so our small group ended up a little more downtown at a place called Sushi Bistro (also gone) on Queen West. There was the main restaurant on the first floor while on the second, there was a karaoke bar and then some private rooms acting as karaoke boxes. Thinking back on those nights there in the early 1990s, those rooms were fairly grotty compared to the sleek chambers of a typical Shidax or Big Echo karaoke complex but as long as we had the drinks and an operating karaoke facility in Toronto, we were all quite happy.

Anyways, one of our members in the 90s group had this one song that he enjoyed singing a lot any time we were at Sushi Bistro, and it was one of those tunes that I had completely forgotten about until very recently. It happened to be "Saigo no Iiwake" (The Last Excuse) by Hideaki Tokunaga(徳永英明), his 6th single from October 1988.

Written by Keiko Aso(麻生圭子)and composed by Tokunaga himself, "Saigo no Iiwake" is one gutwrenchingly sad ballad, especially when delivered by this singer with the high tones and the puppy dog face. Starting with this slow piano melody which sounds a bit like Pachelbel's "Canon", the whole song has this tone of a requiem to a lost relationship either by death or one big screw-up by the guy (considering the title, it's probably the latter). Tokunaga's music has these echoes of reminiscing about the good times anchored firmly in the sadness of the present, and when he goes into the refrain especially at the end, he absolutely embraces his inner anguish with that feeling of "WHAT WAS I THINKING?!" It probably had his many fans sobbing into their handkerchiefs and ready to run to his management, begging for his location to console him.

According to J-Wiki, Tokunaga had woven the melody to fit Aso's lyrics and in doing so, he started weeping. "Saigo no Iiwake" went as high as No. 4 on Oricon and took the very last spot in the 1988 Top 100. A year later, it was ranked at No. 69. The song is also a track on his 5th album, "Realize" from May 1989 which peaked at No. 2 on the weekly charts.

Shidax is quite the emporium for karaoke. Their branches look like a mix between a Disney facility and a Las Vegas hotel, and not surprisingly, I think they are the most expensive karaoke chain in Japan. But I gotta say that their food is pretty darn the same level of an izakaya. So it's too bad I heard that a number of their branches are going to be closed down gradually due to an economic shortfall.

Eri Fukatsu -- Yokohama Joke (YOKOHAMAジョーク)

Just by chance, I was able to encounter this video of a few figures who have become even more famous in Japan recently. The footage comes from about 25 years ago with the first several seconds being that of then-broadcaster Yuriko Koike(小池百合子)who I used to see in passing while I was channel surfing. She was the first host of TV Tokyo's "World Business Satellite" nighttime business news program.

And then following that, there is a scene from Beat Takeshi's old Sunday afternoon variety show "Super Jockey" with the comedian/director sitting as part of a panel while this cute and slim announcer chattily handled hosting duties. Her name is Renho(蓮舫)and I may have caught a glimpse of her now and then, and considering from my recent viewings of her on TV, I just went "Wow! Was that really her 25 years ago?"

Now for those folks who have been keeping up with the politics in Japan, Koike is now the first female governor of Tokyo (as well as a former Minister of Defense and Minister of the Environment) while Renho Murata has just become the new leader of the Democratic Party, the official Opposition Party against the ruling Liberal Democratic Party led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Considering that both Koike started her stint at "World Business Satellite" and that Renho began her career as a Clarion Girl in 1988, I decided to see if I could find someone who also made his or her singing debut in that particular year. Well, there were of course a number of young folks who climbed onto the stage and into the spotlight then but the one name that caught my eye was Eri Fukatsu(深津絵里)who is now a well-regarded award-winning actress.

She not only debuted as an actress in 1988 but she also started her short career as an aidoru with the release of her first single "Yokohama Joke" in October. A fairly loud song about a young lady venting about the guy she likes being with another lass, it does sound very 80s with those crashing metallic synths and drums. Looking at the video and the 15-year-old Fukatsu, though, I just kinda wondered whether she was musing "Ahhh....I guess I gotta pay my dues first, don't I?"

"Yokohama Joke" was written by Ayuko Ishikawa(石川あゆ子)and composed by Taro Kamon鹿紋太郎...not too sure about the pronunciation of that last name), and it later showed up as a track on her debut album "Applause"(アプローズ)which was released in February 1990. Strangely enough, Fukatsu also "debuted" again on the very same day as the release of "Yokohama Joke" under the name of Rie Takahara(高原里絵)with "Marionette Blue"(マリオネット・ブルー).

The above is the trailer for a recent Fukatsu flick "Kishibe no Tabi"(岸辺の旅...Journey to the Shore)which came out in 2015.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Tatsuro Yamashita -- CHEER UP! THE SUMMER

One of the commenters tipped me off on Tatsuro Yamashita's(山下達郎)latest, "CHEER UP! THE SUMMER" which was officially released in the last couple of weeks. This is his 49th single, and though it's not a groundbreaking tune, it's a groundaffirming song of sorts since this is a Tats tune that is reminiscent of those good ol' days when the singer-songwriter was coming up with those summery City Pop songs from the late 70s and early 80s (although those drums are almost on a techno level of boom). The last time I heard something this Tats-worthy was when Junk Fujiyama came up with "Hoshikuzu no Pipeline"(星屑のパイプライン).

So far, it's gotten as high as No. 8 on Oricon so another Top 10 hit for the maestro, and it has been used as the theme song for a Fuji-TV drama, "Eigyo Bucho Kira Natsuko"(営業部長 吉良奈津子...Sales Chief, Natsuko Kira). Yamashita was of course responsible for both words and music, and supposedly his lyrics were inspired by the attempts to cheer up the captain of a high school baseball team after losing a big game which would explain the official music video (shortened here).

At this point, I don't see a full version of the song but no doubt it will pop up sooner or later. Besides, it's good to see Yamashita still coming up with the happy summery songs after so many years.

Rina Endo -- The Shark Song

Another anime season is wrapping up. I met up with my anime buddy for another all-day session yesterday in which we saw the finales for some of the mellower entries of the summer such as "Amanchu!" (truly the most laid-back anime I've seen in nearly 5 years), "Kono Bijutsu-bu ni wa Mondai ga aru!", and this one "Amaama to Inazuma"(甘々と稲妻...Sweetness & Lightning)about the Inuzuka family and their increasing interest in cooking.

I've already written about the opening and ending themes but I felt rather compelled due to the earworm burrowing through my head to also talk about one other song from "Amaama to Inazuma" that isn't an official theme and only had several seconds of airtime in Episode 7 when cute little 5-year-old Tsumugi decided to go out on her own (without Dad's permission) shopping trip. Tsumugi, as played by 10-year-old child actress Rina Endo(遠藤璃菜), sang this little tune which I will dub "The Shark Song" that was probably taught to her by her father or late mother so that she would stick to a straight line while walking on the street away from traffic (stay on the straight line or be eaten by the land sharks!).

Not sure who came up with the earworm although I suspect that it is the music producer for the show, composer Nobuko Toda(戸田信子). I found out that she was also responsible for the music for the "Metal Gear" games. In any case, "The Shark Song" is so cute that even a pack of Great Whites would go into a squeeing frenzy.

Heck, even Godzilla got into the act! It's too bad, though, that the exact scene from Episode 7 was taken out.

"Amaama to Inazuma" was truly a slice-of-life anime. In fact, it finished its run (and I don't think there will be a sequel) so quietly and without any sort of hard conclusion that I thought there would be one more episode. Instead, we all just left them enjoying their okonomiyaki dinner, although the above video has Tsumugi enjoying hamburg steak.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Seikima II -- EL-DO-RA-DO

When I got to Japan in 1989, one of the big signs that Japanese music was indeed diversifying appeared in the form of bands like By-Sexual and X who put on the cosmetics as well as the rock and punk. And then there was the heavy metal outfit known as Seikima II(聖飢魔II)led by Demon Kogure(デーモン小暮), now known as Demon Kakka(デーモン閣下). The first time I saw this fellow show up on Japanese TV, I just went "Well, there goes the neighbourhood!" He looked like a kabuki actor from space. And since I was no fan of metal, I basically just saw him and his bandmates looking quite fearsome although they sounded quite amiable in conversations on shows like "Music Station".

The Wikipedia description of Seikima II goes as follows:

According to the band, Seikima-II is a group of Akuma (悪魔, "demons") from the futuristic hyper-evolved dimension Makai (魔界, "demon world") that preach a religion called Akumakyo in order to propagate Satan through the use of heavy metal music. Each member is a demon of a different hierarchical class, with His Excellency Demon Kakka being leader of the Akuma and His Majesty Damian Hamada being the "Crown Prince of Hell". In accordance to the prophecy and after completing their world conquest, the band disbanded at the end of the century on December 31, 1999 at 23:59:59.

Well, you gotta admit, these guys have spunk and imagination (although invitations to perform in the Bible Belt in the US were probably not forthcoming)! Demon Kogure, being the only constant in the band since its formation in 1982, has kept the otherworldly tale going ever since then. The band may have disbanded briefly at the end of the century they've come back time and time again.

Oh, how I wished YouTube had the full interview here. Back in the early 1990s, CNN devoted an entire week to cover the various aspects of Japan, and the one big highlight was seeing Demon Kogure actually show up on "Larry King Live!" First off, I didn't even know that Japanese demons could speak English that well, and he was quite personable although at points, he seemed rather bewildered at Larry's line of questioning. However, the most hilarious part of the interview was at the end when the famous interviewer allowed His Excellency Demon to pass the coverage off to the anchorperson in Atlanta, and he did it with aplomb! The anchor was most amused.

And then since my return to Japan in 1994, he also appeared as the spokesdemon for a short-lived English conversation school called TOZA which had perhaps been set up as a direct rival to my old unit NOVA before various financial difficulties brought TOZA down rather dramatically (one day, students and teachers were locked out of their schools without notice). NOVA would face the same fate several years later, but by that point, I had long moved on to other schools.

But after all these years of seeing him on commercials and TV programs (music and variety), I've come to the conclusion that Demon Kakka is a pretty nice fellow as demons go. It's almost like Casper The Friendly Ghost with him being Kakka The Amiable Demon. Heck, I saw him several weeks ago helping out broadcasters on NHK give the sports news.

Not being a fan of theirs, I just went with anything that caught my fancy and I saw the above video on YouTube with the then-Demon Kogure's visage glaring at me. The song was their 3rd single released in March 1987...or in the band's year of B.D. 12...called "EL-DO-RA-DO" (although the song had first been known on their 3rd album from November 1986 "From Hell With Love"), and I was actually quite impressed at how melodic it was. I had been expecting a cacophony of screams and guitar wails and smashing drumbeats but it wasn't too hard on the ears at all. Kogure can take credit for words and music.

Plus I gotta say that His Excellency Demon has a pretty good voice. I gather that Hell offers some decent vocal training. Watching the whole band perform the song in the video above, I rather liken Seikima II to KISS with a (bleeding) tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. That one guitarist even looked a bit like drummer Peter Criss in terms of his makeup.

The current lineup for Seikima II is Kogure/Kakka, Raiden Yuzawa(雷電湯澤), Xenon Ishikawa(ゼノン石川), Luke Takamura(ルーク篁), and Jail O'Hashi(ジェイル大橋).

And for your "Awwwwww...." moment for the day, here are His Excellency Demon and a baby tiger.

You can check out Seikima II's Wikipedia page for more details including the history behind their name.