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, November 15, 2017

The Works of Masao Koga (古賀政男) Part 1: The Early Years

Took me more than a year to finally get around to it, but here's a tribute to the great composer with his trademark square glasses and neat mustache, Masao Koga (古賀政男), via a Creator article.

This'll be my first entry under this label - I'd always wanted try my hand at a Creator article ever since J-Canuck started it this sort of write-ups, and I wanted to do one on a composer whose works I could more or less pinpoint easily, so who better than this legendary Showa era songwriter? All the more I thought he was a good and fitting candidate as I got the opportunity to visit his museum in Tokyo in 2016. However, I knew that this would be a big undertaking, considering Koga's title of Father of Kayokyoku and the fact that there are numerous famous pieces of music under his name. One article wouldn't suffice - it might, but it would be an extremely lengthy one. As such, I had to wait until I had the time and the will (the most important) to consolidate what I know about him into a couple of articles, and so, I thought now would be good since my schedule is pretty free, and "Uta Kon" paid their annual tribute to him this week, and his 103rd birthday is coming up.

As mentioned, Koga had an extensive discography, so I'll try my best to put down what he was known for, as well as some interesting ones I'd come across. In this first part, I will include Koga's bio and his early works from when he began his composing duties in the 1930's to the post war period in the late 1940's. Sorry if something you're looking for doesn't show up - it might in part 2 though.

The picture on the right shows Koga when he entered Meiji.

Alright, let's begin with some background information. Koga was born on 18th November 1904 and his real name 古賀正夫 was the same as his stage name, with only a slight change in the third kanji character. He hailed from a village by the name of Taguchi Mura, now known as Okawa city, in Fukuoka. After the death of his father, Koga moved to Korea where his brother worked and spent most of his adolescence there. In that period of time, he got acquainted with the taishogoto, or the Nagoya harp, as well as the instrument he was often associated with, the mandolin.

In 1923, Koga returned to Japan and attended Meiji University, where he joined the school's mandolin club (明治大学マンドリン倶楽部). However, a few years later in 1928, it seemed like he hit quite a rough patch as he actually planned to kill himself at an onsen town in Miyagi. Fortunately, after being inspired by watching the sun setting in Zao, he decided to release his frustrations in a less morbid way by creating his first piece of music, "Kage wo Shitai te" (影を慕いて) - I can now see why this song is so depressing.

Sato's version.

In 1929, he would play "Kage wo Shitai te" at one of the mandolin club's performances and caught the attention of a popular singer at the time, Chiyako Sato (佐藤千夜子). As a result, she recorded the song a year later in 1930 with Koga, then using his real name, on the mandolin and guitar. It did not sell very well, but this marked the start of Koga's path as a composer. Once he graduated from Meiji in 1931, Koga went to Nippon Colombia Records, which from what I've been seeing was the record company back then, in hopes of being a regular employee under the company's literary section due to not having confidence in his songwriting abilities. But he got signed on as a contract composer instead. From there on out, by collaborating with prolific lyricists and the early showa era's shining stars, multiple hits that are still being remembered today were spawned.

At the moment, I am able to pick out two of Koga's distinctive songwriting styles, the first of which is what I call the quintessential Koga Melody where you can hear the eerie notes of the mandolin clearly in the midst of a brooding score. The other was a bit difficult for me to pick out and it's not really guaranteed that having these traits in the music means they were made by the man himself, but when Koga creates jolly tunes they seem to have a very festive, exuberant, and light quality, and I tend to hear crashing cymbals in the background from time to time. With that being said, I shall go on to talk about the songs that brought him fame and status.

One of Koga's frequent collaborators was the classically trained Ichiro Fujiyama (藤山一郎), who had encountered the new composer when he was still in music school (Tokyo Music School). "Oka wo Koete" (丘を越えて), "Sake wa Namida ka Tameiki ka" (酒は涙か溜息か), and "Aoi Sebiro de" (青い背広で) are just some of the Koga-composed works from Mr. Fujiyama's (it's my nickname for him) discography, but I think their most successful hit was "Tokyo Rhapsody" (東京ラプソディ) from 1936. As I had mentioned not too long ago, this optimistic tune about the wonders of Tokyo is quite the ear worm. If I'm not mistaken, Koga came up with the melody to "Tokyo Rhapsody" with the idea of exploring the metropolis by car, where one drives around and gets to take in the sights and sounds of the different parts of the city. Perhaps those in the car are new to the bustling city, which would explain the excitement conveyed. Fujiyama had also recorded his version of "Kage wo Shitai te" in 1932 which then became successful and probably became the de facto version of it.

Another artiste whom I always see having mustachioed composer's name pop up when the title flashes on screen is Noboru Kirishima (霧島昇), who was quite the contrast to the almost constantly grinning Mr. Fujiyama. Kirishima's Koga-collaborations included "Reijin no Uta" (麗人の歌) and "Shin Tsuma Kagami (?)" (新妻鏡), which was a duet with Akiko Futaba (二葉あき子), but they seemed to be most well-known for "Tare ka Furusato wo Omowazu" (誰か故郷を想わざる). Koga had written this bokyo tune from 1940 with the equally renowned Saijo Yaso (西條八十) after he returned from a cross-cultural sharing program of sorts in the US. It's got a rather jaunty melody to it to accompany the premises of a fellow far away from home fondly reminiscing the good times spent in his village hometown. Not surprisingly, it was very well received by soldiers at war at the time who could relate. Koga had drawn inspiration for "Tare ka Furusato wo Omowazu" from his time at his own hometown in Fukuoka.

Going a bit on a tangent to give you some trivia I uncovered not too long ago since I have mentioned Yaso: The Lyricist Award at the Japan Record Awards were known as the Yaso Saijo Award at one period of time. I found it nice that they named that award after the songwriter - it was a good way to honor him. On another note, Koga and Ryoichi Hattori (服部良一) were the ones who started the Japan Composer's Association (日本作曲家協会).

Alright, moving on. The two contributions Koga made for Mr. Fujiyama and Kirishima that I shared were showcased his livelier side, so the next few tunes will bring the spotlight on to the melancholic side, which he was probably most noted for.

Koga's own life experience played another role in the making of "Jinsei no Namikimichi" (人生の並木路), sung by actor and jazz singer Dick Mine (ディック・ミネ) in 1937. Early in the article, I mentioned about Koga's move to Korea after his father had passed on - well, the songwriter had translated the suffering and pain he felt at that time to a melody for this bleak song about a pair of siblings having to support each other away from home. The reason for the siblings' departure from home didn't seem to be specified in Sonosuke Sato's (佐藤惣之助) lyrics, but it does remind me of the Studio Ghibli film "Grave of the Fireflies".

Up next is a piece that, to me, is the definition of Masao Koga: "Jinsei Gekijo" (人生劇場). While the original take was recorded by Shigeo Kusunoki (楠木繁夫) in 1938, whose version I have put up, it was made popular by Hideo Murata (村田英雄) in 1959. This was where I got to know Koga's typical unnerving musical styling - especially in Murata's version where the use of the mandolin is obvious.

Although actor and movie director Toshiro Omi's (近江俊郎) hit "Yu no Machi no Elegy" (湯の町エレジー) is more about pining for love lost at an onsen town, I can't help but wonder if the wistfulness in the music from this 1948 hit was influenced by that incident Koga went through two decades ago. The melody of "Yu no Machi no Elegy" also focuses on the acoustic guitar rather than the mandolin, and that brings to mind similarly melancholic compositions from Toru Funamura (船村徹) years later. Y'know, I never really liked this song for the longest time, but with the number of times I have been listening to it over and over again recently on my own accord and while writing this section, I'm quite glad to say that it has grown on me... unfortunately that means "Izu no yama yama..." will be stuck in my head for the weeks to come.

Now that I've covered the more depressing works from early in Koga's career, I would like to end off this first segment of my tribute to the great songwriter on a silly note with "Uchi no Nyobo nya Hige ga aru" (うちの女房にゃ髭がある). Yep, Koga created comical stuff too, even for something titled "My Wife Has a Mustache". This aMAzing song was the theme song to the movie of the same name starring Kyouji Sugi (杉狂児) that featured a timid salary man who is ruled by his wife. It's a happy-go-lucky tune that amusingly undermines the guy's fear of his wife - he's clearly bothered by her facial hair (probably grown after they got hitched and he's got no where to run), but is beyond terrified of telling her and facing the consequences, as you can hear from Sugi's stammering when the wife, played by Geisha singer Yakko Michi (美ち奴), confronts him. Man, I would love to hear Hachiro Kasuga's (春日八郎) version of this. Speaking of Michi, Koga had also created a successful song for her called "Ah,  Sore nanoni" (あゝそれなのに) for the same movie.

Sudden epiphany from 16/11/17: Although I find that it might be unlikely that "Uchi no Nyobo nya Hige ga aru" might have a deeper meaning as it was meant for a comedy, I just realised that what if the wife having a mustache is another figurative way for saying that she runs the house? It could be a twist on the saying "The one who wears the pants in the household", just that instead of pants it's having a mustache. I mean, madame here could may as well have a solid handlebar too while wearing the pants (mustache).

Okay, that's all for this half. I hope you've enjoyed this so far and would look forward to part 2.

P.S. I would love to have a T-shirt with that caricature of him in this photo.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Kiyoshi Hikawa -- Ginga ~Hoshizora no Akiko~ (銀河〜星空の秋子〜)

As you guys all know by now, Maekawa's (前川) my favourite Kiyoshi. But... confession time... I actually prefer listening to Hikawa's (氷川) stuff a whole lot more. *Gasp* The latter's songs are more fun to listen to, okay? *Gasp* The number of albums and singles I have of his works are almost on par with Maekawa's. *Gasp* His coconut hair wasn't that ba- whoa, whoa, back it up. Who am I kidding? It was just as bad as Maekawa's perm. *Silence (?)*

Sorry, I just had to be dramatic there. But yes, I do find Hikawa's works to be more dynamic and exciting. As such, I tend to pick them very often and have quite a few of his CDs under my enka-yo collection - 4 singles and 3 albums to be exact... The numbers will most likely increase on my next trip to Japan.

After inspecting the albums I have, I've noticed a few things: 1. Fan service is a must and there are always a truckload of photos of the fellow included. His newer "Enka Collection" series even has a sticker of him included - I've been wanting to use the two I have, but I don't know a good place to stick them. 2. Half the album's tracks (usually about 6) consists of his original songs, and the other half would be covers of mostly enka or kayokyoku hits from back in the day.

From what I know, the albums don't usually follow a theme, with the exception of some of his earlier ones. Case in point, "Ginga ~Hoshizora no Akiko~", his 6th album from 20th November 2002, where all the tracks revolve around stars, one way or the other. It's cool title aside, the reason why I bought this album was because of one song and one song only, which I'll talk about in a while, but after sampling all 12 tracks, I'm glad to say that I enjoyed pretty much all "Ginga" had to offer, which is why I would like to share some of my favourites with you guys.

Looked like the coconut hair became less coconutty by 2002's end.

To get the ball rolling, here's the song list:

1. Hoshizora no Akiko (星空の秋子)
2. Furusato Ichibanboshi (ふるさと一番星)
3. Nagareboshi (流れ星)
4. Hokutosei (北斗星)
5. Hoshizora no Romance (星空のロマンス)
6. Yume Ginga (夢銀河)
7. Hoshikage no Waltz (星影のワルツ)
8. Hoshi no Flamenco (星のフラメンコ)
9. Miagetegoran Yoru no Hoshi wo (見上げてごらん夜の星を)
10. Hoshikuzu no Machi (星屑の町)
11. Yozora no Hoshi (夜空の星)
12. Subaru (昴〜すばる〜)

Tracks 1 to 6 are originals and tracks 7 to 12 are covers. The covered songs all have an article on them, so you can check out the original takes in the links.

Another thing I must note about "Ginga": Because it's from early in Hikawa's career, his vocals were considerably higher and a little on the strident side, and his delivery was more deliberate. Can't say I'm a big fan of that, especially when he tackled certain songs in the list in that manner, and I much prefer his current delivery, but I guess I can mostly overlook that as, like I just mentioned above, I like the songs here.

Well, anyway, let's get to the tracks, shall we?

Wa-hey, look at 'im go! It's Hikawa doing the Chicken Wing. And boy, that outfit... First up is "Hoshizora no Akiko", and yes, this was the song that made me purchase "Ginga". Set in Kyushu, "Hoshizora no Akiko" is about our character pining for the titular Akiko, of whom he's reminded of whenever he looks at the glittering stars above. This is backed by a toe-tapping, glitzy disco score. Despite sounding like it came from out from the 70's or the 80's, I cannot deny how catchy it is and, of course, the chicken dance thing he does every time for this song is quite amusing. Putting "Hoshizora no Akiko" together were lyricist Toshiya Niitani (仁井谷俊也) and composer Hideo Mizumori (水森英夫), both of whom would collaborate with Hikawa on numerous occasions over the next decade to churn out more hits.

Karaoke cover.

Up next is track number 3, "Nagareboshi", which is very much on the forlorn side of things with Hikawa's heartbreaking delivery. It's enka score is given a folksy edge with the harmonica and deep notes of the acoustic guitar in addition to the smooth strings. You can imagine the fellow wishing upon a shooting star with watery eyes for the happiness of his loved one he left back in the countryside. Unfortunately, I'm unable to find the original version, so I've put up one of the few karaoke versions available. Mizumori had also done the music for "Nagareboshi", and writing the words was Reiji Mizuki (水木れいじ).

Pretty sure he could've passed for an aidoru here.

Coming back to something upbeat, here's "Hoshizora no Romance" with its Broadway flair. As I listen to this entry in "Ginga", I can easily envision Hikawa in a proper tux and top hat prancing around the stage while spinning a cane - somehow I have a feeling that he's done something like that at some point in his career. Anyway, I actually like the enka singer's greener vocals for this particular song as it better portrays the optimism and slight trepidation a young man would feel as he attempts to propose to his one and only... under the starry night sky. Yeah, I'll admit it, this is a really cute song. Penning the lyrics was Megumi Oda (小田めぐみ) and composing the score was Akihiro/Akira Otani (大谷明裕).

The last original song in "Ginga" is "Yume Ginga", and it's probably my favourite in the entire album. It starts off soft, like you've just seen a couple of stars softly glowing as you walk through an empty field, perhaps doing some self-reflection. And then as the strings and backup vocals swell and become dramatic, it's as if the constellations and galaxies that have been hiding from plain view have finally made their presence known, lighting up the sky in their shiny and colourful glory... Well, that's what always comes to my mind. "Yume Ginga" also gives off that adventurous vibe - like there's still a whole lot of stuff out there (on earth or in the infinite cosmos) to explore and experience. This song was brought to you by Niitani and Mizumori. I may not be a fan of space, but somehow I enjoy the shout outs to the constellations and galaxies, like Andromeda and Orion.

Now for the covers half of "Ginga". This is where I don't take to Hikawa's choppier and blaring delivery as well. I just thought that some of these songs should have a more delicate touch to them, but that was his style back then and, admittedly, it wasn't that bad. Also, I do appreciate the arrangements of the old melodies - it's like having a newer twist in the original flavour. Perhaps the track that I don't particularly mind his green vocals as much is in "Hoshikage no Waltz" as Masao Sen (千昌夫) has got a pretty choppy delivery too. Hikawa was also able bring out the angst in the chorus well too.

I'm extremely picky with renditions of "Hoshikuzu no Machi" for reasons I believe I've mentioned before, but I found Hikawa's take on Michi's jazzy classic alright. Very loud, but alright - it's one of the better ones I've heard.

Having Shinji Tanimura's (谷村新司) triumphant "Subaru" is a good way to round things off for an album (and an article?), don't you think? I could also get behind Hikawa's rendition of "Subaru" like "Hoshikage no Waltz", but I would actually like to hear him tackle this with his current delivery for I think it'd make the song sound grander with his more mature voice.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

West Shinjuku at Night

Monday November 6. Not sure why the main Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building was done up in these colours.

Still, the scenes of West Shinjuku at night are also photo candy. And whenever I found myself in the area at that time when the windows were glowing against the dark sky, I couldn't help but remember the first opening credits for the anime "City Hunter" with Kahoru Kohiruimaki singing the soaring "Ai yo Kienai de". The original producers must have had the hotel district in mind when they came up those opening visuals.

West Shinjuku at Sunset

Monday November 6. This shot of the skyscrapers of West Shinjuku doesn't emulate the exact picture of the JAL poster that I had fallen in love with but that building on the right for SOMPO Holdings is the gently sloping structure that I've known for years and was in that photo.

It was quite cool and windy that day walking around in the neighbourhood of hotels and office towers...almost downright Torontonian!

My perennial theme song for a walk in West Shinjuku? Of course, it's "Downtown" by EPO!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Good morning from Tokyo!

Well, actually, good Saturday morning from hotel room in Otsuka, to be exact. Not sure how often I will be able to log in but at least I can put in this first article under the category of "Tokyo 2017".

The R&B Hotel is a pretty spartan business hotel but the complementary breakfast is good.

Anyways, I will just be throwing in some small comments here and there and providing any music that is associated with the tone of the article. For example here is PSY-S' "Asa".

Fairly rough start to this category but hopefully things will smooth out over time.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Peanuts/Danny Iida & The Paradise Kings -- Kanashiki Kangaroo(悲しきカンガルー)

I've been continuing to go through the additions to my kayo record collection and found one such record by the beloved kayo duo The Peanuts(ザ・ピーナッツ). And yep, I'm quite happy that I finally have a platter by Emi and Yumi.

The record I have is a 33 1/3 maxi-single with two songs on each side, one of which is titled "Kanashiki Kangaroo" (Sad Kangaroo), a cover of a popular 1960 single, "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" released by the (now notorious) Australian singer-entertainer Rolf Harris. The Peanuts' cover came out in January 1964 with the Japanese lyrics written by Kazumi Minami.

However, a few months previously, the group Danny Iida & The Paradise Kings(ダニー飯田とパラダイス・キング)provided their own more country music-feeling cover of "Kanashiki Kangaroo" as another example of their Yakushi Pop(訳詞ポップス), Japanese-translated versions of Western tunes. In both the Kings' version and the one by The Peanuts, the wobble board from Harris' original is applied. And I think with both covers, the happy-go-lucky jingly-jangly nature of the song would probably have made it quite popular in Japan and on Japanese TV as well.

And here I thought that there was only one Japanese pop song with a kangaroo in the title.

Ryuichi Sakamoto & Yasuyuki Okamura -- Tokai(都会)

Of all the photos I took back in my last trip to Japan, the above is one of my favourites. It's of the Daimon area, and with that sun hitting the buildings just so, I thought it was one of the nicest shots to show off Tokyo, one heck of a city.

I think I've come across one of the nicest covers of a Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)song through a 2013 album titled "Tribute to Taeko Ohnuki"(大貫妙子トリビュート・アルバム). This is "Tokai" (The City) by Ohnuki's collaborator from the 70s and 80s, Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一), and J-funkster Yasuyuki Okamura(岡村靖幸).

Originally from Ohnuki's 1977 album "Sunshower", as I mentioned in the "Kayo Kyoku Plus" article for it, the arrangement for "Tokai" was inspired by Stevie Wonder while the singer took a pot shot against city life. If anything, though, "Tokai" had me swooning over city life, especially life in Tokyo that I knew so well for so many years. And the new version by Sakamoto and Okamura gets even closer to much so that I wonder (no pun intended) whether the legend was actively taking part in the recording session. Still, the cover doesn't reconstruct or deconstruct from the original; it's truly a tribute and Sakamoto even brings back the meowing synth instrumental.

I will have to listen to the samples presented up at but perhaps "Tribute to Taeko Ohnuki" will be my next purchase.

Speaking of Tokyo, in a couple of days, I will be taking off for my old stompin' grounds for the first time in a little over 3 years. I'm certainly looking forward to my 2-week vacation...meeting up with old friends, eating my favourite foods (karaage, hambaagu, kaiten sushi...we meet again!) and seeing the old haunts. As such, KKP will be a little quiet for the first half of November.