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, June 27, 2017

1986 Omega Tribe -- Crystal Night

Summer has begun. I've already brought in the beer-friendly TUBE for the season so it's time to also bring in the mellower mineral water/cocktail side of summer J-Pop via one of the incarnations of Omega Tribe, namely 1986 Omega Tribe(1986オメガトライブ). I listened to the above album "Downtown Mystery ~ 'Night Time' Version" yesterday and it was the nostalgic 80s of the season once more.

The song here wasn't placed on that particular album but it was the title track for 1986 Omega Tribe's 2nd album "Crystal Night" from February 1987. Carlos Toshiki(カルロス・トシキ)is at the mike for his light and creamy delivery of some nighttime light funk. Ahhh....I can see the Mai Tai being served in front of me right now. It may have been guitars for TUBE but it's those crystalline synths for Omega Tribe.

"Crystal Night" the song was written by Toshiki and Koichi Fujita(藤田浩一)and composed by Tsunehiro Izumi(和泉常寛)for the album which peaked at No. 1.

Basically when I see any Japanese song from the 1980s with the word crystal in the title such as this one here, all of the pop images from that decade come flooding into my head ranging from the neo-zoot suit fashion for the guys and the big hair for the gals to the bright-lights-big-city feeling. Perhaps that is because of a 1980 novel that I had heard about years ago while in university titled "Nantonaku Crystal"(なんとなく、クリスタル...Somehow, Crystal)by Yasuo Tanaka(田中康夫), who would later become the governor of Nagano Prefecture in the first half of the 2000s. The story involved a college kid and a part-time model living their modern Tokyo lives and apparently according to the review of the novel, Tanaka even provided tons of footnotes about the various products and cool places that the reader "needed" to know.

I never read "Nantonaku Crystal" but it seems like it can be treated as an indictment of the empty materialistic society of modern-day Japan or as a bible for the kakkoii kids at the time. In any case, I'd be interested in taking a look at an English translation of it just to confirm what was big in those early days since I had my first, brief and ultimately everlasting taste of it during my summer trip in 1981 there. Strangely enough, perhaps all those Future Funk/Vaporwave videos up on YouTube might reflect what Tanaka had been up to decades ago.

It's kinda ironic, though...supposedly Tanaka took some sneering swipes at aspects of the domestic pop culture in lieu of the "superior" Western stuff such as music in his book while I am the fellow who absolutely embraced the former (and the latter)!

You can take a look at the review of "Nantonaku Crystal" here.

Hiromi Go -- COOL

You go, GO!

Well, here I was thinking that I may have exhausted the Hiromi Go(郷ひろみ)file after so many years but I'm starting to realize that the dandy man had a good dalliance with City Pop and the more urban contemporary style of music during the 1980s. Yup, I remember nikala's 2015 article on "Irie Nite"(入江にて)which had the Go man singing the urban genre as early as 1979, but I've always seen the lad as the regular face on Japanese TV, including his long stay on the Kohaku Utagassen, while singing those Oricon-friendly dynamic teen aidoru hits back in the 1970s and those man-about-town favourites in the early 1980s.

My memories of the Kohaku Utagassen go pretty hazy beyond 1983. I guess those three years of 1981, 1982 and 1983 will be the only golden ones for me so it was with some surprise on finding out that Go had sung the cool "COOL" on the 1985 Kohaku. I think I barely remember this one and I rather felt like giving myself a slap on the back of my head a la the Gibbs Smack from "NCIS" since on hearing the original recorded version here, I wanted to exhort "WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE?!"

This was Go's 56th single from October 1985 and apparently it didn't quite chart too highly or at least J-Wiki didn't want to bother posting the results this time. However, it still registers with me as a fairly slick City Pop production (J-Wiki still has the song categorized as an aidoru tune!), and the YouTube commenters seem to be comparing it favourably to Vaporwave. I think there's even a bit of technopop in there although it wasn't enough for me to categorize it thusly. But no doubts...I think it is cool.

Maybe it was just that it seemed rather out of character for Go when I originally saw his performance on the 1985 Kohaku that the memories of it didn't really stay on in my head. Considering how soon to the New Year's Eve show its release was, I was surprised that he did get onto the show for this particular song, but then I read on the J-Wiki article that Go had announced his departure from entertainment activities from 1986 for a while (I believe he wanted to head to New York for several months) so his 13 straight Kohaku appearances would be coming to an end on December 31 1985. I gather that NHK was feeling rather sentimental so the network let him on for one final go (no pun intended). However, he would return to the Shibuya stage for the 1990 show.

The one other surprise was that singer-songwriter Senri Oe(大江千里)was the man behind the words and music to "COOL"! He always struck me as the one to create those happy-go-lucky pop tunes for singers such as Misato Watanabe(渡辺美里)at the time and for himself so I didn't realize that he was able to create something as funky and downtown as this one. I'm not sure whether "COOL" ever got onto an original album although it may be on one of his BEST compilations. This would be another one that I would like to track down someday.

As a P.S., the single has the Japanese version as the B-side. The A-side has the English version of the song with Linda Hennrick providing the lyrics. Would be interesting to hear that version.

(karaoke version from Masatosama)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Yujiro Ishihara -- Shiroi Machi (白い街)

This morning, I saw something rather unprecedented on NHK's "News Watch at 9". I saw the news program devote over half an hour of its hour-long coverage to something that wasn't political, economic or meteorological. Instead, the broadcasters and commentators were all gushing about a self-effacing teenage boy who just happened to win his 29th consecutive shogi match, breaking a record. In fact, part of the reason that there was such a full-court press was that the match was in the middle of its endgame during the broadcast so that NHK and perhaps other channels could catch the moment when 14-year-old shogi wunderkind 4-dan Souta Fujii(藤井聡太)confirmed his status.

Perhaps the only thing I could think of here that would be equivalent to the media hysteria surrounding Fujii and his achievement was probably when Toronto's No. 1 NHL draft pick from 2016, 19-year-old Auston Matthews, proved his worth right in his first hockey game with the big boys and scored 4 goals against Ottawa last October. Boy, were folks in Canada chattering the next day. But even that didn't extend to 30 minutes on the telly.

So here I was thinking about how I should pay some tribute to Fujii. Well, the obvious choice was "Osho"(王将)by Hideo Murata(村田英雄)but Noelle has spoken up about that enka, and since I couldn't really find any other shogi-themed kayo, I decided to check out the wunderkind's home prefecture of Aichi whose biggest city is Nagoya.

It didn't take me too long to track down a kayo related to that city (although Fujii was actually born and raised in Seto City in Aichi Prefecture). I just so happened to find "Shiroi Machi" (White City) by Yujiro Ishihara(石原裕次郎). The Tough Guy is definitely one for geographical kayo with him singing the Japanese blues in Yokohama and Tokyo, and this time, his ballads have brought him to Nagoya. "Shiroi Machi" was written by Naoya Uchimura(内村直也)and composed by Shinichi Nozaki(野崎真一)as a song for Ishihara in October 1967 and has him singing about another love in Nagoya.

(empty karaoke version)

It's another one of Ishihara's Mood Kayo tunes but the notable thing about is that instead of the customary saxophone greeting the listener, it's actually a clarinet doing the honours before Ishihara starts crooning. For me, the feeling is that of having a drink in an even classier and older nightclub. I have to admit though that I am biased since I did play the licorice stick for a few years back in junior high school.

Nagoya was one city that I did visit a few times during my odyssey in Japan and it takes about a couple of hours by Bullet Train from Tokyo. At times, I did hear that the city used to get short shrift when compared to bigger metropolises such as Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka. However, from personal experience as a foodie and as a visitor, I think it's great for its unique dishes such as ten-musu (little shrimp tempura squished into rice balls), miso katsu (deep-fried pork cutlet slathered in a miso sauce) and their own version of tebasaki (sweet-and-savory chicken wings). An old friend of mine was born and lived there, and she took me to a lovely hotel in the downtown district of Sakae for a dessert buffet while a jazz duo was playing.

Well, perhaps my tribute is somewhat oblique to the kid's shogi achievement but still all of my respects to him in his career. To be honest, I am actually more partial to I-go than shogi but even with that former game, I couldn't quite figure that one out either.


Happy Monday! Well, after an unusual absence of about a month, our food-and-anime routine was back on top yesterday, and just in time, too, since anime's Spring 2017 is about to end. That also sadly means that "Little Witch Academia"(リトルウィッチアカデミア)is finishing its run. In fact, I think the final episode aired yesterday (though I probably won't see it for another couple of weeks).

Going on for two continuous seasons left a lot of time for character and story progression although I think it was more on the latter end. So, in contrast to some of the "I Love Lucy" dealings among the original triumvirate of Akko, Lotte and Sucy in the first 12 episodes, things got more serious in the 2nd half with Akko being pulled in opposite directions by the good-but-flawed Chariot and the bad-but-perhaps-redeemable Croix. It's been fun and I'm hoping that perhaps another season may be coaxed out of Trigger in the near future.

Again, there haven't been any immediate earworms for me among the four anison that have come from "Little Witch Academia", and that includes the first ending theme "Hoshi wo Tadoreba"(星を辿れば)by Yuiko Ohara(大原ゆい子). But like that one, the second opening theme has begun some slow inroads into my head.

YURiKA's "MIND CONDUCTOR" , which was released as her 2nd single in May 2017, is your typically galloping pop-rock piece meant to get everyone's blood coursing a bit faster at the events to come. The opening credits certainly have the characters getting ready for battle in comparison to those from the first half of the series. Looking at the translation for eNu's lyrics on Lyrical Nonsense, it might be the song to wake folks up on a Monday. The music was provided by R・O・N. In a way, YURiKA sounds like how Akko would have sounded if she had been holding a mike instead of the Shiny Rod. And Akko's seiyuu, Megumi Han(潘めぐみ), is no slouch in the singing department, either.

The Saitama Prefecture-born YURiKA has loved singing from a very early age according to her J-Wiki bio. In fact, she used to sing her favourite Morning Musume(モーニング娘。), Aya Matsuura(松浦亜弥)and Ayumi Hamasaki(浜崎あゆみ)songs daily in the middle of a rice paddy as a kid. She got into anison due to particular phrases she liked in those anime themes and as a high school senior, she won some accolades after appearing in the Animax Anison Grand Prix for the first time.

The first opening theme for "Little Witch Academia", "Shiny Ray" was YURiKA's debut single from February 2017, and apparently she even had a very small role in Episode 13 of the show as one of the students at the Luna Nova Academy.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Takako Okamura -- Yume wo Akiramenaide (夢をあきらめないで)

Well, I just saw the penultimate episode of this season of "Doctor Who" (yes, I am a well-rounded geek, literally and figuratively), and though, I've found some of Steven Moffatt's episodes lacking, "World Enough and Time" definitely ramped up the suspense and horror and reminders of the old days. Those annoying trailers negated any delightful surprises but knowing Moffatt, he will sneak in some more wham shots and lines before the Twelfth Doctor takes his final bow this Xmas.

Anyways, I should finish off Saturday night with my other geeky love...Japanese popular music. Furthermore, it should be something light and peaceful to counteract all that sci-fi doom and gloom. And I've got just the singer and song.

The wonderful thing about singer-songwriter Takako Okamura(岡村孝子)is that I can never ever imagine her going into death metal or neo-punk. She will always provide material that is as light and puffy and happy as a PreCure fairy. I actually saw her for the first time in a very long time on last week's "Uta Kon"(うたコン)as she performed the song of this article in a hall in Aichi Prefecture, her home province. The lass looked downright nervous when she sang "Yume wo Akiramenaide" (Don't Give Up Your Dreams) but I found that quite adorable, actually.

This was Okamura's 5th single from February 1987. I haven't gone too deep into her works but I just knew that "Yume wo Akiramenaide" would be quite the tonic for a rainy day. Her high quavery vocals and those often-angelic keyboards certainly speak truth to power for the title as she sounds like a girlfriend gently encouraging her boyfriend to go farther. However her lyrics actually have the now ex-girlfriend wishing her former beau well and to continue going for his dreams as the two go off on their separate paths. So, it's definitely a pretty song but methinks that it probably wouldn't be played at a wedding reception in Tokyo.

"Yume wo Akiramenaide" only reached as high as No. 50 on Oricon but in the years since, it has become one of Okamura's signature songs. It was also placed on her 3rd album "liberté" released in July 1987 which peaked at No. 5.

Come to think of it, perhaps this song would be quite appropriate for the remaining episodes of this season of "Doctor Who" and Peter Capaldi's Doctor.

Shigeru Amachi -- Showa no Blues (昭和のブルース)

When it comes to cop TV nowadays, most of the various series consist of the police procedural teams such as "NCIS" and the now-departed "CSI" franchise. Back when I was a kid growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, though, a lot of those shows were productions starring rebellious lone-wolf detectives with "name" titles such as "Cannon", "Barnaby Jones", "Columbo", "McCloud" and "Banacek". Mind you, Leroy Jethro Gibbs of "NCIS" probably could earn his own show on his supremely crusty personality if he were ever to leave the agency and go solo.

During that same time period, though, there were the Japanese cop shows, and my impression of them has always been of the elite team at the Tokyo police department with the wise commander at headquarters, the field boss and a whole bunch of junior tecs willing to whip out the guns and run for lots and lots of kilometres. I will have to talk with JTM about this since the old shows are more his forte.

However, I have found out that there was at least one show back in the 1970s which dealt with one ippiki ohkami (lone wolf) who looked so hard-boiled that even Dirty Harry would have taken a step back if he were to meet him in a dark alley. The show was titled "Hijo no License"(非情のライセンス...Extraordinary License), no connection to the song performed by the late Yoko Nogiwa(野際陽子)that I had written about recently, and the star was singer-actor Shigeru Amachi(天知茂)as Detective Aida, hero to the defenseless...bane to the police chief. The guy struck me as a particularly seen-it-all, done-it-all Japanese Michael Caine doing his version of Peter Gunn.

Amachi also sang the ending theme "Showa no Blues" (The Showa Blues) which didn't directly reference the Showa Era but just his character's probable philosophy toward life that involved struggling, pushing and slogging through the years toward the inevitability of death that awaits us all. I gather that Detective Aida wasn't exactly the life of the party at the year-end celebrations.

But I gotta say that "Showa no Blues" seems perfect for the character. The music by Masaru Sato(佐藤勝)is languid and oh-so-shibui, and matches Detective Aida's measured strolls through the lonely byways of the city. This is a guy who doesn't need to go anywhere fast since there is nothing novel for him to catch and there is no place where the bad guy can hide from him. His eyes alone could probably take down the perp. Meanwhile, Michio Yamagami's(山上路夫)lyrics repeat Aida's cynical view toward life even at the cost of happiness with the lady who loves him.

I can also say that this is the type of song that Yujiro Ishihara(石原裕次郎)would probably raise his glass of whiskey on the rocks to. Perhaps Amachi and the Tough Guy even met up for drinks at some hole-in-the-wall in shitamachi.

The link below will take you to another rendition of the song but with scenes from "Hijo no License".

Top 10 Albums for 2011

1.  Arashi                                   Beautiful World
2.  AKB48                                 Koko ni Ita Koto
3.  EXILE                                  Negai no Tou
4.  Lady Gaga                            Born This Way
5.  Shojo Jidai                            GIRLS' GENERATION
6.  Namie Amuro                       Checkmate!
7.  KARA                                   Super Girl
8.  Keisuke Kuwata                    MUSICMAN
9.  SMAP                                   SMAP AID
10.  Ikimonogakari                    Ikimonobakari: Members Best Selection