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.

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.

Hitomi Shimatani -- Papillon (パピヨン)

This is more like it. After a scorcher of a summer, autumn has come in nice and cool. Woke up to a much cooler and more comfortable 9 degrees Celsius (which would put Tokyoites in winter mode). I could actually take my 45-minute walk and not arrive home looking like 100 kilograms worth of damp rags.

One of the big television events around the New Year is, of course, NHK's Kohaku Utagassen(紅白歌合戦). A long time ago, this was the only game in town on December 31st while families were busy cooking up stuff for the Holidays. But then, the next day on New Year's Day, Fuji-TV had its big do with "Shinshun Kakushigei Taikai"(新春かくし芸大会....The New Year's Hidden Talent Competition)in which a ton of geinojin amass on one stage to show off talents that they had to master within the last couple of months of the previous year. In the 1991 edition of the show, singer/actress/tarento Akiko Wada(和田アキ子)pulled off something when she and some dancers did an identical version of the dance sequence from Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation". Yes, the Akiko Wada and the Janet Jackson.

About a decade later, there was another tribute of sorts to Janet Jackson in the form of a cover version of her "Doesn't Really Matter" by Hitomi Shimatani(島谷ひとみ)called "Papillon" released in February 2001. Unlike the video for Jackson's hit, the video for "Papillon" is a much more straightforward performance by Shimatani dancing along with four fellows. Chinfa Kan(康珍化)provided the Japanese lyrics for the original song from May 2000 created by Jackson, Terry Lewis and James Harris III.

At the time, I'd had no idea who Shimatani was although she cut quite a nice figure in the video and some good vocals with her version of "Doesn't Really Matter". I didn't realize that this was her 3rd single after debuting a couple of years earlier as a potential enka singer with "Osaka no Onna"(大阪の女...Osaka Woman). That didn't quite work out for her so she and her staff decided to go onto the pop route, and the shift in direction was more successful with "Papillon" hitting No. 14 on Oricon. It also became the title track on her debut album which came out later in June 2001. That managed to peak at No. 7 on the charts.

Here is the Janet Jackson original for comparison's sake. I remember seeing the video and remarking that it was nice to see her back in fine form. Apparently, the setting was based on Japanese culture and well, that building where future Janet was living looked awfully like the Tokyo Immigration Bureau in Shinagawa. I often went there to take care of visa and passport matters, and I think it is possibly one of the most hospitable facilities as far as immigration centers in the world go. Mind you, I can't talk about the chambers up near the top where folks who overstay their visas end up.

Rie Nakahara -- Disco Lady (ディスコ・レディー)

Being way too young to enter the discos when Disco was king in the 1970s, my time for cutting up a rug (that expression probably aged me a few more decades) was in the late 1980s when my university buddies and I hit places like the Diamond, the Copa and even the highest disco on the planet at the time, Sparkles, up in the CN Tower. Now that last dance floor was truly a closet pretending to be a disco emporium.

Urban Japan was also not unaware of the disco boom, it seems. I knew about all of those huge dance clubs from the 1990s such as Julianas and Velfarre in Tokyo but wasn't quite sure about how discos were like back in the 1970s. I've heard about those emporiums in Roppongi like the Lexington Queen but perhaps a lot of the dance clubs may have been fairly tiny.

In any case, this is "Disco Lady" by Rie Nakahara(中原理恵). Released in August 1978, this was her 2nd single following her debut of "Tokyo Lullaby"(東京ららばい)which is the one song that most folks remember her for. The song does have some of that disco beat in there but I'm kinda wondering if it's more in line with some of the uptempo kayo of the time from the two Hiromis...Go and Iwasaki(郷ひろみ・岩崎宏美). As with "Tokyo Lullaby", Takashi Matsumoto and Kyohei Tsutsumi(松本隆・筒美京平)were responsible for words and music respectively.

Mina Aoe -- Shinjuku Saturday Night (新宿サタデー・ナイト)

Happy weekend! Well, I'm still a few hours shy of the actual evening but it's still Saturday, so I've decided to put in a bit of Mood Kayo via the smoky vocals of the late Mina Aoe(青江三奈). Her 13th single "Shinjuku Saturday Night" from December 1968 is another one of her geographically-based songs topped off with a small bit of her scatting. Kaori Mizumori(水森かおり)may be the current Queen of Regional Songs but I think Aoe may have worn the tiara some decades ago.

(karaoke version)

Written by Takao Saeki(佐伯孝夫)and composed by Yoichi Suzuki(鈴木庸一), "Shinjuku Saturday Night" is that bittersweet ballad of lovers meeting up in the titular happening place to be in Tokyo only for one of them having to inevitably head back up to his hometown in Nagano Prefecture after the tryst. But the way the song sounds, it seems as if the parting is just temporary. It might be too bad that the night is over but the fellow will probably be back next week or the week after. That trumpet and the rest of the orchestra are just having too cheerful a time.

I may have already told you once on the blog but Shinjuku is basically split up into three parts now: the new commercial area of South Shinjuku centered around that new JR station annex and the nearly 2-decade-old Takashimaya Times Square, the hotel district of West Shinjuku and the oldest area of bars, restaurants and red-light facilities in East Shinjuku. Back at the time when "Shinjuku Saturday Night" was released, perhaps East Shinjuku with Golden Gai and Kabukicho was indeed the place to be, but it's hard to imagine the time when the district was devoid of those skyscrapers and hotels in West Shinjuku. Incidentally, the funky song playing in the above video of Shinjuku of the 1970s is Junko Yagami's(八神純子)"Omoide no Screen"(思い出のスクリーン).

Shinjuku was sometimes the place that my friends and I would head to for a movie and dinner. I could get pretty much anything I wanted for food there....from Kumamoto ramen to Italian fare, although the branches of McDonalds in the area were probably the establishments that got most of my yen. Well, hey, I was a jobbing English teacher...going to a ryotei was simply not within my budget.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Mondo Grosso -- Family

Earlier this afternoon, I was writing about Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生)weaving his City Pop magic for Anri(杏里)and her 1983 album "Timely!!", but the day before, I had come across this song on YouTube which took me back to my good old days of R&B back in the late 70s and early 80s. And it was produced by another artist who also wove some fine magic for various other artists.

This was "Family" by 90s musician-producer Mondo Grosso (aka Shinichi Ozawa/大沢伸一). Released in 1995 as a single, it also came out as a track in his album "Born Free" which came out in the same year. Listening to it, I couldn't help but shimmy a bit since the arrangement had me thinking about Stevie Wonder. Great horns and funky/mellow keyboards. It's just so nice and cool. It's no wonder that there were some wonderful tunes later on by songbirds such as Bird and BoA.

"Family" is a cover of the 1980 original by jazz flutist/saxophonist Hubert Laws with his sister Debra Laws providing those happy and velvety vocals. Now I'd be interested in hearing some more from the Laws' family. But I have to ask who the vocalist was in the Mondo Grosso cover. Was it Debra again or someone new? Inquiring minds want to know.