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

Friday, October 31, 2014

TOKYO GIRLS' STYLE -- Tsuki no Kimagure (月の気まぐれ)

Over half a year ago, Marcos V. featured "Partition Love" by Tokyo Girls' Style which was their 15th single from February 2014. I rather enjoyed the disco-funk of it all, and when I was browsing around in Shibuya's Tower Records earlier this month, I was lucky enough to come across that very single on the shelf, and quickly took it to the cashier along with my other purchases.

The coupling song is "Tsuki no Kimagure" (Moon Whimsy) which was written and composed by Kikuo(きくお), a freelance composer who has created background music for various games as well as albums involving Miku Hatsune(初音ミク)and VOCALOID.

I spoke with Marcos about how it seemed like the current crop of aidoru over the past couple of years has been trying its hand in different musical genres such as techno, heavy metal and even City Pop (especia is my other favourite). Well, I was glad to hear that "Tsuki no Kimagure" has taken Tokyo Girls' Style into yet another direction. At first, while I was listening to it, I thought the French jazzy music was channeling a bit of Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)circa early 1980s, but after thinking about it, I felt it was just a bit too peppy for an Ohnuki song. Then I realized it may have been taking a stab into breezy 90s Shibuya-kei...perhaps on the same lines as Flipper's Guitar. The lyrics and the music sound very whimsical as the girls sing about drinking 5-colour mixed juice and dancing in one of the craters of good ol' Luna. There's even a reference to "mixed humans". Considering that I also often take a look at the website "Orion's Arm Universe Project" which deals with how humanity evolves and spreads throughout the stars over millenia, I was intrigued by that line.

It's been an interesting year for 21st-century aidoru. Keep on diversifying. Maybe we're entering the age of mixed aidoru. :)

Shinobu Otake -- Mikan (みかん)

The week before, I caught another edition of NHK's "Kayo Concert" and was surprised to see multiple award-winning actress Shinobu Otake(大竹しのぶ)on stage performing a romantic cover version of Hiroshi Mizuhara's(水原弘)"Tasogare no Beguine"(黄昏のビギン)with singer-songwriter Masayoshi Yamazaki(山崎まさよし). I was struck by the richness of Otake's voice; I just went "Where did she learn to sing like that?", considering that her speaking voice is usually quite squeaky.

To be honest, although the Tokyo-born Otake is listed on J-Wiki as an actress and tarento, I knew that she had released records in the past, something that even my parents were not too cognizant of. In fact, there was an old video I remember in which a teenage Otake was strumming a guitar and singing some kind of cute little ditty.

And I believe this was the song, "Mikan" (An Orange). This was her debut as a 19-year-old singer back in 1976 although she had already broken into show business as an actress a few years earlier in 1973. Written by Yu Aku(阿久悠)and composed by Katsuo Ono(大野克夫), Otake sang about leaving an orange for a boy she had liked to cheer him up. There was something very wholesome and girl-next-door about Otake when she performed this tune.

In looking up the information, I found out that Otake has released 22 singles and 7 original albums over the decades, so why not add that "singer" label to her? And she released her latest single just last week which is that cover of "Tasogare no Beguine".

Although this doesn't fall under the purview of this blog, I just had to include the above video. I have to admit that though I've never seen any of Otake's movies, I've often seen her appearances on television, and she comes across as this low-key and bashful little sprite who sometimes blurts out something completely adorkable much to her embarrassment and much to our delight.

My case in point is her frequent appearances on a segment of the Fuji-TV Thursday-night variety show, "Tunnels no Minasan no Okage deshita"(とんねるずのみなさんのおかげでした)which involves two celebrity guests battling each other in trying to guess among 4 or 5 dishes which dish is the one that the opponent hates. With the comedic duo, The Tunnels, presiding over the competition, one celeb watches the other go through each dish and looks for visual cues and asks probing questions to figure out which is the disliked food. At the same time, the celeb doing the eating must be able to disguise his/her dislike.

Otake's appearances are probably must-see TV since, although she has won a slew of acting awards, she apparently doesn't have any ability to hide her disdain for any food she hates. The hilarity lies in how she tries to handle the situation...or not. I remember seeing one such battle and after trying the first dish, she unintentionally quipped in a tiny chirp "I give up" to the absolute shock of The Tunnels and the other celeb (I forgot who it was). Once the gales of laughter subsided (part of the fun was watching The Tunnels lose it....a very rare thing), everyone had to figure out how to get through the next several minutes of suddenly useless air. The above video is a later appearance but have a look at how she handles the grilled mutton dish of Jingiskan.

Below is the cover version of "Mikan" sung by Kazumi Nikaido(二階堂和美).

Courtesy of
from Flickr

Maki Miyamae (CoCo) -- Yume he no Position (夢へのポジション)

Every time I play Street Fighter (ストリートファイター) I only choose Chun-Li (春麗) (my friends get really mad at me for not changing the character and because Chun-Li is quite annoying to be beaten, even if I’m not a good player at all). I really like this girl (she was a hottie for every 90s kid), her kicking abilities and her agility in the game. Besides that, one of the things I always pay attention when I’m playing the game is "Chun-Li Theme", an electronic composition typical of games from the early 90s (chiptune) with blatant Chinese influences.

To my surprise, "Chun-Li Theme" was given some lyrics and Maki Miyamae (宮前真樹), one of the five components of aidoru group CoCo, released it as a single in December 1992 under the title of “Yume he no Position”. It’s not really a surprise, as the game became a huge success worldwide, and Chun-Li was the only playable female character of the game at the time (another notable Street Fighter related song is Ryoko Shinohara’s [篠原 涼子] smash hit “Itoshisa toSetsunasa to Kokoro Zuyosa to” [恋しさと せつなさと 心強さと], which was released in 1994).

“Yume he no Position” is notable for respecting Chun-Li Theme's original melody, while only adding vocals and some flourishes here and there in the arrangement (like Chun-Li shouting Spinning Bird Kick [スピニングバードキック] and other memorable Chun-Li's sounds from the game). Maki Miyamae is not a wonderful singer, but we’re not waiting for a high level vocal performance coming from a 90s aidoru. In the end, not much can be talked about “Yume he no Position”, but I quite like how the aidoru world was already capable of dialoguing well with the video game universe back in the early 90s. Nowadays, it’s a very commom practice.

To finish, here’s a Korean aidoru unit called Orange Caramel dressed like Chun-Li while performing their cheesy hit “Shanghai Romance”. The song is not related to the original Chun Li song at all, but I just thought it would be suitable and fun to post it here... well, I’m a big Orange Caramel fan, and that explains all.

“Yume he no Position” reached #19 on the Oricon charts. Lyrics were written by Neko Oikawa (及川眠子), while music was composed by Yoko Shimomura (下村 陽子) and Alph Lyla (アルフ・ライラ), CAPCOM's house band. As for the arrangement, Seiji Toda (戸田誠司) was the responsible.

Hitomi Shimatani -- Perseus -ペルセウス-

Thanks to Noelle Tham, I had my very first Hitomi Shimatani (島谷ひとみ) experience with "Falco -ファルコ-". Although a very famous J-pop singer of the last decade, I had never listened to a song by her before. I explain this by admiting that I do have some kind of prejudice with Avex 00s artists (the lovely aidoru group TOKYO GIRLS’ STYLE [東京女子流] is a notable exception, but they just came out in 2010). For me, the agency is the one which relies heavily in copying Western's style of pop artists. With Hitomi Shimatani, my main thoughts were not different. I always compared her to Ayumi Hamasaki (浜崎あゆみ), Kumi Koda (倖田來未) or post-TK’s (小室哲哉) Namie Amuro (安室奈美恵), but Noelle’s post about “Falco” proved me that I was somewhat wrong (not totally wrong, though) about the girl.

Just like “Falco”, I realized very quickly that a lot of Hitomi’s songs are a mix of exotic and Asian melodies with standard dance pop, and that’s ok for me. After hearing from five to ten of her early-to-mid 00s singles, one that caugh my attention was “Perseus”, which was released in July 2003.

In “Perseus”, the steady clubby dance beat is there, but the synths and the main melody are pure Asian music estereotypes in the most Orientalist of the ways (and I’m not complaining here). Based on that, it’s not a surprise that my favourite parts are the instrumental sections. Somehow it made me remember of Chun-Li (春麗), from the Street Fighter (ストリートファイター) video game series. If she didn’t have a proper theme (click here), sung by Maki Miyamae (宮前真樹) from aidoru group CoCo, this one would fit very well. Also, Orientalist J-Pop songs are not rare to find at all. Some fantastic examples are Chisato Moritaka’s (森高千里) “Hong Kong” (香港) (listen here) and “RESCUE ME” (listen here), a song composed by TK for Kylie Minogue’s younger sister Danii Minogue, and later recorded by Chinese singer SUIREI (翠玲 [スイレイ]), also under TK’s wings.

“Perseus” reached #8 on the Oricon charts, selling 72,384 copies. Lyrics were written by BOUNCEBACK, while music was composed by Shigeki Sato (迫茂樹). As for the arrangement, h-wonder was the responsible.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

ALFIE -- Natsu Shigure (夏しぐれ)

On one of my last days of my trip to Tokyo earlier this month, my anime buddy and I met up with a friend who runs a small technology company in Akihabara. My buddy knows him through yet another mutual friend of ours, and I used to teach some of his employees about a decade ago. The president picked us up at JR Shinjuku Station and walked us down all the way to the Yoyogi area where he treated us to lunch at a small restaurant specializing in home cooking. It was definitely homey inside (I could endure the seiza style on the tatami for a few minutes before I cried "Uncle!" and just had to stretch my legs out for the duration) and the lunch set of sumptuous grilled salmon, hot rice and umami-rich miso soup was marvelous.

However, I also noticed that to the left of me was a number of THE ALFEE discs and one picture of the iconic band placed on a slender ledge. When I asked the proprietor whether he was a huge fan, he proudly said that he was, and that Toshihiko Takamizawa, Konosuke Sakazaki and Masaru Sakurai (高見沢俊彦・坂崎幸之助・桜井賢)were regular customers at his place! When I told him that I was also a fan, it was the old man's turn to be surprised since he had never expected a (J-) Canuck to know let alone enjoy the epic sounds of this trio, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

Well then....let's go way back to the beginning. In fact, let's listen to the very first single by The Alfee when they were actually known as just ALFIE, and their stock-in-trade wasn't rock but folk. And on top of all that, the band was a group of four.

"Natsu Shigure" (Summer Shower) was released in August 1974 as this sad ballad of someone getting that dreaded Dear John/Jane letter with the precipitation coming down. Another difference to add to the trivia is that ALFIE's debut hadn't been written or composed by any of the band members; instead, it was the famed duo of Takashi Matsumoto and Kyohei Tsutsumi(松本隆・筒美京平). When I first listened to the song, I realized how far the guys have come. There was that familiar nasal delivery by Takamizawa but the arrangement was definitely not the epic rock that I have been accustomed to hearing. "Natsu Shigure" is 70s J-Folk with a subdued arrangement reflecting the mood and weather within the lyrics. Y'know...when I often listen to some of the folk bands from that era such as GARO and Kaguyahime, I automatically imagine cafes. ALFIE's debut is most certainly a tune for a cafe acting as shelter from the elements.

As for that 4th member, he was Yasuo Miyake(三宅康夫)who played the guitar for Masaru Sakurai's old band, Confidence, before jumping over to ALFIE with his leader. However, he left the band in 1975 for reasons that were never explicitly given, although they may have had something to do with his father suffering from health problems.

"Natsu Shigure" was also on ALFIE's debut album, "Seishun no Kioku"(青春の記憶...Memory of the Old Days), which was released in July 1975.

Miki Fujimoto -- Romantic Ukare Mode (ロマンティック浮かれモード)

According to J-Wiki, Miki Fujimoto's(藤本美貴)"Romantic Ukare Mode" (Romantically Merry Mode) is one of the touchstones of the 21st century for the aidoru fan. And why not? It's just one of the most effervescently happy songs that I have ever heard. Hello Project Svengali Tsunku(つんく)wrote and composed Mikitty's 3rd and most successful single seemingly to induce instant contraction of the zygomatic major and orbicularis oculi muscles ( :) Although I haven't exactly grinned like a Cheshire Cat whenever I hear it, my mood does lighten up a fair bit.

With the possible exception of Morning Musume's "The Peace", "Romantic Ukare Mode" is the Hello Project worm in my ear. My ex used to hum this all the time, and I have to say that the verses and the refrain are both gets the urge to suddenly march around the living room and generally look at life through cotton-candy glasses. The only thing that bugs me about it is the backing vocal (provided by Tsunku?) that simply grates on me.

The song came out in September 2002 and peaked at No. 3 on Oricon, selling around 62,000 copies. It is also available on Fujimoto's debut album, appropriately if dully titled "MIKI(1)" which came out in February 2003. It also got as high as No. 3 on the album charts. And NHK also came knocking to which Mikitty happily responded as the top batter on that year's Kohaku Utagassen.

Miki Fujimoto hails from Hokkaido and debuted earlier in 2002 with "Aenai Nagai Nichiyobi"(会えない長い日曜日...A Long Sunday That I Can't See You)as a solo singer in Hello Project before becoming an official member of Morning Musume in 2003. She even had a very brief tenure as the leader of the group in 2007 until a "scandal" forced her to leave MM after only a few months since she had been caught dating a popular comedian, Tomoharu Shoji of the duo Shinagawa Shoji. Considering that the two of them got married and now have a 2-year-old son, I think the lass still won out. And I still see her weekly as a regular guest on the NHK morning program, "Asaichi".

Perhaps her aidoru career has now been put away as part of her geino history, but that song will always be jingling somewhere deep in my head from time to time.

Courtesy of
Kasilyn Lin
from Flickr

Chiharu Matsuyama -- Koi (恋)

Other than his distinctive voice, I know Chiharu Matsuyama (松山千春) as the poor guy who lost most of his hair... but I must say he's rocking the bald look with that untidy salt and pepper scruff on his chin - kinda makes him look a little like a walrus though, especially when it grows out.

But with that aside Matsuyama's 8th single from 1980 'Koi', which just means love, pretty much had me with the soft chords of the acoustic guitar and sharp yet gentle whine of the harmonica at the start, giving a sort of nostalgic feel to the song. Definitely a far cry from the rock and roll of 'Nagai yoru' (長い夜) that would come out a year later.

Now that I think of it, this song just gives me the image of the folk singer-songwriter in his early days sitting on a bench in a near empty train station platform at sunset, singing this ballad in a heartfelt way while strumming away at his guitar, probably yearning for that special one to arrive... if she is even coming in the first place! Ah hah hah, now that gives it some extra depth!

Moving on, being one of Matsuyama's self-written and composed hits, 'Koi' did well on the Oricon charts peaking at 6th on the weeklies and managed to stay on people's radars long enough throughout the year (released on 21st January) for it to rank 34th in 1980.

Here's a live performance of Matsuyama from back in the day singing an acoustic version of the song.

And another thing I found was a duet version of 'Koi', between Kiyoshi Maekawa and Sayuri Ishikawa (前川清 . 石川さゆり). From the looks of it (and from Maekawa's non-existent glaring perm), it was performed either during the very late 80's or the early 90's, and yes I coincidentally discovered this after approving the pair's recent duet 'Aiyo shizuka ni nemure'. It's interesting really to have a song originally sung by one to be split into the verbal give and take between man and woman, but it worked.

Still had his full head of hair...