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.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Mika Nakashima -- SEVEN

Had a somewhat frustrating day due to the fact that I was editing a pretty massive translation which was done by a fellow (hope it wasn't one of ours) who clearly was very pressed for time. The image I can give you is a 20-year-old jalopy literally dropping pieces of itself as it putters down the highway.

What soothed the pain to a certain extent was popping in the above CD for the first time in a while. Yep, that is Mika Nakashima's(中島美嘉)BEST from December 2005 which zoomed up to No. 1 and sold over a million copies. It also ended up becoming the 6th-ranked album for 2006 which goes to show how successful it was. Although I like her songs, I cannot say that I have been a super die-hard fan of hers so as I said, it was quite a while since I threw the disc into the player. However in that way, I not only re-acquainted myself nicely with those big hits but re-discovered some of those other singles which I'm starting to re-appreciate.

One such song was "SEVEN" which was actually her 11th single from April 2004. I've been accustomed to hearing Nakashima sing those languid ballads for so long that I had forgotten that she did perform her share of uptempo material as well. So this was another one of my re-discoveries. Unfortunately, the above video is the short version but I think we can all get an idea of the song which seems to bring back some of those memories of House music.

There was a small point about the music video as noted in J-Wiki in which the plan was to have Nakashima drive through the streets in a car but then it was decided to do it all in-studio with some CG speed effects. Perhaps her insurance agent was feigning a heart attack during the planning meeting.

The lyrics by Nakashima herself relate a tale of a woman who tries her best through the course of a week to resist the pull of a man only to ultimately fail. As some aliens have said, "Resistance is futile". That bouncy beat was provided by Lori Fine, the vocalist of COLDFEET, a band that has covered House, Breakbeats and Drum n' Bass. And in fact, Fine and her partner from the band, Watusi, arranged the song.

I guess Nakashima really had a long association with Kanebo Cosmetics since the above video has a whole slew of her commercials featuring her songs. The one with "SEVEN" is at 48 seconds. I've always remembered the catchphrase breathed by that sultry voiceover: "No more rules, KATE". The singer could've probably adopted the name by the time she finished her time with the company.

(karaoke version)

"SEVEN" hit No. 3 on Oricon. Not sure how she has been doing recently but she recently released her 41st single last month "Forget Me Not" which has gone as high as No. 33. Her latest album, "REAL" came out back in 2013 and hit No. 1.

Yutaka Yamakawa -- Hakodate Honsen (函館本線)

Now that I've gotten myself Yutaka Yamakawa's (山川豊) 2015 compilation album (one from my online CD haul) I've come to realise that the enka crooner's vocals have two sides to it - nasally and strange, but can be deep and resonant. For the longest time I tend to notice just the former especially whenever I were to see him on TV, which I can't say I'm very fond of. It's only after getting the album and listening to the tracks when I got to hear the latter, and subsequently surprisingly good combinations of both. To me, where I found the fruity side of his voice shone the brightest was, ironically, in "Hakodate Honsen".

Ah, "Hakodate Honsen"... It feels like this song and I have finally come to amicable terms. Almost three years of constant enka and countless appearances of Yamakawa performing his debut on the NHK stage, but all it took was a purchase of a CD to make me like "Hakodate Honsen" (a lot). While I wasn't particularly thrilled when I played the track upon receiving my order, what managed to grab my attention and made me come back for more was Yamakawa's rumbling delivery that felt different from what I'd hear on "Uta Kon" or "BS (Shin) Nippon no Uta" nowadays. Being most likely the original take on the song his voice was all the aforementioned resonant side, and that I find strangely warm and comfortable to listen. At the same time, it gives an extra layer of melancholy to a song that already has a heavy atmosphere.

Those are some thick eyebrows.

With a positive point to look forward to in "Hakodate Honsen", I then turned my attention to the melody. Composed by Yoshiaki Komada (駒田良昭), the slow and rhythmic beat with the drone of what may be some kind of horn makes it sound very somber, but the shrill strings makes it a little more exciting and gives it a slightly dramatic edge. As for the lyrics, brought to you by Eiji Takino (たきのえいじ), they have Yamakawa singing in the perspective of a sad woman who had left her lover to return to Hokkaido via the Hakodate Main Line, or Hakodate Honsen. The scene is set as the train heads towards the Ishikari Plains, and our protagonist is gazing at the rolling fields and despairing about having to leave that fellow.

"Hakodate Honsen" was released on 5th February 1981, and while there's no record of how well it sold, it managed to shoot Yamakawa to stardom and won him the "Best Newcomer Award" at the 23rd Japan Record Awards in that year. However, he only sang it once during his 10th appearance on the 54th Kohaku, 22 years after it came out. I really hope Yamakawa gets to sing "Hakodate Honsen" on TV again soon, even though Yamakawa would be singing it in that strange voice he's been using in the recent decade - nope, my past self would never have thought I'd ever say that.

Man, that was a tough and annoying writer's block. Don't think I've worked on one article for more than two weeks!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Hikaru Utada -- Can't Wait 'Til Christmas

Another Christmas season is upon us and I'm sure certain neighbourhoods in Tokyo are simply overflowing with multi-coloured LEDs and other sorts of decorations to welcome in the Yuletide. Plus, the hotels and restaurants are probably enticing romantic couples for a wonderful night out. In fact, I heard recently that Xmas may be even more popular than Valentine's Day (another observed and very popular holiday in the nation) when it comes to affairs of the heart.

When I heard Hikaru Utada's(宇多田ヒカル)"Can't Wait 'Til Christmas" for the very first time a few days ago, my impression was that this was a typically Japanese Xmas song based on what I wrote down in the first paragraph. Supposedly Utada was rather nervous about creating this song since she had never written or composed a Xmas ballad before, perhaps since her idea of the Holidays might be more along the lines of mine: either the religious theme of Jesus Christ's birth or the secular theme of Santa Claus on his merry ride on December 24th.

But I would say that she didn't miss the target at all. It's a soft and warm piano-based tune to curl up around with that significant other in front of the fireplace...or the TV screen switched to the Fireplace Channel. The song was one of the tracks on Disc 2 of her second compilation album from November 2010 "Utada Hikaru Single Collection Vol. 2" which hit No. 1 and went Double Platinum. It eventually became the 56th-ranked album of 2011.

"Can't Wait 'Til Christmas" also became the Xmas campaign song for Pepsi Nex that year since there's nothing like cola for the Holidays. Just ask Santa and Coca-Cola.

Utada has of course performed the song in concert but so has Ken Hirai(平井堅)as a cover.

And if you want to give the song a go with that warm crackling feeling of a down-home fireplace, give the above video a go.

Ruriko Asaoka -- Ai no Kaseki(愛の化石)

A few nights ago, I wrote about a couple of veteran singers' cover of the evergreen "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" which has become this paean to permanently lost love. Well, on a recent episode of "Uta Kon" (うたコン), I heard another love-drenched ballad from the same decade as performed by 76-year-old actress Ruriko Asaoka(浅丘ルリ子).

Her "Ai no Kaseki" (Fossil of Love) was actually her 3rd-last single in her side career as a singer which came out in August 1969. She'd been recording a lot of singles since 1957 but it seems as if this particular song was her only really big hit aside from "Yuuhi no Oka"(夕陽の丘...Hill of the Setting Sun), her 1963 duet with Yujiro Ishihara石原裕次郎...haven't written about this one yet). Although it hasn't officially been categorized as such, I would probably say that "Ai no Kaseki" almost rates as something French in terms of how Asaoka sings and talks her way through it. It certainly sounds mournful enough as the actress relates her fairly painful reminiscences of a past happy relationship that is very much in the past.

(karaoke version)

"Ai no Kaseki" was written by Rokuro Namiki(並木六郎)and composed by Takashi Miki(三木たかし). The song reached No. 2 on Oricon and was successful enough so that a movie starring Asaoka was produced in the following year based on it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

class -- Natsu no Hi no 1993 (夏の日の1993)

Ah, this was a song that rather slipped in between the cracks of my memory. And yet I do remember the certain lines in "Natsu no Hi no 1993" (Summer Days of 1993) where the duo known as class wavered their voices such as "Dramatic ni Say Love". Plus, as I recall, it was a popular tune for some of those tarento to try out during those televised karaoke specials.

Since I was between my Gunma and Tokyo gigs back in Toronto during the early 1990s, I rather missed out on the male pop-rock bands that proliferated during those years before the Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉)dance music craze took full flight in J-Pop. class was one of those bands along with acts such as Mr. Children, Wands and ZYYG that in a way kinda extrapolated with the summer music that started with Southern All Stars and then TUBE in the 1980s. This duo consisted of Katsuyuki Tsukui(津久井克行)from Gunma Prefecture and Takanori Hiura(日浦孝則)who hails from Hiroshima Prefecture.

So I guess it's natural enough that class hit a home run right from its debut single, "Natsu no Hi no 1993" (the year is actually pronounced "nineteen-nine-three" in the song). Although Ken Sato's(佐藤健)melody has that proud anthem feeling, Ikki Matsumoto's(松本一起)lyrics are all about admiring the women in their summer finery during those hot days in that titular year. And yet although the song was actually released in April 1993, a few months before the season, it already had that nostalgic feeling baked right in there.

The song was also used as the theme for the TV Asahi drama "Kimi to Itsumade mo"(君といつまでも...Always With You)and as the commercial campaign song for the Saison credit card, so it got plenty of exposure which earned it a lot of requests on yuusen radio(有線ラジオ...cable radio). "Natsu no Hi no 1993" peaked at No. 3 on Oricon and sold close to 1.2 million copies according to that chart although J-Wiki also mentions that it may have even exceeded 1.7 million. For all that, it still didn't crack the year's Top 10, settling in at No. 15.

The above video has Tsukui performing class' most successful song for one of the last times in July 2009. A few short months later, he would pass away tragically from pancreatic cancer just a week short of his 50th birthday. The duo had its first run between 1993 and 1996 releasing 7 singles. class got together again from 2003 to 2009 although original member Hiura apparently didn't stay beyond 2004 possibly, replaced by Koso Okazaki(岡崎公聡). Their second run produced a couple of more singles, the first being an updated version of "Natsu no Hi no 1993". Also a total of 6 original albums were produced.

Kanako Wada -- Mou Hitotsu no Yesterday (もうひとつのイエスタデイ)

Man, am I beat! Since I have to be away from the apartment tomorrow, I offered my project manager to do some extra translations to compensate and he really compensated. Ended up getting the largest batch of regular files so far in my translation history. He was kind enough to give me a deadline of Thursday but since when I get onto a daily assignment, I usually want to get it done on that day, I plowed through it like a tank and got it all done in about 4 hours. It's actually nice then that I could get a nice dinner tonight and of course, I can write here. Plus, there are the fall finales for "The Flash" and "Agents of SHIELD" to look forward to later tonight.😌

It's been a while since I've written about Kanako Wada(和田加奈子)in a single article. And all this time that I was worrying that I was overdoing it on her contributions to "Kimagure Orange Road" (きまぐれオレンジ☆ロード), I found out that it's been over 2.5 years since I actually typed in any sort of article having to do with a Wada-KOR collaboration.

So, here is "Mou Hitotsu no Yesterday" (Another Yesterday) which was the ending theme for a KOR OVA (nice ancient media concept), and I was surprised to find out that the OVA had come out in 1991. And here I thought that KOR was strictly an 80s concoction. Still, the song has that genki 80s feeling to it and it just seems to have that good fit with Wada. Penned by Reiko Yukawa(湯川れい子)and composed by Yuuichiro Oda(小田裕一郎), "Mou Hitotsu no Yesterday" has that sprightly spring in its step with the horns and the mellow feel-good vocals of the singer.

When I had first heard it on "Kanako Wada -- Golden Best" which seems to be the only Wada album that it has been recorded on, "Mou Hitotsu no Yesterday" didn't quite click with me but that kinda showed how much I liked the other songs by the singer for the anime. Now, it fits in quite nicely with my mood. Of course, the song is also on one of the myriad soundtracks for the show "Kimagure Orange Road -- Singing Heart".

Monday, December 5, 2016

Akiko Yano -- Tokyo wa Yoru no Shichi-ji (東京は夜の7時)

Imagine my surprise when I found out that "Tokyo wa Yoru no Shichi-ji" (7pm in Tokyo), a song that has arguably been the calling card for the Shibuya-kei band Pizzicato Five since the mid-1990s had a title that had already been adopted by another eclectic singer almost 2 decades prior.

That's right. "Tokyo wa Yoru no Shichi-ji" was also a different song created by songsmith Akiko Yano(矢野顕子)way back in 1979. In fact, her 2nd live album (and 5th overall) was also given that title. Moreover while the P5 anthem had the English subtitle of "The Night Is Still Young", Yano's creation had the more enigmatic "God's Loyal Love".

Continuing on with the comparison, the Pizzicato Five song had that theme of painting the city of Tokyo a fabulous red but Yano's "Tokyo wa Yoru no Shichi-ji" was all about what was going on at different points in the world when the Japanese megalopolis' clock struck 7pm. It was 7am in Rio, 12 midnight in Anchorage and 12 noon in Cairo. There was a glorious feeling of reaching out and touching someone abroad within the song that could have made it the ideal jingle for NTT or KDD.

However, I love the music by Yano even more. She may have made quite the added splash when she added the techno to her pop going into the 1980s but her New Music approach back in the 1970s is also very comfortable to me. She even has the members of Yellow Magic Orchestra as part of her band along with Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)and Minako Yoshida (吉田美奈子) as backing singers (!), but "Tokyo wa Yoru no Shichi-ji" has that homey feeling despite the flying theme and music heading to points overseas. And one reason is that piano of hers. There is a goodly amount of warmth and familiarity emanating from the keys when Yano hits them as if it were her best and more travel-experienced friend. The piano is probably saying "Don't're safe with me". Couldn't ask for a better companion on a journey.