Credits

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 30, 2013

Top 10 Singles for 1997

1.  Namie Amuro                             Can You Celebrate?
2.  Kinki Kids                                  Garasu no Shonen
3.  Le Couple                                   Hidamari no Uta
4.  globe                                           Face
5.  Speed                                          Steady
6.  Miki Imai                                   Pride
7.  TK Presents Konetto                  You Are The One
8.  Mr. Children                               Everything (It's You)
9.  GLAY                                         However
10. Speed                                        White Love


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Toshifumi Hinata -- "Tokyo Love Story" Soundtrack

Toshifumi Hinata -- Tokyo Love Story
I've always been, still am and will probably always be a late bloomer. I only discovered the enjoyment of American TV programs like "Moonlighting" and "Remington Steele" when my brother nagged me about them just near the end of the first season. My social dweebiness only started to fade (somewhat) on entering university. And I only came upon the drama, "Tokyo Love Story" two-thirds of the way into its original run back in early 1991 while I was still in Gunma on the JET Programme.

I had to play catch-up with the episodes over the next few years when I was back in Toronto via video tapes and through a subtitling project that I will explain a little bit later. But from the time I finally caught onto the bittersweet saga of Rika, Kanji, Satomi, Kenichi and Naoko, it was the music that helped me hold on through the last few episodes. Of course, the amazing theme song "Love Story wa Totsuzen ni"ラブ・ストーリーは突然に) by Kazumasa Oda(小田和正) will be inextricably linked with the drama; no one who has become a fan of the show will be able to picture any of the characters or even the title without hearing that song. However, in my original article on the Oda theme, I may have been a bit hasty when I stated that it was the 10th player of the baseball team. It was, and still is, a vital musical meme for "Tokyo Love Story". However, I neglected to put in Toshifumi Hinata's score for the series. His contributions also helped enhance the characters and the scenes.



Hinata(日向敏文) was born in Tokyo in 1955, and attended the Berklee College of Music and then the University of Minnesota in the late 70s in which he majored in classical piano, songwriting and arrangement. He debuted in 1985 with the album, "Sara no Hanzai"(サラの犯罪...Sara's Crime)and had several albums under his belt since then, but "Tokyo Love Story" was the first of his TV soundtracks in 1991.

On the Net, I came across one enthused fan's comparison of Hinata to the legendary Henry Mancini. I'm not quite ready to agree only because I've yet to really know some of Hinata's other works on TV dramas. The soundtrack to "Tokyo Love Story", though, has been something that has stuck with me when it comes to music from those shows. Only the music from 1997's "Odoru Dai Sosasen"(踊る大捜査線) with Akihiko Matsumoto(松本晃彦), and to a lesser extent, Yukie Nishimura's(西村由紀江) soundtrack for another popular 1991 Fuji-TV drama, "Hyaku-Ikkai Me no Propose"101回目のプロポーズ) has remained in my memories all these years.

One reason that Hinata's magnum opus with "Tokyo Love Story" has stayed with me is because I am a fan of the Smooth Jazz/AOR genres, and I think the music on the disc definitely falls into those categories. But the other reason is that Hinata was able to create these themes that seemed to fit the scenes and the characters themselves so well. Case in point is "Tenderly - Rica's Theme" which is covered in the video above. Probably next to "Love Story wa Totsuzen ni", this is the song that is the most recognized from the series. It encapsulates the lot of Honami Suzuki's Rika Akana to perfection. The first half of the song has a sad violin and harp followed what sounds like a lonely child's lullaby from a music box; I think it describes what Rika's life had been like before she met up with Kanji and the rest. But then from about the halfway point, the song shifts into first gear with a driving melody that has this message of "No time to feel sorry for yourself! Get up and at 'em!" which describes the usual Rika optimism. I don't think I've ever come across a soundtrack song since that has shown this sort of dual personality, but it is the musical equivalent of Rika.




"Good Evening, Heartache" is the introspective theme of the soundtrack. I remember it coming on when the various characters, especially Kanji and Rika, have gone into intimate conversations about their lives. One scene in particular was when Kanji was describing his home prefecture of Ehime and as he was doing so, the camera did a sweep of his hometown. However, the uncertain mood that the piano plays when the track starts often strikes me as being Naoko's theme since it was the song that introduced the character when she was looking distinctly uncomfortable in the bar.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vC7lDKxnYc

As for dedicated videos for the tracks, the above two are the only ones. The others can be heard through the scenes from the show that have been uploaded, and in a way, I think this is actually quite good since we can all see how they are utilized as the scenes play out.  The above video comes from the first episode, and has a number of the tracks including the aforementioned "Good Evening, Heartache" and that introductory scene for Naoko at about 4:20. At the very beginning of the video though, there is that reunion party at the izakaya in which an excerpt from the heartwarming and relaxing "So Far Away" debuts. Perhaps it's titled as such since that first scene has Kanji quietly mooning over his crush from his school days, Satomi, someone he hadn't seen in several years while she had been hundreds of kilometres away.

At 2:25, Rika unexpectedly pops into the reunion, much to Kanji's surprise and annoyance, to the jaunty "Crazy For You". It's one of my other remembered tracks since it acts as the happier theme for Rika. But one of my favourites on the album comes at about 10:25, "Autumn", a jazz guitar and synth number which has this feckless, devil-may-care feel to it...much like Kenichi's character, played by Yosuke Eguchi, who also happens to be Chisato Moritaka's(森高千里) hubby.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oychBYckRCs

The various themes also pop up in this video as well, but another favourite track is the soothing and romantic bossa nova "Over The Stars" which pops up at 4:10 when Rika surprises Kanji for his birthday. But frankly speaking, all of the songs are great. The fact that if any of them were played over on TV on a totally different TV show or on a restaurant's stereo speakers and I would recognize them right off the bat just shows how memorable they have been for me.

The score to "Rica's Theme" from a compilation of
Toshifumi Hinata's theme music
I may have kept my reputation as a late bloomer alive by coming across "Tokyo Love Story" so late into its initial run, but returning to Toronto in the summer of 1991, I re-joined the Japanese-Canadian Students' Association (JCSA) at University of Toronto, and by doing so, I helped out in a subtitling project featuring the show itself. Spearheaded by a fellow Canadian fan of the series, he was able to recruit a lot of working-holiday students from Japan in the translation work, which he accomplished with an Amiga II. There was obviously nothing like the software that is available today back then, so it was pretty much a day-in, day-out labour of love to put the English underneath the words that the characters had spoken, fueled by lots of pizza and cola. But it was completed within a couple of weeks, and it became one of our more popular entries to be shown at our weekly drama showings at the International Student Centre. The reason that Hinata's music became further embedded into my consciousness was that all of us had to go over specific scenes during the translation over and over again. In fact, the first link above to the video from Episode 1 had all the scenes that I was helping out on.

As for the details on the casting and the progress of the show, I refer you to JTM's fine article on "Tokyo Love Story". What I can offer are my impressions and opinions. I had my brief dalliance watching Japanese TV dramas through the 90s, but for me, the ultimate experience was indeed this one. As JTM remarked, the show not only provided these likeable if flawed characters but it also gave viewers like me a look at what Tokyo was like back then: a city without cellphones and tablets, where the fashion of the time was in full display with the Neo-Zoot Suits, the short haircuts on the guys and the women's sauvage hairstyles. And it was a Tokyo that I was able to walk through from time to time during my weekend trips there from Gunma; it is nice to see those areas from way back when again.

It also showed a Tokyo and its people in a phase of transition of sorts. In the late 80s, Japan was in the late stages of its economic bubble, and the trendy dramas of the day reflected that fact with characters with exotic and glamourous katakana job names (kopiiraitaa, for example) who seemed to live in far bigger apartments than would be the case for most young people of their pay grade. And the situations often involved goofy scenarios with meet-cute romance. "Tokyo Love Story" was one of the first, if not the first, of the jun'ai純愛...pure love)dramas in which the humour was a bit more toned down and the giddiness and angst of love were on bigger display. And perhaps reflecting the end of the economic heyday, although the characters in TLS had that young glamour, Rika and the gang were either plowing through more regular and relatable jobs or struggling through school.

I realize that I've strayed far off from the music, but I do have to give an opinion that a lot of viewers had at the end of the programme. It answers the question: Who should have Kanji have gone with? Rika or Satomi? At the time of the series, I had wanted to scream at the indecisive Kanji, "Dude! What's the matter with you?! You just dumped Rika!" Sure, she could be flighty and vindictive with a hair-trigger temper, but she was also cheerful, optimistic, vivacious and gorgeous. And that million-dollar smile she gave Kanji in the park at the end of Episode 1 could have melted an iceberg in a minute.

But as the years have gone by, I've come to the realization that Kanji would not have lasted with Rika for long, and that ultimately, the much-steadier if not-as-exciting Satomi was the choice. Rika was too much of a force of nature for anyone to handle, even a former flame in the form of the older Section Chief Waga. Just my speculation here, but in those 1993 Special Edition scenes (and yep, JTM, they are part of the DVD set that I got for a ton of yen), Rika came across as a much more emotionally older and wiser woman who, I think, also came to the same conclusion about herself; there seemed to be a distance about her that would probably no longer allow any man to come any closer. Kanji was the love of her life.



I came into the ISC after class on the night that the final episode of "Tokyo Love Story" was playing. It was playing in total darkness like at a movie theatre so I was only able to stand by the door lest I accidentally bump into a viewer. I just caught it when Rika and Kanji were saying their final goodbyes in that Tokyo park, and then came that final scene with Rika on top of a building smiling away at the sunset. Kazumasa Oda's theme came on for the last time, and the lights went up. I was surprised to see not a single dry eye in the entire room. There was even one fellow who was quickly dabbing his glassy eyes. Quite the impression it left even though this broadcast was in 1993.

Hinata himself has gone on to score other TV dramas since then, but for me, "Tokyo Love Story" will always be the one.

Ginji Ito -- Glass Tree Nights (グラストゥリーの夜)

https://itunes.apple.com/jp/album/nature-boy-1/id720358472
(excerpt only)

I gave my introduction to Ginji Ito (伊藤銀次) via the review for his 1982 album "Baby Blue", so have a look at that one first for any background information. I gotta admit, though I like that album, I mostly chose it as a starting point because it contained some of his signature songs and I didn't feel like going with something that's lesser known. My favorite work of his is actually his 10th studio album, "Nature Boy", which was released on March 21st, 1987 and featured Ito going for the night-time AOR and soul sound. The description is self-explanatory.

There's not much from that album up on Youtube and I can't get Grooveshark to work at the moment, so I'll go with the single "Glass Tree Nights" (グラストゥリーの夜). It was written by Choichiro Kozumi (小泉長一郎) and composed/arranged by Ito. Now here's a song that comforts you like a fine glass of martini (or a hot cup of matcha latte, in my case). Lots of nice stuff going on here: gentle introspective melody, the lounge-like keyboards, beautiful "sha-la-la-la-la"s in the chorus, and of course, delicious saxophone. The video above (which is currently down thanks to the Powers-That-Be; I replaced it with an audio link) gets a little whimsical at times with those dancing guitars and happy chorus singers. I got nostalgic for some reason watching the last part where the camera just zooms through the monochrome footage of old Tokyo roads.

Source: ds-sounds.jp

Swing Slow -- Good Morning, Mr. Echo


For the longest time, I used to come across this album on the shelves, most notably at Ginza Yamano Music. I just thought that the cover was one of the more intriguing ones I'd ever seen with former Happy End/former Yellow Magic Orchestra member Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣) in dapper profile and a Parisian beatnik-y Miharu Koshi(コシミハル) adorning it. For all intents and purposes, that image of her was the only one I had, having yet to know her past as a 70s City Pop singer and even her 80s regeneration into a technopop chanteuse. As I was later to find out, Swing Slow was not only the name that the duo had taken to describe themselves, but also the title of the album which came out in 1996. I'd always wondered what kind of music was contained on the disc; judging from the cover and the title, I'd imagined jazz of some sort.



Then one day, as I was going through YouTube, I came across the unit's name and this song, "Good Morning, Mr. Echo" which came through as adorably off-beat. I mean, can you imagine one of the pioneers of New Music and Technopop dressed up in an old suit and armed with a guitar like a 50s balladeer warbling this cute little ditty with a gamine little beauty manning the accordion? No, thought not. But there they were, warbling this tune from 1951 which seemed to come through a time warp, aside from a bit of synthesized embellishment during the interlude.

I also have to mention that I kinda went "Awwww...." at the video. It's a weird dream mix of ballet and old 50s variety show that I thought Ed Sullivan or Sid Caesar would've been comfortable introducing. And speaking of those old entertainment programs from long ago, it was nice seeing Hosono and Koshi doing a little bit of that old softshoe near the end....rather reminded me of Mickey & Judy, Steve & Eydie, and Bing & Rosemary.




I also had to put this video (regrets...that particular video has been taken down but here is the original recording) where Swing Slow decided to take a humourous poke at themselves via a parody of the weekly NHK singalong program, "Nodo Jiman"のど自慢). Although "Good Morning, Mr. Echo" isn't all that long, the pair got ding-donged out fairly quickly after which the host asked rather facetiously why the song never really sold all that well.

In any case, based on this song, I finally pulled the trigger on my 12-gauge curiosity and bought "Swing Slow". I realized that the album was a soundscape of retro lounge, beatnik jazz and exotica in which more than half of the dozen tracks were instrumentals....not all that surprising since I had known that both Hosono and Koshi enjoyed being experimental with their music. Hopefully, I will get a profile on the whole album up sometime in the near future.




The original version of "Good Morning, Mr. Echo" came out in 1951 as a song created by Bill and Belinda Pullman. Sung originally by The Jane Turzy Trio, the "trio" was actually just Turzy herself with her voice overdubbed twice. It hit the Billboard charts in June of that year, peaking at No. 24.

PSY-S -- Aozora wa Tenkiame (青空は天気雨)




Thought the blog could use another PSY-S entry. :) Here's one of my favorites from their catalogue, "Aozora wa Tenkiame" (青空は天気雨...Sunshower from a Blue Sky). It was never released as a single, but you can find it on the duo's 1987 album "Mint-Electric". One reason why this one appeals to me is the title. Yes, I have a strange fascination with meteorological phenomena like rain on a clear day. I understand the science behind it, but I still like to think of it as a mysterious little wonder. The melody in this song reflects that mood, especially when CHAKA whispers in the background. Always enjoyed her unique vocals.

There's also that thumping beat accompanied by Masaya Matsuura's (松浦雅也) trickling synths, which resemble the sound of falling rain, and Teruo Goto's (後藤輝夫) slick tenor saxophone that pops in and out throughout the song. Interesting combination of sounds, but then again we're talking about PSY-S here. I like how the song just floats at its own pace without rushing anywhere. I've been in a pretty mellow mood lately due to post-cold lightheadedness, cool late-September weather and tons of comfort food, so this song perfectly accompanies my current state of mind. I hope I'm making sense here.


Matsuura was responsible for composing and arranging the song, while Yukio Matsuo (松尾由紀夫) provided the lyrics. As for "Mint-Electric", I stumbled upon this lovely album at a Geo Media store in a small town called Gujo. I go there on a business trip for one week every month. Still baffled at the fact that it only cost me 180 yen after all the time I've been searching for it at local shops with no luck. Would love to review the whole thing sometime in the future.


Friday, September 27, 2013

Anri -- Goodbye Future




Several months ago, I did a profile on Anri's(杏里) "Boogie Woogie Mainland", the album that had Eiko Kawashima embracing her full R&B-ness. As the beginning to another phase in her then-decade-long career, she and co-producer Nobuo Tsunetomi amped up the instruments and the music to create something that sounded like the spirit of Earth Wind & Fire had decided to descend upon them. And I mentioned in the article that the one song that I wasn't able to get was this really snappy track called "Goodbye Future".

Well, hello "Goodbye Future". The track finally got uploaded (and hopefully will stay that way), and the reason that I was so keen on this one was that out of all of the tracks on "Boogie Woogie Mainland", this song just seems to have everyone working even harder to make it as funky, groovy and lively as possible. Starting with a staccato blast from the Jerry Hey horns, the drums pound on in followed by some thick bass by Neil Stubenhaus, before Anri hurls out the sunniest delivery accompanied by that horn section and then a blistering electric guitar interlude. Those people were in a very good mood.

As was the case for the rest of the album tracks, Anri was behind the music with Yumi Yoshimoto(吉元由美) as the lyricist and Yasuharu Ogura(小倉泰治) as the arranger. I mentioned in the article on the album itself that I thought "Goodbye Future" was an ironically depressing title for such a power-packed tune. But it turns out that there was a reason behind it. In the lyrics, the protagonist is a young lady who willingly throws away her predicted (and probably predictable) future with an erstwhile beau to run away to the big city for a chance at a better life. Although the tone of the words sound a bit bittersweet, the music probably reflects how the runaway girl really feels. Time to pack those bags for LA. Still, I feel sorry for the guy.

But lyrics aside, I just love the music and I'm glad that I could get the song in here at last.


Original Love/Mika Nakashima -- Seppun (Kiss) (接吻)




As I mentioned in the other article for Original Love's "Asahi no Ataru Michi"(朝日のあたる道), that was the tune that first exposed me to the existence of the band. Takao Tajima(田島貴男) created this nice mix of jazz and soul that caught my attention. The album that it came on, "Kaze no Uta wo Kike"(風の歌を聴け) , was released back in 1994. My curiosity for Original Love had me buying at least one more album and a single, before I discovered that even before "Asahi no Ataru Michi", there had been another great song that might be Tajima's most famous creation.

"Seppun", which came out in November 1993, was written and composed by vocalist Tajima, and it's the man's vocal tribute to the grand ol' art of lip-locking. "Seppun" actually does mean kissing, although like the word for "lion"...shishi...the English equivalent, "kissu", has long usurped the Japanese original. Tajima's lyrics of how much he craves those kisses are wrapped around by another jaunty blend of jazz and soul, although I think the latter is more in charge here. And I've always enjoyed the singer's particular delivery.....perhaps appealingly craggy is the only way I can describe it. It's just a fun song to listen to.

The song managed to peak at No. 13 on the Oricon weeklies and ended up as the 98th-ranked tune for 1994. It was also a track on Original Love's first BEST album, "Sunny Side of Original Love" which came out in December 1993 which got as high as No. 6. I think the video below is for the version from this album. By the way, the song was also used as the theme for an NTV drama called appropriately "Otona no Kiss"(大人のキッス...Adult Kiss).





According to J-Wiki, between the year that it was released and 2012, "Seppun" has gotten its accolades by the number of covers that have been done of the song. Singers from Akina Nakamori(中森明菜) to BENI have given their versions, but probably the most famous one is the one by Mika Nakashima(中島美嘉). Her cover came out in June 2003 as her 8th single, and is arranged as a slower reggae-style ballad. Tajima was apparently very pleased with her take on his song, which did even better on the charts, rising as high as No. 4.




Finally, I leave you with Tajima in concert performing "Seppun".

Honey Knights and The Misuzu Children's Choral Group -- Theme from Ultraman Ace (ウルトラマン・エース)



Yup, old guy fanboy coming through here again. My summer in Wakayama Prefecture in 1972 had my brother and I enjoying the pleasures of watching all sorts of tokusatsu kiddie programming. There was the "Kamen Rider" series, and then there was the "Ultraman" franchise. I mentioned that the theme that stood out amongst all those Ultramen opening songs was the march for "Ultra Seven", although we were never able to catch a single episode of the hero during our time there.

However, we did catch a lot of the Ultraman who was around in that year, namely Ultraman Ace, as he graced the tube on Friday evenings. Like his senpai, Ultra Seven, looked somewhat different from the original Ultraman. He had a somewhat more angular head and a bigger horn on top of it (compensating for some insecurity perhaps?). And the show was different in that for the majority of its run, it took two to tango. Namely, a truck driver by the name of Seiji and Yuko, a nurse (who, incidentally, was actually a resident of the Moon.....quite a commute, I hear) were needed to do the famed henshin to become Ace. I have to be honest....I did have my first crush on Yuko-chan.



My brother and I loved the show, so Mom bought us the original single for the "Ultraman Ace" theme song, which came with the full-length version. It also had the TV version which was extended by a short recorded excerpt of a typical adventure with TAC, the Special Forces unit dealing with kaiju invaders from outer space, and the inevitable arrival of Ace to save the day (and provide tons of jobs to structural engineers).

The theme, written by Kyoichi Azuma(東京一) and composed by Masahiko Aoi(葵まさひこ), progressed like a typical episode. There were the opening minor-key verses signalling trouble ahead (kinda sounded like the theme from "The Tuesday Night Suspense Drama" with that string flourish) before the song goes heroic to welcome Ultraman Ace. As with the theme for "Ultra Seven", the Misuzu Children's Choral Group participated in this recording as well, along with Honey Knights, a male vocal group that specialized in commercials and anime themes.



Of course, I gotta have a scene with the Ace man in action.



And here is Ultraman Ace when he is not on 3-minute duty....as Yuko and Seiji. As for that single record....not sure where it is now, but I'm pretty confident it's still somewhere in the annals of my home.

The Ultraman Guidebook I got in 1981.
It just called out to me.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Makoto Matsushita -- September Rain


It's been about 18 months since I put up that article about Makoto Matsushita's(松下誠) smooth-as-clarified butter album, "First Light". And since it is indeed the 9th month and I'm feeling pretty mellow, I thought it was a good time as any to put up "September Rain" from the album.

I mentioned in "First Light" that I was surprised to hear how well Matsushita could channel some of the American pros in fusion and AOR like Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers. Well, with "September Rain", he actually reminds me a bit of Hiroshi Sato(佐藤博) in the way that he just slowly lets the lyrics out along with the cool music. Some fine night listening here. Would love to get my hands on the album someday in any form.

(start from 10:12)

The video at the very top is the Japanese-language version while the one just above this paragraph is the English version.


Ryoko Shinohara -- Ryoko from Tokyo Performance Doll


Before Ryoko Shinohara (篠原涼子) hit the big stage in 1994 with “Itoshisa to Setsunasa to Kokorozuyosa to” (恋しさと せつなさと 心強さと), she was a member of the big dance-oriented aidoru group “Tokyo Performance Doll” (東京パフォーマンスドール). And like many other members of the group, Shinohara had the opportunity to release a solo album, which happened to be my chosen album for today, “Ryoko from Tokyo Performance Doll”. The album, released in January 1993, consists of ten solid songs, but I ended up highlighting six of them in this article.


Ima no Mama no Futari de” (今のままのふたりで) is an upbeat and disco-ish pop song featuring lots of horns, synths, and a prominent bassline. It’s very classy, which, like some other songs from this album, contributes to a "night" feeling. The following song, “Ikoku ~TOKYO IN THE NIGHT” (異国 ~Tokyo in the Night), is also a song that combines well with the night. I can totally sense a jazz vibe in it, which makes me imagine a luxurious party in some fancy place wit well dressed high society people enjoying an enormous variety of different drinks. Well, Shinohara’s performance induces the viewer to imagine these things. Check it below.

"Ikoku~TOKYO IN THE NIGHT" starts at the 4:50 mark.



Contrasting with the aforementioned songs, “Kono Akumame!!” (この悪魔め!!) is a sexy and full of attitude dance song featuring a catchy chorus. It’s surely one of the album main highlights. As for the video, it’s a sexy performance from Shinohara’s 95’ Lady Generation Summer Tour.

Our next song, "Hohoemi ni good-bye" (微笑みにgood-bye), starts right after the 4:10 mark.


“Hohoemi ni good-bye” is your typical aidoru pop song with a happy vibe. I like it a lot too. In the video, Shinohara is performing in one of her last "Tokyo Performance Doll" concerts as a member of the group. The clothes are also very different from the sexy and modern looks of her solo career.

(Unfortunately, the video has been taken down.)

And we have come to my favorite songs of this album, the R&B-ish “Watashi no Kokoro ni KISS wo Shite” (私の心にKISSをして) and the synthpop Latin song “Bara ga Nemureru Made” (薔薇が眠れるまで). The first, which is featured above, is a mid-tempo song with some nice violins-wannabe synthesizers. It has a very melancholic melody that combines well with the overall sound of the song. I like it a lot, especially between the 3:33 and 3:52 marks, where she sings "itsumademo kono omoi itsumademo dakishimete futari ni ha dekiru koto sekaijuu afureteru", or something like that (even though I don't know what it means). As for “Bara ga Nemureru Made” (which has already been covered by J-Canuck here), its exotique synthpop arrangement introduces a very mysterious feel that closes the album with a golden key. Also, the guitar solo that fades with the Latin arrangement always remembers me of some classic Santana songs. Listen to "Bara ga Nemureru Made" below.

(Unfortunately, the video has been taken down.)

Maybe that’s just a personal feeling, but I really enjoy this album at night. It’s probably because I listened to the CD for the first time at night, which made me feel comfortable at the time. But the overall nostalgic vibe coupled with a good portion of mid-tempo songs also contributes to this feeling as well. All in all, “Ryoko from Tokyo Performance Doll” is my favorite Shinohara album. It means a lot to me because I received this CD at the most difficult time of my life, just four days before my dear grandmother passed away, which also happened to be last Christmas. Even though the memories aren’t good at all, I never let this fact ruin my overall listening experience of this album, although I always remember fondly of my grandmother when I listen to it, especially during “Watashi no Kokoro ni KISS wo Shite” and “Bara ga Nemureru Made”. In the end, I also find it a much underestimated album, which is a pity.

“Ryoko from Tokyo Performance Doll” reached #63 on the Oricon charts.

“Ima no Mama no Futari de” and “Hohoemi ni good-bye” were composed and arranged by Hideya Nakazaki (中崎英也). The lyrics for both songs were written by Yoshiko Miura (三浦徳子). As for “Ikoku ~TOKYO IN THE NIGHT”, "Kono Akumame!!", “Watashi no Kokoro ni KISS wo Shite” and “Bara ga Nemureru Made”, they were composed and arranged by Ichiro Haneda (羽田一郎). The lyrics were written by Goro Matsui (松井五郎).

To finish, here are some photos of the album.







Tomoko Ohmoto -- Anata no Mama de (あなたのままで)


One of my hidden little gems. This song was featured on a Philip Morris cigarette commercial back in the 90s, but I just thought Tomoko Ohmoto's(大本友子) song was so pleasingly soft and feathery that I had to track it down. It is fortunate that commercials in Japan very considerately place the name and song of the artist down in the corner. I'm not sure whether "Anata no Mama de" (Just The Way You Are) was ever released as an official single, but I managed to find Ohmoto's 3rd album, "Eiga no You ni wa Ikanai no" (映画のようにはいかないの...I Won't Go Like In The Movies)at Yamano Ginza in which the song was the first track.

The point that got me attracted to this ballad was actually how similar Ohmoto sounded to Miki Imai(今井美樹). And initially, I had thought that that was who it was, but as I saw in the corner of the ad, there was a different set of kanji there. Still, the song reminded me of those early-period Imai singles.

There's no information about Ohmoto on J-Wiki, but she does have her own website here. She hails from Fukuyama City in Hiroshima Prefecture, and first got interested in Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵), along with The Carpenters and The Beatles as a child. Then, once she got into high school, she further opened her eyes to J-Pop and got into EPO's songs. She debuted in 1992 with her first album titled "Hibiya Koen de Matteru" (日比谷公園で待ってる...I'll Be Waiting In Hibiya Park). "Eiga no You ni wa Ikanai no" was released in March 1995.

I love the song but I hope that there hasn't been any lasting Pavlovian effect on folks hearing it and suddenly hitting the cigarette vending machines.

Checkers -- Julia ni Heartbreak (ジュリアに傷心)


Here I was talking about Akina Nakamori's(中森明菜) "Meu Amor e" a few days ago and that it was only second to Checkers' "Julia ni Heartbreak"(Julia Broke My Heart) in the Oricon annual singles rankings for 1985 when I realized that I hadn't written anything about this song yet. Well, allow me to rectify that.


As I may have mentioned in one of the other articles for Checkers(チェッカーズ), the band was not just huge in Japan in the 80s, but also in our personal little karaoke corner in Yorkville, Kuri. I can say with some confidence that Checkers and Anzen Chitai(安全地帯) held their own for favoured male Japanese bands to be vocally emulated. And no surprise that "Julia ni Heartbreak" was one of the big songs in the lounge.

Released in November 1984, the song was created by the same duo behind some of the other Checkers hits such as "Namida no Request"涙のリクエスト) and "Hoshikuzu no Stage"星屑のステージ): Masao Urino and Hiroaki Serizawa(売野雅勇・芹沢廣明). Lyrically, the song hints that the guy was pining for his lost Julia around the Yuletide with the carols, snow and reference to a silent night....definitely the worst time to be alone. And there is the fact that it was released just a little over a month before Xmas, and the B-side to Checkers' 5th single was "Checkers no Xmas Song".

However, the song sounds more apt as a background tune for a knife fight between The Jets and The Sharks. I would never peg it as a Xmas song per se, although like a typical tune around that time in December, the guests in the Kuri karaoke lounge would always join the singer in the inevitable singalong, especially when it came to the last line in the refrain, "Oh, my, my, my, Julia".


As I mentioned, "Julia ni Heartbreak" became 1985's Song of the Year, so hitting No. 1 on the Oricon weeklies was obvious. It managed to sell a little over 700,000 copies, becoming the most successful hit that Checkers ever had. But strangely enough, the guitarist for the band, Toru Takeuchi(竹内享) confessed after the band had broken up that he himself preferred the original version with different lyrics and under the title of "Kizudarake no Yesterday"傷だらけのイエスタディ...Scarred Yesterday) since to him it had been much cooler.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Taeko Ohnuki -- Jaja Uma Musume (じゃじゃ馬娘)


Another reason that I'm starting to love the initially somewhat neglected 1978 album, "Mignonne" by Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子) is the first track, "Jaja Uma Musume"(The Shrew). Now, for someone like me who got to first appreciate this singer through her techno/European entries in the early 80s, hearing her do a disco ballad was pretty intriguing, to say the least.



But then again, as I had mentioned in the article for the whole album, the then-24-year-old Ohnuki was seemingly trying to find her niche in the Japanese music world through her 3rd album as a solo artist. "Jaja Uma Musume" was the official single from the album, released in September 1978. And right from the opening notes of the song, she decided to go rather brassy with the ever-present sax of Jake H. Conception bursting in followed by a strutworthy urban beat and a great electric guitar. And indeed, Ohnuki was responsible for the music and words behind her 4th single....perhaps surprising at first for those accustomed to her later music in the following years, but I have come to the realization that she could whip up songs in a number of genres for herself and other singers.

Here, she comes across as a Japanese Carly Simon or Nicolette Larson (her picture in the liner notes of the album shows this), although her voice is a fair bit higher. As the title hints (I hope you know your Shakespeare), the protagonist is a suffer-no-fools woman who won't play the usual girly games, would prefer to be all by herself, and would more likely throw men out the window than accept any flattery from them. I could see her as a tough-as-nails detective striding down any street anywhere in Tokyo. I think it's a pretty refreshing song although not many people outside of the Ohnuki fandom probably heard it originally; I don't get the impression that there were many songs that portrayed women in Japan quite that way during that time.


Mari Hamada -- Emotion in Motion



Well, I’m not a rock fan at all, but Mari Hamada (浜田麻里) has caught my attention recently. Her big voice, nice looks, and the fact that she is a beautiful woman may have influenced in this, but her songs are not behind at all. And age is not a problem for Mari. She's as beautiful in her 50s as she was in her 20s.

The song that easily became one of the most played in my everyday life during the last couple of weeks is “Emotion in Motion”, a pop/rock song that was included in her commercial successful AOR oriented album “Return to Myself”, in June 1989.

After an underestimated hard-rock career, Mari started recording some AOR pop/rock material around 1988 and 1989 (she returned to the hard-rock genre after a while, though, which was great). The commercial success was evident in the rising sales. The “Return to Myself” album was the icing on the cake for Mari with the “Return to Myself ~Shinai, Shinai, Natsu.” (Return to Myself 〜しない、しない、ナツ。) song leading it. But “Emotion in Motion” was a heavy promoted song as well, which is understandable as it’s one of the catchiest and nicest songs of the album.

With a catchy chorus and a nice arrangement, featuring horns and a funky bass breakdown, “Emotion in Motion” is a highlight in Mari’s mainstream pop career. Although not a hard-rock song as Mari’s previous hits, “Emotion in Motion” is not a song to be ignored in her discography.

The “Return to Myself” album reached #1 on the Oricon chart and sold 431,000 copies. It ended the year as the 23th best-selling albumAs for "Emotion in Motion", the lyrics were written by Mari Hamada herself, while the music was composed by Hiroyuki Otsuki (大槻啓之).


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

trf -- UNITE! THE NIGHT!



February 1998: The Nagano Olympics were going full steam ahead. Meanwhile, I wasn't. Thanks to a trip down some stairs at one of my teaching assignments, I ended up taking a trip to the Iidabashi Police Hospital and finding out that my ankle was busted. So, for the next couple of weeks, I was stuck at home with a huge cast on my right foot and some crutches nearby.

It wasn't a particularly pleasant experience (ever feel blood flow past damaged nerves?), but I had my little old TV where all of the networks were proudly showing off what Japan had to offer in sports. And I actually got to see the Japanese Ski Jump Team get that Gold Medal live! That made for an excellent painkiller.

And as usual, the networks recruited various singers and bands to come up with the official station Olympic songs. A couple of years back, there was that stupendous song by Maki Ohguro(大黒摩季), "Atsukunare"熱くなれ which was NHK's official tune for its coverage of the Atlanta Games. But for my fave song for the 1998 Olympics, it was the TBS choice by song-and-dance band, trf. The group had their huge heyday back around the mid-90s, but as with a lot of acts, they started doing a bit of a slow fade. However, "UNITE! THE NIGHT!" brought YU-KI, DJ KOO and the rest of the guys back onto the stage again when it was released in February 1998 as their 18th single.

While Ohguro's "Atsukunare" had this 100-m sprint beat to it, trf's "UNITE! THE NIGHT!" was more about post-Games revelry when the athletes could live it up on the dance floor after a hard-fought competition. Hearing the song heading and ending the TBS Olympic broadcasts almost everyday made residing on a futon and the couch rather bearable. But obviously most of the time, we only got the excerpts of the song, so once I could handle the crutches, I went out to buy my own copy of the single.

Written and composed by rapper/musician m.c.A.T (aka Akio Togashi。。。富樫明生), this was trf's first song without any support from Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉) who had shepherded them during their introduction and their peak days. Not only did I enjoy the song, but the official music video was pretty darn cool, too. Just seeing the gang dance it up as the scene scrolled past brought back memories of the glory days. Although it didn't end up getting into the Oricon yearly rankings, it did peak at No. 8 on the weeklies, and it did embed itself as one of my happy musical moments from the Olympics. I can only hope something that fun will be created for the 2020 Games in Tokyo.


The above video has trf performing with Morning Musume.

As for me, of course, I never got to make it up to Nagano Prefecture. But my old friend was able to bring over a banner from the Olympic site that had fallen as a nice little souvenir for my apartment.


Misato Watanabe -- Moonlight Dance (ムーンライト・ダンス)




Well, considering that the annual Harvest Moon Festival has gone through Asia, I thought this would be a pretty appropriate song to put up for Autumn. In Japan, there is the tradition of tsukimi, or moon-viewing, but I never got any invitations to a moon-viewing party by anyone during my time there. Basically, the closest I got was buying the seasonal Tsukimi Burger at McDonalds.

In any case, I also chose Misato Watanabe's(渡辺美里) 13th single, "Moonlight Dance" since it stands out from a lot of those high-energy tunes displaying her boomer of a voice. Coming out in June 1989, "Moonlight Dance" is more of a nocturnal eerie and atmospheric song about love long lost, and has Misato going a bit more sotto voce. Tetsuya Komuro(小室哲哉) was responsible for the darker melody; if it were made sentient and tangible, it would be lurking and sneaking through the shadows. Meanwhile, Misato's words by themselves talk about a happier romantic past gradually going into the sadder present, but they've been given a more sinister edge by the music. And one line in the refrain, "Someday, wouldn't you like to have a moonlight dance with me?"(using the Japanese male 1st-person pronoun) hints at the protagonist being someone like the tragic Phantom of the Opera....a damaged man of doom who still tries to lure a woman into his world. I can forgive myself for thinking that this was custom-made for Halloween, and the fact that it was her 13th single is not lost on me.

I first heard the song in a revised form on her 1992 album of self-covers, "Hello Lovers". But I prefer the 1989 original since Komuro does a great job with the synthesizers. It went as high as No. 2 on the Oricon weeklies and it became the 45th-ranked song of the year. It was also a track on her 1989 album, "Flower Bed" which was her 4th of 7 albums in a row to hit the No. 1 spot.




Akina Nakamori -- Meu Amor e (ミ・アモーレ)/Lonely Journey (ロンリー・ジャーニー)



This is the article which is a sequel of sorts from what I wrote about her album, "D404ME" since it contains her 11th single, "Meu Amor e".

Released in March 1985, "Meu Amor e" served as a crossroads for me when it came to listening to Akina Nakamori(中森明菜). As I mentioned in the article for "D404ME", that album snagged me into becoming one of her ardent fans. As someone who was basically living a hemisphere away from Japan in the 1980s, I had to do my fair share of catching up when it came to her discography. Thanks to "Sounds of Japan", I was able to hear a lot of her early hits such as "Slow Motion" and "Kinku", and as I did so, I could also keep current by watching videotapes of "The Best 10". At the time I became a regular purveyor, that 11th single was the one that was getting all the attention paid to Miss Nakamori at that time, almost a year before she really rocked Akina fandom with "Desire".

Although those early hits I had heard on radio were well established in the Japanese pop sound, "Meu Amor e" was the first of her official singles to take Akina out of Japan and into a new frenzied beat in Latin America. I used to watch her repeated performances on the music shows as she elegantly brought in a lot of brio and Rio into living rooms while all around her the dancers were going a bit crazy with their choreography. I sometimes thought that the arrangement of the music was almost overwhelming for even her.

"Meu Amor e"(My Lover Is) was written by Chinfa Kan(康珍化) and composed by Naoya Matsuoka(松岡直也) who specializes in Latin fusion. He started his professional career as a pianist at the age of 15 in 1952 before starting a number of Latin bands. When he created "Meu Amor e" in 1985, he had also made the theme song for "News Station", the long-running TV-Asahi news programme starring Hiroshi Kume, the former co-host of "The Best 10".

The accolades for "Meu Amor e" were abundant. Hitting No. 1 on the charts, it eventually became the No. 2 song of the year (630,000 records sold), only behind Checkers' "Julia ni Heartbreak"ジュリアに傷心). It also earned the Gold Prize and Grand Prize at that year's Japan Record Awards. Not surprisingly, the Kohaku Utagassen came knocking as well.





Just a couple of months after the release of "Meu Amor e", the folks behind the single caught a major brainwave and decided to produce what was basically an extended version of the song but with different lyrics and title. "Akai Tori Nigeta"赤い鳥逃げた...The Red Bird Has Escaped) came out in a cover which was dramatically different from the one for the original single (that ravishing picture of Akina in the video above before you press "Play"), showing her in what I guess would be called Harajuku Punk(?). The second time was definitely the charm as this version also hit the No. 1 spot on the Oricon weeklies and even became the 20th-ranked song of 1985. "D404ME" also has a different extended version but under the original title and lyrics.

(cover version)

I was commenting to nikala about her article on Mitsutoshi Ambe(あんべ光俊)in that although I have been listening to kayo kyoku/J-Pop for decades, I still come across a lot of stuff for the first time to my absolute delight. The B-side to "Meu Amor e" is one such example. Everyone may have been paying rapt attention to the A-side, but "Lonely Journey", written and composed by EPO, is a revelation. Since it never got onto the original albums, let alone the BEST albums (correct me if I'm wrong, fellow Akina fans), I only became aware of this tune for the very first time in the last few months via YouTube. And I've fallen for it.....it's this fun 80s Tokyo disco-y highway-friendly song with a driving bass. And strangely enough, the end of the refrain reminds me a bit of YMO's "Technopolis". It may not be quite worthy for A-side fame but it's wonderful to listen to nonetheless.




But there are a lot of YouTube videos for "Meu Amor e". And yes, I'm going with the Portuguese spelling here, although the original single's cover had it written as "Mi Amore".

P.S. Larry Chan below brought up a topic about whose lyrics came first: the ones for "Meu Amor e" or "Akai Tori Nigeta", both by Chinfa Kan. If anyone can confirm this, please let us know!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Mitsutoshi Ambe -- HEART

Edit: Put this one onto Grooveshark cause the video above seems to be blocked in certain countries.



The singer-songwriter Mitsutoshi Ambe (あんべ光俊) is another unexpected discovery I made in the past year while aimlessly browsing the good ole' Youtube. This song tugged at my heartstrings right from the get-go with those sorrowful synths. Still does. I was also drawn to Ambe's sharp and poignant vocals that just echo through the melody like a voice in the mountains. For someone who enjoys a good number of sentimental ballads, this one did something more profound, which I can't express. It's right up there with Off Course's "Kotoba ni Dekinai", another one of my favorites. Not surprisingly, three members from the band, Jiro Oma (大間ジロー), Kazuhiko Matsuo (松尾一彦), and Hitoshi Shimizu (清水仁), participated in the recording of the song along with the rest of the tracks on Ambe's 4th studio album "Hearts" (released in August 1983). Oma was the one who produced the album. The song certainly resembles the Off Course style from that period with its AOR sound and glowing emotion. Ambe, on the other hand, has collaborated with the band on their own material over the years and produced a few of their songs.

As for Ambe, he was born in 1953 in Iwate prefecture. In 1974 he formed the folk group Hikousen, which broke up in 1978. The following year, he transferred labels to Toshiba EMI and released his first single, "Kaze wa Shitteiru". He put out a steady string of albums and singles until 1995, and then decided to focus on cultural ambassador work in his home prefecture, while recording and performing songs on the side.

At the moment, my vinyl copy of "Hearts" is sitting collecting dust at my home in Toronto. Thankfully, I made a digital copy to listen to anytime.

Source: feedio.net

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Yamashita Takeo's "Playgirl Theme" - OP/ED Theme to 『プレイガール』/"Playgirl" (1969-1975)




One of my favorite dramas from the 70s is the Toei produced, TV Tokyo (Tokyo Channel 12) Japanese crime thriller series 『プレイガール』/"Playgirl".  It is considered somewhat of a cult classic and a "guilty pleasure" by many. With its unique brand of titillation, risque humor, sexy action and pure 70s styling and flair, the show commanded at one time an unprecedented 17.8% rating for its time. Part of that appeal certainly could be attributed to its alluring and beautiful cast of stars who would often be called upon to strip down and show off their ample assets in order to flirt with the audience with their sexy charm.

Image courtesy of http://ameblo.jp/kazzp0610/day-20130817.html
In the annals of Japanese dramas, "Playgirl" was a bold and innovative experiment in adult oriented entertainment. One must remember that this series debuted at a time before Japanese erotic entertainment was widely available outside of adult theatres, prior to Nikkatsu establishing its ピンク映画/ロマンポルノ films and before the advent of AVs (adult videos). While Toei would release a number of violent sexploitation/teen gang ("Sukeban") movies collectively known in the West as "Pinky Violence" films during this same time such as the 『ズベ公番長』 series (1970-1971), 『女番長ゲリラ』 (1972), 『女番長』 series (1973-1974), 『恐怖女子高校』 series (1972-1973) and 『女番長ブルース』 series (1971-1972), "Playgirl" would serve as Toei's first foray in this type of genre on TV. 

The drama's setup is relatively straightforward - When wealthy mystery novelist and independently wealthy socialite 天戸昌子/Tendo Masako (popular 60s chanson singer 戸川昌子/Togawa Masako) decides to start up a new business venture, she settles upon a unique private Insurance & Investigation Agency. Recruiting a number of beautiful "thrill seeking" amateur detectives, she sets up shop in a swank office in an upscale Tokyo neighborhood, and together they form the "PLAYGIRL(s)" as they affectionately call themselves.  While the bulk of the cases and mysteries Masako and her "Playgirls" investigated involved insurance scams, drug trafficking, white collar crimes, fraud, white slavery and outrageous heists orchestrated by nefarious organized crime rings and other unscrupulous criminals (i.e. the Yakuza), some of their cases bordered on the bizarre and strange (i.e. investigating various hauntings and other supernatural mysteries involving malicious ghosts, otherworldly spirits and other evil forces).
The Original "Playgirls" - Image courtesy of  http://tsuri-ten.cocolog-nifty.com/blog/2011/04/post-78f8.html
Although many would note that "Playgirl" bears more than a passing resemblance to the iconic American 70s detective TV series "Charlie's Angels" (ABC - 1976-1981), "Playgirl" it turns out surprisingly predates that series by a good seven years. If anything, "Playgirl" clearly gets much of its influence from the landmark UK action/adventure series "The Avengers" (ABC/ITV; 1961-1969) as well as the cult American detective TV series "Honey West" (ABC; 1965-1966). "The Avengers' " smart and sexy heroine Emma Peel (portrayed by the classy and stunningly beautiful Dame Diana Rigg) in particular proved to be the ideal template for the "Playgirl" heroines, who like Emma Peel would not only use their wily female charms to disarm their opponents but would also use their exceptional martial arts skills to take down their predominantly male adversaries in often spectacular style.

While the "Playgirl" TV Series is unrelated to the Adult Magazine "Playboy" & "Playgirl", the look and feel of the show did hint at and play upon the adult magazine's popularity in Japan, even going so far as to spoof the style of the Japanese magazine's (週刊プレイボーイ) logo font.

1978 issue of Shukan Playboy Japan - Image courtesy of http://hiroshioka1125.life.coocan.jp/book_collection/yokomizoseisi/shuei_sha/shukan_playboy_1978_8_29_NO35/shukan_playboy_1978_8_29_NO35.html

Influences - Emma Peel (Dame Diana Rigg) and Honey West (Anne Francis) - Images courtesy of  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anne_Francis_Honey_West_1965.JPG and http://www.futuresack.com/index.php/news/406/56/The-Avengers-1961-69-vs-The-Avengers-2012.htm

The Second Wave of "Playgirls" - Image courtesy of http://blogs.dion.ne.jp/boti/archives/8053357.html
During it's long six year run (4/7/1969 to 9/30/1976) a whopping twenty-two actresses were part of the "Playgirls" at one time or another.  Usually each episode featured no more than five of the girls at one time and each episode would try to rotate the cast around but invariably some of the actresses were featured more often than others, due to their popularity among audience members. The cast featured a "who's who" of Nikkatsu Thriller/Crime Film, Tokusatsu TV and Toei "Pinky Violence" film alumni including some recognizable faces.

The Playgirls are:
Playgirl - The Original Team - First Row - L-R-  "Oka-San"/Madam (Togawa Masako); "One" (Sawa Tamaki); Lan-Fan (Oh Lan-Fan); Bottom Row - L-R - Mako (Midori Mako); Akemi (Mari Akemi) and Yukko (Kuwabara Yukiko)

沢村たまき/Sawamura Tamaki (AKA オネエ/One/Big Sister) - Portrayed by former actress/singer turned politician 沢たまき/Sawa Tamaki.  Served as the team leader of the "Playgirls" for most of the series. Tall and elegant with a cool headed personality, Tamaki was easily able to take charge of any situation. Her expertise in Kick Boxing would put fear into many of her opponents. Had expert skills in driving cars and even had a piloting license for a Cessna. Sawa would appear in the "Playgirl" sequel series "Playgirl Q" as well as have cameo appearance in both the 1992 and 2003 reboot movie specials. Sawa was a popular jazz singer during the early 60s before turning to acting. She would retire from acting in 1995 to go into government service where she became a member of Japan's House of Councillors representing Tokyo's District 12. She would unfortunately pass away in 2003 due to illness.

蘭芳/Lan-Fan (AKA Lan-Fan) - Portrayed by actress/singer 應蘭芳/Oh Lan-Fan.  Original member of the "Playgirls". Hong Kong born but raised in Tokyo. Like Tamaki, Lan-Fan was also a skilled driver. London-born Oh Lan-Fan is probably most familiar to audiences as the silver-skinned heroine モル/Moll AKA Silvar, wife of the Japanese superhero "Magma" from the cult Tokusatsu series 『マグマ大使』/"Magma Taishi" (P-Pro; 1996) AKA "Ambassador Magma" ("Space Giants").

一條マコ/Ichijou Mako (AKA Mako) - Portrayed by actress 緑魔子/Midori Mako. Highly intelligent but socially awkward, Mako tended to shy away from action and instead look after the office and handle the book-keeping. Referred to in the Opening Credits as the "man-hater" (which may have hinted to her sexual preference). Not very athletic or proficient in hand-to-hand combat, Mako would eventually have second thoughts about this career choice and leave the group very early on. Midori is perhaps best remembered by Western audiences for her haunting performance as abducted model Aki in the cult film 盲獣/"Moju" (AKA "Blind Beast"; Daiei, 1969).

星明美/Hoshi Akemi (AKA Akemi) - Portrayed by actress 真理明美/Mari Akemi. Original member of the "Playgirls" and one of the few to stay with the series throughout its entire run. Was proficient in Karate.  Although Mari would star in other films and TV series, "Playgirl" would prove to be her most memorable role.


原幸子/Hara Yukiko (AKA Yukko) - Portrayed by actress 桑原幸子/Kuwabara Yukiko.  Although she was referred to as "weak" and a "cry baby" when she was first introduced, she eventually found her groove and even became quite proficient in hand-to-hand combat as the series progressed. Kuwabara was a regular face in Toei films and had supporting roles in a number of their "Pinky Violence" films including 不良番長/"Furyou Bancho" (1968), ボディガード牙 必殺三角飛び/"Bodyguard Kiba" (1973) and 不良番長 練鑑ブルース/"Furyou Bancho - Renkan Blues" (1969)


The New Recruits - Top - L-R - Machiko (Yashiro Machiko); Yuming (Han Bunjaku); Runako (Takatsuki Mariko); Bottom Row - L-R - Kaoru (Hama Kaoru); Reiko (Ohshida Reiko) and Mieko (Nishio Mieko).
五代万智子/Godai Machiko (AKA Machiko) - Portrayed by lanky and tall actress 八代万智子/Yashiro Machiko.  When Machiko first debuted in the series, she actually worked for a rival Private Investigation office but during the course of the episode she was eventually swayed to join the "The Playgirl" agency. She was promoted to co-leader (second to Tamaki) and acted as the "Big Sister" to the group. With her cool demeanor, sexy charm and natural leadership skills she would be one of the "Playgirls" most valuable members. Yashiro is most familiar to Western audiences as Mamoru's mother in the Tokusatsu series 『マグマ大使』/"Magma Taishi" (P-Pro; 1996) AKA "Ambassador Magma" ("Space Giants") where she co-starred along fellow castmate Oh Lan-Fan.


ユーミン・ダロワ/Yuming Darowa (AKA Yuming) - Portrayed by actress 范文雀/Han Bunjaku. Yuming was a good friend of Tamaki and was recruited by her to join "The Playgirls" after the departures of members Mako and Lan-Fan. Was originally born and raised on a small island near Bangkok. Is proficient in Aikido. The stunningly beautiful, Taiwan born Han Bunjaku would star in a number of films for Toei and Nikkatsu before she would get her big break in the TBS' live action adaptation of the popular volleyball anime 『サインはV』 as the tragic character of June Sanders, Yumi's rival and teammate.  Han Bunjaku would also co-star in other hit Japanese TV series such as 『影の軍団』/"Kage No Gundan" and 『Gメン'75』/"G-Men 75".

ルナ子/Niwa Runako (AKA Runako) - Portrayed by actress 高月毬子/Takatsuki Mariko.  Lived abroad in Paris, France for a number of years before returning to Japan. Just happened to be on the same flight as Yuming. In the beginning of the series, Runako had a very cold and serious disposition but as the series continued she opened up more to the rest of the group. Is a skilled lockpick. Takatsuki had a number of small roles in various movies and TV series before her role in "Playgirl". 

古城かおる/Koshiro Kaoru (AKA Kaoru) - Portrayed by actress かおる/Hama Kaoru. Fashionable, flamboyant and flighty, the pixie-haired Kaoru was one of the more flashy members of the Playgirls. However despite her somewhat comical looks, she fought like a demon with her impressive street-fighting skills. Hama was a frequent regular in Nikkatsu studio's crime and romance movies of the 60s. 

太田礼子/Otta Reiko (AKA Reiko) - Portrayed by beautiful actress/singer 大信田礼子/Ohshida Reiko.  After her mentor/Martial Arts teacher was mysteriously murdered, cute and spunky tomboy Reiko travels from her country hometown in Kumamoto to Tokyo to track down the killers. She encounters the "Playgirls" during her search and together they crush the criminal gang responsible for the murder. Reiko is one of the toughest of the "Playgirls" being a Blackbelt in multiple fighting forms and techniques including Karate, Aikido and Judo. She is also skilled in horseback riding, archery, Kendo and knife throwing. I absolutely adore Ohshida and instantly fell in love with this gorgeous beauty after seeing her in the Toei "Pinky Violence" series 『ずべ公番長』/Zubeko Bancho (1970-1971) which made her famous. It was her success in this series that earned her a spot in the "Playgirl" TV series.  She would unfortunately leave the series after only a few dozen episodes to further pursue her music career and do more movies.

山尾三枝子/Yamao Mieko (AKA Mieko) - Portrayed by actress 西尾三枝子/Nishio Mieko. Mieko was another one of the early members that stayed with the group for most of the duration of the series. Nishio had various small parts in a number or movies for Toei and Nikkatsu before starring in "Playgirl".  
Playgirl - Generation 3 - Top - L-R- Yumiko (Katayama Yumiko); Mimi (Fukada Mimi); Kiyomi (Otta Kiyomi); Bottom Row - L-R - Yayoi (Watanabe Yayoi); Junko (Miyazono Junko) and Eiko (Yanami Eiko)


片岡由美子/Kataoka Yumiko (AKA Yumiko) -  Portrayed by former child actress 片山由美子/Katayama Yumiko.  While following up on a case that takes them to the remote countryside of Northern Japan near Hokkaido, the Playgirls encounter the lone cowgirl Yumiko, a rambunctious, wild and rebellious orphan roaming the vast fields of the countryside. Skilled in horseback riding and a ferocious fighter (with knowledge of Karate and street-fighting techniques), Yumiko helps the Playgirls apprehend their fugitives and in the process is asked to join their Agency. As the series progressed, Yumiko is slowly transformed from a rough-and-tumble tomboy (she sported leather chaps and a cowboy hat) to a chic, trendy and vivacious "go-go" girl). With her trademark long, colored hair and frequently wearing revealing super mini-skirts which showed off her long shapely legs, Katayama was not surprisingly one of the most popular stars of the "Playgirl" series. Who would have thought that the slightly chubby young teenager who played Nishino Mitsuko (Agent U5) in the Tokusatsu series 『ジャイアントロボ』/"Giant Robo" AKA "Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot" (NET/Toei-1967) would grow up to be become such a "Playgirl" beauty. Katayama further distanced herself from her child actress roots by starring in a number of Toei's adult-themed "Pinky Violence" films including - ずべ公番長 ざんげの値打もない/"Zubeko Bancho - Zange No Neuchi Mo Nai" (1971); 女囚701号/さそり』/"Jyoushu 701 Go/Sasori" (1972); 『番格ロック』/"Bankoku Rock" (1973)

田村ミミ/Tamura Mimi (AKA Mimi) - Portrayed by actress 深田ミミ/Fukada Mimi. As with several of the other "Playgirl" members, 16 year-old Mimi was first introduced to the group amid a criminal case that the Playgirls were investigating. Orphaned and with no other relatives to look after her, she was adopted by the Playgirls and became their youngest member who they considered a little sister.  A huge fan of mystery-novels, Mimi's inquisitive nature, street-smarts and youthful energy made her a great asset to the team. Despite her tiny size, she would often surprise her teammates by taking down opponents twice her size with her impressive street fighting skills. Fukada would later go on to star in the obscure Tokusatsu action series バトルホーク』/"Battle Hawk" (Toyo/TV Tokyo; 1976) portraying Yurka/Queen Hawk. Fukada's daughter is former AV Actress 山崎亜美/Yamazaki Ami. 

一条きよみ/Ichijou Kiyomi (AKA Kiyomi) - Portrayed by singer/actress 太田きよみ/Otta Kiyomi. Initially Otta appeared in an early episode of "Playgirl" as a guest star but made enough of an impression on producers that she was asked to become a regular on the show portraying an entirely different character.


田辺やよい/Tanabe Yayoi (AKA Yayoi) -Portrayed by actress 渡辺やよい/Watanabe Yayoi.  The Playgirls encounter Yayoi while investigating a case on the small island of Hachijoshima where Yayoi was an "Ama" (female shellfish diver). Yayoi's father had been murdered having been entangled in a illegal gold smuggling operation that had been set up on the island. The Playgirls later discover that Yayoi's estranged older brother (who was involved with the Yakuza) was involved in the murder. Before being taken away, he asks the Playgirls to look after his sister.  Watanabe was a Toei regular who would go on to appear in many of their "Pinky Violence" and adult-themed thrillers such as  『女囚さそり けもの部屋』/"Onna Jyoshu Sasori - Kemono No Beya" (1973);  『女囚さそり 701号怨み節』/"Onna Jyoshu Sasori - 701 Go - Urami Bushi" (1973);  『ウルフガイ 燃えろ狼男』/"Wolf Guy - Moeru Okami Otoko" (1975); 女番長ブルース 牝蜂の挑戦/"Onna Bancho Blues - Mesubachi No Chosen" (1972); 『女囚701号-さそり/"Onna Jyoshu 701 Go - Sasori" (1972); 『ボディガード牙/"Bodyguard Kiba" (1973).


宮野純子/Miyano Junko (AKA Junko) - Portrayed by actress 宮園純子/Miyazono Junko.  Along with Machiko and Tamaki, Junko was one of the eldest member of the group and was often seen as everyone's "big sister".  She did not appear as frequently as the other members as she primarily operated out of the Kyoto and Osaka areas. With her refined and very classy demeanor (she often opted to wear Traditional Japanese Kimonos) Junko was a mature and quiet beauty that was in nice contrast to her more flashy and brash sisters.  Yet when necessary or provoked, Junko would display great ferocity in battle. Armed with a traditional Japanese Katana (sword) or a Daisho set (long sword and short sword), she would expertly cut down her opponents with a single slash. MIyazono was another familiar face having had small roles in a number of Toei's modern crime/thriller and Samurai dramas.


三波映子/Minami Eiko (AKA Eiko) - Portrayed by actress 八並映子/Yanami Eiko.  Eiko and her Magician boyfriend are returning to Japan after traveling the world promoting their Magic Act and Illusion Show when they stumble upon an illegal Gold Trafficking operation in Chiba Prefecture. While the Playgirls intervene and save the couple from the gangsters involved in the smuggling operation, Eiko's boyfriend is killed during the altercation. Eiko teams up with the Playgirls to get revenge on the criminals. Once the case is over Eiko asks to join the Playgirls (having no where else to go). A skilled Magician and escape artist, Eiko's slight-of-hand skills come in very handy as does her fighting skills (all the Playgirls seem to have some type of street fighting experience it seems).  Yanami had small parts in a number of genre films including the Gamera film ガメラ対深海怪獣ジグラ』 AKA "Gamera vs. Zigra" (1971); 女囚さそり 第41雑居房』/"Onna Jyoshu Sasori Dai 41 Zatsu Kyobou" (1972) and すっぽん女番長』/"Zuppan Onna Bancho" (1971).  Yanami would only appear in a few episodes of the series before leaving the show.
The Final Wave - Top Row - L-R - Yuriko (Hishimi Yuriko); Michiko (Azuma Michiko); Bottom Row - L-R - Sanae (Obari Sanae) and Rena (Natsuki Rena).

菱田ゆり子/Hishida Yuriko (AKA Yuriko) - Portrayed by Tokusatsu idol and sexy actress ひし美ゆり子/Hishimi Yuriko.  Yuriko was a nursing student going to a Junior College.  When her brother-In-Law (a Doctor) was falsely arrested by the Police, Yuriko decides to prove his innocence by infiltrating the Criminal Organization she suspected of being involved in the setup. With the help of the Playgirls, Yuriko is able to prove her Brother-In-Law's innocence and put away the real suspects. One year earlier, Yuriko's older sister had been involved in an extramarital affair and ran off with her lover, leaving Yuriko's Brother-In-Law. To add to the tragedy, her one-year old nephew was found abandoned and dead. Yuriko and her Brother-In-Law had lived together for a time thereafter which started rumors that they had fallen in love and were in a relationship. Yuriko seeking to separate herself from her Brother-In-Law (who had begun to fall in love with her) asks to join the Playgirls. Of all the Playgirls, Hishimi is perhaps my personal favorite. I fell in love with her ever since seeing her in her star-turning role as ウルトラ警備隊/Ultra Keibi Tai officer and medic 友里アンヌ/Yuri Anne in Tsuburaya's popular and groundbreaking sci-fi/Tokusatsu series 『ウルトラセブン』/UltraSeven (Tsuburaya; 1967).  "Playgirl" would mark a turning point in Hishimi's career as it gave her the opportunity to shake her "good girl" image and establish a more mature and sexier image for herself. During the course of "Playgirl", Hisimi's character Yuriko would undergo a slow but dramatic transformation from genteel and shy girl to a sexy and wild hellcat. Hisimi would star in a number of Toei's adult-themed action movies including their 不良番長/"Furyo Bancho" film series but it was her bold and aggressive appearance in the erotic cult classic ポルノ時代劇 忘八武士道』 AKA "Boachi Bushido: Code of the Forgotten Eight" (1973) that really made her into a sex symbol. Hishimi would continue to act in various dramas and films including returning to the Ultra franchise that made her a star. Hishimi also released a number of Nude Pictorials and Photo Books that really cemented her cover girl status.

東田みち子/Higashida Michiko (AKA Michiko) - Portrayed by singer/actress 東三千/Azuma Michi. One of the last few members to join the Playgirls. Not much information is available for Azuma other than she had released a few songs in the late 60s and early 70s. Would also appear in the sequel "Playgirl Q".

小堀早苗/Kobari Sanae (AKA Sanae) - Portrayed by model/actress 大堀早苗/Obari Sanae.  As with Michiko, Sanae was another late addition to the team just as the series was winding down. Not much information is available for Obari save that she was a model/dancer and had previously appeared in various Nikkatsu films including co-starring in the obscure dark Lesbian thriller/drama 残酷おんな情死』/"Zankoku Onna Jyoushi" (1970) along with alluring exotic beauty 真理アンヌ/Anuu Mari (who would have been a perfect candidate for "Playgirl"). 


夏井レナ/Natsui Rena (AKA Rena) -Portrayed by 夏樹 レナ/Natsuki Rena.  Rena was the last to be recruited for the Playgirl team and she was only featured in the last few episodes of the series. Rena is another Toei regular who had minor roles in various Toei movies and TV shows.

When "Playgirl" ended its six year run (airing 287 Episodes), it was quickly followed by a sequel entitled simply "Playgirl Q" (1975).  Sawa Tamaki would return to headline the series as "Big Sister" Tamaki. The story was very straightforward - After the events of "Playgirl", the Playgirls disband and it would be a year before Tamaki would grow bored of retirement and re-form the "Playgirls" with another group of thrill-seeking, adventurous girls to assist her with her Private Investigation Agency. While there would be some familiar faces returning to assist Tamaki, a number of younger girls would also be recruited to join the team.  The new "Playgirl Q" team would consist of:

キャシー/Kathy  - Portrayed by Maui/Hawaii-born Eurasian actress キャシー中島//Cathy Nakajima. Kathy was a swimming instructor at a local gym that Tamaki is a member at when she is recruited by Tamaki. Nakajima was a successful model and CM actress prior to her starring in "Playgirl Q". She would later retire as an actress to find fame as a Hawaiian Quilt designer.  Her daughter is model and jewelry designer 勝野七奈美/Katsuno Nanami.

ミミ/Mimi - Portrayed by model/actress and singing idol turned 80s Women's Wrestling star ミミ萩原/Hagiwara Mimi. While not related to Tamura Mimi (Fukada Mimi) who was with the team in the original series, like her Mimi was also a young orphan who is "adopted" by Tamaki. At 16 years old, she is the youngest member of the team and is a happy-go-lucky teenager (she is an expert pick-pocket) who aspires to be a cool and elegant thrill-seeker like Tamaki. Eurasian Hagiwara Mimi is half French/Swiss and Japanese who spent some of her childhood in Switzerland before returning to Japan.  She is a graduate of the American School in Japan. One of her first breakout roles was as cute chocolate-loving "Kamen Rider Girl" チョコ/Choco in the cult Tokusatsu TV series 『仮面ライダー』/"Kamen Rider" (NET; 1971) in which she starred along another Eurasian beauty and singing idol 山本リンダ/Yamamoto Linda, who would herself go on to star in the cult "Playgirl" semi-sequel 『ザ・スーパーガール』/"The Supergirl" (1979). While "Playgirl Q" gave her more exposure and opened up the opportunity as a singing idol in which she released a couple of singles in the early 70s, it wasn't until the late 70s and early 80s that she found fame. With the huge popularity of Japanese Women's Wrestling in the late 70s and early 80s, and the fandom surrounding such wrestling stars such as the Wrestling idol team ビューティ・ペア/Beauty Pair (who would also inspire the Anime characters the ダーティペア/"Dirty Pair") Mimi was inspired to further her career by becoming a Wrestling idol. Adopting the name Hagiwara Mimi (her real name is Hagiwara Tamie, while her stage name was simply "Mimi"), Hagiwara became an instant hit. With her cute idol looks, buxom and stylish, slim figure coupled with her acrobatic fighting style, Mimi was a stark contrast to her mannish and brutish opponents.  Mimi would retire from wrestling in 1984 although would periodically return to the ring for various special events over the years.

ルリコ/Ruriko - Portrayed by nude model/centerfold and actress 池島ルリ子/Ikejima Ruriko.  Ruriko is another amateur detective and thrill-seeker that Tamaki recruited for the team. Her regular profession is a hospital nurse. Not much information is available for Ikejima other than her work as a nude model and centerfold for various magazines of the time. "Playgirl Q" was her first acting role.


ミチ/Michi - Portrayed by singer/actress 東三千/Azuma Michi. One of the few original "Playgirl" actresses to transition to the sequel. While I'm not completely sure but I believe she portrayed a different character from her previous character of Higashida Michiko. Michi was a college student and a Junior College who also worked as an attendant at a local bath house. She provided much of the comedy for the series with her somewhat bumbling character. 

夏井レナ/Natsui Rena (AKA Rena) -Portrayed by 夏樹 レナ/Natsuki Rena.  One of the few original "Playgirl" actresses to transition to the sequel.  Reprised her Rena role from the original "Playgirl" series. 


The Girls of "Q" - Top Row L-R - One/Tamaki (Sawa Tamaki); Kathy (Kathy Nakajima); Mimi (Hagiwara Mimi); Bottom Row - L-R - Ruriko (Ikejima Ruriko); Michi (Azuma Michi) and Rena (Natsuki Rena).

Other members would include:

アキコ/Akiko - Portrayed by singer and actress/model 中村晃子/Nakamura Akiko. Akiko was an adventurous professional freelance camera woman who loved fast cars (she drove a Pontiac Firebird) and thrill-seeking.  Nakamura released a number of singles during the late 70s and early 80s.  After "Playgirl Q", Nakamura would also be a regular cast member of two other action series - 『影の軍団 III』(Fuji TV; 1982) and 西部警察 PART-III』 (Asahi; 1983). 

チエ/Chie - Portrayed by actress 小林千枝/Kobayashi Chie. Was a later addition to the team. Not much information is available for Kobayashi but she did appear in an early episode of 『仮面ライダー』/"Kamen Rider" (NET; 1971) as a villain and also appeared in the original "Playgirl" series as a different character.

ニッキ/Nikki - Portrayed by singer, model and actress 森田日記/Morita Nikki.  Another late addition to the series. Morita is half French and Japanese. With her exotic looks she was a popular cover girl model in the 70s. Her modeling career also gave her the opportunity to pursue a career as an actress and singer. 

トモコ/Tomoko - Portrayed by model and actress 藍とも子/Ai Tomoko.  Ai was the last to join the "Playgirl Q" team and only appeared in the last dozen or so episodes. "Godzilla" movie fans will recognize Ai as the beautiful cyborg Mafune Katsura in メカゴジラの逆襲』 AKA "Terror of MechaGodzilla" (Toho; 1975).  Ai also had a reoccurring role in Tsuburaya's Ultraman seriesウルトラマンレオ』/"Ultraman Leo" (TBS, 1974).

The Second Wave - Top Row - L-R - Akko (Nakamura Akiko); Chie (Kobayashi Chie); Bottom - L-R - Nikki (Morita Nikki) and Tomoko (Ai Tomoko). 

Like "Playgirl", "Playgirl Q" featured some nudity and sexual content (which was allowed by Japanese censors) but was a bit more toned down in action to "Playgirl".  Although "Playgirl Q" generated decent ratings, it unfortunately proved to not be as huge a hit as its predecessor and thus only lasted a modest 78 episodes.  It was followed by two unrelated sequel series 『ザ・スーパーガール』/"The Supergirl" (1979) and 『ミラクルガール』/"Miracle Girl".

It would not be until sixteen years later that we would see "Playgirl" again.

Image courtesy of http://blog.livedoor.jp/shimma/archives/51774287.html
As part of TV Tokyo's popular 『月曜・女のサスペンス』/"Monday - Women's Suspense Drama" anthology series, a special two-hour episode of "Playgirl" was broadcast. With a somewhat campy title - 『プレイガール'92 嵐を呼ぶハイレグ軍団 黒真珠殺人事件』/"Playgirl '92 - Arashi O Yobu High Leg Gundan - Kuroi Shinjyu Satsujin Jiken" (A High Legged Army Calls Forth A Storm - The Murder Case of the Black Pearl), "Playgirl '92" tried to keep in the spirit of the Original series by featuring a comely cast of actresses, sexy action, risque humor and a complex murder mystery but in the end the series did not quite capture the same tone of the Original series. 

As in the original series, the "Playgirls" are a group of thrill-seeking amateur detectives and adverturers who are part of a Private Investigation service.  In a departure from the Original series, the characters did not share the same name as the actresses who portrayed them.

The cast included:

片平なぎさ/Katagira Nagisa  as 四条美樹/Shijou Miki.  Katagira is an actress, model and singer. When she initially debuted in the early 80s, she was loftily promoted by her Production company as the "2nd 山口百恵/Yamaguchi Momoe" owing to her resemblance to the legendary singer.  She would go on to star in a number of TV series including the Daiei TVs series 『スチュワーデス物語』 (1983) in which she gave a memorable performance as the villainous Shindo Mariko and 『ポニーテールはふり向かない』 (1985). She would also star in a number of drama specials in the 80s and 90s which earned her the title of  "Queen of the Japanese  2 Hr. Dramas".

鳥越マリ/Torigoe Mari as 橘友佳里/Tachibana Yukari. Torigoe is an actress, model and singer. With her trademark pixie hair and slim figure she was said to be very popular among High School boys when she first debuted in the early 80s. Torigoe released a number of music singles but none really made it to the Oricon charts.

中村綾/Nakamura Aya as 夏川マヤ/Natsukawa Maya.  Nakamura is a model and actress. She began her career as a teen model. Has since gone on to star in numerous TV Dramas and films.

高野敦子/Takano Atsuko as 糸井和絵/Itoh Kazue. Takano is a model who has made numerous appearances on various men's magazines. "Playgirl '92" was one of her first forays into acting. 

青山知可子/Aoyama Chikako as 北園愛/Kitazono Ai. Aoyama is probably more familiar to fans for her work outside of Japan as she starred in the cult Hong Kong erotic sci-fi film "Robotrix" (1991).  Her other credits include various other "V-Cinema" and direct-to-video horror and crime thriller films.


Playgirl '92 - Top Row - L-R - Miki (Katagira Nagisa); Yukari (Torigoe Mari); Maya (Nakamura Aya); Bottom Row - L-R -Kazue (Takano Atsuko) and Ai (Aoyama Chikako).

"Playgirl - The Movie" (2003) Poster - Image courtesy of http://minkara.carview.co.jp/en/userid/712132/blog/d20121013/
In the subsequent years that followed after "Playgirl '92", interest in the original series began to grow owing much to rebroadcasts of the entire series on the ファミリー劇場/Fami-Geki subscription satellite/cable TV service.  Several of former cast members including Oh Lan-Fan, Watanabe Yayoi, Katayama Yumiko and Hama Kaoru would come out of retirement and form a Talent and Promotional Company called naturally "Playgirl Office" where they would further promote the "Playgirl" series by overseeing the Official Fan Club and help market new talent managed by the company. Toei also released in 2003 a "Best of" 4--disc DVD box set of the series featuring the first appearances of the various team members.  

Encouraged by the renewed interest in the series as well as the success of the campy American big-budget film adaptation of the "Charlie's Angels" TV Series (Columbia; 2000), Toei decided to once again revisit the show but this time adapt it to the big screen.  As with the McG reboot/revision, "Playgirl" was reimagined as something bigger than a police procedural or murder-mystery show and had more elements of "James Bond style" spy action.  In the case of "Playgirl", the team was recreated as a Special Government Task Force (in the film, the name "Playgirl" was a tongue-and-cheek play on the initials of their Department name - Private Government or "PG").  In a bit of a tribute to the Original Charlie's Angels show, the "Playgirls" were all Policewomen who are secretly part of the "Playgirls" (in an odd irony, the girls in the "Charlie's Angels" movie are more like "Playgirl" in that they are amateur thrill-seekers with no Law Enforcement background).

Charlie's Angels 2000 vs Playgirl 2003

The Playgirls were:


床嶋佳子/Yokoshima Yoshiko as 相良遙/Sagara Haruka. Sagara was a former Undercover Detective with experience working as an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department (another reference to "Charlie's Angeles"). Betrayed by her former lover (an elusive former Japanese Drug Enforcement Agent), she decides to return to Japan to rebuild her life and joins forces with the Japan's National Police Force to form a Special Task Unit of skilled Police Officers that investigates crimes that go beyond the scope of ordinary Police Enforcement (battling Organized Crime Rings and other Super Criminals).  Actress Yokoshima originally found fame as a ballet dancer but decided to go into acting. She has starred in numerous TV specials, dramas and films.


佐藤江梨子/Sato Eriko as 三輪かおる/Mitsuwa Kaoru. Mitsuwa is a Policewoman who is recruited by Sagara to join her PG/"Playgirls".  She joined the "Playgirls" as a way to escape the drudgery of her normal daily duties (she is assigned to the Police Secretary Pool) so that she can prove herself in the field (she displays a great knack in undercover work). Tall, Buxom and leggy "SatoEri" is a former model and actress. Western audiences are probably best familiar with her as Kisaragi Honey AKA "Cutey Honey" in the 2004 live action film adaptation of the cult anime series directed by Hideaki Anno. Sato has subsequently starred in various other films and TV series. Over the years, Sato has frequently been the target of various Paparazzi photos and the victim of salacious tabloid rumors.
岡元夕紀子/Okamoto Yukiko  as 神津由美子/Kouzu Yumiko.  Kouzu is part of the Forensics Department and uses her skills as a CSI technician to help the "Playgirls". Okamoto is a former model and actress who frequently can be seen in Independent films and projects. Her first major role was in the cult film  『バウンス ko GALS』(1997). 

加藤明日美/Katou Asami  as  森夏美/Mori Natsumi.  Mori is an officer with the Information Systems/Intelligence Department and uses her computer skills to assist the "Playgirls".  Katou is a former Gravure Idol and model.


八幡えつこ/Yawata Etsuko as 篠原文/Shinohara Aya.  Aya is a motorbike officer for the Police Department and uses her expert skills as a motorcycle rider and driver for the group. Like Katou, Yawata is also a former Gravure Idol and model. "Playgirl" was one of her first major roles as an actress. She has since however retired as an actress.


Playgirl 2003 - Top Row - L-R - Haruka (Yokoshima Yoshiko); Kaoru (Sato Eriko); Yumiko (Okamoto Yukiko); Bottom Row - L-R - Natsumi (Katou Asami) and Aya (Yawata Etsuko)
"Playgirl' was shown in movie theatres only during a limited engagement and quickly moved on to DVD thereafter. The response to the film was mixed perhaps due to its limited budget, and somewhat lackluster script.  The film disappointed both fans of the old series and audiences new to the franchise who expected (perhaps unfairly) something comparable to the "Charlie's Angels" reboot film.  
 


Toei would not again revisit the "Playgirl" franchise until recently (nine years later) with another TV special. This time it would be ファミリー劇場 who would team up with sister cable/satellite network 東映チャンネル/Toei Channel for this next reboot project. 

As with the movie version, the "Playgirls" were again a envisioned as a clandestine Secret Task Force of special operatives who were less like police officers and thriller-seekers but rather as "Super Government Agents" with office around the world (i.e. Paris). The girls were a bit younger and wore almost "dominatrix" style, PVC and leather "uniforms". The action was more intense as well with the fights being orchestrated similar to the 90's Hong Kong "Girls and Guns" movies with Kung Fu inspired fighting style and "wire-fu" effects.   

The Playgirls in this remake were:

杉本有美/Sukimoto Yumi as 七瀬凛(リン)/Nanase Rin AKA Rin - Sugimoto is a Gravure model and actress. She is perhaps most known for her role as 須塔美羽/ゴーオンシルバー/Suto Miu AKA Go-on Silver in the Tokusatsu TV series 『炎神戦隊ゴーオンジャー』/"Enjin Sentai Go-Onger" (2008). 

長澤奈央/Nagasawa Nao as 甲斐火那子(ヒナ)/Kahi Hinako AKA Hina - Actress, singer and model Nagasawa is another alumni from Tokusatsu TV having starred in the Super Sentai series 『忍風戦隊ハリケンジャー』/"Ninpu Sentai Harrkenja" (2002) as 野乃七海 / ハリケンブルー/Nanami Nono/Hurricane Blue. Her convincing stunt fighting skills would become a big asset for her in subsequent action films such as the recent  『トラベラーズ 次元警察』 (2013) and the upcoming action film 009ノ1 ゼロゼロクノイチ』(2013) based on 石ノ森章太郎/Ishimori Shotaro's 1967 sci-fi manga which was adapted as both a live action TV series in 1969 (a precursor to "Playgirl") and an anime in 2006 (a series which I will also cover in a later post).

小沢真珠/Ozawa Maju  as 宍戸麗美(ドレミ)/Ozawa Mami AKA Doremi - Ozawa is an actress who has had small parts in various TV dramas and films.

伊藤かずえ/Itou Kazue as 雪見桜子(桜姉ェ)/Setsumi Yoko AKA One/Big Sister -Itou was the star of one of my favorite 80s teen dramas, Daiei TV's 『ポニーテールはふり向かない』/"Ponytail Wa Furimukenai" (1985) in which she portrayed the heroine, rebel "Sukeban" and troubled drummer 麻生未記/Asai Miki. She would later go on to star in a number of TV series and movies.  She was also a idol singer who released a number of pop singles. Tokusatsu TV fans will also note that she would have minor roles in the series 『獣拳戦隊ゲキレンジャー』/"Jyuken Sentai Gekiranger" (2007) and 『侍戦隊シンケンジャー』/"Samurai Sentai Shinkenger" (2009)


Playgirl 2012 - Top Row - L-R- Rin (Sukimoto Yumi); Hina (Nagasawa Nao); Bottom Row - L-R -Doremi (Ozawa Maju) and Yoko - One/Big Sister (Itou Kazue)
Fami-Geki also developed a tie-in special episode with the rebooted Police "Human Drama" ensemble show 『特捜最前線2012』/"Tokusou Saizen Sen" AKA "Speical Investigation Unit".  In the special entitled 特捜最前線×プレイガール members of the "Playgirls" would crossover into the "Tokusou Saizensen" series to join forces inorder to solve a murder mystery. Fami-Geki and Toei Channel would promote this special as part of their 「ドラマクロスプロジェクト」/"Drama Cross Project".


However like the movie, "Playgirl 2012" again failed to connect with audiences and was quickly forgotten (in another odd irony, the ABC reboot "Charlie's Angels" in 2011 would also fail).

The "Playgirl" series was memorable not only for of its sexy action but also because of its eye-catching and almost psychedelic opening and ending title sequences and theme song.


Famed Japanese Jazz Musician/Composer 山下毅雄/Yamashita Takeo (not to be confused with City Pop/New Music musician and icon 山下達郎/Yamashita Tatsuo) contributed his exceptional musical talents to the show by composing the catchy title instrumental

Yamashita Takeo - Image courtesy of http://www.xiami.com/artist/561504287
Yamashita is a legend in the Japanese TV music scene of the 60s and 70s having composed a number of iconic themes for various shows including 『ジャイアントロボ』/"Giant Robo" (1967); 『七人の刑事』/"Shichinin no Keiji" (1961) and 『大岡越前』/"Oka Echizen" (1971) among others but his most famous work was his theme song for the 1st season of 『ルパン三世』 (1971). While not as popular as 大野雄二/"YOU and Explosion Band's" more rock/pop influenced 2nd season theme, Yamashita's modern jazz inspired theme seemed to capture more of the spirit of Monkey Punch's gentleman thief.


Yamashita's "Playgirl" theme also successfuly captured the wild spirt of its show.  With its slow beatnik jazz sound and repeative lyrics comprised solely of the phrase "Playgirl" amid occassional sexy cooing and female purring sounds, the theme was almost like a psychedelic music experience culminating in the slowed-down voice effect of "Plaaaygirrrl" at the end. The OP videos also proved to be quite an experiment in the bizarre (especially in the fist couple of seasons) with hallucinatory images of the girls in various skimpy outfits in various dreamy situations (chasing a empty baby carriage with balloons; frolicking at a swimming pool while playing "hot potato" with a six-shooter; playing games with phantom Kabuki "kuroko" attendands).  Later seasons would switch over to slightly less fanciful images of  action-footage montages with the girls "kicking ass" on their various male opponents. 


Playgirl Music File Cover - Image courtesy of http://plaza.rakuten.co.jp/itoyaonline555/diary/201308060000/

While Yamashita's "Playgirl" Opening Theme is nice, my favorite theme for the show is their slightly more melancholy, wordless "Ending Theme".  The ending sequence was almost like a voyeur video as it followed the various "Playgirl" members as they walked around the streets of Tokyo. The provocative angles of the shots coupled with the intense closeups on the girls various body parts (primarily the face, feet and legs) was very erotic as it suggested hidden video footage. Intersperced in the footage was also scenes of a voluptuous "go-go" dancing on a glass stage (with the camea pointed up from ground level in an almost "up-skirt" fashion). The ending sequence culminated in a closeup of one of the Playgirls walking forward in mini-skirt and go-go boots with the camera aimed squarely on her ass.



"Playgirl" is a show that is rooted squarely in the 70s and is better for that. While Toei has tried three times to bring the show into the present, trying to update the story with the times, it has failed each time. "Playgirl" is a show that is best remembered and appreciated taken in the context of its 70s setting. Not only is "Playgirl" a great nostalgic timecapsule to the 70s (pre-Internet, computers and cellphones) but is also a nice look at the fashion, music and style of the time (I'm a big retro 70s/80s fan).

While many may decry that "Playgirl" (like "Charlie's Angels" was just a crude example of "jiggle TV"; an exploitative relic of the psychedelic 70s that crudely objectified woman as mere sex objects, I tend to disagree. "Playgirl" was a unique show for its time in that it featured a primarily all-female cast who would, in the course of each episode, prove to be in every way a man's equal. The "Playgirls" were an empowering example that Japanese women were not the subserviant, meek or male-dependent stereotypes that were shown in other media. The "Playgirls" were strong, smart and independenat and who would not only outsmart their male adversaries but also physically beat them (in a somewhat dominatrix type fashion).  

"Playgirl" has been spoofed over the years by various film makers with varying results. It has even been reinterpreted as a Japanese AV called 『プレイガール7』.  

Playgirl TV Series DVD Box Set - Image courtesy of http://item.rakuten.co.jp/auc-cinemainc/10004263/?scid=af_pc_link_tbl&sc2id=238707290