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 25, 2017

Rie Miyazawa -- Gokigen na Heart (ごきげんな HEART )

I can't remember the article for it right now, but I did mention that after listening to a long-neglected album once more and being surprisingly more reasonable toward it now, I would probably be inclined to give the only album I have of Rie Miyazawa(宮沢りえ), "Mu", another go of it. Admittedly, I was being a bit sarcastic about that.

And yet, I did play the album again last week for the first time in probably close to 25 years. Strangely enough, I'm still hitting 1.000. Not to say that "Mu", Miyazawa's debut album from 1989 is any classic. She didn't particularly possess a robust set of vocals but the songs and arrangement behind them are not too bad.

The opening track of the album "Gokigen na Heart" (Happy Heart) is a generically pleasant pop song of that time period with Rie-chan breezily singing away about waking up all cheerful and stuff and sending off the darling with a blown kiss. The lyrics were provided by Masami Tozawa(戸沢暢美)who's written a number of songs for Miki Imai(今井美樹)and the melody was whipped up by Takashi Tsushimi(都志見隆)who has often made music for Kiyoshi Maekawa and The Cool Five(前川清&クールファイブ)!

I don't know how the album did per se but I wonder how "Gokigen na Heart" would have fared under stronger singers such as Misato Watanabe(渡辺美里)or Mariko Nagai(永井真里子). Still, I can say that "Mu" can come back in from the cold.

Yellow Magic Orchestra -- La Femme Chinoise(中国女)

Happy sweltering Monday! We're just some days away from October but I think we may have a Humidex of 40 degrees Celsius right now. I don't think we're gonna get relief from the July heat until Thursday at the earliest.

I'm surprised that I didn't cover this before. However, I remember "La Femme Chinoise" by YMO as being the 2nd song on Side B following "Tong Poo"(東風)on that old Alfa audiotape of the band's first self-titled album from 1978.

Both "Tong Poo" and "La Femme Chinoise" have that exotic Asian mood imbued into them but whereas the former has that dreamy feeling with a light funky City Pop centre later added with Minako Yoshida's(吉田美奈子)silky ruminations, "La Femme Chinoise" has this eager-beaver bounciness as if a tourist is rabidly exploring the Jiufen district of coastal Taiwan (also visited the area and it's worth the trip). I'd probably end my analysis and compare the two songs as two sides of the same coin.

Drummer Yukihiro Takahashi(高橋幸宏)and lyricist Chris Mosdell created the song, and although I have described "La Femme Chinoise" in the previous paragraph as this example of exotica, it's got plenty of those technopop bleeps and bloops. As for those sexy-sounding female French vocals, according to J-Wiki, Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣)got the brainwave to recruit the secretary to the president of Alfa Records; not quite sure how she felt about adding her voice to what is now one of the classic YMO tunes.

Also, sticking with Hosono, (according to some interview in the Japanese journal "Aspect" in 2007) the bassist/keyboardist felt that "La Femme Chinoise" was an important entry in the mighty YMO discography since it opened up the opportunity for the band to be seen not just as an instrumental group but a vocal one as well. And it cemented Takahashi as the main vocalist with his somewhat droning delivery of "...Suzy Wong and Shanghai dolls". Not sure how the thrashing punk guitar fit into all of this, though.

Kotringo -- Kanashikute Yarikirenai(悲しくてやりきれない)

Back from another round of anime at my friend's house. For me, it was a bit strange today since today, September 24th, was the debut of the latest "Star Trek" show that is being filmed here in Toronto, "Star Trek: Discovery". Perhaps 20 years ago, I wouldn't have hesitated...I would have given my friend an excuse not to come out today and wait fervently in front of my TV to catch this new show. However, the "too little, too late" feeling of "Star Trek: Enterprise", followed by the not-so-great Abramsverse part of the franchise (I mean, I liked the first "Star Trek" in 2009 despite the plot progression), and the relative indifference to the 50th anniversary of Gene Roddenberry's space adventure last year in my opinion has ended up dulling my enthusiasm to the point that I'm not even sure I can call myself a dedicated Trekkie/Trekker anymore. However, I got home in time to see the last 10 minutes of the 2nd episode of "Discovery" and it does look markedly different from any of the past series although it does remind me of the Abramsverse (are those lens flares again?).

Instead, the main feature today at my friend's house was the second of the three big anime motion pictures from 2016. A few weeks ago, I caught "Kimi no Na wa"(君の名は。), the space-and-time-cross high school romance. Tonight it was "Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni"(この世界の片隅に...In This Corner of the World), a film that I think is even better than "Kimi no Na wa" although my friend liked it even better than I did.

From what I had heard from my anime buddy and had read online, the movie is supposed to be a slice-of-life flick about wartime Japan in the city of Kure near Hiroshima. Well, my first thought was how can a slice-of-life flick traipse around the first nuclear bomb blast. After seeing the movie, my answer came: it doesn't. There is a lot of lightheartedness and gentle humour in "Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni" but it doesn't hold back on the tragedy of war especially in a couple of scenes. Still, it's not a war movie or an anti-war movie.

My friend actually saw the movie in Japan during his trip last year at a Tokyo theatre and he said that although he saw it some three months after its premiere, there was still a full house at the first morning show and there were a lot of folks who he considered to be not regular anime-watching folks in the seats.

The movie starts out with the opening theme, a wistful tune by Kotringo(コトリンゴ)as people are going about their daily lives. As the song went along, I detected a certain familiarity when the words "kanashikute, kanashikute" were heard, and I realized that the singer-songwriter was doing a cover of the old 1968 folk song by The Folk Crusaders, "Kanashikute Yakirenai"(I Can't Bear How Sad It Is). Noelle has already provided an article of that chestnut here so you can listen to the original version. But Kotringo makes the song her own with her soft-as-cotton delivery and that ethereal combination of piano and guitar and chorus before it rises into a brief boil and quickly subsides.

Kotringo's cover of "Kanashikute Yakirenai" originally came on her 2010 album "picnic album 1" and although that version was used in the trailers, an interview with the singer on the website OtoCoto via J-Wiki back in March 2017 noted that it couldn't be used for the movie itself due to the usual red tape so I guess what I heard tonight during the opening credits was made specially for the movie.

Anyways by the end of "Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni", I felt like I caught one of the best movies that I'd seen this year.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

ONE III NOTES -- Shadow and Truth

For a recent anison article, I received a comment from someone recommending this theme song for an anime titled "ACCA". When I first read the title, I assumed from the short acronym all done in caps that the show must be something very ethereal or hardcore military. The original manga's full name is "ACCA Juu-san-ku Kansatsu-ka"(ACCA13区監察課...ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.)and it actually didn't fall into either category. From what I've seen of the trailer for the anime that came out during the Winter 2017 season above, it seems to be about some internecine intrigue within this massive police organization on the lines of the FBI.

Along with my original assumption of the anime, I had also thought that the theme song would similarly go along the lines of ethereal or military march. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find "Shadow and Truth" is a catchy R&B number by ONE III NOTES. I'm not sure whether this unit led by bassist Ryo Takahashi(高橋諒)and vocalist PON from ORESAMA is going to be a dedicated band or just a one-off project since it's only listed for this one song, but ONE III NOTES nicely puts its all into "Shadow and Truth". I actually had to find out from the ORESAMA J-Wiki article that PON was singing for the unit.

This has got a fun mix of rap and good old-fashioned funk and soul which reminds me more of a theme song for a 1970s/1980s gritty cop show instead of a monolithic intelligence agency. Composed by Takahashi and written by Konnie Aoki, I actually started shimmying to the music and this was pretty late in the evening when I'm usually quite ready to hit the hay. Unfortunately "ACCA" probably didn't pass muster with my anime buddy so never got to see the show but at least I'm happy to be acquainted with the cool opening theme.

Yumi Arai -- Watashi no Francoise (私のフランソワーズ)

Starting to get into Japanese pop music when I did, I found myself having to go back through a singer's catalogue as much as I did following him/her into the future. Made things quite an adventure. That has certainly been true with Yumi Arai/Yumi Matsutoya(荒井由実・松任谷由実)whose career is steadily approaching 50 years. With things beginning in the early 1980s for me, Yuming(ユーミン)was already an established pop star and accomplished songwriter with her eminently listenable music. So it was an interesting journey going back into early days when she had her maiden name of Arai and was being a part of this New Music trend in Japanese music back in the 1970s. Her voice was surprisingly mellow back in the day.

I pulled this one out of the vaults, specifically from her 2nd album "MISSLIM" from October 1974. When I first listened to "Watashi no Francoise" (My Francoise), I felt it was quite a tribute to this lady who I hadn't known about. Was she a departed friend or someone that inspired her from Yuming's past?

Well, according to the J-Wiki article on "MISSLIM", this heartfelt ballad was created in honour of French singer-songwriter Françoise Hardy. Yuming, who has made a reputation for weaving her songs out of her observations of women in regular life, probably didn't hesitate to talk about her own loves and feelings so I think her admiration and love for Hardy poured out as her words for this song. I translated one verse which says it all:

My Francoise
I come home to your music
Whenever I feel sad

I think singer YO-EN does a great version of the song as seen above, and she does sound like Yumi Arai here. Considering her musical love letter, "Watashi no Francoise"  reminds me to a good extent of Anri's(杏里)debut single "Olivia wo Kikinagara"(オリビアを聴きながら)which came out 4 years later.

Referring back to the video at the top, after merely listening to Yuming's body of work for a number of years, to see the singer show some excellent chops as a concert entertainer on a videotape of her "Wings of Light" tour was quite the revelation. But I also realize that even earlier than that, she had quite the style and presence on stage.

As for "MISSLIM", it reached No. 8 on Oricon and became the 44th-ranked album for 1975. A year later, the Oricon rankings had it all the way up to No. 14.

To wrap up, here is Yuming's own idol with her breakout hit, "Tous les garçons et les filles" from 1962.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Crazy Ken Band -- Hirugao (昼顔)

I was quite fortunate living where I was in Ichikawa City, a burg that really spread out like crepe batter. The subway station was a 10-minute walk away from my apartment (that could be great or bad depending on your own circumstances), but my community and I were blessed with having a lot of convenience stores and four supermarkets within walking distance. One of them is in the above picture, Y's Mart. That used to be my main market in the early years of my stay but with the renovation of the supermarket across the street and right under the subway tracks, my loyalty gradually shifted over there. Still, if I did come home early before lunch, I still dropped by Y's Mart to grab a bento.

Including Y's Mart, three of the four supermarkets were fairly small affairs but the fourth was a Daiei department store that had a massive supermarket in the basement on the size of the SuperCentres we have here in Toronto.

There was no Seiyu supermarket near my place but that is also a famous brand that was actually close by my friend's old apartment in Jiyugaoka way out in the western end of Tokyo. And at the end of the last decade, they had a pretty funky campaign song.

Name of said song? It's "Hirugao" by the Crazy Ken Band(クレイジーケンバンド). Released in July 2009 as one of four songs on the band's 11th single, "Girlfriend"(ガールフレンド), I wasn't quite sure how to translate it initially. According to, it can be defined as a type of plant called the Japanese bindweed but I have a feeling that vocalist and songwriter Ken Yokoyama(横山剣)wasn't particularly trying to pay tribute to a weed. The word was also the Japanese title for the 1967 French film "Belle de Jour" starring Catherine Deneuve as a wife who secretly worked as a daytime prostitute while the husband was off at work.

Hmmm...if anything, the lyrics by Crazy Ken have a fellow declaring his undying love for an older woman (married/single) and willing to do anything for her at any time at any place. The fact that he keeps calling her "okusan"(奥さん...madam)almost as if she's a potential client might make the guy a gigolo although I think he's more of a desperate suitor. In any case, it's an interesting song for a supermarket but I gather that the point here is that it's willing to do anything to keep its customers satisfied. And dang, isn't it catchy?

"Girlfriend" peaked at No. 12 on Oricon. Meanwhile, "Hirugao" and the main song of the single were also on Crazy Ken Band's 11th album from August that year "Girl! Girl! Girl!"(ガール!ガール!ガール!)which scored a No. 4 ranking.

Satoko Shimonari -- Aki no Ichi Nichi (秋の一日)

Autumn arrived officially at 4:02 pm today on September 22nd. However, a certain season apparently didn't get the memo. Yep, summer is making up for what was basically not all that hot (literally and figuratively) with a final week of blazing weather here in Toronto. Until this time next week, there will be plenty of sun and heat and humidity with the highlight possibly being tomorrow as the Humidex pops off potentially at 37 degrees Celsius or 97 degrees Fahrenheit. Finally, true to how quickly weather in my city can turn, once fall truly arrives next Friday or Saturday, the temperature will drop as much as 20 degrees within a day. Even for weather masters such as Torontonians, that could take a toll on the good ol' metabolism.

Still, as I am wont to do on this seasonal day, I try to find an autumnal kayo somewhere. And that I did with Satoko Shimonari's(下成佐登子)"Aki no Ichi Nichi" (One Fall Day). Shimonari has been one of the many singers that I have been able to discover because of my work on the blog and strolls through YouTube.

For the last couple of articles on her, I was looking at her contemporary (for that day) pop work such as "Time goes by" from 1987. Well, I've gone back to her beginnings with her debut single from August 1978 which was written and composed by Shimonari.

As I've mentioned before, autumn, when it comes to kayo, often signals the loss of a relationship, and "Aki no Ichi Nichi" continues that tradition. Her wistful debut depicts a woman dealing with such a loss or lamenting something that never came to pass as she ends up folding up some stationery in her home into a paper airplane and simply tossing it into flight.

Shimonari's melody certainly gives off that melancholy feeling in waves. The version near the top is the original single from 1978 and has that typically wistful feeling thanks to those violins. The one immediately above has a slightly different arrangement with a more intimate-sounding intro with a guitar and an addition of a soft chorus. This version is the title track from her debut album that actually didn't come out until November 1981. I like both versions but if I had to choose, I would probably go with the album take. In any case, I'm a sucker for the nostalgic stuff.

Fall is my favourite season, partially because when I was living in Japan, it was a great time for food. Although the late summer burst will be much appreciated, I will also be grateful when the temps finally get a little more bracing.