Jonathan Clements talks to director Satoshi Nishimura
Satoshi Nishimura has little round spectacles.
“Just like Vash the Stampede, people say. I get that all the time. They think I am doing permanent cosplay. But these are just my regular glasses.”
He wants me to take his photograph outside the Glasgow Film Theatre, where his Trigun: Badlands Rumble had having its UK premier. If he were a live-action director, he’d order a boom and a dolly and knock through a couple of walls to get the shot. But because he works in anime, he is strangely conscientious about not upsetting the world around him.
I try to get him to stand in the middle of the road, so I can frame the logo behind him; it’s the only way anyone who sees the photo will actually know he’s in Glasgow.
“But, the cars!” he hisses.
I look theatrically around me, at the depopulated side street. It’s a Saturday, and there are no cars around.
He steps gingerly into the street and looks down at the white line in the middle of the road. And then he turns to the camera and gives me a big thumbs-up.
Nishimura is taken by the simple things in life. The festival organisers at Scotland Loves Anime offered to take him to Loch Ness, Stirling, Kintyre, anywhere. But both he and his fellow visitor, Trigun’s producer Shigeru Kitayama, have eschewed all tourist experiences in favour of glimpsing “real life”. On his day off in Glasgow, Nishimura wanders the streets incognito, stocking up with joke-flavoured Halloween sweets to torment his minions back home, and soaking up the inscrutable occidental ambience.
“They have an alien drink in all the shops,” he says, “It is orange, bright orange. And they say it is made in Scotland, from girders!”
Just as elements of everyday life in mundane anime seem so far removed from our own experience, Nishimura draws unexpected connections when far from home.
“An ambulance went past me on the main street,” he adds. “The sirens here are totally different. It went nee-naw, nee-naw! It was just like the sound they make in Thunderbirds!”
Inside the darkened cinema, he waits anxiously during the movie’s opening scene.
Someone titters at the onscreen action, and Nishimura permits himself a smile. Other audience members begin to laugh and enjoy themselves, and Nishimura visibly relaxes.
“It’s not supposed to win any awards,” he notes. “It’s supposed to be consumed with beer and laughter.” And now he’s happy, too.
It takes almost an hour to shift the crowd outside. Nishimura and Kitayama willingly sign autographs, not so much for the adulation as for the chance to quiz the audience on their thoughts. The Trigun TV series ended 12 years ago, but anime can have a strange half-life in other countries, and still has an audience abroad.
A man reverently proffers a battered DVD box set, and tells Nishimura that he has saved it so that he can watch it again when his son is a little older.
“Please,” says Nishimura, visibly touched, “watch it as father and son.”
He hands back the box, and his eyes sparkle.
A man standing next to me sighs in annoyance.
“I should have thought of that,” he mutters. “I downloaded it. Now I’ve got nothing for him to sign.”
Trigun: Badlands Rumble is out on UK DVD and Blu-ray.
Daniel Robson on the rise and fall of girly fashions
Japan has always had a male-oriented culture. Even today, men get paid better than women, have more opportunities, demand more respect, and are the prime target of the entertainment and sex industries.
But it is getting better. And one reason for that is the efforts of the gyaru.
The term “gyaru” is a Japanese transliteration of the English word “gal” and these days is kind of an umbrella term for style-conscious young women who worship high-street fashion. But its various subcultures and factions have helped shape the perception of the fairer sex in Japan over the past two decades in weird and wonderful ways – sometimes for the better but ultimately... Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The first gyaru began to appear in the early 1990s. Unlike most fashions, the kogyaru (“young gal”) look was not spread by mainstream media, but supposedly grew organically with young girls from affluent families sexing up their school uniforms before going out with their friends. Kogyaru would raise the hem of their skirts, wear floppy “loose” socks and show off a little flesh that was lightly tanned at salons. Think Gogo Yubari, Chiaki Kuriyama’s character in Kill Bill.
Around this time, Japan was heading into a frugal turmoil as its economic bubble burst – but the kogyaru were upper-class school girls with money and no responsibilities, so they bucked the trend by spending big on fashion.
The marketers took note. Before long, Shibuya’s then-ailing 109 department store was repurposed as the ultimate shopping destination for kogyaru, a status it retains to this day. And as the money rolled in, specialist magazines such as Egg, Popteen and Cawaii! became dedicated to covering the kogyaru craze, soaking up the advertising revenue in the process. They filled their pages with amateur models and purikura (print club) photographs sent in by readers. The whole thing was totally grassroots – for a while.
Now that kogyaru style was in the eye of the media, it exploded in popularity – and not just among young girls. Every dirty old man and his dog knew that Shibuya was now the place to spot hot young things who dressed increasingly like Julia Roberts’ high-class prostitute in Pretty Woman.
As the fashion spread to less affluent girls, reports began to appear in the media of enjo kosai, or compensation dating, whereby girls would go out with older men for money in order to buy clothes. Actually it’s unclear just how many of these compensation dates involved kogyaru, but in any case many led to sex, and the kogyaru began to attract unwanted attention from men.
And that’s when things got extreme. The hardcore kogyaru who had been there from the beginning were generally not interested in boys, and certainly not in old perverts. They’d been dressing up for themselves and each other, and no one else. And so in the early 2000s, the style made a shocking evolution.
Ganguro was that rarest of things: a fashion that was actively intended to not look sexy. While the fake tans favoured by kogyaru had gradually been getting darker and more exotic, the ganguro (and even more extreme yamanba) took it a step further, getting fake tans so deep they were practically burned to a crisp, at salons with names such as Blacky. Remember that in in Japan, pale skin has traditionally been the benchmark of beauty.
In addition to the blonde or ash hair colouring favoured by kogyaru, ganguro often went neon. And to ensure their features would stand out from their impossibly dark skin, they used white or silver makeup, painting their faces in almost tribal styles, or like the Joker in negative.
The effect was pretty startling. The specialist magazines went with it – after all, many of the original kogyaru were now ganguro and some even worked for these publications. The boys were repelled as planned, except for the hardier ones who developed the parallel gyaru-o style of effeminate clothing and overblown Bon Jovi hairdos that remains to this day.
But eventually the advertisers were repelled, too. Similar to the early punks in London some 25 years earlier, the rebellious ganguro were considered so repulsive by the mainstream that no one wanted to emulate them. By the middle of the decade they were all but extinct.
“Gyaru have changed,” says a barmaid at 10sion, a new theme bar in Shibuya staffed entirely by gyaru. “They used to have really dark skin and they were kinda dirty, but now there are all kinds, from very girly, fluffy girls to tough girls with strong tans.”
Indeed, gyaru has become the default mainstream look for young women today. In trying to keep their subculture for themselves and going ganguro, the hardcore gyaru were shunned; but the buying power remained in the immaculately manicured hands of girls.
Nowadays foreign and domestic brands such as Forever 21, Samantha Thavsa, Cecil McBee and Peach John do big business selling affordable style – not high fashion – to girls around the country. Avex singers Namie Amuro and Ayumi Hamasaki became gyaru icons; the kyabajo subsect took big hair and glamorous evening gowns to hostess and “cabaret” clubs everywhere.
Remember, gyaru is now an umbrella term that includes many subsets, but the common style notes include things like short miniskirts, preppy camisoles or T-shirts (often with English slogans on them), long fake eyelashes and even longer clickity-clackity nails, light-coloured hair with ringlets, stocking suspenders, slightly visible bras and, more recently, a discrete tattoo.
Because of their look, gyaru have also remained highly fetishized. While compensation dating is a thing of the past, there is strong demand for gyaru pornography, in which the stars are often debased in lurid ways. And at “girls’ bars” in every major city, men pay by the hour to indulge in conversation with gyaru, in a set-up similar to hostess clubs.
10sion is an obvious evolution of this, pitched somewhere between a girls’ bar and a maid cafe. Though it advertises itself as a place for likeminded gyaru to come and hang out and swap make-up tips with the barmaids (girls get in free), the clientele when I visited in July were all men, paying 1,000 yen per hour plus drinks to chat and flirt with the staff.
You might expect that sex is involved in an establishment like this, but it very rarely is. No, these places attract men in their droves because the women behind the counter are different kinds of objects, obliged to listen to their conversation, no matter how banal, and to flatter their egos. Their job is to smile and look pretty.
The fact that a place like 10sion can open in 2012 should tell you that the gyaru failed to make their subculture their own; their beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But then again, the original British and American punks now sell butter and car insurance on TV, so who are we to judge?
Yes, gyaru are exploited now by marketers, by pornographers, by letches and salarymen. But they are also probably the strongest group of consumers in Japan today, with brands vying for their every yen. And when you consider that the trend had consumerism and materialism (plus a scoop of rebellion) at its very heart, that’s a big deal.
Andrew Osmond is cute and fluffy, and you can only see him when you are a child.
This August, the venerable film magazine Sight and Sound published its ten-yearly Best Films Poll. It’s an institution dating back to 1952, and the new poll is based on the votes of nearly 850 directors, critics and specialists. You may have heard the press hooha – Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, which was rated number one for fifty years, slipped (horrors!) to second place, behind Alfred Hitchcock’s psycho-thriller, Vertigo. Tyrant newspaper moguls aren’t as strong as they were…
The top-ranked Japanese film in the poll was Tokyo Story at three, Yasujiro Ozu’s tender, melancholy family drama. Its embodiment of goodness, actress Setsuko Hara, was a clear inspiration for the fictional movie starlet in Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress. But what most reports didn’t notice was that the top-ranked animated film in the poll was Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbour Totoro – yes, higher than Snow White or Toy Story.
Admittedly, the furry wonder slipped in the poll a fair way below Ozu, Welles or Hitchcock. Totoro placed at number 154, tying with an interesting range of live-action classics, including Brief Encounter, Black Narcissus and The Shining. If you want to sound impressive, you could add that Totoro was the eighth best Japanese film, one under Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiiru, which Hayao Miyazaki wrote about passionately in his book Starting Point. Of course, it’s just a poll, and very arbitrary – Totoro should have been in the top ten at least! But it does say something about Totoro’s long-term critical standing, and perhaps it’ll break the top hundred in 2022.
As Totoro is released on Blu-ray in the UK, what’s its influence and legacy? Two years ago, it was paid fulsome tribute by Pixar, which gave a smiling toy Totoro an extended cameo in Toy Story 3. Given Toy Story 3 took more than a billion dollars worldwide, that’s a lot of PR, although Totoro probably paid it back by boosting the film’s takings in Japan. For anyone who knows Totoro’s history, it’s fitting that Pixar turned him into a toy. As Ghibli’s former president Toshio Suzuki acknowledged, Totoro wasn’t very successful in Japanese cinemas; itmade its money from a licensed plushie!
(If you can’t spot Totoro, he’s 48 seconds in.)
A more substantial Western tribute to Totoro, though, came in the traditional Disney cartoon, Lilo and Stitch. The alien Stitch was a lot naughtier than the peaceable Totoro (though he also made a good plushie) but the film’s directors, Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, were stirred by Totoro’s character dynamics. According to DeBlois, “We were inspired by the way Miyazaki created realistic relationships between the human characters, Totoro’s sister-sister relationship, and wove in a realm of fantasy and whimsy very subtly.” The anime-inspired film spawned an anime series, which you can read about here.
One more Western tribute must be mentioned – Totoro’s parody in South Park, the potty-mouthed late-night TV comedy made so primitively that some purists refuse to accept it as animation. In fact, Totoro has figured more than once in South Park – you can glimpse him as a background character in the epic “Imaginationland,” available on DVD. However, the full-on parody was slyer – it’s a loving recreation of the scene where little Mei meets King Totoro, substituting the horrible Cartman and the terrible Cthulhu. By the way, we reckon the parody is the reason why Hollywood turned down Guillermo del Toro’s At the Mountains of Madness – they feared it could turn out like this!
And yes, it even spoofed the Totoro song…
What about Totoro’s heritage in Japan? It might seem sacrilegious to even suggest sequelling the film, unless Miyazaki took it on himself. But the basic premise of Totoro is extremely open-ended – it’s just about a child or children who meet a magic embodiment of nature. You could relocate it to any country or time, in the past or future. The Production IG film Letter to Momo can certainly be seen as an unofficial sequel to Totoro, though the anarchy and earthiness of its otherworld creatures is closer to Isao Takahata’s Pom Poko. Momo doesn’t have a British home release yet, but here’s the trailer.
In fact, there is an “official” sequel to Totoro – the short Mei and the Baby Cat-bus, directed by Miyazaki himself. Before you look for it though, the 13-minute film is shown exclusively at the Ghibli museum in Tokyo (and only sometimes; it rotates with other short films, and you can only see one per visit). The film is great fun, and full of visual imagination – there’s not just a hyperactive baby cat-bus, but also a giant-size, multi-storey cat-bus grandpappy! However, it’s a straight kids’ cartoon, without the darker, adult resonances that took Totoro into the Sight and Sound poll.
The same is true of Miyazaki’s more recent Ponyo, which also has an inquisitive child, a cute fantasy creature, and the wonders of the sea replacing the forest. A different tack was taken by the Madhouse studio’s Mai Mai Miracle, also still awaiting a UK release. Madhouse’s film eschews the fantasy spectacle of Momo and Ponyo, instead playing up the wonder of its children at the Japanese countryside and how this informs their growing up. It also seems to take elements from Takahata, especially his Only Yesterday, and crossbreed them with Totoro. This is hardly surprising: Totoro was shaped by Miyazaki and Takahata’s collaborations on an earlier generation of lyrical child-view anime, including 1970s versions of Heidi and Anne of Green Gables.
Totoro’s anime children may fan into two branches: fantasies inspired by the film’s wonderful creatures, and more naturalistic dramas celebrating what a child sees. A case of the former is Welcome to the Space Show, with its huge crowds of cosmic creatures designed to delight. (When Space Show was dubbed into English, the child actors gawped and giggled at the hordes of space oddities.) Moreover, the main story isn’t a space opera; rather, it’s about the relationship between two young girls, putting it squarely in the Totoro tradition. As for a lower-key take on Totoro’s themes, the signs are Mamoru Hosoda’s new film, The Wolf Children Ame and Yuki, fits the bill, as two more small siblings charge around Japan’s country, howling at the fields and lakes. Okay, so they’re werewolf children and sometimes get hairy, but don’t worry; they’re as cute and cuddly as a Totoro.
My Neighbour Totoro is released on UK Blu-ray by Studio Canal.
Whether you call them voice actors and actresses, or go for seiyu – the Japanese term for the job – there’s one thing we can all agree on; the role tends to be a lot more demanding in Japan than it is in the west, especially so in the world of anime. Take hit music series K-On!for example. When it rocked out on television sets across Japan (and on UK DVD players last year), the show’s voice actresses inadvertently became huge pop stars in the process, literately overnight. Their position as the show’s cast demanded that they also sang the franchise’s theme songs (you can read about it here), and those songs became popular – really popular – and rocketed the seiyu to the top of Japan’s official Oricon charts with the songs that followed.
Manga Entertainment’s latest harem series Sekirei also puts the vocal chords of its seiyu to the test. Its first outing featured several of its talents singing its opening and closing themes. And while the songs didn’t land the voices powering them into the same dizzying levels of pop success as those behind Yui et al., they did manage to get into the top 20 of Japan’s official Oricon charts.
Sekirei: Pure Engagement, the second series of the anime, continues in the same way as its predecessor. Opening theme ‘Hakuyoku no Seiyaku – Pure Engagement’, and closer ‘Onnaji Kimochi’ has the popular voice actresses Saori Hayami (the voice of Musubi), Marina Inoue (Tsukiumi), Kana Hanazawa (Kusano) and Aya Endo (Matsu) back on form, providing the vocals. The combination of their existing fanbases combined with the success of the anime saw the CD single peak at 13 in the charts.
Pinning success on the vocal talents alone would be dismissing the hard work of the composers and arrangers behind the themes. In the case of Sekirei a production company called MONACA was drafted in to supply the music. The outfit was established in 2004 with the aim of filling the entertainment industry (particularly that of video game and anime themes) with deliciously good content. Its name is a pun on that idea; Monaca, if written in kanji, can be read as ‘in the middle of’ but can also refer to a yummy bean-filled Japanese treat popular with kids and adults alike.
Company president, Keiichi Okabe had originally worked heavily with Namco back in the days of the early Tekken and Ace Combat iterations. His connection with the video game giant would continue after forming MONACA, with his team providing music for the likes of Tekken 6, Beautiful Katamari and Ridge Racer 3D. Their involvement in Sekirei was also far from their only dabbling in anime, they were also responsible for the background music of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, and themes in High School of the Dead and Lucky Star amongst nearly 100 other titles. So next time you find yourself humming along to a video game or anime song, spare a thought for the composers behind the melodies too, the chances are they’ve penned a number of your favourites without you even realising it.
The fourth instalment in our character guide for Dragon Ball Z
With a cast of dozens, there still more to fill you in on the heroes and villains to keep an eye on in the latest super-charged volume of the famous action epic!
Garlic Jr. The latest menace to cast a shadow over the Earth, Garlic Jr’s vendetta is an immensely personal one. Seeking revenge for his father – denied the role of Guardian of Earth centuries before due to his selfish ambitions – and having already been defeated by Goku once before, Jr launches his most nefarious scheme yet. Turning the populace to his will with a substance known as Black Water Mists, he’s determined to salvage the family name. Despite his tiny stature, Garlic is a tough enemy, capable of bulking up into an even more dangerous Super form – not one to be underestimated.
Spice Boys. Thankfully nothing to do with the warbling minxes who plagued music charts in the ‘90s, this quartet of villains serves as Garlic Jr’s generals. Lead by Spice, a narcissist with an appetite for destruction, the team is rounded out by Salt, a short and especially cruel red alien; Vinegar, an arrogant man-mountain; and Mustard, a horned monster resembling a humanoid frog. While a lack of teamwork is often the undoing of many villains, the Spice Boys have spent years honing their group attacks, enabling them to pool energies to create an ensnaring energy web, or magnify each other’s individual attacks.
Dende. A native of Namek, the home planet of Piccolo. Dende has a unique and incredibly potent healing ability, one capable of restoring recipients to full health even after suffering grievous wounds. First appearing during the assault on his homeworld, Dende is rescued from certain death at the hands of Dodoria by Gohan and Krillin. Joining them in their search for the alien Dragon Balls, his powers prove essential in making sure the Z-Fighters could hold the line against Frieza. A greater destiny lies ahead for the brave young Namekian though, as he prepares to take up the role of Guardian of Earth.
King Cold. Like son, like father – and when the son is the despotic Frieza, then dear old dad is going to be an utterly evil brute. Towering over his offspring and the heroes of Dragon Ball Z alike, King Cold cuts an imposing and terrifying figure. Functioning as the true power behind his son’s public throne, he is a haughty and elitist sort, regarding other species as far below him. Oddly, he has some twisted degree of affection for Frieza, swearing vengeance on Goku after learning of his son’s defeat at his hands.
Trunks. Mysterious time traveller? Super-powered secret Saiyan? Saviour of the future? Trunks is all of these – and he hasn’t even been born yet. The child of Vegeta and Bulma, Trunks grew up in a nightmarish future where Goku and friends were all killed. Sent back in a desperate effort to prevent those events coming to pass, Trunks is a battle-hardened warrior of immense skill and power, keen to use his knowledge to change the timeline for the better. With his father’s aptitude for battle and his mother’s genius-level intellect, he’s a fierce new addition to the Z-Fighters’ ranks.
Dragon Ball Z box four is out on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.
Jonathan Clements on the late director Umanosuke Iida
Umanosuke Iida (1961-2010), whose final work Towanoquonis now out in the UK, was born as plain Tsutomu Iida on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. It was his fellow animator Hirotsugu Kawasaki, the future director of Spriggan, who started calling him Umanosuke, in honour of his apparent resemblance to a character of the same name in the comic series 1, 2, Sanshiro. Somehow the name stuck, and appeared on most of his animation credits from Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind onwards.
The multitalented Iida was equally at home working with both pictures and words. He penned the straight-to-video remakes of Go Nagai’s Devilman and created the storyline for Mighty Space Miners. In a joke that got a little out of hand, he credited himself on the latter work by literally transposing the kanji of his name into English, as Horceman Lunchfield (Uma-no-suke Ii-da). This gag backfired in the English-speaking world, where several reviewers assumed that Lunchfield was an obscure, eccentric American sci-fi author, and nobody dared admit they had never heard of him.
“The anime’s based on the books by Lunchfield,” one pundit off-handedly told me, as if we were both supposed to know who Lunchfield was – you know, that guy who was a guest at Somethingcon with Asimov and Heinlein. This meme persisted for a decade in foreign fandom before the Anime Encyclopedia outed Iida as the inadvertent culprit.
In 1996, he took over the directing duties on Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team, after the original director Takeyuki Kanda was killed in a car crash. In the 21st century, Iida’s best known role was arguably as the chief director on the fan-favourite Hellsing (2001), based on the manga by Kouta Hirano. A distaff sequel of sorts to Dracula, it featured a modern-day secret society that protects the British Isles from any paranormal, supernatural or undead threats, and often does so through the volatile means of its own house vampire. He also directed the post-apocalyptic drowned-world series Tideline Blue (2005), based on an idea by Satoru Ozawa, the creator of Blue Submarine No. 6.
In later years, Iida’s work became less directorial than artistic, as he moved back into storyboards. These shot-by-shot comic-style walk-throughs of a film’s scenes are a powerful factor in any anime’s success, and Iida’s handiwork can be seen in shows as diverse as Cowboy Bebop, Shangri La and Birdy the Mighty: Decode.
His website offered information about his career, and at the time of his death, had threatened for two years to also upload details about his hobbies. However, it remained unfinished, as did his final work, the supernatural conspiracy series Towanoquon. His staff, however, put the final touches to it in his honour, and it was mercifully able to reach the finish line, released in several parts to Japanese cinemas in 2011.
Towanoquonis now out on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.
Tom Smith on one of Naruto’s most recognised bands
If you haven’t missed an episode of Naruto, then you’ll most definitely ‘GO!!!’ and ‘Re:member’ FLOW, the band behind the catchy and high-energy fourth and eighth opening themes. Well, now everyone’s got a little older, wiser and stronger as the story progresses through the Shippuden saga, the quintet have decided to return! Their 18th single ‘Sign’ is the sixth opening of the series, featuring in the episodes of box set 11 from Manga Entertainment, and it’s every bit as fun and bouncy as their prior Naruto-based efforts – hoorah!
FLOW’s success through Naruto, as well as from other anime such a Code Geass and Eureka Seven, lead to the eclectic rock band getting noticed across the world. In 2006 they were invited to perform at Anime Fest in Dallas, though, chiefly for Code Geass promotion than that of Naruto, which had only recently began airing in English on Toonami there. By the time the episodes with ‘GO!!!’ and ‘Re:member’ had hit America and the UK, FLOW already had a new album out with entirely new songs, and another ready to drop imminently. Keen to tap in on the group’s ever-expanding following overseas, their label in Japan, Ki/oon Records, decided to release their upcoming album, entitled MICROCASM simultaneously in 44 countries via iTunes (click here for the UK store’s listing).
MICROCASM not only includes ‘Sign’, from Naruto Shippuden, but also ‘CALLING’, the ending theme from HEROMAN, a series created by Marvel’s Stan Lee and produced by studio Bones, as well as 13 other tracks. It was also awarded Best J-Music Album at Japan Expo in Paris in 2011, and lead to the group being invited to the event the following year for their first European performance. Before that they had also returned to the States another three times to promote their music, the album and the anime they had been featured in.
As of the time of writing, Ki/oon decided against releasing FLOW’s follow up album BLACK&WHITE the same way. Released on February 2012, the album managed to peak at number 29 in the Oricon chart – 20 places lower than MICROCASM. Coincidentally, the record didn’t feature a single track from Naruto. Could that be the reason it wasn’t as successful? Were FLOW spending too much time concentrating on the global music market that it made their domestic sales suffer? Or has music consumption methods simply shifted in those two years, leading fans to purchase their music digitally now, as opposed to physically, which is where the data for the Oricon chart is gathered? Who knows for sure, but if you want to show the labels that the world outside of Japan has a place for Japanese music, the best way to do it is by supporting what little is released internationally, and in this case that would be MICROCASM, which is no bad thing, it’s a great album!
Tom Smith on a band that’s anything but their namesake.
Whack your speakers to 11, position the cursor over play on the video below, and prepare to rock out to some classic-styled metal from one of Japan’s longest running noise-making outfits. They’re known as LAZY, and the video that follows is their 2011 single ‘Reckless’, the theme song behind Manga Entertainment’s supernatural mini-film series Towanoquon.
Reckless by LAZY
Pretty rocking, right? Now compare that to the same band’s debut single ‘Hey! I Love You!’, released in the summer of 1977. It sounds like an entirely different band. No electronically extravagant guitars, no raspy rock’n’roll vocals… so what happened? Between three decades, breakups, solo projects and the frontman becoming dubbed ‘Mr. DBZ’ as well as ‘the Price of Anime’, an awful lot. Let’s start at the beginning.
LAZY formed when classmates Hironobu Kageyama, Akira Takasaki and Hiroyuki Tanaka wanted to start a heavy rock band in the style of Black Sabbath, Whitesnake and Deep Purple. In fact, they liked the latter – who were once the globe’s loudest band according to the Guinness Book of World Records – so much that they named themselves after the group’s song ‘Lazy’. By Hironobu’s 16th birthday, LAZY had picked up a drummer (Munetaka Higuchi) and keyboard player (Shunji Inoue), but more importantly, they’d also picked up a major record contract from RCA (a division of BMG Japan). Unfortunately, the timing was not the best for Japanese rock music. It would be another ten-or-so years until the likes of Tomoyasu Hotei and his band BOØWY would revolutionise domestic rock in Japan (read about it here), for now, the bigwigs in control didn’t believe in the power of rock (the blasphemers), and instead provided LAZY with middle-of-the-road, safe, watered down pop-rock songs to croon along to.
By 1981 the boys had had enough of toning down their music and decided to call it quits on LAZY, instead embarking on solo careers, side projects and other music-based works – all heavily influenced by metal, of course. LAZY’s guitarist, bass-player and drummer (Akira, Hiroyuki and Munetaka) went on to form LOUDNESS, Japan’s first heavy metal group to sign to a major American label. It proved a little too loud for Hiroyuki, who soon left the group in favour of a career writing anime songs with his own band Neverland.
Vocalist Hironobu decided to go one step further than his bandmate Hiroyuki and dived headfirst into the world of anime and television. He went on to record track-after-track for anime and high-energy (and high-kicking) tokusatsu shows. Even after LAZY decided to reform in 1998, Hironobu stayed true to his inner-otaku and continued writing anime songs. To date, he’s recorded so many themes, including the first opening for Dragon Ball Z, ‘Cha-La Head Cha-La’, and countless others with his supergroup JAM Project (the first part standing for Japan Animationsong Makers), that fans went on to call him by some of the names mentioned in paragraph two.
‘Reckless’ sees Hironobu combining his love for anime, and his love for his original band together in perfect heavy rockin’ harmony.
Tom Smith on the alter egos of Kishidan’s Show Ayanocozey
Nao Baba to his mother, Sumitada Ozumano to his lawyers, Show Ayanocozey to the rockers, Naomi Camellia Yazima to the drag queens, and DJ OZMA to the club kids. Whichever name you know him for best, the chances are that name’s etched into the inner sanctum of your memory box due to him being an utter nutcase, regardless of which persona he’s putting on.
Under his Show Ayanocozey moniker, the barmy star had a track featured in the latest box set of Naruto Shuppiden, however, he first rose to major prominence in 2006 after a performance on NHK’s coveted end of year music show Kouhaku no Gassen with his party project; DJ OZMA. He hit the stage in the live television show wearing just a golden afro and matching golden boxers. If that wasn’t enough to put you off your ramen, he was also accompanied by a sea of seemingly naked female dancers, baring boobies for all. That’s not entirely true though, his lawyers insisted, the lady folk were innocently donning mock nudey bodysuits instead. Besides, their most delicate of places were covered up with an intricately placed mushroom (DJ OZMA’s emblem). Even the OZMA has standards. The backlash from a minority of fist-shaking complainers was worth the price of instant notoriety.
While producing tracks as DJ OZMA, he was also in Kishidan, as mentioned earlier. The group formed in 1996, though you wouldn’t recognise which was OZMA. Taking the name Show Ayanocozey, and having one of the biggest pompadour hairdos in the business, Kishidan’s gimmick was that all members dressed in the style of bousouzoku; Japan’s biker gangs. Check out their style for yourself in the video to ‘Omae Dattanda’ (It Was You), from Naruto Shippuden.
Surprisingly, the track was one of their least successful singles in terms of chart position. Two of their bigger hits, ‘One Night Carnival’ and ‘Zoku’ can be found in the Japanese DS rhythm games Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! and it’s sequel. The band seems to have had quite an impact on the game’s developers as its lead characters share similar outfits and dance moves to those of Kishidan.
His newest project, ‘American’ drag queen trio Yazima Beauty Salon, sees him move on from DJ OZMA (finished as of 2008) to adopt the name Naomi Camellia Yazima, along with fake hair, breasts and a series of sparkly dresses. This vocal group also contains the popular comedians Takaaki Ishibashi and Noritake Kinashi (who usually form the comedy duo known as Tunnels). Perhaps the oddest thing about this coupling is that their debut single, which has the translated title of ‘Friends of Japan: We Come From Nevada’ reached number three in the charts, higher than any of Kishidan’s 13 singles, and the second most request karaoke song of 2008.
Be grateful that not all of Japan’s music makes it overseas.