Tom Smith on the Britmaniacs behind the Naruto theme.
They’re so loud and proud that they insist on writing it all in caps: ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION – possibly one of Japan’s most important alternative rock acts. The group’s tenth single ‘After Dark’ makes for the energetic, guitar-heavy opening theme an earlier volume of Bleach, and the group’s sound might at first seem reminiscent of America’s indie scene dashed with elements of punk, it actually has a lot more in common with The Who, their generation, and the sea of British-based guitar heroes that have appeared since.
Frontman Masafumi Gotou’s favourite bands include Scottish indie-guitar group Teenage Fanclub and Manchester’s best known sibling squabblers Oasis – for whom Masafumi later got to open when they toured Japan. His choice in six-string also rings with a British-tone, mirroring those same models twanged by Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks and Jeff Lynne, leader of the Electric Light Orchestra.
The Brit-rock appreciation continues with lead guitarist Kensuke Kita. The Manic Street Preachers, Supergrass and Radiohead all feature highly in his music collection, as does a penchant for the classic Les Paul guitar – one of his even shares the same wine-red and sunburst colour scheme as the doomed guitars Pete Townshend would windmill in The Who’s younger days.
Bass player Takahiro Yamada has a slightly wider music taste. His top bands span several decades and incorporate The Beatles, Oasis, and even a bit of new wave with The Pet Shop Boys.
All three members originally met at their university’s music club in 1996 where they discovered that they shared a love for similar artists. Soon after forming, Kiyoshi Ijichi joined on drums and, while he doesn’t share the same level of passion for bands from the UK, he does have a soft spot for American rock, punk and even heavy metal, which might explain the band’s heavier moments.
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Being the big rock stars that they are, able to sell out entire nationwide tours and having all six of their albums debut in the top five of the charts or higher – and not to mention all of their singles since 2004 have ranked in the top ten – ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION now have the heart of Japan’s rock scene in their hands, ready to shape it how they see fit. And where do they start? With their own festival, of course.
Named the NANO-MUGEN FES, the event was originally hosted in the humble 500 capacity Shinjuku Loft back in 2003, soon after they were signed. The line-up was a handful of indie-rock outfits selected by the band members. Skip forwards to the present day and NANO-MUGEN is now held in the massive 17,000 capacity Yokohama Arena over two days and has a cherry-picked selection of the group’s favourite artists from America, Japan, and of course, Great Britain. This summer’s festival even included a performance from Kensuke’s idols the Manic Street Preachers.
With such a love for Britain’s music scene, it’s only a matter of time until the boys hit a venue near you.
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Naruto Unleashed, featuring the closing theme “Haruka Kanata” by Asian Kung-fu Generation, is rereleased this month in the UK by Manga Entertainment.