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Hello Japan! is swinging into 2010. January’s topic is ‘Music to my ears’. I found it really hard to decide what musical subject to concentrate on, so I am presenting a 5 part series of ‘Music Lessons’ on Fridays. Welcome to the final session, #5! And enjoy your weekend :)

Don’t you love to start your weekend with some ‘feelgood’ music? I know I do! :) But who would have expected me to do so with J-Rock??? Well, here’s a cover song that makes me happy each time I hear it: Can’t take my eyes of you (椎名林檎), by Sheena Ringo. So energetic!

There are several ways to write her name in romaji (using the Latin alphabet for Japanese text). It’s Shena on Nippop.com, Shiina in Wikipedia. Me, I’m writing Sheena, because that’s how I came to know her first.

Sheena Ringo is a singer-songwriter, guitarist, pianist, oh.. and ballerina ;) As an artist she chose her childhood nickname Ringo (apple) instead of her real name Yumiko, because she used to be a shy girl and blush a lot: turning her cheeks red like apples. But later she also declared that she gave herself the name of an object, following manga cartoonist Sensha Yoshida whom she likes (his first name Sensha meaning ‘battle tank’).

Sheena Ringo is a great all-round musician. Last year she wrote some songs for another Japanese band I enjoy listening to: Puffy (AmiYumi). And good news for a film fan like me: in 2006 she directed the music for the movie Sakuran. I read about it in chasing bawa’s blogpost and I’ve been on the lookout for the dvd ever since!

Of course I can’t just leave you with a cover of a 1967 hit performed by Sheena Ringo; she usually writes her own stuff. Here’s the fine song Shūkyō (宗教 ‘Religion‘) from the album Karuki Zamen Kuri no Hana (5’07”).

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Hello Japan! is swinging into 2010. January’s topic is ‘Music to my ears’. I found it really hard to decide what musical subject to concentrate on, so I am presenting a 5 part series of ‘Music Lessons’ on Fridays. Welcome to #2! And enjoy your weekend :)

After last week’s New Year’s post I’d like to stay just a little longer within the Holiday theme and talk about the extremely melancholic song Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto. Here’s the short version, called Father Christmas.

Quite a contrast to the ‘happy’ popgroup Pizzicato Five that I presented you with on January 1st, eh?

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is the theme song from the 1983 cult movie Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, for which the great musician Ryuichi Sakomoto composed the complete score. Nagisa Oshima’s film might be best known for its starring actor, pop star David Bowie playing a Japanese prisoner of war on Java in World War II. Ryuichi Sakamoto is Bowie’s opponent as a young camp commandant.

I was hugely impressed when I saw Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence as a teenager. It’s a dramatic history of the Second World War, parts of which still get denied in Japan today. It is amazingly well performed and directed (as far as I can remember). A very powerful movie that should be compulsory for anyone interested in history and Japan. There, I’ve said it.

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence album coverOf course that my father lived in Japanese internment in Indonesia as a child might have a lot to do with it. His aversion of all things Japanese never left him and I don’t think he would have appreciated my current interest in this country and its culture if he had been alive today.

But I’m getting sidetracked. The vocal version of Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence has lyrics by David Sylvian and is called Forbidden Colours. This song has helped spread the movie’s fame as well. And as I’m sitting in the confessional already, I might as well tell you Forbidden Colours was one of the tracks on the goodbye tape of my first boyfriend when he left for the US… Need I say more?

The title of the song is derived from Yukio Mishima’s novel Forbidden Colors. Both film and book explore homosexual themes, but that’s the end of their relation; the movie was based on some memoirs by Laurens van der Post.

Because of his soundtracks (and his influence in developing the technopop style in Japan), kyoju Ryuichi Sakamoto is internationally probably the best known Japanese musician.

For those of you who don’t know yet: I’m a real fan of movie soundtracks. I guess it’s because film music is supposed to be evocative and plays at people’s emotions. I’m a sucker for that ;) Of course it might help that I LOVE movies too!

Both favs of newly discovered music in 2009 were film scores: Nick Cave’s soundtrack of — the best movie of 2008 — The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and Max Richter’s music for one of two best movies of 2009, Waltz with Bashir. Both pretty melancholic as well — and that tells you something more about me, doesn’t it? ;)

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