When I hear the term ‘Japanese idol pop‘, two names that first come to mind are Momoe Yamaguchi and Akina Nakamori. That’s my opinion though, as both were quite different artistically than most of their peers – Yamaguchi and Nakamori stood as sort of femme-fatale figures, capable of powerful delivery, whose music was often dark and/or provocative. They were certainly huge back in the day, but even then, the bubbly sugar pop dominated the scene, and it continues to do so to this day. I’m definitely not trying to make it sound as if it was a bad thing – the 80s produced a great deal of amazing idol-singers, and there are some newer artists I’m also fond of.
Music-wise I particularly love the 80s, and my previous great discovery from that time was Yukiko Okada – her catchy music and the tragic story gripped my heart. My most recent unearthed 80s gem is Yuki Saito. I did hear about her before, but only in the context of the timeless 80s anime Maison Ikkoku and the superb song used for that show – 悲しみよこんにちは (Kanashimi yo Konnichi wa – ‘Hello Sadness’). It was composed by Tamaki Koji of 安全地帯 (Anzen Chitai) fame.
However, I soon found out, that there’s much more to her career than an anime opening theme.
Yuki Saito debuted in 1985 with the single 卒業 (‘Sotsugyō’ – Graduation), which seemed like a popular title (and theme in general) at the time, as artists like Momoko Kikuchi and the great Yutaka Ozaki also released songs with that name (Ozaki’s being my favorite). The single was followed by the first full-length album entitled AXIA. It sold like quarter million copies and reached #3 on the Oricon charts so… pretty impressive.
Interestingly, I read that Axia was a brand of cassette tapes, so I wonder if the label actually imposed that name on the album as the form of advertisement? Proof #1: even one of the songs is called AXIA 〜かなしいことり〜 (‘AXIA – Kanashii Kotori’ – Sad Little Bird), and the tune was used in the commercials for these tapes. I’m surprised the executives didn’t make the poor girl change her name to Yuki AXIA Saito or somethin’.
白い炎 (Shiroi Honou – White Flame), another track from the album, was also composed by Tamaki Koji.
I ought to say Saito’s voice is filled with melancholy and sadness most of the time. Even when she’s smiling on stage, she still has this sullen look of internal struggle and pain. It may be not Douji Morita’s level of sorrow, but it’s plenty like Kate Bush’s melodramatic and romantic style – though perhaps it’s not as experimental or groundbreaking; she doesn’t have a broad vocal range either, but she does possess a mellow and warm tone of voice, which often enters that dreamy, whispery register that I adore.
Yuki Saito’s third album, Chime, included the aforementioned 悲しみよこんにちは, and is my second favorite. It got to #2 on Oricon (the song settled on #3), and yet another song was used for Axia cassette tapes –青空のかけら (Aozora no Kakera – Pieces of the Blue Sky). This track managed to reach #1 on the Oricon chart. Some other songs worth mentioning: 指輪物語 (Yubiwa Monogatari – Story of the Ring) and予感 (Youkan – Premonition), which I assume was another keyword in the 1980s as Akina Nakamori had same-titled song on her Bitter and Sweet record, and Miyuki Nakajima an album. Overall, Chime offers some really solid music. Anyone who likes the 80s Japanese pop sound should like that.
I learned that privately Yuki Saito’s a Mormon, and as my knowledge about this church is limited to South Park’s caricatured depiction of it… the singer’s music, which is tad on the gloomy side, kind of doesn’t fit into the ever-happy nature of the Latter-day Saints, does it?!
What I found way more curious, however, was the connection she had with Yutaka Ozaki (and it’s not about the same song titles). On his unofficial fansite there’s an article about possible Christian traces in Ozaki’s works, especially in his later albums. I’ve always attributed that change in his artistic vision to him starting a family – MARRIAGE, LOVE WAY, 誕生 (TANJOU – Birth). But then his final album is called Confession for Exist, one of the songs is entitled Atonement… Apparently in the early 90s he developed a relationship/friendship with Saito (she supposedly said that they were 同志 – comrades, like-minded souls), which could possibly be the root of that Christian influence in the lyrics (Japanese blog post – http://oocami.com/2010/11/29/2530). Apparently, it was an issue at the time, as tabloids wrote a lot about possible affair the two singers had (Ozaki was already married). Yutaka Ozaki was incredibly charismatic and he had an immense spiritual aura, so him being open to religion doctrines as the source of inspiration shouldn’t be too surprising I guess.