Saturday, December 29, 2018

Ryuichi Sakamoto - Life in Japan

After I was introduced to Ryuichi Sakamoto's music by his 2017 album async, a somber collection of soundscapes that has always haunted me, I cranked the time machine back a few decades to listen to some of the older works in his extensive catalogue like Ongaku Zukan/Illustrated Musical Encyclopedia, an 80s album of refined, instrumental dance pop and Coda, a collection of piano arrangements containing his hit, "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" from the Nagisa Oshima film of the same name starring David Bowie and Beat Takeshi. It was difficult to plot my next point of approach into Sakamoto's seemingly endless ouvre--I dabbled in an interesting ambient album for an art installation called Plankton for a bit and then purchased an LP of his on a whim after coming across it at the record store. The record, Life in Japan, turned out to be, however, not an album but a promotional single. 

The iconic jacket features (most likely) Sakamoto with his eyes shut as he gets a shave--whether he is enjoying or loathing the process I still wonder. Life in Japan was given away to customers of Nippon Life Insurance in 1983. The A-side contains a single track probably used in the company's commercial. The B-side features two instrumental tracks, both of which recall the style of the electronica tracks from Ongaku Zukan, which makes sense since Life in Japan was released shortly before this album. While a lot of synth-based instrumental music at the time--say, tracks used as background music for anime and video games--really put the "synth" in synthesizer, that is, making stuff sound really plastic and contrived sometimes, Sakamoto's instrumental tracks have a lot of character and life to them. His attention to detail really shines through, and both tracks are brimming with smart melodies and layers of interesting sound bits and clips.

B-1 "Yoru no Gasuparu (Gaspard of the Night)," based on either the book, the piano piece, or both, is particularly catchy and maintains a nice boogie throughout while remaining alive and interesting. B-2 "Ao-penki no Naka no Boku no Namida (My tears, in the blue paint)" is a couple notches down in tempo and layers some relaxing melodies over heavy synth bass. The track is healing almost, and wouldn't sound out of place in the background of a hospital area in a video game, or else a location that emphasized rejuvenation and relaxation--I think it would be a fantastic track in the Mother series and, for some reason, a great accompaniment to the sounds of the Ape Escape soundtrack. Speaking of Mother, the lyrics to the A-side track "Kimi ni Tsuite (About You)" were written by its creator, Shigesato Itoi. What a collaboration!

Until next time 

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