Monday, September 14, 2009

Sayuri Yoshinaga - Koi No Yorokobi (1967)

Sayuri Yoshinaga was born in Shibuya, Tokyo in 1945, only months before the formal surrender of Japan during the Second World War. She began her radio and television career at age 12 and her first feature film, Asa Wo Yobu Kuchibue, debuted days before her 14th birthday.

Following her subsequent recording debut in 1962, she went on to release a string of hits, including "Itsudemo Yume Wo", which saw the singer first paired with frequent male counterpart Yukio Hashi. The two went on to record a handful of singles together, with Hashi's strong but sensitive delivery providing the perfect counterbalance to Yoshinaga's frail and unpolished voice. Truth be told, the actress' strengths appear to lie in primarily just that: acting. As is common of most actors-turned-singers, her greatest recorded triumphs are either with Hashi or feature a prominent supporting chorus, credited or otherwise.

Amidst the height of her popularity, Yoshinaga found time to finish her degree from Waseda University in 1969, proving there was more to her than just a pretty face. A few years later she wed then Fuji Television director Tarō Okada, 15 years her senior. Though the couple split after 15 years of marriage, it is no surprise that Yoshinaga, choosing to keep that as her stage name, continued to appear in numerous films and dramas. In fact, her face has graced the silver screen in over 100 films, which is not to mention countless appearances on television and radio programs throughout the course of a continuing career spanning over five decades.

While "Koi No Yorokobi" finds Yoshinaga paired with a young female vocal group, School Mates, we feel it particularly uncharacteristic of the bulk of her recorded material (the majority of which is in the vein of enka). At first listen, the song's title, which translates roughly to "The Joy of Love", seems a little misleading. However, the lyrics seem to reflect an almost rapturous desire for the pleasures of youth ("Wakai shiawase yo, itsumade mo..."). In contrast, the music is dark and brooding, with an uptempo rhythm supported by a prominent rock backbeat. Though we haven't actually heard every song she's released throughout the years, we have a feeling this stands out as the "hardest" record of her career.

Since her rise to stardom in the late 1950s, Sayuri Yoshinaga (whose fans refer to themselves as "Sayurists") has been featured on postage stamps in Japan, and is even said to have struck the fancy of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il. On the other hand, through her films and poetry readings, she has been a vocal opponent of nuclear proliferation. She has also won four Japan Academy Awards for Best Actress (the Japanese equivalent to the Oscars) since the ceremony's inception in 1978. Thus, with her unparalleled grace and charm, she easily ranks as one of the most cherished actresses in modern Japanese history.

Sayuri Yoshinaga & School Mates - Koi No Yorokobi
吉永小百合とスクール・メイツ - 恋の歓び

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