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Happy End all over again

by Steve McClure

British rock band Oasis will be playing live in Tokyo on May 23. But exactly where is a mystery.

Oasis are one of five acts (the others are Jay-Z, Dragon Ash, RIP Slyme and Rize) scheduled to perform at that day’s MTV Super Dry Live event. But because only a select group of MTV Japan viewers will be able to attend the show, its location is being kept a secret. The lucky few were chosen from among the thousands who told MTV Japan which artists they wanted to see at the concert.

One of the five acts will be presented with an award for Best Live Performance two days later at MTV Japan’s inaugural music video awards show.

Among the other artists nominated for awards is Hikaru Utada. She’s up for Best Video of the Year (“Traveling”), Best Female artist and Best R&B artist. Her competition for Best Video are Aerosmith (“Jaded”), Ayumi Hamasaki (“Dearest”), Janet Jackson (“All for You”) and Mr. Children (“Kimi ga Suki [I Like You]“).

My money is on “Traveling,” a very cool — and very expensive — production that recently won the video of the year award at Space Shower TV’s Music Video Awards.

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On the face of it, the sale of Tower Records Japan to Nikko Principal Investments Japan is a good thing. It certainly comes as a relief to Tower Japan’s staff, who have been uncertain about their future ever since it was announced late last year that Tower’s Japanese operations were up for sale.

The sale also means Tower Japan’s cash-strapped American parent company, MTS Inc., will be able to pay off its creditors. I just hope Nikko can live up to its pledge that it will maintain the integrity of the Tower brand. Since the chain started doing business here in 1979, its big, user-friendly stores have revolutionized Japanese music retailing.

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There’s more to the J-pop tradition than the sweet, poppy sounds of kayokyoku, which is gathering renewed interest due to new albums by Yuko Hara and Akina Nakamori reinterpreting the style.

Homegrown Japanese rock has almost as long a history, dating back to the early ’60s, when Ventures copy bands were all the rage. But in the late ’60s, several Japanese rock musicians began to move away from mere imitation of foreign bands to develop their own take on the rock idiom, in particular by writing literate, intelligent Japanese lyrics that didn’t sound like direct translations from English.

In the vanguard of this trend was Happy End, which was formed in 1969 by Haruomi Hosono, Eiichi Otaki, Shigeru Suzuki and Takashi Matsumoto. Although Happy End released just three albums before splitting up in 1973, the band had a revolutionary impact on the Japanese music scene.

After the breakup, its members continued to make great music, most notably Hosono, who went on to explore different varieties of world music before the term was even invented as well as to form pioneering techno-pop band Yellow Magic Orchestra with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yukihiro Takahashi.

Now Happy End are being given the tribute-album treatment by an eclectic assortment of Japanese and overseas artists. I haven’t heard “Happy End Parade — Tribute to Happy End” yet (a two-CD set, it’s due out May 22), but judging from the track listing, it’s going to be a great album. I’m especially looking forward to hearing ex-Pizzicato Five mastermind Yasuharu Konishi’s version of “Haikara Hakuchi (Silly Poseur),” Akito Katayose (of the Great 3) and John McEntire’s cover of “Hisamezuki no Sketch (Sketch of a Cold Rain Month)” and Super Butter Dog frontman Takashi Nagazumi’s rendition of “Haru Ranman (Full Blossoms in Spring).” Happy End members Hosono and Suzuki also feature on a couple of the album tracks.

I’m glad to see that one of my fave Happy End songs, the ballad “Furaibo (Wanderer),” is being covered by Daisy, a solo project of female pop/classical crossover artist Mayo Matsuda. With its wistful feel and nonlinear lyrics (“Wander, wander, wanderer, wanderer/From the morning, until the evening, I’m a wanderer, wanderer, wanderer”), “Furaibo” epitomizes Happy End’s very laid-back, hippie-esque vibe.

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Hachioji-based company MMO Japan received a major setback April 9 when the Tokyo District Court ordered it to stop providing free downloads of the Japanese-language version of the File Rogue file-sharing software.

MMO Japan says it would stop distributing File Rogue from April 16, but company President/CEO Michihito Matsuda is unrepentant. “This decision is unexpected,” he says. “We’ll keep insisting on the legality of our service.”