Rare footage from 1963 of singer Kyu Sakamoto, known worldwide for his smash hit “Sukiyaki,” has been discovered in the vault of broadcaster TBS in Yokohama.
Shot during Sakamoto’s August 1963 trip to the United States and narrated by the singer, the footage shows him performing on the TV variety program “The Steve Allen Show,” among other scenes, after “Sukiyaki” topped the Billboard charts for three weeks that year.
The roughly 25-minute footage, which shows a young American audience enthusiastically cheering on Sakamoto on the popular TV show, was aired domestically by Tokyo Broadcasting System Television Inc. the same month, but then it disappeared.
It was found in the TV station’s vault by a group named the “Sukiyaki 50 Project,” which is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the song topping the U.S. charts. Music producer Go Sato, 60, who has written a nonfiction book about the hit song, remarked, “It enables us to reconfirm the fact that less than 20 years after the war, a Japanese song was accepted in the United States.”
The song, known as “Ue o Muite Aruko” (“Let’s Walk Looking Up”) in Japanese, became a huge domestic hit in 1961 prior to its release in the U.S. two years later.
Sakamoto was born in 1941 and debuted as a singer in 1960. He died at age 43 in 1985 when a Japan Airlines Corp. flight he was aboard, bound for Osaka, crashed into a mountain in Gunma Prefecture after taking off from Tokyo’s Haneda airport.
Rikimaru Nakamura, 49, the eldest son of “Sukiyaki” composer Hachidai Nakamura, played a central role in the project. “We want Sakamoto’s fans, as well as a broader audience, to see the footage,” he said, adding that some form of public screening is being considered.
On Sunday, the song’s lyricist, Rokuske Ei, and others will hold an event at Akasaka Blitz in Minato Ward, Tokyo, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its chart-topping feat and share their memories of the late singer, organizers said.