Arashi “Japonism” (J Storm)
Arashi is set to take the title of highest-selling album of the year with “Japonism,” a feat they’ve managed by releasing three editions instead of the usual two. The accomplishment originally looked set to go to Sandaime J Soul Brothers, who have a more Western sound and look, but Arashi has countered by looking inward and playing into patriotism — a good move in the runup to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“Japonism” tries to incorporate traditional Japanese music into more modern song structures. The group achieves this best on the track “Kokoro no Sora” (loosely translated as “The Sky in your Heart”), a collaboration with rocker Tomoyasu Hotei. Now a Londoner, Hotei has said the track has the image of “Japan as seen from the outside.” This plays perfectly into the album’s title, which refers to a 19th-century concept of Westerners looking at Japan and appropriating its culture. It also plays perfectly into Arashi’s role as a spokesgroup for Japan tourism, the song blends Arashi’s chanting with shamisen, taiko drumming and Hotei’s own pop-rock riffs. On “miyabi-night,” traditional instruments mix with 1980s funk to put a different twist on the (not entirely new) traditional-meets-modern trope.
Despite the Japan focus, a lot of “Japonism” doesn’t live up to the name. That’s not a bad thing, an edgy blend of straightforward pop and rock makes “Sakura” a highlight and shows the group’s maturity. Arashi seems to be cutting down on genki (bubbly) output (which may be why the perky “Ai o Sakebe” was left off the album), a better direction for a “boy” band whose members are now all in their 30s.