Tuesday, January 01, 2008

January's Song - Sunrise

What is Puffy?

A lot has been written about Puffy (or Puffy AmiYumi as they are known outside of Japan) but not much that gives insight into what has made the act tick. Perhaps someday a talent like W. David Marx will tackle what Ōnuki Ami and Yoshimura Yumi, abetted by serial plagiarist Okuda Tamio, have wrought.

There is plenty to consider. The two misfits, now in their 30s, are not just popular, they are beloved. Without setting themselves against the music industry per se, they have manage to carve out a personal niche where many of pop stardom's basic rules fail to get obeyed. The pair don't dance much; they don't drench songs in emotion; they dress in variations of street clothes (oh, they will tart themselves up every once in a while--but the glam is always ironic and bohemian); they have led scandalous private lives without earning condemnation or ostracism; and they have never managed to make it to the NHK New Year's Kōhaku television special. That they are well liked in both Japan and the United States (where they are known primarily as cartoon characters) and have remained close friends throughout the 12 years since their breakout is borderline aberrant.

Along the way Ōnuki and Yoshimura have served as models of a smart, confident, self-possessed, saucy and assertive feminity (with more than just a hint of sexual orientation ambiguity) to give lie to assertions that a popstar has to chose a prevailing archetype. Neither madonnas nor harlots (though certainly willing show the current generation of pneumatic strumpets like Kōda Kumi a thing or two), confident in their nationality without defensiveness or embarrassment, relentless strivers, cruel yet cute pranksters, intolerant of stupidity or dependency--they present a fantasy vision of womanhood that must terrify the fantabulist advocates of a return to the morals of the past.

And thank Amaterasu for it.

"Sunrise" is not necessarily one of the pair's more listenable songs. However, the stunningly simple video--amateurish footage of the two of them cheerfully picking up an astonishing array of trash off a beach on a winter's day--confronts the viewer with the reality that Nippon is not an utsukushii kuni but a land with an abused environment and a general disregard for public spaces...without being didactic and heavy-handed about it.

January's song is "Sunrise" by Puffy, in the column on the right or here.


Anonymous said...

I had no idea that Okuda Tamio was a "serial plagiarist". Interesting. I know he is "credited" with discovering/launching Puffy. What has he copied? (Or pakuri-ed?)

MTC said...

With Okuda-san, half the fun is figuring out how much he has stolen...and, of course, from whom.

Sometimes it is just the style...as in this Pink Floydesque performance:


Sometimes it is just a gratuitous single riff, such as the guitar in the bridge of the song "Marshmallow"


though in the "Marshmallow" video he aslo seems to be doing a Gotō Masafumi impersonation.

Other times Okuda seems to be trying to set some kind of record in the "number of other people's riffs and ideas one can steal without sampling" category. I can count quotations from at least six early Beatles tunes and at least two songs by The Who in his second hit for Puffy:


And then there are the times he steals the whole damn thing (no URL, but the travesty in question is "Jetto Keisatsu").

Anonymous said...

Wow. Is this discussed or acknowledged or is it more shrugged/accepted/politely move on and not mention it?

There was that brouhaha a couple years ago when Hello Project princess Abe Natsumi had plagiarized (some poems, I believe), and she got touted around and was "remorseful" for a few months or so. That had been on of the most public hand-slapping for plagiarism that I remember. I was wondering how normally the music industry would punish for pakuri.