Time Capsule`s Kay Suzuki and Vinyl Delivery Service`s Rintaro Sekizuka have curated an enviable collection of highly collectable 1980s Japanese anime and manga soundtracks. While most of these records were produced, in bulk, as promotional items, I guess few, upon their release, realized their significance. Hence they were simply discarded, and so now super hard to find. The music inspired by, made to accompany, colourful cartoons, serves to illustrate imaginations allowed to run wild, unfettered by any idea of budgetary constraint.
There’s crystalline, computerized disco, with more than a passing nod to The RAH Band`s Messages From The Stars. Synthesized strings that seem shot in from outer space. Whizzing and whirring alongside that you have innovative electro. Complex intricate arrangements jammed on state-of-the-art equipment. There’s shiny, polished city pop. Heavily orchestrated, opulent affairs, featuring virtuoso solos from seasoned session men and women. Japanese jazz musicians and classically trained composers, putting pretensions aside, and chancing their arm laying down scores in the lucrative spheres of TV and advertising. Producing pixelated piano pieces, electric exotica, cosmic fusions of human and machine, that pack as much as possible into their few short minutes. Showing off their chops, kinda like their European library music counterparts. Sine waves singing like celestial choirs. Zinging in heavenly harp-like harmony. Rhythms racing, prophetic predictions of both house and techno.
Everything here was recorded during Japan’s `80s economic “bubble”. All on offer is a musical marker of an affluence now receding ever further into The Land Of The Rising Sun`s distant past. Memorabilia from a time when money was no object, rather than a wheelbarrow full of yen being worth diddly. A time when the country thought nothing of flying in players from all over the world, instead of keeping its borders tightly restricted, ridiculously rigidly controlled.
Having lived here for 15 years, I am still very much a tourist, and know that I always will be. But this is my home, and a place, and a people that I care a great deal about, and with my outsider`s perspective what’s going on is pretty painful to watch. Fuck me, but Japan is a fascinating place, the way that tradition sits side by side so easily with the modern, the crazy attention to detail, and care, that goes into absolutely everything, plus the fact that most of the folks are beautiful souls, who’ll bend over backwards to help, once you break through the programmed polite veneer. While pre-pandemic the weight of visitors could be overwhelming at times, it kept the cities cosmopolitan, and created a constant flow, not just of cash, but ideas, cultural exchange, and a vibe of possibility. It`s as if the rest of the world presented a mirror, and without the outsiders, the “gaigen” – their surprise, their “Wow” – Japan and her sons and daughters can’t really see just how special they are. Without that reflection, that difference, everything wonderful runs the risk being taken for granted, or disappearing, of becoming plain and mundane. I guess what I’m saying, or what I’m trying to say is that Japan should be celebrated, not kept locked away.*
Compiled by Kay Suzuki & Rintaro Sekizuka, Anime & Manga Synth Pop Soundtracks 1984 – 1990 is available to pre-order directly from Time Capsule.
*I was inspired / prompted, in part, to write the closing paragraph after recently visiting a couple of Tokyo jazz kissas. Places that previously, pre-pandemic, of an evening would have been packed. While the regulars had viewed the influx of Western “audiophile” tourists – folks with lists of “must check” venues cribbed from well-meaning articles posted on sites such as Vinyl Factory and Resident Advisor – as a double-edged sword (bringing in business, but also a perhaps unwelcome bustle) – the places I popped into were deserted and closing down. Spots that had been there for decades. The liquor shelves were almost empty – no vodka, gin, rum… your only choice between beer and / or whiskey. These ventures are often the owners life’s work. A dream they slaved to save for as a salary man. The chap that I spoke to was resigned, hammered, and spinning his favourite records to no one on a Saturday night. The music super loud but still crystal clear. I sat nursing a lukewarm can, that I didn’t really want (I had been hoping for a mojito), listening to Louis and Ella as if they were there in the room, pondering the fate of the sound system, all the vinyl, and wondering “What is he going to do now?” He said, “Put it all in storage, and move back to Chiba.” He was probably 70. Shit it was just so fucking sad.