Sunday, August 13, 2006
Living the Dream: Part I – “This is a pen”
¥1000 says you have never heard of them. Their name is Psychic Lover (サイキックラバー), and I spent my past two weeks in the anime division hanging out with them. The guy on the left is Yoffy (pronounced yoh-fee) and the guy on the right is Jo (pronounced Jo). Both guys are 29, though like every Japanese person, they certainly don’t look that old. Yoffy is responsible for the band’s name, and is the composer and lead vocalist for all the duo’s songs. Jo works on lyrics, provides backup vocals, and shreds through wicked guitar solos.
Psychic Lover is one of the biggest names in Japanese anime music. They have written theme songs or supporting music for Power Rangers, Witchblade, Gaiking, and Transformers (among many others). Their most recent single is the ending theme for to the current Power Rangers series in Japan, Go Go Adventure Rangers (轟轟戦隊ボウケンジャー). Their song, entitled “On The Road,” rose to number 14 in the Japanese singles chart, an unprecedented feat for an anime song not associated with a Miyazaki film.
I would describe Psychic Lover’s musical style as an upbeat pop-rock. While their stuff does definitely sound like anime music, there are enough overdriven guitar solos to keep rock fans happy. Also, since every song features a very catchy and upbeat chorus, you’ll be humming the tune upon repeated listening. For those interested, Psychic Lover’s album was released in June of this year and is entitled, you guessed it, “Psychic Lover.” The album contains all of the duo’s hit singles (including the new Power Rangers theme) and is readily available on amazon.co.jp. I highly recommend it, and not just because I’m friends with the guys.
I met Psychic Lover at Tokyo AM radio as they prepared to participate in a short promotional program (i.e. they were signing tons of release forms and couldn’t do anything but bow and say “hi”). I have taken many pictures with Yoffy & Jo, and they said they would add me on their internet blog (I’ll provide a link when this happens). I messaged Yoffy on my phone and asked him to forward me pictures of the three of us together, but he hasn’t forwarded me any yet, hence the stock photos.
Yoffy and Jo were participating in a pretty average Japanese radio program. Japanese radio stations often feature short twenty minute shows with actors, musicians, and other social celebrities who banter comedic dialogue back and forth (comedic if you’re Japanese that is) and introduce the songs that the radio station is currently broadcasting during that half hour block. Think of these guests as celebrity DJs. In turn for hosting, the artists get to plug their latest product and upcoming events a million times on the air.
This radio station visit was considerably more relaxed than the previous trip with my enka colleagues, where I was hit on constantly by a gay Japanese man. Sakamoto-chan, as he calls himself, was a 22-year old, head-shaven, designer glasses sporting college student (I didn’t catch his major), who became a radio personality sensation thanks to his unique ability to mimic the voice of a perpetually startled, chain-smoking Japanese schoolgirl.
He squeals phrases like “You are my everything,” on the radio complete with the female-specific suffixes (there are male-specific suffixes as well in Japanaese). When I first met Sakamoto-chan, he jumped straight into, “You’re cute,” in lieu of a personal introduction, and asked me if I liked boys, only to sigh under his breath, “You probably like girls huh?”
But I digress...
I spent most of my pre-show time at Tokyo AM talking with one of my new love interests, Nana. This makes three possible soul mates now. Rose, baby, if you’re reading this…then wow, you certainly got talented in English quick! Hahahahaha. Sorry, stupid joke (lowers head).
Nana is my age and works for the radio station (she just graduated college). She also went to high school in America so she could speak great English (though we spoke ¾ of the time in Japanese). Nana is a second-tier DJ. She was honest, however, and told me that she really only reads that line at the end of the broadcast that goes, “The proceeding program was brought to you by Fukamoto Whale Blubber, Tofu-a-Go-Go, Discount Samurai Swords and listeners like you!
I watched Psychic Lover do their show – Nana was in the hot seat right alongside them, though she didn’t say much. The three of them were provided with a script of all their stupid jokes and banter, but were encouraged to improvise by the director in the sound booth. I laughed at a few jokes which were pretty funny (due mostly to the overenthusiastic delivery of Yoffy and Jo who were reminiscent of a really bad standup comedy routine).
Occasionally, someone would mess up and everyone would pause and retry a bit multiple times. One bit had to be rerecorded several times until Jo could successfully say with a straight face that he pretends to fall asleep on the train in order to rest his head on the shoulder of the lady sitting beside him. This is the kind of humor that had everyone in the sound booth (except me) wiping tears of laughter from their eyes.
Psychic Lover’s Director, Mizuhara-san, showed up after the recording process was done and his boisterous presence was almost impossible to ignore. Mizuhara-san is a big man, over six feet tall, with enough fat mass attached to his bones to give him an imposing, jiggly presence. He wore a black suit, had spiky short hair, and wiped sweat from his brow with a purple washcloth. There will be much more on Mizuhara-san later, but believe me when I say he is a true character.
Mizuhara-san knew Nana from previous dealings with the radio station and, as she and Psychic Lover left the recording booth, he immediately told her that he could see her underpants. Nana frowned, joking it off, and would tell me later in Japanese that workplace sexual harassment is still a big problem in Japan and that she doesn’t like Mizuhara-san for precisely this reason. I can’t say that I blame her.
After introducing myself, Mizuhara-san said, “I English genius!” repeatedly in America-speak. After tiring from overusing that set phrase, he proceeded to repeat “Look, I’m Stanford,” “Look, I’m Stanford” in English while miming typing on a computer or tapping himself on the noggin with his tongue hanging out. He kept prompting me to tell Nana that her English was horrible, but I refused, and defended her until he was interrupted by Psychic Lover asking me to read some of their English song lyrics with my native pronunciation.
I read the lyrics and was treated to ooohs and aaaaahs and a round of applause. The Japanese people in the room took turns telling me how good my English pronunciation was. I told them that I had been studying English for 22 years, so they shouldn’t feel bad.
As Psychic Lover, myself, and Kubota-san (my anime section coworker and Psychic Lover’s representative from Columbia) were readying to go to our post-recording kanpai, the radio station was flooded with young female voice actresses from radio shows, CD albums, and anime programs, all lined up to participate in the next broadcast. This delayed our departure by a few minutes, as all the girls wanted to giggle and fawn over Psychic Lover.
All of said voice actresses were sugar and spice and everything “gag me with a spoon” nice. One easy-to-remember voice actress was dressed in a full bubblegum pink-colored track suit with bright green Converse shoes and her hair in tight pigtails. “She is very very adorable,” Mizuhara-san said, pointing to her as she practiced blowing kisses on the couch, despite there being no one to receive the kisses in front of her. She was able to get out, “Hello my name is_____” during our meeting, followed by, “I love you!” and assorted giggles. It was all I could do to bow without upchucking my lunch. Death by cuteness; I guess such a thing really does exist in Japan.
Much to my disappointment, Nana was unable to come to dinner with us. I tried my best to persuade her to come but she said she had another engagement.
Psychic Lover, Kubota-san, and I went to a nearby yakitori or skewered assorted meat parts restaurant (it is not that bad when you wash it down with crisp, cold Asahi Super Dry!). Our waiter was super energetic and would fire punches off and say “OKAY” in English whenever anybody ordered.
What can I say, Psychic Lover are really fun guys. All smiles, not only were Yoffy and Jo both super friendly, they seemed genuinely interested in talking and getting to know me.
Yoffy asked me which of the girls I liked the best at the studio and I of course answered Nana. He proceeded to message her from his phone on my behalf, and snag her contact information for me saying, “Nana is free.” The two of them loved the fact that I could speak Japanese and would gasp in awe when I told them about the different Japanese foods I eat or that I had been to a maid café.
As we all drank more, the Japanese side began attempting more English and I attempted to keep my Japanese intelligible after repeated glasses of booze. Kubota-san, who had traveled to Australia and America, asked me questions in English about American culture or my family and I would answer him in Japanese. This dual language exchange brought Jo nearly rolling on the floor in laughter. While Yoffy said he had been to Hawaii once, Jo has never left Japan.
Though they use a lot of English phrases in their lyrics, it is fair to say that Yoffy and Jo don’t speak English. Yoffy told me that he came up with the name “Psychic Lover” and asked me what it meant in English. At the time, I said that it didn’t really have a meaning, but retrospectively, I guess the band’s name could refer to someone who can psychically predict and fulfill one’s sexual and relationship desires. I think that much would have been lost in translation had I attempted to explain it in Japanese.
Jo asked me to explain “l” and “r” sounds to him since Japanese people don’t have these sounds in their language. I always use the example of “lice” versus “rice” to illustrate the pronunciation differences. Jo told me that all Japanese people study English starting from middle school starting with the phrase “this is a pen." He explained to me that there is a song you listen to in middle school with the lyrics “this is a pen.” Thus, Yoffy and Jo began singing, “this is a pen – a pen – a pen. This is a pen – a pen – a pen” in unison while swinging their chopsticks back and forth. Before I knew it Kubota-san had joined in and I figured I might as well fill in the harmony.
There we were, the four of us, laughing and singing like idiots about ball point pens in the middle of a hole-in-the-wall drinking place in some corner of Tokyo. Though the drinks and food orders stopped soon after...“this is a pen” would linger on through the night air.
To Be Continued...
Part II - "You GOT IT!!!"