|Artist: Kaoru Amane (Sawajiri Erika)
Product Code: SRCL-6407~9
Release date: 2006.08.30
Debut Ranking: #2
Peak Ranking: #1
First Press: Photobook, bonus DVD and bonus tracks
Label: Sony Music
Sawajiri Erika has been in the Japanese entertainment industry for quite a while. Since 1999, she’s been signed up with a talent promotions company, Stardust. This company is one of the largest and prominent agency in Japan. She was fairly popular and took part in various variety shows. However she only started attracting the widespread attention of the Japanese audience with her outstanding performance as Ikeuchi Aya in 1 Litre of Tears, in 2005. This dorama attracted many people internationally for its moving and heart-rendering plot.
She is rapidly becoming a household name as a multi-talented entertainer within the Japanese by starring in the movie PACCHIGI! and getting two supporting roles in two movies, one being the highly anticipated Shinobi in 2005. In 2006 Erika acted in five other movies in 2006. Her most recent role was in the dorama adaptation of ‘Taiyou no Uta’. Erika portrayed Kaoru Amane, a young girl who suffers from a rare genetic disorder called Xeroderma pigmentosum. This disorder makes it impossible for Kaoru to be exposed to sunlight and thus she only goes out at night. In the nights, she performs outside as a street musician.
This dorama seemed to have the same ingredients that led to the success of ‘1 Litre of Tears’. Erika again portrays the part of a terminally ill teenager, who tries to live her life as fully as possible. However this dorama, rather than focusing on the disease and her family, but more onto her dreams, friendships and her complex relationship with Kouji. However one will definately notice that Erika’s role for both characters is of a strong and determined person, who wants to live their life to their fullest.
The dorama, ‘Taiyou no Uta’ wasn’t as popular as many expected it to be. The viewership rating of 10.26%, was quite average and satisfactory. However it seemed to have too many parallels with previous doramas, with a similar theme to attract widespread attention. Nonetheless, Erika still seemed to manage a lot of attention in a quite different manner. The character of ‘Kaoru Amane’, is that of an aspiring singer and as a side project for this dorama, Erika has released a single with Kaoru’s fictional compositions.
Sony created a special website, dedicated only to Kaoru Amane. It was specially constructed, as if Kaoru was a real artist, making her debut. The content on this website was quite detailed, with a gorgeous layout, a photo gallery and extra goodies, such as guitar tabs for her songs. These guitar tabs can be downloaded for free for any guitar players. Seems that the original intention was simply to bring the dorama to life and thus gaining a bigger audience. Nonetheless it seems the opposite results happened. This single sold extremely well and gained a huge fanbase.
Overall it sold 339,936 copies and the sales show no signs of slowing down. Up till the present date, after four weeks, this single has been securing a very high position and keeps on conquering the top spots, beating many strong competitors. She is also the first actress-turned-singer to enter the ORICON Top 3 since Hirosue Ryoko in April 1997 and the first female singer releasing under a fictional name from a drama to enter Top 3 since September 2000’s Kanno Miho. She also ranks second among the female artists who released a single so far in 2006.
It’s hard to define why and how this single is doing so well. The single didn’t have a lot of promotion, yet Sony made sure to provide a very exciting package and create the image of Kaoru Amane within this single to the point that Erika is barely mentioned. This marketing strategy was quite interesting and successful. In the end it’s possible that the hype of Kaoru Amane built up in the beginning by YUI, made this single so successful while Erika is currently riding the wave. Yet it’s also possible that Erika’s excellent acting and attractive appearance within this dorama that did attract such a huge fanbase because YUI’s single wasn’t extremely successful. Nonetheless it could be that people were drawn to this dorama character who came to life to live her dream.
1. Taiyou no Uta
This song starts off slowly with a guitar solo, which slowly opens up into a more powerful intro with other musical instruments typically used in bands. Kaoru’s vocals aren’t especially powerful but they seem to have the characteristic of sounding clear and emotional, especially during the chorus. The chorus is especially quite beautiful, the melody is so emotional and heart-rending, that one cannot help but be moved by this song.
The use of an acoustic guitar and electric guitar were used in the same song, and surprisingly they blended really well with each other. To fill the gaps by giving this ballad a more emotional edge, strings were used. This made the song sound more soothing and soften the ‘harder’ drumset accompaniment. The electric guitar is rather toned down in order to allow Kaoru’s weak vocal to stand out.
This song also boasts of an enchanting composition and artistic and emotional lyrics. The lyrics speak about how Kaoru hid herself from the light and how she was afraid to discover different emotions because she feared she would get hurt and how Kouji gave her light and colour in her life. The lyrics and composition were done by Maika Shiratori.
The fictional band which was used within the dorama was called “Moon Child”, inspired by Kaoru’s genetic disorder. This band consisted of a keyboard, a bass, electric guitar, a drumset and a vocalist. Kouji and his friends played the instruments after being inspired by Kouji playing his guitar, while Kaoru is the vocalist. This song certainly has a ‘band’ feeling, although it also has a definite ’studio’ feel, as if the original song was modified by a recording company to make it sound more professional and having a marketing quality.
However this song has some flaws. Kaoru’s vocals are a bit weak at some parts, as if she’s whispering or she doesn’t have the strength to continue singing. I’m not exactly sure if it was simply because her vocals are simply weak or if she was supposed to sound so. Nonetheless it’s quite impressive to see a person without any previous experience with singing to have such pleasant and soothing vocals which flow so well with the song.
The promotional clip is definitely the perfect combination for a beautiful and conceptual one. Initially the colouring scheme is almost monochromatic with a dark setting. Kaoru is featured sitting on a huge sunflower. However when the chorus breaks in the colours become extremely vibrant and different scenes are ‘photographed’. The use of vibrant colours and imagery is really evident within this clip. Many sunflowers are visible within this clip to symbolise the sun. Kaoru is extremely beautiful and looks extremely natural. The ending scene is especially touching and shows a definite but beautiful sense of finality where Kaoru disappears in the light.
2. Stay with me
This song is quite different from “Taiyou no Uta”. The tone is more light-hearted and playful. This ballad has a mid-tempo tone with a rather repetitive beat. The message seems to point at how a girl discovers love and consequently sees how beautiful life can be. Thus she doesn’t want her loved one to leave her.
Since it was the very first song Kaoru composed, I believe that it was especially composed to sound simple and uncomplicated to show how her skills were quite low at that time. The melody isn’t complex and thus it doesn’t stand out much. In fact it has a rather ‘indie’ feel, with an unpolished touch. The musical instruments are typical to groups or bands, making it sound as if “Moon Child” were playing this song. It’s definitely not a groundbreaking song but I find it’s so touching and sweet, in a manner that display the innocent feelings of a young girl so directly.
3. Taiyou no Uta <acoustic version>
This song is basically a more mellow and soothing version of ‘Taiyou no Uta’. It sounds exactly like it does in the dorama when Kouji plays the acoustic guitar and Amane sings. Kaoru’s vocals are quite vivid and stand out without any trouble, because there’s just a guitar in the background. One can also obtain the guitar tab from her official website if they’re interested in playing this song.
Personally I really enjoyed this version because it’s really beautiful in its’ simplicity. It stands out on its’ own without any complex instruments. Kaoru’s vocals seem to shine here, giving this version a more emotional edge. It’s true that it lost most of it’s dramatic effect where the musical instruments built up the chorus – but the raw and clear vocals of Kaoru simply made up for it.
4. Stay with me <acoustic version>
Stay with me <acoustic version> is also a toned down version of the original version. Also this song has a similar sound to the acoustic version of “Taiyou no Uta”. It’s mellower and also sounds much emptier since there seems a lot of moments where the guitar plays solo. I find Kaoru’s vocals don’t really sound pleasant in the chorus, as if she’s straining herself but during the verses her vocals are more relaxed and soothing.
5. Wish <original instrumental>
This instrumental version is from the song ‘Wish’, which is sung by Tachibana Asami. In the dorama, Tachibana Asami is Kaoru’s idol but she eventually becomes her rival at a certain point of the dorama because they both love the same person.
This version is quite dreamy and mellow, yet one cannot help but feel how fragile and helpless it sounds. I feel it really reflected Asami’s weak and undecided persona who hesitated at every second. I really loved the soothing piano and guitar solo which seemed so magical and fleeting that it transported you to another world.
Overall I must say this single was quite strong, despite being Erika’s first single. It simply had every single detail carefully fitted within this release, making it quite exciting to buy. The packaging was beyond excellent and the first press edition had so many extra goodies that one couldn’t help but order the single right away. Despite not having a lot of promotion, this single simply was too good to pass by and I believe it was why it sold so well.
Most probably this is the final release by the persona ‘Kaoru Amane’, since she only released one single within the dorama. A second single would probably destroy the “dorama to life” aura that was created. However this doesn’t mean that Erika won’t release any more singles. ‘Taiyou no Uta’ was a huge success and I’m quite sure that many of her fans want more releases by her. It’s quite possible that Erika will expand her career into the music industry, although she’d need to work on her vocals to be able to compete with the many talented vocalists in the J-Pop industry.
I am really hoping she’ll get a deal with Sony and work with some excellent composer to release more music since I see a lot of potential for this beautiful artist. If that shall not be the case, I’ll keep out an eye for Erika’s acting career, which certainly sounds extremely promising!
First press CD+DVD version
Regular CD version
- Taiyou no Uta
- Stay with me
- Taiyou no Uta <acoustic version>
- Stay with me <acoustic version>
- Wish <original instrumental>
- Taiyou no Uta <instrumental>
- Stay with me <instrumental>
- Taiyou no Uta PV
On a final note, I must thank eyn for all his help with this review. Without his notes this review wouldn’t be as half as good as it is.
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