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Thursday, April 17, 2008
The 50 Kaitenz put their own spin on the classic 'Kitaro' theme tune
While "GeGeGe no Kitaro" has held immeasurable influence over the animation industry, its theme tune is a treasure unto itself. With lyrics written by "Kitaro" creator Shigeru Mizuki, it might have been recorded by various anime soundtrackers, but it's always retained its original melody, chalking up 40 years of on-off exposure on the nation's youth.
The latest iteration has been recorded by The 50 Kaitenz, a young Osaka garage-rock band who could never be accused of taking themselves too seriously. Stepping into a room with guitar/vocalist Danny, bassist Dory and drummer Bogie is like blundering into a high-tension comedy-troupe rehearsal.
All three Kaitenz grew up with parents who were nutty about folk music, with Danny explaining that his first encounter with a guitar was actually his mother's battered acoustic, which he'd strum for pleasure despite not knowing how to play it. And each of them fell head over heels in love with punk music as a teen via Japanese band The Blue Hearts.
With two United States-recorded albums and shows in the States and Australia already under their belts, it's clear that sitting still is not on the agenda for The 50 Kaitenz (which means 50 rpm, making them slightly faster than a 7-inch single). And their goofily sinister, rockabilly-esque "Kitaro" contribution is likely to spread their name even further.
Performing the theme tune to "GeGeGe No Kitaro" is quite an honor. How did you get that gig?
Danny: "We've all been really big fans of 'GeGeGe no Kitaro' since we were 3 or 4 years old, when we'd watch it on TV, and since then we've followed all the anime series and manga. We're really big fans of Shigeru Mizuki. You could say the show has had as much influence on us as our favorite band, The Blue Hearts. So when we first heard that we had the possibility to maybe be involved with 'GeGeGe No Kitaro,' we said yes before our manager had even finished the sentence."
Toei Animation (the show's producer) approached your label first, right?
Danny: "Yes. Warner has all sorts of pop artists and big rock bands, but the label told Toei that if The 50 Kaitenz did the song, it would be so much cooler."
Do you think having your track on an anime is a gateway to international success?
Danny: "I hope so! 'GeGeGe No Kitaro' is about Japanese ghost folklore, which may not be something that would be easy for foreigners to understand. But for the ones who do get it, we hope they like our music too. We want as many people as possible to hear our music, so if this helps, great."
How would you explain the show to someone who's never seen it?
Danny: "Basically, in each episode, old Japanese spirits are terrorizing humans. There are good spirits and bad spirits; Kitaro is on the good spirits' side. He has been asked by the humans to sort out the evil spirits, so he deals with it and tries to put everything right. In each episode there is usually an environmental message, which I guess was Mizuki's intention."
Was it fun getting involved?
Danny: "Sure! We actually had a chance to meet the animators and Mizuki himself, and we learned that when the good and bad spirits fight, Kitaro never cuts anyone or anything really violent like that. They don't want the anime to be a bad influence on the kids. So, instead, the good spirits will seal the bad spirits into a cave or fly them away somewhere, or conceal them in a vase or something. I think that's a really important part of Mizuki's vision."
How about music? What are your influences?
Danny: "(1970s British band) Dr Feelgood are one of my favorite bands. Wilko Johnson plays machinegun guitar; The Big Figure (John Martin) plays tight drums. They're a fabulous R&B and rock 'n' roll band. Supercool."
Dory: "I love Ramones bassist Dee Dee Ramone's playing, even though he was sort of terrible. I learned everything from him, the way he plays the bass really rough."
Bogie: "It's a bit embarrassing, but I've been listening to Deep Purple lately. They come across as so serious that it's somehow funny. They kind of look stupid, with their long hair and open-collar shirts. But their music is explosive."
It was a love for The Blue Hearts that got you all together. Do you remember when you first heard that band?
Danny: "Yes. We had a kind of high-school radio at lunchtimes, and one day a song came on by The Blue Hearts, from their first album. I suddenly wanted to play music — it was quite dramatic."
Dory: "I especially loved the lyrics, which sounded so naive and innocent. It grabbed my heart and made it beat faster."
Bogie: "Since we were all listening to The Blue Hearts after they were no longer active in the music scene, we couldn't find any friends who wanted to play that kind of music. People were into visual-kei (Japanese goth-rock) and that music requires you to do your homework, to learn the technical side and really practice. For us, practicing was more about watching bands' videos and copying their actions."
How did you actually meet?
Danny: "I put up a notice advertising that I was looking for band members. It just said, "Let's play Blue Hearts!" I left it in an art store rather than a music venue, because I thought I'd get fewer responses from weirdos that way. But I ended up with these guys. I'd have been better off putting the notice in a music venue (laughs)."
Dory: "Anyway, Bogie and I decided to call this guy, and when we met up, it turned out we all had the same hairstyle."
Danny: "We were all at art school. Like The Beatles. Can't you feel the intelligence exploding out of us?"
You describe yourselves not as a rock band or comedians but as "rock-o-medians." Are you funny?
Danny: "We're funny! (Deadpans) It's complicated."
Dory: "We think that having a sense of humor about what we do will help people to have fun at our shows. We could play a very straight show without any humor, but what's the point?"
Danny: "We want people to think of us as a rock band, but a rock band that has a sense of humor. Like Keith Moon! Three Keith Moons? It's terrible!"
How important is comedy in Osaka?
Danny: "It's really important — maybe that's why we grew up to be funny. We watched comedy shows every weekend. When I was at school my dream was to perform with the Yoshimoto Kogyo comedy show. Playing in a band is not so different from being a comedian. After all, both perform on stage."
Dory: "People in Osaka naturally try to make other people laugh, especially when someone's down; it's kind of a service."
Bogie: "People in Osaka aren't so delicate. They'll laugh at us in the street when they see our haircuts."
What's the funniest thing that's happened to you off stage?
Danny: "We like to drink so much, and in America, the glasses of beer were so big. Puke and puke and puke! We puked in a taxi, we puked just before going on stage. . . . We puked every day."
Didn't the taxi driver go crazy?
Danny: "Yeah. . . . We ignored him. (Whispers) 'Let's run!' "
The 50 Kaitenz's version of "GeGeGe no Kitaro" is released as a single on May 8.