Super Eccentric Theater - Oh Les Beaux Japonais!



My recent listening habits have been incredibly Japan-centric and on regular rotation have been the works of Yellow Magic Orchestra, Haruomi Hosono, Susan, Shigeo Sekito, Inoyama Land and many more. In all this fascinated exploration has been one song that I've played more than any other; a song that I've really fallen in love with. Super Eccentric Theater's 'Oh Les Beaux Japonais!'. Carrying a tight new-wave groove, murmured girl-boy vocals and a ludicrously catchy hook, the track is a perfect example of the off-kilter pop that came out of Japan in the late 1970s and early '80s. What is most intriguing about this song however is its Francophile theme - something that colours its lyrics and title. This alone may not seem particularly fascinating, but when considered that this is just one example of many Francophile Japanese pop songs, everything becomes more peculiar. A trend develops. There is a definite and fairly prominent obsession with French culture in the Japanese pop music of the 1970s, '80s and '90s. Songs by Tamao Koike were often either sung in French or had French titles, while minimal electronica group Variètè expressed their passion in their band name. More broadly, Yellow Magic Orchestra based tracks on the works of Jean-Luc Godard, while the entire Shibuya-kei scene takes influence from - besides South American bossa-nova and North American lounge music - French yé-yé. But what does this obsession imply? And where does it come from? One could look as far back as the Chinoiserie of early modern Europe for explanation. This European passion for all things Chinese was born from a Romanticised vision of the East and later consummated by the establishment of trade links. It was France that the Siamese sought alliance with in the 1680s and the term Chinoiserie itself is, of course, French. Fast forward a few hundred years and perhaps France has developed a broader appreciation of the 'Far East', while intercultural exchanges have in turn benefited Asian cultures. Japanese artists and trendsetters may have done in the 1960s what many Europeans did centuries before that and created a Romanticised idea of their counterpart. France in the mid-20th century was, of course, a colourful all-singing all-dancing parade, and to many dreamers decidedly more cosmopolitan, challenging and risqué than its neighbours. Who would not want to channel such influences in their music? The often-kitsch result of French pop's influence is after all prevalent in many Western pop musics. But maybe there is a deeper psychological connection between the countries. Besides, this is a world in which a disorder called 'Pari Shōkōgun' (or Paris Syndrome) exists, a syndrome to which Japanese people are considered more susceptible. I guess that ultimately my attempted explanations for this phenomenon don't fully cover it and I'm merely tabling ideas. Frankly I am unable - and to some extent unwilling - to conclude on it. But maybe that's a good thing, for this fascinating trend is something that is made all the more exciting to me by its mystery.

Label: Yen Records
Year: 1984
Genre: New-Wave, Shibuya-kei, Synth-Pop, Experimental

1 comment: