This month Shunichi Tokura was appointed the Commissioner of the Agency for Cultural Affairs, a division of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology tasked with, among other things, promoting Japanese art and culture abroad.
Tokura’s appointment was an interesting one, because he is an accomplished songwriter with a career spanning decades. His most notable work is probably the 1977 hit “UFO” by Pink Lady.
This should be good news for the many musicians in Japan who have been struggling to work with the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. Soon after taking his seat in the agency, Tokura has vowed to work hard to help the recovery of music in Japan by working closely with artists and even pushing for the “enjoyment of culture and art” to become the 18th item on the U.N.’s list of Sustainable Development Goals.
Tokura also stressed the importance for unity in the Japanese music industry so that they can keep up with the likes of South Korea, who the 72-year-old commissioner admits overtook Japan in the blink of an eye. To that end, he says that Japanese artists need to also up their game to compete on the world stage, and this is where the trouble begins.
“I won’t say who,” Tokura told media while discussing current Japanese recording artists, “but songs are weakly sung, put through a computer, and released. What about substance? Is there blood coursing through the music? These are the important questions.”
Most people would agree with the sentiment that heart needs to be put into music to make it truly great. But by prefacing his remark with “I won’t say who,” Tokura really seems to have a certain person or people in mind, and his words come across more as an attack on modern music than a rallying cry.
Netizens were a little confused and largely unimpressed as a result, and some questioned whether Tokura was really the right man for the job at hand.
“It’s your job to make sure all Japanese musicians can make money. Don’t impose your personal taste.”
“I think he’s talking about groups who process their voices like AKB or Perfume, not artists who got famous through the internet like Kenshi Yonezu or ado, right?”
“I wouldn’t want to be an EDM artist in Japan right now.”
“Some people said that Yasushi Akimoto broke the Japanese music industry, and I agree.”
“Pitch correction is nothing new and is used all over the world. What is this guy talking about?”
“It sounds like he’s talking about Pink Lady.”
“Way to diminish the entire art of record engineering mister commissioner.”
Some comments pointed out an interesting irony to Tokura’s words, referring to the fact that Japan’s arguably greatest musical export of the past decade has been exactly what he described. People who might not have singing skills themselves can still create and release songs with vocals by using computers and Vocaloid software, which was developed in Japan.
That being said, it doesn’t seem like he’s attacking the concept of digital effects on music wholesale. After all Tokura was at his prime right about the same time that Yellow Magic Orchestra were pioneering the art of digitally altered vocals and synthesized sounds in Japanese popular music.
Rather, he’s simply trying to say that if Japan ever hopes to achieve greater global fame, it needs to move away from the type of lazy music production that relies on computers to compensate for a celebrity’s innate lack of skill in order to capitalize on their good looks or other marketable qualities.
Sources: Sports Hochi, Itai News
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