Monday, February 28, 2011

Music Spotlight: Chihiro Onitsuka

 Chihiro Onitsuka belongs in my top three list of favorite Japanese female artists (though I admit it changes from time to 
time.) I was first introduced to her during the "Watashi to Waltz o" era, which was the theme song to the third season of the popular Japanese drama "Trick," starring the beautiful Nakama Yukie and Hiroshi Abe. The song was immensely popular with my Korean friends who were not necessarily J-Pop gurus and can be arguable one of her catchiest songs. "Infection" and "Watashi to Waltz o" were repeated on my playlist during Arc 3 era of New Trials. In fact, Chihiro Onitsuka's albums have been consistently been on my playlist for the past 5-6 years while writing New Trials. There are songs that I get addicted to because they are new and trendy at the moment, and there are songs that I will always return to listen to years later and find them just as amazing as when I first heard them. That's the kind of artist Chihiro Onitsuka is. I read some time ago in a CLAMP interview for Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle that Ohkawa Ageha-sensei listens to Chihiro Onitsuka as well. She mentioned that when she was writing the wing scene for Sakura, Chihiro Onitsuka's "Sign" was constantly on replay, so I dug up the lyrics and really found how the lyrics could relate to that scene and Sakura. (Ohkawa-sensei also said she listened to Da Pump's Wadachi while drawing Kurogane's past, and likewise, I hunted up the song and it was on my workout playlist for a while; the song's great, it's "oriental-inpsired" with a cool beat and masculine lyrics befitting our favorite ninja. Somehow, when I read about Ohkawa-sensei's music sense, it made me feel closer to understanding her (she who insists on gouging eyes and severing limbs). After all, music is such a big inspiration for me when writing, and it makes me feel like I'm on the right track with New Trials when my music taste seems to coincide with CLAMP's (aka Maaya Sakamoto and Yoko Kanno)! 

Chihiro Onitsuka's songs to me bear a level of heart-rendering poignancy that I think is difficult to find in artists anywhere in the world. She is an artist whose songs and lyrics seem to come from a burden in her soul, and when she sings, she seems to urgently transmit this immense energy unimaginable coming from such a small, frail body. Many of her songs seem to convey a quiet sort of desperation that seems to build up and up and explode with her chorus. She holds the complete package: composition, lyrics AND voice. Not to mention she's a beautiful woman as well, though there are times when she has been dangerously skinny due to an ongoing battle against an eating disorder amongst other events troubling her life.

Shine (Album Version). Shine was Chihiro Onitsuka's debut single. I prefer the Album Version to the Single Version because the Album Ver. is more stripped down and raw with just a piano accompaniment, whereas the Single Ver. is almost deceivingly upbeat; the beat sounds very Nineties J-pop and a bit jazzy to me. The song is perhaps her most depressing songs and very resounding. Chihiro Onitsuka's forte is piano ballads, and I really don't think I've heard anything like this and this song grew on me the more I listened to it over the years. She displays the full extent of her alto, slightly husky powerful voice. Again, I don't know how such a deep, strong voice comes from a tiny woman. 

 Infection. This might be my favorite Chihiro Onitsuka song because it was one of the first ones I ever listened to and it's very haunting, the way the song starts out softly, quietly and just seems to grow and grow and explode into her full vocals in the chorus. The piano and soft strings accompaniment is all that is needed and simply highlights Chihiro Onitsuka's voice. The lyrics are full of poignant imagery, especially in the chorus:

An explosion has ripped apart the shattered fragments of my heart
And although now all I see are glittering lights all around me
When, I wonder, did I become this weak?

Chihiro Onitsuka as a child is said to have started writing poetry before she got into music-writing, and you can tell. She is one of the rare musicians who has mastered artistry in the triple-field: vocal, music composition and lyric composition. She doesn't sing your cookie-cutter love songs. Her songs carry strong imagery and symbolism and are "poetry" that have meanings as opposed to random compilations of words used to match the music. I do appreciate songs that use such such subtle mechanisms as opposed to in your face lyrics or catch-phrases popular in the industry today. And the beauty is, you don't have to understand the language or the meaning to be able to understand her song; she conveys it simply with the strength of her voice and music alone, but it's a bonus when you understand the lyrics as well. She received a lyric prize for "Memai," a subtley uplifting song that is needed to cheer you up after you listen to some of her darker songs. Onitsuka Chihiro's songs 

"Gekkou" or "Moonlight" is the song that catapulted Chihiro Onitsuka to fame and is her best-selling single to date. Here, you can see Onitsuka's Christian roots with the religious imagery in the lyrics "I am God's child, set down upon this decayed Earth/ How do I live on such a field?/ This isn’t why I was born..." This was the theme song to the first season of the subsequently popular "Trick" franchise, and it's a poignant song. I am not sure if I prefer the Album Version or the Single Version. I do like the simple piano and soft guitar accompaniment of the Single Ver., but the Album Ver. starts out with a beautiful acapella vocal accompaniment. She sounds even more awesome in the live version, where she starts off acapella, and the intensity of her voice just blows you away. 
"Watashi wo Walz o" is the song that introduced me to Chihiro Onitsuka and made me wonder "who is this woman with such a powerful voice." The song reminds me of a surreal foggy bluish ballroom in a swirling Cinderella-esque scene. It's the theme song to the third season to "Trick." I thought "Gekkou" was very befitting to the drama's theme, but I personally haven't figured out how this song relates to the theme of "Trick." When I first heard the song, I thought it was from a different decade, from an older, veteran artist. Onitsuka definitely does not have a typical "J-pop" voice. Her "Gekkou" lives are more powerful, but the instrumentals in this live version was awesome.

I have to admit, Chihiro Onitsuka's pre-hiatus (circa 2003) songs are a bit stronger. Since then, she went through a throat surgery, changed record labels and recovered from an eating disorder and went through a two-year hiatus until she made a comeback in 2007. She has mentioned that "Everyhome" is a song she believes will remain through time as her representative work. Truthfully, it didn't make much of an impact on me the first time I heard it, especially since some of her earlier songs were so powerful, but this is a song that grows on you with listening and becomes really resonant. The lyrics rather remind me of Kai. It's sad that Chihiro Onitsuka's voice doesn't have the same level of control from before surgery, but it's still powerful and beautiful (albeit not autotune, computerized artificial-perfection). I love my standard pop and rock but Chihiro Onitsuka seems to bare her heart in her songs, especially if you listen to her live performances, and I know I will be listening to her songs for many years in the future. I hope her the best in her future works!


  1. Wish-chan, I absolutely adore the Trick series, which I watched about three years ago as a marathon, and loved her songs. I didn't watch the first movie, though, and every now and then I try to find it. (in vain).
    Great post!

  2. Though I'm not that familiar with Chihiro Onitsuka's works, I have listened to some of her stuff, and her voice really amazes me. The first time I heard her, I had to do a double-take because I was not expecting such a person would have such a voice, as you mentioned in your post. I have rarely heard a voice as powerful and strong as hers, and her songs holds such a haunting melody to them.
    Hm, the only Japanese Drama I ever watched was Oshin in the 90s. Good memories!

    ~ KireiBlossom

  3. Other than Infection from Chihiro Onitsuka, the other song I have on my playlist from her is Ryuuseigun which is an equally beautiful song. She does have a very unique voice and tone.

  4. @Dania--oh my goodness, Oshin! I remember that! Good memories, indeed.

  5. @Divya - OMG, you are the only person I have come across who says they remember Oshin. Thank goodness. I thought it was just a figment of my imagination. I saw Oshin dubbed in English during the 90s in India, too bad they cancelled the show in the end without reaching the conclusion. I only saw up till where she marries, becomes a hairdresser and her father (her mean old father) dies.

  6. @Dania/Kirei Blossom--I saw it in India too during the 90s! Awesome show. They had it on for a little while, but it was pulled along with a plethora of other shows. :/

  7. hey wish-chan,
    how far have you gone with the next chapter??

  8. hi wish-chan<
    its been a month since we heard frm u..............
    so, how har have u gone with d latest chap?? how r u?!
    please make a new post>>>

  9. Okami Hime / Black HayateApril 1, 2011 at 12:57 AM

    yeah I was wondering too.How are you Wish chan . Is everyting ok? Hows the chapter coming along?Happy birthday Sakura. (At least where I am......Its 1 o clock right now............)Chihiro Onisuka is awesome at singing!

  10. Hope things are going well! Can't wait for the enxt chapter. You rock!

  11. hey wish-chan,
    are u okay?? Is everything allright??? its been more than 2 months since we heard frm u....

    can u at least make a post on something?? right now i'm waiting for your response more than the new chapter!!
    i hope u r doing well nd everythings least let us kno how u r doing nd your progress wid da new chapter...

  12. i agree with rafia... hope everything's okay and cheking everyday to see if u've posted!!

  13. hey wish-chan,at least tell us how u r>>>> u dont have to make a post just make a comment here, its been 3 months..........

  14. hey wish-chan.......are you still alive????? please don't keep us in the dark!!!!

  15. one of my favorites is infection... one of the best i should say