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Sasori - The Scorpion,
This review is from: Zenkyokusyu (Audio CD)Now in her sixties, Meiko Kaji is better known in Japan as a cult actress who sometimes did a bit of singing on the side. She was the leading actress 'Sasori the Scorpion' in the Jailhouse 41 films (easily found on Youtube) which doubtless inspired Tarantino's Kill Bill. In fact her singing career was closely tied to her movie career, and she often sang on the soundtracks of films she starred in. Like many outside Japan I was first introduced to her music thanks to the Kill Bill movies, an irony given that I had lived in Japan for many years yet remained unaware of her. I mean, how many cult film stars have released high quality albums? The truth is that Zenkyokushu, the Best of Meiko Kaji, is not a kitsch collectable but a genuinely outstanding album. Each and every song is of such an exceptional quality as to become permanently infused in your brain. And even after such a permanent storage, you will keep coming back for more.
The first track Shura no Hana ("Flower of Carnage?") was the theme song to Lady Snowblood, and the third track Urami Bushi ("Grudge Melody") was the theme song of the Sasori series, and both songs were used in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films. As a result, she has seen a global surge of interest in her work some thirty years after it was originally recorded.
Describing each track would be too much, so I will pick out some of my favourite songs out of the twenty. Urami Bushi is here played with a full orchestral accompaniment - it's the definitive version, somehow more refined in spite of its larger scale. Meiko's beautifully clear voice rings out tracks ranging from Shura No Hana to Onna no Jyumon, a swelling, cinematic ballad replete with whale-teeth-xylophones, twangy electric guitar, flutes, and violins. Gincho Waridori is one of my favourite songs on the album, with its funky, driving piano bassline and buzz guitar. Jeans Blues is another, a melancholy love song infused with undeniable emotion and cool. Particularly good on this track is the clarinet and violin accompaniment. Finally, the traditional stylings of Shuki No Uta are a nice transition from the funky coolness of the first half of the album to the more laid back sounds of the latter. It sounds a lot like what you would expect to hear over the speakers in some twilight Japanese buffet or mid 80's department store, but I confess: I love it. Funk guitars and violins return on Ame no Yoru, this time with harpsichords and Rushmore like plinkings. It's a nice, mellow groove that you might find yourself putting on repeat.
In closing, Zenkyokushu is a wonderfully solid album that should be of interest to music connoisseurs and Meiko Kaji fans alike. Its import cost may seem daunting, but twenty quality tracks is something hard to find even across multiple "Best of" albums these days. Do yourself a favour. Check Zenkuokushu out. You won't regret it.