Morning Musume ’15 rounds out their April 15, 2015 triple A-side release with the Tsunku composition “Yuugure wa Ameagari”. Like the bittersweet “Toki wo Koe Sora wo Koe“, the grandmaster of Hello! Project fills this song with equal parts sorrow and hope, rain and sun, death and rebirth.
Similarities with my choice of Single of the Year 2014 abound and extend past the emotional effect of the song. Save the 12th generation, who wear loose fitting pure white, Morning Musume don sky blue one-piece dresses cinched at the waist with a cobalt band. A deep V-collar jeweled grey and underlying pale blue skirts and blouses add a layer complexity and depth of the outfit. These dresses are reminiscent of the outfits worn in the aforementioned ” Toki wo Koe Sora wo Koe ” single. The ballet-like turns in the choreography also present a call-back to the good times of Michishige Sayumi’s leadership.
The girls in their small groups
Ikuta Erina, Ishida Ayumi, Kudo Haruka, and Iikubo Haruna
Sato Masaki, Oda Sakura, Sayashi Riho, and Fukumura Mizuki
Nonaka Miki, Ogata Haruna, Makino Maria, Haga Akane
Interloper Miyamoto Karin (sub for Suzuki Kanon)
A single blossoming cherry tree seen under various studio manipulated light settings decorates the simple set. Given the release date for “Yuugure wa Ameagari”, this is fitting. While the song doesn’t seem to be literally about death and rebirth (see, you guessed it, “Toki wo Koe Sora wo Koe”), the song contains elements of that theme. It’s a new life in the city, and the girls are trying their best to make their way. Lyrics like these remind us that whenever a new generation of girls, in this case Ogata Haruna, Nonaka Miki, Makino Maria, and Haga Akane, join the group, their entire lives are uprooted and transplanted to Tokyo. For many of them, their families split apart as the girls say goodbye to their hometowns. Think about the 12th generation (who this song appears to reference): the closest hometown, Nonaka Miki’s Shizuoka, is at least 100 miles from Tokyo. For Ogata Haruna, her Osaka is a good 300 miles from Tokyo and 2 1/2 hours and 14,500 yen ($120 US) by bullet train. If things go well for them, these girls will probably never return to their respective hometowns. So, I think the bittersweet mood of the song is appropriate.
The elegance of the song extends to an arrangement filled with layered strings and a piano used as the primary melodic accompaniment. A simple percussive beat plays partner to a thumping bass to give the song a modern touch. Electronic buzzes and whirs are kept to a minimum and only occasionally surface for a transitional shimmy or a padding swell. With any luck, we will get to hear a stripped down version of “Yuugure wa Ameagari” with either a solo piano accompaniment or a piano and string quartet.
The thing that is painfully clear with “Yuugure wa Ameagari” is the transitory nature of the current group. We now have 13 girls in Morning Musume, inching closer to a record lineup size. While no one is talking about graduation yet, the thought and fear of another graduation looms near, just as with every beginning come from another beginning’s end. An identity crisis also bubbles under the veneer of fluttering cherry blossoms: who’s group is Morning Musume ’15? Leader Fukumura Mizuki, ace Sayashi Riho, voice Oda Sakura, and wildcard Sato Masaki all play prominent roles in the PV with neither of them asserting dominance. Masaki’s “air piano” routine and Mizuki’s “anchor the bridge” choreography standout among the flowing maneuvers, but these do not necessarily signal a wresting of the baton from Riho’s well-trained hand.
And so, we need to ask the big questions. What kind of sunset is this? Is it the sunset of a past life? Is it the sunset of a member’s tenure? Or is it just the literal sunset after the rain? While we are at it, how about that rain? Is it literal rain, or is it a proxy for tears? Is it a cleansing rain that washes away negative experiences? Or, is the rain the kind of rain that feels like the earth is crying alongside you?
With all of this in the air, will you be able to enjoy “Yuugure wa Ameagari” on its own merits? Does the song grasp the hand of the past too tightly? Does the symbolism cleave too heavily to an uncertain future? As lives change and uncertainty becomes certainty, will the sunset after the rain bring hope to your aching heart?
You can buy ” Seishun Kozou ga Naiteiru / Yuugure wa Ameagari / Ima Koko Kara ” at CD Japan.