mikami kan, live

03Apr17

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Not too long ago, Mikami Kan (三上 寛) – a folk/blues legend in Japan – came to Osaka to play at Imagination Pika Space as part of the Night of 1,000 Eyes series, curated by the serious and mysterious DJ Mike 1,000 Eyes. I’d seen Mikami Kan play once before in Kyoto in tandem with Jojo Hiroshige of Hijokaidan fame, and it was an incredible noise/blues session full of groans, distortion, and sudden cathartic vocal explosions. The Pika Space show was less explosive but all the more deeper and personal for it. There’s an incredible depth of emotional expression in Kan’s voice, built out of years of understanding what it means to be poor and working class in Japan, what it means to live in society’s edge zones, and what it means to feel the heat at the contact point where beauty and sorrow are welded together. When Kan adopts the voice of a laborer who has come home to a bare-bulb apartment and is enjoying listening to a cheap radio while quietly downing a One Cup Ozeki he gets the tone just right, riding the line between vocalizing the real pleasure of the moment and vocalizing the quiet despair of poverty that keeps such moments of pleasure fleeting and limited.

Mikami Kan has a long history of collaboration with Shuji Terayama, the avant-garde poet, writer, playwright, and filmmaker. The video above features a song that’s based on a poem by Terayama, and below you can see Mikami Kan’s brilliant cameo appearance (starting about 3:30) in Terayama’s famous 1974 fever dream, To Die in the Country.

In addition to Mikami Kan, Plastic Mantra – Jerry Gordon on percussion and cymbal-face and Charles-Eric Billard on sitar and transistors – brought their own special brand of quasi-Indian psychedelic improvisation to the party.

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Opening the session was singer/songwriter Hijiri Ichino (壱の聖) – “the holy saint” – who appeared wearing a black lingerie slip in honor of a role that Mikami Kan played in one of his early film appearances. Hijiri Ichino was inspired to become a singer/songwriter because of Mikami Kan’s music, so you can imagine how ecstatic he was to be not only meeting his idol for the first time, but actually opening up for him.

As usual at Night of 1,000 Eyes events, there were several DJs on the premises, including DJ Tanaka who always made sure things were dialed in just right by consulting the DJ hotline on the red danger phone before dropping the needle into the groove.

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Mikami Kan sings about dreams a lot. Below you can see him perform one of his most famous songs, “Yume wa Yoru Hiraku” (夢は夜ひらく – Dreams Open at Night), a cover of a song that was originally made famous by enka singer Keiko Fuji. Mikami Kan’s version, which alters the lyrics to reflect the deep despair of working-class life and the brief pleasures to be found in booze and girly magazines, was banned from the radio in 1972 when it was released.

In Japanese, just like in English, dreams can be both the visions that come to us in our sleep, and also those visions of the future that embody our hopes and desires. In Mikami Kan’s reworking of the original, a young woman’s dreams of romance are replaced by the dead-end dreams of those who are too poor to have any long-term hopes and instead find distraction in the fleeting pleasures of sake, pornography, and dirt-cheap red lantern eateries. Here’s just one verse, with my own rough translation: “八百屋の裏で泣いていた / 子供背負った泥棒よ / キャベツひとつ盗むのに / 涙はいらないぜ” – Crying behind the greengrocer / a thief who needs to feed his children / if I could just steal one cabbage / there would be no need for tears.”

%e4%b8%89%e4%b8%8a%e5%af%9b%e3%80%80%e3%83%ac%e3%83%bc%e3%82%b3%e3%83%88%e3%82%99“Yume wa Yoru Hiraku” is one of the tracks on Mikami Kan’s 1972 record, Hiraku Yume Nado Aru Ja Nashi (ひらく夢などあるじゃなし), which features cover art by Tadanori Yokoo. Several other Mikami Kan records also feature artwork by Tadanori, but it’s difficult for me to tell exactly which ones are Tadanori’s by just a quick glance at the covers. At least two of the four album covers here are by Tadanori: the one on the upper left is the cover of Hiraku Yume Nado Aru Ja Nashi, and the one on the lower right is the cover for Mikami Kan’s World (三上寛の世界). Tadanori’s pop-inflected psychedelic phantasmagoria is somehow perfectly consonant with the eclectic chaos of the decor at Pika Space, an offering dedicated to the gods of consumer detritus, chance proximity, and the ineffable divinity of the everyday object. The ceiling of Pika Space is positively littered with colorful assemblages of found objects that at times resemble the household altars found in many Japanese homes and at other times more closely approximate the feverish admixture of a Japanese toy collection from the 1970s and and a set of abandoned tea ceremony utensils discovered in a box set precariously on the wall of a trash house inhabited entirely by the yowling ghost sounds of a dozen stray cats. In short, aesthetically quite pleasing.

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