Review Summary: The essential starting point for Jun Togawa
1984 Japan. The Japanese music scene runs rampant with idol pop. To get anything different, you have to look underground. Your best option was to follow anything on the YEN label. Until suddenly, a tiny little woman dressed in a butterfly suit rips through your screens. Her songs about turning into insects, sadomasochism, incest and an anthem about a young woman getting her period shake the sensibilities of the mainstream. And she looks like an idol.
Yes, that woman is Jun Togawa (before this major breakthrough she was already gaining popularity through her stints in Halmens, Guernica and Noizunzuri) the now infamous ero-guro princess. Suddenly, she brings out her debut solo album, Tamahime Sama, changing the scene for young women and men looking for something with more bite...
Pressing play, you are instantly drawn into the world of Princess Tamahime. Creepy organs and minimalist music are the only music that supports Togawa’s fragile voice on Doto no Renai. In its short just-over-a-minute run time, you are sucked in, trapped. You know you are in for a disturbing experience, but it’s too late to turn back.
The drums of Teinen Pushiganga come in like a military charge. This adaptation of folksong “El Barrachito” is hauntingly powerful. Togawa changed the lyrics to that of a woman addicted to masochism, the title translating to “A Piece of Flesh”. It has become a staple in the Togawa canon and many bands have covered it since. Her voice here is at her most powerhouse. It is easy to fall under and feel the protagonist’s pain.
Then in comes Halmen’s cover Konchu Gun. The relentless synths and drum roll complimented by Togawa’s cathartic vocals (particularly in the chorus) may be the turning point for some listeners. This is what Togawa is famous for- pushing the boundaries of pop. Backing vocals seep through, adding even more tension to the mix, making the Halmen’s original truly her own song.
After Konchu Gun has slightly lifted the atmosphere, Yumon no Giga is there to devastate the feeling of hope. This song is truly disturbing; multiple effects over minimal synth- Togawa’s voice strikingly cute and "Lolita" adds a true sense of dread. The ending of the song suggests some form of escape, only once again to dissolve into nothingness. An album highlight.
The second Halmen’s cover is Tonari no Indo Jin. This starts of basic, a very 80s sounding verse, albeit with the genuine Togawa backing sound effects and vocal styling. This verse swirls and builds into the first time Togawa really lets loose her operatics (though, only so briefly, teasing the listener). It adds a most disturbing feel to the track. Togawa refuses to let you go... yet.
Tamahime Sama, her master stroke on the album strikes hard. Its amazing synth line and march-like drumming complimented by Togawa’s amazing vocal work really hits home. Added to the fact that it is about a teenage girl getting her period really does its job of alienating Togawa’s work from the rest of Japanese artists at the time.
After the power and dread created by Tamahime Sama, Togawa gives us a breather with the ridiculously pretty Mori no Hitobito. A basic bass and piano accompany her beautiful (but acquired taste) voice, making it a perfect breather. It is highly memorable because of this.
The third Halmens cover of the album, Odorenai blows the original out of the water. Togawa’s voice is at her most brutal on this track, and its grating chorus really adds to the power of Togawa’s art. It’s bound to scare away some listeners, but those with patience will be highly rewarded by this powerful and playful song.
Finally, it is Mushi no Onna that takes our journey to an end. A cover of Pachabel’s canon, this became a staple in many Togawa shows and performances. It is one of the songs that made her such a notorious and driving force in the Japanese pop scene. Her voice is very gorgeous here and compliments the composition well. (To be noted however, is that she created another version of this song called Punk Mushi no Onna [first available on the Uratamahime live album], which is an amazing, powerful, intense new wave variation accompanied by Togawa screaming her lungs out).
Tamahime Sama is many things, but ultimately it is Jun Togawa’s vision coming into true fruition. To think that the album clocks in just under 30 minutes and so much has been covered, it is staggering. This album barely sounds dated either, and this is a true testament to the sticking power of Togawa’s music. Chances are it will be even more appealing to young audiences now than ever before. It is probably the best starting point for a new Togawa listener, and is definitely a classic in the history of Japanese music.