Through a blend of jazz, pop, and sweet sixties styling, Japanese band Pizzicato Five achieved worldwide fame and played a key role in establishing an entirely new sub-genre. The group formed in Tokyo around 1985 by Yasuharu Konishi (founder and only permanent band member) with schoolmates Keitarō Takanami, Ryō Kamomiya, Mamiko Sasaki, and Shigeo Miyata. The band would see Miyata’s almost immediate departure but opted to keep the name, releasing their first EP Audrey Hepburn Complex on Teichiku Records, and the subsequent Pizzicato V in Action EP.
The group signed to CBS/Sony in 1986, but after the commercial failure of their album Couples, felt mounting pressure from record executives to find a more suitable singer. This prompted the exit of Kamomiya and Sasaki, and after a few more line-up changes, including a vocalist attempt from Takao Tajima, the band still suffered a lack of success. But as the saying goes “The third time is a charm.” And a charm is exactly what Maki Nomiya’s sultry vocals turned out to be for Pizzicato Five. Joining the group in 1990, Nomiya was the much-needed missing link and it wasn’t long before some of their most beloved material to date would be released. This Year’s Girl was put out on the Nippon Columbia/Seven Gods (Triad) label and contained the hits ‘Twiggy Twiggy’ and ‘Baby Love Child’ but also showcased the band blending genres and stepping into new territory. Heavily influenced by the use of sampling on such albums as De La Soul’s Three Feet High and Rising, the group started to form a unique sound that would spearhead the entire Shibuya-kei scene.
Translating to ‘Shibuya style’ the term Shibuya-kei referred to bands that had originated in the Shibuya district of Tokyo. Shibuya is one of 23 special wards in Tokyo known for being an epicenter of Japanese pop culture, fashion, and nightlife. Typically, the music is a mixture of jazz, pop, and synth-pop that pays homage to notable acts and genres of yesteryear. A kitschy fusion of French ye-ye music (think Serge Gainsbourg and France Gall), bossa nova, Phil Spector wall of sound productions, and baroque pop styling are all sprinkled in for good measure. The term originated at foreign affiliated chain record stores and Pizzicato Five is undoubtedly the most notable act of the subgenre.
After recording theme songs for Japanese television shows, the band started to gain recognition and even snagged a number one hit in the Philippines strangely, of all places, with 1993’s ‘Sweet Soul Revue’ a track used on a cosmetics commercial. The group continued their successful ride with Bossa Nova 2001 reaching number seven on the charts and the following smash single ‘The Night is Still Young’ being used as the opening theme song on a popular children’s television show. In 1994, they conquered America by signing to Matador record label, promptly releasing the EP Five for Five and follow-up full-length album Made in the USA, which was a compilation of tracks from their three previous Japanese releases. Unfortunately, the same year Takanami quit the band, leaving only original founding member Konishi and songstress Nomiya to perform as a duo.
The two stayed busy and set out on an extensive 14-stop tour of Europe and America. They also released another compilation album and continued to record new material. Romantique 96 was released during 1996 and featured ‘Baby Portable Rock’ another hit for the band. In 1997, Pizzicato Five formed their own *********Readymade Record label and put out the commercially successful Happy End of the World. This is the only record that remained unchanged in Japan and all other countries of release. They also filmed tons of music videos to accompany their songs and really showcase the band’s stylishness. The videos are playful, thoughtful, and at times theatrical productions that give a nod to vintage culture, and always feature a heartfelt dedication to other artists or personal friends. Nomiya’s slender frame and sweet face also make her perfect as the role of starlet and she is certainly not hard to rest your gaze upon. The group continued to churn out albums, compilations, and remixes of previous works, until they announced their disbanding in 2001. Even still, they performed several live events featuring former members and released two more albums before finally calling it quits in March of ’01. Pizzicato Five had a prolific career that spanned over fifteen years and included countless releases from the group. They are undeniably an innovative act and their influence is still prevalent in the j-pop of today.