Pizzicato Five (often known simply by the initials P5) was a Japanese pop group best known to audiences in the West in their later incarnation as a duo of Maki Nomiya and Yasuharu Konishi. The group, widely credited (along with Flipper's Guitar) with spearheading the Shibuya-kei movement of Tokyo in the 1990s, is known for eclectic and energetic compositions that often pay homage to late 1960s English-language Pop Music. The catchphrase "A New Stereophonic Sound Spectacular" captured the group's ironic stance and eager attitude. The group broke up in March 2001.
Pizzicato Five was a hugely prolific group during its 16-year-long existence, usually releasing at least an album each year in addition to various EPs and remix albums. Their music has appeared in numerous movies, television episodes, and video games.
The group was formed in 1985 by Konishi and fellow founding bandmates Keitarō Takanami, Ryō Kamomiya, Mamiko Sasaki, and Shigeo Miyata. Miyata left the group almost immediately but the four remaining members kept the name Pizzicato Five (The notation was "Pizzicato V" from their debut to 1987). The band released its first single on Haruomi Hosono's Non-Standard label (Teichiku Records), a 12-inch EP called Audrey Hepburn Complex which was produced by Hosono in 1985. They followed this with the Pizzicato V in Action EP.
In 1986, Pizzicato Five signed with CBS/Sony (now Sony Music Entertainment Japan). In 1987, the band released their first all-new album, Couples. It was a commercial failure, and the record company began pressuring the band to find a new lead singer. Kamomiya and Sasaki decided to quit. Takao Tajima, Original Love's frontman, joined the band soon as the new vocalist. He decided to work at these two bands. With Tajima, the band released its second album, Belissima! in 1988.
The next two albums, 1989's On Her Majesty's Request and 1990's Soft Landing On The Moon were also commercial failures.
In 1990, Maki Nomiya, who had previously released one solo album, joined as the third lead vocalist. Takao Tajima left to concentrate on his own band "Original Love." In 1991, Pizzicato Five signed with Nippon Columbia/Seven Gods (later Triad Records).
Following three EPs showcasing Nomiya's vocals, Pizzicato Five released This Year's Girl. Inspired by the advent of sampling (De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising is said to have been a major influence), the group put together a sound which would help start the burgeoning Shibuya-kei scene. The album would spawn two of their most loved songs: "Twiggy Twiggy" and "Baby Love Child" (the latter song finding its way onto the Futurama episode "Leela's Homeworld" as well as Adam Curtis' 2011 documentary series "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace", in which it serves as title music.)
1992 saw a change in direction as the clubby Sweet Pizzicato Five was released.
The band began to get increasing exposure via the theme songs it recorded for television dramas (a common practice for pop bands in Japan) achieving widespread fame with the 1993 single "Sweet Soul Revue", which was featured in a major spring advertising campaign for Kao Corporation (Kanebo Cosmetics). The single became a smash hit and number 1 hit in the Philippines.
In June of the same year, Pizzicato Five released the album Bossa Nova 2001. Produced by fellow Shibuya-scenester Cornelius, it reached number seven on the charts. In December, the single The Night is Still Young (東京は夜の七時 tōkyō wa yoru no shichiji?)(literally, 7 p.m. in Tokyo) became another smash hit after it was used as the opening theme of the children's television programmeUgo Ugo Lhuga.
The band's American debut came in 1994 with the release of the EP Five By Five on Matador Records. This was quickly followed by a full-length album, Made in USA, a compilation of tracks from their last three Japanese albums which sold 200,000 copies worldwide.
Shortly before the release of the next album Overdose in the same year, Keitarō Takanami quit the band, leaving Konishi and Nomiya as the only remaining members. In February 1995 the two set off on a successful 14-stop tour of Europe and America. Another compilation, The Sound of Music was released in October 1995, again featuring various tracks from the Maki-era albums.
After the 1996 release of the album Romantique 96 and several singles including the hit Baby Portable Rock, in 1997 the band formed its own label, *********(Readymade) Records, Tokyo, and released the commercially successful album Happy End of the World - the only album to be released unchanged in both Japan and the rest of the world.
In 1998, the band released The International Playboy & Playgirl Record in Japan. It would be released a year later worldwide with a slightly different track-listing and the shortened title (which was also its Japanese title) of "Playboy & Playgirl".
1999 came and Pizzicato Five released the "JBL Maxisonic" series of EPs, followed by their self-titled album Pizzicato Five. It included songs from each of the 3 EPs in very different forms: "Darlin' of Discothèque" is shorter and instrumental, "A Perfect World" is a lounge-style rearrangement sung by guest vocalist Mieko Hirota and the new song "20th Century Girl" is based on theB-side "Room Service", originally written by Masumi Arichika of TV Jesus.
In 2000, Matador Records released Pizzicato Five under the somewhat less confusing name of The Fifth Release From Matador. The CD version of this left out the first song "Love Again" but made up for it with three additional tracks (one from each of the JBL Maxisonic EPs), while the LP version shared the same title but deviated still further from the original track-listing. It would also be Pizzicato Five's last American release.
2001 saw the Japanese release of the album Çà et là du Japon and the announcement that the band was to break up, followed by a series of live events featuring guest performances by old members and two further "Big Hits and Jet Lags" albums - Pizzicato Five R.I.P. (1998–2001) and Singles (1993–2001).