I’m Proud: How Tomomi Kahara Found Freedom from the City
Tomomi Kahara inspire a pop story from Komuro that breaks the mold of the tales familiar to the rest of the Komuro Family.
Hi! Welcome to Tetsuya Komuro Week at This Side of Japan, a newsletter about Japanese music, new and old. We are dedicating this week on a series of essays discussing the producer’s essential acts and singles. You can return to the Intro page of the series here. You can check out previous issues of the newsletter here.
Two years after the first TRF single, “Going 2 Dance,” Tetsuya Komuro’s songs graduated from the world of Eurobeat as their main source of inspiration. The cultural lifestyle as well as the urban environment associated with the dance genre, however, continued to inform their narratives, albeit in a much different mood than the all-together-now music that pumped up the clubs. Namie Amuro’s “Body Feels Exit” outlined the current state of nightlife in the city as a hangover of a once-celebratory period; Globe’s “Departures” articulated a specific bitterness and misery that lingered in such a reality. The optimism of rave soon brought a doomed attitude regarding the present, and Komuro’s protagonists searched for company during this trying time as a means for survival.
By that same year of 1995 which saw the release of “Body Feels Exit” and “Departures,” Komuro’s reputation as a pop producer grew astronomically as a certified hit-maker. TRF earned a few platinum hits, Amuro was becoming a rising solo star, and his then-new band Globe with vocalist Keiko and rapper Marc Panther proved to be another success. He also had a hand in raising idols’ careers and developing celebrities into music stars. Former member of idol group Tokyo Performance Dolls, Ryoko Shinohara got a huge boost the previous year with “Itoshisato Setsunasato Kokorozuyosato.” Fashion model Hitomi also began a pop career after meeting Komuro, breaking out with 1995’s “Candy Girl.”
The producer worked with enough names for his associated acts to be later dubbed the Komuro Family, and one famous personality to emerge from the circle was Tomomi Kahara. Her entry into the music industry resembled Shinohara and Hitomi with her starting as a talent working up the ladders of Japanese media. She worked first as a fashion-magazine model and then a variety-show regular before being taken under the producer’s wing as a singer. Kahara became more and more involved with Komuro, eventually forming a romantic relationship, and their connection during the late ’90s would inspire a pop story that breaks the mold of the tales familiar to the rest of the Komuro Family.
For her first few singles, Kahara was initially given a familiar template as those tasked to Komuro’s other singers. Her first two singles, “Keep Yourself Alive” and “I Believe,” followed the arc established in “Body Feels Exit.” The songs embraced the “escape from the city” narrative introduced in Namie Amuro’s hit; the post-techno beats of the latter song is particularly indebted to the Amuro single. “When I unlock / and open the doors to my lonely room / sadness strikes me,” Kahara sighs in “I Believe.” She falls victim to the same city-life numbness recounted in Amuro’s repeated episodes of loveless nights.
A crippling loneliness also looms in Kahara’s third single, “I’m Proud.” Like a lot of Komuro’s protagonists, she sings about the city as a source of her misery. “Why couldn’t I see my dreams so honestly?” She asks her old self in the song’s intro. A dramatic string sweep and drum-machine snare rolls then swiftly move the song into the main verses, abruptly raising the intensity of the song. I imagine those drum hits as camera flashes that shoot the part-time model like rapid fire. When Kahara speaks of adults luring her into temptation, it paints the picture of the city as a wasteland full of vultures preying upon the naive youth who dreams of making a name for herself.
But unlike the other TK Family songs, Kahara in “I’m Proud” tells her story in the past tense and for good reason. “When I began to be proud of myself / is probably the night I met you,” she sings in the climactic end of the song. She once lost sight of her path, but she is now free, thanks to the support of a significant other. The music, too, sings triumphantly with the strings soaring higher and higher while Kahara reaches for the skies come time for the chorus. The final minutes in the song indulge in the most euphoric moment of bliss.
“I’m Proud” is the rare Komuro story that features its protagonist breaking away from a doomed present. The song still mentions the same anxieties of identity erasure and the sadness rooted in the loneliness from city life, though they recede into the background of the narrative as her story of redemption progressively builds. Kahara not only managed to find genuine relief, but she also successfully reclaimed herself after being consumed by the darkness of the city. She comes out of her tragedy with a brighter outlook for tomorrow, transcending the arc that defines many of the Komuro Family hits.
For all the personal victories represented in “I’m Proud,” the title is rather ironic with Kahara ultimately dependent of someone else in order to feel any self-confidence or a meaning to live: “My smile, my tears, my everything / I always make sure you know it all,” she sings before she departs. She has escaped the grasp of the darkness that consumers city life, though she still needs love and support from another to find personal peace. Kahara will no longer be the muse of Komuro in the producer’s next step, but Komuro will eventually write a successful hit that shows a lost soul can reach solace in solitude even in the big city.
Up next, Part 5: Alone in My Room: How Ami Suzuki Twisted the Plot in Komuro’s City Songs
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