To say former Hawaii resident and current Vancouver, Washington, musician Brian Tashima has been preparing for his band’s latest project his whole life is just a modest overstatement.
He started in kindergarten.
That was when, in the middle of some long-forgotten lesson, Tashima stood up and, wholly unsolicited, volunteered to sing the theme song to the Japanese live-action superhero show Kikaida.
His teacher, her name also long forgotten, graciously accepted and Tashima, in full voice, belted out the Japanese lyrics well known (if only phonetically) by every self-respecting kid — boy or girl, Japanese or not — growing up in Hawaii in the early 1970s.
“I don’t think it was part of the teacher’s lesson plan for the day but she was nice enough to indulge me,” said Tashima, 52. “So that experience, along with the fact that Jiro (Kikaida’s human form) played guitar, is probably what led me to singing and playing guitar in a band.”
“Jinzo Ningen Kikaida” ran for 43 episodes from July 8, 1972, to May 5, 1973, on the NET network now TV Asahi) in Japan. It ran as “Kikaida” on the Hawaii-based Japanese-language channel KIKU starting in February 1974. In observance of this week’s 50th anniversary of the show, Tashima and his pop-punk trio Second Player Score have released a cover version of “Go, Go, Kikaida,” a far howl from Tashima’s a cappella version back at Kaala Elementary.
The crunchy, adrenalized croon-along/shout-along is the first single off the band’s new EP “Beer and Ramen.” linkco.re/FaxvbT8V?lang=en
“Go Go Kikaida” was written by Shoutarou Ishinomori and Watanabe Michiaki, and was originally performed by Yuuki Hide with Columbia Cradle Club. Second Player Score’s version of it, along with the rest of the “Beer and Ramen” EP, is available on most major streaming platforms exclusively through TuneCore Japan, or on CD.
A graduate of Campbell High School and the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Tashima was a prominent figure in the 1990s rock scene in Hawaii, regularly performing at the Wave and other spots with the Tone Deaf Teens and operating the Crash the Luau indie label that brought to market recordings by Seven Degrees North and local punk stalwarts Tweaked. Tone Deaf Teens won a Na Hoku Hanohano Award in 1995, the first year the awards offered a rock category.
Tashima moved to Washington in 2000 and formed Second Player Score with fellow Hawaii-transplant Daniel Downs and Kyle Gilbert in 2012. The band has released four CDs, including 2019’s sprawling concept piece Glorified, which spawned a limited-run manga series.
Tashima is also the author of a series of young adult sci-fantasy books featuring a musically inclined protagonist who just happens to be on the autism spectrum. Originally written for his son Torin, who has Asperger’s syndrome, the series has found a broad audience of YA fans.
Tashima’s interest in recording a version of “Go, Go, Kikaida” comes amid a mid-life reconnection with his Japanese heritage and a late-to-the-nerd-game discovery of Japanese manga and anime.
The original Japanese series, about a robot created by a scientist to protect his children from the evil organization that holds him prisoner, was an immediate unlikely hit in Hawaii. It was initially embraced by a generation of local Japanese-American school children who watched the show on the same channel that aired popular Japanese programming enjoyed by their parents and grandparents, and soon after by kids statewide entralled by the playground chatter and enticing merchandising that attended its rising popularity.
For Tashima, the show was every bit as impactful as the original Star Wars.
Like many young fans, Tashima was captivated not just by the wild costumes, creepy villains and extended action scenes, but by the very Japanese undercurrents of darkness, internal conflict and wistful melancholia.
“I was mesmerized by it,” he said. “The appeal was it was safe for kids, but it wasn’t saccharine. There was some pathos to it.”
The hero himself was remarkably complex for such a young audience. Denim-clad, guitar-strumming, motorcycle-riding Jiro one minute, he would transform, with a few irresistibly imitable calisthenics, into his true blue-and-red robot form when confronted with the baddie-of-the-week and its made-to-be-dispatched minions.
“He was the flawed hero,” Tashima said. “He struggled to be good, but there was a darkness inside him, the sort of trope you see a lot in entertainment for older audiences. In the end, the has to return to darkness to finally resolve things.”
Tashima can appreciate the narrative of return.
Kikaida aside, Tashima said he spent much of his adolescence and young adulthood studiously avoiding any interaction with his Japanese heritage, even thumbing his nose at Japanese school, which many local Japanese children attended.
“It was a point of pride for me,” he said, chuckling.
Tashima did take two years of Japanese language while attending the University of Hawaii, a matter of pragmatism for many business majors in Hawaii in the 1980s, and visited Japan as part of a scholarship. But it wasn’t until just three years ago that he recalled another Japanese children’s series that aired in Hawaii, Ikkyu-San, based on the supposedly true childhood of a famous Buddhist monk, and went YouTube a-searching. That eventually led to a very deep Netflix dive into other, more contemporary Japanese anime.
Tashima found that he loved the art, the stories, the J-pop and J-rock soundtracks. He was hooked.
And as often happens, what captures Tashima’s interest and imagination eventually insinuates itself into his music, first through a Stereopony cover in the band’s live shows and now the “Beer and Ramen” EP, which in addition to the “Go, Go, Kikaida” cover also includes covers of “Ue wo Muite Arukou” (more commonly known in the United States as “Sukiyaki”) and the Stereopony hit “Hitohira no Hanabira,” as well as two original songs from the band’s “Glorified” CD, rerecorded with verses translated into Japanese.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more and more interested in my heritage along with Japanese language and culture in general,” Tashima explains. “So it just seemed fun and natural to do a project like this. I still only speak tourist-level Japanese, but I’m working on it.”
Michael Tsai covers local and state politics for Spectrum News Hawaii.