Fishmans – Unreliable Angel

Fishmans – 頼りない天使

Live performance of Unreliable Angel at Hibiya Open Air Concert Hall (1996)

Fishmans – Unreliable Angel

Take me beyond the distant night sky, she said.
Take me to the angel’s place, she said.

Goodbye – things are fading.
And now that she has called me
it’s the end, oh yes it’s already over.
From today, it’s just the two of us alone.

When the gentle angel comes down
surely she’s going to be delighted.

Isn’t this a strange story?
In the middle of a world like this,
for me to be the one to rely on.

And that girl says to me,
“The angel is coming now”
Honestly. It’s not a lie.
The future, you know,
it’s bright.

And with her confident mood, 
I myself surely changed.

Isn’t this a wonderful story.
That something so sure
is still now by my side.

Isn’t this a wonderful story.
that in the middle of this world
it’s just the two of us alone.


Fishmans is the band. When I am asked what kind of Japanese music I like they are almost always the first band to pop into my head. Rarely does the other party know who I am talking about (Japanese, American or otherwise). A cult favorite with a large following while they were active, Fishmans was never a chart topper. The music can be hard to describe. At times it is quite playful such as seen in Walkin’, a catchy pop song about the joys of wandering about town without a plan:

Meeting up at the shop in front of the station
laughing in way we haven’t in for what feels like 10 years.
The two of us, our heads held high, our feet turning over and over,
where should we go now?
Walkin’ Walkin’ Walkin’ Walkin’

However, as seen in the song featured here, many of the bands songs were deeper in theme. The music, consisting mainly of a subtle dub bass line running steady behind a whirling organ that builds up to a high pitch creates a dreamlike ambience that works perfectly with lead singer Sato Shinji’s haunting lyrics about…death? love? Love found in death, perhaps? I’ve returned to this song countless times since I first heard while on study abroad in Tokyo over a decade ago but still haven’t nailed exactly what I think the song is about. At that time, 20 years young, I was spending late nights in Shibuya and catching the 5 am train home, sitting next to salarymen on their way to work. I could barely be concerned with thoughts of mortality, love or loneliness.

Moreover, to be honest, at that point my Japanese was so poor I could barely order a coffee from Dotour, so I wasn’t even really listening to the lyrics. Still though, there was something about the ambience – the mood – that this and other Fishmans songs created that drew me in. Without understanding the words, I could still feel the tension in Sato’s singing. Lyrics caught between pain and joy being sung by a man unafraid to lay forth for the audience these emotions.

Now that I can, sort of, speak and understand Japanese the song’s impact is even stronger. I’ll leave it you to interpret what it is talking about, but there is one moment in the song I want to highlight:

In the live performance linked above, right around the 2min. 40sec. mark, is the point in the song where Sato sings:

“The angel is coming now” ( 天使は 今来ますって)

Honestly. [snare hit/music stops] It’s not a lie. ( 本当さ ウソじゃないんだよ)

It is a simple measure, the band stops the music for only a pause, but the impact is strong. Coming right in the middle of song, it highlights the importance of believing what is happening within the world Sato has created. And within that brief hush of instruments, Sato sounds at his most earnest, singing loudly, imploring you to keep listening, for nothing is fake about the song. Honestly.

I have linked to a live version of this song, but the studio version can be found on the 1992 album King Master George. I should mention that the band stopped releasing new music in 1999, after Sato passed away. They have since reunited a number of times for various memorial concerts. Also, the ability to listen to Fishmans has really grown in recent years, with a number of albums, concerts and music videos having been uploaded to YouTube. If you are interested in listening to more I would recommend searching for “Fishmans” as well as “フィッシュマンズ “, which is the band’s name in Japanese.