BY KAINE ENE
I was sitting around and doing homework while listening to City Pop on YouTube on my TV—mainly from the 80’s—and as I was scrolling through the mix of songs that were on autoplay, I came across one that caught my eye by the thumbnail. It was a picture of a girl leaning back on a chair, grinning ear-to-ear, with the image rotated to almost look like her hair was floating. The video was titled “Anna Banana – Follow Me (1991) (Full Ver.),” posted by “Rireki.” Well, I thought I’d give it a listen, and I enjoyed the mellowness of the song very much. That was about that, and I continued to do my homework, whatever it was. Though, in the days that followed, I found myself listening to it again, and again, and even a few more times after that. The more I did, the more I came to appreciate the sheer otherworldly sound of the music and the hypnotic vocals, despite not being able to understand most of it due to it being in Japanese. The only English words I could make out was the sentiment: “And if you follow me, I will follow you.”
Anna Banana’s album cover for “ooki na e.” (Sixty Records)
That singer, Anna Banana, who holds the real name Anna Demeo, was born in Santa-Monica California of Italian and Japanese descent, but it appears her career only pertains in Japan. Now here’s what’s interesting, she wrote and composed some of her own songs, in which I believe she displays massive talent, but despite that, she seems to be largely forgotten publicly. If you search either of her names, “Anna Banana” or Anna Demeo, you could get Anna Banana the Tik Tok star, Anna Banana the Canadian artist, or even Anna Demeo of the company “Savant Power” before being able to find a trace of the Anna Banana I’m talking about. To be able to find her wikipedia page and her music easier, you’ll have to type her name in katakana: “アンナ・バナナ.” Though even within’ the Japanese internet, there’s no trace of her after around 1997.
After listening to as many of her songs as I can, I love how most of them are different enough from each other to stay interesting, but nothing is out of place and it all feels like it’s coming from Anna Banana. The very next song I dove into, I could only access in the form of a video, which I recently learned is from a movie she was in (more on that later.) It’s called “Tengoku no Terebi” (translates to “Heaven TV,”) a song which screams 90’s from the start. The music, the percussion, and the dancing make it hard not to move your feet.
Whereas the song “Tori” (“Bird”) from the 1991 album “Ooki na E” (“Big Picture”) is a lot slower and reflective, and “Taiyou no Kisetsu” (“Sun Season”) from “High Dive” (1993) is a mellow tune to wash over you with summer imagery. A lot of music careers have a peak or a “big break,” while it’s hard to say with research what song or album did that for Demeo, YouTube sources claim it’s “Sing Selah” (1990.) I could only listen to two songs from that album: “Yasei no Oto” (“Wild Sound”) and “Ka Chi Kan,” (which may merely be onomatopoeic), both of which are pulsating with energy. “Yasei no Oto”—which I got to see a performance of courtesy of “UMEKOUMEUME” on YouTube—simply lives up to its name with a dance tempo and harmonic rhythm that feels like the music itself is spinning. “Ka Chi Kan” sounds like something out of a spy movie, like we’re running with the hero in some sort of chase scene, and it’s even complete with a brief bass riff that has to be James Bond inspired.
Anna Banana’s album cover for “High Dive.” (Sixty Records)
The only album that I could listen to in its entirety was “High Dive,” which was from what I can tell, her last solo album. It has a distinct style from the other music of Demeo’s that I’ve listened to, and it’s produced by Takao Tajima of the band “Original Love.” In my opinion, the most unique song on the album is “Taiyou no Kisetsu,” with an honorable mention going to “Yoake wo Machinagara” (“Waiting for Dawn”) for being interesting, as it shares the same melody as “Tengoku no Terebi” and turns the mood on its head. Another song on the album, “Smile” even got to be on NHK’s “Minna no Uta” broadcast according to Wikipedia, but I couldn’t find any footage of it.
Besides her music, her career stretched to being in a movie called Heartbreaker-From Love to Bullets. I’ve only seen clips of it, but the main character’s name is “Heartbreaker,” and the movie revolves around dance and dance battles, seemingly ending with “Tengoku no Terebi.” All I’ve been able to see is the dancing, and I haven’t been able to discern the plot—or if there even is a plot—but thanks to the Japanese corner of Amazon, you can see that it’s an hour and fourteen minutes long.
The cast has some remarkably talented dancers, though, with stars such as Yutaka “Diamond Yukai” Tadokoro and Gwinko still being known today. Similar to Demeo, Gwinko’s career seems to pertain to the 90’s, but Tadokoro kept acting and has even performed the Japanese versions of songs from the Toy Story series such as “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” and “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” (Toy Story 4).
I’m sure Demeo would be happy to know that the movie has made others happy, as Heartbreaker gained a cult following in Japan for people who enjoy the dancing. I happened to find an instance on YouTube where fans reenacted parts of the film for a wedding, ending with of course, my favorite part, “Tengoku no Terebi.”
Anna Banana performing “Tengoku no Terebi” in “Heartbreaker-With Love From Bullets.” (Toei Company,LTD)
And finally, the last remnant of Demeo’s career that I could find was her time as the lead vocalist of the band “Rhythm Remedyz” in 1997; you can listen to a few of their songs on YouTube thanks to a user named “esnefuk.” One of their songs, “Let Me Drive,” became one of the ending themes for an old 90’s anime called “Shinkai Densetsu Meremanoid” (“Deep Sea Legend Meremanoid.”) The song’s very invigorating, with Demeo once again showing her ability to convey a particular attitude with her voice; it can be sensitive in one song, and bursting with confidence in another such as this. And she always knows where on the spectrum her tone should go.
So why she left the public eye after this may always be shrouded in mystery. It makes me wonder: we’ll know if she passes away, right? It’s not everyday you dig and you find a treasure in music history as fresh as Anna Banana, so it’s a bit sad when there’s no way of knowing how someone who’s put so many smiles on people’s faces is doing now. Though at least you can get a little idea of the kind of person Demeo is through a video titled “Anna Banana’s Talk アンナ・バナナ 1990,” thanks to “esnefuk” again. She speaks casual Japanese in it, and although my Japanese isn’t complete enough to understand what the topic is, I know she mentions her grandma at the start, so there’s that. Overall she’s really smiley, and to end the one-minute video, she leaves us with a little bit of her philosophy in English. “Anyway, I love adventure,” says Demeo. “I love adventure… and challenge.”