We’ve had celebrities putting in appearances in video games for a good while now, mostly as voice actors, but it’s quite rare to see a performer appear in a game as themselves.
Japanese singer, actress and model Aya Kamiki evidently saw a good opportunity back in 2008, though, and played a part in Spike Chunsoft’s sound novel 428: Shibuya Scramble. Quite a substantial one, too, despite not being one of the main actors; her face is plastered all over billboards and electronic displays in the in-game rendition of Shibuya (which is represented entirely through photographs and full-motion video), her song Sekai wa Sore Demo Kawari wa Shinai is heard numerous times throughout the narrative and she even puts in an in-person appearance for one brief moment during the main story.
It’s an inventive way to promote yourself, for sure, and adds to the overall believable atmosphere of Spike Chunsoft’s game. But who, exactly, is Aya Kamiki?
Kamiki developed a love for music from an early age, taking up the piano at age 4 and later exploring an interest in punk rock through both guitar and singing during her time at high school.
Her career in music got underway in 2005, when she released two singles on an independent record label named Weed Records. She quickly developed a reputation for having a powerful, distinctive voice that was rather different from the “sweet” sound typically associated with Japanese idols, and this helped her get noticed.
Kamiki’s voice is strong and full of force; her appreciation for punk rock, R&B and pop gave her a unique auditory identity that really helped her to stand out among the heavily processed, “manufactured” sound of idol groups. She played up this angle in many of her early singles, too, performing as a solo vocalist with a straightforward, simple backing band of guitar, bass and drums.
In 2006, Kamiki joined Giza Studio and started to see more mainstream success, with a variety of successful singles and albums. Her first full-length album Secret Code was promoted through two live events at which she appeared as one of two alter-egos — at Tower Records in Shibuya, she performed as “Black Kamiki”, while at HMV she appeared as “White Aya”. Fans could attend the events for free, so long as they had purchased a copy of the new album at the venue.
In 428: Shibuya Scramble, Kamiki’s music is presented as having a widespread, almost universal appeal. The character Kenji Osawa, who is portrayed as having a certain amount of difficulty with processing regular human emotions and indeed interacting with other people, finds an unexpected connection with his daughters when he listens to an Aya Kamiki CD for the first time, and often finds solace online in an Aya Kamiki fan forum specifically designed for those aged forty and over.
Osawa, as a highly-strung virologist who is having a very bad day at the time of the story unfolds, finds himself drawing great inspiration from Kamiki’s work — and from finding this one way in which he can successfully connect with other people. Indeed, as we’ll explore in a later article, Osawa’s particular part of the narrative is very claustrophobic and quite psychologically disturbing at times — but the occasions when he sits back and listens to Kamiki’s music are periods of respite from the chaos that is unfolding throughout his story and the broader tale the game is telling.
As for Kamiki, she has had some success over the years, though mostly in her native Japan. Interestingly, part of Osawa’s story in 428: Shibuya Scramble sees the virologist discussing whether or not Kamiki would be able to — or indeed if she should — break into America. It’s an allegory for his own situation at the time; he is contemplating a move from his job at a Japanese pharmaceutical company to a lucrative position in the United States, but he knows he can’t just accept the offer, as there will be consequences.
It’s kind of interesting that Kamiki seemingly hasn’t seen a lot of attention overseas to date; her music — that which is readily available via Western streaming and digital download services, anyway — is highly accessible, with some of her songs having English lyrics, and the distinctive, simple punk rock stylings of many of her tracks have universal appeal, wherever you are in the world.
That said, in the West, traditional “guitar rock” hasn’t been terribly fashionable for a few years; current trends very much favour urban styles, and while Kamiki does draw some influences from R&B in some of her songs, it’s possible that the ever-fickle world of popular music didn’t consider her “unique” enough to have a breakout overseas success.
However, that situation is changing at the time of writing; in early February 2019, Kamiki announced (in English) on Facebook that this would be the year she would finally do her first ever overseas performance. She will be appearing at the Naka-Kon anime convention in Kansas, which is set to run from March 15-17. Kamiki promises a “one man live” as well as a performance on the convention’s main stage.
This is actually the first update from Kamiki as a soloist for a while; her previous post on her Facebook page is from all the way back in August 2017, when she announced the formation of her rock duo Sonic Lover Reckless alongside 21g and LOVEBITES guitarist MIYAKO. Incidentally, if you enjoy Kamiki’s no-nonsense rock stylings as a soloist, you’ll probably also get a kick out of Sonic Lover Reckless.
At this point, it’s anyone’s guess what the future holds for Kamiki as a performer, but she certainly has a following out there — both in the real world, and in the fictional world of 428: Shibuya Scramble. And her appearance in the latter provides an interesting snapshot of what Japanese life was like on the game’s original release — which was over a decade ago now! She’s just another little piece of the puzzle that makes the Shibuya of the game so believable and interesting to experience — but more on that another day!
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