How a Japanese Man with a Guitar Changed my Life

By: Campbell Wood

On September 15th, 2021, an underground music-based magazine called Rolling Stone released its revamped list of the Top 500 Songs of All Time after its infamous list from 2004. Topping the chart are some of history’s most classic and recognizable songs, from legendary artists such as Aretha Franklin taking the #1 spot with her 1967 trademark song, “Respect.” While some of the world's biggest artists occupy spots in the top 10 such as Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, and The Beatles, I believe one song exceeds them all. A song from a small guitarist from Japan with an infatuation for Brazil. BELEZA PULA.

Masayoshi Takanaka is a skilled jazz fusion guitarist from Japan who was extremely influential for his contributions to the city pop genre, especially for his long yet comforting instrumentals. He is a former member of the Sadistic Mika Band, until their eventual split after the group’s leading members divorced in 1976. This led to Takanaka’s debut album being released in the same year, “Seychelles,” with popular songs such as “Oh! Tengo Suerte.” One of Takanaka’s most signature and recognizable attributes is the use of his big, extravagant guitars during live performances, such as his infamous surfboard-shaped guitar. It is a fitting representation of Takanaka’s character, as his albums are amusing and danceable. 

“Brasilian Skies,”  Takanaka’s fourth studio album, was released on July 21, 1978 (which is so freaking awesome because that’s also my birthday) through Kitty Records. It features 8 instrumental songs (in all caps) with heavy influence from Brazil’s own bossa nova and samba. Each song contains aspects of traditional Brazilian music like intricate rhythms and instruments such as samba percussion, along with Takanaka’s recognizable flair with his electric guitar. While each song is incredibly enjoyable in its own right, the song that stands out the most, and is what I believe is the greatest song of all time, is “BELEZA PULA.”

BELEZA PULA is 8 minutes of elixir for a human’s ears. A rush flows through my body as the song starts with its shouting of “BELEZA PULA”, as I know I will be filled with heaping delight. When I listen to most songs, I often get disappointed and bored by the absence of certain elements and noises that satisfy me. Beleza Pula does a complete 180 and has the opposite effect on me. At no point during the song do I feel like something is missing, as maracas, whistles, and a cuica, a signature Brasilizan piece of percussion whose sounds resemble someone wiping windows. There is always something happening, and that’s what I love about it. It is complete satisfaction with zero dead air. All of these different bits and pieces are all pulled together into a culmination of beauty, matched with soothing vocals that make you feel like you’re levitating. People might argue Bohemian Rhapsody is the greatest song of all time due to its shifting tones and genres, but I believe BELEZA PULA’s musical sections are much greater, from Takanaka’s famous guitar playing to the simple synthesizer all being played over this cornucopia of happy chaos.

I discovered BELEZA PULA while sitting in my senior year math class in high school after shuffling my Discover Weekly on Spotify. I had heard of Masayoshi Takanaka previously as I was familiar with his cover of Santana’s Latin rock instrumental “Samba Pa Ti.” I remember texting the song to my friends simply because the cuica featured heavily throughout the song sounded like monkeys hollering, which I found hilarious at the time. Little did I know it would creep back on me in the greatest way possible, like a hidden recessive trait waiting to be triggered. In March of 2022, I was searching for the perfect song to play with the windows down while driving around downtown Burbank in California. After scavenging endlessly through my liked songs, I came across BELEZA PULA once again. The cover of the small man sitting alone on a beach with a thumbs up seemed to fit the vibe I was looking for. I stuck my head out the window while the samba tune surrounded the car, encompassing the joy of Takanaka’s groovy guitar. 

Following this reencounter, BELEZA PULA was an earworm residing in my head for the next month. Something about it encapsulated my mind and hypnotized me into listening to it over and over again to bask in the unbelievable joyous feeling it gave me. I had no choice but to share it with my closest friends, claiming that it was the greatest song I had ever heard in my 17 years of life. I would play it on drives to school, helping me arrive there faster and putting myself into a great mindset for the day. Following my relentless passion for the song, I started to get messages from the people I knew about how they could not get BELEZA PULA out of their minds. Its hypnotizing effect was not only drawing me in, but it had also seeped into the minds of everyone around me. Something about the song was so incredibly addicting that it transcended people’s music taste to the point where no one believed it to be unlikeable. It was just an all-around jovial song that was impossible not to feel happiness flowing through your body while listening to it. I had spread the love of BELEZA PULA, and BELEZA PULA spread love with it. Even friends from outside Virginia would let me know whenever the song was playing in their headphones, and how much they enjoyed hearing it while being hundreds of miles away from me.

BELEZA PULA by Masayoshi Takanaka embodies love and everything good in life. If there is an answer for world peace, it would be BELEZA PULA. I’m so grateful for the happiness this song has brought into my life, forming connections with new people and strengthening the bonds of my close friends I’ve shared it with. The song has remained heavily prevalent in my life, and I’ll never forget the never-ending memories I’ve made with it. My life has been changed forever, all because of a modest Japanese guitarist chilling on the beach.