For most of 1998, the group remained quiet. They released their 14th single, 'Nishi e higashi e', on February 11, 1998, but did not appear in the music video for it or do any promotion for the single. However the track was used as the theme song to the Japanese drama 'Kira kira hikaru (きらきらひかる)'. The two b-side tracks ‘Nishi e higashi e EAST Remix’ and ‘Nishi e higashi e’ WEST Remix’ were arranged by Kobayashi Takeshi and Takeshi Fujii for the EAST Remix, and James Lavelle & Masayuki Kudo for U.N.K.L.E. and Major Force West Productions for the WEST Remix. Mr.Children officially returned to the music scene on October 21, 1998 with their 15th single 'Owarinaki tabi' used as the theme song to the Japanese drama 'Naguru onna (殴る女)'. The lyrics to the song are inspirational and have been continuously voted in polls as a public favorite because of this. (Oricon).
On January 13, 1999, Mr.Children's 'Hikari no sasu hou e' was released with rumors that the lyrics were actually a cynical look about the 'Japan Record Awards' and NHK 'Kouhaku Utagassen'. Shortly after words, on February 3, 1999, Mr.Children's 7th album 'DISCOVERY' was released. When it came to writing this album, Kazutoshi approached the songs in the same way he approached his surfing: "There is a way of riding on waves, not only on big waves, but also small waves. Look at it to see how to catch it. It's something similar to composing" (Mr.Children 1996-2000 booklet). Eleven days later they began 'Concert Tour '99 DISCOVERY' which toured 16 cities and was held from February 14, 1999 through July 12, 1999. While the group was still touring, they re-recorded and released their 17th single 'I'LL BE', a track that was already included on their latest album and used the a promotional song for Shiseido ‘SEA BREEZE’ commercials. The song was produced as the campaign song for soccer player Hiroshi Nanami, who was a friend of Kazutoshi Sakurai. While the official title is spelt 'I'LL BE' for the single release, the album version was spelt 'I'll Be', without capital letters. The single wasn't a success and became Mr.Children's lowest selling single since 'Replay'. While the group was on their DISCOVERY TOUR '99, a live album was decided to be released. Titled '1/42' for the 1 in 42 shows the tour comprised of, the live was recorded from their June 26, 1999 performance at the Makomanai Ice Arena, with the exception of bonus track 'Dakishimetai' which was recorded at Okinawa Ginowan-Shi Seaside Park during July 1999. The album was released on September 8, 1999 and was limited to 500,000 copies.
The new century got off to a fresh start with the release of 'Kuchibue' on January 13, 2000. The cover of the single featured the silhouette of guitarist Tahara Kenichi sitting on a swing. After the disappointing sales for 'I'LL BE', Kuchibue proved to be a success selling 724,070 copies. While Mr.Children managed to create another hit for the group, their personal lives gained main stream attention when rumors started to spread in February 1997 of an affair Kazutoshi Sakurai was having with former 'Giri Giri Girls' member Yoshino Mika while still being married to his first wife. The affair was made public and in May 2000 Kazutoshi Sakurai and his first wife divorced, and in June 2000 he and Yoshino Mika were married. Two months later, on August 9, 2000, their 19th single 'NOT FOUND' was released and used as the theme song to the Japanese drama 'Bus Stop (バスストップ)'. The title for the track and usage of the word in the lyrics comes from when one is surfing the internet and receives a ‘not found’ page. A month later their 9th original album 'Q' was released. The cover was shot by Size, Inc., who flew from Japan in August 2000 to The Bonneville Salt Flats in the United States to take a pictures of the flats with people. Later they superposed Kazutoshi Sakurai and an airplane onto the shot (Uses of the Bonneville Salt Flats). The album was not a favorite amongst fans due to many finding the lyrics to be too messy and unclear and the drop in popularity due to Kazutoshi's marital affair. The album became their first album not sell over one million copies since the release of 'Atomic Heart'. Shortly after 'Concert Tour Q 2000-2001' started, visiting 13 cities and holding 35 concerts between October 15, 2000 and February 24, 2001.
The band saw a photo of The Bonneville Salt Flats in a book and
wanted to use the same venue for the cover of their album 'Q'.
The beginning of the year saw Mr.Children continuing their Q tour, followed by their first best of album since their debut. The dual best of albums titled 'Mr.Children 1992-1995' and 'Mr.Children 1996-2000' were both released on July 11, 2001. The initial shipment for the both albums contained lyric booklets with many misspellings to which consumers were asked to mail in a request to TOY'S FACTORY to receive a corrected print of the booklets. According to Kazutoshi Sakurai, the best of albums weren't something the group had planned on doing yet. During the first half of 2001 the group was finishing up work for a new original album and had plans to start promoting singles that would be on it. However it was decided by record label that a best of album was needed and after discussions the group agreed to release them (MTV Japan). Four days later the group launched the 'CONCERT TOUR POPSAURUS 2001', visiting 10 cities and playing 15 shows, and lasting from July 15, 2001 all the way through September 25, 2001. It was a month into the tour that their 20th single 'Yasashii uta' was released and used to promote 'Asahi inryo WONDA (アサヒ飲料 WONDA)'. The single was not as successful as their last two singles, but non-the-less sold well. Two months after the end of the popsaurus tour, 'youthful days' was released. The 21st single was used as the themes song for the Japanese drama 'Antique' and was Mr.Children's best selling single for the year. Mr.Children's long time friend, Tange Kouki, came on board to supervise the making of the promotional video for 'youthful days'. The b-side for the single, 'Drawing', initially had no commercial tie-in, but two years later was used as the theme song to the 2003 Japanese drama 'Koufuku no ouji (幸福の王子)'. For the remainder of the year, the group remained quiet as they worked on a new upcoming original album.
On January 1, 2002, Mr.Children released their 22nd single 'Kimi ga suki' and was used as the insert song this time to promote the Japanese drama 'Antique'. The promotional video for the song went on to win 'Video of the Year' at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards Japan on May 24, 2002 (MTV). On May 10, 2002, ten years after their debut, the groups 10th original album 'IT'S A WONDERFUL WORLD' was released followed by the announcement of two new tours, TOUR 2002 DEAR WONDERFUL WORLD and TOUR 2002 IT'S A WONDERFUL WORLD, that would be held from July 17, 2002 through December 21, 2002. Though the album was released on their 10th anniversary, that was originally not the intention. As the group was wrapping up recording, Kazutoshi asked if the album could be released in the spring time. While trying to think of how to promote the album in the spring, they came up with the idea of releasing the album on their 10th anniversary (MTV Japan). Though released in 1999, 'I'll Be' selected to be used as the official theme song for the 2002 FIFA World Cup held in Japan and South Korea. Two months after the release of the album, 'Any', Mr.Children's 23rd single, was released and used as the promotional song for NTT DoCoMo's (NTTドコモ) Group 10th Anniversary. However the group would not be able to finish promoting the single. In July, as the group was in the middle of promoting 'Any' and getting ready for the upcoming tour, the group abruptly canceled remaining TV appearances and put the tour on hold. It was revealed Kazutoshi Sakurai had been hospitalized after a blockage in his cerebellum, a part of the brain, was detected. Mr.Children left an official message on their website on July 22, 2002 announcing the upcoming tour would be canceled and all group activities would be put on hiatus for at least 3-4 months (Beats). The surgery to correct the blockage was a success and led Kazutoshi to write a new song, 'HERO', which was inspired by his hospitalization and his family, and was also used in NTT DoCoMo's (NTTドコモ) Group 10th Anniversary commercial. The song was released on December 11, 2002 as the groups 24th single, with a limited edition version containing a DVD with interviews of Kazutoshi speaking about his hospitalization. "At first I remember thinking that what happened would change nothing. But recently I have begun thinking that maybe something changed after all. I've stopped being so unreasonable and gotten to know myself better" (WHAT'S IN - April 2004 issue). Ten days after its release, the group returned to the stage for a one night live 'TOUR 2002 DEAR WONDERFUL WORLD IT'S A WONDERFUL WORLD ON DEC 21', later released on DVD, titled 'Wonederful World on Dec. 21': "Before falling ill I sometimes felt like Mr.Children would keep going along on the way it was and I was just being pulled along by it. But after what happened I realized to myself that it would not just continue by itself. I realized that if I wasn't active, I could lose this group. Being active made me realize the joy of really creating something with your own effort" (WHAT'S IN - April 2004 issue).
After the live, Mr.Children remained quiet for most of 2003. In June 2003, Kazutoshi Sakurai helped co-found Artists' Power Bank (ap bank), a non-profit environmental financial institution that offers loans for environmentally friendly projects such as renewable energy. Kazutoshi Sakurai personally provided $1 million dollars of seed money to launch and fund the nonprofit lending group. Sakamoto Ryuichi initially came up with the idea of ap bank when he thought about building a wind-power plant. Kazutoshi along with Kobayashi Takeshi took him up on the idea. It wasn't until near the end of the year that Mr.Children re-grouped and released their 25th single 'Tenohira/Kurumi' which became the groups first double a-side single. While 'Tenohira' did not receive a commercial tie-in, 'Kurumi' was used as a promotional song for NTT DoCoMo and would later be re-arranged and re-recorded in 2003 as 'Kurumi - for the film Koufuku na shokutaku'.
In 2004, Kazutoshi expanded his role with ap bank and started his solo music group 'Bank Band', which became an extension of ap bank. With Bank Band, Kazutoshi held two tours in 2004. This first tour was held on January 24, 2004 and January 25, 2004, titled 'BGM -Bank with Gift of Music for AP BANK-', and the second tour, 'BGM Vol.2 ~Soushi Souai', was held on 6 separate occasions in November 2004, and later released on DVD in 2005 with the same name as the tour. Kazutoshi would also expand Bank Band's role later by releasing albums and singles with the group, and in 2005, starting ap bank fes'; an annual festival held at Tsumagoi which in addition to listening to music by popular artists, allows attenders to enjoy organic food, view environmentally friendly products for sale, watch presentations on various environmental topics, get involved in hands-on workshops, and visit booths showcasing ap bank-funded environmental projects. On April 4, 2004, Mr.Children released their 11th original album, 'Shifuku no oto': "Shifuku is about process. How do you obtain that happiness? That is what is most important. In this case we obtain that happiness by making music. With WONDERFUL WORLD we made the title a bit paradoxical on purpose. This time there is no such cynicism". (WHAT'S IN - April 2004 issue) On May 26, 2004 'Sign' was released and used as the theme song to the Japanese drama Orange Day's (オレンジデイズ) The song was a hit, selling 774,576 copies, and proving Mr.Children had staying power which eventually won them 'Song of the Year' at the 46th Annual Japan Record Awards 10 years after they won for 'Innocent World' (Jacompa). Mr.Children held a new tour to promote the album that would be the bands first full lenght tour since Kazutoshi fell ill. Titled 'Tour 2004 Shifuku no oto' the tour was held from June 12, 2004 through September 25, 2004. On October 20, 2004 Kaztoshi Sakurai released 'Soushi Souai', his side project album with Bank Band. The album was limited to 300,000 copies and contained covers of Mr.Children's songs 'HERO' and 'Yashashii uta'.
'Shifuku no oto' advertised in a Japan subway.
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