Thursday, December 24, 2009

uhnellys at Ruby Room

The uhnellys did a quick set at the Ruby Room year end party last night. I only wish that my foreign language comprehension could keep up with Kim's explosive Japanese rapping.

It was a hot set and I'm looking forward to seeing these guys again soon.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

GO!GO!7188 - Ukifune

Metropolis ran an article a few weeks featuring 10 famous Japanese songs. My good friend Daniel Robson nominated "Ukifune" by GO!GO! 7188. Check out his review here.

He was most impressed by the band's ability to tie together traditional Japanese sounds and themes (the title comes from a character in the Tale of Genji) with crushing modern rock.

As a fan of this band, I wanted to share these videos. I think they definitely give you a good idea of the band's sonic essence. And personally, watching the live video gives me flashbacks to the times that I've seen GO!GO! in concert. I distinctly remember thousands of Japanese people jumping in step to the quirky rhythm of this song.

Here is a live TV spot:

and the official video subtitled in English:

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cyberpunk Post-Apocalyptic Psychedelia - Ken Ishii's "Extra"

Japan is now officially the coolest nation on the planet. I came across this track in an article in Nipponpop, journalist Steve McClure's run down of the Japanese music scene as it stood in 1998.

"Extra" was one of Japanese techno giant Ken Ishii's worldwide club hits in the mid 90's. This video was directed by Koji Morimoto, legendary animation director best known for his work on the quintessential 1988 sci-fi anime, Akira.

Cyberpunk post-apocalyptic psychedelia in music and film.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Prague - Light Infection

New Release from Prague! Check it out!

Beer Pong PHASE VI (with Bo-Peep?!?)

Thanks to all who came by Beer Pong this past evening. Can you believe we've been at it every month for nearly a half year? I already can't wait for the next party in January.

Bo-Peep even came by to shoot a few rounds this time. Here is lead singer Mika preparing for her vicious attack:
Drummer Ryoko, quite and agile, aiming a killer shot...
The intensity of the tournament wiped us all out. We had to find sustenance (i.e. ramen) fast or else we risked exhaustion.
To the right of Ryoko is last month's Pong Champion, Eric.

Red Bacteria Vaccum & Lolita No. 18

Last night, I was invited to see legendary female punk groups Red Bacteria Vaccum and Lolita No. 18. Lolita is currently on their 20th anniversary tour. Afterwards, I had a drink with Mika and Take from Bo-Peep.

The show was great. Thanks for the invite, you know who you are. :)

Red Bacteria Vaccum:

Lolita No. 18

Friday, December 18, 2009

I'm Just a Little Bitch

I asked this 9-year old girl where she got the shirt. It was a Christmas present from her grandmother.

Some things just don't translate.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Warning: Pervert

I saw this notice clipped to a stand outside my local 7/11.

Translated in English, it reads:

Warning: Pervert

There has been a recent outbreak of incidents where women returning home in Shimoochiai have been gropped by a man. The criminal is young, wears beige pants, and uses a bicycle. Please be careful.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Ten Tips to Safely Stash Your Ride

Guess what? I have an article published in this week's edition of Metropolis. Check it out: "No Parking: Ten Tips to Safely Stash Your Ride."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Spunky afro tiger jet flies so high...

The line-up at Metropolis' Saiko Walectro party last night was fierce. Rising above the super saturated goldmine of the Tokyo music scene, this installment of Saiko was really able to showcase some unique talent.

Taking the stage around 9PM was guitar and drum duo, the Uhnellys, comprised of Midi on drums and Kim on vocals and baritone guitar. The group's formula was centered around Kim's digital loop stations. He would loop bass lines and accompaniment on his baritone guitar in the beginning of each song, then proceed to bust out some ill Japanese rhymes over Midi's solid groove. The loop station is a common tool these days, but I've never seen a band use it so flawlessly and ambitiously. Their seemingly thin line-up was beefed up into a full on hip-hop ensemble.

But the real headliner of Saiko Walectro was Japanese pop funk princess Tigarah. Often compared to M.I.A and Lady Gaga, Tigarah is one of the hottest new dance pop acts to come from Japan, although labeling her with any sort of nationality or genre is dubious at best. Her music is equal parts hip hop, electronica, miami bass, and dirty south crunk, but she draws her main inspiration from baile funk, a Brazilian club genre that she was exposed to during her time in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo.

With a musical combination of saw bass, miami crunk, and phat Brazilian rhythms, and a lyrical palette of English, Japanese rap, and sexy spoken word, I'm at a total loss for how to describe how awesome Tigarah's show was. She was an electrifying performer and knew how to work and rock the crowd. She ended the night with one final genre twister, her recently penned homage to Michael Jackson, "Funky Afro Tiger Jet Flies So High."

Keep your eyes peeled for more in the future.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Legends of Japanese Rock 'n' Roll Cinema: Shikisoku Zeneration

Shikisoku Zeneration, a recent coming-of-age film, is based on a semiautobiographical novel written by Japanese sub-culture icon, Jun Miura. The story takes place during the author’s youth in the mid-70’s. The main character and his friends are all freshman at an all boy’s high school in Kyoto. Driven by their sexual curiosity and youthful angst, the boys beguile their parents into letting them travel alone to a youth hostel on a tropical Japanese island. Doomed to what feels like an eternity of uncoolness and virginity, the boys learn lessons about friendship, love, and growing up.

Like much of Miura’s work, Shikisoku Zeneration is framed by music, specifically, folk music from the 60’s and 70’s. In the comfort and solitude of his own room, the main character is constantly playing guitar and writing his own songs, yearning after the music of Bob Dylan. While away on the island, he gets his very first opportunity to share his songs with others. The experience instills in him newfound confidence and inspires him to dig deeper into his emotions.

I was blown away to learn that all of the main character’s songs in the film were actually penned by Miura himself when he was a teenager. This is just one of the many ways that this seemingly light-hearted film is actually quite intimate and personal.

I've got the original novel lying on my desk. Check back next year for a review.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Legends of Japanese Rock 'n' Roll Cinema: Linda Linda Linda

One of my all-time favorite films, this movie is about 4 high school girls who start a band so they can perform at the upcoming school festival. Linda Linda Linda (2005) is about nothing more and nothing less, yet it absolutely captures the energy, passion, and awkwardness of youth like no other film that I’ve seen.

The backdrop of the film is rural Japan, a world away from the clutter and intensity of Tokyo. High rises are replaced by greenery. The breakneck pace of Tokyo diminishes to the laidback atmosphere of the countryside. The girls are isolated and sheltered, with their only access to music through old cassette tapes and karaoke.

All four girls have their own charm and respective subplots, but the real star of the film is Song, the Korean foreign exchange student who is scouted on a whim by the other girls to be the lead singer. Song is played by Korean actress Bae Du-na, who has recently appeared in the Japanese film, Air Doll (2009). Her wide-eyed empty glare matched with her awkward Japanese is at once humorous and empathetic, painting a picture of a young girl an ocean away from home, but finally beginning to settle in and make friends.

Musically, the film is an homage to the power of music and the legendary bands of yesteryear. The film takes its title from the song that the girls learn to play, “Linda Linda Linda” by legendary Japanese punk band, the Blue Hearts. The girls first rendition of the song is awful, but by the time of their performance, they are able to make their Japanese pupils go wild. Also mixed in to the film are musical interludes featuring songs like “Vagabond” by Happy End [one of the great Japanese folk songs] and a musical score by James Iha, guitarist from the Smashing Pumpkins.

Linda Linda Linda is honest, subtle, and compelling. It stands true as one of my favorite Japanese films.

The final concert scene from the film:
A Western trailer with lame English translations:

Fall Leaves in Tokyo

Showa Park is far west of the city, one stop past Tachikawa. The fall leaves are still on the trees.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Music Video...Or Bitchin' Nike Ad?

I first heard chit-chat about the band Sakanaction through some of my Japanese friends. They've been obsessing over the group for the past few months.

The other week, after an awesome show, I was hanging out with some of the members Bo-Peep and Prague. We were drinking and chatting well past the last train and I ended up splitting a cab home with Tsugu, the bassist from Prague. Some of the best conversations happen well after midnight in taxicabs. I asked him what music influences his band. Without hesitation, he mentioned Sakanaction. I went out and picked their first album, GO TO THE FUTURE, the very next day.

Check out this awesome video, or perhaps a totally bitchin' Nike ad. The Japanese are into branded content.

Legends of Japanese Rock 'n' Roll Cinema: Burst City

A post-apocalyptic anarchist sci-fi film, Sogo Ishii’s Burst City (1982) is a punk rock homage to Mad Max, one made with a small budget and even less of a plot. I will admit though, my comprehension would have been better had I studied Japanese at a Tokyo motorcycle bar. The film stars a band of street gangs and three 80’s era Japanese punk bands, The Rockers, The Roosters, and The Stalin. Expect cheap grainy film stock, wild music, and a high rate of awesome leather jackets per capita. I’m tempted to throw my questions about cultural authenticity out the window. This film is more punk than punk itself. A scene where the lead singer of one of the bands throws a butchered pig’s head at a band of oncoming riot police immediately comes to mind.

The lack of a plot makes Burst City a bit hard to sit through, but the film is most definitely notable for its terrifically wild punk rock score and visionary eye-candy straight from the streets of the future. The film’s erratic narrative is said to have been inspired by the cacophony of punk music and culture. Burst City was highly innovative for it’s time and had a strong influence on many Japanese films to come. If you feel like giving the film a shot, you might be better off fast-forwarding to the sex scenes, urban muscle car races, and the real meat of this flick, the high-octane concert shots.

Legends of Japanese Rock 'n' Roll Cinema

Sorry for the holdup. I've been stalling on some very cool articles that I've had brewing. Let me just cut right to it.

Following my series about great voices from the Japanese music world, I'd like to share with you a topic that I find even more compelling, Japanese Rock 'n' Roll Cinema. Some of my all time favorite films come from this genre and in fact, a few of the flicks on this list are my inspiration for taking up Japanese and coming here.

In Japanese Rock Cinema, rock 'n' roll is more than just music, it practically takes on the status of a cult deity. In some of these films, the effect is comical and kitsch, in others, this deification of rock 'n' roll is an effective element of the plot. The more serious films on this list portray music and passion in a way that is more honest and more direct than any Western film that I can think of.

For anyone who has ever picked up a guitar, taken a road trip to see their favorite band, or felt the energy of a hungry crowd while taking the stage, I think you'll find something in this list that you'll relate to.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


A huge poster for a trendy fashion magazine in Shibuya Station...
Nuts. Damn.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Legendary Voices: 10) Maki Nomiya

Vocalist Maki Nomiya is best know for her work with the Pizzicato Five, the leading band of Japan’s Shibuya-kei scene. Shibuya-kei (literally Shibuya style) was a indy genre based on eclectic sounds and kitschy-cool aesthetics. Bands drew heavily on influences ranging from bossa-nova to electro-pop.

Nomiya, who had already released her own solo album, joined the Pizzicato Five in 1990. In the mid 90’s when other members left the group, Nomiya and lead musician Yasuharu Konishi continued on as a duo, achieving widespread success in Japan and overseas. The group’s first two American releases sold 100,000 copies each, making them one of the most widely known Japanese acts in the States. The group disbanded in 2001 with both musicians returning to their solo careers.

Nomiya is also known for her high sense of fashion and beautiful model-like physique. Ex-Billboard journalist Steve McClure writes, “Her stock-in-trade is adopting various retro personae with a studied, ironic cool. Sometimes she looks like she’s just stepped out of a 1960’s French spy movie, other times she wears outrageous get-ups that suggest a hostess in some intergalactic cocktail lounge.”

Friday, November 13, 2009

Legendary Voices: 9) Tatsuro Yamashita

Yamashita is one of Japan’s most respected singer-songwriters. One of the most successful male recording artists, Yamashita has sold about 9 million albums. His first success was in 1975 with the influential band Sugar Babe. The group disbanded early on and Yamashita when on to pursue a solo career. His early work, while critically acclaimed, sold poorly, but 1979’s album “Moonglow” signaled the beginning of his commercial success. Another notable album was 1991’s “Artisan”.


I just found this video on YouTube and had to share. Chatmonchy is one of my fav Japanese pop-rock bands and I thought this video captured a piece of the action. Fast foward to 3:55 for one of my all-time favorite rock songs.
There is a rumor going around that the drummer pops by the Ruby Room once in a while. I'll keep my eyes pealed.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Legendary Voices: 8) Yumi Matsutoya

Ranked #3 on HMV’s list of 100 great Japanese artists, Yumi Matsutoya has sold over 42 million records and charted 19 number-one albums. Originally she was known as Yumi Arai, before marrying her producer, Masataka Matsutoya. She debuted in the early 70’s and her first famous song was 1975’s “Sotsugyo Shashin,” [Graduation Photo] which was quick to become a Japanese pop classic. At times, her songwriting was influenced by American female stars like Joni Mitchell and Carole King.

Mos Def in Japan

If you've got some time, check out this videopod from Current TV following Mos Def on his recent tour of Japan. I think it is a pretty awesome outsider's look on the fascinating city that Tokyo can be. Mos gives his two cents on all the cool topics including Harajuku fashion, Tokyo baseball, the bullet train, and of course Mos Burger (Japan's aptly named burger joint). There is also quite a bit about The Ecstatic, Mos Def's most recent album which looks awesome.

Hip-hop's singular voice meets Asia's hippest city. What more can I say?
One thing I didn't like: there's a scene where a Caribbean sounding woman praises Mos for moving his Japanese audience on to their feet and grooving. She claims, "Nobody sat down during the whole show. That is so rare in Japan." I'm not sure which concerts she's been going to, but that's been far from my experience. Way beyond the stereotype, Japanese people know how to get rowdy.

And also, for clarification, the bullet train doesn't run on magnets yet.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Prague - Slow Down

Prague, formerly known as Sound Coordination, is one of the best young indy bands in Tokyo. I've seen them twice and each time was blown away. I love their sound, totally up my alley. They are also on the same management as Bo-Peep. Check it out and let me know your thoughts.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sheep Metal: Bo-Peep

I told my friend I was going to see Bo-Peep this weekend. She knew of the group through my blog.

"Oh, those girls are cute," she said.

"Well, cute... more like scary middle aged women who play loud music."

Bo-Peep. Mika, Ryoko, Take, Tokyo's three queens of the underground rock circuit. They are one of the most genuinely aggressive bands that I know. Even as a three-piece, their sound is absolutely huge. To my ears, they cross the middle ground between punk and arena hard rock, using Jimi Hendrix blues scales with overdriven guitars. But their originality is all in their compositions, highlighted by complicated rhythms and Mika's signature piercing vocal sound. There is no one quite like them in town. Listen for yourself.


"Spiral Revolution" - This song highlights their expanded sonic palette.
"B級モーション" [B-Level Motion] (first of the Is It Good For You? samples) - This is Bo-Peep's signature track, displaying a fierce guitar sound, Mika's wild screaming, and an intense guitar solo at the end.
"Crazy Bomb" - This song proves that Bo-Peep can take it up to %110, but fortunately for our health, general well-being, and innocent souls, they don't crank it to this level all of the time.

This past show at Shimo-kitazawa Garage was the third time I've seen Bo-Peep take the stage this year. I think it was their best performance. Mika told me they played 4 new songs, all of which were fantastic, completely proving to me that this isn't your average noise-rock act.

I joined the girls for a few drinks after the show. Their onstage act would certainly suggest a life of debauchery, but unplugged and out and about, all three girls are sweet, cute, and wicked friendly. It's a surprising contrast. But I won't make the mistake of trying to keep up with them.

"She izu doreenka." [She is [a] drinker] Ryoko said pointing to Take. We goofed off for a few hours, but I was out of there before I could start any trouble. I took the last train out of Shimo-kita. God only knows what went on afterwards.

I made it home around 1:30AM. My clothes still smell like sheep and cigarettes.
Ryoko on drums, Mika on guitar

Take on bass

Monday, November 9, 2009

Tance Boy and Crowdnine: Success!!

Crowdnine belting some tunes:
Tance Boy vs. Crowdnine in a Beer Pong demonstration!
Tance Boy getting ready to take the stage...
Yun, Yoshimi, and...Prince...
Yun and her charismatic energy...
Yoshimi on bass:

Thanks to everyone who came out to the show the other night. It was definitely a success. Stay tuned for more Werewolf events!!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tance Boy this Saturday at the Ruby Room!!!!!!

Tance Boy and Crowdnine
Saturday November 7th
Ruby Room, Shibuya
Doors 8:00, Start 8:30
¥1500 (drink included)

Tance Boy (箪笥ボーイ) is one of my all time favorite Tokyo indy rock bands. They in turn invited their favorite band, Crowdnine. This show is going to be insane. Don't miss it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Legendary Voices: 7) Momoe Yamaguchi

Yamaguchi was a famous Japanese singer and acclaimed actress throughout the 1970’s. She had an extensive recording career and appeared in numerous films. Her rise to fame was typical of many of the pop idols of her day, but unlike so many others, she was able to take her career into her own hands. Her later music became quite sophisticated and her lyrics often featured strong female characters. At the height of her career in 1980, she married longtime co-star Miura Tomokazu and officially retired from the business. News of a potential comeback has remained in the rumor-mill.

"Rock 'n' Roll Widow"

Monday, November 2, 2009

Legendary Voices: 6) Keisuke Kuwata

Kuwata is best known as the lead vocalist of Southern All Stars, ranked the #1 on the HMV list of 100 great Japanese pop artists. As a band, the group has charted 16 number-one albums, selling a total of over 47 million units. The group has lasted through the years, originally forming in the early 1970’s, debuting in the 1978, and going strong through the 80’s, 90’s, and 2000’s. Kuwata’s style is heavily influenced by 60’s Western rock and classic American folk. Part of Kuwata’s longstanding appeal can be attributed to his unique voice, reputed to sound as if he was singing Japanese lyrics with an American tone.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Legendary Voices: 5) Hibari Misora

Hibari Misora was the greatest Japanese female star of the 20th Century. As an actress, she appeared in over 160 films. As a singer, she recorded 1,200 songs and sold 68 million albums. Due to her enormous popularity, she was dubbed the “Queen of the Showa Era.” Misora was the iconic singer of enka, Japan’s most traditional genre of pop music. At her death in 1989, 42,000 people attended her funeral. Her song, “Kawa No Nagare No Yo Ni,” [Flowing Like the River], was voted the greatest Japanese song of all time by 10 million people in an NHK poll.

Misora singing Kawa No Nagare No Yo Ni in her later years:

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Legendary Voices: 4) Kiyoshiro Imawano

Imawano’s career spanned nearly four decades, from his debut with legendary rock band RC Succession in 1970, up until his recent death this past spring. After the breakup of RC Succession in the early 1990’s he became a successful solo artist. Imawano was known for his flamboyant looks and stage presence, as well as his innovative use of the Japanese language. He was often known as “Japan’s King of Rock.” (Due to his over-the-top personality, I’ve even heard him referred to as the “Japanese James Brown.”)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Legendary Voices: 3) Utada Hikaru

Utada Hikaru is one of Japan’s highest selling female voices, known for her bold sophisticated sound within a market that is dominated by disposable pop idols. “First Love,” her breakthrough release in 1999, sold 10 million copies, making it the highest selling Japanese album of all time time. Originally from New York City, Utada is one of the rare Japanese artists with a truly international career. She attended Columbia University for a semester and has also released 3 English-language albums, including “Exodus,” in 2004.

Videos on Youtube:
Come Back To Me - Her most recent English-language single
Easy Breezy - 2004 English language breakthrough single

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Legendary Voices: 2) Haruomi Hosono

Hosono, one of the seminal figures in Japanese pop music, first rose to prominence playing in various folk bands in the early 70’s. His first major success was with Happy End, one of Japan’s most influential folk rock bands. Happy End’s brief career only spanned from 1970 to 1973, but the group was notable for its unique and seamless blend of Western folk rock and Japanese lyrics.

Hosono’s greatest success came in the late 70’s with the formation of Yellow Magic Orchestra, arguably Japan’s most influential pop group of all time. Along with Yukihiro Takahashi and highly esteemed composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, YMO single-handedly created the “Technopop” genre, infusing their music with the latest sequencers and synthesizers that were first becoming available at the turn of the decade.

Recently, many in the West first heard Hosono’s voice in the song, “Kaze Wo Atsumete” [Gather the Winds] featured in the soundtrack to the film, Lost In Translation.

Yellow Magic Orchestra's music video for "Kimi ni Mune Kyun" ["mune kyun" is onomatopoeia for the sound your heart makes when you see someone you like...]

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Legendary Voices: 1) Yutaka Ozaki

Yutaka Ozaki was a pop rock sensation in the late 80's in Japan, a songwriter known for his angst-ridden yet introspective lyrics, superb musicianship, incredible stage presence, and undeniably striking looks. He lived the paradigm life of a rock musician, quickly rising to stardom and dying young at the age of 26 in 1992. His life and career were both fast and turbulent. He could fill arenas and sell millions of albums, but he always maintained the status of an outlaw, even being dropped by his record company due to a drug related arrest.

Steve McClure, ex-editor of Billboard Japan writes in his book Nippon Pop, "His rebellion tapped the same wellspring of dissatisfaction beneath the superficial harmony of Japanese society that has inspired more overtly political artists. But no one has said it quite like this handsome, doomed young man whose uncompromising stance gives him a unique place in the history of Japanese pop music." Ozaki's continued presence in the Japanese musical consciousness can most closely be likened to that of Kurt Cobain in the West.

Legendary Voices

In honor of NPR's upcoming series, 50 Great Voices, over the next few weeks, Werewolf will be posting articles about 10 legendary vocalists from Japan. Artists of all genres and eras from the 1950's up until the present will be covered.

Iden & Tity

This is the trailer for the Japanese rock n' roll film, Iden & Tity, directed by Tomorowo Taguchi.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Sign

I dreamed the other night that I had a meeting with Prince at his apartment. He was showing me a DVD of one of his arena performances off of a laptop screen. I asked him if he had read the Werewolf blog. He said that he had and that he liked it very much.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Today marks the one year anniversary of the Tokyo Werewolf. I touched down in Tokyo on October 14th of 2008.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hakodate: Beyond Nostalgia

...The place is even more beautiful than in my memories. The way the city wraps around the narrow peninsula, the wide open bays surrounded by dramatic mountains, the Meiji-era buildings of Motomachi, the greenry and stone architecture of Goryokaku, the blinding lights of the squid fisherman off on the horizon past dusk; the city is absolutely stunning in ways that I never even noticed before...

View from Mt. Hakodate

Overlooking the bay from Motomachi

Restored warehouses on the wharf
Reconstruction of the Headquarters in Goryokaku
Goryokaku from above, the first Western style military fort in Japan. Site of the final stand of the real last samurai at the end of the Japanese Civil War
Huts on the coast
The 150 year old foreigner's cemetery, resting place of sailors and officials since Matthew Perry's time

Hakodate Station at night
Squid fisheries at night luring their catch with blinding lights
Reuniting with old friends. Children grow quite a bit in four years