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.