Saturday, March 12, 2011

In Honor of Japan

As we all know, a massive earthquake, severe aftershocks and devastating Tsunamis have recently rocked Japan. I really can't imagine going through what people there now are having to go through. I lived in San Francisco when the "Great Quake of '89" struck and it was extremely traumatizing for me. Part of the Bay Bridge fell, whole chunks of Highway were destroyed, many people died and whole neighborhoods burned. My apartment was damaged and we were left without power for almost four days. My Mother was downtown at the time of the quake, in danger and had to hide from falling glass that was coming off buildings. My roommate saw a man get sliced in half by the glass! I had just turned 19 and it was a terrible time, I was so scared. Not to trivialize any of that at all, but this tragedy in Japan makes makes '89 look slightly innocuous by comparison. My heart goes out to the people of Japan - as well as their friends and families abroad.

I have always been interested in Asian culture. My Grandparents and my Mother lived in Japan for a few years after WWII. My Grandfather always spoke very highly of the land and the people and he managed to bring back some lovely books, furniture, knick-knacks and photos which I got to grow up with and enjoy. Over the last few years I have been exploring the vast amount of amazing music and film that comes out of Japan and now some of my favorite movies and bands are Japanese. I would like to share some of my favorite Japanese people, movies and music with you now. Don't let the fact that you may not speak Japanese deter you. I don't speak it but I can still enjoy the melody, emotion and feeling of any song, in any language. I hope you enjoy this little "tribute" to my love of all things Japanese and let's all take a moment to send good, healing thoughts to the people of Japan, Hoping and praying for their swift recovery.

Here is one of the first videos I saw from the highly successful Jrock band called L'Arc~en~Ciel. This is basically the video that started me on my Jrock obsession. This year will mark L'Arc~en-Ciel's 20th year making music together and I pretty much love everything they have done. This video really caught my eye because of the wonderful use of color, the dancing and of course the super-catchy song! It never fails to make me happy! Here is "Seventh Heaven" by L'Arc~en~Ciel:

Pretty cool, right? The lead singer's name is Hideto Takarai, or HYDE and he is SO very talented. He is a wonderful, passionate singer and songwriter for L'arc~en~Ciel as well as the band VAMPS, (we will get to them!) He is also a very good actor. He stars in the tear jerking-vampire-action-film (!) called "Moonchild" with another amazingly talented Actor/Musician named Gackt, (we will also get to him!). Here is the trailer for "Moonchild":

Jeesh - I can't even watch that trailer without getting choked up! Hyde was also in another cool tearjerker based on a popular manga. The film is called "Last Quarter" and Hyde composed some beautiful music for it as well. This trailer does not have sub-titles but I think you can still get the sad, trippy vibe just from the music and the images:

Ok, now onto what is probably my favorite movie from Japan, Kamikaze Girls. This movie is based on a popular novella and tells the story of two teenage girls who are almost exact opposites but form an unlikely bond and develop an extremely strong friendship. It's a total "girl-power" fest but it's also very witty and visually interesting, (the costumes and makeup alone are amazing!) It's kind of "zany" but it's also very deep and quite touching. I love it so much!

Ok, now that we are on the subject of "girl-power", I have to tell you about two more great movie on the subject of strong female friendship. These movies were so emotionally touching that once again, even the trailers reduce me to tears. The "Nana" movies are based on a wildly popular manga and, like Kamikaze Girls, involve two seemingly polar opposites who bond very strongly and develop a genuine love for eachother.

 And, here's the trailer for "Nana 2" which has a different actress for the more "conservative" Nana. I think she is great, though and I cried even MORE for this movie!

This next film absolutely gripped me. It's also based on the concept of extreme friendship and loyalty - although this time between two young homeless boys. It's an animated feature based on a popular manga and it's probably one of the most visually beautiful movies I have ever seen. Honest to God, after watching this movie, (and going through a box of Kleenex, it's that touching,) I jumped up and painted one of my favorite paintings I have ever done - The movie inspired me that much. I just recently bought it on DVD so I am looking forward to watching it and being inspired again! It's called Tekkon Kinkreet and it will blow your mind:

Now that we are onto animated films I'd like to present two films I usually like to lump together in my mind because they are both from the uber-talented Hayao Miyazaki. They are both lovely, amazingly unique and magical stories told with real tenderness and feature outstanding animation. I have probably seen them both at least ten times each and I often find myself thinking about them randomly throughout the day. The first is "Howl's Moving Castle":

The next is "Spirited Away":

So if you haven't seen either of those, they are a MUST. Small children seem to enjoy them as well, even though they are kind of complex and strange. I once babysat a four-year-old who was enraptured by them!

Now onto a movie I DON'T suggest for children. "Wild Zero " features the legendary rock band Guitar Wolf saving Earth from an invasion of aliens that turn people into zombies. The band basically saves us by using their ultimate coolness and the sheer power of Rock and Roll. They even manage to squeeze some anti-homophobic messages in as well. There is even an interactive drinking game you can play. On the DVD every time someone  in the movie drinks, combs their hair, fire shoots out of something, anyone says "Rock and Roll!", something explodes or a zombie's head pops a beer mug appears on the screen & you drink. I really don't suggest playing this game as you would have to drink about ONE HUNDRED times by the end of the film!

Ok, so now that your face is melted off by that, I will show you a movie that might make you crap your pants. This sick and twisted affair is called "Ichi the Killer". It's really depraved but it's also quite stylish and interesting in it's extremes:

So, yeah - totally gross! *nervous laughter* I want to get back to some music but I seem to be on a roll with the movies. If that last movie seemed like something sick you could possibly get into then you will LOVE the next two movies! These are really comically gory, ultra-extreme, totally unbelievably fantastically violent freak-shows. If you like copious amounts of ultra fake blood and guts and bizarre mutations then "Tokyo Gore Police" is for you!

If that intrigued you, don't forget to check out "Machine Girl!" I think it's a little more "tame" than Tokyo Gore Police but it's really effed up as well:

WHEW! Ok, I think we have traveled down the blood and guts highway long enough, No? NO! We can't just come out of all that so abruptly! Let's ease out of it with a really sick, sadistic and rather disturbing video by the brilliant, beloved but now defunct band Malice Mizer. the song is called "Illuminati":

Told you! hahah, Oh, and the cute girl with the long kind of orange-y hair is actually Mana, a dude in the band. It's a "thing" to dress up like a girl with a lot of these bands. I think it's cool. So anyway, the lead singer there was Gackt, who plays multiple instruments and has gone on to a HUGELY popular solo career. Besides starring in the movie Moonchild, many commercials and at least one TV show I am aware of, his androgynous good looks have made him a world-wide sex symbol and even seen him used as a model for a character in a Final Fantasy video game. He is also in a new movie that stars Josh Hartnett, Demi Moore, Woody Harrelson and Ron Perlman to name a few. And Gackt gets second billing in the trailer! Yay! This just proves how universal his allure is!

Looks like it might be pretty cool - I will definitely see that! Josh Hartnett is pretty easy on the eyes - but we are talking about Gackt now so let me share a couple of my favorite songs with you. The first one is a little dated looking - it's eleven years old but looks more 90's to me, (the red leather suits *facepalm* and what's up with all the smoking? Yuck!) Anyway, this is one of my all-time favorite songs. I cannot sit still when I hear it and it gives me a real feeling of elation. You can hear his beautiful vibrato and the violin parts are just wonderful! It's called "Mirror":

Now for my other favorite song. (He has so many wonderful tunes but these are the ones that always stick out in my mind and I find myself humming them around the house.) This one is so beautiful to me. It's called "Secret Garden", enjoy...

Beautiful! Ok, now is the time to use my magical powers of segue! There is this amazing Japanese bassist named Ju-ken and he has played with Gackt (among many others,) for years. He is literally known as Ju-ken "The Bass" - that's how rad he is. He also plays in VAMPS. As I mentioned before, Hyde from L'Arc~en~Ciel has another band called VAMPS and they are kind of a "Supergroup". KAZ , a great guitarist from yet another band called Oblivion Dust basically makes up the creative "other half" of VAMPS. Hyde and KAZ have also worked together on previous solo Cd's that Hyde put out. KAZ is a very talented guitarist and a wonderful songwriter. I am always pleased to see that some of my favorite songs on Hyde solo Cd's or the VAMPS Cd's are actually written by KAZ! I had the absolutely astounding pleasure of seeing VAMPS play in San Francisco while on their world tour this past October. It was a present to myself for my 40th Birthday and nothing could have been better. I was jumping, singing and screaming like a teenager. It was really a wonderful evening and I will never forget it. Ju-ken "The Bass" was so much fun - he kind of stole the show with his energy and audience interaction. That show was the kind of show that reminded me of why I have always loved music so much and why I never felt better than when I am singing or rocking out. Here is the first VAMPS song I ever heard and it totally rocks. It's super catchy and the video manages to be hot and funny at the same time. Here's "Love Addict":

Rad, right? Yessssss. Ok, this next video may seem a little self-indulgent at first, (yeah, like Bon Jovi-ish "we're the cliche hard rocking road dogs with the slo-mo live concert footage set to a plaintive song" style,) but it's such a gorgeous song (check out the bass!) and VAMPS really ARE that awesome in concert and the fans really ARE that devoted and into it. So there. This video brings back great memories of seeing them live. Here is "Sweet Dreams":

*Wipes Tears* Ok! I could really go on for hours with only Hyde and Gackt videos but I want to prove I don't just sit around thinking of them all day. I have other interests! I promise!

Here's another band who has been around a long time and they have so much variety in their music. They are called Buck-Tick and they are amazing! This is just a little taste and it's pretty mellow but believe me they are a fantastic band. Here is "Dress" and it is used in the Trinity Blood amine.(Yes, that's a dude - they like to wear makeup and be "glammy". )

You may have noticed a lot of makeup and some cross-dressing going on. If that offends you then I am sorry, but that's your problem. If you are upset then definitely skip the next video, although it would be a shame because you will miss some amazingly shredding guitar action, not to mention some gorgeous period costumes and perfect makeup! This next visual and aural feast is by Versailles, (all dudes,) and it's called "Ascendead Master". I admit when I first saw it I knew nothing about them and I was like, "OMG - those chicks shred!" lol - But I read a few comments under the video on youtube and quickly learned that they are all men. I liked this song so much I had to buy the CD immediately after hearing it!


Ok, now for something a bit "lighter". I am going to show you two videos by the band SuG. I think they are just adorable and I am blown away by the costumes, hair and makeup here, too. I tried posting these videos on my facebook page and did not get the reaction I was hoping for. I wanted everyone to love it as much as I do, but most of my friends were pretty unresponsive. I KNOW I am not the only person in the world that thinks these songs and videos are great because these guys are quite famous. The colors, the clothes, the cuteness and the playful, youthful energy make me feel all giddy inside like a schoolgirl! Anyway, you judge for yourself. Here's SuG with "Love Scream Party":

Awesome~! That lead singer, Takeru is so darn cute. Gah - they are all so cute! *Breathe* OK! Let's do more! Now here is SuG again with "Vi Vi Vi." Man, it must be fun to be a rock star - just check out how happy they all look in this video!

Adorable! Ok let's feature another cute, younger band called Alice Nine. They started in 2004 and already have a huge worldwide following. I really like this song and the video is cool, too. They have a good style with their hair and clothes - it's fashionable and rocking,  yet still pretty accessible. This is "Rainbows" By Alice Nine:

Nice.  Now, no tribute to Japanese Music would be complete without featuring some Miyavi. This guy - what can I say? Talk about diverse and ecclectic and super talented! Let me show you some examples...First, here is Miyavi with "Selfish Love" - seriously the intro alone is AMAZING - that's some badass funky guitar work!

Dig! Ok, that was impressive, So now I will show you another side of Miyavi. This is "Itoshii Hito":

Weird & kind of sad! Ok - now that we are on the subject of "weird" again I think I can safely transition into Gazzette. This is probably one of their more accessible songs, so I will start you off here with "Silly God Disco". (I think this song is slick as f*ck.) Check out the outfits, too.

This next song is even cooler, in my opinion and it sounds dreamy in headphones. This is a fan made video and chock full of sexiness. I think this song kicks so much butt. Here is Gazette with "Toguro":

Sweet. This next one is just super rocking. I love the female backing vocals - so sexy, it all works so well here. It's "Filth in the Beauty":

Yeah. Not quite sure how to transition out of that one. Gazette makes me feel kind of funny inside so I am disoriented. I think what we need right about now is a trailer for the super-disturbingly sad action murder-fest called "Battle Royale". Children are pitted against each other in a "last-man-standing" scenario that is basically a game for adults to watch. It's violent & heartbreaking:

Speaking of heartbreaking, I finally get my segue into one of my all-time favorite documentaries. "The Great Happiness Space - Tale of an Osaka Love Thief". Believe it or not I could not find an official trailer for this sad & poignant film on youtube. I cannot recommended the documentary more highly. It was interesting, moving, profound, disturbing, bleak, sad, exciting, touching & overwhelming. I rented it from Netflix. Also, here's the films website:

There were other videos on youtube with similar names & themes. I found an interesting piece which showcases an American woman experiencing a Host Club for the first time. This is a pretty good introduction to the whole affair without touching on the more melancholy aspects like the wonderful film "The Great Happiness Space" does. Here is that short piece with the American woman experiencing a host club: But the actual documentary is really worth seeing.

Ok, I am going to move right into one of the most beautiful songs, ever. It's the theme song to the anime Ergo Proxy which is in my Netflix queue but I haven't seen yet. The band is Monoral and the gorgeous, evocative, emotional song is called "Kiri". I can usually barely get through it without tearing up and now it seems a bit more timely, especially with the words, "Come and save me" resonating so strongly...

Wow. Well, I'm sure there are tons of things I am forgetting to mention but I may have to take a break from this blog as it has been a few hours and I am a bit fatigued. I hope you have enjoyed this TINY sample of the amazing music and movies that come from Japan. The more I learn about other cultures, the more intrigued I am by our interesting differences and the more comforted I am by our similarities. Peace to You and Yours...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My Robyn Love-Fest!

I recently purchased the newest Robyn cd called "Bodytalk" and I am LOVING it. I became a huge fan of the Swedish dance-diva back around 2006 when I purchased her cd simply titled "Robyn". She sings catchy, hook-filled songs of life, love & loss that, although dance oriented & electronically based, still brim with genuine emotion, as in the above video for "Indestructible". I can remember writing down sentiments just like this in my diary. No matter how hard life is, or how badly love-gone-wrong beats you down, you just get back up, dust off and dive right back in, sharing your whole heart and soul. She also has a very playful side, often displaying sassy bravado and sweetly sexy swagger. She is super-stylish but doesn't resort to being overtly sexual, she's usually fully clothed and doesn't look like a stripper, etc. I really, really enjoy her music and I wanted to share some of my favorite songs with you all. If you like them then I encourage you to purchase her cd's because these sound a million times better on a good stereo. Trust me :) The next video is for the song, "Dancing On My Own" which has been stuck in my head lately. It's very catchy and the lyrics really resonate with me as I have been there, done that a few times!

This next song is from her 2005 album, "Robyn" and it is called "With Every Heartbeat". I was really struck by the emotion of the lyrics and the soothing, yet propulsive sound of the music and the beautiful string arrangement. I also think she sounds a lot like Kate Bush here, which is a total compliment.

Ok - now that I am feeling very sensitive from those last three, let's mix it up a bit and show some of that sassy bravado I mentioned earlier! This one is also from "Robyn" and it's called "Cobrastyle". The video is pretty fun, too. I always love her dancing!

Ok, if you've made it this far you have obviously noticed what she looks like. I think she is absolutely adorable, beautiful, stylish and healthy looking but a lot of people make rude posts on youtube about how her tooth is crooked and her nose and/or face is "weird", which I can identify with because I have had those very same criticisms put to me, among many others. It is very telling of our so-called "culture" that only airbrushed-to-"perfection" images seem to be considered beautiful nowadays. What do people want from women? Only perfection? A "virgin"...a "whore"...someone well-behaved and submissive or the strong dominatrix who puts you in your place? A helpless child or another Mother? Why can't women be more...multi-faceted? Oh but wait, they ARE! She addresses these themes and also how these "Perfect Images" really cannot be lived-up-to in the following song, "Who's That Girl".

This post has got me thinking I should do another post about some of my favorite, "non-traditionally-beautiful" amazing female musicians that I love. Ok, that will be upcoming, but for now please enjoy a couple more songs by Robyn. This one also really sticks in my head, and I find myself singing it around the house. It's off of the latest cd entitled "Bodytalk" and it's called "Hang With Me". Again, I just love these lyrics!

The next song is a collaboration with the Norwegian band Royksopp. The video may seem odd at first but if you listen to the lyrics it all makes sense. To me, it's speaks to people who feel "trapped" by the people, places and things they are currently surrounded with and by, and who yearn for more - Another place, different people, new things. The voyeuristic "webcam" feel of the video is especially relevant in this day and age. The song is called "None of Dem" and it's off the latest album, "Bodytalk".

 Now that I have made public my immense love for Robyn I feel I can rest for the night. I would like to leave you with a lyrically very interesting song called, "Dream On" which is on the album, "Robyn". The sentiment is so beautiful. She embraces everyone in this song, all the so-called losers and "dregs of society" and wishes them peace and safety. Honestly, a lot of her lyrics make me cry and this is no exception.

Lastly, I hope you have enjoyed this little love-fest for Robyn. This is the first blog love-fest, but it certainly won't be the last because music is life to me - all kinds, all genres, from all over the world - and I love to share my love! Thank you for your time...and, Dream On. XOXOXO