Amoeblog

Contact Highs, Lows: Awaiting Mad Men, Loving Kurosawa's High and Low

Posted by Kelly S. Osato, February 6, 2010 01:23pm | Post a Comment
I can't say I've ever counted myself as a big fan of Akira Kurosawa's films, but I can say that, despite having never completed a healthy film study of the man's abundant works, I've heartily enjoyed Kurosawa film I've seen, the latest being a first time viewing of his 1963 thriller High and Low (Tengoku to Jikoku).
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I love a film that is simultaneously heavy on the symbolism and rife with gorgeously composed frame after jaw-dropping frame of gray scale captured with every possible shade and highlight of true black and true white intact. The good people at Criterion love this sort of film too, perhaps almost as much as they love Kurosawa's handiwork (more than twenty-six of his films can be obtained as Criterion Collection issued DVDs), or perhaps almost as much as Kurosawa loved to cast internationally acclaimed film star Toshiro Mifune as his leading man (I reckon Mifune has Kurosawa to thank for his fame and good fortune). There's a lot of love in the room. But what really makes this cinematic gem sparkle and shine presently in my eyes is the fact that it took a little of the edge off of my pining for the release of the Mad Men Season Three DVD set.
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High and Low is the first full-length Kurosawa film I've seen that wasn't a period piece (which also means that it was my first look at Mifune in a suit and tie instead of his de rigeur samurai threads) and I'd like to think that it offers an somewhat accurate look at an affluent family living in 1960's urban Japan. I find the overall look of the interior sets very similar to Mad Men, save for occasional signs of traditional and cultural differences that mark the setting as somewhere other than Madison Avenue, which is a reminder of how long we've all been living under the some of the same aesthetic influences. The story, however, is a clean cut one with as complicated a network of writing credits as one can get (which in all probability resembles Mad Men more than I'll ever know), what with director Kurosawa teaming up with Eijiro Hisaita, Ryuzo Kikushima, and Hideo Oguni to adapt a screenplay loosley based on Hayakawa Shobo's translation of Evan Hunter's novel King's Ransom, written by Hunter under the pen name Ed McBain --- whew! I can only hope there was a lot of love in the room for all those involved!
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Storywise, High and Low reads like a detective thriller and plays like film noir. Short of saying, "don't take my word for it, find out for yourself" (cheers to you, Levar Burton), High and Low stays busy with plot complications unfolding like a budding branch succumbing to rising heat all the while dazzling the eyes with a veritable smorgasbord location settings (a glorious beach, a summer home in the mountains, a garden in full blossom, a booming port-side dancehall, back alleys dripping with smack addicts, crowded police briefing rooms, a hot hospital waiting room, corridors of speeding commuter train) and stellar cinematography. All of this framing the eerie quiet of a well-feathered nest about to unravel and a man who finds himself (and his loved ones) caught in the center of a no-win shit-storm. This is a great movie.
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One thing that I'd like to mention: the original title of the film, Tengoku to Jikoku, when directly translated from the Japanese reads as Heaven and Hell. However, I understand why the translator here chose to affix what appears to be a pretty-near-but-not-plum, slight mis-translation of the title in favor of more straightforward, unassuming one. I believe the reason for going with the title High and Low is suggestive of the many interpretations such a header provides for a complex film steeped in multiple struggles operating on many levels be it class-related, or altered emotional, behavioral or mental states of being. In any case, the title is a beginning in more ways than one; this movie has stayed in my thoughts for days and highs and lows keep surfacing. Maybe a Kurosawa bender is in order. Or maybe just more noir-y, Mad Men reminiscent films to further dull the longing. Maybe both.

7" Fix: Crystal Stilts "Love is a Wave"

Posted by Kelly S. Osato, January 21, 2010 09:15pm | Post a Comment
Another January day in San Francisco, another forecast calling for gloomy weather with a ninety percent chance of cabin fever for all you would be picnickers, window shoppers and beach combers out there. Well, don't let the gray days get you down! Turn on the ol' hi-fi and turn up the heat with a hot nugget of a jam like "Sugar Baby," the b-side on the Crystal Stilts Love is a Wave seven-inch single, and try your gams at dancing the "stanky legg" like these limber ladies:


Don't you just love it when the girl in the white pants fans herself during her mesmerizing little solo? It's understandable because attending to such greatness just plain gives me the vapors too, honey. I suppose we need extend our thanks to Texas rap ensemble GS Boyz for introducing the world to the stanky legg via their hit single called (can you guess?) "Stanky Legg" (which also, for your information, includes other sensational dance moves known as the "booty dew" and the "dougie"--- dance moves that apparently also entertain their own corresponding singles, but I digress), which just goes to show that now, more than ever, hip hop is not back on the dance tip but still on it. As far as the Crystal Stilts' association with this dance craze goes, well, I guess they just got real lucky. And why not? It totally works.
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As for the video and A-side single "Love is a Wave," though nowhere near as hypno-dope as the ass-tacluar wonder featured above, it also deserves inclusion here, as it is pretty stellar in its own right. I love the A.D.D. editing style mixed with the kind of satisfying feeling that comes from viewing a bunch of scavenged gems apparently culled from heaps of "lost footage" and cutting-room fodder. It really suits the making-the-old-new-again vibe of the Stilts sound --- you know, that post-punk, neo-garage psych-pop revival sound that has within the span of a year become so popular a wave that it has virtually churned over to swell almost tsunami-sized in terms of underground (street) credibility. It's no secret that this scene has become especially celebrated in Northern California, what with such local heavy hitters as Thee Oh Sees, the Fresh & Onlys, Ty Segall and Girls (the latter two having performed sweaty, fantastic in-stores at Amoeba Music San Francisco last summer), each seeming to enjoy their respective rides atop the crest of the movement that shows no signs of diminishing anytime soon.

Thank you Sir, may I have another: Patrick Stewart and Peter Jackson receive knighthoods

Posted by Kelly S. Osato, January 2, 2010 01:09pm | Post a Comment
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My favorite famous people are already like living legends in my mind, so whenever they make the Queen of England's annual knighthood list it's almost not a big deal. I mean, if it were up to me to decide who receives the shining armor Patrick Stewart and Peter Jackson would have been knighted fifteen years ago. I remember falling hard for the dashing Stewart during his Star Trek: The Next Generation years and I recall early hints of my understanding Jackson's genius with my first viewings of his masterworks Dead-Alive and Heavenly Creatures (one of my forever top ten favorite films). From those first impressions all the way 'til today both men have become more dear to me as living artists, as pop culture icons and as all around purveyors of delightful diversions. Besides, there is really nothing that can be done to make a major-hot veteran of stage and screen dream like Patrick Stewart more amazing than havipeter jackson knighthood honor film director new zealandng to refer to him from now on as "Sir Patrick." And to honor filmmaker Peter Jackson as well? That deserves as hearty a "good on ya" as do his seventeen Oscars and timeless film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings!

To both "Sirs" with love, I can't wait to see what your respective next moves will be. Sir Peter: if only your lovely bones were taking the helm of the Hobbit film adapatation; Sir Patrick: I'm pretty sure you already know what I wish your next move would be...Captain, my captain!

Under the Influence: The Dry Spells offer a heady debut

Posted by Kelly S. Osato, December 31, 2009 08:00am | Post a Comment
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Too often it seems those who write about music resort to whittling albums, by means of record reviews, into a pronged rod of divination in an attempt to dowse the well from which the music-makers' inspirations originated. For San Francisco folk-rock locals The Dry Spells, reviews of their debut LP Too Soon For Flowers (Empty Cellar Records) read alike in that the word "witchy" is summarily mentioned in almost every critique and comparisons to Fleetwood Mac, Espers, Citay, Fairport Convention and even Loreena McKennitt drop in abundance like heavy fruit from a burdened bough. It's easy to see the common understanding, as the Dry Spells are comprised of Citay's one-time and sometime players, though they've been at it since before Citay's inception and their esteem for rocking on traditional folk-ballads perceptibly deals in some of the same magic conjured by Espers, sure, not to mention that both bands share a cover of "Black is the Color" between them (Espers play it like a heart-sick maid pining over a years-dead lover, whereas the Dry Spells almost flaunt the tune, fleshing out into a verdant composition worthy of Willow the inkeeper's daughter on Summerisle). They also lend their trademark harmonies to a beguiling cover of "Rhiannon," arguably Fleetwood Mac's most enchanted mom-rock tune (I fancy many a mother-to-be has considered naming a girl-child after such a spirited strain as this), and I have to applaud the effort, as the Dry Spells manage to leave Stevie Nicks' leather and lace leanings intact despite weaving in their own fibrous skeins of alternating folk, rock and light-in-the-dye psyche threads; indeed, the Dry Spells craft complex song compositions not unlike heavy tapestries laden with meaning, tradition and more than a hearts-worth of woeful devotion.
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I could go on along these lines of correlation, offering more aural comparisons to the Dry Spells "witchy" ways (imagine Dolores O'Riordan kidnapped by the Deal Sisters meeting a wayward Meriel Barham altogether singing Steeleye Span and the Trees while on a backwoods journey to liberate the hidden mythology of the lost city of Ys via melody and romantic lyricism), but I'll let it be in favor of the band for who they really are: Thalia Harbour (vocals/guitar/melodica/glockenspiel), April Hayley (vocals/violin/melodica), Adria Otte (guitar/vocals/violin) and Diego Gonzalez (bass/oud/viola). However, I would like to take the focus away from the more obvious sounds-likes to indulge in a little examination of what makes this record great under an entirely different lens. The perspective being that their record is, for me, almost the equivalent of a very good read of high fantasy, or at least as good as any old anthologized, oft-told yarn.olive fairy book, andrew lang, henry ford, h.j. ford, fairy tales, victorian era, book

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Todd is Godd: Rundgren tours his legendary album A Wizard, A True Star.

Posted by Kelly S. Osato, December 5, 2009 08:30am | Post a Comment
 todd rundgren a wizard a true star album cover tour 2009 san francisco live futurist rock concert
I have only ever twice before been fortunate enough to have enjoyed a live performance of an entire album from beginning to end. I'll never forget the dorky glee I felt once upon a time in 1990 hearing Geoff Tate of Queensryche ask his band mates a few songs into their show in support of their album Empire, "guys, shall we do Mindcrime?," only then to crush non-stop through their hour-long progressive rock-opera Operation: Mindcrime. Then there was the surprise and delight of hearing Joanna Newsom say during her show a couple of Christmases ago, "I'd like to perform my new album for you now," and just like that, her nearly hour long Ys magically unfurled its sails with everyone in attendance on board. However, Todd Rundgren's performance last Tuesday night of his stellar album A Wizard, A True Star at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco was a mess of fandom-fueled joy that I knew I was getting into and, to a certain extent, almost dreaded.
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I mean, compared to the prior two experiences where my "being there when they unexpectedly played the album" aspect of the live performance became a highlight of each show, I wondered how will I look back on this --- a show where I know not only the set list beforehand, but also already anticipate the overall feeling that I get when listening to the album on my own terms. In other words, how could this show present anything but the record I love as a less-than-perfect rendition with low-lights glaring where the highlights would be (a lot like Todd's white-on-black hairdo actually). Maybe I was a little concerned as to Todd's ability to deliver, at age 61, his genre-smearing, progressive futuristic rock magnum opus of 1973 in a live, staged setting --- an album that has aged so well that Todd admits to caving in to fan demands for a tour when asked, "why this album," and "why now?" C'mon, who would go through all the trouble to embroider the back of their jacket with album art from a record that wasn't sent from Utopia itself? If the exemplary piece of fan craftage above (as seen at the show last Tuesday night) gives any indication, Rundgren's A Wizard, A True Star must be nothing less than the shit, impervious to crumbling under the constraints of staged presentation! Still there's more...
todd rundgren rocker style icon 1970's guitar god a wizard a true star tour 2009
I know now that I was wrong to doubt Rundgren's ability, regardless of age, to deliver anything but a jaw-dropping display of pure showmanship and theatricality. And I was wrong to expect the expected too. For one thing, I had no idea Todd was to be his own opening band. To everyone's surprise, Todd, flanked by three other dudes similarly clad in black on black and wearing black shades, took to the stage and, after announcing the world premiere of "Todd Rundgren's Johnson," played a robust set of Robert Johnson covers. Todd explained at one point that this particular cover band thing had something to do with either business or karmic obligations, probably both. In any case the set provided a means for a world class shredder like Rundgren to really strut his stuff and look effortlessly cool doing so. But that didn't last long, as Todd's taste for rotating guises in the second act, or rather the show we all came to see, had me wondering if Rundgren's "style icon" status has rendered him immune to aesthetic criticism or has been downright revoked.

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