Amoeblog

Something In the Way He Moves: The Magic of Mansai Nomura

Posted by Kells, March 30, 2011 07:01pm | Post a Comment
When there's something strange in the imperial court, who you gonna call? During Japan's Heian period, an era of classical Japanese history spanning from 784 to 1185, most folks relied on powerful ghostbusters called onmyoji, wizard-like masters of yin and yang, to ease the energies of vengeful spirits (most famously that of Prince Sawara) who'd stir up all kinds of trouble from plagues and famine to earthquakes and typhoons and other natural disasters mistaken as superstitious punishment. As we have witnessed in recent weeks, perceiving catastrophe as divine comeuppance has changed little over the centuries thanks to Shintaro Ishihara and Glenn Beck, among others, for their knuckleheaded remarks --- no "that was then, this is now" about it. But this is not about jabbing trashy speculation at fresh wounds, this is about a cheesy, historic fantasy movie that I recently caught in my Heian Culture class called Onmyoji (2001, Yojiro Takita) starring Mansai Nomura as Abe no Seimei, a person of historic origin, legendary in Japanese folklore, who was in fact the Merlin of his time and place. Being one of those so-called "super seniors," it's a small miracle I didn't skip said scheduled movie day, I might add.

When it comes to guilty pleasure-esque cinema, for me, seeing Onmyoji fits right in there between Excalibur and Labyrinth, the only big difference being the sometimes-dazzling-yet-mostly-delightfully-laughable CG effects the likes of which predate the aforementioned films. However, Onmyoji doesn't rest on technical SFX innovation. There are actual puppets, impressive feats of make-up, hypnotic costuming and set design that set the stage for this well-known tale concerning the legendary Heian capitol city (now modern day Kyoto), her court drama, her heroes and enemies and, of course, her imperial ghostbuster #1 Abe no Seimei (if you're ever in Kyoto you may want to check out his shrine). All in all I give Onmyoji a solid A for pulling off history-buffing fantasy film excellence amid what could have been a potential "rotten tomatoes" recipe for disaster in terms of what feats and imagery the legend behind the story dictated. Besides, I have a feeling that seeing this flick will have proved helpful when it comes time for final exams. I mean, you try saying the name Sakanoue no Tamuramaro three times in a row without gagging on your tongue --- that's how difficult it is to keep facts straight in this class.

Anyway, on to the real subject of this post; casting noted kyogen stage actor Mansai Nomura for the lead role was a genius move as far as I'm concerned, as his eccentric performance carries the story and, much like Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow, makes one want to watch the sequel if for no other reason than to enjoy a broader scope of Nomura's skills in motion (Onmyoji II is arguably less fully realized than the first film, but I'm sure more is more as far as Nomura fans are concerned). No doubt foxy Nomura was in part considered for the role due to the legend that Abe no Seimei was born of a curious union between man and fox-wife, but it is the actor's honed movements, gracefully balletic yet arresting at times in their precision, that truly cast a spell and sell his performance as an unparalleled magic-maker. This evidence of his background in traditional theater arts showcased by way of fantasy entertainment brings to mind yet another comparison: get this guy in a Star Trek spacesuit and let's see if he can give Patrick Stewart's Captain Jean-Luc Picard a run for the neutral zone. Though most of what makes Nomura's presence in this film memorable to me is sadly lost in the trailer for Onmyoji, I feel I should post it below nonetheless as there are other people in this movie (I guess).
 

Here's a bonus look at Mansai Nomura as he appeared (with actress Kayoko Shiraishi) in a stage play he directed called Kuninusubito, an adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III. It looks like it was probably an absolutely amazing production!

Help Northeastern Japan: Let Your Donation Take You to the Movies!

Posted by Kells, March 17, 2011 08:00pm | Post a Comment
In the wake of a devastating week for Japan, especially the northeastern Touhoku region where seaside towns and villages were washed away by a tsunami last Friday while the world watched in disbelief, many are exploring what they can do to help survivors and evacuees of this extraordinary catastrophe. Well, here is something fabulous happening this Saturday in San Francisco: New People, a specialty gallery/shopping/media complex located in Japantown, will be holding three special screenings of Hula Girls, a wonderfully heart-warming comedy featuring some of my favorite things: dancing, Polynesian pop, head-strong young heroines (coal-miner's daughters!), perseverance in the face of stodgy adversity and, of course, Japan. Based on true events that took place in 1960's Fukushima Prefecture, the same paralyzed zone experiencing a nuclear crisis having been hard hit by the recent natural disasters, this film is being shown as a fundraiser at $10 a ticket with 100% of the proceeds to be donated to NORTHERN JAPAN EARTHQUAKE RELIEF FUNDS by Japantown's JCCCNC. Check out the trailer below:

A Report From Japan From Shin Miyata on Earthquakes & Music

Posted by Gomez Comes Alive!, March 15, 2011 10:49pm | Post a Comment

Shin Miyata and I have been friends for over ten years. He owns a record company called Music Camp Inc, which distributes such labels as Six Degrees and Nacional Records in Japan. But if you ask him, his true love is his own subsidiary label called Barrio Gold, dedicated to reissues of classic Chicano Rock and Soul artists as well as new Chicano artists coming out of the barrios of East L.A, San Francisco and Texas. Back in 2006, I was fortunate to go on package tour dedicated to promoting Chicano culture in Japan with the band Quetzal and writer Luis Rodriguez, author of the infamous book Always Running. It was an honor and something I’ll never forget. When Shin visits L.A., its always a great time. It’s about seeing lots of great music, going to his favorite Mexican and Japanese restaurants, having a few drinks and digging for vinyl. Truly, a man after my own heart!

Naturally, after the earthquake and tsunami hit, I contacted Shin. Even though he lives on the outskirts of Tokyo and far from the damage of the north, I was still concerned about my friend’s wellbeing, as are many of his friends across the U.S. All those horrible images on the news and the threat of nuclear fallout doesn’t help, either. After e-mailing back and forth over the last couple of days. I asked him if he wanted to do a quick interview just to let some of his friends know how he is doing. I thank Shin for taking time to do this in a very difficult time for him and all of Japan.

So where were you when the earthquake hit?


I was at the train station, just about to get on a train to get to work. The train started to sway, so I rushed to get out because the station is currently under construction. It was really scary. Once I got out of the station, I realized that it was a big quake because there were so many people out of the buildings and out in the street. I did not get hurt and no one got hurt around me. After the quake, all the trains were shut down. I went back home and rode my bike to my office to see if there was any damage.
 
What were your thoughts when it was happening?


I thought to myself that this must be the big one, the one that [was] expected to hit Tokyo for some time.

When did you become aware of the damage that happened in the northern part of Japan? Do you have any ties to that region?

I didn’t realize how dire the situation was until I returned home and watched the news. There was a live satellite feed from the coast that was near the quake’s epicenter. The news showed an unbelievable big wave that rushed the port. Some of my friends are from that region. It took one friend a few days just to find out that his family was safe.

What was the damage to your business and home?


My home was fine. My CDs and books fell from the shelves, but nothing major.

How often are the rolling blackouts? How has business been affected by the earthquake & tsunami? Are people panicking about the fate of the nuclear power plants?

All business is slow, due to all the trouble from the nuclear plants. The power company started rolling blackouts in the greater Tokyo area, section by section. It affects the transportation system and many offices and stores have closed down since employees cannot get into town. We do not complain because we know it's helping people in the damaged areas. Today we went home earlier because a blackout was scheduled for our area, but it was canceled. Of course, they announced it after the time it was supposed to start! We are forced to cut down electric usage, so now is not the right time for entertainment. The group Los Amigos Invisibles, which my company distributes in Japan, was supposed to perform in Japan this week. They were booked for an event in Tokyo, but  it was cancelled. Also, this week we are releasing two titles: Legendary East L.A. soul singer Ruben Guevara and Turkish belly dance/dub group Baba Zula. We are just trying to keep our business going.

We just had another aftershock two hours ago. It was happened in nearby Mt. Fuji [which] is very far from the northern area, but it shook Tokyo hard. I woke up from a nap and ran to the nearest escape just in case. The aftershocks continue and there are so many of them. People are starting to get used to it.

The tremendous damage caused by the earthquake and Tsunami, followed by the fear of the nuclear fallout are getting people real nervous. People are panicking a bit. People are running to get food and gas. There was a big line of housewives around the bakeries and supermarket this morning.
 
What do you think is next for you and for the country of Japan?

I do not know yet, but I hope this tragedy will change our society both spiritually and financially. Mostly I think that people need to establish a new social and business system independent from nuclear power. It will be a main theme, I think. Even people in Japan not in northern region are exhausted by this situation. I realized how much of our lives are full of joy and peace. 

Is there any music you are listening that helps you forget about everything going on around you?


Yes. Last night I got two 7-inch singles from the USA in the mail. One is by Hank Crawford on CTI label and the other is by Ismael Quintana accompanied by Eddie Palmieri on the Coco label! Both are so good, and it helps me to forget this crisis. But again, it is not the right time to use electric power. But I think that God will forgive me for playing just two singles!

Again, people are really frustrated by this chaos. Music is a necessity to get out from this reality. People in Califas, Pray and Play for us!

And the Award For Best Use of Christmas in a Non-Holiday Movie Goes To...

Posted by Kells, December 23, 2010 08:00pm | Post a Comment
...Gen Sekiguchi's patchwork vomitorium of tsunamic set design and cinematographic eye-candy  Survive Style 5+!!! The random yet clearly delineated Christmas sequence of this whirlwind adventure, set to the strains of "The First Noel" turned way up to eleven, is so over-the-top fabulous and inspiring that I hope to one day successfully drown my house in holiday decor à la Sekiguchi --- every year I get closer to the mark. Enjoy the visuals! Wanna know more about how Japan "gets" its Christmas kicks? Check out my "Christmas in Japan" jam here!

Journey to the Beatles - The Moribund Course of Music-Related Video Games

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 9, 2010 01:00pm | Post a Comment
With the recent availability of the music by a scouse four piece known as The Beatles [sic] they could now become the biggest Liverpudlian musical export since The Top or maybe even The La's. This followed their release of 2009's video game The Beatles Rock Band. With a sound that was obviously indebted to The Everly Brothers, The Miracles and Buck Owens, no one ever accused the Fab Four of being innovators. Indeed, the concept of a band promoting their music with video games goes back 28 years to a now-forgotten five-piece called Journey, whose brand of radio-and-roller rink-ready pop/rock once brought favorable comparisons to the likes of Night Ranger, John Waite and Mr. Mister.



That first rock band video game was Journey Escape (1982). In it you have to help guide a faceless ginger (see above screen shot) through the night sky, past disembodied Italian heads and lilac-colored jelly beans with legs to the famous scarab ship that was, frankly, my favorite thing about the band. Occasionally, a character that looks like the Kool-Aid Man comes to your aid.
  

I haven't played the game's sequel, Journey (1983) but I was transfixed by the title screen as a kid. 


My stepbrother David had It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (1984) for the Coleco. Although the packaging makes it look like your band is some five man electric jam Three Dog Night brand of sweaty, endurance defying classic rock; in fact, whenever your band takes the stage, you produce a pleasing chiptunes melody. You also can call your band anything you like, up to a certain amount of letters, which is why my band was simply "Blowtorch" instead of "Blowtorch Balls," which was my favored, bizarre and alliterative insult at the time.

Make My Video (1992) allowed the player to play auteur and make videos for INXS and urban acts like Kriss Kross and Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch. Somehow, despite the promising set-up, it failed critically and commercially. Game Informer gave the Marky Mark version a 0 out of 10, the lowest score a game has ever received by the magazine. It has appeared on "several worst video game of all time" lists as well.
Total Distortion (1995), on the other hand, looks pretty kyewel.
The game パラッパラッパー (aka PaRappa the Rapper) (1996) was pretty massive. It's crazy how, post-Eric B & Rakim, east coast rap never surpassed this level. 
ビートマニア (aka Beatmania) (1997) pioneered the performative music video game was and the first in Konami's Benami music game line.. Although it never really caught on outside of Japan, it's pretty obvious that the folks behind Rock Band and Guitar Hero were aware of it.
ギターフリークス (aka GuitarFreaks) (1998) was another Benami music game that probably only didn't catch on outside of Japan because most of the music was J-Pop, something most non-Japanese aren't familiar with, and music composed specifically for the game.
ポップンミュージック(aka Pop’n Music) (1998) was yet another Benami game.
When Spice World (1998) came out, Benami-style games still hadn't crossed the ocean. The New York Times pithily remarked of Spice World, "The music is derivative and shallow. The game didn't have to be."
ドラムマニア (aka DrumMania) (1999) was again, for the most part, not marketed outside of the Japanese market, and amazingly Guitar Hero's John Devecka holds a patent for drum simulation games.
Not surprisingly, it was a team of Japanese developers (Shun Nakamura, Tomohiko Aita, Satoshi Okano and Hiroyuki Watanabe) who had the bright idea of targeting a Benami-style game to foreign markets with Samba de Amigo (1999).
Playstation launched their first sequel to Parappa the Rapper with ウンジャマ・ラミー (aka Um Jammer Lammy) (1999).

Although it wasn't an actual music video game, in 2000 an internet meme surfaced known as All Your Base Belong to Us. It was based on the Engrish translation of 1989's  ゼロウィング (aka Zero Wing).

In 2000, a Kansas City, Missouri computer programmer/DJ Jeffrey Ray Roberts of the gabba band The Laziest Men on Mars recorded "Invasion of the Gabber Robots," which remixed some of Zero Wing's music by Tatsuya Uemura with a voiceover phrase "All your base are belong to us." 
Frequency (2001) was developed by Harmonix, who originally pitched the concept to Microsoft but were told by the then-vice-president of game publishing, Ed Fries, that no music-rhythm game would succeed without a custom hardware controller. As a result, Harmonix went on to develop the well-known Guitar Hero with its custom guitar-shaped controller.

太鼓の達人 (aka Taiko no Tatsujin) (2001) was Namco's entry into the music game arena. Last time I checked, they still had one of these at the Little Tokyo Arcade.
American Idol (2002) was a poorly reviewed game based on an unwatchable show. X-play gave it a 1 out of 5, complaining about the gameplay consisting of pressing buttons in time and not on the player's actual singing.
ギタルマン ( aka Gitaroo Man ) (2002) was released in North America in limited quantities despite a mostly positive reception.
ブラボーミュージック (aka  Mad Maestro!) (2002) was Desert Productions' Romantic music-oriented entry into music games. 
Mambo a Go Go (2002) was going to be released in the US, but never was...
ドンキーコンガ (aka Donkey Konga ) (2003) was Mario's least-favorite simian's similar, conga-playing game for GameCube.
SingStar (2003) came with a special microphone and requires players to sing along with the game to score points, the first such video game to do so. You don't get any extra points for disrobing to James Blunt, however.



If you've learned anything from this blog entry, it's hopefully that Guitar Hero (2005), despite blowing the doors wide open for music RPGs, was really nothing new. As with most of the successful games in its vein, it spawned numerous sequels and you can even play in Amoeba in one of them.

アイドルマスター (aka THE iDOLM@STER ) (2005) was another Japan-only release. Come on, Japan! Didn't you get the memo? People love your weird culture! Why do you think Matthew C. Perry forced you to open your ports in 1854?!
Toy’s March (2005) was developed for kids... not adults. Come on, dude! Little man (below) is drumming circles around you!


***************


Rock Band (2007), just by standing on the shoulders of those standing on the shoulders of giants, helped the franchise steal the thunder from Guitar Hero. The same company, Harmonix, that developed GH was behind Rock Band.

Game on!

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