Jamie's Blog

The ramblings of a programmer with a little too much time on his hands

Tag: Japan (Page 1 of 3)

Music Suggestions – Jazzin’ Park

This post is going to contain some Japanese characters. If they don’t display correctly for you, don’t worry too much, I’ll be putting Latin readings of the characters after each set of them. Although, you might want to look into enabling Asian characters in your browser and Operating System.

Previously when I’ve written about music suggestions, I’ve recommended bands based on their entire body of workbased on an interesting take on a genre or based on a single track. Today, however, I’m going to recommend some music based on an album.

Jazzin’ Park

Jazzin’ Park is the name of a pair of Japanese artists: Kurihara Satoru (栗原暁) Kubota Shingo (久保田真悟) who are signed to the Konami record label. They write and produce music across many genres, including: House, Rap, Hip-Ho, Jazz and Nu-Jazz.

Kuriahara is a DJ, Composer, Producer and singer; Kubota is a Guitarist, Producer, Composer and Vocalist. They have been working together, as Jazzin’ Park, since around 2006 and, as is often the case with Japanese house music artists, they quite often collaborate with singers and rappers.

We Are Together

In 2007 We Are Together was released, containing one remixed song with completely new lyrics: Long Time Ago was originally released on their first album (Jazzin’ Park, released in 2006) with Japanese vocals provided by Arlie. The version on We Are Together is a remix with English vocals provided by Stephanie Cooke.

We Are Together has a Latin/Nu Jazz flavour to it, rather than it just being standard House music. Betraying it’s December release, it’s always felt (at least to me) a very summery album; the tracks Perfect Blue and Summer Love feeling like they should have been big club hits during the summer of 2008.

The album contains a cover of the song You Are (originally by Niteflyte, a Disco band from the 1970’s, famous for their hit “If You Want It”). Perfect Blue was used as the opening theme for the anime Dreadnought – The Resonance; Prism and Dream Bird were used as the opening and closing themes (respectively) for 12人の優しい殺し屋 side R (a 38 part radio drama broadcast from April 2008 to March 2009).

Summer Love/Long Time Ago/Troubled Hands

By far, my favourite section of the album (if it can be split into sections?) is the trifecta of Summer Love, Long Time Ago and Troubled Hands.

Summer Love is a song that reeks of early 90s slow RnB (and that’s not a bad thing); from it’s opening electric piano line which is complimented by the bass line, all the way to the falsetto repeats of “Summer Love” at the end of the song.

Long Time Ago is a fantastic House remix of a Latin-eqsue Nu Jazz hit from the previous year. The re-recorded English lyrics seem to fit better with the new sound. The original Japanese lyrics are very good, and the performance is great, but it wouldn’t have fit with the slightly punchier sound that the remix goes with – which has more of an American house music feel to it.

Which leads me to Troubled Hands. Troubled Hands is a perfect example, in my opinion, of how to combine hip-hop and the sound of a jazz trio. It has a fantastic sound, and the rapping is mixed at the perfect volume to compliment the music. Skahlah (of Life Penciled Crew) performed the rap, which is about the mediocrity of modern life, the modern work ethic and the irony involved in it all:

Mired in the mediocrity,

Enough to get by fine,

But not enough to exercise authority,

Mired in mediocrity,

I’m working a 9 to 5,

But the bank close at 3,

Man, it’s irony.

And so

I would definitely recommend this album, and Jazzin’ Park in general, based on these three tracks alone. I’ll leave an embedded YouTube link below, give it a listen and leave a comment or something.

Here’s a link to Jazzin’ Park’s official website, should anyone be interested enough to want to find out more: [LINK]

Izumi Sakai

Music Suggestions – Zard – Yureru Omoi

This post is going to contain some Japanese characters. If they don’t display correctly for you, don’t worry too much, I’ll be putting Latin readings of the characters after each set of them. Although, you might want to look into enabling Asian characters in your browser and Operating System.

I’ll also refer to Japanese people by their given names (not the traditional Japanese order) for ease of reading by those not used to reading about Japanese people

Previously when I’ve written about music suggestions, I’ve recommended bands based on their entire body of work or based on an interesting take on a genre. Today, however, I’m going to recommend some music based on a single track.

Zard

In the beginning, Zard where a 4 person pop/rock band comprised of: Izumi Sakai, Fumihito Machida, Hiroyasu Hoshi, Kosuke Michikura, and Kimitaka Ikezawa. Their first single, “Goodbye My Loneliness” was quite successful reaching number 9 in the Oricon charts.

Although Izumi stayed constant the other members of the band came and went over the years. Izumi being a professional model, she became the centre piece for the band’s music videos which often had a dark or moody feel to them.

 

Makenaide – 負けないで

In the early 90’s Japan was hit by an economic crisis: the Nikkei 225 had dropped in value by one third by the end of the 1980’s. This was preceded by a period of high land value and low interest rates, which lead to more lending and spending. The Bank of Japan saw this as unsustainable, so they raised the interest rates quite sharply. This lead to the economic bubble bursting which lead to the stock market crashing, thus the sharp drop in value of the Nikkei 225.

The Diet attempted to save the banks by funnelling money into them, but this gave rose to so called “Zombie Banks”. Zombie Banks were losing money at the same rate that they were making it. Pretty soon big businesses became affected by the crash; many corporations instigated large layoffs to their workers, joined with other corporations, or both.

Side note: if you are interested in learning about this period of time, the Japanese call it 失われた10年 (Ushinawareta Jūnen – “The Lost Decade”). There is a very interesting Wikipedia article about it here: [LINK]

On January 25th,1993 Zard released 負けないで (Makenaide – “Don’t Lose”), an exceptionally inspiring song. It spoke of not giving up on one’s goals. Here is a translation of part of the chorus:

負けないで もう少し
最後まで 走り抜けて

Don’t give up, keep running,
To the end, just a little more

This was precisely the message that the Japanese people needed and, almost as if to prove it, the Japanese bought 1.8 million copies of the single, hitting number 1 on the Oricon charts. It even became the unofficial anthem of the Lost Decade.

I’ll embed a YouTube video of the song here so that you can hear it for yourself.

Izumi had said, during an interview with Music Station that 負けないで was:

 A song to encourage men taking examinations

But many Japanese people have said that it helped them to deal with a multitude of things from bullying to drug abuse, and cheating spouses to crippling debt. Such was the power of this song.

Yureru Omoi – 揺れる想い

Zard’s next single, 揺れる想い (Yureru Omoi – “Shifting Feelings”) was equally as successful. Zard then released their next album, also titled 揺れる想い which sold 2 million copies. In 1993, no one outsold Zard in Japan. Such was the power of the message of 負けないで. It has become Zard’s biggest hit; one that is still requested on radio shows to this day.

Izumi Sakai

In June 2006 Izumi was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Treatment was swift and appeared to work. However, later that year the cancer was found to have spread to her lungs. She began seeking treatment at Keigo university hospital in April 2007.

There are charming stories of Izumi singing 負けないで as a way to boost the morale of her fellow patients when they would lose hope.

In the early hours the 26th of May, 2007, Izumi was found by an emergency exit at the bottom of a stair case. She was unconscious and rushed to the emergency room. She never regained consciousness and died the next day, due to complications brought on by her head injuries.

The police investigation concluded that Izumi had gone for a midnight stroll around the hospital, tripped on the rather slippery stairs, and lost consciousness when she hit the bottom of the stair case. Because of the rather unusual nature of the accident, the police originally thought that the cause of her death was suicide, but it was concluded that it had been an accident.

Post Izumi’s death

When the news of her death broke, many TV stations put on memorials. Shortly after her wake there was a public memorial; fans were encouraged to attend and leave messages for Izumi in guest books surrounded by flowers. Many prominent Japanese celebrities, sports stars and fellow musicians left messages about how Izumi had changed their lives.

Zard had released 11 studio albums (the earliest released in 1991, and the last released in 2005) and 45 singles at the time of Izumi’s death. Her music had taken her all over the world, and made her very famous. You could say that she had a very, very successful career.

You could say that Zard had an enormous affect on the Japanese people. Which is one of the reasons why 負けないで is one of my favourite songs (and by extension 揺れる想い is one of my favourite albums) and why you should listen to it.

While you’re here, I’d recommend taking a look at an old post I wrote on June 5th, 2011 about this very song (and one that sounds just like it).

Until next time, be safe,

J

Sources for this post:

Original screen capture of the cached version of Choke Sleeper's bio page

Music Suggestions – Choke Sleeper

Unlike the previous post in this series, this post probably wont contain that many Japanese characters. However, if the characters I do include don’t display correctly for you, don’t worry too much, I’ll be putting Latin readings of the characters after each set of them. Although, you might want to look into enabling Asian characters in your browser and Operating System.

Today’s recommendation is another Japanese band. However, they guys are not pop based. In fact, these guys describe themselves as “Alternative/J-Rock”. I’d say that they’re more “Rock meets Rap” but not in the sense of Linkin Park, more like Dragon Ash or Orange Range (without the plagiarism, obviously. [LINK] to an example).

Choke Sleeper

Believe you me, searching for information about these guys is difficult. And it’s all because they share their name with a martial arts manoeuvre. This means that I wont be able to link to a wikipedia article, like I did in my post about Rin’. I will, however leave a link to their MySpace page here [LINK]. That’s right, they have a MySpace page – not many people that I know still use that service. In fact, that’s where I first heard of them.

Oh, by the way, their website has been down for a while. So, I’m pulling the information for this post from the cached version on The Way Back Machine. An excellent web service offered by archive.org.

I think it was Cho who first contacted me, back in 2005.  I was still at university, and had a MySpace account. I’d put up on there that I was interested in Japan, Japanese music and had listed some of my favourite bands. One day, out of the blue, I got a message from Choke Sleeper asking me if I’d check out their music. I did, and the rest is history.

Except for the bit about me emailing them… in Japanese. And them responding in (slightly broken) English. They even invited me to one of their shows. Unfortunately, they were only touring in Yokohama at the time (and I was studying at Hull, UK).

The first song of theirs that I ever heard was “Ground and Sky”, which is embedded above (I could only find a live version. It’s a little different from the CD version, especially in the middle). It was as soon as that song had finished that I decided to buy their album (at that time, they only had one full CD – “Oneway Cruisin”). Even if you’re not a fan of Ground and Sky, I’d give the album a try, if only for “Tequilla”, which is an amazing song about getting drunk with friends.

Members of the Band

Because there’s not very much information about the band available on The Internet, I’m translating the Biography part of their website as cached in July 2011 [LINK]. But I’ll also leave any image capture of it here, in case it goes down.

Original screen capture of the cached version of Choke Sleeper's bio page

Original screen capture of the cached version of Choke Sleeper’s bio page

Formed in Yokohama in 1997. They tried to create their own musical genre. They’ve mainly played at live venues, like Summer Sonic, X-Trail Jam (at the Tokyo Dome), Multiplex, etc. and at large festivals. Since they formed, they’ve released a two full albums, several EPs and singles (including Stay and Other Side Story)

The last entry on their website states that they’d be playing at The Game 8th anniversary show on the 8th of May 2010. They’re website went dark after the 2nd July 2011. It’s a shame, really. They’re a great band, so great that I’m tempted to re-activate my MySpace account (because these things are never truly deleted) just so that I can try and catch up with them.

I’ll leave an embed of their last single here. Do check them out, they’re amazing.

Peace,

J

Two books, "written" by characters the depicted on the covers, in the Trick Universe

A Really Short Update

Today I received the following two books in the post:

Two books, "written" by characters the depicted on the covers, in the Trick Universe

Two books, “written” by characters the depicted on the covers, in the Trick Universe

After tearing the packaging to pieces (my process of retrieving items from overseas packaging), I proceeded to quickly flick through them both.

After a quick flick, I’ve decided to translate the both of these books. I’m starting with the book on the right (なぜベストを尽くさないのか [Why Don’t You Do Your Best?]) first as it’s filled with silly things like: “How to be the best at writing while eating on the toilet”

Who could turn down the offer to translate that?

I’ll post the translations on here, when I’ve done them. I know that this project is going to take some time, though. So I’ll post sections as I complete them, along with the full document at the end.

Peace out,

J

Some Things

It’s time for another round of short, seemingly random, topics. Most of these topics could become a full length post, but they’re still only ideas floating around in my head.

Flavour

I often find myself wondering where certain words come from, or how we ended up with certain phrases. “As long as a piece of string,” for example. It’s one of the many things that interest me about languages and linguistics.

For instance, I received an e-mail at work today that said:

ニンジン味のポタトチップス

To those unversed in reading Japanese, it says “Carrot [sic] flavoured potato chips”

One of the guys I work with saw this and emailed it to me. The first thing that struck me was the strange use of Katakana to spell out “ninjin”. I wont lie to you, I had to look  up what ninjin was, simply because it was spelled out in Katakana.

Katakana is one of the 4 scripts used in Japanese typography (along with Hiragana, Kanji and Romaji). Katakana is used, almost exclusively, to spell out foreign words.

Once I’d figured out what ninjin was, my eyes where drawn to the Kanji for flavour (“味”). It’s comprised of two other Kanji (many Kanji are made up of other, simpler Kanji):

口 which means “Mouth” (as it’s a pictogram of an open mouth) and

未 which means a whole bunch of things, the only related one I can think of is “Still” (as in “To stay still”)

To me, this makes sense: if something tastes good, then you’ll want to keep your mouth still to take in the flavour. At least, that’s how I’m going to remember it from now on. Or maybe something like, “The air was so sweet that I decided not to move. Just take in the sensation of the breeze and the warm sunshine against my skin.”

DRM

I promise you that this isn’t going to be a long, boring post on DRM. I’m not even going to go into the specifics of what it is. There are pluses and minuses to DRM. It’s a kind of marmite, in that it divides people straight down the middle.

Some wont get that reference. Marmite is said to be the quintessential “love it  or hate it” product. There, apparently, is no middle ground when it comes to yeast extract.

DRM is good from a content producer’s point of view. You’re protecting your investment (either time, effort or money) from those who want access to it for free. Most “content sponges” (a phrase coined by James Portnow of “Extra Creditz“) don’t see it this way, and get upset at the very mention of it. True, it does get in the way of you enjoying a product. In fact, there’s a (years old) image doing the rounds this week on Google+ that goes a little like this:

I agree with this image, but not with the idea's it promotes

I agree with this image, but not with the idea's it promotes

The only thing wrong with this image, in my opinion, is that it promotes piracy. Something I cannot get behind. Of course, I love the fact that I can drop in any of my personally compiled DvDs (taken from my legal purchases of the same), or fire up my WDTV and jump straight into the movie. But I also like the idea that the people behind the movie have received some (even if it is very little) payment, indirectly, from me for the the fruit of their labours.

Of course, I can see it from the other side of the argument, too: Just before Christmas, my brother bought me a copy of Sonic Generations for my PC. He (foolishly) bought it from a store, but made a saving on the price (I was as shocked as you are right now, dear reader) as the store was having a sale.

I dropped the DvD into my PC’s Blu-Ray drive, excited to play the game…

I know that being 25, and getting mildly excited about a Sonic the Hedgehog game that, stylistically, goes back to when Sonic was fun to play is seen by some as a bad thing. I don’t really care, though.

I waited for the install procedure to complete, and was asked to enter my CD Key. It turned out that someone had pirated my copy of the game. I got in touch with Steam and they, rather quickly, authorised Sonic Generations on my account. That was only after having proved that I’d bought the game legitimately and having sent them a copy of my brother’s purchase receipt, though.

Typing all of this, I’m reminded of a conversation over at Stack Exchange I read recently, about copy protection and how it’s only a matter of time before someone cracks each protection system.

Once you’ve got the data in memory, it’s been decrypted. It has to be decrypted somewhere along the line, for you to use it. Once the RIAA/MPAA figure that out, we’re buggered.

Health

I’ve been ill this past week. Starting Wednesday, I got a real sore throat. It got so bad that I couldn’t swallow, at one point. I still managed to throw up twice, though. It started out as a sore throat, became some kind of flu, then relaxed back to a sore throat. I even had to have a nap at work… during my lunch hour, though.

If I had access to my work email account, I’d put up the picture that was taken of me, asleep at my desk. It was sent out to a whole bunch of people with the subject header “It’s all go in the office”

Most of my symptoms had gone by the Saturday afternoon, but since then I haven’t been able to hear anything with my right ear. It’s all been muffled and rather strange. I think it’s linked to my Eustachian tube dysfunction.

How was I able to spell Eustachian first time, but then screw up on dysfunction, straight after it?

It might be an infection that’s moved from my throat up to my right-hand Eustachian tube. I’ve been advised by someone at work to get it checked out. The last thing that I want, apparently, is a perforated ear drum.

As you can, no doubt tell, I’m not a medical professional and will be seeking professional, medical advice as soon as an appointment can be booked.

TL;DR

Japanese words. DRM is good, but also bad. I was will

That’s All, For Now

I’ll leave you with this:

How many other songs can you think of that have Tambourine solos?

Remember, “TAMBOURINE SOLO!”

J

I’m Alive, I Swear

I thought I’d fill you all in on what I’ve been up to recently… What? It seemed like a good idea to me, at the time.

In Pictures? Why Not?

First: When going through some old stuff at the beginning of the month, I found the greatest “Thank You” card I’ve ever been given.

The greatest "Thank You" car I've ever received

The greatest "Thank You" car I've ever received

A little background: This was back when I was still studying Japanese at University (if you’re ever looking for a Japanese tutor round thee parts, contact me and I’ll point you in the direction of the best in the business). I had graduated the year before but I wanted to continue studying, so I kept going to the class (and paying, obviously).

I was asked by the Japanese tutor if I would mind helping out some new Japanese students (as in students from Japan) with their studies. I had no reason not to, so I agreed. A few days later, I was put in contact with a whole bunch of Japanese students. I tried to help them all out t the best of my ability. One of the Japanese students, Yuka, seemed to take it a little more seriously than the rest. We built up a rapport and, over a few weeks, I began helping her out almost exclusively.

We’d meet at <non-specific-caffeinated-drink-store> near where we both lived. We’d talk about this and that – the weather, places to go, etc. – all the while improving her English (and my Japanese, as well). Anyway, time came for her to leave for Japan – she was on an exchange programme –  and she presented me with the above “Thank You” card.

A Close up of the message portion of the card from Yuka

A Close up of the message portion of the card from Yuka

Of all the sentiments Yuka expressed, I think I like the un-intentional spelling mistake the best. It comes off completely cute, at least it does in my opinion.

The un-intentional spelling mistake just makes this card for me

The un-intentional spelling mistake just makes this card for me

Then: it snowed. Like, a lot.

I know that this might not look like much, but considering that this is the UK...

I know that this might not look like much, but considering that this is the UK...

I mean, like, a lot.

Snowman? Ha! Try Snow-Gate

Snowman? Ha! Try Snow-Gate

Then: I bought myself a new mug for work. A Muppets mug.

This is the mug compared to the size of the carrier bag I got with it. This shot doesn't do the mug that much justice, but it takes 1.5 litres of water/coffee/juice

My new Muppets mug and carrier bag.

I’d gone into the Disney store the week that  The Muppets came out over here (We had to wait 4 months, but boy was it worth it), saw this and bought it on impulse.

I remember trying to be charming and flirty with the girl that served me. But, as always it either came off creepy or stupid… no aloof would be a better word. I remember doing an impression of Kermit at one point (the video for OK Go’s version of The Muppet Theme was playing at the time), and I mentioned that my favourite Muppet was Gonzo (when she asked, by the way. I didn’t just blurt it out) and that my favourite Sesame Street character was Grover (that I did blurt out, for no real reason).

Either way, she didn’t seem offended, and I didn’t get jumped by security on my way out. So, all in all, I call that a success.

And today: I received my copy of Tokyo Jihen’s final album.

£20 for a 5 track CD, AND it has some kind of weird DRM on there that means I have to use EAC and rip at 0.5x just to get a clean copy for my iPod.  Totally worth it, though

This (and the next thing) took 4 working days to get delivered from Japan

It’s a 5 track CD, and cost me £20 (it’s listed at 1700 Yen, before tax). But it’s totally worth it. Tokyo Jihen are geniuses. It’s just a shame that this is their last album – you’re looking to hard, if you don’t spot the joke/reference on the album art.

I also got a book

OK so this was more expensive than the CD I bought with it, AND I can already play one of the songs from the album. But I'd like to learn to play the rest, too.

Dai Hakken Sheet Music

This isn’t the most expensive book I’ve ever bought, but at £30 (2800 Yen before tax) it came close.

Allegorically, the most expensive eBook I’ve ever bought (so far) cost me almost as much.

Last, but by no means least:

I ended up ordering two. That way, either I can take a friend, or I might (HA!) get a date for it.

Avenue Q! I can't wait!

Avenue Q are touring the UK this year, and I’ve always wanted to see it, so I bought tickets. Simple

I’m still waiting on my tickets to see Hugh Laurie at the Hammersmith Apollo (almost-front row, baby!) the same week as Avenue Q.

You Are, Now, Up To Date… Kinda

That’s all I can think of (and have pictures of) at the minute. So, until next time:

Have fun.

P.S

Animal says:

“GO. SEE. MUPPET. MOVIE”

Recent Happenings

Recently I’ve been quite busy. What have I been up to? The answer? Not much.

Audible Listenings

As I’ve mentioned on Google Plus and Twitter, I purchased a few new albums recently. They’ve all been Japanese albums, too. A great way for me to test the postage systems of the world, I figured.

I would apologise to the UK and US music industry, if they’d released anything exciting or new.

What where these albums, you ask? Well, one was the new album by 東京事変 (Tokyo Jihen. This ranslates as “Tokyo Incidents,” but I prefer Tokyo Jihen) and a “new” band called the Earthbound Papas.

I’ve said that Earthbound Papas are new because they are. Although they formed in March-ish of this year, they’re basically the new version of the Black Mages.

The new album by Tokyo Jihen is called 大発見 (Dai Hakken. This translates to “Great Discovery”) and is, quite simply put: Amazing.

Side note: I keep pronouncing this as Hakken-Den. I haven’t a clear idea as to why, but I think there’s a Japanese TV show or film with “Hakken-Den” in the title. I’ll update you when I figure this one out.

Dai Hakken – Tokyo Jihen

Tokyo Jihen have (almost) always been a J-Rock band. This is because the founding member, 椎名林檎 (Shiina Ringo), is one of the most famous female Rock musicians of the late 90’s and 21st century. Over the years, though, her music has changed; it’s become (for want of a better word) calmer.

Her first few albums were chocked full of Rock songs of different types, however her recent work has been more… How do I put this? Classy? Jazzy? Jlazzy? That’ll do. Jlazzy is how I would describe her recent work. It’s amazing, mind you, but it’s not Rock music.

You can listen to samples of the entire album here: LINK (it should open up in a new window, and it WILL start playing as soon as it’s buffered so watch out). I’ll clue you in, though: The next song on the album, in my opinion, is 恐るべき大人達 (Osorubeki otona-tachi; which Shiina, herself, translates as: Les Adultes Terribles).

 Octave Theory – Earthbound Papas

The Blank Mages where a Rock band formed by three composers from Square-Enix: 福井健一郎 (Fukui Ken’ichiro), 関戸 剛 (Sekito Tsuyoshi) and 植松伸夫 (Uematsu Nobuo). They played, mostly, some of the biggest songs from the Final Fantasy song catalogue in a Progressive Rock style. Some of their best songs include: One Winged Angel, JENOVA, At Zanarkand and Matoya’s Cave.

However, when Uemastu left Square-Enix he also left the Black Mages, essentially ending the band. After creating his own record label (Dog Eared Records), he got the band back together – minus the bass player and the drummer –  and formed the Earthbound Papas.

The Earthbound Papas are, pretty much, the same as the Black Mages. The key exception being that the Black Mages relied on loud guitar music as Uematsu never seemed that keen to jump into the spotlight with his keyboard playing (anyone who has the first Black Mages Live DVD can attest to this). However, with the Earthbound Papas, he has become more confident; even altering the way he arranges the new (and 1 classic) tunes.

Their version of Liberi Fatali is absolute genius, I feel:

For those interested:

The Tokyo Jihen CD – which shipped straight from Japan – was delivered to my house (in the UK) 6 days after ordering it. I didn’t pay for any specific kind of fast shipping, in fact I think that the shipping was free (I’m a frequent shopper at this particular website and had built up a bit of a discount, I think).

The Earthbound Papas CD however, was delivered to my house a month after I’d ordered it. This was down to the CD having been sent from Japan but via Hong Kong (I didn’t order this from the same website as the Tokyo Jihen CD). Even so, a month isn’t that bad.

Literal Literature

I’ve also been on a bit of a book binge. Recently, I re-read “Guards! Guards!” This is so that I can re-familiarise myself with the excellent character of Sam Vimes in time for the release of “Snuff!”

For those who don’t know: Sam Vimes is a member of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch and an amazing Commander of men.

I’m talking about the Discworld; for those who didn’t realise.

Samuel Vimes as he appears in The Pratchett Po...

Sam Vimes, with Errol the Swamp Dragon (Image via Wikipedia)

This is my plan to prepare for the release of “Snuff!”:

  1. Avoid any and all plot spoilers – All I know is that it revolves around Sam Vimes
  2. Re-read EVERY SINGLE Discworld novel that Sam Vimes has been in (in a major role)
  3. Avoid any and all plot spoilers
  4. Avoid any and all plot spoilers

That’s, pretty much it.

I’ve also been consuming a large dose of science. I’ve read “Bad Science” (by Ben Goldacre), and have recently started reading “The Physics of the Impossible” by Michio Kaku.

I, also, can’t wait for the release of “Fifty Word Stories: Volume 2”. For those who don’t know, Fifty Word Stories (sometimes shortened to 50WS) is a website run by Tim Sevenhuysen and it contains fictional stories of exactly 50 words in length. The pre-order ends on the 15th of September, according to the website, so I should receive my copy of the book at some point after that (although, the postal service in Canada seems to be quite naff. To quote Graham “LoadingReadyRun” Stark: “It’s quite poopy”).

Those Games I Played

Aside from stealing the name for this section from a regular LoadingReadyRun vidcast, I’ve been playing two very excellent games recently.

I’ve been playing Persona 4 on the Playstation 2, and Super Mario World on the SNES.

Persona 4 is one (of the many) Shin Megami Tensei series of games – in that it takes place in the Megami Tensei universe. The big  gimmick with this game is that the main character can “enter the TV” (quite literally). It’s a standard J-RPG as gameplay goes, but it has been lauded as having one of the best character building arch’s of in the whole of video gaming.

And the other game is Super Mario World.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to lately. Until next time, as always: have fun,

J

I remember now. The reason I keep pronouncing Dai Hakken (the new CD by Tokyo Jihen) as Hakken-Den is because that’s part of the full name for the live action version of Grave of the Fireflies. Something which I’ll cover next time.

Wait! That’s still not right, because “Grave of the Fireflies” translates to “Hotaru no Haka”. Where am I getting Hakken-Den from? Weird, ne?

Ringu – Or Why I’m A Purist

A few weeks back, I started re-reading the Ring trilogy of books.

Back in my college days, a friend of mine had told me about an amazing Japanese horror film. One that was about a cursed video tape; if you watched the video tape, you were destined to die within a week. He leant me a video tape copy of the film and told me that I had to watch it

Oh, how ironic

This was the first Japanese horror film I’d ever seen. It had everything, an attractive female lead (unfortunately she can’t act that well), a strong male lead, a spooky story, no signposted jump scares and a really creepy ending. I loved it.

By the way, this would have been around 2002

The Plot

For those who don’t know the basic storyline, it goes a little something like this:

Reiko Asakawa, a female TV journalist, hears of a video tape that kills it’s viewers a week after they’ve watched it. She begins investigating this video tape phenomena shortly after her niece, Tomoko, dies of unknown causes. When attending the wake of her niece, she finds several clues that point to a cabin in Izu province (the film is set, primarily in Tokyo). She travels to Izu to find out what happened.

While staying in the same log cabin that Tomoko and 3 of her friends stayed in (all 4 of whom died at exactly the same time, of the same unknown causes), she discovers the cursed tape. After watching it, the cabin phone rings. She takes this as a sign that she has been cursed and races back home to Tokyo.

When she gets home to Tokyo, she enlists the help of her ex-husband Ryuji Takayama in solving the riddle of the cursed video tape. She also makes a copy for him to watch at his own pleasure. They begin investigating the video, the possible makers of the film, and how to break the curse.

Asakawa and Takayama watching the cursed video tape

Asakawa drops her 9 year old son, Yoichi, at her Father’s house – incidentally, the father of the child is Ryuji. But before she can leave to solve the curse, Yoichi watches the video, claiming that her dead cousin (Tomoko) told her to.

Asakawa and Takayama travel to Oshima (literally, “Big Island” in Japanese. Also, because of simplicity of the name, there are hundreds of islands called Oshima scattered around Japan) to find the last living relative of a psychic named Shizuko Yamamura. They find out that Shizuko’s daughter (to a married man named Dr. Ikuma, who was a specialist in Paranormal psychology), Sadako Yamamura, was killed by her father and thrown into a well. A well that sits under the cabin where Tomoko and her friends found the video tape.

Asakawa and Takayama race back to Izu to exhume the body of Sadako and, hopefully, break the curse. They exhume her body in time and break the curse, and they both travel back to Tokyo.

Asakawa, it’s after 7pm. It’s 10 past 7, in fact

The next day, while working on his unfinished manuscript, Takayama is attacked by the vengeful spirit of Sadako and killed. Shortly beforehand, he figures out the charm, but he dies before he can tell anyone.

"Great! The popcorn's ready. Hold on Sadako, I'll be right back"

Asakawa realises the charm: after watching the video, you have to make a copy of it and make someone else watch it. As the credits role, we hear her asking her father to do her a favour, “… for Yoichi’s sake”

Origins

This film is based on a novel by a Japanese writer called Suzuki Koji. The novel, Ringu, is actually part one of a three part series about the Ring Virus. The novel was first published in 1991 – which is the reason that the curse is encoded on a video tape rather than a Laser Disc or DVD (ideas which would, simply, would not have worked)

The original trilogy is less horror, and more a series of medical mystery novels. There are horror elements in the series, but they focus more on a detective-style, logic based, ‘figuring out of the curse’ (if you will), than outright scares.

After the first novel was released, several Japanese TV drama’s where made that were based on it. They did, however, excise certain plot points for specific reasons.

In the original novel, it is revealed the Sadako is a hermaphrodite. While having the outward appearance of a woman, she is in fact, chromosomally at least, XY – a man. Part of the hatred that helps to form the cursed tape was that she wanted to have a child, and was physically unable to do so. The description of her testes hanging under her vagina is quite vivid, in fact.

Another point that was excised from the TV drama’s was that, before she was killed, she was raped by a doctor. Not her father (Dr. Ikuma), but the physician who was curing her father of small pox (Dr. Nagao)

These are the biggest edits made to the original story and, to be honest, I can see why. No broadcasting company in the early 90s was ever going to broadcast a TV show where the antagonist was, not only a hermaphrodite, raped, murdered, and could project her dead thoughts onto a video tape.

After The Drama

After the drama broadcast (and it was a hit, by the way) in Japan, Hideo Nakata began optioning it as a film. He got funding from, Japanese film studio giant, Toho Studios and set about making his film version. The problem was, though, that Nakata had to make several changes to the story.

Firstly, he changed the protagonist from a man, Asakawa Kazuyuki, to a woman. He also changed Asakawa’s job from a newspaper journalist to a TV journalist. Changing Asakawa to a man meant changing the relationship between Asakawa and his closest friend, Takayama. Takayama became the father of Awakawa’s child, Yoichi, who changed from a 1 year old girl (Yoko) to a 9 year old boy.

Asakawa was changed to a woman because of the recent rise of feminism in Japan. Women were becoming more self sufficient and respected in 90’s Japan, and Nakata wanted to tap into that, that way he could get more people to see his film. By making Takayama the ex-husband of Asakawa and father of her child, he created a stronger emotional bond between the two

In the novel, Asakawa became friends with odd ball Takayama one day at school, after Takayama tells him that he raped a college girl in the early hours of the morning. At the end of the novel, Asakawa is left wondering whether Takayama actually raped the girl, as Takayama’s lover, Takeno Mai, implies that Takayama dies a virgin.

Changing Yoko to a 9 year old boy allowed Asakawa to be away during the important plot points of the film but also to provide a constant emotional draw that could be tapped into by simply mentioning his name. I suppose that the production team tried to find a cute little boy for the audience to coo over too, but he just looks creepy to me.

Yoichi looks creepy to me

This leads to a film that, unless you’ve read the novel, seemingly makes huge leeps of logic as Takayama intuits most of the clues without having to explain himself.

That’s a lie, actually he does explain himself (around the mid act two mark) by saying “I have a strange power, myself,” when talking to Yamamura Takashi about Sadako and her mother.

Aftermath

The problem with taking liberties with a script and changing it so much is that when it came around to making the sequel (Ring 2), instead of making the film version of the second novel (Spiral), Nakata ended up trying to tie up the miryad plot holes left by the first film.

A few years later, the sequel novel did get made into a film (Rasen, or Spiral internationally). The feeling of the film comes across very strongly, and that feeling is “Ring 2 never happened, right? RIGHT?” It sticks as close to the orignal source material as it can, within the limits set by the first film. To be honest, I prefer this to the “official” sequel. It’s more about the medical mystery (the main character, Mistuo Ando, performs the autopsy on Takayama’s body) elements than the scares that the other two films try to push on the viewer, and it feels more creepy in places.

The Remakes

The problem with basing the remake on an already bastardised version of the original story, (with most of original story being based entirely on Japanese folklore and beliefs) is that when attempting to translate that into a new story for an American audience means that a considerable amount was lost was in the translation, and what was left came out as just plain weird. As a friend of mine once said:

Making it look like a special effect doesn’t make it look scary, just weird and out of place

Also, he said (and I think it sums up the American remakes):

I just don’t get it

Then again, it’s an American horror film, what’s to get?

Folklore?

Yup.

Firstly, Sadako has her hair pulled over her face (in the films) to serve two purposes:

  1. Implying that Sadako was a very angry person (without ever explaining to the viewer why she’s an angry person). In Japanese tradition, if a girl pulls her hair down over her face, she is being very rude.
  2. She represents a typical Onryo or female Japanese ghost. An Onryo is a particular type of ghost who is being blocked from a peaceful afterlife, and seeks vengeance for some reason. They are usually depicted as wearing a white (burial) kimono and having wild, unkempt hair which is usually pulled over the face.

Secondly, it is implied (in the novel) that she was born of the sea.

Keep playing in the water, and the demons will come to get you.

The sea, and water in particular, is a scary thing for the Japanese as a culture. For thousands of years, they have suffered with typhoons, water based diseases and millions of people dying at sea. This means that by implying that a character is related to the sea, you can tap into this fear with very little effort (again, this is why the remake of Dark Water didn’t do as well in the west as the original did in Japan).

Thirdly, Sadako (in the films) is a combination of two very famous Japanese ghosts.

  1. Oiwa – this is where she gets her misshapen eye from. The story of Oiwa is the most famous story in Japan. Here is a link to more information about Oiwa: LINK
  2. Okiku – this is where her fate (being thrown into a well by a loved one) comes from. Here is a link to more information about Okiku: LINK

By including all of the above, Sadako becomes a very Japanese character, and anyone learning of her tale is reminded of these other tales instinctively (if they know of them), bringing all of their views and fears with them.

Having these traits applied to a young American girl from the mid-west made no sense.

I’m Going To Leave It There

Simply because this post is nearing the two thousand word mark – not that there isn’t anything more to add to the discussion – and I’m quite tired, I’m going to end this little rant.

But before I sign off, I’m going to leave you with this short video, be sure to watch it… and keep an ear open for your phone ringing afterwards.

Until next time,

J

Synchronicity – Or: How I Discovered A Song As Old As Me

Note: I’m going to be using Japanese characters in this post, if you get a whole bunch of squares (likely if your reading this on a Windows box), you might have to change a system setting for your computer to render the characters correctly, otherwise they’ll just show up as little squares with numbers in them.

As many of you will know, one of my all time favourite songs is a song called: 負けないで (Makenaide, “Don’t Give Up”) by Zard.

It’s one of my favourite songs because it has a really positive message (not just the title). When it was released in Japan, in 1993, the country had taken an economic down turn. The Nikkei 225 (the Japanese stock exchange) had taken a massive tumble, falling one third. There was a recession. People were finding it hard to live. People were losing their jobs. Crime rates climbed back up. People were scared.

A Little History

Izumi Sakai had said that she’d recorded the song to give the country a boost, and to give

Men who [were] taking their University exams confidence.

Later, the 1990s would be regarded as 失われた10年 (Ushinawareta Jūnen, “the Lost Decade”) for Japan. During the 1980s, the economy was booming but (as with what happened recently) credit was too easy to come by and too many people borrowed too much money from banks that were only too willing to lend to people who had no way of paying it all back. The result: … interest rates spiked, the market crashed, massive debt was incurred by (pretty much) everyone, “we’re too big to fail” was the order of the day

“We’re too big to fail”? It’s like saying too fat to diet. What are you doing? – Robin Williams, 2009, Weapons of Self Destruction

The Result

When 負けないで was released on January 23rd of 1993, the Japanese people loved it. It really summed up what they wanted to hear:

負けないで もう少し
最後まで 走り抜けて

Don’t Give up/Just a bit further
Keep on running until the end

This was enough to inspire the Japanese people to face the fate that had been cooked up for them by the financial sector. Interestingly enough, come fans had said that the song allowed them the courage to overcome things like bullying and certain pressures. A little like the modern day “It gets better campaign”

Something I am totally behind. Some of my closest friends are gay and have had to live through years of persecution just because they where seen as different.

As a result, after the aftermath that followed Izumi Sakai’s passing away in May of 2007 (she was 40 years old, planning a new album and a new tour of Japan) 負けないで was voted by WEZARD (the ZARD fan community) as their favourite song that Izumi had ever produced.

Synchornicity

I’m going to take you away from Japan for a short while, imagine the scene:

I’m sitting at the hairdressers, waiting to get my hair cut (what little of it, I have left ;p). There are a few people ahead of me in line, there’s a gas fire going (in the middle of summer?) in the corner, and the ladies doing the cutting are singing away to the radio, blaring out in the background.

I’m beckoned into the “Chair of Destiny” ™ so that I might have my hair cut. I tell the lady how I’d like my hair cutting, take off my glasses and get comfortable. All of a sudden, a familiar tune begins playing from the radio. The singing stops, as no-one knows this one, all except for me. I get a few strange looks, as I’m singing a song that isn’t in English. I’m singing 負けないで.

I realise that everyone is giving me strange looks and so shut up. I listen to the song, it sounds so much like 負けないで that I make a mental note of the song title so that I can look it up when I get home. It was eerie how much this song sounded like 負けないで, it seemed like a carbon copy.

It turns out that the radio DJ had played a song from 1986 called Dreamtime by Daryl Hall. I hit Google and tried to figure out whether The Internet knew about this anomaly – I wanted to know if Tetsuro Oda (the composer of 負けないで) had been influenced by Dreamtime. Apparently, The Internet didn’t know of the link. This made me sad. So, I thought that I’d point the comparison out here, so that we could have a place to start possible research.

The Songs

For those who are intrigued, would like to see how alike the music in these two songs are, those who want a blast of 80’s American Pop music and for the bored readers strewn around the Blog-o-Sphere, I shall embed both of the songs for your listening pleasure.

Firstly, 負けないで by Zard with English and Russian (why?) translated lyrics

Secondly, Dreamtime by Daryl Hall

Anyway, I’ll leave you all to it.

J

Tricky, Sticky Ducks, Ancient Warriors and Mind Tricks

Note: this post contains Japanese characters that might not render correctly with your browser. So if certain parts appear as a succession of boxes, that’s why. Don’t worry though, as I’ve put the reading of these characters next to them (mostly actor/character names).

This Weekend

Throughout this past weekend, I’d decided that I would venture out into the world – seeing as the weather was awesome round here – and spend time getting to know this thing called ‘Fresh Air.’ For the most part, it went well, too.

I travelled all the way out to a local seaside town and spent the day with my younger brother and a friend of mine, cruising around the arcades. It’s a shame that all of the rail shooters where positioned to catch as much glare (on the screens)  as was possible. I really like playing certain rail shooters on sunny day, pedestrians stopping in awe of my skills, setting the high scores safe in the knowledge that they wont be on there tomorrow.

We spent a stupid amount of money at the many arcades, and bought a bucket full of fudge…

There’s an awesome shop were you can buy fudge with different confectionery baked into it. For instance, I ended up with 100 grams of each of the following: Baileys and Cream Coffee, Run and Raisin, Milky Way, Coconut, and Mars (I think). The first two were gifts, the rest for me. Yum yum

We travelled home, tired and full of fudge to the idea of ordering pizza and watching a DvD. After the DvD had been watched, and the pizza’s (plural) had been eaten, it was time for my friend to go home.

Trick

The next day, I decided to re-watch a favourite Japanese TV show of mine. It’s a comedy show called Trick.

Actually it’s called トリック, but I decided that most people either wouldn’t be able to read that, or their browsers might not render it properly. So, I’ve simplified it to ‘Trick’ for the rest of this post.

Trick: The Movie DVD Cover Art

It stars 由紀江仲間 (Nakama Yukie ) and 阿部寛 (Hiroshi Abe) as a magician and physics professor (respectively) travelling the length and breadth of Japan solving crimes and mysteries related to spiritualism.

Hiroshi, being 6 feet and 2 inches tall, plays the role of a bumbling professor of physics at Japanese University of Technology and Science called 上田次郎 (Ueda Jiro), who owns a tiny car (I forget the model/make, but it looks like a classic mini). Ueda is a confirmed sceptic of all things magical an spiritual, however when things get too much for him he usually screams like a little girl and loses consciousness.

Nakama, being just over 5 feet tall, plays the role of 山田奈緒子 (Yamada Naoko), she is the the daughter of a talented magician and a famous calligraphist. Yamada is, in her own right, a very talented magician however she only has one die hard fan. Well, a stalker really.

She  doesn’t like the work that Ueda brings her, as her real passion is for magic and inventing tricks, not disproving ‘fake spiritualists’ but she really needs the money that such jobs bring.

The few jobs she gets during the shows run that are not related to Ueda, performing magic to pedestrians or shoppers in a mall, aren’t held for very long, as she is replaced with ‘edgier’ or stupid acts. For instance, one replacement is a man who stands on one leg in the Tai-Chi ‘Dragon’ position for extended amounts of time without falling over.

From this point onward, I’ll refer to Yamada Naoko by her given name (Naoko), to avoid confusion since her mother is also a main character.

Yamada’s mother 山田里美 (Yamada Satomi) is a famous calligrapher who claims that there are great powers in written characters. Satomi sometimes gets involved with the mysteries, as Naoko and her have a very strong emotional bond and each can feel when the other is in danger of some sort.

She, along with most of the main characters believe that Naoko and Ueda make a cute couple. This is remarked upon to the great chagrin of Naoko as she, seemingly, has no interest in Ueda (although, she worries for his safety at several points in the show).

The final main character is 矢部謙三 (Yabe Kenzo), an incompetent investigator from the Tokyo branch of the Metropolitan police. Yabe wears a wig, but tells everyone that it his natural hair. He is very touchy about this follicular matter, to the point that he beats up his assistant and his hair dresser.

He spends a lot of his time avoiding doing work whenever he can (telling people, over the phone, that he’s chasing a suspect while riding a roller-coaster for instance), and can only solve crimes due to utter stupidity and sheer luck.

The show has been described as a mixture of The X-Files and Scooby Doo. While that is a very concise description, I’d add “Derren Brown” in there somewhere. This is because of the fact that Naoko uses her training and insight as a magician to solve the mysteries and expose the, often quite simple, tricks used by the charlatans. That, and she often explains the magic tricks she (and other characters) uses to bamboozle everyone.

Anyway, I’ve managed to watch most of it so far. When I decided to embark on this not-so-epic quest I all three seasons, one of the films and one of the specials. In chronological order (of release) this is the entire series:

  1. Season 1
  2. Season 2
  3. Trick: The Movie
  4. Season 3
  5. Trick: The Special
  6. Trick: The Movie 2
  7. Trick: The Movie 3
  8. Trick: The Special 2

As of yesterday, though, I now have all of these. I’m looking forward to watching the specials and movies I didn’t have before. Also, I’m looking forward to watching the most impressive, and action packed fight scene in martial arts cinema history. It’s in the first special, and it’s between Ueda and a body guard.

If I could find a clip I’d post it, because it’s the best fight scene I’ve ever witnessed. Remember: the show is a comedy and I’m using a hefty dose sarcasm to explain the scene, here.

I’d seriously recommend watching this one if you get the chance. Although I can’t endorse it, it’s available for free streaming (with subtitles) on many, many websites and is well worth watching. Or you could (again not endorsing this at all) download the show, most of it – minus the second special and second and third films – are available in one form or another out there with subtitles. I’ve got the DvDs, and they’re a joy to watch.

Brentalfloss’ G-Rated Karaoke Track Pack

After I got home, today. I found a small cardboard box with my name on it waiting for me. Inside was my pre-order copy of Brentalfloss’ G-Rates Karaoke CD. For those who don’t know who brentalfloss (“And yes, his name is officially uncapitalized” – direct quote from his website), I’d recommend going over to his site and checking out his work if you like either:

  • Video game music or
  • Comedy

The man is an absolute wizard on the keyboard, and exceptionally funny.

brentalfloss during his famous “Zelda with Lyrics” video

Anyway, this CD is just his first CD but with completely re-written G-Rated lyrics. As he says on Track 1 (“Boring Parental Disclaimer”)

Hello. This is brentalfloss, thanks for listening to this CD. I made G-Rated versions of the tracks so that kids, like my nephews Evan and Jackson, could enjoy it too, without their parents having to turn down the volume at key points during most of the songs. I also did it for people who wanted a version of the CD they could listen to anywhere, with anyone.

What results is a CD that is, as funny and entertaining as his first CD, but with family friendly lyrics. It’s fun to listen to, and contains ‘Karaoke’ versions of his tracks for people to sing along to, or make their own lyrics up for.

I’ve only listened the G-Rated songs so far (as I’m guessing that the karaoke versions might be slightly less entertaining, but I could be wrong). It’s definitely worth getting if you bought the first CD.

Miyamoto Musashi

I’ve been reading about the amazing 宮本武蔵 (Miyamoto Musashi), often called the greatest swordsman in recorded history. He really is a fascinating person, and I’m planning a whole post about him soon. He was a martial artist in all sense of the word. He studied weapons, the Tea ceremony, Art and poetry.

Derren Brown

I’ve also been reading “Tricks of the Mind” by the often imitated, but never duplicated Derren Brown.

Derren Brown using his mind tricks on a parrot

For those who don’t know, Derren is an English magician and mentalist (in fact, the main character in “The Mentalist” is based, rather loosely, on him). He is famous for his TV shows and specials that “mix suggestion, psychology, showmanship and misdirection” and his investigative reports into things like ghost hunting, the paranormal, and most recently faith healers.

Among his most daring tricks where a live interactive seance, a live Russian Roulette game (with actual live ammunition), predicting the national lottery draw with 100% accuracy and a plethora of other mind and card tricks based around magic and gaps in our psychology and perception of reality.

The book is a selection of tips and tricks that Derren has used in his shows. They’re all excellent described (although I struggled with the peg system, initially) and are provided with simple examples. The memory tricks work so well that I scared myself. I was able, using a combination of linking and loci to remember a list of 20 random objects a month after being set the task of memorising them.

And I have a terrible memory. Seriously, I have trouble recalling much of 2009- Jan 2011.

Don’t worry though, I wont be using any of the hypnosis or suggestibility trick on anyone… at least not until I’ve perfected them. Even then, it’ll only be for silly things, like making people cluck like a chicken or making me invisible.

I need to get that book on Neuro-Linguistic Programming

So, that’s what I’ve been up to recently. I’ll put a whole bunch of links down here at the bottom of the article, should you make it this far, you might find them useful for expanding on some of the topics I’ve talked about.

Ciao,

J

Links

Trick on the wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trick_(TV_series)
Trick on the D-addicts wiki: http://wiki.d-addicts.com/Trick
Brentalfloss’ home page: http://www.brentalfloss.com/
Brentalfloss’ Youtube page: http://www.youtube.com/user/brentalfloss
Derren Brown’s homepage:http://derrenbrown.co.uk/
Derren Brown on the wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derren_Brown

Page 1 of 3