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Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams. - Yeats

Friday, November 09, 2018

#KajiuraYuki #梶浦由記 ~ official FictionJunction Station twitter

Just a quick blog post for now.  Yesterday, Kajiura Yuki announced that her new official fan club, FictionJunction Station, has set up an official twitter account.  If you're a Kajiura Yuki fan, it's a good idea to follow this account for new and official announcements etc. :)

Thursday, November 08, 2018

#Kalafina ~ is this the end?


I just returned from Hong Kong and it reminded me that the last time I was in HK was in 2010.  I happened to see an MTR poster advertisement announcing Kalafina's impending live in HK and an idea took hold in my mind.  I could not return to HK so quickly because of school, it set me on a mad path to find a way to see them live and that was how I ended up in Tokyo in December and attended their Kagayaku Sora no Shijima ni wa live.

Eight years later, so much has changed.  I have had so much happening in my life in the 11-12 months that I hardly blogged at all, not even about the many changes that have happened to Kalafina and Kajiura Yuki.  The Kalafina that I love is no more.  Keiko is no longer with Space Craft Produce nor is she part of Kalafina anymore.  A little before Keiko left early this year, Kajiura Yuki also left Space Craft Produced and now, even Hikaru has left.

Recently Hikaru from Kalafina announced that her contract with Space Craft Produce ended on October 20th.  She is the second vocalist from Kalafina to leave the agency.  While the announce did not explicitly say that Hikaru was leaving Kalafina but leaving Space Craft pretty much means leaving Kalafina, in my opinion, because Space Craft Produce manages the vocal unit too.

Kalafina's official fan club Harmony also released a handwritten letter from Hikaru on Nov 2nd with an accompanying note from the staff that they will continue to release information regarding Wakana, the remaining member of Kalafina who will release a solo single next year.

Meanwhile, Hikaru has started her own Twitter account and she doesn't use Kalafina Hikaru in her profile description. She's been busy posting and several of her tweets are in both Japanese and English which will surely delight international fans. :)


This is Hikaru's first tweet. :)

I guess that Hikaru is preparing to go solo or something although she says that she hasn't decided anything yet in the tweet that is currently pinned up.  As for Keiko, still no news.:(

As for me, I am still a Kajiura Yuki fan but I'm probably no longer a Kalafina fan, at least I'm not a fan of the current Kalafina.  I've always liked them the most of all Kajiura's projects because I felt they expressed her music the best.  Now that Kalafina seems to only have a solo vocalist and doesn't even have their composer (Kajiura Yuki) any more, my interest in them has really waned.  At the very least, I will have to hear some music first before I decide anything else.  Currently, except for solo lives, both Wakana and Hikaru have yet to released anything, so I can't decide if I'm going to continue being an avid fan of them.

Kajiura Yuki has also set up her own fan club which I intend to join.  Been too busy and kept forgetting to do it. :(  I will try and do it tonight. :)

https://fictionjunctionstation.com/

Meanwhile, I wait with bated breathe for the release of the OST for Fate/stay night Movie: Heaven's Feel - II. Lost Butterfly.



I'm guessing that there will be a BD+CD release like Fate/Stay Night: Heaven's Feel - I. Presage Flower.  I regret not being able to do an unboxing of that set then.  I will probably get the Fate/stay night Movie: Heaven's Feel - II. Lost Butterfly set as well.  If I do, depending on how busy I am, I might do an unboxing of it.

Alrighty, that's it for now.  I'm probably work on another Sun Li (孙俪) drama review next, probably one of her older ones before I get to Nothing Gold Can Stay (那年花开月正圆).  :)

Friday, November 02, 2018

Review ~ Goddess of Mercy (2003 drama) #玉观音 (#孙俪)


Goddess of Mercy (玉观音) is Sun Li's debut drama.  Well, technically she's been in at least one previous series before but that's as an extra and it's a non-speaking part.  This is the fourth series starring Sun Li that I have ever watched.  By this time I am already a huge admirer of this excellent actress.  It only took one series and that's Nothing Gold Can Stay (那年花開月正圓).  I still hope to do a post on that series but that might take quite a bit of some time and so I thought I would do something that I think I might find easier.

I am trying to watch everything Sun Li has ever done to get a full understanding of her evolution into the exceptional actress that she is today.  So there's no place better to start than by watching her award winning debut performance.  This is the performance that heralded the arrival of a star-in-the-making which by default makes it an important series for anyone who is interested in Sun Li's progress as an actress.

Goddess of Mercy is based on a novel by Hai Yan who also produced this series.  A more internationally known film starring Vicki Zhao and Nicholas Tse was also made in the same year.  As far as I can tell, most of the English reviews online are about the film and there are none on the drama starring Sun Li.  So I have decided to write a simple one, with the focus on Sun Li of course, since she's the reason why I decided to watch this series and write a review / analysis on it.

For those who wish to attempt to watch Sun Li's old dramas, I must give you some words of warning.  A lot of these older series have a relatively old fashion way of telling their stories.  The pacing is SLOW, even Mainland Chinese series these days are paced quite a bit faster.  Its especially hard for those of us who grew up on a diet of Western styled storytelling to get use to.  I grew up on a hybrid of American and British dramas as well as local Chinese dramas, TVB dramas and the occasional Japanese and Australian dramas and the even more occasional Mainland Chinese drama, so I am somewhat able to deal with it without getting too frustrated.

That said, if you're a serious Sun Li fan, I think Goddess of Mercy is worth watching just simply for her.  For an actress who had no previous formal training in acting prior to this drama, she's very watch-able and she put in superb performances in several key scenes in the series which would make your heart ache for her.  Of course she's not as impressive as she is now, which is to be expected.  She sometimes lacks a little subtlety and restrain.  Also, sometimes her transitions can be less than smooth and her eyes also don't always speak as much as they do in her later series, especially the scenes that don't require bigger emotion BUT that said, you can see that even in her début series, Sun Li has got the makings of being at the very least a very good actress.

The following section is pretty much spoiler free because if you read various reviews on the film adaptation of this novel, it pretty much gives you the same information.  I will place spoiler warnings later in the post if necessary.

Tong Dawei as Yang Rui
The story is told to us in a series of mostly longish flashbacks interspersed between Yang Rui's (Tong Dawei) present day story. Yang Rui used to be a brash and arrogant Lothario who likes the easy life.  His extravagant lifestyle is being bankrolled by his female boss at work.  While he feels a little bored and suffocated by this, he's not bothered enough to try and break the relationship off.  But one day he meets An Xin (Sun Li).  She works in the Taekwondo Club that he's taking lessons at.  Eventually the two will hook up and she will tell him her tragic backstory.  For those who are only in it for Sun Li, she makes her first appearance halfway through the second episode.  You can skip the first episode if you like because it's pretty boring.  It's just Yang Rui moping around in Canada and taking forever to finally tell this girl that he can't marry her.  They actually repeat a good number of these scenes again in the last episode.  So if you know the gist of the first episode, you can pretty much just fast forward those scenes in the last episode.

Sun Li learnt Taekwondo for this role and
was apparently quite good at it.
This series suffers from a few problems.  The most glaring one is how slow and tedious this series begins and ends.  I really don't think we needed an entire episode detailing how uninterested Yang Rui seems to be in his impending marriage to a Canadian Chinese woman, nor do I think we needed to spend so much time detailing just what a cad he is.  And we really don't need to see so many scenes in episode one in the last episode yet again too.  Yang Rui was also quite unlikeable in the beginning which made it hard for me to understand how and why a person like An Xin would fall for him.  Honestly, a lot of Yang Rui's scenes feel kind of bland, especially the bits with him wandering around looking for An Xin , after his return from Canada.  Tong Dawei, the actor who plays Yang Rui, was also unable to circumvent the inherent blandness of his sections of the story nor was he able to inject any charm into his disagreeable character in the beginning.

Aside from pacing problems and wasted screen time, I also had issues with some of the logic in the last section of the series.  I know they need a final confrontation or a final resolution but the circumstances that led to it are not very well explained.  Some of the characters make very strange and terribly foolish decisions that I'm not sure normal people would make which kind of undermined what you feel should be proper character progression.

An Xin in uniform
But the series isn't without its merits.  It really gets going when An Xin tells her back-story.  She used to be a police woman in a drug enforcement unit in Nande (南德), Yunnan.  She was engaged to Zhang Tie Jun (Fang Bin), a journalist, who lived miles away from where she was stationed when she meets a young and exciting young man called Mao Jie (Peter HO Rundong).


The three men in An Xin's live, Yang Rui, Mao Jie and Tie Jun.

Feeling lonely, she has an intense but brief affair with him.  It turns out this young man comes from a family that deals drugs.  Both An Xin and Mao Jie hide what they actually do from each other which leads to devastating consequences for both of them.  During a drug sting, an undercover An Xin meets Mao Jie again and he's captured, his home is raided and his father is killed in the process.  Both his mother and him are put on trial but he manages to get set free because his past relationship with An Xin throws the evidence against him in doubt.  His mother, however, gets the death penalty. After his release Mao Jie and his brother return to take revenge on An Xin and in the process Tie Jun, now her husband, is killed and she barely escapes to safety with her child.  By the time Yang Rui first meets her in Beijing, An Xin has a new identity and is on the run from Mao Jie.

This entire backstory is quite absorbingly told and Sun Li really shines here. There are several scenes in her backstory that stuck in my head.  One is a sequence of scenes that ends with An Xin barely escaping from Mao Jie and his brother.  Tie Jun, who had discovered via DNA testing that his son isn't biologically his, comes to Nande to confront An Xin, return the child to her and break off their relationship.  An Xin desperately pleas with Tie Jun before Mao Jie and his brother attack, kills Tie Jun and forces An Xin to escape with her child.

Sun Li's acting in this sequence is particularly memorable for me.  She has a frantic look in her eyes as she desperately grabs and shakes her husband's body in the hopes that he could be moved to change his mind.  Then there is that frenzied barefoot dash across the river and her collapsing in near exhaustion in a police post in the vicinity.  The way she moved her body in that sequence and the way she lets all the strength out of her body as she stumbles and collapses at the end; it's very good.  I've seen lots of on-screen running, stumbling and collapsing but few come close to Sun Li's in this sequence.  She really looked like she was at the end of her strength.

 

I do have to give lots of bonus points to Ding Hei and the production team here.  The escape across that river was very nicely edited.  Lots of quick cuts, jump cuts, varied angles, shaking camera, nice lighting, good music and a great idea to mix in An Xin's laboured breathing half way through the sequence.  The quick cuts, constantly moving and shaking camera gives the visuals a sense of the panic the character must be feeling.  This is accentuated by An Xin's ragged and heavy breathing, as though all she can hear is her own desperation and panic.

The subsequent scenes of her in the hospital are kind of interesting.  Not just for Sun Li's performance, which is pretty good, but also because Ding Hei chose to do some intriguing things.  After seeing Tie Jun's body in the morgue and learning about his death, An Xin collapses.  Just after An Xin awakens, she's surrounded by a big group of people and the camera does a sweeping pan across all of them.  I think there must have been about ten or so people surrounding her bed.  That's so strange.  Do people like stand around staring at an unconscious person waiting for the moment she awakens?  Then there is the overhead MS of An Xin in the hospital bead and the pull up till the humans standing around her bed look kind of exaggerated.



I'm not sure why Ding Hei decided to do that.  Maybe he was trying to show that disorienting moment when one awakens from a deep slumber?  Or maybe he was tying to visually portray that surreal feeling one has when one first learns of the death of a love one or that moment when one knows but doesn't want to believe what is happening to them. Whatever his reasons, I think it's pretty effective.



I must give a thumbs up to the baby they used in the series. This boy is such a good tempered child.  They passed him from person to person and he didn't even struggle.  I also kept starring at the footage of An Xin's escape in the river.  I'm not sure if they used a dummy for the baby in some shots but in some shots it seems like they did use this child and he didn't seem too upset.  Unfortunately, the resolution of the footage is not terribly good so I can't be certain that they did use the child but if they did, then I have to say I'm quite amazed since this is something that they will probably never do in Hollywood.

There is another sequence which I found quite memorable.  The authorities have brought Tie Jun's mother to Nande without yet breaking the news that her son was already dead to her.  As she waits and questions the authorities as to the condition of her son, An Xin's superior, Captain Pan (Du Yuan) brings her to the room presumably to try and soften the blow for Tie Jun's mother or to perhaps bring her some comfort.  What no one knows at that point in time is that Tie Jun's mother already knows about An Xin's affair with Mao Jie and that the child is not her son's.  The ensuing scene is chaotic and heartbreaking as An Xin tries to find mutual comfort with her mother-in-law but is instead rejected and literally thrown aside by Tie Jun's mother.



Aside from some fine acting by both Sun Li and the actress who plays her mother, I kind of like how Ding Hei directed and edited this scene too.  An Xin is always shown in a more submissive position than Tie Jun's mother.  She's always lower and is often thrown around quite violently by his mother too.  There are lots of jump cuts, there's also the deliberate breaking of the traditional continuing editing rules, repeated shots and the constantly moving camera is deliberately chaotic.  However, this chaos is juxtaposition against numerous dissolves, slow-mo shots and a sorrowful tune which seems to want to extend time and reinforce the focus on An Xin's despair and desperation.  The audience was always suppose to sympathise with An Xin which is pretty important because she is one of the main protagonist of this drama and, at this point in time, it was her imprudent actions that led to this moment.  So the drama needs to be very clear that in spite of her ill-considered actions, she is still a character that the audience can like and can sympathise with.



There is, however, an entire dream sequence right after the above scene that I has me baffled.  After that emotionally exhausting meeting with her mother-in-law, An Xin is physically hauled out of the room and she pretty much just collapses yet again.  While she's still unconscious she has this whole dream sequence where an out-of-focus Tie Jun walks backwards into the trees and she slow jogs through the woods with mirrors and reflections of her and Tie Jun.  I mean it's interesting and all but I don't know what it's suppose to mean and how it adds to the story.  If anyone ever watches this drama and would like to discuss this with me, I would be very happy to. :)

Caution: SPOILERS

A little later after this, Mao Jie and his brother will continue to try and take revenge on An Xin and she's forced to change her identity and leave Nande.  She'll first go to Beiqiu where there will be a couple of unhappy incidences which will finally lead her to bring her son, now named Xiao Xiong, to Beijing where she will meet Yang Rui.  Yang Rui will change into responsible husband material over the course of his relationship with her.

After Yang Rui is framed by his former lover and imprisoned for a while, An Xin will spend a great deal of money and effort to get his released and the two love birds decide to get married.

Now this is the part where the script kind of fails me.  I'm not that familiar with China's laws and ways of doing things, especially during the time this particular drama was set in but even then there are some things that don't make sense to me.  I know that An Xin's undercover identity is actually He Yanhong and in order to get married, they had to go to Beiqiu to get her paperwork sorted out.  However, there is a mess up at the authorities and the officer who helped to set up her undercover identity is no longer in Beiqiu so them getting married wasn't going to be a straightforward affair.  Now this is where it gets a bit baffling, why for goodness sakes would they be so impatient that they would risk going to Nande to hasten the paperwork?

It's only been about over a year to two since An Xin had to flee Nande.  The child and her are safe in Beijing even though she's not using her undercover name any more.  There is also no indication that Mao Jie and his brother have stopped seeking revenge.  So any normal person would not risk themselves and their love ones by going to Nande.  Yang Rui returns to being an insistent childish brat, An Xin is more foolish than she's ever been and even Captain Pan seems to not take the matter that seriously.  He may have left An Xin a gun when he left the inn that day that Mao Jie and his brother attack the couple but he didn't actually tell them to get the hell out of town ASAP or stay low and in your hotel till the next train.  At least, I just didn't feel that he, or anyone else for that matter, had any real sense of urgency.



While one of the things I did like about the parts of the story that take place in Nande was that that we get to see some of the culture of the area, still this return trip seems unnecessarily dangerous.  On the return trip to Nande, there is a water festival bit that was quite interesting and reflective of the Indochinese and Thai influence in the area.  BUT even though I enjoyed seeing images of it, I couldn't help asking myself over and over again, why would they put themselves and the child in danger.  It's almost like they were asking for it.

And of course Mao Jie will spot An Xin in the crowd and of course he will be able to track her to the inn where she was staying in.  In the process Yang Rui is beaten to a pulp, Mao Jie's brother dies, Xiao Xiong is first kidnapped and then killed by Mao Jie and the stage is set for the final confrontation.  While resolution is good and often necessary in a script, still the way we get there feels forced and not a natural progression of the story.



Sun Li does have a scene in this section which is pretty good  After Captain Pan tells her that the child is dead, she wails in Captain Pan's arms.  It's really quite moving.  I watched an interview on YouTube where they talk about this scene.  It seems that after Sun Li  had signed with Hairun Media, she was put into a training class where they learnt various skills in performance and TKD (taekwondo).  I don't know why TKD is part of the training but anyway, after learning TKD for a few months, she seemed quite adept at it and so they told her that they might want to cast her in Goddess of Mercy.  However, the director also told her that if she didn't work hard, they could replace her any time.  So she learnt TKD, driving and swimming etc for the series. 

One day, the director asked Sun Li's teacher to let Sun Li perform a scene from the series.  It's the scene where she talks to Mao Jie and tells him that the child is his.  Sun Li said that during that rehearsal, she simply couldn't cry because she didn't know how to act then.  She didn't have any particular feelings then and had to force herself to cry, telling herself that she had to cry, if she didn't she won't get this chance.  So while telling herself she had to cry over and over again in her head, she managed to cry just a little bit.  This interview is pretty interesting and even if you can't understand Chinese, I feel it's worth a watch just to see the difference between this early rehearsal that apparently got her the part and the final performance that made it on-screen.

CLICK ME
Happily they recorded this rehearsal. Start watching at
approx 21:45 mins in.
Talk about grabbing your chances while you can!  Because apparently, it was this performance that made Ding Hei decide that he was set on using her for the series and the rest, as they say, is history. :)



Anyway, after Yang Rui recovers, An Xin returns to Beijing with him.  While she's recovered physically from the injuries she suffered during the final confrontation with Mao Jie, she's emotionally broken.  After all the trauma that she's been through, An Xin is not just grieving but she's clearly also suffering from survivor's guilt and I think that's the main reason why she left Yang Rui and returns to the battle front of drug enforcement in Yunnan.  I actually did like this part of the script because her reasons are reasonable.

If you're in this only for Sun Li, you can pretty much just skip the rest after An Xin leaves because after that we get a whole lot of Yang Rui looking for her and I have to admit that I find most of his scenes without An Xin or Zhong Ning or his buddy, quite boring, slow and unnecessary.  His story is actually the least interesting bit of this drama even though he is pretty much the main narrator.  It's really An Xin's story that's the most interesting and Sun Li's acting, even though rough around the edges, is very engaging.

I'll just summarise the ending here for those who wish to save time and skip the Yang Rui bits at the end.  When Yang Rui reaches Nande again, he will be brought to An Xin's grave where he'll be told that she died in a drug operation.  However, Captain Pan will meet him privately after that and he will give him a piece of jade that's carved in the image of Kuanyin, the Goddess of Mercy.  This is a necklace that shows up periodically in the series and is a piece of jade that An Xin wears around her neck.  Captain Pan will tell Yang Rui that An Xin is still alive but she's still working undercover.  An Xin had asked Captain Pan to give Yang Rui her Goddess of Mercy necklace and to tell Yang Rui to forget her.  Yang Rui will eventually return to Beijing where he will continue to work hard and wait for the day when he hopes An Xin might return to him.

END OF SPOILERS

This took longer than I expected and once again I wrote way more than I intended. Hahahaha!!!  Nothing has changed, I'm still as verbose as ever and I still often get carried away when I write. :)

In conclusion, I feel that if you are a Sun Li fan, this is a drama that is worth watching for her performance.  If you take into account that this is her first real acting gig, she was really extremely good.  There is also the basis of an interesting story here and if you can sit through some of the boring Yang Rui portions and if you can get used to its slower pacing, there is a relatively enjoyable story in there.

Du Yuan who plays Captain Pan is also pretty good.  He's suitably stoic where necessary and he is very believable and likeable as An Xin's superior with a heart.  Peter Ho also plays his Mao Jie with enough charm that you understand why An Xin could have been so careless with her dealings with him when they first became friends.  He's probably less bad boy charming than Nicholas Tse but he handled his role well.  I actually liked the actress who played Yang Rui's female superior Zhong Ning (Hai Qing).  She really suited that role.

If you're not a Sun Li fan, then I'm hesitant to recommend this series to you.  I feel that the series does feel dated.  It's a 2003 series which was shot in 2002.  The production values are okay but aren't as high as recent Mainland series.  The pacing is also on the slow and deliberate side, even Mainland Chinese series don't tell their stories this slowly these days.  So if you are more used to higher production values and a more modern or western way of telling a story visually, it might be distracting.  This series was very popular in China when it was first released but I'm not sure if it would have travelled well outside of China then and it is less likely to travel well outside of China now.  

I'm actually quite curious about the film version of this story.  The film version is directed by Ann Hui who is one of the most important names in Hong Kong New Wave cinema.  In addition to Ann Hui, it also stars some quite popular stars of that time which is why there is way more information on this film in English than the drama.  I might watch the film just to see how Ann Hui dealt with the source material.  I'm a little ambivalent about her films.  I feel she has hits and misses but she's still a director that I am quite willing to watch, so I will probably check the film out when I have time.  I would like to read the book too but I think that maybe too ambitious because I'm not sure if I will have time to do it since I read pretty slowly in Chinese.  But we'll see. :)

Alrighty, that's it from me for now.  Hopefully I will one day get to the rest of Sun Li's work one day.  But this is kind of time consuming and I'm terrible at being succinct so we'll see. :P

Thursday, October 25, 2018

My new love. :)


Recently I just discovered the incomparable #SunLi #孙俪  Although she's already pretty famous internationally for her role in Empresses in the Palace aka Zhen Huan Zhuan (后宫·甄嬛传), I actually didn't know who she was.  I actually avoided this drama when it was super popular back in 2012 because I'm one of the only ones I know who did not really like TVB's War and Beauty (金枝慾孽).  I wasn't very interested in yet another drama about scheming women who had questionable motives at times.

So how I discovered Sun Li is a little more unusual than most people.  Lately, I took a much needed big break from work.  And during this break I happened to watch ep63 of this Mainland Chinese drama called Nothing Gold Can Stay (那年花开月正圆) on TV.

 
Strangely, I found the episode quite interesting and I wanted to find out more about the relationship between this melancholic tree climbing mother and her rebellious adopted child.  And because of this, I started watching 那年花开月正圆 from episode one on-wards and I really loved most of it.  And more importantly, that's how I found my latest obsession, Sun Li.  She was phenomenal in the drama and I fell in love with her.

As all my old buddies know, when I really like something, I can get a little obsessive.  Haha!!  I feel compelled to watch all that they have done or listen to all that they have composed.  That's how it was for Lau Ching Wan, Ada Choi and Kajiura Yuki.  I've watched some pretty blah stuff for Lau Ching Wan's and Ada Choi's sakes.  Luckily Kajiura Yuki's work is mostly good so I didn't have to suffer too badly. :P  I also did the same for Zhang Yimou, Wong Kar Wai and Johnnie To.  I have watched a ton of their work and actually liked or loved a lot of them.

Anyway, since my new love is Sun Li, I have decided to try and watch all of her work both past and present.  At this point in time I have watched her in Zhang Yimou's Shadow (影), Empresses in the Palace, Auntie Duohe (小姨多鹤), The Legend of Mi Yue (羋月傳), Hot Mom! (辣妈正传) and Goddess of Mercy (玉观音).  I'm also now in the middle of One Meter Sunshine (一米阳光).  Lots more to go and I'm not sure if I have the stamina, patience and nerve to finish some of them. Hahaha!!! 

If time permits, I would like to blog more about some of these series and maybe write capsule reviews for some of the older ones.  But we'll see, I can get super busy and tired which is one of the main reasons why I had to stop blogging for a while.

It's been almost a year since I last blogged and a lot has happened. Both Kajiura Yuki and Kalafina released new music, Kajiura left Spacecraft, Keiko left Kalafina and the Kalafina I loved is no longer the same.  :(  I always loved Kalafina because their kind of harmony and Kajiura Yuki's music was 完璧. But alas, with Kajiura's and Keiko's departure, the Kalafina that I loved is no more.  Now only Wakana and Hikaru remain but since I've never heard anything that they have released as solo artists  and since I'm less interested in them as solo artists, my interest in Kalafina has somewhat waned. 

I also made three visits to Japan.  Once to attend Kalafina's 10th Anniversary Live at the Budokan, once to attend Kajiura Yuki's Vol.14 lives in Osaka and Tokyo and once more on a leisure trip to Tohoku.

Normally I would have blogged about all these but the past year was a truly busy one and probably the hardest one I've had in years but let's not go there. :)  I don't think I'll be doing any of the missing unboxings and reviews of the past releases anymore because it's been too long,  I won't do the concert reports anymore too for the same reason.  But if I pick up any more new Kajiura releases going forward, I hope to do them too.

I hope to be back blogging about stuff that interest me.  It's been too long since I've written anything and I miss writing.  Hopefully I'll have time to write more, its good for my brain cells. :)

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

#Kalafina ~ 9+one at Tokyo International Forum Hall A - bluray unboxing


Well, looks like I'll be getting pretty busy again.  So I think I should get this simple unboxing out of the way.  I had to wait a while to do this even though I was pretty excited about getting this on the day it was released in Japan. :)  However, I forgot that my TV is busted and I can't play the BD in my room.  So I had to wait till I had the opportunity to play it on the telly in the living room.

Ahhhhhhh... the first song is one of my favourite songs to hear at a live.  The first time I heard Samidare ga Sugita Koro ni live was at the 8th Anniversary Live at Tsutaya O-East.  I managed to get tickets for both days of the live and this song was really memorable.  I LOVED IT to bits.  Everyone was singing "la la la" with them in a small hall.  The atmosphere then was electric and really unforgettable for me.

I wish I could have gone for this live in Tokyo.  They sound amazing on the BD!!  They keep getting better and better at the lives.  If only I could have gone.....

However, given the uncertainty of my life since March 2016, I felt I needed to give travelling a rest for awhile while I sort things out.  Even though it's still a little uncertain and there are some lingering issues, still I am happy that I feel settled enough to go to Kalafina's 10th Anniversary Live in Tokyo in Jan 2018.   I'm so excited about it. :)  I can't wait to see them live in Japan again and at the 10th Anniversary Live no less. :)   I won tickets though the Harmony Fan Club draw and have bought my plane ticket and booked my accommodation.  So pretty much everything is in place.  SOOOOO excited!!! :)

Anyway, first, here are all the photos.  I only shot samples of the insert booklet because I'm certain that someone will scan these and put them online soon.  Maybe they already have.  So you can look for those later because the quality will certainly be better than my photos.

Here you go. :)


         
(and yes those are the FictionJunction spoons holding down the pages of the booklet. :P )

This time, as a bonus video, they included the documentary of Kalafina in Hong Kong and Singapore for the Anisong Fantasy Live vol.1 2017.

I was so grateful to the gods of music that Kalafina did come to Singapore for the Anisong Fantasy Live Vol. 1.  Although, like most Kalafina fans in Singapore, we really rather it be a one-man live but at that point in time, a festival appearance was better than nothing  And it was an AMAZING weekend for Kalafina's fans in Singapore, that's for sure. :)  You can read my ultra gushy post about it here. CLICK ME. :P  And I did something I have never done in my life and that's taking off work  (with permission :) ) to meet a celebrity / celebrities at the airport.  But it's Kalafina and it took them YEARS to come back to Singapore. So we were really excited. If you haven't read it yet, here's me gushing about what will certainly be one of the highlights of my life. :) CLICK ME.

Here are just a few screen captures from that documentary.



This was when they were in HK and the girls took a camera and went about filming themselves.  The geek in me was all excited about the camera because I'm pretty sure that's a DJI Osmo in Keiko's hands.  I really want one.  My friend has one and it's a really fun camera.  Sadly, I don't have a really compelling reason to buy one yet and if I really needed it, I think I could get my friend to lend me his. So.... I guess, I won't be owning one anytime soon. :)



Hahaha... this was truly an awesome moment!!  I don't think I'll ever forget that day and how everything fell in place for me to be able to go to the airport that day. :)



Kalafina with our banner with everyone's well wishes. :)  It was very kind of the Taiwanese fans to help us with that illustration.  We didn't know any Singapore based Kalafina fan who could draw at that point in time.  So it really helped us out a lot.  It was fun to meet fans of other nationalities at the live too. :)



Haha!!! And I know where they were that night in Singapore when they took that photo with that big tree.  Actually, a fellow fan guess the Bukit Merah area and she turned out to be correct.  She actually recognized that tree. Hahahaha!!! POWER!! :)  Well, that's IKEA Alexandra in the background so that's really at the junction where Queensway, Jalan Bukit Merah and Alexandra Road meet.  I actually pass this place everyday, Monday to Saturday, on the bus on my way to work.  I don't think I can go pass this junction without thinking about Kalafina now. :)

There's quite a lot of good local food in that area.  ABC Brickworks and Alexandra Village Food Centre is in that area.  Further up, on Jalan Bukit Merah is Bukit Merah central which isn't bad too.



And yes!!! I didn't dream this up.  They pinky promised to come back to Singapore when they left the stage that day and here they are again, backstage and pinky promise again to come back to Siingapore. :)  I really hope they do and that it'll be a one-man live this time and it won't take 5 years again. :P

But for now, I look forward to seeing them live in the Budokan in Jan 2018.  As always.....thank you for the music. :)  And now I am off to bed, with Kalafina's BD still playing in my ears, my head, my mind and my heart. :)

Good night! :)

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

#ヒグチアイ #HiguchiAi - #百六十度 Hyaku Rokujuu Dou ~ unboxing + comments


Sometime this year, someone introduced Higuchi Ai to me and gave me one of her albums as a gift.  I really liked the album and her music and wanted to write about her for some time.  But lots of things happened in my life this year and I've only really just gotten back into blogging again.  So before work ramps up again and before I'm ready to do the new Kalafina and Kajiura Yuki unboxings, I thought that I would write about her first.

Since this isn't about Kajiura Yuki or Kalafina, I've written it for Okonomikaki's which is a collaborative blog by a few friends and I.  I hope that you'll go over to the blog and check out the post and check out Higuchi Ai's music as well.  You might like it. :)  Here's the link to the unboxing post which also talks a little about the music on her third album and also gives a  little introduction to the singer-songwriter herself. CLICK ME.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

#梶浦由記 #KajiuraYuki ~ Princess Principal Soundtrack - unboxing + comments


It looks like work will be ramping up again pretty soon so I'll better get going on the unboxing of "Princess Principal" Original Soundtrack: Sound of Foggy London as well.  The Kubikiri Cycle: Aoiro Savant to Zaregotozukai Sound Collection and the Kalafina 9+one at Tokyo International Forum Hall A BD have shipped but since I didn't pick Fedex this time, the earliest it'll get to me will probably be nearer the end of this week.  So I need to try and get this unboxing out of the way as soon as I can.

First up photos of the release:

        

Unfortunately, I haven't had the time to watch the anime.  All I managed was the first episode.  I do want to watch the rest of it and when I have time I will.  Unfortunately, I already have a couple of other things I am working on, tutorials and other stuff, so this has to take a back seat till I have more time.

From what I gather, it's an anime about young girls who operate as spies in steampunk England.  I'm very fond of steampunk inspired stuff and one of my favourite anime ever is R.O.D. which was also about spies operating in steampunk England.  If people haven't seen it, I totally recommend it too.  Especially the OVA.

Anyway, back to Princess Principal.  This OST is not bad at all, even for someone who hasn't watched the anime, I found quite a few tracks that I quite liked and some I even found quite evocative.  It's not as iconic as Kajiura's OST for Kara no Kyoukai or the OST for the Mai Hime franchise etc but few are and few can be because sometimes the circumstances or the material just doesn't allow for it.

Without having seen the anime, it's hard for me to say whether Princess Principal worked well as the OST for the anime but I trust that Kajiura took care to make it so.  Her past work proves it.  Like the Boku Dake ga Inai Machi OST.  I liked it because I felt it worked really well with the anime which is first and foremost the job of a good OST.   And till today, I regret that I didn't do an unboxing of the two boxset releases of this anime.  I got them for Kajiura's OST of course. :)  But I also enjoyed the anime which is why I did splurge a little on them. :)

Anyway, here's my thoughts about the album.  It does contain some kajiura-go but only in a few of the tracks.  Interestingly, when we do get the new-age sounding kajiura-go bits, a lot of that ethereal sound is balanced out or broken up by mixing another audio element.  For example, D1 T1 - shadows and fog.  The track starts with a few simple notes on the vibraphone, followed by a sequence of notes on the vibraphone.  It's all quite enchanting till this tone which is first underscored with a sound effect increases in volume and changes the tone to one of heavy foreboding.  Soon we hear Remi's lovely voice in Vocal and the equally lovely Yuriko Kaida in support and we are in the familiar Kajiura land of fantasy.  But as we are lulled into a dreamlike state, the quick and staccato sound of drums break that mood and a very brash Saxaphone takes over the song.  And we're left wondering what just happened?!?!?  After which we get a good dose of genre mashing for the rest of the song.

Well, I'm not sure how this worked in the anime but I quite liked the idea that went behind this song.  Steampunk England doesn't actually exist in real life.  Well, although there are festivals and art work that celebrate it etc, the era never truly existed.  It's a fantasy alternative world where old England, usually Victorian England, is mixed in with some advanced technology and weaponry.  It's quite a juxtaposition and that first Track really set the mood and tone for this anime (at least from what I remember of ep1) in many ways.

There are several tracks with a heavy bass which I like.  I really like tracks like D1 T4 - go and get it!  where the heavy base is underscored by an even more urgent beat.  I can imagine them working very well in chase sequences in the dark alleys of steampunk London I think.  It really did get me quite excited and those electric guitars, they keep getting faster and faster till near the end they trail of and get mixed in with more ambient effects.  That last sound actually sounded like a monster swallowed something up.

There's also this track which I quite like.  D1 T15 - room with no window 
I love the use of the violins and the occasional sequence of notes form the vibraphone.  The violins are fast and quick and inconsistent.  It almost conjures up an image of a person running around a room looking for an exit only to be stopped by when the vibraphone sounds. There is very low hum almost through out the entire track which really adds to the ominous and claustrophobic feel of this track.

There's also D2 T6 - in the fog which I quite liked too.  This track really reminded me of the OST for Blade Runner 2049.  So much ambient dissonance that I think the speakers will complain.  It screams industrial and dystopian future.  Oh and just in case you think I'm saying that she "copied" Blade Runner 2049, I'm not.  Princess Principal's release date is earlier than Blade Runner 2049 so if she got any inspiration from somewhere, it's not from Blade Runner 2049.

And in classic Kajiura genre mashing fashion we have stuff like D2 T7 - operations in action.  It's like Jazz and Funk with flute solos and classical sounding violins.  Interesting stuff! 

She does a similar thing with D2 T1 - a fighter girl from east.  It opens with a very traditional Japanese sound with a bit of Japanese flute and the shamisen before a Jazzy beat kicks in.  And over-layed on top of this spy movie type caper music is a flute playing a very Eastern sounding tune and all kinds of percussion going on in the background.  Interesting once again.

Ahhhhh.... I think I've said this before and I'll say it again.  Kajiura is AMAZING.  Her music is rarely typical.  Her music is often interesting and different and daring.  And I love how her music can "talk" to me.  It can fill my head with images and stories.  It's really evocative stuff and can be so varied and so complicated but yet not messy or pretentious.

That's not to say everything is complex.  There are simple songs that prioritize certain instruments too like the tranquil piano in D1 T5 - on a day so calm and the acoustic guitar in D1 T8 - bitter times for example. And quite a few more to prove that she can write less complex and layered material when needed. :)

There are four songs in this release.  Two are from Kajiura and the other two are from Takahashi Ryo. I really like もひとつまわして (mohitostu mawashite).  It has a very hypnotic beat and has really interesting lyrics.  You can check it out here. (CLICK ME)  The vocalist also sings in a very consistent beat and it really feels like the she is stuck in a cheerless routine.  Meanwhile the more emotionally laden violins, flute and female chorus breaks through occasionally and actually takes over in the middle of the song.  This song is so brilliant.   The music completely supports the lyrics and vice-versa.

The song opens with:
Let’s turn it once more and give it our best to earn our living
in order to eat delicious food 
When we’re tired, let’s sing all together 
in order to stop sighing
(courtesy canta-per-me)

She's singing of a kind of daily drudgery but at the same time she also has hopes and dreams of something better.  So while she sings in a consistent and somewhat downbeat fashion which expresses her current situation, the music surrounding her vocals is hopeful and emotional.  I like it.  Nicely done Kajiura sensei!!

The other song by Kajiura is D2 T18 - moonlight melody.  It's a waltz like tune made somewhat different from other songs because of that duet between what sounds like an autotune anime character and a human being.  It's okay.  I enjoyed it enough but I'm really not a fan of cutesy anime vocals so I'm never going to like this song as much as the rest of the OST.

I really could go on and on, I suppose.  But that would mean that it would take me forever to finish writing this post. :P  And since I'm mainly a Kajiura Yuki fan, I won't comment about Takahashi Ryo's music except that D1 T19 - The Other Side of the Wall is really very different from Kajiura's work and not really my cup of tea.  I prefer D1 T20 - A Page of My Story which feels like a simple ditty, enjoyable enough and with a title that quite fits the feel of the song.

Okay, that's it for now.  I need to stop, if not I will never get around to posting it and to other stuff I would like to and need to do. :)

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it and please forgive any grammatical errors etc.  I'm a terrible proof-reader. :)

If you like the soundtrack, please do consider supporting the composers and all who were involved in its production.  Here is a link to the product page on CDJapan where you will find sample audio links.
"Princess Principal" Original Soundtrack: Sound of Foggy London

cheers

p.s. This post will be cross shared on another blog my friends and I are slowly working on.  The blog is relatively new and we're pretty busy people but we love writing and sharing our thoughts and love for Japanese entertainment and pop-culture.  Their interests are often quite different from mine so you might find something of interest to you on the blog that I would not normally write about. If you have time and interest, please check out Okonomikaki's at https://okonomikaki.blogspot.sg/  Thanks. :)