crap i have watched recently #29

hide smilesI’m always in a funk after Otakon so I cheer myself up with Japanese food, Japanese cartoons, Japanese music, random Japanese trip planning, and and other sorts of wishful thinking.  Sumimasen, but there are SPOILERS ahead…

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Sword Art Online (2013):  I saw a few episodes of this last year (god, time flies) at Otakon and then waited in inordinate amount of time for Netflix to get a hold of it.  Now, at last, I have watched it all and I have to say, it was time well spent.  Sword Art Online is a massively multiplayer online game.  Shortly into its first day players discover they cannot log out and then they are summoned en masse to the game’s main city.  There they are told by the game’s designer that the only way to exit the game will be to defeat all 100 level bosses.  If they die in the game, they will die in real life.  If anyone removes their VR gear they will die in real life.   By the end of the first month, 2000 players are dead and the first level has yet to be cleared.  Kirito, a beta tester who has managed get pretty awesome even as a solo player, joins a team to kill the first level boss.  He meets Asuna, a young female player who joins the raid because she wants to die doing something instead of just sitting around in town.  After the boss is down, the two go their separate ways but of course they are fated to meet again.  When they do, both are battle-scarred and hardcore players.  Asuna has joined the game’s most powerful guild.  Kirito, after some tragic losses, has chosen to remain a solo player.  They become friends and then something more, quite naturally and believably.  Their devotion to each other and the strength it gives them become the core of the narrative.  The end of this story arc is both suspenseful and quite touching.

The second half of the season goes in a different direction.  Asuna is held captive in a gilded bird cage at the top of the World Tree in a new game built on the SAO architecture.  Her captor is one of those lip licking, leering, pervy bad guys so common in anime and he amuses himself with telling Asuna in detail what he’s going to do to both her avatar and her real body.  Kirito joins the game to find her and is helped by the beautiful Leafa, who turns out to be his sister Suguha, who has fallen in love with him in real life.  (Kirito is adopted so this is not as creepy as it sounds).  There is no “death penalty” in the new game but Kirito is racing against a clock.  If he does not reach Asuna and free her within a week, Creepy Pervy Guy is going to marry her comatose body both in order to get her money and to, well, um, you know.   He’s creepy, ’nuff said.   Kirito and Leafa fight against a stacked deck:  player killers seeking revenge, an unclimbable World Tree, and bosses it is impossible to kill.  The story suffers from the loss of Asuna as Kirito’s co-equal in badassery.   He is as single-minded in his devotion to her as ever but she is passive to the point of objectification.   She’s caged and later chained and at the mercy of her captor.   The earlier episodes were nearly devoid of fan service but the second story arc graces us with lots of boob and thigh shots (primarily Suguha), near-rape (Asuna), minor harem action (Kirito seems to be going in the direction of Asuna in real life and Leafa in game), and even some gropey tentacles (Asuna again).  It’s still a good story, if a little over the top at the end, but the vibe is totally different.   It does not have the same sense of “rosy happy ending” as the first half but it definitely (and literally) plants the seed for a sequel.  Apparently the next one involves guns instead of swords.  Oh well.

Score:  Meh.

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The Last Live (X Japan, 1997):  After getting a small taste of X Japan at Otakon I decided to give this concert film a look.  It was filmed at the Tokyo Dome in December 1997 at the band’s last concert prior to taking a hiatus that ended up lasting ten years.   I’m not really a fan of concert films.  I’ve been to a few concerts in my life and films just don’t tend to do them justice.  They have a flat feel to them and a formula that almost always seems stale.  So when I find an exception it is something of a revelation.  I’m also not much of a fan of metal.  I don’t hate it.  There are some songs I like, some bands that I’d go see.  But in general it seems to trade bombast for subtlety (duh) and whatever emotion might live in the music is lost in the lights and the noise and the hair.  I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from this movie.  I watched it because, well, I kind of for some stupid reason felt like I owed it to Yoshiki.   He was generous and kind at Otakon and played a hell of a set of piano music and I had a good time that cost me absolutely nothing and I get curious about things and that’s what life is all about.  Time to end that sentence, LOL.

Anyways, it’s a concert film.  The Dome is huge and jammed with screaming fans.   The band is Toshi (lead vocals), Yoshiki (drums, piano), Pata (rhythm guitar), Heath (bass), and hide (guitar).  The stage lighting looms like a giant octopus (oh Japan, don’t you ever change!).  The lights come on, the band comes out, they play music, the crowd goes insane.  It’s metal.  It’s fast.  I don’t know any of the songs but after about 10 minutes the frenetic energy starts to grow on me.  The manic drumming, the nimble guitar, the passion in the language I do not speak.  I find I don’t want to stop the video even though I have better things to do.  I try just listening to the music in the background but since this show is so fantastically visual that doesn’t work for long.    The singer contorts himself with every word.  The guitar player’s fingers move like wind over the strings.  The drummer plays with such energy he usually has to be helped off the stage.   All of them mug for the camera, tease the fans, dance, run down the stage wings.  They pour everything they have into this last great gig and the effect is mesmerizing.   By this time the band had performed together for 15 years.  Toshi and Yoshiki had known each other since the Japanese equivalent of kindergarten.   They hug, they cry, and they rock like mofos.   And then the stage is bathed in blood red light and they launch into Kurenai and at that moment the whole thing goes from an interesting cultural experiment into something sublime.

I’m not musical.  I can’t sing a note on key.  I couldn’t tell you if any of these guys are really freaking awesome at what they do or if they are just loud, fast, and sexy and that’s enough.  I will tell you this though.  A long time ago I saw Aerosmith at a stadium show in California.  It was a decent show, not remarkable.  But then they hit that first sweet note of Dream On and the entire stadium got quiet.   For 10 seconds, 20 seconds, half a minute, 70,000 people held their breaths and listened.  You could hear your neighbor’s heart beat.  And when Tyler finally started singing, all of us, every single one of us, starting breathing again and we used that breath to sing.   That’s what Kurenai is like.  It opens slow, with a few lines in English over a single guitar.  Then it just…rampages.  As near as I can tell this is a song about someone bleeding out after they’ve lost a lover (I’m depending on crappy internet translation here so I could be totally wrong).  Whatever, it is undeniably all about passion.  Once the music winds up every band member is in constant motion.  The singer stalks the stage, howls into the mic, dances with the other band members.  The drummer looks like he is going to fly into bits behind his kit.  Even the bass player (!) is spewing unconscionable amounts of energy.    After all this power and speed and emotion, when you think they’d have to stop from exhaustion if nothing else, the band segues into a song called Orgasm.  Utterly fucking perfect.

Kurenai is also the setting for a unexpected bittersweet moment.   hide, the guitar player, sits on a riser, guitar pick in his mouth, and gently plucks out a melody.  Toshi sits next to him and sings the opening words of the song.  The camera focuses tightly on the two of them.  As Toshi finishes the verse, hide takes the pick out of his mouth and flashes a brief, sweet smile at Toshi just before the camera cuts away to a full view of the stage and the lights fill the room with red.  It is a small and personal moment in the middle of a grand spectacle.  In a film that is all about endings and loss it gives viewers a small glimpse at the intimacy that these guys must have felt for each other.  It is also unbearably sad.  Six months later hide was dead and it would be ten years before the band could bring itself to perform together again.  This small piece of time, though…it lives and the film is full of moments like this.

Is the film something of a let down after this high point? Oh hell no.  Sure, it’s full of the kind of self-indulgent bullshit rock stars seem to enjoy.   Lots of leather pants and very few shirts.  Yoshiki beats a perfectly good (and obviously extremely expensive) drum kit to death.  Then he goes crowd surfing.  Now, I’ve seen videos of him stage diving in the band’s younger visual kei days, launching himself joyously into a crown of sweaty dancers.  This is fine when you are up and coming. But when you are so famous that 55,000 fans would be more than happy to tear you to death out of love for you?  Maybe not the best idea.  He loves it though.  The crowd loves it.  His security detail probably not so much.  They all have the implacable faces of samurai facing sure death.  The film slows down a bit now and then and even Heath and Pata appear mildly bored during some of the ballads.   I love the ballads though.  They are beautiful in that way only power ballads can be.  It even gets a little talky in one part where Toshi and Yoshiki essentially say goodbye and thank you to everyone and the rest of the band members look sad as hell.  This particular bit segues into the lovely Endless Rain, a song that the band finishes by letting the fans sing the chorus over and over while they stand on the stage and cry.  The only real clunker in the entire three and a half+ hours concert is the 30 freaking minute long intermission, which is included in its entirety.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love watching Japanese kids doing the wave over and over again as much as the next person but some judicious editing might have been in order here.  Otherwise though, the madness never stops.  They go on for well over three hours, beating themselves into a stupor, ratcheting the crown into a frenzy, song after song after song, and it is indeed a joyous noise.

Here’s the deal.  I know it’s only rock and roll.  But I really fucking liked it.  I bet you will too.

Score:  W00t!

 

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~ by gun street girl on August 25, 2014.

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