D: Please Do Samurai, Not Versailles

…That being said, however, the moderate “bleh” ness of the 7th Rose PV is sort of redeemed by new single Kaze ga Mekuru PAGE‘s PV. Yes, it’s one of those happy, upbeat with-a-Goth-twist songs that is faintly dissonant and mentally disconcerting to anyone who thought they had a firm grip on their understanding of reality, but that’s a good thing. ASAGI and co. look so much more badass in hakama and kimono than they do in poofy Hizaki hand-me-down prom gowns and super pasty makeup.

 Yes, the guitar riffs are nothing special, and the vocals threaten, at times, to lurch into the usual happy-D-song medium, but Kaze ga has a good vibe, and actually sounds like a confidentally composed song. In fact, it sounds like one of their more “Jrock”y pieces, with a guitar pattern that almost rings of GACKT…two artists I thought I would never dare to mix in one post. Anyway, the song is good, and the PV is (very D) elegant…

The Pillow Book of Gackt Shonagon

Our friend GACKT has been by far the busiest Jrocker this year. Perhaps, contrary to popular belief, he’s only just now getting a second-wind in his sails. At least that’s how I see it, because damn, if this guy isn’t sailing, who is?

His latest single, released December 9th, ’09, was very aptly named. 雪月花 ~ The End of Silence may just look like a jumble of pretty words to you now, but let me demystify. One of his more poetically-titled singles, Setsugekka means “Snow, Moon, Flowers” — all things which usually inspire more of a sense of silence and tranquility, as opposed to how GACKT has labelled them: The End of Silence.

All you have to do is put in the CD to understand how exactly this all works.

The title song opens with some GACKT-ish, airy piano notes, which move into a strings arrangement that floats around ethereally for a few seconds, before steadily escalating and ascending into the peak of the intro, opening for– typical GACKT guitar riffs and another Lost Angels? Think again. The strings and piano intro soar right into a totally unexpected arrangement of traditional, elegant shakuhachi (bamboo flute), taiko (drums), some Asiany strings, and some subtle other effects that scoop up the tender, melancholy piano’s tinkly high-notes. Musically, this is almost a poetic polarity of the traditional/metal arrangement he did for 2007’s Returner. The effect of this opening phrase is really striking and refreshing. Get your tissues out, Jrockers, and prepare for a nosebleed– let Gacktpause tell you why!

The intense opening piece (that actually could make anyone believe that GACKT was born in the 16th century) gives way for a soft, very subtle backing layer that is barely perceptible, but serves as a kind of ethereal palette for the tinkly piano to continue on its own– well, until GACKT sings the opening line: Mikazuki wo daita, kimi ni tsubuyaita and then the stars fall out of the sky.

三日月を抱いた君に呟いた

“… Mikazuki wo daita, kimi ni tsubuyaita…”

The poetic, flowing lyrics fly on through the opening verse and into the chorus, where everything picks up. The elegant verse soars perfectly into full-on-rock-band, with a back-layer of Asiany plucking that, paired with GACKT’s beyond-perfect vocals, keep us rooted beneath the snow-veiled, crescent moon– right where he wants us.

The next verse is more concentrated than the opening, with some dominant bass, acoustic guitar, and violin where the piano was before.

The lyrics and vocal melody are some of the most innovative of GACKT’s releases this year. The ethereal high notes, which dip right into gravelly, growling half-screams are exquisite, and keep everything as fresh and unpredictable as freshly falling snow.

The traditional accompaniments keep everything from getting too rocky, and the rock-band keep the traditional elements from getting too Genji, while a soaring violin binds us into more tension than you would have initially imagined on hearing the first notes.

Keeping us caught in confusion between whether we should head-bang until we have migraines, or weep openly into our kimono sleeves, Setsugekka ~ The End of Silence is a refreshing, innovative masterpiece. Neither ballad nor metal crescendo, this is truly some of his best work since Returner.

But it’s not over yet. Let’s not get all caught up in GACKT’s poignant, howling crescent moons and snow falls blooming like sakura– the masterpiece doesn’t end with the title song. B-side 斬 ~Zan~ (the kanji is actually read as Zan, so Zan is not really a sub-title, but a translation.) picks up where its predecessor left off– but let me warn you, better put your maccha bowl aside, because you’re going to need all available limbs in order to rock out hard-core enough for this one.

Shamisen (not like the kind that the Yoshida Kyoudai play, but like the kind you usually hear before a kitsune possesses you, or a kappa eats you) and traditional sound-effects (like the kind that happen right before a bad-ass decked out in Kabuki get-up starts shouting samurai war-cries)  open for this a-class b-side. But nobody is messing around anymore– Genji is all geared up and ready to go, and isn’t prepared to wait around for geta-ed girls. Zan kicks off almost instantly– barely giving the intro enough time to decently be called an intro. We’re right into the thick of things– and by things I mean hardcore, thrasher riff-ridden, katana-wielding hard-rock the way we like it. Heavy, melodic, and uncontrollably cool. (Tissues cue. Just in case your nose fountains worse than a decapitated head.)

Traditional instruments and effects are still readily at hand in this metal melange– shakuhachi galore (courtesy of Kominato Akihisa– and you said it wasn’t a hard-rock instrument? Tch…) keeps everything beautiful– in sort of a ninja-battle-about-to-break-out kind of way. But alas, or thank goodness, nobody can control themselves, and Gacktjob lets loose, complete with shouts of what sound like (but could merely be mistaken for) Die!

The vocal melody, and lyrics, are quite a bit more intense than Setsugekka. GACKT has his semi-evil thing going at first (you can just see his bestial glare), in the bridge it smooths out slightly, but right back into full-on-intensity for the chorus and return to evil war-lord for the verse.

Zan is a bit more “fun” than Setsugekka, in a grim, hardcore bad-ass way. The arrangement messes with your head a bit– like, you never expected the high, ethereal vocals right there in the middle. Just at the point where YOU finished his rough, wild metal-style rap session. GACKT uses a lot of compositional versatility, playing around with different musical styles and bringing in plenty of variation to keep you on your toes.

Just make sure that if you’re listening to this single, keep your katana packed tightly away. I know that mine somehow found me while I was listening, and by the time the instrumental versions started playing, my living-room curtains were mere shreds of ribbon. x

In the PV, you may notice a few unfamiliar faces. GACKT has recruited (god only knows why or for what purpose) some new friends to accompany him for the sake of the PV. Credits go to:

VOCAL/ GACKT (some how he still made the lineup. How unfair is that?)

GUITAR/ YOU, Shun (Duel Jewel)

BASS/Ni~ya (Nightmare)

DRUMS/TSUKASA (D’espairsRay)

VIOLIN/ Naramura Mika

So if you were wondering why he had separate credits for a super-secret “music clip”, that’s what that means.

Returner (yup, I’m back)

GACKT’s

RETURNER ~ 闇の終焉

gacktreturnergv8 “End of Darkness

I must say, if I had to choose a way to die, it would be like the armored Gackt of Returner: standing ghostly, alone despite the shadowy samurai thrusting their katana into one another, whilst arrows stab my heart, and murmuring the words “tsuyoku dakishimete…” 1181979789

That is Gackt’s Returner~ Yami no Shuuen

Before this flurry of releases from pop idol GACKT this spring and summer, his latest single was released June 20th 2007. This single, titled Returner~ Yami no Shuuen [Returner- End of Darkness], produced by Nippon Crown, was released as part of a major project GACKT did with NHK [popular Japanese broadcasting company]. In 2007 NHK aired a period drama called Fu-Rin-Ka-Zan[“Wind, Forest, Fire, Mountain”- jp: 不倫火山]. Fu-Rin-Ka-Zan was the battle standard used by the daimyo Takeda Shingen, which quotes chap. 7 of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: “Move as swift as a wind, stay as silent as forest, attack as fierce as fire, undefeatable defense like a mountain.”

Taking place in the Sengoku period(15th century through early 17th century), the drama is based on Inoue Yasushi’s novel by the same name. Fu-Rin-Ka-Zan depicts the life of Yamamoto Kansuke, who is known as one of Takeda Shingen’s renowned strategists. Need I really say which role the aloof genius secured? Of course Gackt plays the villain, Uesegi Kenshin, and he talks in this really, really deep voice. Deeper than how he talks on talk-shows. Gackt of the endless octaves.

gacktfuurinkazan

Admittedly, I only watched a few episodes before getting distracted and giving up. The episodes I had access to at the time were without subtitles, and at that particularly unfortunate time, my medieval-Samurai slang Japanese wasn’t so good. That sad point has, to be sure, been remedied.

Returner was released, as I said, in connection to Gackt’s performance in Fu-Rin-Ka-Zan. The song was in fact the OP to the show– I am known to have a rather unbiased opinion concerning the use of Gackt’s music as OPs, but here we have an exception to the rule. If a song was ever perfect for its show, it was a-this-a-one.

Returner begins with the eerie, melodic notes of a shinobue, a Japanese bamboo flute with a high range. Although the flute melody sounds uncannily like the one used in the less-commonly-known plugged-in-version of Mind Forest, it’s obvious to see why Gackt borrowed his own idea: Mind Forest will not begrudge Returner the use of the shinobue melody. The flute adds the perfect touch of traditional Japanese to stirr up the samurai in all of us before launching into heavy metal-style electric guitar. They break, the soft plucking of a harp: Gackt starts singing.


The use of the traditional Japanese flute and moody rock is a marriage in music that I think is truly epic, and Gackt pulls it off perfectly. The ghostly sound of the shinobue creates a flawless image of hopelessness in the face of katana-wielding foe. His beautiful lyrics and the incredible rhythm of the piece are exquisitely dark. Of course, for the first of his singles to reach #1 on Oricon’s weekly charts, this comes as no surprise to those of us who understand this sort of thing.

Aside from the opening flute issue, which really has ceased to be a concern, Returner is a portrait of originality. Although it has otherwise little in common with its preceding album, Diabolos, this single carries on the same ‘tude of Gackt’s darker side, as displayed in the heavy melancholy metal, balladic melody vocal line and the PV.

Interestingly enough, Returner is sung from a formal, likely female, perspective. Instead of the typical informal Japanese Gackt sings in, he uses the masu forms of some verbs, as well as the formal/female watashi and anata [informal male Japanese uses boku and kimi, respectively]. Presumably he sings from the POV of a woman whose lover has gone to war– apparently never to return.

Returner sets the scene for the complementing vocal tracks, Cube and Birdcage. In 2007 Gackt performed a tour: Training Days Live At Drug Party, where many of his classic titles, as well as a self-spoof were performed. Both aforementioned titles are live-recordings from this DP performance.

Low-key, dark, and moody Cube was originally published on the single Kimi no Tame ni Dekiru Koto. A real masterpiece of thought-provoking brooding, Cube somehow holds a sound closer to Western rock than Japanese. The verses are restrained, coming across as slightly flat and depressed. They seem to go on forever before the chorus begins, but once the chorus touches your ears, it will be difficult to escape the clutch of Cube. Along with Emu ~ for my dear, Cube is a real ticket for Gackt’s heart-wrench- bench, a sickeningly addictive and horrifyingly heart-breaking blend of hope and anguish.

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In typical Gackt style (and a rather Japanese touch, at that), we are not left gushing bloody tears all over ourselves. Left dying after Cube we flow on into Birdcage, a gentle piece incorporating a lot of acoustic guitar. Although not one of his best, Birdcage is a nice complement to the two heavy and striking pieces we just bravely battled through to great crescendo. Birdcage cools down the thick emotion of its predecessors with soothing acoustic guitar and a mild feeling that will prepare you for a return to daily life.

The single finishes with the instrumental version of Returner.

So? Ready to get pumped? The single is a masterpiece that should not be missed by Gackt fans. New to Gackt? What better place to start than here? Well, I’ll leave you under the pale moonlight, with the soft whisper of cicadas. Tanoshinde kudasai.

kenshin5

Samurai Fiction

Well, I’ve been yammering on a lot about Visual Kei lately, in case it slipped your notice. I like working in these weird thematic clumps; I geuss I just get struck with these bouts of incurable inspiration– For example, I’m just drowning in a mouth-frothing fervor over writing about Samurai just now. Like how we get cravings for chocolate cake or grapefruit juice.

Yeah, it’s the truth: I’m totally into Samurai movies. A couple of years ago I watched the epically lengthy cowboy flick Magnificent Seven, which is a wild-west rendition of Kurosawa Akira’s masterpiece The Seven Samurai. I really enjoyed both movies, and I thought that Magnificent Seven captured the characters well. And, of course, there’s no more typical Western mirror for Japanese history than cowboys and Samurai. Generally I’m a fan of Kurosawa’s films, partly because I’m a big fan of Mifune Toshiro, who acts in a lot of them. If I could choose to be anyone else, I would probably pick him.

I also added an aside to my rant on emo culture earlier about Miyavi’s Kabuki-rock project. Although “kabuki rock” is sort of Miyavi’s little brain-child, there’s  common ground where many bands meet, and I like to call it “SamuPan”– in plain English, Samurai Punk. Stop chuckling- it’s true. Japanese rockers consciously interact with their famously honorable warrior culture by rocking out in various modes of Samurai-ness. The best of both worlds. Today I’m going to review a film that takes it to the next level: rockers actually playing Samurai.

Samurai_fiction

Although there are a lot of excellent (and otherwise) Samurai films out there, I’m always looking for something that’s really interesting. Anybody can run around howling and wielding extremely sharp weapons and get us pumped up and ready to hack at the first thing that comes along, but I’m talking about some real spice that sets one ancient feud apart from another.

I discovered one which deserves much noise made in its honor. *fanfare* Samurai Fiction (1998)distributed by Pony Canyon [which also takes charge of the exotic Jrock duo LM.C]. The film was the first full-length feature by director Nakano Hiroyuki, who was established as the director of music-videos for MTV Japan. This is apparent in particular scenes that are brief, but dreamlike and strange with no character movement or dialogue taking place, set under a dramatic music score.

Samurai Fiction begins when the aloof swordsman Kazamatsuri, warden of the ancestral sword of the Iga Clan, steals the sword and leaves the Clan. The Clan head’s young son (in the lovely passion of youth! The daring days of youth! The reckless– ok, we get it) gets the uppity idea to chase after Kazamatsuri and retrieve the sword. The rest of the film follows both men in their clashes and reprieves.

The other area in which we see homage to the director’s MTV-heritage is in the casting of musician Hotei Tomoyasu
in the villainous role of Kazamatsuri Rannosuke. Hotei composed and performed the entire musical-score for the film, and it was his acting debut.

Kazamatsuri

Kazamatsuri

After Kagen No Tsuki, I’ve about had my fill of 2-hour-long music video acting-debuts, but Samurai Fiction soon revealed that I had nothing to worry about! The musical-score was quite awesome. Mainly rock with some heavy
guitar-wailing courtesy of our villain, paired quite nicely with some taiko (Japanese drums) tracks where appropriate, and a few licks in honor of Clint Eastwood’s cowboy flicks. (*heh hem*)

The film itself was an exceptionally awesome piece bowing to famous Samurai productions such as the acclaimed Kurosawa’s masterpieces. The film, although shot in 1998, is done entirely in classic black and white, except for some special situations. Such as. There is no gore– nope, not a spec of crimson blood (and certainly no fountains exploding from graphically punctured arteries). However, we are not entirely cheated! Whenever someone is cut down by a masterful katana stroke, the screen flashes red, and we shudder….punctured arteries exploding in our deep, wounded conscious….

The film is also intended to be a comedy. And honestly…it’s the first Japanese comedy I have ever watched and
actually laughed really really hard at! It was truly hilarious! Many aspects of SF and lots of the characters (especially
the frantic young protagonist) were almost parodies of the same movies that inspired it. And it is as skillfully done as the finest episodes of School Rumble! (yes…I did just pull that comparison out of no where… actually it has nothing in common with School Rumble except for its wild abandon in hilarity and awesomeness).

The acting was great, and contrary to this wounded psychology’s concerns around acting-debuts… It was actually Hotei’s appearance on screen that caused much heightening of attentiveness– his portrayal of the totally awesome, aloof, brimming-with-badass-ness was completely perfect, and you could totally expect him to draw his katana and have it do like Transformers and morph into super-sleek guitar and then everyone watching would start rocking out along with.

If you have any pride as a samurai-movie-lover, you will acquire this masterpiece ASAP and do not just yourself, but all of us, a huge favor. Both parody and tip of the hat to the great Samurai films of the century, Samurai Fiction is the perfect blend of comedy and action, and is perfectly acceptable to watch with your mom.

Gacktpause, over and out.

TRANSFOOOOOOORM

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