Bunraku (2010)

A little deviation from the world cinema train. Bunraku feels like it should fall under that category. Here’s a link to the trailer – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVabHV…

The Night My Ears Exploded aka The Versailles London Concert

My daughter has been a die hard fan of the Japanese visual kei metal band since she discovered them on YouTube in 2007.  Like any doting father I expressed an interest in her discovery. I learned about the band, when they were formed, and what kind of music they played.

I wasn’t surprised to find she was a fan. Before Versaille, there was Gackt and his previous band Malice Mizer. What these artists have in common is their type of music. I can only liken it to heavy metal rock opera. The songs always play in stanza-like symphonies and are long and very loud.

I became a fan through osmosis. My daughter would excitedly show me each new video she found and I grew to like the band, a lot. I became a firm fan for life when I saw their music video for Ascendead Master. The two lead guitarist’s play first a solo, then a ‘duet’ of a classical piece of music. I had never seen such accomplished guitar playing. These two guys were as good as, if not better than, Santanna or Clapton.

Of course it did take me a bit of time to get used to how they dressed.

Kei bands dress in Renaissance clothing, usually women’s, and often make themselves up as women. Hizaki, one of the lead guitarist’s of the band, looks like the most beautiful women you’ve ever seen. It took my daughter ages to convince me that he was in fact a man.

I had heard all their songs and seen all the videos that were available on the net and ones that Meg (my daughter) had purchased from YesAsia.com. So when Meg found out they were going to be playing at the London O2 and that tickets were still available, she was over the moon.

She immediately bought two tickets and then realised that none of her friends knew who Versailles was. She asked me if I’d go and I jumped at the chance. I was hoping that these guitar ‘gods’ were as good live as they were in their videos.

On the day, we took the train to London and then the tube to the O2. We got there a couple of hours early to get a good spot in the queue. Too late. Obviously Versailles had a huge fan-base in the UK and they all got there much earlier.

The queue wound around the corner from the O2 entrance and down past a long row of shops and around that corner as well. The Next shop had to keep asking the people in the queue to keep the door of the shop clear.

And the outfits! I was ‘gob-smacked’ at the kei costumes that some of the fans had put together for the concert. Money and imagination had created some stunning ‘looks.’ I kept looking around the queue and worrying that I was too ancient to be attending this musical event.

I needn’t have worried. All the young people there were very excited and friendly. The two young ladies in front of us in the queue chatted to us off and on through the whole wait. And Meg actually spied some older folks with thicker waistlines and greyer hair than I had. I didn’t feel so out-of-place after that.

When they finally opened the doors, it still took ages to get in. Once in we had to jostle around for a place to stand. We managed to pick a pretty good spot. Although the pictures look like we were miles away, that was down to the inadequacies of my mobile phone’s camera rather than actual distance from the stage.

I hadn’t been to a music concert since 1976 and that was a Willie Nelson concert. Meg had never been to one. So neither on of us was really sure what to expect. But judging from the reactions of the other concert attendees, neither did they.

Every time a ‘techie’ would come out on stage to check an instrument or microphone, the crowd would get excited and start screaming loudly and one female member of the crowd would yell out, “Kami-jo!” She did this with a loud regularity that was annoying. Eventually everyone realised that we’d have to wait a while longer but the crowd still got excited when anyone stepped foot on the stage.

Finally with a crescendo of noise, smoke and lights the band came out on the stage. With great showmanship the entire band gave their all for a small crowd of about three hundred fans. Even though they had released a new album. The band played what they knew their fans wanted to hear. The old songs.

The songs that had made the band’s name and were popular before Jasmine You‘s untimely death in 2009. The fans were going wild and they energetically responded to every song until the band played the song they had written specially for Jasmine You as a tribute to him. While the band played Serenade, the audience became quiet and held back from responding until the very end of the song.

I found out to my delight that the band could play live just as good if not better than they had on the music videos. These guys were real showmen who know how to entertain their fans. Sure enough when they performed Ascendead Master, they did not drop a note. It was spectacular.

Meg and I were in front of the left hand side of the stage. We were closer to the the group’s other guitarist. While the crowd was making the Versailles sign with their hands (you extend your hand with the the two middle fingers held down by the thumb, leaving your index finger and pinky finger outstretched) and popping the ‘sign’ up and down in time with the music, I was content to just stand their bobbing my head to the music.

Several times during the performance the guitarist would look right at Meg and me. And once or twice he looked right at me and gave the hand gesture. It was like he was telling me off for not doing it or showing me the right way to do it. I couldn’t bring myself to pop my hand repeatedly. I had decided that he was looking at me and Meg thought he was looking at her.

Of course we both had our own reasons for believing this. Me out of guilt that I wasn’t playing like all the other audience members and Meg because she was damned excited about being there.

It was a brilliant night and I think I enjoyed it almost as much a Meg. The music was incredibly loud and half way through I began to think that my ears were being damaged beyond repair. There was a group of girls behind us that were very vocal in their support of the band. Screaming regularly and shouting out Kamijo’s name.

Towards the end of the evening, every time they screamed, my ears went funny. It sounded like I was listening to a radio station that was badly tuned in. Sounds would crackle and the decibel level would fluctuate from loud to silent. It was a little disconcerting.

The concert finished and the crowd started dispersing out past the souvenir stand that was selling t-shirts and things by the auditorium door. We fought our way to the front of the stand and Meg got the last black World Tour t-shirt with the tour dates on one side and the Versailles Butterfly on the other.

We then fought our way to the nearest Burger King for something cold to drink. We got inside and yelled our orders to the youngster behind the counter. Both of us were suffering the after effects of the loud music and neither one of us could hear ourselves talking, hence the yelling.

We got our drinks, looked at our watches and realized we needed to hurry if we were going to catch the last train home. As we rushed to the front of Burger King we found that we and everyone else in the place had been locked in. Panic time, until the night manager meandered up and let us all out.

Then it was rush, rush, rush to get to the tube station and take the underground to Liverpool Street Station for the last train. Incredibly we made brilliant time getting to train station and had plenty of time to sit and relax before the train took off for home.

We sat their yelling at each other much to the amusement of the other passengers. Meg’s ears cleared up pretty much the next day, it took my older ears much longer. I didn’t start hearing things ‘normally’ for two weeks.

Talking about the concert the other day with Meg, I said I would still go to see them again, but this time, I would wear ear plugs.

And I might even do the hand popping thing.

Moon Child (2003) I’m Just a Teenage Vampire, Baby.

Cover of "Moon Child"

Directed by Takahisa Zeze (RaiyoDog Star),  Moon Child was co-written by Zeze, Gackt  and Kishû Izuchi. The film marks the film début of both Gackt and Hyde. It’s cast also features Tarô Yamamoto (Battle Royale, Get Up!), Ryo Ishibashi (The Grudge 2Audition) and  Susumu Terajima (Brother, Ichi the Killer).

Moon Child has two distinctions, it is the first and only feature film written by Gackt and it features not one, but two film début’s of Japanese rock stars, Gackt and Hyde. Although Gackt had been in a television short feature, Hero’s Hero in 2002.

When Moon Child opened it was savaged by critics. Even the usually more than fair Snowblood Apple, gave the film a very poor rating and pretty much disliked everything about the film.

While the film was mainly aimed at the two rock star,s fans, it is still a decent film and one that I felt had not been done before.

Moon Child opens with three children inadvertently robbing a Yakuza gang member. As the children start to die as a result, Kei (Hyde) comes to their rescue. Kei is a ‘teen’ vampire who one of the kids (Sho) had helped before the incident and Kei is returning the favour.

Several years pass and the Sho is now a young adult. His ‘gang’ comprises his brother Shinji (Susumu) and his child-hood friend Toshi (Yamamoto). These three cross paths with Son (Leehom Wang,) who is out to avenge his sister’s rape by another gang. The gang now numbers four with an ‘unofficial’ number of five with vampire Kei.

 

Given that the film opens in 2014 and that the Japanese economy has been decimated, the film could almost be prophetic. We are treated to three different time periods in the ‘gangs’ life. The first time period, deals with bonding and death.

In actual fact all three time periods deal with bonding issues and death. Not surprising when you consider that they all operate on the wrong side of the law.

The film deals with life, death, love and loyalty. Unfortunately, both Hyde and Gackt are quite obviously new to the acting field, it shows, but they do remarkably well for first timers. The other actors being more experienced to save the film to a degree. Yamamoto gives a heart wrenching performance as the ‘less than sharp’ friend who dies quite early in the film.

In fact my only complaint, was that we didn’t get to see enough of Yamamoto,  Ishibashi, or Terajima. The film tries very hard to emulate director John Woo‘s style of story telling. There are a lot of shoot-outs and wire work stunts. Unfortunately the limited budget does slightly affect these scenes.

Overall I really feel that Moon Child does not remotely deserve the hammering it initially received and still gets today. It was a sterling first effort by Gackt and Hyde. The story was different and despite the minimal characterisation of the main players you still grew attached to the main protagonists.

So despite the poor reception and the poor reviews I think that this film is a must-see. Especially is you are a Gackt or Hyde fan. To be honest the main reason I watched the film was to see Tarô Yamamoto. I had just fallen in love with his performance  in Battle Royale. I wanted to see something else he had done.

I can think of no other film that is a Gangster/Vampire film. That alone makes it worth the price of admission. The fact that they have used this as the basis of their film is commendable. That they haven’t made the film only about that is admirable. You could really call Moon Child a ‘coming of age’ film. We are allowed to see the character’s grow-up and change as and when it is necessary.

Kei the vampire is easily the films most tragic character. Trapped in a Peter Pan world not of his choosing, his world is a bit more simplistic than that of his comrades. The other members of the gang must deal, with death, revenge, betrayal and heartbreak.

But don’t watch the film expecting to see a ‘Count Dracula’ type film. The film is not about Kei. It is about how Kei sees the gang and his interaction with it.

I guess you could say it is a human interest film about a vampire and his friends.

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