Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Alex's Sapporo Food Reviews: The Tasty Kiss of Death

Remember ages ago I wrote a review of an American style diner in Sapporo called Demode Queen? Yeah, well apparently I signed the death warrant on that place coz it's closed down now.

If you head out there now you'll find the building, and the adjacent camera store all whitewashed and closed up. On the company's website you'll find Demode Queens in Tokyo, Kyoto and Kanagawa, but not in Sapporo anymore. Frowny face emoticon, if you know what I mean.

Instead I had a tasty, tasty pizza at a nice, bizarrely unbranded Italian restaurant, that for some reason is called "Camel House" - Rakudaken. I was trying to get Yuki to ask the waitress what camels had to do with Italian food but she wouldn't. I'm not complaining, most Italian places in Japan understandably go for a very tried and tired "Italian" look. "Camel House" sounds good to me.

In other news it turns out Yuki is unstoppable as Blanka on the original Street Fighter 2 for the SNES. I mean unstoppable. When we switched it up a bit I was cleaning house with all the other characters, but with Blanka... man it was surgical. She was taking me apart, and not just using boring repetitive stuff, she was mixing it up a lot.

That's what I've learned in the past few days.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Alex Loves Zazen Boys: crayon fun edition

Recently I had to teach some very young kids, which necessitated the use of wax crayons. Now, it's been many, many years since I used wax crayons, and the moment I touched them to the paper the sheer joy of making those big streaks of colour was wonderful.

Also, today I looked at my last.fm page for the first time in months, and was surprised to see that my recent all-out adoration of Mukai Shutoku and Zazen Boys has rocketed them to the top of my favourite artists list.

How could I possibly combine these two apparently chalk-and-cheese concepts? Easy, I went to town and bought some wax crayons and drew a picture of Yoshikane Sou a.k.a. Casio Man, the lead guitarist of Zazen Boys.

I kinda went a little overboard on the colours there. Then again I do have twenty different colours to choose from, how could I be expected to stick to just black for his clothes and pink for his ridiculous sun glasses?

Sunday, 28 September 2008

The Sound of Music

Behold, a Japanese version of The Sound of Music:

There's something that's a little weird about a Japanese Sound of Music. It's nothing concrete and it's hard to put my finger on it, but yeah... it may well be the concept of Japanese Nazis.

The poster looks great though.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

"Pop" or "POP!"?

I'm posting this "Saturday" on a Sunday. Why? Because yesterday I got drunk and fell asleep without posting!

The end.

Kimura Kaela who, like everyone else in Japan, is a singer, model and TV presenter, released a double A-side single recently. One side was Moustache, an upbeat pop-rock number, and the other was Memories, which is from a new kids movie. To describe memories as "upbeat" would be like describing Scrooge McDuck as "kinda mean"; it's a virulently potent mixture of cute and sweet that may prove dangerous to western viewers note inured to Japanese cutismo:



To be honest I'm not overly fond of either of these. Moustache isn't a great song, but it does have some great promotional images of Kaela with a moustache and shaving that I've been trying in vain to find on the web. Memories is better but man... it almost hurts my teeth. Then again, I like being hurt.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Friday night with Nipponia Electronica - HiVision

Nipponia Electronica - HiVision

Go here to read my previous post about seeing Nipponia live. Man's a stone genius.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Missed Callings: #598 in a possibly infinite series

You know, I often think "Oh, if only I hadn't flunked out of medical school I could be a doctor now!" Or "Oh, if only I hadn't washed outta boot camp, I'd have made Major by now!" Or words to that effect. But thanks to the Guardian's photo feature on Jeffrey R. Werner's book Incredible Stunts, I've found a whole new career path that I missed out on:


And yes, incase you were wondering, that is the best photo ever.

Where's the drawback? You even get to write your own name on the side of your car in big swirly letters! And you get to have a name like Spanky Spangler. It's win, win, win. Except for the bit where you fail to reach the necessary speed and then you have to spend a year in hospital recovering from massive injuries and your career is over instantly. Oh and:

Reno Jaton holds the quarter-mile world record for being dragged on pavement behind a 14,000-horsepower jet car, reaching 236 mph, subjecting his body to at least 6 Gs, and enduring the spitting flames of the jet engine that reached 700-degrees Fahrenheit"

You know what dude? You can have that record. Go ahead, it's cool, I don't want it.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Kiyoshi Awazu

On Sunday I went to a great exhibition of the works of Kiyoshi Awazu, at a tiny gallery in a huge building in Miyanosawa, Sapporo.

Seriously, the gallery is like, three rooms and some wall-space in the hall, and the building is enormous. The reason is, it looks like the rest of the complex is given over to holding wedding ceremonies and receptions. I think I mentioned it before, but they have their own wedding chapel, and this time I arrived when one was actually going on. The entrance was crowded by young people in suits and spectacular dresses, and inside elderly relatives chaperoned howling child-beasts to the toilet and back. The staff are always immaculately turned out, of course, so it was pretty much me and the two other women in the gallery who were wearing anything the slightest bit casual. I mean, being a six foot five caucasian I'm pretty used to standing out, but this was a whole new level of sore-thumbness. As you're walking between the gallery's two sections you go past a huge panoramic window looking out onto the wedding chapel garden, and looking up at the rest of the building I could see backs of the bride and groom as someone made a speech next to them. It was kinda fun really.

The gallery is small, but it's really good. They use their space really well, and they have a weird hobbit-sized door that connects two of the bits together. I have no idea why they would use a doorway that even Japanese people have to stoop to get through, but it works really well for making you take a good long look at the room you're stepping into, since for all you know there's a gallery attendant lurking out of sight ready to bash you on your head as you emerge.

Bash you on the head and sell your body. To ART.

Anyhow, Awazu (who has a spectacularly comprehensive website here) seems to have become famous through his poster work, which allowed him the freedom to make a bewildering amount of other art. Paintings, sculptures, installations, books on design theory... it's a pretty darn impressive body of work. His posters were for everything from films to plays to political rallies (he seems to have worked often with anti-war organizations) and they comprised the majority of the exhibition. They were really awesome, and showed off a fantastic sense of design:

I love that one for The Friends, the flag-faced guy really reminds me of some of DoseOne's work for his band Subtle. And since Subtle are one of my favourite bands... it'd be nice to think I'm clocking their influences.

Like I said, his website is stocked, in English, and most of you can't really make it out to this tiny exhibition in the middle of nowhere, so check it out.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Takino Suzuran Kouen

Takino Suzuran Kouen (Takino Forest Park) is just south of Sapporo. It's a little tricky to get to and a little expensive by bus, but on a sunny day it's worth every penny. Go to Makomanai station on the Namboku Line and catch the 102 bus on the Takino Line. And if you've got kids... jesus you just have to go.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Giant Hidden Metal Torii Sensation!

I was cycling around yesterday, working a loop from my place to town that would take in a burger shop and an art gallery (status: successful) when I came across this huge bleedin' Torii in what seems like the middle of nowhere.

It's pretty near Hokkaido Shrine, so I'm pretty sure it's part of the path that leads there, but it's just so bloody big, and I'd never heard of it before, I was pretty stunned. And the way it's made of rusted metal - it's like a giant robot Torii that shut down and died in the middle of the street.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Alex Recommends Comics! Phonogram

So I like comics, and sometimes I think it's worth banging on an old bass drum about something I think people outside that cannibalistic niche of the geek market would like. Phonogram is an awesome comic that will pretty much knock you down if you're an American with an interest in British indie music, or if you're a British person with any idea at all about guitar music in the nineties. Yes, that means Britpop, but don't run away yet.The first of six issues was collected into a book that you must buy. Especially since it seems to be only seven bloody quid at the moment.

The story by Kieron Gillen takes a love/hate of Britpop and its various descendents and smushes it up with the idea of people using music to make magic (literally, to cast spells). It's perfectly pitched to make the supernatural elements seem as natural as possible for the most part, after all that's what pop music does - it transports you and transforms the world around you. The art by Jamie McKelvie is just wonderful too; I always have a soft spot for artists who can really nail facial expressions, and although his action can be kinda stilted, his characters and faces are among the best in the business. Also it features Luke Haines acting as a guide through the Britpop-dreamtime, so that's awesome too.

And (and this is the important bit) Phonogram 2 is going to launch at the end of the year. I really want it to be as succesful as possible, so when it finally does bust out I want you to find a comic store near you that sells it and buy a copy of each issue as it comes out. Sadly you can't pick up comics at the newsagent or whatever anymore, you've gotta hunt them down at a comic book store, but there are plenty of those still around at the moment so go do it. Here's their advance flyer, click it to view it properly:

Heh, "With the ears".

Saturday, 20 September 2008

The Greatest Company Name Ever

If you were thinking of starting a company, and if you were thinking of giving that company the greatest name ever... stop right there. It's already gone. Good people of the earth, I give you:

Driving Vicarious Execution

Sorry about the camera-phone picture, but I saw this baby while I was wandering through Kita 24 Jyo tonight and I had to get a record of it. I'd seen them driving around once before, when I was taking a taxi home from a club at around 4am and I'd dismissed the memory as a drunken hallucination. After all, what could it possibly mean? Driving Vicarious Execution? It's just random J-English non-sequiturs right?

Wrong! The company offers a designated driver service thing. Call them up when you're too hammered to steer and two guys come out, one of them drives you home in their little car, and the other one drives your car home for you. Now think about that monicker again and it all starts to fall into place.

Once again, Japan, I salute you.

Friday, 19 September 2008

I want to punch Satoshi Ohno from Arashi in the goddamn face

Have you ever just wanted to punch someone in the face? I mean, for no reason really, just because their face was so incredibly... punchable? I kind of assume that everyone has, so I'm sure you can empathize with this post.

The Johnny's boy-band Arashi have been appearing in ads for au mobile phones for a while now, and one of these ads featured their leader Satoshi Ohno:

Look at that face. Look at it. C'mon take a good long look, really drink it in. Don't you just want to lamp him? Faintly smug, mostly vacant... can't you just picture planting a good solid right on that creamy cheek? I sure as hell know I can, there's something about Satoshi Ohno that just presses my punching buttons. And look how soft and round his face looks! I bet it would hardly hurt at all, either his face or my fist. It'd be like slugging the Michelin Man or Archer Prewitt's Sof' Boy.

Apparently Ohno is the leader of Arashi. Leader is a common concept among Japanese boy-bands: it's kind of like "The Tough One", "The Cute One", "The Funny One", "The Leader". He's said to be the best dancer, the best singer and the most artistically gifted. All that could be true, but it bags him diddly in my book of face-punchings. Next time I'm in Tokyo... look sharp Satoshi Ohno.

Thursday, 18 September 2008


I spent all night bashing out this baby, so I'm posting pretty much the same thing on here and Loom tonight (albeit here I'm keeping my prose less concise and enigmatic... sort of). Chris asked me to do a logo for Heroes of Cartography an absolute age ago, and I finally got something to start with:

The map is an old OS map of Snowden, and the background and fist colours are spotted from that map. If they're happy with it I'll probably toy around with it a lot more, layout, texture, font, colour... It's like a wikipedia vortex, once you start you just get sucked further and further in.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Wings Over The World!

For one reason or another, and no that doesn't mean I was drunk, I've ended up with a couple of issues of "Famous Monsters of Filmland" on my hard drive. I only just looked one of them over, issue 49 from 1968, and it's really fantastic. Believe me I could probably sustain a whole blog just posting pictures from that one magazine, but me... I'm above that. However since a lot of this blog is about Japan, I couldn't not share this. Issue 49 features a stills gallery and plot breakdown of what is possibly Japan's second-most-loved gargantuan monster:

That, ladies and germs, is a big-ass moth.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

The Existential Terror of the SMAP Meiji Chocolate Ads

SMAP, Japan-straddling, J-pop colossusses. Meiji Chocolate, one of the biggest brands in Japan. Together they bring you... SPINE CHILLING TERROR.

Seriously, I know they're going for wacky, Willy Wonka-esque japes here, but Shingo comes off a lot more Child-catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for me:

And as for this one... that ain't an advert for chocolate pal.

That's an advert for something a lot stronger than chocolate.

Though Goro has never looked better than as a giant, demonic, drummer boy.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Sapporo Short Fest 2008

Annual events man, that's where it's at. Screw all this bi-annual, tri monthly, quad-weekly business; this weekend I ain't touching it unless it's got a 2008 on the end. Since this left me somewhat limited in my choice of activities, I decided to go to the Sapporo Short Film Festival.

The festival is split into many, many hour-and-a-half slots across six days, with the shorts split into vaguely thematic groups. Each selection is repeated a few times, and this year I managed to see three of the sets: Portraits, Imagination and the UK national selection (repreeeezentin'). It mostly takes place in the Toho Plaza cinema which is a great place, and it is staffed by super-nice, super-enthusiastic volunteers who are incredibly eager to welcome you and give you a copy of the festival programme and a voting slip and a questionnaire and... oh do you have a copy of the festival programme yet? Oh you do, and a voting slip and... oh you have that too.

I'm a goddamned liberal, white, middle-class fella so I could just eat this shit up all day. Still I reckon it was a pretty great affair all around, even though it started pretty rough as far as the films go (sheesh, that Thai transexual story...). By the end of the first selection we'd seen the eventual winner (a fantastic tragic love story called On The Line, directed by Reto Caffi, which it would appear is cleaning up this year) and we got to see last year's winning movie too as part of the UK selection. I didn't really do much digging to find this out, we ran into Motoi, who I know and who works for the film festival on the last day and he pointed all the winners and interesting ones out. Thanks Motoi (there's a picture of him down there pointing them out to Tara)! Some of the directors were there too, and they popped on stage before the screenings to say a few words about their films (through a translator), and there were plenty of talks and interviews that you could attend if you were so inclined.

Some movies suffered from the shoe-string budget on which they were clearly shot. I would imagine that so many short films are shot digitally now - it must be a way cheaper way of doing things, and it must encourage so many people to just try their hands at making films. But when it's was blown up on the cinema screen the digital grain can't help but detract a little from the movies' effect. Still the genius ones shone through. I really liked Not Available Today by Gustavo Taretto, which was quirky and romantic in a good way; and the gay Icelandic wrestling movie Wrestling by Grimur Hakonarson, which was just really good.

The movies that stood out, the really good ones were the ones that didn't feel like short films. I don't know if that sounds like a stupid, trite or obvious thing to say, but it's the best way I can think of to describe what elevated some of the movies above the others. So many short films rely on hideously melodramatic music to give the story the gravitas that it doesn't have time to gather naturally. A couple of otherwise good films were spoiled for me when the denouement was followed by a beautifully timed, poignant plink... plink... on the piano. And I'm coming to dread reading "surprise ending!" on the synopsis, because the surprise ending is invariably the most glaringly obvious thing a chicken with a metal plate in its head could have thought of.

Still the best ones really were excellent, in that they could do in 30 minutes, 20 minutes, 10 minutes what some directors can't do in a two hour movie - tell a story well.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Saturday Night with Medications





Yeah, it's me, Alex.

Yeah, that's right, I'm phoning it in today.

OH! SNAP! Because no mortal man can blog well considered items seven days a week without going completely bug-fuck insane, today I present Devin Ocampo's Medications playing Domestic Animals from the Burn To Shine DVD:

Which reminds me, I really have to buy all of those DVDs. Even though the quality of the bands sometimes varies, they're still super-awesome. Burn To Shine is the brainchild of Brendan Canty from Fugazi. He goes to different cities in the US, gets a bunch of pretty high quality local indie bands to play a song each during the last day of a condemned house, records it all, and the next day the house is demolished. It's fun and cool in so many ways, I can't recommend them enough. I just looked, and didn't even realise they were working on Louisville and Seattle ones. I'm stoked to check them all out (I only saw the first two in DC and Chicago), but it is worth bearing in mind that Magik Markers play on the Louisville one and they were one of the worst bands I've ever seen. I've read so many people raving about them I should really give them another shot, but when I saw them they had literally nothing to redeem them. They were just abject. Gah.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Zazen Boys: Judo ni-dan Matsushita Atsushi

a.k.a. "J-rock Weight-loss!"

Zazen Boys... week?... continues tonight as we look at their awesome drummer Matsushita Atsushi (Atsushi is his first name). Mukai, the Zazen Boys' main guy always seems to introduce him as "Judo ni-dan Matsushita Atsushi", meaning he's a second dan blackbelt in Judo, meaning he could probably fold you like a napkin. Matsushita was a session drummer who joined the band after their second album, when their first drummer Inazawa Ahito (formerly of Mukai's previous band, the legendary Number Girl) left. He's an astounding drummer, but today we're looking at the notches on his belt, rather than those on his sticks.

On his first release with the band, 2005's Himitsu Girl's Top Secret, he was... paunchy to put it lightly:

That's right porky, hang your head in shame...

God! I don't know what came over me! It's never fun to make fun of fat people. That one just slipped out. I swear. No more cheap jibes. Anyway, on Zazen Boys III in 2006, his first full album with the band, he's looking a little lighter and that chin is coming up...

No jokes about how many cows gave their lives to put that jacket together. Fast forward another year and a bit, to Zazen Boys' last single I Don't Wanna Be With You at the very end of 2007:

HOLY FREAKIN' CRAP! That lanky fellow in the orange jacket is the same guy that was in the cowskin tarpaulin less than two years before! Now that is some impressive excercise/diet regime right there. Was it just drumming? Zero carbs? God, that's pretty inspirational - he should do infomercials or something! Last month at Rising Sun I told a couple of people "Yeah, Zazen Boys should be good. They've got a fat drummer too", and when he walked out I assumed they'd changed the line-up again. NO! Not a double, or a twin - the same damn guy!

Their new album is out next week, and I'm assuming that the band photo will be three guys and a stick figure. Judo ni-dan Matsushita Atsushi, I applaud you.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Back to the Juice Boxes

Variant packaging for a new flavour of juice? Oh Japan... you didn't.

It's sky-writing! Good grief that's awesome. For my original post on the original juice box go here. Thankfully the Grapefruit & Lemon is much better than the Acerola & Lemon:

Mmmmm, designy.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

The Book of Mansion Names 1

Alarm! New project commencing... now!

While the Japanese assimilation of parts of the English language is always fascinating, I don't always find the humourous mis-steps that result as "LOL-tastic" as some folks do. What's more interesting is what the words and phrases that are chosen say about the people, companies and purposes that they are connected to.

So probably the majority of Japanese appartment buildings (known as Mansions, which is in itself a nice way of describing a block of flats) are named in English, and are given names that connect, in the Japanese psyche, to concepts of safety, security, luxury and... classiness? Something like that. I've been meaning to do this for a while, and cycling home the other night I figured there was no time like right then! So here is the start of my collection of poignant and eyebrow-raising Japanese mass-dwelling names:

I hope eventually to have a huge flickr book, or possibly a huge coffee table book of these. You'll have to leaf through it and choose the name of the building in which you want to live, and it will tell you a deep and uncomfortable truth about yourself. Dare you gaze into "The Book of Mansion Names"?

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Heroes of Cartography

If you were a wise man (I mean, I know that's a hopelessly optimistic opening clause, but bear with me here), you would waste no time in hightailing it over to www.heroesofcartography.com to download the first EP from the hot-live-rock combo Heroes of Cartography.

Yes, I'm still in a band with them technically, but being completely unbiased it's still awesome stuff. I'm super happy to find that they're making me jealous with this new rocking-out-ity. Goddamnit guys!

So go, download, enjoy and if you're in Birmingham this weekend go check them out live at the Sunflower Lounge. I'm certain something farcical will be in the works.

Oh, sweet rock!

Also apparently someone pushed Noel Gallagher over during a show in America. You can find the video for yourself, but I for one find that simply delightful! Bravo American! From what I've been reading recently, Noel Gallagher has finished his hiatus of "not being a cock" and returned to his old ways of "being a bit of a cock". Oh well, nothing lasts for ever, huh?

Oh also this is my hundredth post on this blog. It feels good to spend it promoting my friends' awesomeness and calling Noel Gallagher a bit of a cock.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Fine French Cuisine

Wandering around in Sapporo yesterday, I found what I assume is the greatest French Bistro(t) in the world:

Of course I can't bloody go there. If it turns out they don't serve the stuff it'll break my little heart.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Kon-Rock Night featuring Nipponia Electronica

So continuing from that logically impossible post yesterday, last night I went to see a great electronic/VJ night at Design Furniture Store Agra. At night, in the pouring rain, Agra felt exactly nothing like a furniture store, and exactly like an after hours warehouse show in a somewhat shady, anonymous concrete building. It seemed to be in an obscure location, and almost invisible from the road so that we pretty much drove past trying to find it. Inside the shop was mostly closed off and there was a plain white room that I reckon they use for shows quite a lot. Especially since they have a purpose built bar... which is, I feel, a tad unusual for a furniture store. Being a furniture store there were chairs, branded with the shops name, and a variety of cool looking tables absolutely covered in a positively terrifying arsenal of electronic devices. It certainly reminded me that I really want an Yamaha Tenori-On. Oh sweet gadgetry...

The first guy up as we walked in was Kimitaka Matsumae, who put on a virtuoso set of keyboard wizardry
that reminded me in the best way of the music from classic video games of the early nineties. I love that shit, so I was in hog heaven. The second guy put the night on I think, but I only realised this later, so I felt a little guilty for spending most of his set outside. He played under the name Invisible Future, and he had a fun show, blending electro music, specially made videos and J-Pop style vocals with a lot of charm. However, it was pouring with rain, it was not a cold night, and the room was completely unventilated so it was hot as - yes - balls. I took the chance to step outside.

The main reason we went was Nipponia Electronica, who Yuka and Katsuhiko know, and who's work I'd already been blown away buy. Nipponia-san blends electronic music and video composition in a way that's more fun, fluid and impressive than almost anyone else I've seen. He cuts, loops and scratches footage from old Japanese TV shows, and adds his own music to create an astounding spectacle that is both audio and visual. How d'you like them apples? During his set he used pre-prepared tracks that he added to, mixed and manipulated (with, amongst other things, a Kaoss Pad, and the afformentioned Tenori-On, swoon) and most impressively he used one of those incredible DVD scratching devices to perform video scratch solos. Seriously, that shit alone is worth the price of entrance. I got given a free DVD too with samples of all the artists work so if I can find a way to rip his track off it I feel like I've got a duty to the world to share it.

Because of course, this guy, awesome though he is, is never gonna make it big. His entire art depends on repurposing otherwise unremarkable moments of ancient TV, and there is no way in hell he could clear all the copyrights. So he plays these tiny nights, probably makes no money, and is an absolute genius.

The night ended with a four-man electronic jam that worked far better than it had any right to. I'm pretty damn glad I decided to go really.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Alex's Saturday Night

No post tonight because I went out to see an awesome electronic music and video art show at a furniture store (more on that tomorrow).

Later I met up with some other people who asked what I'd been up to. I told them the above and Matt said, "yup, that sounds like you."

Which is telling, huh?

After that I hadn't eaten, so we went to Aji no Tokeidai - "Taste of the Clocktower" as I like to slightly mistranslate it, for ramen and saw the most astounding pair of shoes... ON... THIS... EARTH. What can you do if you want to wear ridiculous, effette, hipster cowboy boots but... sheesh... it's just too goshdarned hot for anything but sandals in the summer?

Let's just say someone has solved that little conundrum, but it's not something we should be thankful for.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Let's just call this Zazen Boys week shall we?

This is what happens when you put love out there - you get love back. Even the crazy Tower Records guy camped outside my appartment know this, but it's not getting him anywhere yet. Chris emailed me that the NME featured a bunch of live Zazen Boys clips from when they were recording their album in New York with Dave Fridmann. Wonderfully, they played a free show at a nearby bar and so now I (and, by extension, you) can watch them kicking the crap out of a bunch of people who have no idea who they are. It comes in seven chunks, I'll link to part 2 here because it's Himitsu Girl's Top Secret which is awesome, but I strongly recommend you check out the whole thing, especially part 3, which is Daruma, the best track on their last single and awesomely you can hear someone yelling "Freebird!" just before it starts. Also part 5, Cold Beat is phenomenal:

Thursday, 4 September 2008

St. Vincent

Apparently it's my job this week to make some quick posts about awesome music. Yeah, me and twenty thousand other internet goons, but I don't make the rules man, I just... concede.

Tower Records still exists in Japan you know. It went bust in America and Europe but in Japan - still going strong and a huge part of the music industry here. They sponsor pretty much everything that has anything to do with music. The saturation of their "No Music, No Life" slogan is like a case study in memetics. There's a guy right outside my appartment right now waving one of those stupid yellow hand-towels and chanting his ass off. I'd close my window but for some reason we're getting a second summer in Hokkaido and it's hot as balls.

However while they've got the best stock of import CDs, I don't really head to Tower for anything except the latest western releases. I'm glad I popped in this weekend looking for the new Vast Aire album though (no luck there). They were having a clearout of tons of western CDs that hadn't sold, so I could pick up a few things I forgot about at half price. And one of those CDs was Marry Me by St. Vincent.

Here's is my review: "It's awesome", now less yapping and more watching the awesome music video:

Wow! But in Japan they don't say music video, they say PV, standing for "Promotional Video" isn't that interesting? Yeah, I know. You're welcome. Again.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Zazen Boys

The new Zazen Boys album (produced by Dave Fridmann interestingly enough) comes out on the 17th September! Hot damn I'm excited, and even though I'm pretty sure it's not gonna match up to their previous records, at least they're taking their sound on some kind of geek odyssey into the heart of 1980s hedonism. Their new video is also awesome:

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Field Recordings 2 - Sapporo Beer Garden 2008

So in serious news Prime Minister Fukuda resigned suddenly yesterday. I spoke to a few people, and from what I can tell it seems that no-one expected it, and although he was pretty unpopular, people don't like the fact that he just quit like that, it feels kinda like he... left the country in the lurch? Something like that. Some people are pretty happy though, I'm sure. It was a real shock especially since he reshuffled his cabinet last month, but Abe quit after a similarly positive move...

Anyway, y'know what doesn't bring in the hits? POLITICS. Y'know what does? BEER! At least that's what I'm banking on with this, my second field recording, taken at Sapporo's crazy drinking festival Beer Garden 2008! I'm sure I wrote about this a lot already, but Beer Garden is a huge sprawling outdoor beer drinking extravaganza across Odori Park for about a month every summer. I went down on the first night, and between getting pretty much tanked, I walked the whole length, from the German Beer Garden to the Suntory Premium Malts Garden clutching a digital recorder as I went.

It's 15 minutes long, so the 192kbps version is a pretty hefty 21 megs. Still you can download it right here, and the main Internet Archive page for it in different sizes and formats is here.

And here are the notes:

00.00 - It starts off with Japanese people singing German beer songs around West 9 or 10, the German Beer Garden. At this end things were pretty calm and restrained, people sitting around and enjoying the music and the beer.

Between here and 06.00 I was walking past the International Beer Garden (I don't remember which brands) which seems to have been deadly quiet, and the area of grass and slides where parents had left their children to fend for themselves while they went off to get trolleyed. I'm KIDDING!

06.00 - Sapporo Beer Garden. The home brand patch was packed, and looked something like this:

But it wasn't all that crazy.

08.00 - The Kirin Beer Garden on the other hand was off the hook. Hear someone dropping something! A bunch of tanked guys jumping up and down screaming "NUMBER ONE!" Crowd pleasing sing along numbers! This was actually where my friends were sitting - conversation was difficult...

11.00 Asahi Beer Garden was less crazy, but still a pretty big party. They had the big bandstand as a stage so they could easily entertain the crowd, it was packed:

13.00 - After that we hike on to the last garden, Suntory: The Premium Malts Garden. This place was pretty cool, but not exactly as "pumping" as Asahi or Kirin.

There you go, now you just need to go get drunk and spend 15 minutes listening to that on your ipod while you walk though a balmy summer evening and you might as well have been there yourself.

I'm too good to you.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Leonard Foujita

Man, I love it when I got into a coffee shop, order a coffee, and while I'm sitting drinking that coffee, they bring me more coffee for free. That's the kinda thing that'll make you love a place, and they've done that three times now when I've been in the Japanese coffee chain Tully's in Odori. On one level Tully's is just another chain coffee store, but their coffee is better than Starbucks, and I find it much less objectionable going there when I'm in one of the big shopping areas. Plus, y'know, free coffee.

This weekend I went to see the Leonard Foujita retrospective at Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art. I love modern art, and I love art galleries, but with the best will in the world Sapporo is not well served for them. Oh well, I guess the general awesomeness makes up for it.

Foujita seems to have been a prolific and interesting artist. He moved from Japan to France in the 20s and hung out with Modigliani (I would say, with my professional art-critic's gaze, that the examples of his early work here did look like Modigliani) and became an established and respected figure in the European art community. He later travelled all over the world, married several times, and at some point changed his name to Leonard and converted to Christianity.

From a quick browse on the web it looks like Foujita painted many, many pictures, and moved through quite a few phases in his career which made the retrospective very interesting, even if at times I plain didn't like his paintings. The exhibition's centrepiece was a massive piece recently discovered and restored from his... I guess middle period. It's a fun story, it was considered lost for many years but found in a Paris warehouse and restored. However that period, and earlier in what seems to have been the period when he made his name... really not to my tastes:

I am unmoved by the pearlescent luminosity of their skin. There was one mural that I felt was really pretty terrible. However the earlier pictures when he was finding his way were interesting, and he seems to have painted the only interesting pictures of cats I've ever seen. Paintings of cats are usually a pet hate of mine, but these were great. And later in his career I would say he was a hell of a painter no matter what your tastes, his faces became deliberately stylised in a really interesting way, and he started using these eerie children that look both fully-formed and painted from memory at the same time. His paintings started exploding with colour and he really started pursuing his Christian faith through painting, decorating a chapel and making paintings of the adoration, the apocalypse, the descent from the cross and so on.

It's great to see an artist's career like this, and considering I couldn't read any of the information boards (which were helpfully in Japanese and French) it all came across pretty clearly. I didn't know anything about him before, but I'd recommend the exhibition if you can make it to Sapporo Japan before it finishes on... um... Thursday.