Friday, May 04, 2007

Saturday May 5, 3:47 p.m.

Yikes! Can't believe how long I spent on that last entry, but when you get me onto music topics...

It wasn't all on music, after all. I have been watching that one week of tribute to The King of Talk, Larry King. I saw bleating George Tenet, Oprah and Katie Couric turn the tables on King. Then, there was the 2-hour special on American pop culture through King's eyes on Thursday. As a student of the topic, it was rather intriguing to see how King changed along with the pop zeitgeist.

Then, there was this morning. Now, I guess being a Libran with a bit of a mean streak, I always get a little contrarian whenever I see anyone, no matter how seemingly deserving, get a whole bunch of lovin' tribute. That includes Larry King...especially Larry King. This is Mr. Softball, a title that he did, much to his credit, 'fess up to during the 2-hour special. He said that he feels that he has to make the interviewee feel as comfy as possible instead of using the Mike Wallace attack-and-shred tactics. OK so he's in that same league as the late-night hosts such as Leno and Letterman...well, not Letterman; he can be quite nasty...more like, Johnny Carson, I guess. Still, King has had a lot of guests who should've been grilled but weren't. No wonder he's been able to score 40,000 guests...noone is afraid of him. So, I looked for any anti-King sites or any criticism. I really couldn't find anything, aside from a Wiki entry that said one of his older children was estranged from him. Well, he's a nice guy...

...still, that Bill Maher love-in this morning almost made me do a Joan Rivers gagging motion (about the only woman in the 2-hour retrospective that came close to truly criticizing him). I swore it reminded me of the most egregious stuff of the Sammy Maudlin Show from SCTV with all of those fawning celebs such as Bobby Bittman and Lola Heatherton...and it was all real. I think Celine Dion was the one who kinda put it over the top with her impromptu singing. It immediately brought back to mind the truly surreal Kenny G. moment when he tooted something narcoleptic during that incredibly weird and uncomfortable tribute to "Star Trek"....and this, coming from a Trekkie. Y'know...I think if Larry had had his way, I don't think this would've ever happened. All I can really say is that: 1) Larry, no more celebrations, and 2) producers of "South Park"'ve got your latest killer target.

And The Polynesian cancelled out for tomorrow...ah
Saturday May 5, 2:35 p.m.

We're in the middle of Golden Weekend. Already the big U-turn rush has begun so all of the families are creating the largest parking lots in the country by cramming up the highways for as long as 50 km. I would love to see what the stress levels must be like inside each car; I think the energy produced altogether could do away with nuclear power plants for several years. Nothing worse than being behind the wheel for several hours with a nagging wife and impatient ("Are we home yet?") kids. Just one of the reasons that I'm glad I'm still single.

Yesterday, I gave in to my shopping version of Vulcan pon farr, and hit the streets in Ginza, Otemachi and Nakano to lose some weight & money and perhaps gain some CDs. As for the losing weight part, I think the best I could do was a zero-sum game since the first place I hit in Ginza was The Siam, that Thai buffet restaurant on the southwest corner of the main intersection of 4-chome. Not surprisingly, it was fairly crowded but I could get a table immediately. I kinda tempered myself on the really spicy stuff such as the curry and pad thai but the spices started my histamines flowing in my nose so I had to take off into the bathroom a couple of times to blow it (over here, blowing one's nose at the table is a huge no-no). As I was heading back to the elevator after paying the bill, there was one rather miserable old man slouching on a chair looking like he overindulged. He was passing wind a couple of times as well, which meant I was rather glad that the lift came as quickly as it did. Pacing, that's the key to surviving a Thai buffet.

When I got out of the Ginza Core, the main drag had already been closed off for the holiday hoko-ten (closed off to vehicular traffic). And lots of people took advantage of that to stroll the area. And thus, like Spock did on that extra-special second-season opener of "Star Trek", I fell into thrall of my pon farr impulses and went crazy with my HMV and Yamano Music point cards. At the first HMV branch in Sukibayashi (the commercial area just a couple of intersections north of Ginza, I bought up an Billy Joel disc and the latest issue of "Total Film". Only needed one more point to fill the entire HMV card up, so I went over to the other HMV branch just 500 m away (ah...that explains the proximity) and bought the latest by Misia, the J-R&B songbird. So, the card was now filled so then I went back down to the main closed-off drag and headed over to Yamano Music. Since HMV tended more toward the contemporary and hip, I walked to Yamano for the more traditional and kayo kyoku. Yamano is probably the best chain for finding the older stuff, including the J-Pop of yesteryear and enka.
And I wasn't disappointed either; I did find a couple of remastered 80s singers' discs to add to the collection. Unfortunately, I couldn't find two DVDs that I've been searching for: the "Ghostbusters" double pack and the extras-filled version of "The Maltese Falcon". It was just as well, though, since my wallet was now on fumes. It wasn't all audiovisual purchases, though. I did pop into Ito-ya, the stationery store, to pick up a Mother's Day card.

After my spree, I went back up north and passed into Yurakucho. The atrium in the middle of The Tokyo Internation Forum was very packed with folks lining up at the various food trucks selling stuff as exotic as doner kebab and loco moco. Also, there was a concert of what sounded like a trio doing Celtic music drawing in a lot of crowds. It certainly was refreshing to seeing this group instead of the usual Peruvian pipe guys doing "El Condor Pasa", but they have moved over to Akiba.

I made my way up the concrete jungle between Yurakucho and Tokyo Station. I did come across the Shin-Maru Biru (New Marunouchi Building), the latest commercial complex to open up in Tokyo but didn't bother to enter it. Instead, I went over to Oazo (ie the huge Maruzen Bookstore) to see if the latest "Metropolis" magazine had come in. No dice so I just hit the Tozai Line and went all the way to the west end in Nakano.

There, I got off and walked through the famous old-style shopping street of Nakano Sun Plaza. I did have a plan, though, and that was to visit Otokichi Music, a secondhand CD and record shop crammed into a second-floor walk-up that's been a solace to the world's J-Pop/aidoru/kayo kyoku fans for years. I did order a couple of discs from them online and have visited the shop once before. I'd had a hunch and sure enough, I was glad that I acted upon it. I found another disc in the oeuvre of one Ruiko Kurahashi, that 80s songstress. I also saw some CD singles that were currently sold out of a teenage Eri Fukatsu from the late 80s. A lot of students have bounced their brows on hearing that the acclaimed actress from series such as "Odoru Dai Sosasen" (Bayside Shakedown) did start out as one of the hundreds of aidoru. I've got a feeling that her switch in jobs was one of the more wiser business decisions in her professional life. In any case, if any of you J-Pop fans do come into the Tokyo area, I highly advise a visit to the temple of Otokichi.

As proof of my insanity, I used the last couple of bills to purchase the Kurahashi CD. I had to make another beeline to the ATM once I got back home to get some cash for the rest of the weekend. Fortunately or unfortunately, the ATMs now remain open during Golden Week.

Now, as for my purchases:

There seems to be a new Japanese trend based on the American penchant now for re-releasing old albums digitally re-mastered on disc. My Yamano Music purchases were representative of that. As I had mentioned, I bought the works of a couple of old 80s singers, although neither of them belonged to the aidoru kashu category. Well, Hiromi Iwasaki did start back in 1975 in that aidoru vein but her pipes quickly showed that she was one of much higher quality, arguably the best in the business at that time. I bought an album of hers originally released back in 1982 which contains her most famous and best hit, "Madonna-tachi no Lullaby", a song that seems to have become the go-to song for ending themes for mystery-suspense specials on Japanese TV. However, I've already got that song; it was actually one other tune, "Koi wa Senso" (Love is War [and yes, it certainly is]) that I was going for. It's one of those songs that had been dogging me for a quarter of a century, and I finally got it. It's an interesting tune for Iwasaki since it almost sounds technopop...not a usual genre for the songstress who's now more famous for belting out musical showtunes.

The other singer is strictly someone of the 80s...a lady by the name of Eiko Sato, but her nom du kayo kyoku was she got the name is a mystery I still haven't solved. I think she's someone who represented that subgenre of J-Pop known as City Pop...perhaps the Japanese equivalent of Urban Contemporary. She really only had 2 major hits. Not surprising, considering the genre, her first hit was "Downtown" (not the Petula Clark classic); she'd had quite the pedigree backing her up on that one...she had New Music legends Tatsuro Yamashita and Taeko Onuki helping her out. Then, there was her 6th single, "U, fu, fu, fu" (and that is pronounced as "Oo, foo, foo, foo", just to dispel any attempts at linguistic naughtiness). I actually own a CD back home of hers, the 1988 "Poptracks" which has her doing cover versions of other musicians including Minnie Ripperton's "Loving You", but from that I got the feeling that her two major hits were indeed hits because they were done as either CM jingles or ending themes. She's never struck me as being a master songwriter...more like an artist who has a way of creating short but sweet tunes that will just stick to you like glue. I guess comparisons to Barry Manilow may be in order. But I don't know what she's up to...another person to look up, I guess.

And then there is my last J-Pop songstress, the elusive Ruiko Kurahashi. I finally came up with her genre (and perhaps the reason that she really never hit it all that big on the Oricon charts). Strangely enough, the genre finally popped up with its name when I checked about what former Morning Musume member Kaori Iida was up to (cultural curiosity, I swear). Apparently, the tallest Musume Iida is now heavily into singing European enka...that blend of Japanese enka, jazz, Latin, French chanson, Portuguese fado and Italian balladry. (Just think of what Julio Iglesias sings and you'll get the idea) Well, in all of the other albums that I have of Kurahashi (I'm starting to think that I'm probably the only person in the country who has as many of her discs as I do), she sings European enka...a genre that true enka singers have dabbled into from time to time. However, this new album I acquired yesterday, "Jun'ai" (Pure Love), I just got the impression that the 1988 release was just when she got hitched herself. Not only are the tunes themed on engagements, weddings and marital bliss, but the liner notes have the lady looking at her most feminine. In previous photos, she looked, well...frankly, quite butch, like one of those Takarazuka Revue types. Man, she really must've fallen in love! However, I guess the marriage may not have lasted all that her 1991 release, she was looking rather pale with a cropped punkish cut.

As for Billy Joel, I got his 1980 album, "Glass Houses". I thought the Piano Man would be mostly dealing with themes of rebellion as the cover photo and tunes like "You May Be Right" and "It's Still Rock N' Roll To Me" would suggest. However, it also has "Don't Ask Me Why", perhaps the very first Joel tune I'd ever noticed on radio all those years ago, and a happy-go-lucky ditty that Joel sings in his higher register falsetto voice. And in fact, the last few tracks seem to have him returning to some of his older balladry. Still, I think Joel also does his most chameleon-like changes here as he takes on Jagger, Elvis Costello and perhaps even Talking Heads/Ronnie Spector.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Wednesday May 2, 11:26 a.m.

Had another nice lesson with The Nurse. Some intriguing intonation in her sentences which needed some re-adjusting, though...

Back to the DVD night...MB and I had another one of those morning-after lunches at Skylark before heading out to Akiba. We checked out Sale, the US DVD import store crammed onto the 2nd floor of that building across from JR Akihabara along with a dozen other stores. Not surprisingly, flicks like "Happy Feet", "The Departed" and "Babel" were out on sale there. Mostly though, the place seems to specialize in very genre-oriented fare like horrors and Asian films. Then, it was off to Yodobashi Akiba to see if MB could find some English-language books but the section at the Yurindo Bookstore branch up on the 7th floor was somewhat disappointingly thin. We just had a round of coffee in the Excelsior Coffee on the main strip; for some reason, there wasn't much activity on the closed-off street; although the usual gauntlet of maids were in front of the station giving away tissue and flyers for their cafes, I only saw one homely girl in a high school uniform posing for photos on the main avenue. I guess all the usual geeky hijinks take place strictly on Sundays.

Weatherwise, it's been pretty much to plan. The 2 working days have been filled with clouds and rain although today seems to be doing quite well so far. However, the rest of Golden Week should be remarkably...well, golden. The Nurse and I were talking about Tokyo Midtown, so I was thinking about heading down there tomorrow as part of my monthly spending binge, at great risk of being crushed by the huge numbers of people not only from Tokyo but also from beyond the borders. However, I would like to see if I could grab a burger at the second coming of Baker Bounce there, and also see The Cook at the ABC Cooking School just a few doors down in the mall. Last week, the TV Tokyo program, "Admatic Tengoku" devoted its hour to Midtown and gave a small amount of time to the school.

"Spiderman 3" finally got started here yesterday, a full 3 days before its North American debut. The TV showed the huge lines snaking out from the theatres, in emulation of the ones that have been plaguing Krispy Kreme for the past 6 months. So far, I've come across reviews from all over the spectrum, so I can guess I can say that the latest adventures of the Wallcrawler have been decidedly mixed. That's good enough for me. So, it'll be at least me, Skippy, Movie Buddy and The Satyr on the 13th.

Well, I've got a lot of hours before 001 shows up for her weekly. And then, I've got Mr. TOEIC for his 90. I should be quite ready for the weekend by the time he finishes with me tonight.
Wednesday May 2, 9:39 a.m.

Another one of those early starts due to The Nurse's class. The Golden Week has been one of two things for most of the folks here: either it's the one long major holiday lasting 10 days or it's two long weekends divided by a 2-day workweek. In any case, the exodus hasn't really led to a large decrease in commutership on the subways, though. It was still pretty packed on the trains this morning.

MB showed up for the periodic DVD night after spending some down time with his buddy at an Akiba Cafe Veloce for a couple of hours of PSP play. After getting our usual Domino's pizzas, we settled to watch what turned out to be Dystopia Night: "Shaun of the Dead" and "Children of Men".

"Shaun of the Dead" was more amusing than laugh-out loud funny. Still, it was one of those nice movies to catch on the machine, and I'm now looking forward to seeing "Hot Fuzz", most likely that will also be on a future DVD night rather than at the theatres. I don't think "Hot Fuzz" would catch much buzz here. Simon Pegg and his buddies did a good job at tweaking the zombie genre just so that it became its own movie instead of just being a parody of one like the splatter job of the "Scary Movie" series. And the humour is so very British...reminded me of the old Monty Python...I swear that one gag was lifted straight from one of John Cleese's pieces.

"Children of Men" was of course much more serious. It wasn't a long movie...just under 2 hours. And this whole thing about The Human Project and why women hadn't become pregnant in 18 years was just all McGuffin, as the real story revolved around Clive Owen's return to humanity albeit of the ultimate sort by the end. And I gotta admit that the one-take shot of the final battle between the government and The Fishes was probably just as harrowing to watch as catching the entire D-Day invasion in "Saving Private Ryan".

In any case, The Nurse will be here soon.