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Friday, March 21, 2008

The Pillows Invade New York

NEW YORK, March 21 — The Pillows EFF-ING rocked. They were just eff-ing metal. The Pillows, a hit Japanese rock band, played to a sold out crowd at the Blender Theater (127 East 23rd Street).

Due to the popularity of the FLCL anime series, the Pillows have established a strong international fan base. The entire FLCL soundtrack is filled with many of their signature hits such as "Little Busters", "Monster", and "Ride on Shooting Star". It became an effective marketing vehicle for spreading their highly infectious sound.

For tonight's show, they played a mix of old and new songs. Their new songs were awesome, but their FLCL songs were the biggest hit. When the Pillows played a FLCL song, the New York audience would explode, and they would start jumping to the music. I could feel the whole place shaking as the audience rocked out.

My favorite moments included their live renditions of "Little Busters", "Come Down", and "Crazy Sunshine".

If you ever get the chance to see the Pillows in concert, you must see them. It was the best j-rock show that I've seen in a few years. I, Dessler, command you.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Japan Nite 2008: A Nipponese Sonic Explosion


NEW YORK, March 16 — The Knitting Factory (74 Leonard Street) was ground zero for the Japanese music atom bomb called Japan Nite. Japan Nite, a one-night Japanese rock festival, unleashed four hours of hard Japanese rock on a New York City crowd.

Performers included: SCANDAL, The Emeralds, Petty Booka, Ketchup Mania, Detroit7, and THE BEACHES.

The night started with the candy rock sound of the all girl band, SCANDAL. SCANDAL wore Japanese school girl uniforms as they got the rocked the small stage. They got the audience excited and literal hopping in waves. They sang pop candy hits like "Space Ranger" and "Playboy". It was a great start to the Japan Nite Festival.

The next act was completely metal. The Emeralds took the stage with rock attitude. The Emeralds are a stripped down three man punk explosion. They were completely filled with raw energy and a loud sound. They took the audience to another level of rock nirvana. The audience was completely lost in the aggressive rawness of songs like "Talk about Love". Akio’s drumming was awesome. Osuke was entertaining, and Kazuya was metal. They were definitely one of the best acts on the Japan Nite ticket.

Petty Booka

The third act was a little unusual. After a high spirited punk rock session, two incredibly cute Japanese girls walked on to the stage with ukuleles. They were Petty Booka. They wore matching western styled dresses and cowboy hats.

The audience looked a little puzzled. The girls began to sing country and bluegrass tunes while playing ukulele. The audience was stunned. They didn’t know how to react to two Japanese girls singing classic country and blue grass songs. Judging from the colorful Mohawk haircuts in the audience, they were probably not expecting a Japanese country act. Some people went to the bar in the back of the Knitting Factory. A couple of audience members tried to imitate a country ho-down with little success. I thought Petty Booka was a very cute and very cool musical act even though they seemed a little out of place.

Ketchup Mania, a veteran Japanese ska-punk band, was the next act to take the stage. Ketchup Mania rocked hard, and the rockers rejoined the audience. Their music is a mix of ska-punk attitude and pop sensibility. It was clearly evident that they had a strong New York fan base. I noticed audience members singing along with their signature hits like "Real Yaayo". Hiro’s vocals were amazing.

Ketchup Mania

During Ketchup Mania’s set, a mosh pit began to form, and it took up the entire floor. I’m usually a big support of kicking ass in a mosh, but it was ridiculously stupid. The Knitting Factory is a small place. The audience floor is tiny, and the mosh pushed all the non-mosh audience members against the walls. In a larger rock-only venue, mosh pit rules the floor and let the weak at heart beware. However, Japan Nite was an eclectic musical event with a mixed audience of punks, rockers, pop fans, and weeaboos. There was no place for moshing.

After Ketch Mania’s amazing set, they were followed by Detroit7. Detroit7, another veteran Japanese punk band, tore through the place with no-frills punk music. Their music is simple garage punk at its finest. The shoeless Tomomi Nabana was intense in her vocals and guitar work. The band was electrified, and the audience responded with their own energy. They definitely rocked the venue with a killer set. Detroit7 preformed hits like "Beautiful Song" and "Shot My Right Temple". They were definitely one of the major highlights of the Japan Nite line-up.


THE BEACHES closed the night with their unique reggae sound. They provide the hard rocking Japan Nite with a soft landing. They jammed until midnight, and the audience was exhausted.

Overall, Japan Nite was an awesome mix of Japanese rock, pop, punk, ska, and country. Japanese music rarely gets any exposure in an American music market that is saturated with Anglo-American acts. It was an awesome night of live music.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

REVIEW: Appleseed: Ex Machina

NEW YORK, March 8 — Appleseed: Ex Machina is the latest sequel to the popular Appleseed franchise. I had the opportunity to view the limited theatrical release of the film at the Independent Film Center (IFC) Center (323 Sixth Avenue). The IFC Center only showed two midnight screenings of Appleseed: Ex Machina on Friday (March 7) and Saturday (March 8). I attended the Friday midnight showing with a couple of my otaku friends.

After the screening, I walked out of the small theater with mixed feelings about the film. It seemed pretty standard for the 3D anime genre (Appleseed and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children). The action and special effects scenes were amazing, but the computerized acting was stiff and unimpressive.

In terms of hardcore actions, Appleseed: Ex Machina does deliver the high intensity action scenes. Deunan’s firefights were completely adrenaline pumping. She would leap headlong into combat with guns blazing. The most energetic points of the action would be accompanied by slow motion. During the first few action scenes, the acrobatic gunplay and slow motion seemed very John Woo, but I felt something missing. I said to myself, "this film needs some white birds to fly across the frame in order to make it a Woo film." At about midway point through the film, Briareos had an amazing aerial fight scene and white doves fly across the screen several times. I almost shouted, "that's the Woo".

The character development and dialogue were very rough. The digital characters looked like lifeless dolls trying to act. The dialogue sequences seemed closer to puppeteering than live action acting. The humor was also a little forced. For example, the film had small comedic moments between the main characters, but the CGI expressions and physical acting failed to carry the jokes. The film was littered with these failed joke deliveries. In its defense, very few 3D animated films can capture the flow and grace of live action acting.

In a technical sense, there are a few visual improvements in the movie. The 3D skins were amazing. The textured clothing skins were very tactile. The leather materials looked like leather. The lighting was a huge improvement over the 2004 Appleseed film. Shinji Aramaki tried to implement a softer natural light instead of stark lighting in the previous Appleseed movie. They also greatly improved the cell shading used on the 3D models.

On another note, this film is stacked with a lot of talented creators. Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed and Metal Skin Panic: MADOX-01) directed, and John Woo (A Better Tomorrow and A Better Tomorrow III) produced. Masaki Yamada (Samurai Champloo and Ergo Proxy) did the character designs. They also managed to get Atsushi Takeuchi (Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion, Naruto: Konoha Sports Festival, and Patlabor 2: The Movie) and some members of Production I.G. to do a few sequences and storyboards on the film.

Appleseed: Ex Machina - Trailer

Overall, Appleseed: Ex Machina was a very exciting and enjoyable film with some minor problems. If you want to just strap into a seat and enjoy an action packed ride, this is the movie for you. Most otaku will enjoy the amazing action and computerized sets. It was a feast for the eyes.

The official Appleseed: Ex Machina DVD release date is March 11, 2008. The movie will be available in both standard DVD and Blu-ray DVD formats.

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Monday, March 3, 2008

Exhibition: Helen Cho's "Ideal and Emergence"

NEW YORK, February 23 — On a gloom and cold Saturday night, I attend the opening of Helen Cho's "Ideal and Emergence" gallery show at the Derek Eller Gallery (615 West 27th Street). Cho is a Korean born Canadian artist who lives and works in Berlin. Her work is main illustrative with noticeable influences from both modern American pop culture and tradition European fine art traditions.

"Ideal and Emergence" exhibition was mainly populated by her ink on leatherette works. They make references to movies such as Gorillas in the Mist (1988) and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). They are displays of highly refined technical skills with line art. The precision and quality of her work are remarkable. Most of the leatherette pieces were monochromatic. The inks were all black, and the canvases were pale beige colored leatherettes with a slight hint of pink. Cho selectively added the red highlights to some pieces to break up the monochrome rhythm in her show. It also added a bit of flair.

In a back room, the Derek Eller Gallery also displayed two larger computer generated works by Alyson Shotz. They were full color symmetrical compositions of flower arrangements. They look like center pieces for a wedding. The computer generated colors and tones are very stiff and cold, which is very typical with Western printing standards.

As for the gallery opening, crowd was packed with a young hip New York crowd. The exhibition had a heavy turn out, and the space was crowded. I was initially impressed by the size and energy of the crowd. After I walked around the gallery for a bit, I found a huge ice bin of cold beer at the front of the gallery. Maybe, this had something to do with the large crowds.

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