Comments, Rotten Tomatoes and the like

There is always room for improvement; leave a comment tell me what you think. And please, be brutal. Nothing like being eviscerated by the general public (though in reality no one reads this so maybe not so general public).

27 4월, 2008

What Can't She Do?

The female half of the-group-that-can-do-no-wrong--at least in my eyes--Horan from Clazziquai created the band Ibadi (이바디) as an accoustic side project while Alex does his reality TV stint. Now, while I like a little Nora Jones and music of her ilk, I don't usually listen to Jazz music. With Ibadi though I was absolutely rooted to the spot by the first track 오후가 흐르는 숲 (oh-hoo-ga heu-reu-neun soop) and is currently one of my top 3 favorite tracks of the moment. Her rich, hypnotic voice almost immediately makes you feel you should be having a romcom moment: strolling arm in arm with some gorgeous guy with the song playing in the background.

The other tracks are just as great, with a liberal sprinkling of whimsy and almost an air of distraction about it. This is an absolute gem of an album great for easy listening on those long haul driving trips. It only suffers slightly from drag in the middle where it seems they spent a little too much time with their hanky in hand.

Here Horan sings one of the greatest pop songs evah from the 90's. Not part of the album but hey, still good!

5 out 5 This is great music!

Bits and Pieces of Epik High Goodness

I love me some Epik High and they, in their infinite wisdom decided to grace us denizens of the real world with a new album Pieces, Part One. With their usual blend of k pop and hip-hop-with-a-twist, Pieces is a solid addition to the Epik High anthology, if not a particularly revolutionary one.

There is some good stuff on there, particularly their lead single One, with its Ace of Base sound-alike tune which immediately takes me back to the 1990's electronic dance music hey days. The remix further reinforces the fact. It's awesome!

Then there's The Future which is a track aimed at other Korean artists, a call to arms so to speak, telling them they need to get over themselves and focus on the music instead of aiming idiotic "diss" tracks at other more successful artists. The gritty, hard, almost gangsta vibe is so unlike the more recent poetic Epik, I was taken aback by its ferocity. And loved it. Lest we forget, Epik High is fronted by a Stanford graduate and a poet, so gangsta seems absolutely antithetical to their background, which is a baseless idea, really, as their earliest albums will attest to.

The one disturbing thing however was that it sounded too much like the 50 Cent/Justin Timberlake/Timbaland Ayo Technology track, which to be truthful is rather annoying. Epik High is musical ambrosia precisely because they sound like no one else. Still a fantastic song.

The main issues with this album is that it doesn't seem to be as big a paradigm shift as Remapping The Human Soul was from their previous works. The tracks hearken back to their album Swan Songs with the more American sound, but still has enough of their poetic nature somewhat intact so as not to totally disappoint. This is an album not quite sure where it wants to be and there is hope that Part Two gives it a firm push and places them in the musical sphere they want to occupy.

4.25 Out of 5 0.25 Deducted for the AYO remix. Oh for shame!

09 4월, 2008

Brief, but Packs a Punch

Aphorism: A tersely phrased statement of a truth or opinion; an adage. (American Heritage Dictionary, online). Twice, the term "aphoristic style" is used to describe the works of author Akutagawa Ryunosuke, first by Murakami Haruki in writing the introduction to the collection, and again by translator Jay Rubin. It tells you how lousy my vocabulary is when, I am truly sorry to say (mum, dad forgive me!), the term totally escaped me.

Akutagawa was a short story writer from the early 20th century Japan, who's writing style varied from classical-style short stories in his early career to more introspective tales in his later life. One of Japan's most noted authors (indeed Murakami places him in the top 10 Japanese authors of all time) he penned pieces that captured the darker zeitgeist of the times, with themes that were often macabre but fantastically morbidly humorous as well. He lived a relatively short but fruitful life, having left behind a legacy of over 150 short stories when he committed suicide at the age of 35.

To be honest the only reason I picked up the book was the blaring title Rashomon emblazoned on the front. I first encountered Rashomon as a play performed my sophomore year in college and was immediately enthralled and fascinated by the point-of-view ambiguity of the tale, which was at the time quite reminiscent of the most important thing I learnt in psychology that year: time dilutes memories. It turns out that my now favorite Japanese director Akira Kurosawa had directed the film on which the play was based. As I just learnt a week ago, Kurosawa based the film on two short stories by Akutagawa; Rashomon from which the director took the title and the setting, and In the Bamboo Grove, from which the tale of four characters all describing the same event, each with their own version of the truth, evolves.

Akutagawa has this enviably marvellous gift with words: he is able, without much ado or fuss, to tell a complete story using the simplest of words. He creates a whole immersive world with meaning, texture and depth with such deft conciseness that is thoroughly complete with no extraneous fat or filler to bog down the story. Each story packed with little kernels of truth about human foibles, both real (including his own) and imagined, I almost felt bereft when the stories came to an end. Sharp and brutal in what can seem to be an appallingly lackadaisical manner, one sometimes gets the feeling he sees you---even though he is well and truly gone--- a little too well.

By far the best story in my opinion was Hell Screen. The tale of an arrogant court painter, Yoshihide, and his twisted relationship with the king he serves. For Yoshihide to complete a painted silk-screen for the king he requests that a woman be burnt alive. The passage that follows below absolutely exemplifies Yoshihide's character in such amazing form. The very picture of a man who's art reigns supreme in his heart above all else.

Yoshihide---who only a few moments had seemed to be suffering the torments
of hell---stood there with his arms locked across his chest as if he had even
forgotten the presence of His Lordship, his whole wrinkled face suffused now
with an inexplicable radiance---the radiance of religious ecstasy. I could have
sworn that the man's eyes were no longer watching [...] dying in agony, that
instead the gorgeous colours of flames and the sight of a woman suffering in
them were giving him joy beyond measure.

This collection runs the gamut of his career from his first story to his last, bringing many of his works to a Western audience for the first time and including some of his autobiographical pieces. It includes a lot of his well known stories as well as a few of his less obvious hits, but all 18 stories serve to give a well rounded picture of Akutagawa's stylistic brilliance.

Reading this collection of short stories makes me realise what an absolute Philistine I am, because the book serves to remind me what delineates true intellectual (not me) from the pseudo ones (I wouldn't even be able to qualify for that either). These stories, while easily digestible, invite the reader to reflect and revisit the tales (which I'm doing now). I can't say any more than go read it. I guess I should try and learn to be a tad less effusive and a bit pithier with my words, see if I can apply aphorism to my writing (that means I have to learn how to get rid of brackets like this one. Wish me luck...).

5 out of 5 If only I could be 1/100th as good!

03 4월, 2008

Retelling the Story of Storytelling

A great story teller accomplishes what few are able to do; they transcend the language barrier and communicate effectively with the audience, able to tell a story with no other prop other than their presence. Great comics like Steve Harvey are able to perform such incredible feats, and So do the rakugo storytellers of Japan. Rakugo is best described as a traditional form of story-telling, usually comically told by one individual on stage. It has a rich and varied history, that goes back 400 years. It relies on the strength of the ability that one person to create and personify richly drawn out characters in the story and deliver, most likely with a moral shoe-horned in there somewhere, a well spun, darkly humourous, tale.

Tiger & Dragon (2005) is the story of a yakuza (Japanese mafia) underling Yamazaki Kotora (in a slightly over the top portrayal by Nagase Tomoya) and his apprenticeship in a locally celebrated rakugo household. It also deals with the exiled, son of the household, Yanaka Ryuji, who is a naturally gifted orator that has turned his back on his family's chosen profession.

What I loved about this was the basic structure of each episode: the rakugo story would be told in its original, old school manner and the happenings in the "real" world would then be used as a basis for the retelling an imaginative, updated version of the classic tale told earlier. It was great to see how classic tales hold true even till today. For instance, how seemingly random things like a guy so forgetful he didn't realise he was dead (to which i can TOTALLY relate). Totally enjoyable with a bitter-sweet ending good stuff all around.

Slightly off topic, this reminds me of Tales by Moonlight, a Nigerian storytelling program which would tell traditional tales from the different ethnic backgrounds. I loved it as a child, and even though the stories have been long forgotten by myself, I still recall being absorbed by the variety, the colour and the depth that was our traditional lore, and I wish someone could do to that show what the writers of Tiger and Dragon did with rakugo. Of course I would hope any attempt would be done with intelligence, and not the fetid Nollywood sensibility that subtlety and evoking thought is best left in the sands of time. If only.

4.5 out of 5 for a genuinely interesting and fulfilling idea!