The Only O.L.H. Concert of 2015

O.L.H.

In response to the success of the musical Iyaounashi Ni earlier in 2015, Only Love Hurts (Formerly: Omokage Lucky Hole, AKA O.L.H.) held their first–and only–full-fledged concert of 2015 on June 27th. Titled O.L.H. plays Iyaounashi Ni, the group put on live performances of nearly all of the songs used in the musical.

But first, the opening act. O.L.H. shows typically open with a warm-up musical act, but this time proved to be quite different, with hilarious results. As the stage lit up, a young woman in completely normal clothing appeared in front of the audience. Aside from the fact that she was called Nakamura Ai, I had not read much about her prior to the show. I was immediately skeptical of her routine as she opened up with a series of self-depreciating jokes about how she’s not well known–things along the lines of, “Thanks for being nice and clapping!” But as her routine progressed, her genius began to come forth. The thing is, she’s not really an idol or anything–she’s just a weird standup comedian. She also happens to be a DJ on Japan’s BAYFM radio station–a frequency near and dear to my heart which used to lull me to sleep with its setlist of nostalgic tunes in the early days of my time in Japan. But I digress.

As her routine got into full speed, she started to claim that she was a magical girl, which lead to her shooting imaginary beams from her breasts and crotch, all while shouting onomatopoeia that translated to “squirrrrt, squirrrrrrrrrrrrt.” Transitioning to a set of sarcastic celebrity impressions, her act would climax with some very special magic.

O.L.H.

The first part of the magic act was based around a simple disappearing-handkerchief routine, but each time–without any prompt from the audience–she would exclaim, “What do you mean it didn’t actually disappear? You say I’m hiding it in my (article of clothing)? Do I have take off my (article of clothing) to prove it to you?” She would continue to do this until she was down to her undies, where she would strip off her panties to reveal… another pair of panties–this time loud and pink.

She moved onto card tricks for the second half of the magic act with the band’s shy and nerdy guitarist Tecchan while maintaining the rich stream of innuendo. Bubbling with nervous laughs, Tecchan was forced to recite magic chants mere syllables off from Japanese vulgarities. When he mispronounced one word,  Nakamura commanded him to say it again properly. She ended up in only her undies once again, with Tecchan nervously pulling his selected card out from her panties to close off the act.

Following Nakamura’s 15-minute opening act, O.L.H. took to the stage. The show being O.L.H. plays Iyaounashi Ni, the group went through a bulk of the songs featured in the musical with a few exceptions. For a huge fanboy like me, what this meant was that the band played a number of songs they hadn’t performed at all in recent years–songs I had not seen live before.

Among these was Hitorigurashi no Hostess ga Hajimete Shinbun wo Totta, one of the band’s tunes dating back to when they first formed–it’s on their first indie CD release, Melo. The song has a heavy R&B guitar and bass backing that sets an appropriately skeezy tone, mixed with a smokey trumpet to solidify the flavor. Tecchan’s guitar would come in with spooky riffs at just the right times, and took the lead mid-way with a quiet and poignant solo, followed by a smokey trumpet section by Ozawa to bring the song back to its initial grime.

Another treat was a trombone-driven rendition of Annani Hantai Shiteta Otousan ni Beer wo TsugareteSasuke’s hot skills took center stage, with the trombone’s airy yet assertive tones giving the song both new gravity and despair. aCky unfortunately had another one of his old man moments, singing a later verse too early–a realization made clear to everyone with a resounding “AH!” exclaimed on his part. Don’t worry aCky, that’s what we all like about you.

O.L.H.

Other rare songs included  Omisoshiru Attamete Nomina Ne and Oranda Hanayome. The former was a straightforward performance of what is a slow-moving ballad, but the latter proved to be a fresh take on what originally appeared on the Ongaku Girai album back in 1999. With ska-accented horns and a funky beat, the band breathed new air into a song about a man and his dutch wife.

There wasn’t much opportunity for MCing inside of the rather dense setlist–which still didn’t cover the full breadth of the musical–but aCky made the absolute most of the limited time, proving once again the true danger of the notorious O.L.H. MC.

He started by taking a keen interest in the types of people present, “Usually we only have subcultural pieces of crap attending these shows, but look at these guys–there are normal people here today! This is a high-class affair, guys.” However, to follow up, he offered the following rough bit of truth, “By the way, Furuta Arata and Koizumi Kyoko (famous actors who appeared in Iyaounashi Ni) won’t be here today, so I suggest you leave now to save time. Most of you will probably leave when you see what we’re actually all about anyway.” He went on to recount a tale of one Iyaounashi Ni performance that pushed out a normal theatergoer before it even started. “In one performance someone just came because they liked the cast, but when they heard our songs coming through the speakers before the show, they just up and left.” Between all the talking and singing, old man aCky was quite visibly tried as the concert reached its conclusion.

While this report is a half a year late, it is somewhat apropos that I use it to kick off 2016. With the exception of their free concert at Tower Records in early 2015, this was the band’s only real concert of last year. Their site remains without updates since, and their Twitter has been silent. It seems as if they have gone back into their ritual hiding, which could mean there’s something new on the horizon, or they’re just stuck for band members, again. Either way, while there may well be nothing in the pot, I eagerly look forward to whatever they may be cooking.

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Raised by Beasts: Bakemono no Ko

Hosoda Mamoru blew me away with his first original work–Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo–a story of love between two youngsters made bittersweet through the film’s science fiction premise. The manner in which he managed to mix SF and complex human emotion made Tokikake a work that really stood out in my mind, pressing all my buttons in just the right way. While his follow-up Summer Wars failed to impress me with its paper-thin ensemble cast and by-the-numbers narrative, Ookami Kodomo came right back with the mix of fantasy and raw, realistic human emotion that made Tokikake shine. How does his newest work, Bakemono no Ko size up?

Nine-year-old Ren loses his mother, with his father nowhere to be found. While his cold distant relatives try to take him in, he runs way to pursue a life on his own. Ending up in Shibuya, two non-human entities find Ren and take an interest in him. While initially frightened, Ren sees an opportunity in befriending them, following them into the beast world of Jutengai: A world filled with beasts who like to fight and other beasts who like to bet on said fights. One of these battling beasts is a bear-like creature called Kumatetsu, who just happens to want a pupil under him so he can gain some respect, and prove that he has what it takes to hold his own in a fight against one of Jutengai’s greatest and most respected fighters–Iouzen. Bestowing Ren with the name “Kyuuta” (due him being nine-years-old when they first meet) the two embark on a quest to become stronger as fighters, and as individuals.

What stands out first and foremost about the film are the visuals–this is Hosoda’s best looking film to date. I don’t know who he has working at his new studio–Chizu–but they know what they’re doing. The film’s setting is split between the beast world of Jutengai and modern-day Shibuya, both rendered in loving and convincing detail. Shibuya and all the ancillary Tokyo locations are rendered in painstaking detail, to the point where you can almost reach out and touch them. It’s a level detail that effectively grants the film’s real-world segments an engrossing air of familiarity, especially when juxtaposed against the film’s fantastic other half.  Jutengai has a hint of Japanese influence, especially in the names and appearances of the beasts that occupy it, but the actual world borrows heavily from middle eastern and European influences along with adding its own unique touches to make for an eclectic and fresh world.

The film makes heavy use of 3D computer graphics at points, which are all very polished, move smoothly, and blend seamlessly into the 2D animation. As is always the case with Hosoda films, the 2D animation is lively, smooth, and convincing. Ren and Kumatestsu’s scuffles are treated with the utmost of care to look as human as possible, a level of care which is echoed in every part of the film in its quiet moments, action scenes, and scenes of large-scale destruction.

Moving away from visuals, the film doesn’t quite possess the level of emotional complexity of Tokikake or Ookami Kodomo, but it is rich with character and very fulfilling. The emotional buttons it presses are certainly meant to be crowd-pleasing, but it has more going for it than Summer Wars did. The emotional core of the film focuses around Ren’s growth from a boy into a man, and the individuals he meets along his journey between the real world and Jutengai. While cliche, Ren and Kumatestu’s constant bickering is endearing, and mixed with the two other beasts–pig-monk Hyakushuubou and deadbeat monkey Tatara–a convincing family unit is formed.

The film gets more interesting when it puts grown-up Ren back into the real world, where he finds himself back in Shibuya unable to read or write due to years in his alternate universe. He has a chance meeting with a girl his same age–Kaede–and others from his life which make him reconsider where he should go–another example of Hosoda enriching a story by thinking about its fantastic premise realistically. Ren’s struggles adjusting to normal human life and his ambivalence between wanting to stay in Jutengai versus the real world drive the film’s second half. While the blending of fantasy and realism doesn’t offer the bittersweet or gut-wrenching feelings present in previous works, Hosoda’s distinct flavor is still quite strong in Bakemono.

The emotional climax presses the most crowd pleasing, “you’re definitely gonna cry,” button of all, but it works as a suitable punctuation for the film, wrapping things up neatly.

The movie also contains well-realized action. The film only really shows us Kumatetsu go at it against Iouzen, and the depictions of how these human-animal hybrid beasts fight is creative and visually arresting. The final villain kind of comes of nowhere and dictates the climax of the film, with his assault on our heroes bringing to mind Summer Wars’ crowd pleasing spectacle ending. However, given the film’s emotional strength up until that point, I’m okay with it.

As with most of his films, Hosoda utilizes normal actors for a number of the roles in Bakemono to give the film a certain texture most anime lacks. Of note is Sometani Shouta’s role as adult Ren, who I first got to know through the live action Kiseijuu films. While the rough, tough guy act he likes to put on didn’t quite work in those films, it works in Bakemono to make Ren effectively sound like a person who has been raised outside of humanity by beasts. On that note, veteran Yakusho Kouji puts on a stunning performance as Kumatetsu.

Hosoda Mamoru has finer works in his pantheon, but Bakemono no Ko is by all means a very, very good addition to his resume. While it lacks some of the deep emotional investment of Hosoda’s better works, it’s a well put together movie and impresses in a great number of areas. It’s a spectacular debut for studio Chizu, and I eagerly await their next work.

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(2015/3/14) Only Love Hurts–Tower Records Shinjuku Acoustic Concert

Only Love Hurts (ex-Omokage Lucky Hole) made their first appearance of 2015 in a very understated fashion. After their big show in October, the band came out of hiding with low-key acoustic show in the middle of Shinjuku’s Tower Records.

The stage was tiny, and surrounded by loud displays for more popular acts like Perfume (I can dig it) and Sekai no Owari (This, not so much). I arrived about 20 minutes early, and the immediate area was already bustling with fans, with roughly 70 people in total gathering in the end. A man with slicked back hair and a nice suit–looking as if he walked straight out of the 1950s–appeared next to the stage to announce the momentary commencement of the show. The selections from ~Greatest Hits~ that had been playing in the background faded, and the band made their appearance. Being an acoustic concert in a small space, the band was at half-capacity with only six members–keyboard, Cajón, acoustic guitar, sax, chorus, and aCky.

aCky stepped upon the stage backed by the tango riff from Senaka Moyou, and with a “let’s go!” the band immediately launched into the set which was composed of PachinkoOnaji Tokoro DeCompassBeer, and Koushien.

I had initially set my expectations low for a free OLH show with the band at half-strength, but they did a stunning job of modifying their compositions for the format, resulting in really interesting takes on their well-known tunes. The inclusion of the keyboard and sax helped the songs retain their swagger, and matched against the Cajón and guitar, the whole set had a slight Bossa Nova twist to it.

Songs with more subdued compositions–Onaji Tokoro DeCompass, Beer–fared very well in the acoustic format. The low-key backing allowed for the vocals to stand out, carrying the songs’ drama in a fresh way. Okamotsu’s sax played a big role in the show, more or less filling in for what is typically an entire horn section. She also performed during all the instrumental breaks, once again adding a new–at times Bossa Nova-esque–flavor the songs. Fast songs like Pachinko and Koushien worked fine matched to the acoustic backing, but without the band’s full compliment, they lacked their edge.

The band made the most of the venue, playing off of it during songs and MC sections. During the morbid Pachinko, aCky would chime in after particularly grizzly lyrics with, “THIS IS LIVE ENTERTAINMENT, PEOPLE!” He would then point upwards to non-existent balcony seats and say, “C’mon, people in the balcony!” He greeted the audience with, “good afternoon, we’re Sekai no Owari,” mocking the displays for the band of the same name surrounding the stage.

During the call and response routine, aCky berated the audience for not cheering loud enough, “There’s no way the Oshmans downstairs can hear you!” Later on, aCky made everyone say “moral harassment”–Japanese-English that means “verbal abuse”–and referenced Lupin’s voice actor, in light of reports of Kurita Kanichi not being very nice to his wife. Acknowledging that they were performing in a public place in the middle of the day, the band made attempts–at times hilariously obvious–to keep the routines clean. During one performance, aCky made a reference to “grass,” but would later on go on say, “you know, like grass in the park or something.” Sharp pokes were also made at the audience, “Thank you all for being here during another busy end to the financial year–but of course none of you have anything to do with that since you’re here today, right?” And of course, the band made reference to the incessant inquires about their new name, “Only Love Hurts–people usually ask us why we changed the name–and we’re sick of hearing it, please stop.”

The show then closed as it opened–with the tango riff from Senaka Moyou–and the event transitioned to an autograph session. I got to meet face to face with aCky for the first time in a while, and he had this to say to me, “You know that Analog Housou thing you write? Keep doing that! Take us global, man!”

Well I try, albeit always two or three months late.

And on that note, the band has another concert–this time with the full compliment of members–at the end of this month, so you can look forward to a review of that some time in August or September.

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