So Crazy Japanese Folklore: Kaguya-hime no Monogatari

Kaguya Hime no Monogatari is a very long film, based on an old Japanese story, with several aspects that make it impossible to export anywhere else in the world. It’s quite a good film, and looks gorgeous, but it’ll be difficult to show to many people when it drops on home video. But this is kind of director Takahata Isao’s thing, right? That’s why they don’t let him in the director’s chair much, I guess.

So as not to bore by recounting the story that can just be read on the Wikipedia entry linked above, let’s start with Kaguya-hime‘s visuals: They’re fantastic, and quite unique. As seen in one of the film’s more bold trailers (the first one I saw), Kaguya-hime employs a very distinctive sketchy style of artwork. This style is very difficult to animate, but Ghibli’s group of competent and talented artists manages to keep the aesthetic rock-solid throughout the entirety of the film. Never are there any points where it feels like the film’s cutting corners with its aesthetic or the animation–it constantly feels as if you’re watching a moving water-color painting, and everything on-screen is active.

The film’s character designs are also unique in that they employ a design aesthetic distinctive of 1960s manga, with a slight touch of modern flare. It’s very difficult to describe, but there are a lot of influences at work. However, despite this mix, nothing particularly feels out of place or strange–the variety spices things up. Every character has a distinct look and feel to them, giving the film a satisfying visual diversity, as well as adequately telling the audience who the characters are through their designs. I particularly thought that Kaguya’s suitors’ designs were quite funny, as well as the design for her somewhat cat-faced attendant, and her adoptive father is simply a very cute old man. While the film’s sketchy artwork mixed with its classic designs don’t necessarily look like artwork harking from the 10th century from which this story came, these aesthetic choices that look “old” effectively take the viewer back to an older time, creating an appropriate atmosphere with its visuals for the story to unfold in. And that’s one of the main draws–the atmosphere.

On a broader level, another main draw of the film is its presentation: The bold and effective framing of shots that tell you everything you need to know, the simple and distinct musical score that only comes in when it needs to, and the easy-to-understand cartoonish expressions of the characters. In short, it’s a masterful use of simple visual and audial language that perfectly compliments the film’s simple fairy tale story, chock-full of nonsensical magical occurrences, princesses, suitors, and other supernatural happenings.

On the subject of these supernatural happenings, the depiction of them is one of the film’s strong points. One of big part of the film is Kaguya’s accelerated growth. Her initial transformation from a tiny doll found in a bamboo shoot to a crying baby is shown in a very matter-of-fact way, as is her subsequent growth, and all the other instances of supernatural weirdness in the film, making these events come off as rather convincing. However, this is most likely basics for a director like Takahata who knows better than to put a kookie supernatural glow or something similar on top of these sorts of things.

Much like many other Ghibli films, Kaguya-hime has an amicable light tone with a fun sense of slapstick and visual humor to carry the tale along briskly. Once again, this light tone is carried along heavily by the visuals, but at the same time the movie uses this same expressive style to bring to life the story’s serious moments, be them quiet, tense, or intense. It’s quite versatile.

Like any other Ghibli movie, the cast is composed of many real-life actors. Asakura Aki’s Kaguya is as versatile as the film–energetic, filled with infinite fascination and enthusiasm, but deadly mature and serious when the occasion calls for it. Other stand-out performances include Chii Takeo’s spirited performance as Kaguya’s well-meaning but clueless father, who unfortunately died before the film was completed.

I alluded to this earlier, but more than the content of the story or the characters, the presentation makes this movie. Had the movie looked more conventional, it would have lost a lot of its strength. Seeing as the story itself is a simple fairy tale, presentational aspects like visuals, music, and acting go a long way into breathing life into the film, and making it compelling.

So, what’s wrong with it? Not much, but it’s a little long at 137 minutes, and the ending may put off some people not familiar with the conventions of Japanese folklore, if some of the nudity and stuff like that didn’t put them off already. That said, to either an art house crowd or a crowd that likes Japanese culture, I think this film should go over well. Just think about who you show it to, I guess.

Takahata just turned 78-years-old a few months ago, and this is his first film in fourteen years. Does he have another one in him? I hope so, but Kaguya-Hime isn’t really a bad place to stop.

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Only Love Hurts@WWW, Shibuya–”The New Name Concert”


A week after the show in Yokohama, OLH held their big “New Name Concert” at WWW in Shibuya. Unlike Friday, WWW is a normal all-standing live house with tiered levels. I was naturally as close as I could be to the stage, but that was unfortunately a few rows of people back, as the place was already more or less full thirty minutes before the show. That said, I still had a great view of the stage, and was able to see everything clearly. I was closer than I was at Friday, and didn’t have a big column in the way blocking half of my view.

The opening act was an underground idol called Machi Akari. “Despite being a child of the Heisei era, my heart belongs to the ballads of Showa.” she writes in her introduction posted on OLH’s website. She put on a fine performance of quirky tunes written and composed by herself. The instrumentals were canned, tinny fair, in sharp contrast to her deep, Showa-influenced voice, with lyrics being deliberately strange, playful and slightly mean. It was a surreal and fun thirty minute peak into what she describes as “Machi Akari World.”

After making her exit, and some stage adjustments, a projector screen descended from the ceiling and a scratchy old Showa tune came through the sound system. Lupin III style typewriter text appeared on the screen. In pink.

“Tonight, you will be witnesses to history.”

The music swelled as the singer triumphantly announced, “Watashi no namae wa… kawarimasu. (My name will change.)” and the crowd went wild.

While I was unable to catch everything, in true OLH style, the video opened with a montage of videos and photos of aCky doing stupid things during shows (and one video of his dad rocking a sweet-ass pair of sideburns while singing on an old NHK program) run along with text that more-or-less asked, “You guys actually like this band?” The best bit of the montage was a fish-eye shot of aCky’s giant belly shoved against the camera.

The middle section of the video was beyond my comprehension and included clips from old movies and footage of Japanese bands from the ’80s performing. People were laughing, so I’m sure there was something to it! The video closed with runner-up entries for the band’s new name. Once again, meaning was lost on me, as there was too much text on the screen for me to read in a short period of time. Then, at the end, all of us OLH fanatics in the room–both old and young–learned the three words that would make up the new name for our beloved band.

Only Love Hurts

The band then opened with an explosive performance of the first track off Ongaku Girai, Ondo, Hitohada ga Hoshii. The intro to this live version gave each member of the horn section a chance to show their stuff with some killer solos right off the bat. The set was the same as the previous week, just with the order rearranged. This time around Kuchi ni Dashite Ne came with a sexual trumpet solo, further emphasizing the song’s inherent sleaze with a satisfying degree of audial hyperbole. One of the funnier moments was when aCky completely forgot the lyrics to Konya, Sugamo De. After completely bombing the first verse, he tried again for the second verse, but almost immediately exclaimed, “wait, this isn’t right either, is it?” upon realizing he was in fact singing the third verse. Looking away shyly, he took an angry and embarrassed swig of water. Later, during the performance of Tokyo (ja) Nightclub (wa), he approached an audience member near the stage and lamented, “What was up with Sugamo anyway?”

Since WWW is a serious business concert venue, unlike Friday–where there were some sound issues–every instrument came through loud and clear on WWW’s sound system. The lighting was strong, boldly illuminating all the players, and being close to the stage I was able to see all the steams of sweat running down aCky’s face, and interestingly enough, down the back of his hat.

aCky’s MC was as always a clever, self deprecating barrage of jabs–”We’ve always had the image of, ‘those guys are kinda sketchy.’ But with this new name, we’d like to put all that to an end. Also, it’ll make it easier for you when asked what you’re listening to. Instead of a dirty name like Omokage Lucky Hole, you can now say the stylish Only Love Hurts! People will probably like the “hurts” part because it sounds like “heart” (note: in Japanese those two words are pronounced identically) and they may think we’re a normal cute pop band.” I’m paraphrasing, but that was the general gist of it. Another funny bit was when aCky poked fun at Christel Takigawa’s use of “omotenashi” (hospitable) to describe the heart of Japan in her Olympic bid speech, with aCky claiming that the heart of Japan is actually “hashitanashi” (vulgar).

When called out by a member of the audience (not me, I assure you) aCky fired back with, “Please don’t call out. Between us guys and you motherfuckers is a deep, dark river that’s impossible to cross… Sorry, I didn’t mean that! Please forgive me? That’s my tsundere impression.” Among all the fun a games there was news that they’d be doing a movie theme song, which has since been announced. It’s called Chikyuu Bouei Miboujin or Earth Defense Widow. It looks like a sexy and silly tokusatsu parody, staring Japan’s “sexy onee-san”, Danmitsu. OLH’s song is called Ai no Xanadu… wonder how it’ll turn out!

Before the show started, there was an announcement that the band was to sell t-shirts with the new name emblazoned on them. They wore them during the encore, and upon seeing the design–OLH written in bright primary colors next to a crude drawing of a pig with a boombox in hand–I knew I had to have one. Right as the show ended, much like a Hajj stampede, people violently rushed to the merch table, fiercely claiming things for their own. I risked life and limb squeezing my way between a woman’s sweaty rolls of fat to get one. When I got there, XL-sizes were already sold out, but I’m good with an M, so all was well.


After getting dinner, while walking back to the station, I passed by the live house again. While passing by, I spotted a man clad in a completely pink sweatsuit, wearing two hats stacked up upon one another. It had to be aCky.

I said hi, and we talked a bit about the name change. Apparently he liked the name I submitted.

“That name you submitted… ‘Old Lonely Hearts’… I was actually a little torn between that and Only Love Hurts.”

He was probably just being nice, and I like Only Love Hurts a lot better anyway. I tried to tell him that their new name had a lot of punch, but I’m not sure if the nuance got through. Anyway, he looked tired packing up the OLH van, so I didn’t overstay my welcome and bid him farewell.

So yeah. Good time. Can’t wait for their show in February.

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The Artist Formerly Known As Omokage Lucky Hole@Friday, Yokohama — “Sorry For Being So Half-Assed”


Kannai station is a stop on the Keihin-Tohoku line in Yokohama, about forty minutes away from Shinjuku station. Known as a sleazy part of town, once past the immediate vicinity of the station, visitors are treated to the typical roaring pachinko parlors, sketchy massage joints, overpriced hostess clubs, love hotels with dubious names like “Hotel Funny’s”, brothels, complete with pushers ready to shove the next poor excuse for humanity into one of these frightening places, and dark alleys reeking of piss and cheap ramen running between it all. The streets are filled with all manner of riffraff–chinpira, drunks, and hopeless salarymen–between the small number of straight folks. I was there for an Omokage Lucky Hole concert a few weeks back, and could not imagine a more appropriate place for them to perform.

Yes, between the jerk-off booths and izakaya are a couple of live houses, one of them being Friday. Tucked away on the third floor of a nondescript building, on top of a snack bar called “Hiroko”, Friday is a cozy little bar and grill with a section of space cleared away for bands to play their tunes–bands like Crazy Ken Band, Crystal King, and–my favorite–Omokage Lucky Hole. However, at this point in time they were not Omokage Lucky Hole but–in the manner of some famous singer–The Artist Formerly Known as Omokage Lucky Hole. See, a while back the band put out a call for fan submissions to replace their older “embarrassing” kira-kira name with a new one, the catch being that the new name must also be able to be abbreviated as OLH.

Back to Friday–it’s a really nice place. It looks like your typical American bar, complete with dark wood paneling and photographs of famous musicians on the wall. The menu is your usual bar menu, but with things like curry and kimchi pizza thrown in to cater to local taste. I got the kimchi pizza as a joke, but it was actually real deal pizza with real deal kimchi on it, and it tasted really good. The venue required one drink and one food order along with the price of admission, so I got the Heineken on draft.

The show was set to start at seven, and I got there at six thirty. People must have gotten there right when the doors opened thirty minutes prior, because the venue was already full when I got there. Since I had thirty minutes to kill, I decided to interact with some of the other human-beings around me. Seeing as I was anti-social and didn’t talk to anyone the last time I went to an OLH show, I was determined to make some friends. After all, we were all there because we like the same band. That’s the perfect ice-breaker! Right as the folks sitting behind me were trying to pronounce OLH’s temporary Prince-inspired name, I busted in with my beautiful native pronunciation.

“So wait, you like this band?”, a woman in the group asked.

Love. From the bottom of my heart.”

It was a group of five, two women and three men. The man closest to me was new to the band–first time seeing them live, and only listened to whatever songs were on You Tube. The others in the group seemed to be knowledgeable about the band, but “the most perverted one of us,” said the guy next to me, “is that guy all the way at the end.”

The two of us were introduced–turns out Mr. Most Perverted was–as his nickname suggested–in the deepest of everyone in the group. A fan for seventeen years, he bought the group’s indies-released debut album when it first dropped back in 1996. However, he had only been going to shows as of recently, this being his second time. As such, he wasn’t around to get the band’s super-rare DVD of live footage, which I flaunted around in front of his face. I had brought it on the off-chance that there’d be a signing.

We exchanged idle chit-chat for the thirty minutes before the show was set to start. I was asked the typical “How long have you been here?” and all the other customary questions the locals like to ask gaijin. I asked how they got into the band (all thanks to Mr. Most Perverted, it would seem) and then continued on to the usual exchange of favorite band/group/artist names. Turns out the guy next to me liked Perfume, Crazy Ken Band and Shibuya-kei, so he was pretty cool.


At ten minutes past seven, right when everyone was wondering, “Where’s the band?”, the members ascended the staircase to lively applause. The show was divided into two parts, with an intermission in the middle. aCky made his first appearance boasting a classy white suit and hat, along with a frilled pink shirt and bow-tie. He donned a burgundy jacket over a flower-patterned pink shirt for the second round. I wish I dressed that cool.

In the year since their last show, there had been some member changes. The band’s saxophonist, Kaori (who I’m pretty sure has been with the band since she was in high school), had gone away to New York, but she happened to be back in town for the show. She played along with the new saxophonist, Yui. I had only heard Kaori’s sax once, and upon hearing she had moved to New York, I was afraid I’d never be able to hear her play again, so naturally getting to hear her play again was awesome. Tet-chan, the main guitarist, who had been with the band for the better part of a decade, had gone, and in his place was a man called Hiromu, who was actually a former member, and played back in the band’s first professionally released album, Dairi Haha. One of the back-up singers changed to a woman who looked fresh out of the hostess club (but aCky assures that they didn’t find her in one) named Mayuko.

The band was in great form. aCky was really relaxed, knocking each performance out of the park, making good use of the stage, weaving his way through members of the audience and messing with them. The laid back and intimate nature of the venue made for an incredible night of (dirty) music.

The band put together a strong set of the best cuts from their professional releases, but naturally the otaku side of me wanted to hear the obscure stuff from their indies release like Love Volunteer and Honki tte Kaite Maji, or unreleased tracks like Hachi Kake Ichiman En and Shinitai Yatsu wa Shine.

But I’m not complaining or anything, it was a great set:

Part One

Part Two



As far highlights go, Kurumaisu opened the first part of the show with large amounts of fanfare, stretching out the song’s intro to get people revved up and toe-tappin’. Iconic numbers like Sugamo and Beer were, as always, great to hear live. The band did a version of Kanarazu Onaji Tokoro De closer to the rendition of the song on their indies album Melo, with a sexy sax solo by Kaori and a bad-ass trombone solo by Sasuke thrown in for good measure. It was my first time hearing that song live, and being able to hear in its original extended length was super cool. The band also treated us to the poignant, jazzed up, extended version of Tagalog-go, with Mayuko delivering the song’s female vocals in a smooth, velvety voice reminiscent of classic Japanese jazz tunes. The final number, Tokyo, had a funny false start. There had been an issue with Hiromu’s guitar’s volume throughout the show, and they fixed it for the last song. It was difficult to tell exactly what had happened, but I think they were adjusting the sound during the song’s intro, things ended up sounding weird, and aCky exclaimed, “Okay, okay! We get it! We’ll start over!” As always, Tokyo is a great song to end on (every single OLH show I’ve been to has ended with this song), but this time aCky didn’t stuff his underwear up his butt during his strip routine that he does along with the song.

As is typical with OLH shows, the MC was quite good, but given my limited language skills and the high level of the jokes, about half of it flew over my head, with me just laughing along with everyone else. There were a few good things that I did pick out, like a deprecating jab to both the band and the audience about how “everyone in this room is a minority” and how they band can’t sell CDs with just our support. There was also a good bit about women with small boobs wearing bras too big for them, how and aCky enjoys the specific Japanese word that refers to that phenomenon. I unfortunately have since forgotten what it is, though.

Afterwards, I went out for dinner and drinks with my new friends at a little hole-in-the-wall Chinese place that specialized in lamb skewers. Right as we were talking about the show, I received a  call from the live house, informing me  that I had forgot something at my seat. As I wasn’t sure of the way back, one of my new friends (Mr. Pervert) went with me. Right as we were ascending the stairs back up to the venue, I noticed a man in a pink hat and pink scarf–it was none other than aCky! My memory isn’t clear, but I’m pretty sure I yelled, “Yooooo.”

He then called me by my full name–he must have remembered it from the times I submitted my name to be webmaster for the band’s site and when I submitted a potential new name for the band. He asked me what I was doing in Japan, and then me and the guy I was with took some hot two-shots with him. While overrun with ecstasy that I met the vocalist from my favorite band and he took an interest in me, I skipped up the stairs, collected my stuff, then skipped back down, passing by aCky again, this time bidding him farewell.

Suffice it to say, it wasn’t a bad night.


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