Kakeru, Kousei, Kou: A trio of profound suffering

 

First, I knew about Kou then Kousei and now Kakeru and then it hit me, that these three form a deep puzzle.

When I came to the realization that their names all start with the same letter — letter K, I’m like ‘what kind of enchantment is this?’ It feels like it’s meant to be, maybe intentional or perhaps pure coincidence.

Besides the first name initial, these three have issues that concern their mothers but of course not in the same exact manner — one’s mom passed away due to an illness and he can’t forgive himself because he feels responsible in taking care of his mom as he promised to his brother when their parents got divorced, thinking if only he paid more attention then he would have noticed it (Kou); the other whose mom is so ruthless that she beats him which ends up with the son finally blowing up and cursing that he hopes she dies and ultimately it does happen (Kousei); and finally, a boy’s mom who’s sickly, also divorced when he was little and who needed her son to be with her at the hospital, to which he initially agreed but changed his mind to hang out with his new friends and informing her in a not so pleasing manner, which was followed by the mother breaking down and committing suicide (Kakeru).

All three have high sense of guilt, self-hate, and extreme trauma — depression. They deal with it in different manners but similarly, their behaviors and perspectives have all changed.

Out of the three, I’d say Kakeru has the most difficult depression because he’s reached that suicidal tendency stage unlike Kou and Kousei. Then again, what Kousei said to his mom is more distressing than what Kakeru did but Kakeru ended up feeling more guilty than Kousei as people have different reactions to such situations. Kousei, I think, at the end of the series, might have subtle suicidal tendencies after suffering a double blow when Kaori passed on but I guess Tsubaki is the key so that he could avoid it.

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On a side note,  Kakeru and Kou could really pass as twin brothers, seriously. I instantly thought of Kou the first time Kakeru made an appearance except the hairstyle and the eyes. Even Futaba and Naho are so alike other than the hairstyle and color and their eyes.

Orange anime series and my Japanese inclination for such stories

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Orange has been on my list since late last year while I was occupied with Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (Your Lie in April). I’ve been listening to its soundtrack from early this year without having even started the anime series and now it’s on repeat again as I’m finally watching it.

Stories such as (depression and suicide) Orange tend to have gravitational pull towards me. It’s been a strong predilection for me but my very first venture and exposure to such themes was when I read Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami back in college (Thanks to a college classmate’s recommendation). In this, three people committed suicide — Kizuki, who killed himself when he was 17, Reiko, and then eventually Naoko who had been struggling with the loss of Kizuki.

Then in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, which is now my favorite Murakami novel, there’s also suicide and depression with the character of Shiro.

With anime both series and films, such examples among my favorites are 5 Centimeters per Second’s Takaki, Ao Haru Ride’s Kou, Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso’s Kousei, Koe no Katachi’s Shoya and Shouko, and then this anime series — Orange with Kakeru, which is set to become among my favorite anime series.

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Apart from the same themes, these are all Japanese. Even Kizuki’s suicide and Kakeru’s suicide in the alternative timeline are similar — both are 17.

Depression and suicide are highly complex because both are psychological and even more difficult to explain than any kind of medical illness.

I’m starting to wonder why I have so much attachment to characters and stories with the said elements. On my take, it’s something I deeply contemplate about. A close friend said, it’s because it’s something I can understand but perhaps it’s more than that.

Manga Hokusai Manga at the Ateneo Art Gallery

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Manga Hokusai Manga: Approaching the Master’s Compendium from the Perspective of Contemporary Comics 

The exhibit runs until July 28 at the Ateneo Art Gallery.

An international traveling exhibition organized by the Japan Foundation is an exploration of the similarities and differences between Katsushika Hokusai’s manga and modern Japanese manga, with works from seven contemporary manga artists from the basis and influence of Hokusai’s manga.

Before I checked out the exhibit, I attended “Manga and the ‘Manga-esque’:
Shifting Definitions and Perspectives,” a lecture by Dr. Karl Ian Uy Cheng Chua, director of the Ateneo de Manila University – Japanese Studies Program. 

The talk centers on how “manga” and the perceptions of “manga” have changed, and how “manga” is consumed and produced in the Philippine context. The talk hopes to present the expansive reach and influence of manga, as well the problems it can encounter overseas.

Dr. Chua started by asking ‘what is manga?’ My answer to that — it’s a drawing with a story, it has Japanese characters, has Japanese context, it has panels and dialogue balloons, that it is read from right to left, and that it’s a source material for anime and film adaptations. I didn’t say it though, it was just in my head while talking to myself. 


To me, I think of manga as very Japanese because it’s highly culturally-rooted. It’s no longer manga to me when there’s no element of being Japanese in it — not the creator, not the story, nothing; even though the style is like a manga, I would only call it copying a manga but not a manga.

I was in a dilemma when Dr. Chua showed on the presentation some examples and I found myself at loss and confusion if it’s manga or not.

I realized that defining manga is complex as there’s no standard definition as compared to Hokusai’s manga. The definition and perceptions as to whether one is to be called a manga is now not only based on the cultural appropriateness of the content — the style, story, and characters. It’s expansive and ever-changing depending on one’s basis and analysis on why one would categorize it as manga whether it’s made by a Japanese mangaka or not. 

Everything Japanese

 

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The last day of Eiga Sai Ph at the Shang Cineplex was on July 16, Sunday. And like how the film festival always starts during the first week of July, it also always concludes before or after my birthday — so the dates always include my birthday. However, this year it actually concluded on my birthday.

It kinda reminds me of how Harry Potter either premieres a new movie before or after my birthday or during November. It’s only either July or November.

I decided to skip Saturday, July 15 screening of “Anthem of the Heart” and ended up losing P100 because I already have a ticket but then again, if I went I would have lost more money than just P100 because I would have to spend more.

So I opted to watch something on the last day instead. Initially, I was looking at watching Naomi Kawase’s “Sweet Bean” despite having doubts about it for having read negative reviews when it premiered at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

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Then again, I couldn’t watch it because I was again late and so I ended up watching the documentary “Tsukiji Wonderland.” The docu is part of my shortlist but not really a high priority but I must say, it’s a better choice to have watched the docu instead.

I may have missed seeing inside the Tsukiji Fish Market last year, I only saw it from the outside on my late night walk; seeing the documentary makes me feel like I had ventured into every corner of the fish market in reality. And because I love fish, it was a sight how the Japanese put so much high regard with the fresh seafood culture and how they both have fun and in-depth knowledge about what they do and take pride in it.

 

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A lime torte cake that I was able to buy on a last-minute decision from Starbucks because it’s the only one that’s open when I went out of Shang. 
I haven’t had a cake since Ryuchan’s birthday last May 9th. I say it like I was actually there on his birthday. Delusional me.

Film Festival Circuit III: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya in Cinemalaya Film Fest

When I heard about “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” being screened for this year’s Cinemalaya Film Festival under the Independents: Asian Showcase section, I told myself I had to take the opportunity cause it’ll never have a regular screening in cinemas here so this is the only chance I got. I managed to tagged along my college friend Anna to watch it with me on August 9, one of the only two screenings for the Isao Takahata gem at the CCP Main Theater.

At first though, I was a little put off by the animation style of the film. It reminded me of the style of another Isao Takahata film, “My Neighbors The Yamadas,” although I haven’t really seen this one fully, partly because I wasn’t so interested. But fortunately, I went ahead to watching Princess Kaguya and I was definitely proven wrong on my apprehension regarding the animation. The film is Isao Takahata’s final film. The director is best known for “Grave of the Fireflies,” which I have seen and really brought me utter sadness and tears. I still find it hard to watch it again.

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The film is based on a 10th century folktale called “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter” and is considered the very first Japanese prose narrative from the Tokugawa period. It centers around the bamboo cutter Okina (Takeo Chii) and his discovery of a little child inside a bamboo shoot. He brings her home to his wife Ona (Nobuko Miyamoto), but when she carries the child she suddenly grows into a normal looking baby.

The couple decided to raise the child and naming her Kaguya (Aki Asakura), which means “radiant night” in Japanese. There was a shining light coming out of the bamboo shoot to where Okina found her, thus the name that means radiant night. The little Kaguya becomes friends with the local children and they also noticed how she strangely grows too fast like a bamboo, so they started calling her “takenoko” or little bamboo and developing a special friendship with Sutemaru (Kengo Kora).

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But the mysteries didn’t end with her discovery, Okina found gold coins and elegant silk robes inside the very same bamboo, and he was convinced that Kaguya is a gift from heaven and is destined for nobility. With this Kaguya’s life is changed entirely, from the suburbs to the city to learn the ways and principles of a noble lady fit for the high society.

The news of her elegant beauty has quickly spread, eliciting attentions from noblemen to the emperor. But on the day she was solemnized as Kaguya-hime (Princess Kaguya), she realized how most people only cared about her physical looks and that she’s only being named a princess due to her father’s wealth.

Despite her bold disobedience at times to her father and mentor Lady Sagami (Atsuko Takahata), she still yearns to please her father in the best of her abilities but upon hearing how people deride even her father makes her start to realize that all the things about her nobility is unworthy.

One of my favorite scenes in the film. Just look at that. 

One of the strong themes tackled in the film is how women of nobility are stripped of their free will, thrown into situations other people have decided for them without consideration to their opinions and feelings. Another is how women are merely treated as possessions and status symbols and how they are lured by men with money, flamboyant words and promises.

And yes not to forget the animation itself that initially turned me off. I have to say it really is majestic. The hand-drawn or brush-stroke style makes every scene feel and look like its being sketch as it happens on screen. The whole film is a masterpiece painting that comes alive before the audience. It can also  be likened to traditional Japanese painting such as The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

And of course, a Ghibli film is not complete without its accompaniment of musical score from perennial genius and Ghibli collaborator Joe Hisaishi that complements each and every moment of the film, from the joyful discovery of Kaguya, her early experiences as a human, to saying goodbyes, to good memories of friendship, and new beginnings and challenges as a princess.

Infinitely beautiful, truly one of the very best animated films ever made.

Film Festival Circuit II: Eiga Sai 2015 and the introduction to Ryuhei Matsuda

Watching Eiga Sai has been an addictive habit and if I could turn back, I would have wanted to have attended the very first edition of Eiga Sai. But I think when it started I was still in college, so it would have been a little difficult to spend almost the whole day to queue just to ensure a seat. Nevertheless, I’m still happy that it’s my third year attending it and I have my former then current work to thank for it because it opened more doors for me to discover my Japanese addiction.

The recent Eiga Sai was also attended by director Yuya Ishii and producer Takuro Nagai of the opening feature “Our Family” (2014) starring Satoshi Tsumabuki, Sosuke Ikematsu, Kyozo Nagatsuka and Mieko Harada about a family in the midst of breaking apart but a sudden news of their mother being diagnosed with cancer brings them back together.

It is based on Kazumasa Hayami’s same-titled novel and Ishii’s follow-up project to the commercial and critical success “The Great Passage” (2013) starring Ryuhei Matsuda. Ishii shared that he made the film because he understands some issues and situations the Wakana family is going through and can be likened to his own family.

This year’s line-up also includes contemporary films “Parasyte,” “Wood Job,” “Thermae Romae II” and “Princess Jellyfish.” And under the savory Japan category are “It’s A Beautiful Life – Irodori,” “A Tale of Samurai Cooking – A True Love Story,” “Patisserie Coin de Rue,” and two documentaries “The God of Ramen” and “Wa-shoku – Beyond Sushi.”

The Road to Ryuhei Matsuda

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It seriously makes me happy everytime I get to see one of my favorite actors at the big screen, even more so when it’s free, which is why I always make an effort to watch their film when it’s included in either the Eiga Sai or Korean Film Festival.

Just like 2013’s Eiga Sai where I first watched Kenichi Matsuyama at the big screen, who of course happens to be one of my favorite actors, this time, I was able to watch an actor who’s also very talented and popular for the first time who just became one of my favorites after seeing him in “Mahoro Ekimae Kyousoukyoko” (Tada’s Do-It-All House: Disconcerto).

The Great Passage opens the door 

Co-starring Aoi Miyazaki, Joe Odagiri

Unlike Kenichi Matsuyama, who I started following since I watched the first Death Note film back in 2006 or 2007, I have only seen or heard about Ryuhei Matsuda on Screen Red some weeks before the Eiga Sai started in Edsa Shangri-La Mall. I happened to chance upon his award-winning film “Fune Wo Amu” (The Great Passage) and Japan’s representative at the 2014 Academy Awards best foreign language film. But I wasn’t able to start the film so I ended up not watching it the first time. I saw it again few days after on TV, but again it already started.

And when the line-up for this year’s Eiga Sai came out, I saw his name in one of the films, and just like I always do I read each and every film’s synopsis and check out their trailers to make a shortlist. Fortunately, I ended up having the film on my shortlist because I like the trailer and the plot. So that’s the story of how Ryuhei Matsuda became one of my most favorite actors, next to Kang Dong-won who’s always been my top bias for the longest time, which means he already has pushed down some of my other favorite actors on the list who I have known longer than him. That’s how strong his effect on me.

Shota Matsuda in Hana Yori Dango 

Shota is the one in blue coat, first from right

But there is something else that totally sent me off the roof. That’s when I found out Shota Matsuda is his little brother. I’ve known Shota since the first Hana Yori Dango in 2005 but I think I saw the drama a year later, as I was motivated to watch the Japanese version of Meteor Garden that I so love. It just so happens that my favorite character is Hua Ze Lei in the Taiwanese version, who is Rui Hanazawa in the Japanese one that was portrayed by Shun Oguri. But in all honesty, I think Shota is the best looking among the four and and he’s perfect for Soujiro Nishikado’s playboy demeanor. Well that’s when until recently, I came to know about his beloved onii-chan.

I did kinda notice the similar surname but I didn’t pay much attention, and initially thought they just have the same surname but no relation. Finding out the real connection between them was a huge surprise, not that they don’t resemble each other, they do when you look closely, but more on the idea that they’re both very handsome and the fact that they’re even brothers – they share the same parents, same blood, growing up together makes it something close to a miracle. It’s not everyday, even in celebrity siblings that you get two brothers or two sisters who are both equally handsome and very talented. It was like my mind wasn’t very ready to take the awesome fact, totally blew my mind.

But then things took a different turn and I came to adore Ryuhei more than Shota. The very first thing I noticed about him is his tender cat eyes, they just look so mysterious and somewhat sad. His eyes speak volumes of things and stories in the most mysterious ways. And I love it when he smiles because I get to see his dimples and his silly laugh in the Mahoro series all got me. I find his features different from Shota despite having a resemblance to each other, because Shota is more of the conventional kind of a good looking guy and Ryuhei is not, which is why my vote goes to Ryuhei.

Mahoro Films and Series 

Mahoro Ekimae Tada Benriken, the first film

I started with Ryuhei at the recent Eiga Sai through the second film titled Tada’s Do-It-All House: Disconcerto and third installment of the Mahoro series, one of the most popular and most successful series of film and TV adaptations from the the Naoki Prize-winning series of novels by Shion Miura.

Mahoro Ekimae Bangaichi – the series

In this second film, Gyoten (Ryuhei) has been staying with Tada (Eita) in running his benri-ya (handyman business) in Mahoro, a fictional laidback place in Japan for two or three years since the events from the first film (2011) and the series (2013). They accept almost all kinds of odd jobs, from cleaning, organizing, walking pets, driving and more. And most of the time, the two get involved with their clients more than they should. Tada and Gyoten are both divorcees, with past stories they want to forget and run away from.

Mahoro Ekimae Kyousoukyoko – the second film

This time, the two buddies are tasked by the local gang leader Hoshi (Kengo Kora) to investigate a mysterious cult group that produces and sells organic vegetables. Things get more messy when Nagiko, Gyoten’s former wife with whom he has a young daughter named Haruka is placed in the care of Tada while she’s away overseas. Tada is scared of what Gyoten might do, especially since he knows Gyoten doesn’t like kids and even more so when he finds out the little girl is his daughter.

Scenes from the series

What I love about the duo of Ryuhei and Eita is that they really complement each other, this one of a kind chemistry I haven’t seen in male actors before. And because of their amazing combination, I feel as an audience that Tada and Gyoten would be at lost without the other.

At the time Gyoten met Tada again in years at the bus station from the first film, it was the right moment for the both of them. Tada, then still couldn’t moved on from the passing of his son that led to his divorce, while Gyoten was on his way to kill his parents because they keep asking Nagiko to see Haruka. I know these all now because I’ve already finished the first film and the series after seeing the second film of course.

It’s also a unique story of two former classmates who find themselves face to face with each other again and becoming best buddies in the process, helping each other out when one needs the other. I have never seen such a story in any of the dramas I’ve seen before.

It’s also very unpredictable and highly enjoyable, I could never guess what adventure would the two be involved with in the next episode. Well-acted, mainly from Ryuhei and Eita who carry the direction of the film and series, picturesque cinematography and fun-loaded, naturally funny story and episodes.

And because of everything, Gyoten Haruhiko has become one of my most favorite fictional characters ever.

I’m also very delighted to know that The Great Passage, in which he won a number of best actor awards will be out in English edition next fall by Amazon Crossing as I was told by a caring staff from Kobunsha, its original publisher when I asked a sample English translation of the novel.

‘The Taiko Effect: Drums of Change’ – An Immersion to Japanese Traditional Arts

Photo from Taiko Concert Facebook page

Traditional Music Instruments 

In my previous post titled “Balik Tugtog,” I attended a music event organized by students of Arts Management from De La Salle St. Benilde and I got to experience hearing well-known OPM music with a different touch due to the addition of traditional instruments such as kulintang, nose flute, among others. This time around, I got to attend a Japanese traditional arts performance featuring the Taiko drums, a traditional Japanese drums called “The Taiko Effect: Drums of Change.”

MT. Fuji Taiko Symphony Orchestra and Arahan

MT. Fuji Taiko Symphony Orchestra and Arahan

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According to my research, the Taiko drums have long been part of the Japanese way of life since the old times. The unique and loud sound of the Taiko drums is believed to have some kind of power and connection to different gods and goddesses, and is mostly used in religious ceremonies back in the days. It was also used to signal the start and end of important activities in communities in Japan, as well as to signal the coming of a storm or a good weather. At present, it remains an important aspect in Japanese folk performances, classical music performances, theatrical musicals and stage plays.

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I consider being able to see and experience things like this as the best part of this work. Ever since I started with this work two years ago, it really opened me to more opportunities of attending cultural events, which are most of the time free, specifically the ones organized by the Japanese Foundation – Manila. It’s also the reason why I started veering more into anything that’s Japanese, although my love for anything Japanese has been there even before I started working for the publication but I’d have to say this ignited the love more.

Benefit Concert for Philippine Cultural Sites 

Anyway, the concert is a benefit concert for the restoration of cultural sites in Bohol that were damaged by calamities. It was held this April 11 – 12, (Sat. & Sun.) at the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo (CCP Main Theater) of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. It featured main performances from Taiko groups – Mt. Fuji Taiko Symphony Orchestra and Arahan, Hasegawa Karate, as well as opening performances from Japanese OPM artist Aisaku Yokogawa, Koto artist Yu Miyoshi and flautist Mariko Saito.

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Japanese-OPM artist Aisaku Yokogawa

Aisaku Yokogawa opened the show with his perfect Filipino speaking skills and wonderful vocals with his rendition of some popular OPM songs with Japanese influences such as, Ted Ito’s “Ikaw Pa Rin” and “Ikaw.” He also acted as the emcee and I like how he naturally blends with the audience in a cleaver and humorous way.  I wanted to take a picture with him after the show, but I just couldn’t as I was alone and it’s really hard to be taking a selfie as I’m no expert. My favorite performance of him had to be Ikaw with a dreamy accompaniment of the traditional stringed instrument “Koto” from Yu Miyoshi.

Aisaku and Koto artist Yu Miyoshi

Aisaku and Koto artist Yu Miyoshi

The stringed instrument Koto is a traditional instrument that is made of wood with 13 strings. China, Mongolia, Vietnam and Korea have a similar kind of stringed instrument as well.

Another of my favorite part too is the combination of the Koto and flute from Yu Miyoshi and Mariko Saito, who are known as Tinsel Tone in their performances of “Haru no Umi” (The Sea in Spring) and “Matsuri no Taiko” (Taiko Festival). The sound from the two instruments gives off that enchanting feel, as if it’s bringing you to a fantasy like place dimension.

Yu Miyoshi with flautist Mariko Saito

Yu Miyoshi with flautist Mariko Saito

If the opening performances were deeply enchanting and dreamy, the moment Mt. Fuji Taiko Symphony Orchestra and Arahan started beating the Taiko drums, the atmosphere immediately got pumped up as if the big, bold and loud harmony of drums are pulling you from a slump.

Hasegawa Karate's demonstration to the music of the Taiko drums

Hasegawa Karate’s demonstration to the music of the Taiko drums

From the choreography, posture and the harmonious flow and rhythm of their hands beating the drums with the delightful accompaniment of the flute and infused with karate demonstrations from Hasegawa Karate in their performances of “Yama Hensou Jokyoku” (Mountain Variation Overture), “Karako” (A boy dressed in ancient Chinese clothing), “Shindo” (Imperial Wrath), “San-ban” (Third), “Yama” (Mountain), “Oni” (Demon), and “Beat of Drum Motion,” they create a music that’s unique and can only be heard from the Taiko as it sparks the life and emotions in you.

The Performer Backgrounds 

Mt. Fuji Taiko Symphony Orchestra was formerly known as Yamanashi Japanese Drum Symphony Orchestra. The group hails from Yamanashi prefecture where Mt. Fuji is located. The orchestra aims to impart to the world the unique and distinct beauty of traditional Japanese arts.

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Arahan is also another Taiko group from Yamanashi prefecture and is a frequent collaborator of Mt. Fuji Taiko Symphony Orchestra. Arahan is also part of Yamanashi Artistic and Cultural Association. The late well-known composer Sen Amano led the orchestra before his passing.

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Hasegawa Karate also performed their karate demostration and gave a different but harmonious combination with the music of the Taiko orchestra groups. It was built by a couple who are both Karate masters, six-time World Karate Champion Shinichi Hasegawa and two-time World Champion Yumi Hasegawa.

They teach their students karate, a form of martial arts as a method to educate the youth and strengthen their physical and mental health. At present, there are already five karate schools established by the couple in Yamanashi prefecture. Their teachings have already reached the Philippines where they have 1,000 students of Shitoryu Karate.

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Koto artist Yu Miyoshi was a former chairman of Kyoto Traditional Music Association and studied under the tutelage of Mikka Danno. Flautist Mariko Saito on the other hand started playing the flute when she was 12. She’s been a part of Isahaya Symphony Orchestra, Nagasaki University Orchestra and “Wind Ensemble.”

The concert is part of the continuing friendship and cooperation between Japan and the Philippines through cultural exchange programs. It was headed by Hiromi Ishioka, chairman of ASEAN Exchange Committee and chief executive officer of Akafuji Daiko, and supported by Japan Foundation – Manila and Embassy of the Philippines – Tokyo.

After the show 

After the show members of the audience were able to take photos with Mt. Fuji Taiko Symphony Orchestra, Arahan and Hasegawa Karate, as well as autograph signing of the Taiko Effect: Drums of Change poster.

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Aisaku with an audience member

Aisaku with an audience member

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My ticket, camera pass and program info

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My autograph poster