‘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

Balik Tugtog: Infusing Contemporary with Ethnicity

I can’t call myself a big supporter of the local music or OPM as it is known by many. I wasn’t even buying albums in record bars to support artists that I like. It was only when the whole Korean Wave craziness started for me that I began buying albums, and Korean artists’ albums are way more expensive and to think that I even had to buy them online. However, for me I’m only buying albums of one artist, they’re a group who have been together for 17 years and going strong. For the rest of good Korean music, I go for downloads and the same with Taiwanese, some Chinese and Japanese music. But I have since slowed down on buying for about two years now.

But this is not to say I haven’t even listened to any OPM songs. I do have some OPM songs that I really like. The thing is though, I’m very selective when it comes to music, not just OPM but all kinds of music I listen to. For one, I consider myself a fan of the alternative rock group Hale who made a comeback this year with their amazing single “See You” and a mesmerizing new album, which is available for streaming on Spotify, and digital downloads on iTunes and Deezer.

Listen to the album here:

I still remember the first time I heard them over the radio and I actually thought they were a foreign group. It was “Broken Sonnet” and that’s how I fell in love with their music. I specifically admire their talent in writing great songs and that they have their own sound that can only be heard from them. For me, that’s original despite the influences.

Then there’s Kitchie Nadal, I like most of her songs but particularly “Wag Na Wag Mong Sasabihin.” There’s also Up Dharma Down’s “Oo,” Christian Bautista’s songs, Top Suzara’s “Sabihin Mo Na,” Janno Gibbs “Fallin,” some Moonstar 88 songs, MYMP, some songs of James Reid and Nadine Lustre and Silent Sanctuary to name a few.

And some of the songs and artists’ songs I mentioned were featured in Balik Tugtog – A Night of Indigenous & Contemporary Music, which is a program presented by the Arts Management students of College of Saint Benilde held at Black Box, School of Design and Arts last March 20.

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Spaceman (Mark Enriquez (vocals/guitar) and Alex Price) front acts for Balik Tugtog - A Night of Indigenous + Contemporary Music

Spaceman (Mark Enriquez (vocals/guitar) and Alex Price) front acts for Balik Tugtog – A Night of Indigenous + Contemporary Music

Experimenting Original: Traditional & Contemporary 

Balik Tugtog aims to promote both OPM and ethnic music. Daluyong, the main act of the event is a band composed of Grace Buenaventura (vocals) from UP Musicology, the rest are students from UP College of Music: Nikko Saliva (guitar), Carl Tolosa (bass), Nicky Juanite (Philippine instruments) and from Benilde’s Music Production Program: Stephen Arevalo (drums) and Theo Blanch (keys). The opening act is Spaceman (Mark Enriquez (vocals/guitar) and Alex Price), also from the Music Production Program.

Daluyong, the main act of the event is composed of students from UP College of Music/ UP Musicology and Music Production Program of Benilde

Daluyong, the main act of the event is composed of students from UP College of Music/ UP Musicology and Music Production Program of Benilde

I was instantly interested with the event because it’s about the combination of contemporary and indigenous music in the country. I wanted to see and listen how Daluyong, the main act will perform some of the best known songs in the country from the 90s – 2000s by infusing some of the Philippines’ ethnic instruments.

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I think this is one thing that’s lacking in the local music industry. Artists have been very busy trying to go along the trend of what’s in and what’s not in Hollywood and now even  in Korea. But I haven’t seen anyone trying to incorporate ethnic music and instruments in their genre. I’ve seen this kind of style in big artists like Taiwan’s Jay Chou and Leehom Wang. Leehom Wang in particular is very known for popularizing his genre he called “Chinked-out” – an incorporation of unheard tribal sounds of aboriginal Chinese music, Tibetan music, Mongolian music, as well as Beijing opera and Kunqu opera.

Considering the name OPM – Original Pilipino Music, the word original seems to have a broad meaning. According to Carl Tolosa (bass) of Daluyong, the idea of Pinoy music in the 90s are Siakol and Eraserheads that are inclined in the rock genre. “It’s not original anymore because there’s already the influence of The Beatles, an internationally known band.” Theo Blanch (keys) also added, “Considering the phenomenon, globalization, we are quick to copy from others.”

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The statement of course is true as everyone must know that before OPM got its start, there are already a lot of foreign artists doing the rounds. A lot of foreign music influenced OPM then and now. It’s not hard to recognize how foreign music are dominating the preference of most people nowadays, which is also why Daluyong believes it is important to remain rooted to our traditional music.

So how would artists create original music despite the influences? And that is the very essence of Balik Tugtog and Daluyong – the challenge of spicing up contemporary music with traditional.

Connecting Traditional Music to Today’s Music 

And as their name “Daluyong,” which means storm, surge or flow of stream suggests, the members aim to connect traditional music to today’s Filipino music, as well as encouraging everyone to be open minded and get to know more the history and culture of our traditional music heritage.

Ethnic instruments featured at the event were the gong ensemble, kulintang from Maguindanao, tongali – a nose flute from the Kalinga provinces, gandingan – set of hanging gongs from Bukidnon, dabakan – single headed drum, and kubing – jaw harp from Mindanao.

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According to Nicky, an Asian Music major from UP, traditional Philippine music is composed of instruments from South Philippines, Central and North Philippines. Most of the instruments from the south are gongs and from the north are bamboo instruments.

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Among the performances, I specially like the version of Up Dharma Down’s “Oo,” partly because I already like the song a lot. When I heard it live with the integration of traditional instruments, it gives off that different vibe as if it’s a new song.  The whole event was all at the same time a beautiful throwback, nostalgic and yet refreshing.

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It was so beautiful to the ears how they were able to strike a great balance in maintaining the recognizable touch of the songs but also giving it a fresh new take with incorporating ethnic flavors.

Attending Balik Tugtog with my workshop buddy and college friend Anna was a delightful experience. It was the first time I ever experienced listening to music performances with traditional instruments. It was an enjoyable jamming session with Daluyong and Spaceman as they performed hits from the 90s-2000s such as, “Awit ng Kabataan (Rivermaya),” “Akap (Imago),” “Rain Song (Imago),” “Tuloy Pa Rin (Neocolors),” “Oo (Up Dharma Down),” “Migraine (Moonstar 88),” “Ang Huling El Bimbo (Eraserheads),” “Mata (Mojofly),” “Harana (Parokya ni Edgar),” “Masaya (Bamboo),” “With A Smile (Eraserheads),” and “Jeepney (Kala).”

Someone at Studio Ghibli call this student film-maker and give him a job! 【Video】

I hope Studio Ghibli pick this up and develop it into a full length feature film. It’s just worthy of it.

I’m already interested just from the plot alone, of a young man living on a treetop village and meeting strangers.

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Lush greenery, magical flying machines and huge, squelching monsters, overlaid with a soaring orchestral soundtrack. This animated short makes no pretence about its strongest influence – it’s a beautiful homage to the works of Hayao Miyazaki.

The film even features a mysterious-looking gentleman who looks suspiciously like Miyazaki himself. But this short, which has been gaining attention online in Japan and abroad, was not made by a team of professional animators, but a young film student in Paris.

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Year of the Sheep: Bright Lights, Bright Beginnings

It was indeed bright lights and bright beginnings for everyone, including Filipinos who may or may not have Chinese blood or lineage. I was at the Lucky Chinatown Mall recently to join in the fun of welcoming the Year of the Sheep in my usual solo demeanor.

Chinese lanterns light up the night at Lucky Chinatown Walk. I love these, they're one of my most favorite things. It just simply makes me smile whenever I see them.

Chinese lanterns light up the night at Lucky Chinatown Walk. I love these, they’re one of my most favorite things. It just simply makes me smile whenever I see them.

I’ve always liked this place ever since I found out that there’s this new mall in Divisoria. It has this different vibe when I see the facade of the mall buildings – the colors and structure, something that makes me feel like I’m in Macau.

Every year, feng shui experts give out predictions for the year, including some information about the fate of the different 12 animal signs. It doesn’t really matter whether they will come true or not, rather like what they always say, treat it as a guide. So it doesn’t really harm that many Filipinos like to follow the practices or traditions that are believed to be lucky for the year.

Despite having Chinese lineage, I wasn’t brought up in a family following the usual Chinese traditions like the Chinese New Year but I’ve always recognized the Chinese part of myself, which is probably why I love HongKong. I wanted to get in touch with my Chinese ancestry, so joining in the celebration is one great way to do so even on my own.

And just like how the Catholics pray to God for their wishes, the Chinese have the Buddha to pray to and guide them in their everyday life, accompanied by a range of lucky charms and practices that are believed to ward evil and negative vibes and bring luck and prosperity.

One of the most popular attractions was the Prosperity Tree, which was the first thing that welcomes you when you approach the mall entrance. The Lucky Chinatown Walk became a sensation last February 18, where mall goers and visitors can take photos and take part in the (8) Lucky Rituals.

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It is strongly believed that anyone aspiring luck and prosperity should make a wish by tossing a coin at the Prosperity Pond beneath the Prosperity Tree. As seen in the second photo, the pond comes with a stronger fortune vibe because of the presence of the Dragon Tortoise statue. In Chinese tradition, the dragon tortoise combines two of the four celestial animals in the Feng Shui practice, combining the qualities of both the dragon for perseverance and valiancy and tortoise for its stability and steadfastness. In simpler terms, this mythical figure is the epitome example of wisdom and ambition and believed to bring good fortune in business and career.

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That is me taken this Saturday, Feb. 28 trying out the toss coin wish. My friend Anna took the picture.

Most people are familiar with the Maneki Neko Cat, which is often seen in entrances of Chinese shops. They say, the cat’s moving paw is seemingly inviting visitors to the store therefore bringing and attracting wealth, fortune and opportunities. The belief is that you rub the cat so its good luck charm can rub off on you as well.

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The catch for this one though is that it’s the big version, so the paw is not actually moving

Gongs are frequently seen in Chinese temples. It has always been associated to meditation with its sound that aids in the relaxation of the mind and soul, therefore giving serenity. It’s also believed that if you whip the Good Luck Gong, you are banishing evil spirits and negativity not just in yourself but in your surroundings.

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Kids posing with the Good Luck Gong

And there’s also the wishing crane. I’m not so familiar with this one though, which is why I wanted to try it so bad. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to fold a crane and just ended up getting already-folded cranes from the booth.

Cranes symbolize long life and luck. Japanese legends also tell that folding a thousand origami cranes is to make someone’s wish come true.

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The yellow one at the bottom photo is my very own crane. So I’m hoping, my wishes would come true.

Fu (Happiness), Lu (Prosperity) and Shou (Longevity) are called the Three Stars. They are are the gods of happiness, prosperity and longevity, which are the three essential attributes of a having good life. It is often found in ancestral shrines and Chinese homes. It can be likened to an altar in Filipino homes, where families say a prayer.

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The Three Stars

According to Buddhists, an incense signifies morality and immaculacy. In Chinese culture, lighting the first incense of the year grants a person’s New Year wish.

I remember everytime it’s All Soul’s Day, I light a number of incense and place them in a sand jar in front of the graves of my paternal grandparents and my father’s.

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The Buddha Shrine

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I forgot what this is called, but it’s also one of the popular lucky charms with coins in it often seen in Chinese shops.

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I was able to take photos in front of the Prosperity Tree and the Chinese ricksaw because it isn’t crowded anymore, as these were taken on Saturday, Feb. 28, and with the help of Anna.

There were also performances at the Lucky Chinatown Atrium, with singing acts including Kiss Jane, Silent Sanctuary, Hotdog, Cathy Go, James Reid & Nadine Lustre and Anne Curtis and hosted by Candy Pangilinan.

At 11:55pm, visitors were treated to a lion and dragon dance performance at the Lucky Chinatown Walk, an acrobat performance, forecast of the Year of the Sheep by Johnson Chua and the lighting of the first incense ritual.

Hua Mulan: A Children’s Musical from Kids Act Phils. were also performed on Sunday, Feb. 22. The children’s favorite story of Hua Mulan centers on family, sacrifice and courage.

The night ended with a grand fireworks display.

Other activities included in the succeeding days were Shin Lian Chinese orchestra performance, Chinese Opera, Feng Shui talk with Hanz Chua, Shaun – The Sheep Meet & Greet, Chinese school performance, Philippine Ling Namn High Pole Dance; and performances from Sitti Navarro, Sabrina, Myk Perez, Brad Go, Sheila Valderama, Richard Poon and Jose Mari Chan.

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The band Hotdog performing disco classics

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Silent Sanctuary playing their hits

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Kiss Jane performs “Lagi Na Lang”

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James Reid and Nadine Lustre bring in the “kilig” for the Chinese New Year celebration

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Anne Curtis performing in red

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Food for the day wasn’t Chinese though, but still with Chinese influences. Since the Chinese New Year countdown fell on the same day as Ash Wednesday, which means eating meat is prohibited. I ordered Shrimp & Tofu from ThaiCoon, which I hope would have more branches in SM Malls as I always have to go to Lucky Chinatown for Thai food.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DANCE DANCE ASIA: Crossing the Movements

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I remember when I used to dance back in high school, it was one of those things I really love to do then. I haven’t been dancing since high school but I would still like to do it, but it’ll take awhile to get used to again. I don’t really consider myself to be that of a really good dancer, I have a friend who was also a member of the school’s dance troupe who’s a better dancer. She’s one of those popular ones when one mentions the subject of the dance troupe.

In the same manner to dancing, I like to attend events; I mean free events like this one from the Japan Foundation Manila. It’s the first-ever cultural exchange project by street dancers in Asia spearheaded by JFM’s new special unit Asia Center and Dance Dance Asia.

I found myself really active for the past two years or so attending events by the Japan Foundation, since I got into my previous job as an associate editor/writer for a community newspaper for Filipino communities in Japan. I specifically like it when it’s July, as it’s the month when they hold the Japan-Philippines Friendship month; so they hold more events during this month such as the Eiga Sai and the toy exhibit.

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I initially wanted to attend this event with two of my college friends, unfortunately one of them couldn’t decide. Eventually, I invited JC, who’s two of my friends’ younger sibling and happens to share the same educational degree as mine. I guess that’s one thing that makes us blend well.

It was my first time ever seeing a full dance show and so was he, so it makes the experience a lot more momentous for both of us. I’ve been to K-pop concerts with singing and dancing performed at the same time, so I’m quite exposed to how K-pop concerts go. I have yet to attend concerts of vocal artists like 4Men, Brown Eyed Soul, Urban Zakapa or LYn. It would be really such an experience to see them live. And like I said this was the first dance show ever for me, so I was really excited. I have to praise myself for deciding to go.

Part of the thrill for this was I didn’t know any of the performers, apart from they were Japanese dancers. That feeling that I didn’t know what to expect added to the total experience I had. It featured three amazing dancing groups of different genres:  TAPDANCERIZE,TOKYO GEGEGAY and s**t kingz.

The members of TAPDANCERIZE

The members of TAPDANCERIZE during the closing greetings: Satomi Toma, Jun’ichi Sunayama (bass), Gunjo, Takeru Yamazaki (piano), Shinsuke Sada and Yuji Uragami.

The first group performer was TAPDANCERIZE, composed of three dancers: Yuji Uragami (Leader) | Gunjo | Satomi Toma and musicians: Shinsuke Sada (Gt) | Takeru Yamazaki (Key) | Yozo (Sax) | Jun’ichi Sunayama (Bass). The group is a dance percussion group with stimulating steps.

I was totally impressed with them being the opening act. It was another first to see a real tap dance performance live, so I just couldn’t help but be amazed with their combination of tap plus jazz dance, break dance, soul dance and ballet; and accompanied by live music of sax, bass, guitar and piano. I really admire the smooth harmony with their performances, specially with different dance genres combined. Aside from the tap sounds from their shoes, I’m simply blown away how it blends so naturally with the live music. The tap sounds aren’t just simple sounds, they come with a melody and different movements create different sounds.

And just the fact that they explored rhythm-tap dance style that’s originally from black folk culture is already a feat. Tap dancing is the finer kind from the three performers, as it’s more intricate – something like ballet that focuses heavily on the strength, agility and movement of the legs than the upper body. I consider it an unconventional choice of dance genre for professional dancers.

And according to my research, two major variations of tap dancing are Broadway tap that is widely performed in musical theater and focuses on dance, and rhythm (jazz) tap that focuses on musicality and considered as part of the Jazz tradition. In dance, musicality is the matching of movement and form to the rhythm, melody, and mood of the music being played. Like I said, it’s the finer kind, the one that belongs to an elegant category as it’s predominantly used in musical theater. For TAPDANCERIZE, they performed both variations in defining ways and had the audience experience both a musical theater and a jazz performance.

JC and me with Yuji Uragami and with Gunjo (top right)

JC and me with Yuji Uragami and with Gunjo (top right)

My favorite performer’s got to be Gunjo, who I was able to take a photo with after the show. He’s got this natural humoristic persona on stage while performing, although it wasn’t just him but also Yuji; whereas the only girl from the group was the most expressive one. And they’re really interactive with the audience as well. In regular concerts, artists usually interact with the audience when they take breaks from the performances; but with them they have incorporated that unique and humorous style of interacting with the audience while dancing. I think that takes an uncommon talent.

The group’s website is http://uragamiyuji.com/. They perform in live music clubs, on film, TV commercials, and are active in many other scenes.

The members of TOKYO GEGEGAY

TOKYO GEGEGAY members: Yuyu, Bow, Marie, Miku and MIKEY (in no chronological order)

TOKYO GEGEGAY is lead by MIKEY, who has worked as both a choreographer and back-up dancer for Miliyah Kato, BoA, Crystal Kay and MISIA to name a few. According to their profile, the group was formed to participate at the 5th season of Dance@Hero, a dance contest in Japan in which they took the title.

The group’s set of performances is something I’d consider the closest to the predominant dance style in K-pop, but they’re definitely more creative. Well, that doesn’t come as a surprise when one of them has actually worked as a choreographer for someone like BoA. Their performances were like watching a real and live music video, without the fluff of CG effects and other embellishments. It’s of that quality, although without the singing of course. Their choreography and the execution is something I’ve never seen in K-pop, which is really becoming generic by the days with idol groups coming out with dancing songs one after the other, that I couldn’t distinguish who’s who anymore.

Photos during the closing greetings

Photos during the closing greetings

Their set-up was at a classroom with MIKEY as the teacher and the other four as students while they learn English, science, math, arts and home economics. Each performance’ theme is based on each subject, except for the last one. I particularly like best the science dance. The science performance was like watching straight out of a film, with two of them wearing gas masks and lab clothes – the one scientists wear to protect themselves and then breaking into a dance sequence. It evoked this freak out feeling with the smoke as if they’re going into a place like the Fukushima Nuclear Plant.

Another would be the arts dance. They came out clad in silky long black skirts that are attached to all five of them. It looked like a long elegant table clothed wrapped to their waists. Some of them were standing on chairs, arranged in an elevated way to form a triangle. And then there’s the four members’ heads covered with black handbags. It was kinda creepy, in a good way creepy but creative and cool. The performance had this goth appeal to it.

But among their performance, I have to say I love it best when they danced to Utada Hikaru’s Goodbye Happiness. I totally flipped when I heard it, but it looked like I was the only person who actually know the song from the audience. And there’s always a favorite member for me, it’s the second girl from the right. She’s so bubbly, cute and perky.

The group’s website: http://tokyogegegay.com/

The members of s**t kingz: Shoji, Kazuki, NOPPO and Oguri (in no chronological order)

The members of s**t kingz: Noppo,Oguri, Shoji and Kazuki (in no chronological order)

s**t kingz was formed on October 2007 and was the winner of the dance contest Body Rock in California for two years in a row. They’ve worked as both choreographers and back-up dancers for artists such as Daichi Miura, Mariah Carey, SHINee and EXO among others. They also hold dance workshop tour.

Just like TAPDANCERIZE, I consider s**t kingz’ style more of the street dance kind than that of TOKYO GEGEGAY. They danced with chairs for their first performance, wearing simple white long sleeve shirts and chino pants. And right that moment, I was mesmerized. I always love a choreography that involves the use of chairs, I guess ever since Shinhwa’s chair dance with Wild Eyes. I have to say the song really got me too, unfortunately I don’t know the title of the song. ( I’m hoping JC could get the set list from JFM or we’ll just try to ask the group directly).

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What I like about them best is that watching them perform feels like watching a stage musical. They don’t need flamboyant props or costumes, but they get through you with their flawless interpretation of the songs through their movements. They’re telling you their version of the songs’ story and it just adds to the total atmosphere of the performances, as well as my reaction to the message of the song. It’s just like when a singer has to interpret a song in her own way, but I think dancing gives a different kind of feeling to the audience and how it affects your impression of a song; especially because you’re watching it and not listening to it. In this case, dancing is more expressive than singing.

For the group performances, I specifically love when they danced to Bruno Mars’ Locked Out of Heaven. Watching it made me feel like wanting to learn the choreography myself. It makes you really want to move and dance along. I particularly like the moves that perfectly capture the climactic part of the song. There were some funny moments too, as when the chorus hits, they had this funny expressions while they’re singing along to the song. I couldn’t help but laugh. NOPPO, the tallest one was the funniest from the very start, from their first performance.

Here’s a video of them performing the same set, since video/photo taking during the show weren’t allowed.

My favorite solo performances were from the second guy from the right who danced to Michael Jackson’s Leave Me Alone and the guy first from right, with the mic, who performed to Justin Timberlake’s Strawberry Bubblegum; the guy’s super and he effortlessly brings out the JT charm with his own dance moves.

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Thank you from the wonderful performers

Honorable mention would be Oguri’s performance to Ms. Seductive by Jeff Bernat. I have the group to thank, specifically him for introducing me to this beautiful song. And this is such an expressive song and I was able to see how he’s really feeling the song, like he’s the guy in the song who fell for this girl but couldn’t find a way to do something with the butterflies she gives him. He could be a wonderful actor.

The group’s website is http://shitkingz.jp/

Among the three groups, I like TAPDANCERIZE and s**t kingz best, I did enjoy TOKYO GEGEGAY a lot as well.

We really enjoyed (2) hours of purely breathtaking, awesome, one of a kind, high-class showcase of great dancing talent of the Japanese. It was a great show of sensational dance performances of different genres.

Thank you JFM and Dance Dance Asia!

Check out JFM and Dance Dance Asia to know more about JFM’s programs and Dance Dance Asia tour.

Some videos during the closing greetings. They taught us some dance moves as we danced along to them to the music of Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk.

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DANCE DANCE ASIA: Crossing the Movements is a project of The Japan Foundation Manila – Asia Center to support the exchange and collaboration of Asian regional dance companies/dancers that are based on street dance, including not only hip-hop but a variety of genres such as jazz dance and contemporary dance.

The Manila 2-day event is the introductory performance and the first-ever cultural exchange project by street dancers in Asia. It features three amazing dance groups from Japan: TAPDANCERIZE,TOKYO GEGEGAY and s**t kingz. Held at Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati, Ph.

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So there goes a wonderful night, and ends with a cup of Raspberry Truffle Mocha.

So there goes a wonderful night, and ends with a cup of Raspberry Truffle Mocha.

 

 

 

The Gift of Books, Itachi and Sasuke Goodies

I’m writing this post at 11:15pm, Dec. 31st just before everything starts over again.

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I’m thankful for these great gifts of experience, adventure and knowing great people who are like real friends to me; although they’re fictional people. Most of the time, these people are the kind of people I’d really like to meet and be friends with. They’re the kind who are not so easy to find in the human world, so I’m really grateful for these wonderful stories of life, of love, of friendship, and everything else in between.

The most memorable character for me this year is Tsukuru Tazaki. He’s so close to who I am and I feel so connected with his story, despite not exactly having the same dilemma and ordeal he had to go through.

At present, I’m reading my first non-fiction book and travel related  one but still so Japanese. I’m enjoying it a lot, having to know more about the country I hold so dearly – my favorite country Japan.

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I also thank my Uncle Luvin from the States, who paved the way for me to be able to get Haruki Murakami’s latest release – The Strange Library; as well as this very beautiful (Naruto) Itachi messenger bag and this bad-ass looking Sasuke’s Eternal Mangekyou Sharingan necklace. But of course, before Uncle Luvin; it is God I have to thank for all these.

This year might not have been the best with an unfortunate event, but I’m looking forward to starting over again. I do not want to promise, instead I will keep on trying and learning from mistakes everyday; and hoping my Christmas wish that I always prayed for during the nine-day Misa de Gallo mass will be awarded to me by God this new year.

Happy New Year everyone and God bless!

Updating this post with some photos earlier during the New Year’s Eve dinner or media noche. Well, I don’t usually post photos of myself but it won’t hurt to do once in a while. I had to take the photos myself and I’m not so good with taking selcas; as I’m not with any family member, but it’s still good. And since I’m not photogenic, I had to take a couple of shots to finally capture some decent ones.

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I suddenly noticed earlier that my glasses and my shirt are the same color. That was not intentional.

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The only ones I personally prepared are the macaroni salad and the ham. The apple crumble, chicken and pancit malabon were take-out orders.

The candles, they’re called prosperity candles. I’m not sure if this tradition is done elsewhere too, but the practice is you light all (7) candles: red (health), blue (peace), yellow (intelligence), violet (spiritual growth), pink (love), green (money), and orange (career) at 11:30pm and put them out at 12 midnight. The smallest candle or the one that melted the quickest symbolizes the good fortune that the new year will bring you first, followed by the rest.

It’s really hard though to decipher which one is the smallest since the candles got a little mixed up when they melted. But I think orange is the smallest, then pink, blue, green, red, violet and yellow.

Orange is for career, hurray! I think this one got me a little excited, crossing my fingers and praying it will be. Pink for love, but not so much a priority. Blue for peace, oh yes peace of mind. Green for money, so I could travel more and buy more books; and Naruto manga and some goodies, and save more. Red for health, good health is always a blessings. Violet for spiritual growth, guidance from God. And last but not the least, yellow for intelligence; to learn new things and new experiences for the mind, body and soul intellect.

5 Centimeters Per Second: Of Distance and Time

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“Hey. They say it’s five centimeters per second…the speed of falling cherry blossom petals is five centimeters per second…” – Akari

I was greeted by this very phrase from the first few minutes of the movie. I haven’t seen any real cherry blossoms but it made me wonder if they really do fall at the speed of five centimeters per second. I find it a lovely backdrop and a perfect catalyst to start the story of love of Tohno Takaki and Shinohara Akari, who started as little kids who grew closer during elementary school.

It was recommended to me by a work colleague but I had only gotten around to watch it recently. It was like a new venture for me to take on a Japanese animated film that is non-Ghibli and non-Hayao Miyazaki made; so I didn’t really know what to expect. In one of these past few days, I just had this sudden urge to see it and other Japanese films that were recommended to me.

The movie is divided into three acts: The Chosen Cherry Blossoms, Cosmonaut and 5 Centimeters Per Second. The style is a new take in my opinion in tackling an animated romantic drama. I specifically like how the different stages of Takaki and Akari’s life are depicted in three sections, but definitely with more focus on Takaki’s perspective. The style makes it highly introspective and allows a deep exploration to the characters, especially Takaki. But I must agree at some point that the story runs a little slow. But since I’m the kind of person who likes introspection, so I take the introspective part a positive one.

Act 1: The Chosen Cherry Blossoms

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In act one, this is where I see them as little kids who seem to be a bit out of the ordinary. Sharing similar interests and almost the same personality, they instantly became the subject of tease among their classmates for always being together. Back to the first scene, Takaki and Akari are watching the cherry blossoms fall when she suddenly runs to the  other side of a train crossing. After the train has passed, Akari tells him that she hopes they could watch the cherry blossoms once again. And that is the beginning of real life for them.

The animation from this very scene alone is simply indescribably beautiful for me.

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Akari had to transfer school and that’s when Takaki is left behind. They were kids, they didn’t make their own choices back then and it struck Takaki as he couldn’t do anything for her, knowing that she didn’t want it to happen either. When it was time for Takaki to transfer, they decided to finally see each other. Now 13, it was the first time for Takaki to be travelling so far to a place he’d never been to just to see Akari.

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When they had set the date, March 4; it was supposed to be Spring and Akari was looking forward to seeing Takaki and hoping that the cherry blossoms would fall on that day. However, just as life had started for them when they were kids, it’s nature this time that’s somehow hindering them. It rained then it snowed hard, and when that happens, one should know what to expect. But despite the worry that she might have gone home, there was no going back for Takaki.

It felt so nerve-wracking to see Takaki as he waits for every extended train stop due to the weather, as if every passing hour is killing him. His mind filled with thoughts of losing the chance to ever see Akari again.

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It was like against all odds. I was half expecting that she wouldn’t be there for what seemed like forever waiting for Takaki to appear. This is by far, one of the best moments and one of my favorite scenes. It made me happy that they were able to share this moment with each other, after that separation and their deep longing to see each other again.

“In that moment, I felt like I knew where eternity, our hearts and our souls all lay. I felt as though we had shared all the experiences of my 13 years. And then in the next moment, I was suddenly filled with an insufferable sadness. Akari’s warmth and her soul… How could I take them in, and where could I bring them? I felt that sad because I didn’t have those answers. I clearly knew from that point on, we wouldn’t be together forever. The overwhelming weight of our lives to come and the uncertainty of time hung over us.” – Takaki 

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From the very start, everything was just so scenically beautiful for me. The cherry blossoms, the bullet train, and the snow. But then again, despite how everything seems to be beautiful; life knocks you over back to reality.

Act 2 – Cosmonaut

The dream

The dream

“It must really be a lonelier journey that anyone could imagine. To just press forward through the true pitch darkness. Barely encountering even a single hydrogen atom. Wholeheartedly believing you’ll come closer to discovering the secrets of the universe within the unfathomable abyss of space. I wonder how far we should go. How far can we go?” – Takaki 

The cosmonaut

The cosmonaut

In act two, there was no presence of Akari at all in Takaki’s life, not even those exchange of letters. Instead, Sumida Kanae, a surfer girl who’s in the same class as Takaki is often seen with him after school. Despite how noticeable that Kanae has feelings for Takaki, she even waits for him so they can go home together; Takaki remains oblivious about her feelings.

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There were scenes in the film that Takaki was seen writing messages. I instantly assumed that since it’s the era of the mobile phones, communication between them has become easier. But there’s always a catch to it, he never actually sends them to anyone. He writes on his mobile a brief story about a dream he had with a girl in another planet walking in a field, but he says he can’t make out her face. Of course, that’s how dreams are but as a viewer, I clearly know that it was a dream with Akari. And the fact the even in his subconscious, Akari’s presence is largely everywhere; it tells me that he’s been stuck there. He may have been doing things in life normally but inside him ever since that day, everything had no real weight for him anymore. He stopped having strong emotions, no special memories, no happiness neither sorrow, not even scars.

This stage of Takaki’s life reminds me of Tsukuru from Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. Like him, Tsukuru had been distraught by a rejection he suffered from four of his best friends, to the point that he deliberately started wandering from life. And while Takaki and Tsukuru’s experiences are not in the exact manner, they share one thing: the shadows of the past. For both Takaki and Tsukuru, it’s those mixed memories of the past that’s been bogging them down, affecting their relationships with other people without them even having to say it.

Act 3 – 5 Centimeters Per Second

“Then one day I realized that my heart was withering, and in it there was nothing but pain.” – Takaki

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On a day when cherry blossoms start to fall, Takaki was walking at a train crossing and passes by a girl. He looks back to see if it was Akari just when the train passes by, stopping them to confirm each other’s identity.

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In this final act, it shows how different the lives Takaki and Akari pursued. At first glance, it could be said that Akari had very well moved on and seemed to be content with her life. It is heartbreaking to see how there will always be that one person who had moved on, who seemed to have found that line where life and love get along well. Although still having those memories, she carries it with her as only things that remind her of a blissful past that will no longer affect her present.

Between Takaki and Akari, for me it was more difficult for Takaki. Having to bear and feeling helpless with the growing distance between them that’s setting them apart, and eventually having to go on with his path with those feelings from when they were kids still clinging to him like a shadow.

Despite having promised to write to each other, at some point one of them got tired and stopped writing letters or rather both of them had been weakened in the process; by then the ever growing distance and life’s unpredictability had caught up to break them.

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But then again, had they gathered up their courage to say what they wanted before saying goodbye here; things could have been different. And the letters that were meant to be read with words they wanted to tell each other were forever left in the past.

FotorCreatedThe film is something for people looking for introspective realism in animated films, without the fluff and common romantic drama themes. I highly recognize the creative use of metaphors, with the train that connects people but also sets them apart, the cosmonaut that Takaki indirectly likens to people’s lives and at how life can be so indefinite and unpredictable, and the cherry blossoms that represent the impermanence of people’s relationships; at how humans often come together and slowly drift apart and the sluggishness of life.

But then again, I would have wanted them to have experienced all those memories as adults rather than as kids.