Eiga Sai Ph 2017: 20 Years of Japanese Cinema.

 

Despite failing to get a ticket last Saturday for the last Shang Cineplex screening of opening film, “Her Love Boils Bathwater,” I still have a chance to see it sans the director’s talk and not on the big screen but probably via projector since it will be playing on August 19 at the UP Film Institute for free.

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Atsuko Maeda is one lucky girl — she got to work with both of the Matsuda brothers — Ryuhei and Shota but she co-starred with Shota first in “Initiation Love” (2015). 
Even Akira Emoto, who plays Ryuhei’s dad in this film has co-starred with both brothers, first with Shota in “Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit” (2008). I love Ryuchan’s mom here, Masako Motai. She is simply adorable, she’s a darling. There’s something with her smile and her face that gives me the warm feeling inside. 
Yudai Chiba, as Koji, the younger brother is cute and funny but his hair is terrible. I know him from “Ao Haru Ride” as Toma Kikuchi.

On the other hand, I was successful this past Wednesday at catching my other priority film — “The Mohican Comes Home,” a dramedy about an ailing father and his long-absentee struggling punk musician son and their unusual family. Starring Ryuhei Matsuda, Atsuko Maeda, Yudai Chiba, Akira Emoto, and Masako Motai.

One of the greatest pleasures of my fangirl life is being able to watch a high-bias actor on the big screen. That extreme euphoria of seeing Ryuhei again on the big screen, like he’s larger than life and that I have a maximum of 2 hours to ogle at him. I first saw him on the big screen at the 2015 Eiga Sai in “Tada’s Do-It-All House: Disconcerto.”

The Mohican Comes Home easily becomes one of my favorite Japanese movies now, and of course one of my favorite Ryuhei movies.There’s so much about this film that I can relate to, except the idea of being a punk rocker and the pregnant girlfriend.

Some of the subtle real-life moments of the film that I find really touching and relatable:

  • When Eikichi (Ryuhei Matsuda) takes over the conducting duties from his Dad Osamu (Akira Emoto) for the practice of the local school’s brass band of middle school students, in which Eikichi changes the tune that they usually play by taking the cue from the student drummer — he finds himself enjoying with the school band and ends up laughing altogether resulting to his Dad’s annoyance as he hears them over the phone;
  • When Eikichi asks his Dad to write his last wishes so that he can see if he can do something about them;
  • When Eikichi dresses up as Eikichi Yazawa, his Dad’s idol and Hiroshima’s Elvis because his Dad wrote he wants Yazawa to visit him;
  • When Eikichi simply walks behind his Dad not knowing where his Dad is going until they reach the graveyard;
  • When Eikichi tries his best to find that same pizza his Dad ate on his 60th birthday by ordering all kinds of pizza from (3) pizza chains and asking them to have it delivered to their place in Tobi Island, Hiroshima;
  • And the beach scene — that quiet conversation between Eikichi and his Dad and when he finds himself crying while trying to stop it in the middle of eating ‘onigiri.’

And this is why Eiga Sai is such a blessing because Japanese films are harder to find and if I do find them, there are no available English subs online. Even DVDs with subs are hard to come by.

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Since I’m still sad about missing last year’s Eiga Sai and my favorite “The Great Passage” (due to an overseas personal trip), I hope next year, I’d get to see another Ryuhei film, perhaps “My Uncle” which also premiered in Japan last November and crossing my fingers, “Before We Vanish” that had its international premiere at the Un Certain Regard section of the 2017 Cannes Film Festival and will premiere in Japan this September 9th.

It would also be nice if they’d (The Japan Foundation, Manila) get to include more old films and maybe stage a Studio Ghibli film festival because other countries are bringing back Ghibli films to the big screen like a film festival or at least include some Ghibli films next year.

Among the films, I’ve seen “Departures” before already and saw “In This Corner of the World” at a regular screening last week. I’m still looking to watch Sweet Bean on Sunday, closing day of Eiga Sai at Shang Cineplex and If Cats Disappeared From The World on August 17 – UP Film Institute.

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This year, there are 20 films to celebrate the 20 years of Japanese cinema in the Philippines, and will also make the rounds this August until the 29th at the UP Film Institute, CCP, Cebu, Davao, Baguio, Bacolod, and Iloilo.

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The line-up this year includes (3) 20th anniversary features:

*Departures / Memories of You / Sting of Death

Besides Her Love Boils Bathwater and The Mohican Comes Home, other award-winning and critically-acclaimed contemporary films include:

*In This Corner of the World (In connection Manga Hokusai Manga Exhibit)

*Sweet Bean

*The Long Excuse

*The Magnificent Nine

*Creepy

*Chihayafuru Part I/II

*What A Wonderful Family

*If Cats Disappeared From The World

*Bakuman

*The Anthem of the Heart

*Tsukiji Wonderland

*Asian Three-fold Mirror 2016: Reflections

*Poolsideman

*Sadako vs Kayako

For screening schedules, check Eiga Sai Ph official Facebook. 

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

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.

 

 

 

‘Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends’ Review: The Introspection

“If you don’t know what is lacking in you, you can’t win. And if you are lucky and you do win, you can’t overcome the “hitokiri” who lodges inside of you. All your life you will suffer, you will grieve alone. You will kill again,” says Kenshin’s master Hiko Seijuro during their last training as he teaches Kenshin the Amakakeru Ryu no Hirameki – Hiten Mitsurugi’s ultimate technique.

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I saw the movie  this Thursday, Sept. 25 at Gateway Cinema and while watching, I was already coming up with thoughts about the second sequel and last installment of the RuroKen trilogy.

The Master and the Apprentice 

“The Legend Ends” continues the last sequence in “Kyoto Inferno” when Kenshin was seen by the seaside unconscious, when a mysterious man arrives and takes him away. We then see Kenshin in his sleep dreaming about that time when he met his master and mentor Hiko Seijuro (Fukuyama Masaharu). He was digging graves for the slaves who took care of him as a child and the bandits who almost killed him before Hiko rescued him, took him under his wing to train as a swordsman and giving him a new name “Kenshin,” which means in Japanese 謙 (ken) “modest” and 信 (shin) “truth.”

He wakes up to find out that his master has rescued him once again.

Fans can recall that Kenshin went to see Hiko himself and not like in the film. The film did better on this though, as it shows that fate made them meet each other again in the right time when Kenshin needs guidance. In the anime, Kaoru and Yahiko followed him to Hiko’s place, so this is where Kaoru and Kenshin met each other after he left Tokyo; whereas in Kyoto Inferno, Kaoru and Yahiko saw Kenshin again in a fight with Cho to save the grandson of Arai Shakku – the maker of his Sakabatou.

I’m happy to see Fukuyama Masaharu again (after Eiga Sai’s “Like Father Like Son”) in ruffled long hair, period clothes and as Kenshin’s sarcastic master Hiko Seijuro. One particular scene I would have wanted to be longer was during Kenshin’s training with him to learn the Amakakeru Ryu no Hirameki. When finally Kenshin realizes what is lacking in him, and that answer is the key to gaining and using the ultimate technique in its best form. When Hiko (Fukuyama Masaharu) said,”If you understand what that means, come at me.” And then the scene is over. 

During a conversation between the master and the apprentice, Hiko asked him about the scars. At first I was like, oh he’s finally going to say something about it, but no he did not. He only said that the first scar started him drinking but all he could taste was blood. God, he didn’t even mention who gave that to him, nor the second scar. It was the shortest teaser of all about the origins of the scars. If you’ve seen the first Rurouni Kenshin film and Kyoto Inferno, Tomoe was seen in a flashback from that rainy scene and again here with The Legend Ends. This is why they should explore the Kenshin-Tomoe story.

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His famous words to Kenshin are something I find very valuable to make Kenshin fight not just for others but for himself. “Your own life is worth as much as any other. If you sacrifice yourself for others, they will not be happy. That life is not yours to throw away.” He’s saying that sacrificing one’s self for others may not entirely be a good thing, because those people who are important to Kenshin for instance will always feel guilty about his sacrifice and will not be able to move on peacefully with their lives.

Hiko Seijuro (Fukuyama Masaharu) as Kenshin (Sato Takeru) challenges him during a training.

Aoshi’s Wake-up Call 

My favorite among all the fight scenes is definitely Aoshi vs Kenshin. This one was hands down exceptionally performed by Iseya Yusuke (Aoshi) and Sato Takeru. Specially noteworthy is Aoshi’s double kodachi technique that looks really difficult (from an audience perspective) to handle but because Iseya is such a talented actor, he pulled it off excellently. It always leaves me in awe whenever he displays his double kodachi, as also seen in Kyoto Inferno vs Okina. It’s simply so well choreographed, and how the two actors complement each other with their movements is like watching them dance so gracefully. I couldn’t stop myself from smiling though whenever Iseya is on screen and adoring his beautiful nose, forgive me for my fangirling fit even as I write this review.

After defeating Aoshi (It pains me to see my gorgeous Aoshi hurting and beaten though), Kenshin says, “Whatever the past has inflicted on you and how heavy the burden you’re  carrying, I do not know. But if you ignore what is in plain sight, if you ignore what really matters, you can’t win.”

With this, Kenshin was able to clear Aoshi’s head of his clouded judgment and ideals. Aoshi then wakes up to find himself inside the Aoiya with Misao watching over him. At first he responds to her concern the usual way and that he doesn’t need her pity, even allowing her to take revenge for Elder. Misao answers him, “You will oblige me by staying alive. For Elder. For the rest of the Oniwabanshu.” It’s the  wake-up call moment and quite a dramatic one as well for Aoshi, as he was teary-eyed when he heard Misao say that to him before leaving him alone.

Aoshi (Iseya Yusuke) finally finds Kenshin to get his long-awaited fight for the strongest.

Aoshi (Iseya Yusuke) finally finds Kenshin to get his long-awaited fight for the strongest.

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The Oniwabanshu Leader Aoshi (Iseya Yusuke) attacks Kenshin with his double kodachi.

Overshadowed – The Juppongatana 

The Juppongatana is an important aspect of the Kyoto Arc, but it didn’t happen for the live action sequels. The part where they attacked Kyoto and Aoiya was supposed to be in “Kyoto Inferno,” but there was no sign of any of the Juppongatana members during this part in the movie. They should have been given importance of some sort starting with Kyoto Inferno. It looked like they were just there as decorations. And same goes for The Legend Ends, I can clearly recall how Saito found a match with the Juppongatana’s Usui in the anime in a fight with him that got Saito injured quite badly. In The Legend Ends, Saito just defeated Usui with one strike. Usui isn’t an easy foe to begin with.  At least, the Sano and Anji fight got its share in the film that was quite amusing and funny.

The Juppongatana

The Juppongatana

The blind swordsman Uonuma Usui (Mitsu Murata) who should have gave Saito a beating.

The blind swordsman Uonuma Usui (Mitsu Murata) who should have given Saito a beating.

Saito getting wounded in Usui's first attack

Saito getting wounded in Usui’s first attack

Survival of the Fittest 

And of course, the continuation of Kenshin vs Soujiro in Kyoto Inferno. Unfortunately, I was more impressed with their sequence in Kyoto Inferno than here in The Legend Ends. In the anime, Kenshin striked Soujiro that sent him flying over, but in the film he just broke his sword. Somehow, the fight didn’t feel as important as it should be just like in the anime. On the contrary, I have to give credit for Kamiki Ryonosuke’s performance with Soujiro’s psychotic fit of rage when he loses the fight.

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Soujiro starting to lose his cool

Soujiro in his psychotic fit of rage

Soujiro in his psychotic fit of rage

I was slightly disappointed too with the final battle, although I already know from the trailer that it will be inside the battleship. For me, it was quite a shame that they decided to have it indoor unlike the anime that is something like a rooftop in Shishio’s hideout. In the anime, Kenshin lost consciousness when Shishio tricked him with a gunpowder. This is when Saito takes over but fails to overcome Shishio, then comes Sano and finally Aoshi. It was actually Aoshi alone who managed to put up with Shishio while waiting for Kenshin to regain consciousness and not really be completely overthrown by Shishio. I was impressed with the fire effect of Shishio’s sword though.

Kenshin, Aoshi, Saito and Sano simultaneously attacking Shishio

The final one on one battle of Kenshin and Shishio in the anime.

The final one on one battle of Kenshin and Shishio in the anime.

In the anime, Kenshin was almost dead when he collapsed. When he stood up all of a sudden in the middle of Aoshi vs Shishio; there’s this jaw-dropping moment wherein Kenshin is like pulling energies from his surroundings. The leaves around him started to float and then ripped into pieces with a reverberating sound, as if feeling the immense power coming from Kenshin. As Aoshi says in the anime,”The leaves are resonating with Battousai’s swordsman spirit.”  Of course in the film, they didn’t do that cause it was indoor. And the set on this part of the movie was just too crammed with so many things around them.

Kenshin in the film wasn’t in the same state as Kenshin in the anime during the Shishio fight. Kenshin in the anime was seriously injured, so the words of Hiko to him “the will to live” was his greatest driving force to stand up. This is something that was lacking in the film, as he wasn’t really that injured. Shishio’s gunpowder attack wasn’t there that could have injured Kenshin badly in the film.

Ep. 58 when Kenshin is knocked down and lost consciousness

Ep. 58 when Kenshin is knocked down and lost consciousness

Ep. 59 – Kenshin stands up

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Aoshi assuring Kenshin that not one of them has given up the fight

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Kenshin and his powerful swordsman spirit ripping the leaves violently as if controlling the air

I wouldn’t really call it a final battle between Kenshin and Shishio just like the anime. When Kenshin continues the battle before Shishio started burning; Aoshi, Saito and Sano didn’t get into the fight anymore and just let the two be. In the movie, when Kenshin reappeared, the rest that followed was him with Saito, Aoshi and Sano simultaneously attacking Shishio. Yes, Kenshin and Shishio still had their one on one fight when the three stopped attacking but it was too short. Kenshin did use the ultimate technique as his last strike against Shishio that hit him badly, but still I can’t say that Amakakeru Ryu no Hirameki was able to get its well-deserved limelight in the fight. I watched the movie the second time Sept. 29, and I noticed he used his right leg when he stepped forward, which was supposed to be his left because this is why the technique is dangerous as he could cut himself by doing the technique.

Breathtaking Cinematography 

Kaoru contemplating by the seaside after regaining consciousness

Kaoru contemplating by the seaside after regaining consciousness

Another noteworthy aspect in the film is how it was beautifully shot. A fine and first-rate Japanese film photography. Hiko and Kenshin’s scene in the bamboo forest felt really cooling and relaxing to the eyes, as if you are in one with nature. So is Kaoru’s retrospective moment by the seaside, with her hair down and being swept by the wind while she looks at a far distance.  There’s also Kenshin’s night time brooding scene as he tries to figure out what is lacking in him before he gets granted the Hiten Mitsurugi style’s ultimate technique, and Kenshin traveling by a boat as he journeys to Tokyo.

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And yes, how could I forget that flashback when he was supposed to be executed in public. Hoji recited the names of Kenshin’s victims, including Kiyosato Akira, Kyoto Police Force and then the flashback of him brutally killing Kiyosato who was then engaged to be married to Yukishiro Tomoe. The next scene showed Kenshin holding an umbrella during a dark rainy day, looking somehow saddened as he watches Tomoe breakdown in tears upon seeing Kiyosato. This scene was so grim and heartbreaking, although I couldn’t particularly point the exact feelings of Kenshin while he watches the result of his own doing. I think it was because it’s the first time Kenshin actually witnessed how an assassination by him affects the people they hold dear.

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These particular scenes all point to the reason why I titled this review Introspection, because most of the main characters had to go through this phase to realize something important (for Kenshin and Kaoru) or to clear his clouded judgment and wrong ideals (for Aoshi).

Brilliant Performances and Fine Film Making 

I have also always love the costume and production design, locations and sets ever since the first Kenshin film. I particularly like how I really feel being in the Meiji era through the film and how effective everything in the film collaborates together to create that authentic experience.

I have always admired Japanese, Korean and some Chinese/HongKong films. Most films, though not all, are balanced in commercial factor and art film factor. When they make movies, they don’t really create just a blockbuster film that’s purely for profits, they provide pure, honest and authentic form of entertainment. They’re never the Hollywood type that when you say blockbuster, it’s all about actions, explosions, spectacles, massive CGI, the most typical of all typical and very poor plot, and simply purely intended to make money at the box office and nothing else more.

The Rurouni Kenshin trilogy effectively achieves its authentic and epic scale from good art of film making and compelling performances from its cast.

Shinomori Aoshi (Iseya Yusuke) in Kyoto Inferno in a scene with Tanaka Min

Shinomori Aoshi (Iseya Yusuke) in Kyoto Inferno in a scene with Tanaka Min

Another highly commendable aspect of the film is its cast. It is one of the greatest casting ever for me. From the mannerisms, expressions, behavior, angst, the aura, style, personality; everyone in the cast was perfect for their respective roles. I have more good words for Fujiwara Tatsuya this time as Shishio than when he played the role of Light in Death Note, although I did have apprehensions about his casting when I heard about it. He was simply overshadowed by Matsuyama Kenichi as L in Death Note.

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One of my favorite characters Shinomori Aoshi is of course efficiently performed by the multi-hyphenate actor Iseya Yusuke in both sequels. An actor of his stature, it’s not so surprising that he’s excellent as he always is in his movies. He said about his training for Aoshi, “When I got the part, the first thing I had to do was to retrain myself. The two-sword technique is very difficult, and I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, which was very frustrating, but I was reminded that frustration can be a very stimulating experience.” His role as Aoshi is another huge feat for Iseya-san, something that can be likened to his difficult role as Rikiishi Toru in Ashita no Joe.

Aoshi as he continues to find Kenshin to settle the score

Aoshi as he continues to find Kenshin to settle the score

Exploring More of the Series 

For a last installment, it’s still not enough. I hope they’d consider exploring more areas of the manga/anime series that are worthy to be adapted into live action films. But among anything else, most important is the OVA Trust and Betrayal that chronicles Kenshin in his battousai days during the Bakumatsu era, when he encounters and kills Kiyosato who gave him his first scar and meeting Yukishiro Tomoe who made the second scar. It’s a highly important part of Kenshin’s development and backstory, and influential from his battousai days to his wandering days.

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To cap of this very long review, I really love this particular part in the film but I won’t elaborate anymore what transpired here. Go watch the movie now!