Monday, 8 January 2007

SPECIAL: Bowie at 60

It was David Bowie's 60th birthday today, so I couldn't pass up the opportunity to celebrate my idol in some shape or form. It's a shame I wasn't in Tokyo to attend David Bowie Night, but I've been listening to tracks of his all day, and I've picked out my 15 favourites - why 15? Well, I couldn't whittle it down to 10 and 20 is too long (though it could have been easily filled). Or something. Several of the words in the following appraisal may be made-up.
  • Life on Mars? - the immortal question of stirring epictudicity. "It's on America's tortured brow/That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow"
  • Slow Burn - in my mind, Heathen's just as good as Low, but this is the stand-out track, and the best of his work this decade
  • Space Oddity - Major Tom gets lost in space, but still the BBC used it for coverage of the moon landings, and the legend was born
  • Oh! You Pretty Things - great piano opening and wake-up call before catchy jaunty Hunky Dory rock-pop. "Make way for the Homo Superior!", declares the Sovereign in The Venture Bros.
  • Queen Bitch - Bowie's tribute to Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground is glamrocktacular
  • "Heroes" - forget the crappy cover versions (I'm looking at you, Kasabian), and hark at the triumphant, if ironic, wonderment of it all
  • Under Pressure - a fantabulous collaboration with Queen, and lovingly ripped off by Vanilla Ice - who is no Mr. Cool Ice, I assure you
  • Breaking Glass - it's less than two minutes long, but what a strutting, pumping burst of head-bobbing energy. "Don't the carpet/I drew something awful on it!"
  • Ashes to Ashes - incoming message from Major Tom! And of course, that video...
  • Rock 'n' Roll Suicide - the fall of Ziggy Stardust encapsulated and the end of an icon (sort of)
  • 1984 - Orwellian funkathon and the best exclamation of any year in the history of...years
  • Moonage Daydream - that guitar, "I'm an alligator!" - yes! Freak out space trip or what!
  • Jump They Say - a great video and a great track that sounds remarkably fresh, pushing Bowie to the brink of who knows what
  • Magic Dance - of course, being from Labyrinth, it features muppets on backing vocals. Make of that what you will by its inclusion here...
  • Seven Years in Tibet - I wanted to include something from Outside, but this track from Earthling just pipped it, thanks to its NIN's 'Closer'-esque opening beat, and the super-rock explosions contained within. And hey, why not try the version in Mandarin?
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Thursday, 4 January 2007

PLAY: Godzilla

Performed at Doshisha University's 小劇場 (Little Theatre) by the Taiyaki Theatre Group (as far as I can make out) from December 1st-3rd 2006, I could not turn down the opportunity to see a stage production of Godzilla. I had no idea what it would entail - would it be a version of the original film or an accumulation of all the films in the franchise? Would it be straight theatre, comedy, maybe a musical? When they posted the above image on a giant board outside the university's entrance, I was even more perplexed. So, on a cold, quiet Sunday afternoon, I made my way to the tiny theatre round the back of the Shinmachi campus, took off my shoes, took my seat and prepared myself for my first Japanese play. And while I didn't understand everything that went on, I got enough of the gist to make an informed opinion of it. And what a suprise it was.

It's a simple tale of finding love in the most unsuspecting places and a family's reaction to said romantic entanglement. Essentially it's Romeo and Juliet and Meet the Parents - except this time with everyone's favourite kaiju. So, closer to Beauty and the Beast or King Kong then. That's right - a young girl falls in love with Godzilla and brings him back home to meet her relatives where they both explain how they came to meet and seek permission to wed. Of course, the family are not best pleased. Running on hard times as it is, they are understandably hesitant to give their blessing when Godzilla destroys their neighbour's house. And Godzilla's short temper isn't really boosting their confidence.

Godzilla is dealing with his own criticism from friends Mothra and Pigmon (from Ultraman), and when the issue of Godzilla's own son, Minilla, is brought up, even more complications arise. Can Godzilla ever be with his one true love in a nation of people determined to destroy him once and for all? Well, chances are you're never going to see it, so the answer

I don't know who wrote this or came up with the idea, so I assume this is an original (non-sanctioned by Toho) work. In which case, kudos must go to all involved for putting together such a spirited and clever production. Obviously, creating a giant monster would be a struggle for even the biggest budgeted West End musical, so the team made some simple but effective decisions. Godzilla himself is simply a man in a suit (not MAN IN SUIT!!!! monster costume, but a business suit) on a slightly raised podium, only getting off for the odd rampage (complete with trademark roar). When in conversation with the humans at ground level, their eyes never meet but are in roughly the same direction, which works pretty well in that it allows for immediate interaction between the two parties. Also included is a reporter, complete with hard hat and microphone, who takes the place as narrator, whilst also broadcasting the destruction as much as the developing love story.

As you'd expect in a comedy drama about Godzilla, there are stacks of references, and because of the nature of the tale, the unenlightened would probably find the whole show equally baffling and boring. The appearance of Mothra (complete with cast singing his theme song alonside the tiny twins) is a highlight. Portrayed as a disshevelled and washed-up movie star prone to spraying his goo over anyone he dislikes, he's convinced Godzilla's romance is a bad idea from the get-go, reminding him that he will become even more unpopular than after his last film. And then there's the climatic battle with Ultraman. All delivered with the utmost enthusiasm from the cast and some very pretty lighting.

Of course, there are flaws as with any amateur stage production. Certain scenes are overlong and drawn out, particularly concering the family members' multiple concerns and complaints, even before Godzilla has shown up (the whole play lasted about 90 minutes if I recall correctly). And two thirds they way through, it becomes rather emotionally overwrought, turning into the soppy melodrama that it initially parodied, relying merely on the absurdity of the situation for comedic effect.

Nevertheless, it was a fascinating experience. And as you leave, the entire cast line up to bow and say their thanks, which was nice. With fine tuning and translating, maybe Godzilla will one day light up Broadway! But not in a smouldering radioactive breath way.


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