Thursday, December 7, 2017

NTV ベスト・アーティスト 2017: A Review [Part 1 of 2]

As a way of getting back into the habit of writing--and testing how much interest there would be in a Japanese music podcast--I thought I would try to write up the big end of the year music shows. One of the things I really enjoy about following the Japanese music world is that they still have things like giant end of the year special music shows and enough mainstream acts to fill them all.

I’ve been watching these kinds of shows for about six or seven years now and my impressions have changed as I learned more about the industry in general. When I first began paying attention I only knew one or two groups and found the amount of unknown music somewhat overwhelming but as the years have gone on, a steady diet of the weekly live music show Music Station (or Mステ for short) has helped given me a pretty good understanding of who everybody is and where they fit into the music scene. This kind of context is necessary since a not insignificant part of these shows assumes that the audience knows exactly who such-and-such singer having their 35th anniversary is or how idol group A relates to idol group B and so on.

But what I enjoy the most about these end of the year specials is both the sense of celebration and the sense of closure. Nothing puts a bow on a one hit wonder than dragging him or her out for one last rousing performance of the song that had us all hitting repeat in like March.

The first special to air every year is NTV’s Best Artist (ベストアーティスト). Hosted by Arashi’s Sakurai Sho (who is also a regular contributor to NTV’s news program News Zero), as well as familiar tv presenters Hatori Shinichi and Miura Asami,  Best Artist tends to be the most relaxed and unpredictable of the specials. Not only is there a enthusiastic audience brought in but the hosts stand at the far end of a long wing off to one side of the main stage and they remain there during the performances. The camera will sometimes cut to the hosts so the viewers at home can see them dancing along. It helps add a relaxed feeling to the show. It’s an NTV party and we’re all invited!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

『ALL FOR ONE』~ダルタニアンと太陽王~ and a Trip to the Takarazuka Grand Theater and What I Learned There

This past summer, for the third year in a row, I found myself in the tiny city of Takarazuka, walking down the Hana-michi--the “Flower Road”--on the bank of the Muku River. Bordered by lovely leafy trees, the pathway remains a pleasant place to stroll, despite the bright sunlight and already oppressive heat of the August morning.

I’d been in Tokyo that morning and rushed out of my friend’s apartment at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m. in order to catch the first train south into Hyogo Prefecture, where Takarazuka is situated. Having gotten only about 3 hours of sleep thanks to an impromptu izakaya drinking party, I was running on adrenaline and numerous cans of the black, bitter, sugarless vending machine coffee that Japan does so well.

The play that day was All For One. I knew nothing about it except it was loosely based on Dumas’ The Three Musketeers and it would be my first time seeing Tamaki Ryou as the new Top Star of Moon Troupe. Would I like it? Would I like her? I’d grown quite attached to Ryuu Masaki and her Moon Troupe over the last two years--what if I didn’t like Tamaki Ryou’s Moon Troupe?! Of the actresses I’d fell in love with during 1789, Nagina Ruumi and Seijou Kaito had already left the troupe. Saou Kurama and Miya Rurika would be in the production but would it be enough for me?

(Spoiler alert: Yes, and so much more.)

Thursday, November 9, 2017

マサラ・ミュージカル『オーム・シャンティ・オーム -恋する輪廻』・Masala Musical Om Shanti Om: Reincarnated For Love

(Poster from TakaWiki)

Despite not having written about “Bollywood” in some time, I still occasionally find myself thinking about the films. From time to time I may even pull out a DVD or watch a handful of clips on youtube. My tastes have not changed. I still love melodrama, ambitiously outrageous storytelling, character actors stealing scenes, slapstick comedy, strong moral values, and, above all, good music and dancing.

I still think there is no better dancer than Helen.

But Bollywood doesn’t really make those kinds of films anymore. The more Hollywood-ish films it does make aren’t really to my taste and so I drifted away.

Still, my tastes haven’t changed.

So, imagine my shock when I found out there is a theater company in Japan that takes all of the above, adds even more feathers and sparkles, and specializes in stories to make ladies swoon...

宝塚へようこそ!Welcome to Takarazuka.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

[D.C. Untied] What to expect at Audi Field

First of all, I want to thank everybody for the incredible response to my post on the Audi Field sales brochure! The feedback I received was amazing (and mostly positive). People are extremely worried about the future of this team and of the D.C. United fan community going into 2018 in Audi Field.

The negative feedback I received was people telling me to chill and calling me a whiner. And you know what? Both very fair points. I fully recognize that my post was over-the-top but here is what I’ll say in my defense: by raising a ruckus now, we still time to get some fan friendly policies in place at Audi Field before it’s too late and bad precedents are set.

Okay, so moving on.

There is another question about Audi Field that I think needs to be discussed in more detail: Who the fuck is this stadium for?

As I laid out in my previous post, D.C. United has made the mind bogglingly stupid decision to not build Audi Field to the current MLS standard and instead seems to be building a stadium in the mold of Nationals Park, which is essentially right next door, but smaller.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

[D.C. Untied] Taking an in-depth look at the Audi Field Membership Guide

Here is what I know after reading the Audi Field Membership Guide that was e-mailed to non-premium ticket members on September 29th as a sales tool--weeks after they were pressuring supporters to buy season tickets in stadium preview ticket events, which is important to mention:

D.C. United is building luxury suites that happen to be housed in a soccer specific stadium.

Let’s start with some context of what else is happening around the league.

The last bunch of stadiums built for MLS was from about 2007-2012 and includes venues like Rio Tinto Stadium in the suburbs of Salt Lake City and Red Bull Arena in the suburbs of New York City. I’ve visited a handful of these stadiums as a visiting fan. They’re not bad. As visiting fans we’re generally seated in the furthest reaches of the upper levels behind one of the goals and even in the nosebleed seats, one generally has a good view. The concessions are pretty standard across the board. Some variety in beer options, some variety in snacks but otherwise, not much to differentiate the experience from one to the next. Enjoying a craft beer while looking at the Toronto skyline is great but not exactly something I can only get inside BMO stadium.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

[D.C. Untied] One more to go...

One more game at RFK and none of the RFK faithful I’ve talked to have any sort of mixed feelings about it. We’re just sad. It’s the end of an era and thanks to an incredibly shitty on field performance this year we don’t even have the hope of hosting a playoff game or two.

On October 22nd, 21 years of D.C. United tradition will come to an end. 21 years of tailgating memories in Lot 8, of getting sweaty and beer drenched on the Loud Side, dreams realized, dreams crushed, winning, losing, making new friends, saying final goodbyes to friends lost…

Saturday was fun. Winning by four goals was fun. Seeing Patrick Mullins out there getting his groove back was fun. But the best part was the energy in the packed stands in sections 127 and 128 and far across to the other end. People jammed shoulder to shoulder, drums pounding, flags waving. You can’t buy that kind of passion with a groupon for a free beer and $20 tickets.

Who exactly is going to be turning out to games week in and week out if they alienate long time supporters? We’ve continued to show up game after game, through rain, snow, blistering heat, massive losing streaks, years where Own Goal is  a contender for our highest scorer…

All we asked in return for 21 years of support was space in the new stadium to continue to provide the atmosphere on game days.

Functionality to mount large tifo like they do in places like Kansas City and even Columbus? No, but we’ll continue to talk about tifo, ask the players about it, and wonder why the D.C. United supporters never make any anymore.

Safe standing like literally every other new stadium being built? No, but have some unsafe bleachers as a compromise.

Storage space for large flags and drums? No, we hate those and (I can only assume) are going to be blaring stupid music instead.

Somewhere to just hang a goddamn banner? No, but we’ve got advertising space up to your eyeballs.

A scrap of space to continue our tailgating before a game? Hell, no… you can have a patch of dirt with no equipment and no storage space or the ability to bring any in for 2018 only. Stand around in the mud with a red solo cup you brought from home and no food like an asshole or come drop $$$$$$ on truffle fries at the Champions Club.

And the final straw: you have to become a season ticket holder to even enter the supporters section. What a nice “fuck you” to long time supporters who are only able to make it to a handful of games a year--whether for geographic, monetary, or time constraint reasons--or who are just unable to make the financial (and time) commitment required up front. Sorry, plebes, you’re not good enough for our new field.

But good news, folks, they’ve sold 24 of 29 available luxury suites!!

I sure do hope those corporate tycoons enjoy themselves at Audi Field.

Saturday was bittersweet for any number of reasons and the win was just one. Too late to mean anything for the lost season, we saw Mullins in form, finally shaking off the injuries and confidence issues that had dogged him all year. And we saw what might have been if D.C. United had brought in a real defensive midfielder like Russell Canouse before the season started rather than waiting until we were last in the league and struggling in August.

But more than anything else, it was bittersweet to know that there would be only one more chance to experience the thrill of being in deep in the heart of the D.C. United supporters section.

It doesn’t have to come to an end but unless the front office actually addresses our concerns for next season--which they seem to be unwilling to--it will.

Get ready for the banter about D.C. United trading racoons for crickets at Audi Field.

In the immortal (and now deleted words) of Bilal Hamid: Loyalty?? Loyalty is fake news.


And a side note: I heard from a friend of mine at the game that his wife wasn’t there to see Patrick Mullins score 4 goals because she had been turned away at the gate. Why? Why had she been turned away at the gate? Well, their group had included another woman with a special needs son. And that son had… a backpack. Yes, a backpack. And security wouldn’t let him in with it.

That is some Grade A Bullshit right there. Arbitrary security restrictions are more than just an inconvenience. They are bad publicity. Do you think my friends are going to tell their friends (middle class with kids!) that they had a great time at the soccer game? No, they’re going to say it was too much of a hassle and they’re outraged about the idiotic security restrictions.

24 of 29 luxury suites may be sold and so much thought given over to what the “deluxe” game day experience at Audi Field will be like--valet?!--but I want every single one of the front office staff to experience what it’s like for the rest of us on game day.

Take the Metro. Experience how expensive it is and how long it can take. (2 hours from Arlington, the last time I tried. I barely made kickoff.) Make sure you have your SMARTrip card! Whoops, single tracking and half the stations on your line are closed! Should have left 5 hours early.

Good luck getting your stroller on Metro if the elevator is broken! Oh, you need some extra toys and water for your kids? Too bad. No backpacks. Wait outside with the special needs kid or fuck off home.

Oh, it’s a weeknight game and you’re coming from work on Metro? Fuck you. No, you can’t bring in a bag that has a change of clothes in it and your lunch tupperware in it.

You kid spilled their $6 soda all over the floor because of no bottle cap? Fuck you, we already got your money. No caps on any type of bottle inside the stadium.

Was that a swear?! At a professional sporting event?! Are you standing?! My word. SECURITY!!!!!!!!!

Loyalty?? Loyalty is fake news.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

[D.C. Untied] Thoughts on Audi Field and the end of the 2017 season

When I think back on the last few games, the strongest memory I have is from the eighth minute of stoppage time of a game that would not end, just leaning over as far as I could on the concrete wall separating section 128 from the field and shouting at Kofi Opare as he started to scuffle with Orlando defender Danny Toia. “It’s not worth it, Kofi! It’s not worth it!”

Minutes earlier Kofi had scored D.C.’s only goal of the game, his second of the season. Kofi didn’t even pausing to celebrate. He just hustled back as fast as he could go, the one man in all of RFK keeping hope alive that maybe there would be a come-from-behind last second equalizer like there had been at the Red Bulls game last fall. Two goals in 6 minutes. We’d done it before.

Spoiler alert: we wouldn’t be doing it that night.

Friday, September 8, 2017

5 Years 5 Stars A.B.C-Z 五周年おめでとう!!! [Part 3 of 4]

(SLT tour 2016, repping Hashimoto)

Following the MC in the arena shows was the Junior group performance, giving A.B.C-Z a chance to rest and change costumes. In the hall shows, the change in turns during the MC. And then it’s into the leisurely rap-ballad “Glory Days.” In all the years I’ve been listening to and obsessing over pop music (from my earliest memories, basically) I’ve never been much of a lyrics person or a ballad person so stand-and-sing songs like “Glory Days” tend to leave little impression on me. It’s a pleasant song, though, with some nice harmonies and register switches to falsetto and back from Hashimoto.

Friday, September 1, 2017

5 Years 5 Stars A.B.C-Z 五周年おめでとう!!! [Part 2 of 4]

(Packing up my uchiwa collection, 2017)

“5 Stars 5 Years” begins with a short video introducing A.B.C-Z. Each member wears a costume representing a different era of their career: the plastic space suits of “Space Traveler,” the garish plaids of “Never my Love,” the floral coats from “花言葉”... And then the stage lights go up and bang! IT’S A.B.C-Z!!!!!

Hashimoto: さぁ Fantastic!!
Totsuka: もっと Exciting!!
Kawai: グッと Flying!!
All together: 始める そう Reboot!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

5 Years 5 Stars A.B.C-Z 五周年おめでとう!!! [Part 1 of 4]

A.B.C-Z are:

五関晃一 (Goseki Koichi)
塚田僚一 (Tsukada Ryoichi)
戸塚祥太 (Totsuka Shota)
河合郁人 (Kawai Fumito)
橋本良亮 (Hashimoto Ryousuke)

The theater was almost completely dark after we shut off our penlights. A.B.C-Z member Kawai Fumito, standing on a short riser in the center of the orchestra level seating, was visible for a half second longer before the spotlight was shut off. And then, in time with the music, Kawai gives the command, セーの! (Ready, go!) and Century Hall in Nagoya glows bright red. Again, セーの!and it’s blue. Yellow. Pink. Purple. White. And finally we all land on the penlight’s “random” function. Penlights flashing cacophonously, the stage lights come back up, and the concert continues. The performers, the stage crew, the audience, all in sync, all part an experience we’re creating together.

Standing in the crowd, in the dark, one fan among many, waiting for the cue to turn my light back on, I am perfectly happy in the moment. I am part of something much larger than myself, larger than any of us.

This is why I come to Japan every year.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

NOBUNAGA ( 信長 ) : The Will to Power, Moon Troupe, 2016

Ryu Masaki’s final production before stepping down as Top Star of Moon Troupe was Nobunaga: The Will to Power/Forever Love (using the usual Takarazuka format of first act drama, second act revue).  I was lucky enough to see two performances in Tokyo just about a year ago and it’s taken almost that full year to understand what the hell was happening on stage.

(Those completely unfamiliar with the Takarazuka theater troupe may also want to read my introduction piece written after I first saw Takarazuka in 2015.)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

[D.C. Untied 2.14] D.C. United vs Houston Dynamo, July 22, 2017

Five minutes in and Houston wins a corner.

“This is going to be the first goal,” I said to my front row buddy. It’s been that kind of season.

And we then stood in the lightly spitting rain and watched Andrew Wenger head the ball past a stationary Travis Worra--who would end the night with a total of 11 goals allowed over 3 games--with the resignation that comes from knowing that we’ve already blown any hope of making the playoffs and it’s only July.

I took of my rain-spotted glasses and tucked them away in my purse as Paul banged the drum to get our attention.

“D.C. United!”

There was nothing I needed to see out on that field. 

But I kept singing.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

[D.C. Untied 2.13] D.C. United vs Atlanta United FC, June 21, 2017

“Winning feels good, huh? Don’t get used to it. Come on!”

With fifteen minutes to go against Atlanta United FC, Tim wasn’t going to let us get complacent.

D.C. United were up 2-1 but there was still time to blow it. D.C. had spent the past few months racking up defeat after defeat, hitting the crossbar, shooting past open goals, giving up soft goals on corner kicks, and basically playing like the only hardware worth gunning for is the ISC’s Wooden Spoon Trophy.

But on that Wednesday, for one night only, we were winning.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

[D.C. Untied 2.11-12] D.C. United vs Christos FC, June 13, 2017 and Toronto FC vs. D.C. United, June 17, 2017

Last year my brother and I attended the fourth round midweek Open Cup game at the Soccerplex and watched the D.C. United reserves fall to NASL’s troubled Fort Lauderdale Strikers in penalty kicks. Jared Jeffrey walking to the furthest, darkest corner of the field and collapsing after missing the final attempt utterly broke my heart. But that weekend they--and I--picked up and flew to Houston where we drew the Dynamo 0-0 in a hot, humid, rain delayed nail biter of a match. United’s season would veer downwards through July before making a U-turn and going on a tear through late summer into fall.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

[D.C. Untied 2.10] D.C. United vs LA Galaxy, June 3, 2017

Writing these game day posts has been difficult for the last six weeks or so because I honestly don’t really need to re-live this string of scoreless games. As Jason from the Filibuster podcast says, it’s best to just adopt a striker’s mindset. Forget the misses and keep focused on the next chance.

[Five Years of A.B.C-Z #1] Za ABC〜5stars〜 (Part 2 of 2)


A.B.C-Z, as they explain themselves in the Making & Special Interview included on this DVD single, are five very different talents or “stars”, more powerful united than apart. 

And much like the group itself, their debut single is kind of an odd duck.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

[Five Years of A.B.C-Z #1] Za ABC〜5stars〜 (Part 1 of 2)

I’ve written about A.B.C-Z before (and their excellent mini-series where they play superheroes who can’t ever have sex or their powers vanish) but in their 5th anniversary year as a “debuted” act I am compelled to do so again. This time I’m hoping to make a complete review of their music catalog to date.

For the first post, I've broken the review into two parts to accommodate a bit of historical discussion but moving forward I should be able to contain myself to one post per item.

Item: 「Za ABC〜5stars〜」
Type: DVD Single
Release Date: 2012.02.01

1. 「Za ABC〜5stars〜」 Music Clip
2. 「砂のグラス」 Dance Clip
3.   Making & Special Interview
4. 「A.B.C-Z 2011 first Concert in YOYOGI」 Digest with「Dream〜5つの願い〜」

The story has been told and told again but here’s one more crack at it:

Monday, May 29, 2017

[D.C. Untied 2.8-9] D.C. United vs Philadelphia Union, May 13, 2017, and D.C. United vs Chicago Fire, May 20, 2017

“I’m okay with us winning this game with Ortiz’s Oscar,” I said to my sister, referring to the penalty kick won by Jose Ortiz’s “theatrical” fall coupled with what my sister called his “two car pile-up” with Acosta (her favorite player) and converted by Lamar Neagle. “We’ve had enough bad calls against us this season that it all evens out.”

Monday, May 8, 2017

[D.C. Untied 2.7] D.C. United vs Montreal Impact, May 6, 2017

“What was it like down in Atlanta?” I asked. “On TV it sounded like the air went out of stadium the second it felt like they weren’t going to win.”

“Yeah, they did that ‘A.T.L’ chant but nobody was singing.” He paused. “Except us.”

Sunday, April 23, 2017

[D.C. Untied 2.6] New York Red Bulls vs D.C. United, April 15, 2017

Games at Red Bull Arena are the best away games. Everything is heightened--the hope of getting a win, the hatred of the opponent, the comradeship. It may have been Easter weekend but there was no way in hell I was missing the opening game of Atlantic Cup 2017.

My game day began early, on Friday afternoon, when I boarded the Greyhound bus out of Union Station. First stop, New York! Well, eventual stop, New York. Traffic delay upon traffic delay meant that I arrived nearly an hour after the scheduled arrival time. “Where is everybody going?!” I texted angrily. “I mean I know where I’m going but where is everybody else going and why can’t they stay home?!”

[D.C. United 2.5] D.C. United vs N.Y.C.F.C, April 8, 2017

One of my favorite Season Ticket Holder events last year was the Fan Forum, a town hall style question and answer session with some of the D.C. United staff. Last year we were able to go deep on questions about the new stadium, strategies for the upcoming season, and what all this change would mean for long time fans and supporters. It made me feel like our voices mattered. Unfortunately, that was not the case this year.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

[D.C. Untied 2.4] D.C. United vs the Philadelphia Union, April 1, 2017

MLS marketing headquarters tried to push a rivalry with the Philadelphia Union on us last year but as far as I can tell everybody ignored it. A D.C. United’s fan real rivalry is--and has always been--with the Red Bulls, née the MetroStars. That doesn’t mean the Union are liked. They are not.

I admit to having a brief fling with the #DOOPers at the beginning of last season thanks to their acquisition of D.C. United’s beloved Chris “Party Boy” Pontius but any goodwill I had towards the team was lost the second I stepped foot in Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, PA, and was subjected to some of the worst crowd control and fan behavior I’ve experienced. Okay, yes, I have an authority problem but I can’t think of any good reason for the Union to pen up opposition fans about 10 feet away from the home supporters section except to deliberately flare tensions.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

[D.C. Untied 2.3] D.C. United vs Columbus Crew SC, March 18, 2017 AND BONUS CONTENT Street Fight Radio + Chapo Trap House in Pittsburgh, PA, March 19, 2017

“Ugh, I lost my voice this weekend,” read my Facebook post. “That’s what happens when you get to the tailgate early and go in lit!” Replied Stefan. He wasn’t wrong. That is what happens when I get to the tailgate early and go in lit; I yell way too much and don’t care if I get rained on.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

[D.C. Untied 2.2] N.Y.C.F.C. vs D.C. United, March 12, 2017

The bus ride home from Yankee Stadium was quiet, everyone cold, sad, and lost in their own thoughts. Two games into the season and D.C. United are winless and goalless. How do we make sense of a 4-0 loss when it’s too early in the season to fit it into a narrative? We don’t know what the loss means yet, if it means anything. Is it a harbinger of a really shit season, early chaos as the team sorts itself out, or another unfortunate experience playing on the postage stamp sized field at Yankee Stadium?
.article .article-content { word-break: normal !important; }