Chinese New Year TV Marathon – Seeker, Confessor, Shu Qi, Ayumi, Alice, And More

Contrary to everyone’s belief, Cynthia and I did not spend 4 days in front of our computers playing our favorite online game.  We have hardly touched that game during this holiday.  Ha!  It is for the love of Chinese tradition (hard to explain so we shall leave it there).  It is a rare opportunity to take a break from the game.  And the main reason is because Cynthia has envisaged this holiday to be a TV marathon.  She has magically transformed me into a coach potato for four full days.  Water and snacks were within an arm’s length.  We ate at our sofa every day.  And the only time we moved out of the coach was to answer the call of nature.  She hypnotized me using modern technology.  Some of what we consumed was junks, as in most things that come out from that box.  Others though are worth mentioning.

Legend of the Seeker (Season One)

To be totally honest, what initially attracted me to this TV series was the rather, erm shall I say, revealing medieval clothing that accentuates the beauty of a female body.  Some of the slow motion scenes can really pop my eyes, my heart, and what not.  How fortunate are the men in the old days.  I also find the costume and backdrop pretty authentic, especially since I am a huge fan of fantasy computer games.  When I paid better attention to the story and tried not to be distracted by the eye candies and on-screen chemistry, it is pretty faithful to the genre of fantasy.  Love, friendship, betrayal, sacrifice, good and evil, heroes and cowards, battles, sorcery, quests and more quests, difficult decisions and more love – all checked.  There are some unique hooks that I don’t often find in other fantasy titles.  Sharing more here you may find me insane, as though I am talking to myself.  So I shall leave it here.  We have consumed 5 discs worth of entertainment – the entire season one – in 4 days.  Monsters, we are!

Now, why on earth would they drop the franchise after a merely two seasons of broadcast?  Save the Seeker.  Please.

A Beautiful Life (不再讓你孤單)

At home, we have a rather good collection of DVD or Blu-ray, most are not opened.  I always have this urge to buy and collect.  But I seldom have the time to watch them.  During this holiday, I tried to look for a happy movie suitable for the occasion.  My eyes stopped at Shu Qi.  It is a Chinese movie.  Both titles – English and Chinese – sound positive.  So I jammed the disc into our player, sat back, and clicked play.  Cynthia has started crying way before the movie ended.  I would say “A Beautiful Life” is an art house type of movie, an emotional one.  During the interview, Shu Qi mentioned that making this movie was harder than a martial art one.  Some clips can last as long as 10 minutes, continuously.  Imagine having to do several retakes.  I pity the cameraman who carried that ninety pounds monster.

It is a rather beautiful movie.  A movie about love in difficult circumstances.  What some may see as handicap, in the eyes of the loved ones, they are unique.  It is a movie about finding happiness.  Quite an inspiring one I must say.  Good acting.  Two thumbs up.

Ayumi Hamasaki Countdown Live 2010-2011 A: Do It Again

After a while, I begin to lose track of how many Ayumi concerts I have watched on TV.  Each year, she releases one tour recording and one countdown recording.  I can tell each tour recording by theme.  But I am often confused by the countdown releases.  At the end of each year, Ayumi hosts a concert for the fans.  Usually the song set is pretty mellow in the start.  Then there is a buildup to the countdown and thereafter, you can almost guess what songs she is going to play.  Upbeat, rather happy.  Unlike the tour performance, the song choice for the countdown concert often gears towards her older classic – which is good because it is different from the tour recording.  But that also means that all the countdown recordings are somewhat the same – hence the confusion.  If not for the beautiful duet “Dream On”, I would not have known if I have already watched it some time in the past.  How come “Dream On” has not been released in any album?  How come there is no duet in any of Ayumi’s album?  I have no idea.  One thing for sure though.  Ayumi is single, and available again.

The stage is pretty unique for this countdown concert.  There are a few concentric pieces that rotate and elevate.  And Ayumi has put the stage right in the middle of the stadium.  I thought it is a pretty good design.

Alice: Madness Returns

“Alice” is neither a movie nor a TV series.  It glued me in front of the TV nonetheless.  I am a big fan of Alice in Wonderland.  This is a game adaptation.  A second one indeed.  I bought the PS3 version, at a discount.

Recently, I read an article on how game developers dread the review scene.  If a game is poorly reviewed, or even at lukewarm, that turns gamers away from buying it.  Thousands and millions of dollar of investment go into the drain.  Years of development go along with that.  It is a brutal scene.  This game “Alice: Madness Returns” has not been kindly reviewed.  I hesitated during its release, have forgotten about it for a long time, then I saw the rather attractive price tag a few days ago.  I have always enjoyed playing a game as a heroine.  This version of Alice wields a Vorpal sword (you have to ask Lewis Carroll what that is) and lives in a real dark and twisted world.  Despite the lukewarm review, I have decided to give it a try.  This game is not perfect.  I will probably write a more detail account of my adventure with Alice in the future.  However, from what I have experienced so far, I like it.

Ayumi Hamasaki Rock’n’Roll Circus Tour Final 7Days Special – Simply Amazing

The barrier of our imagination is often defined by our experience.  If you have not seen a Japanese concert by Ayumi Hamasaki before, it is hard to describe what you have missed.  Let me say, it is mind blowing.  Cynthia does not know her music.  But she has thoroughly enjoyed watching the music recording.  She even dug into the bonus clips of this 3 DVD collection.

I have been collecting Ayumi’s concert recording for years.  Each time I would think to myself: there is no way she can top that.  And she tops her performance time and time again.  Imagine a concert with a massive stage that extends deep into the audience, giant screens that blend the videos into the songs, a talented team of dancers in costume, band members in costume, and Ayumi in costume.  That wedding gown that extends all the way across the giant stage is jaw dropping.  Every move and every moment is meticulously choreographed, full of emotions that even if you are not a Japanese, you understand what the artists are trying to convey.  Then there is this theme of circus whereby additional talents are deployed on the stage as crowns and acrobats.  The edited concert lasted more than 3 long hours.  In between, there is even a game show hosted by Ayumi and some of her dancers so as to entertain the crowd.  There are in total 40 concerts, 7 of which werer delivered after a few month break with enhanced contents.  40 game shows were delivered with different scripts.  I have watched quite a number of concerts – live and recorded ones.  There is no production like a Japanese production.  There is no concert like a Ayumi concert.

It is inspiring, to say the least, to see how one person can look into so much details and deliver such a solid performance.  Ayumi is the one producer behind the scene.  True.  She has done it for years and that is probably why she is getting better at it year after year.  Looking at how hard she works throughout the year, she has my respect for her sacrifice and effort.  While watching the concert, Cynthia said to me, “Let’s go to Japan and watch her live.”  I may take up her offer on that.

Ayumi Hamasaki – Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus – Another Great Production

At the counter, the sales assistance hesitated for a brief moment and he asked, “Do you want the poster?”.  Do I want the poster?!  I am a fan.  Hit me with one!

Really.  Do I want the poster?  I asked Cynthia where I should paste it.  Dining area, I suggested.  She frowned and counter-suggested the piece of real estate right above my computer monitor.  And there, I pasted Ayumi’s poster onto the wall.  Whenever I need inspiration on what to write, like now, I simply look up.

“You like her because she is cute,” observed Cynthia.  That is not true.  Not entirely.  For those who have followed her career, you would agree with me that she is an inspiration.  On her determination to remain successful.  And success does not come without sustained effort.  11 music albums, over 11 years, and she constantly releases concert recordings too.  At times I wonder: Does she ever rest?  Some observe that her firm control over every detail of production and marketing contributes to her success.   Critics may cite what Ayumi is not.  But I am more interested to read what she is.  Her biography in the future may answer that, I hope.

Back to “Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus”, it is an impressive production.  The album artwork is beautiful.  The CD+DVD edition includes a booklet of her photographs taken during her trip to UK, where at least one of her songs was recorded.  A total of 15 songs, 2 of which are the introductory track and the interlude track in the usual Ayumi style.  Majority of the material is what you would expect from Ayumi.  And the quality is consistently high throughout the album.  A few tracks stand out in an unique way.  The Goth rock “Microphone”, the Oriental “BALLAD”, and the Arabic feel of “Don’t Look Back”.  “Sexy Little Thing” (recorded in UK) is one of my favorite tracks.  It ties well to the album’s title.  Unique in its own pop way, extremely memorable.  I happen to like “Last Link” too.  That track starts with strumming of acoustic guitars and transits into a pop-rock track.

As impressively so is the bonus DVD.  In the first two back-to-back tracks “~LOVE is ALL~” sunset and sunrise version (same song in different tempo), Ayumi called in her fans – Team Ayu – to help with the music video.  These two videos warm my heart.  One video was shot in daylight (the sunrise version) and for another one, Ayumi was dressed in an evening gown standing on top of a platform singing to her fans.  Both videos have the fantastic backdrop of the beach.

Another amazing back-to-back video is “Sexy Little Thing” (that reminds of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” video) and “Microphone”.  There are some jaw dropping video transition between what appears as disjointed clips.  Besides these four video tracks that stand out, the other four are also a pleasure to watch.  If someone like me who does not know Japanese and still able to comprehend what the stories in the videos are about, I think the directors deserve a pat on their backs.

For someone who has passed the age of 30, Ayumi does not seem to show signs of slowing down.  Maybe because she knows her career will only last for as long as her remaining good ear.  For someone who has put the rest of her life on hold – love and family – to continue creating music, at times I wonder: Isn’t it a lonely journey?

Next Level by Ayumi Hamasaki – I Love It

Ayu's Next Level

I met my friend for lunch one day at Shokudo and told her that Ayumi Hamasaki has released a new album.  “Who’s [What’s] that?” she asked.  Maybe I am too naïve to think that everyone know who she is.  Japanese artist Ayu has been my inspiration for years.  Since 2000, she has been releasing one studio album, one video recording of her concert tour, and one video recording of her New Year countdown tour per year, non-stop.  She is involved in all aspects of production including the branding of her own image.  That makes her one of the most hardworking and successful artists I have seen.  Even with the loss of hearing on her left ear since 2008 amongst other distractions such as her failed love relationship, the show must go on.  This sort of spirit inspires.

At 30, onto the 10th year of her commercially success career, I thought the title “Next Level” is timely.  The sound is mostly electronic, the fashion is colorfully fresh, “Next Step” is a premium production that fans will love.  I do.  As seen in her previous productions, “Next Step” has songs of similar nature packaged in segments divided by the instrumental tracks.  The opening tracks are energetic, discotheque-like, and almost sound like a series of remixes.  Midway through the album, it is transited to be more rock and “Next Step” is closed with an acoustic track that she shot the video barefoot walking around the movie street set in what seems like a freezing evening (see below).  My favorite track is the non-single track “Rollin’”.  That reminds of “Startin’”, not sure why.

Comes with the package is a CD recording of her Premium Countdown Live 2008-2009 and a DVD consists of 6 videos from “Next Step” as well as the making clips.  That covers the entire spectrum of studio production to live recording to video production with a glimpse of her personality.  Would I prefer the Countdown Live in DVD format instead?  In a way, yes, because her live concerts are always so out-of-the-world.  However, without the visual impact, I tend to pay more attention to her vocals.  I have got to say, for someone who has partial hearing loss, that is one heck of a performance.

Below is the last track of the album – “Curtain Call”.

Ayumi Hamasaki Complete Singles – Is This for You?

Hardcore Ayu fans will get this, regardless.  For just over S$30, even if most of us – the fans – have already had most of her albums (I have close to 300 songs of hers that amount to 23 hours of continuous enjoyment), this box-set is a very nice to have.  It has:

  • A beautifully printed booklet that contains a selected set of single covers of hers
  • A rare DVD that contains a live recording of her 2003 tour in Tokyo as well as the a-nation recording from 2002-7 (Ayumi releases 2 live DVDs per year – the countdown tour at year end and the arena tour in the summer – but not the a-nation, which is an Avex organized tour for the artists from the same record label)
  • A 3-CD set that contains all the singles released from “A Song for XX (1999)” to “Guilty (2008)” including the new single “Mirrorcle World” and a Chinese version of the song “Who”
  • The hidden track “Kanariya” from the “Loveppears (199)” album – the first hidden track ever to make it to a single release
  • Lyrics, with Chinese translation

I don’t have her first official album so I am happy for these 5 songs that are “new” to me.  If you have already got the “A Best (2001)” as well as the “A Best 2 -Black- (2007)” and the “A Best 2 -White- (2007)” like I do, do you still need yet another compilation album?  Here are some of the analysis for you.

  • 11 out of 44 songs from “Complete Singles” exist in “A Best (2001)”
  • 16 out of 44 songs from “Complete Singles” exist in “A Best 2 (2007)”
  • 26 out of 44 songs from “Complete Singles” exist in “A Best (2001)” and “A Best 2 (2007)”