Ayumi Hamasaki Countdown Live 2007-08 Anniversary (DVD) – Raising the Bar Once Again

Foreign as it may sound to you, Ayumi has been a great inspiration to me.  It is a pity that many find language a barrier that is too high to cross.  Even if you are not into Ayumi’s music, watching her concert recordings will certainly open your eyes to what a live performance can be: the innovation, the overall production quality, and the superb entertainment value. 

So, what is so great about this particular indoor recording?

A large stage with moving platforms, fountains, and fireworks, a crane that takes Ayumi closer to the crowd, a talented band and a group of equally talented dancers are all attributes that we have seen before in her previous concerts.  Hence, it is a given, something you would expect to see from any Ayumi concerts.  Beyond these, here is how Ayumi celebrated her 10 years of music career.

The Stage

If how well an artist performs live is judged by how well he or she covers the stage area, Ayumi has certainly up the challenge by extending the front stage all the way to the back via a runway as well as a side stage.  Ayumi, her dancers, and her band members moved from one end of the stage to another.  In one of the bonus clips, there is a split screen on how she tunneled (via a trolley pushed by two men!) from one stage into another and ‘magically appeared’ from nowhere.

The Choreography

I may not know what the songs are about without reading the Chinese translation.  However, the choreography is so great that it communicates the stories.  One highlight is the lyrical dance on one of the slow songs.  It moves me.  And for this concert, the lead choreographer did something different: he involved the audience to practice the upper body dance moves.  During one part of a song that came much later, he gave the clue and suddenly, the entire stadium danced in unison.  The emotion is intense, even as I was siting in front of my TV.

The Personality

Inside the bonus clips, viewers get to see Ayumi’s glamor side, her humble side, and her determined side.  She is so driven in all areas though she may not be great in all.  But her quest for superb quality and bringing out the best in the people around her is just amazing.  Whatever she demands from others, I can only imagine that she demands much more from herself.

Closing Thoughts

Politically incorrect as it may sound, this image sticks in my mind.  When the Crusaders first arrived at Jerusalem, they were shocked by how advance the culture of the people in the Middle East was.  The quality of Ayumi’s production is certainly unseen of, for those who take the Western production as a benchmark.

Another image that sticks in my mind is this.  At the end of the concert, in one dramatic moment, Ayumi silenced the entire stadium, took a moment of silence, and screamed out words of thanks – without a mic.  You are my inspiration, Ayu.

Ayumi Hamasaki’s Guilty – It’s Near Perfect In My Book

Ayumi Hamasaki’s Guilty CD DVD

Year 2000 was when Ayu released “Duty” – my favorite album before “Guilty”. Year 2000 was also the year when she started to realize that she has problem with her hearing that ultimately leads to her losing all hearing in her left ear by the time “Guilty” is released. At times I can’t help but wonder: is it because she knows she has an “end date” and therefore she works really hard to achieve as much as she physically can? As she wrote to her fans when she found that her left ear is inoperable: “I won’t stop. I won’t make excuses. As a professional, I would like to deliver the best performance for everyone”. In less than 10 years, she has released 10 studio albums and 4 compilation albums. 12 of which were debuted at number 1 in the Japanese weekly chart while the other two at number 2.

Ayumi Hamasaki has always been an inspiration to me. In year 2002, TIME did an interview with her (you can search the interview materials in YouTube when she conversed in English). I learned that Ayu’s success ingredient is to get involved in all aspects of her career and persona and she is so full of energy and determination to get to where she wants to be. She has raised the bar high as a total package – including music, concerts, and fashion – that I doubt any artist from Japan will come close to what she has achieved in the near future. She has certainly dominated my CD and DVD collection in terms of number of artwork per artist. You really should watch some of the recording of her concerts. Grandiose is the word to describe the quality of delivery.

I cannot find any song that I do not enjoy listening to in “Guilty”. The first track of a minute and a half makes a bold statement: “Guilty” is going to be one hell of a rock album. In fact, the next three songs are all rock oriented and I love them immensely. The fifth song titled “Guilty” brings down the pace and the next two songs are the most notable moderate to slow songs of the album. Then comes an instrumental, theatrical track that leads to “Marionette” – a slow song that contains a fair bit of electronic sound to it. The electronic sound intensified as the album progresses and she throws in another instrument song that leads to two more songs that are more traditional with a more J-pop feel.  Finally yet another instrument track that leads to the conclusion of a deeply emotional slow ballad “untitled ~for her~”. I cannot think of a better song to end the album.

Not sure if you will notice every single song from the “Guilty” album has a beginning, a middle, and an end – a proper song ending with no fading of music (in fact a major criteria for Cynthia to assess how good the songs are). Each song is sung with full emotion and with the right amount of accentuation (that contributes to the “middle” part). All the lyrics are written by Ayu herself. Her album comes with a DVD that contains 6 videos from “Guilty” and the making of all these 6 albums that make up to one hour of visual entertainment. I enjoy watching her music videos. More so for the making of clips as we fans get to gain an insight on what Ayu is like behind the camera.

At times I wonder why bad things happen to beautiful people like Ayu who has contributed so much. Only God knows. Now that she is determined to continue the tours, I hope and pray that her right ear can last her a lifetime.

Ayumi Hamasaki’s Secret

Ayumi Hamasaki‘s new album “Secret” is out and need not to say, being a huge fan of hers short of having her name written all over my T-shirts, my forehead, my jeans, and God-knows-where, I bought the album without knowing what was inside. “Secret” comes with a CD of 14 songs that is just under one hour of music (very rare of hers and I read that initially “Secret” was meant to be yet another mini-CD like “Memorial address”) as well as a DVD of 7 video clips and the making clips for all 7 videos. I have given some days for the album to sink in – as I have a tendency to get over excited on stuffs of this scale – and here is my review.

Why “Secret”?

Asking me to rank Ayumi’s studio albums is like asking a woman if she can give you her favourite list out of a box of mixed chocolate. Chances are, she likes them all and so do I. But if you were to tempt me with an all expense paid visit to Ayumi’s upcoming tour in Japan, I would say “Secret” would rank quite high.

“Secret” has Ayumi’s trademark all over it from the music arrangement and melody point of view (can’t comment much on lyrics but I read that she, as the lyricist for her songs, is mature and poetic when it comes writing her own lyrics). It still has some minor surprises here and there but overall, if you like her previous works, you will love this album. Do try out track 3 (“Startin’”) and the last track (“Secret”). These two are my favourite tracks.

The DVD that comes with the album is a real gem. I enjoyed the making clips a lot because it shows how much effort has been poured into making those great videos.

Why “Ayumi”?

Ayumi Hamasaki is a phenomenon in the Japanese music industry. She is a great performer, a singer and songwriter who churns out hits after hits. Take a look at her yearly Arena Tour video recording and I doubt if you have seen anything of that sophistication and commercial scale. Go and read about her at Wikipedia when you have time.

So why wait? Get her new album today!

Ayumi’s New Album Is Out

When I dined with my friend TK showing him my new Ayumi Hamasaki album on Dec 22nd, he said that as a huge Ayumi fan, I should have bought the album on day one and not one week after. Well, I would not have known if Ayumi’s album did come out in Singapore one week ago (TK was in Japan during then) or it just came out on that day. Either case, I AM a huge fan and this album reminds me everything I love about Ayumi.

It has been a 2 years’ wait and it was worthwhile. A full album (close to 75 minutes of solid enjoyment) plus a bonus DVD packed with very nicely made videos and the “making of” videos. This CD+DVD edition comes with 4 different album covers. What are you waiting for?