[From October Issue 2011]
Explosions, Giant Robots, Monsters and Super Sentai
Tokusatsu, or live action dramas from Japan featuring superheroes, monsters and special effects, are now popular all over the world. Sergio DE ISIDRO from Spain is just one of many passionate fans. “As a teenager, I developed an interest in kaijuu eiga (monster movies), which eventually led me to Super Sentai series and Kamen Rider series (Japanese heroes with super powers).”
“The first Japanese Super Sentai series I watched was ‘Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger,’ and although it was in Japanese and I did not speak the language I was totally hooked. From there I discovered the Showa era tokusatsu and it totally blew my mind. I wouldn’t be living in Japan if not for tokusatsu. Also, I think Japanese society is thoroughly influenced by tokusatsu: most kids, if not all, watch these series while growing up and are taught about justice and retribution,” he says.
De Isidro is so passionate that he owns around 300 tokusatsu figures. “Lots of them are small capsule toy figures. I have run out of space to display them now so I rarely buy toys any more – unless they are totally wicked that is.”
When De Isidro was a teenager, finding out more about tokusatsu was hard. But, since the number of tokusatsu fans has increased overseas recently, it has become much easier to get information.
He’s a particular fan of Showa era tokusatsu, but he enjoys all tokusatsu. “Explosions, lasers, fist fights, motorbikes, giant robots, superpowers, evil monsters, heroes of justice… what is NOT appealing about tokusatsu?”
Japanese Music Freak
Ever since she heard OTOMO Yoshihide and Hikashu broadcast on a radio program, Slovenian Zana Fabjan BLAZIC has been passionate about Japanese music. “It was something none of us had ever heard before, we were really young at that time, and we just started to dance and freak out in the room,” she says.
“At the beginning I was into free and improvised music and bands like Boredoms, Boris and MELT-BANANA. Later on I became interested in Visual Kei and J-pop as well.” She thinks modern Japanese music is unusual because, it interprets Western music in a unique way. “Maybe they lack the understanding of the original or take it out of context. Kind of a cartoonish interpretation. Whatever it is, it’s amazing,” she says.
Because she is so interested in Japanese music, she “saves up like crazy” in order to visit the country six months every year. “Since I’ve started coming to Japan more often, I really got into the indie scene and the electro club scene. Now my favorite bands are Praha Depart and Andersens and my favorite DJs are NAKATA Yasutaka from capsule and OSAWA Shinichi.”
Coming to Japan has meant that she’s been able attend many gigs and to meet her favorite bands. “I met many musicians that I like, if you are in Japan they are really approachable. And I guess it’s easier if you’re a foreigner, they show a certain amount of interest in you as well. I’m happy I could meet MELT-BANANA, Acid Mothers Temple and of course all indie bands that I like. My happiest moment was when I met Nakata Yasutaka, I’m a big fan of his. It was on the last day of my stay in Japan the previous time. I was so excited I thought I don’t need an airplane to fly home.”
Narrating Traditional Stories
American Timothy NELSON-HOY lives in Japan and is a student of gidayu, the traditional Japanese art of chanting a play, best known for its use in bunraku (traditional Japanese puppet theatre). “A tayu (gidayu chanter) narrates the events of the play and does the dialogue for characters using a mix of melody and spoken word,” he says.
“I like singing and I like storytelling, so gidayu is a very natural fit. It’s a very unique and intense experience to channel a complete story through your voice, playing all the characters with all of their conflicting motivations and following their various emotional journeys,” he explains. “A shamisen player accompanies the tayu, providing instrumental backup and also playing various musical cues that signal events like rain, crying, or running.”
“I’ve had an interest in bunraku since elementary school. In college, I was lucky enough to do foreign study with a group that trains foreigners to perform bunraku, and I was one of the tayu for that group. Gidayu is a very portable art, so I tried my best to keep up practicing after the program ended, and eventually began studying formally with the Gidayu Association,” he says.
Nelson-Hoy, who was studying for 2 kyu of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) when he began his studies says that he didn’t encounter too many linguistic problems at the beginning as teachers kept the vocabulary to his level, though “they did speak pretty quickly.”
Nelson-Hoy is active in promoting the art amongst the foreign community in Japan. “Dramatic singing is something that has very broad appeal, so I think gidayu has the potential to bring a lot of joy to the various expatriate communities.”
Nelson-Hoy’s class performs once at the end of each year. “When I next perform it’ll most likely be accompanied by a shamisen player, but first I have to get good enough to perform.”