Amphetamine 安非他命 in Asia

Amphetamine 安非他命 the Movie - and related works

This offering from Hong Kong gay cinema is a powerful film about a sexually confused, yet straight identified, young man named Kafka who is a crystal methamphetamine (ice) addict recovering from a homosexual gang rape when he was a youth.   He befriends an openly Hong Kong gay banker named Daniel and the two ultimately fall in love with each other emotionally and sexually (to an extent).

From the outset, it's production in Hong Kong was embroiled in controversy for showing full frontal nudity (even in arousal in one scene), the euphoria in drug use (as well as the destructiveness), and a torrid gay-themed romance.



Amphetamine was produced, written and directed by Scud (single name only). It stars Byron Pang (HK) as Kafka and Thomas Price (Chinese and British mix heritage).  The directorial style and cinematography is unusual in that it employs brief flash forwards and flash backs inserted at times in the narrative. This technique creates an effective, albeit jarring, way to remind and inform the audience of poignant plot points.  Nonetheless the movie is filled with substantial hook (foreshadowing) that only come to light as the movie plot unfolds. Unlike Mainland Chinese and Japanese gay cinema, Amphetamine is not heavy on sentimentality but it is also not focussed either on the depravity of drug addiction as is found in the Basketball Diaries.

In essence, Amphetamine remains primarily a love story which focusses on the issues of internal homophobia and the acceptance of sexual love within a gay/straight male relationship.



When asked about the controversial nature of his work Director Scud explains in an interview:
 

Drug is a taboo and drug users are conveniently stereotyped into evil persons, unfortunately and unreasonably.  But even a soul that’s influenced by drug and abandoned by fate can be beautiful and loving, and that’s the story of “Amphetamine”






The character name, Kafka, is based on a reference from the Japanese post-modern novel Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami about a boy who discovers a place where he can enter an alternate reality.  In the novel there is an evil presence which has the capability to murder while Kafka dreams.  Murakami's novels tend to have fantastical bending of reality wherein animals can telepathically communicate with humans and moving stones can open portals into space and time.  Kafka on the Shore has a homoerotic element wherein one of his transgendered friends is transfixed by Kafka's youthful body.  However the bulk of the sexual intensity of the novel is the relationship between the boy in and novel and a successful woman curator who is over 30 year's the lad's senior.   The themes in the movie Amphetamine have unapologetic parallels from the novel.




After his mother dies in the motion picture story, Kafka is discovered at a temple by  Daniel, an up-and-coming young gay Hong Kong businessman. Daniel is immediately drawn to Kafka and pushes to start a relationship with Kafka despite the "little Sir's" addiction and his declaration that he is straight.  Daniel and Kafka begin to bond through sharing their risk taking interests including training via Kafka's mastery of Kung Fu, illegally bunjee Jumping off an HK suspension bridge, and ultimately sharing binges on "ice".  Intertwined in this love story are the two female exes of both men and the lingering issue of Kafka's pathological fear, yet growing acceptance, of gay intimacy with Daniel.

Another interesting aspect of this film is that it is based on the recent 2008 financial meltdown crisis and its effects on Hong Kong known as the Economic Tsunami in that region.  The relevance of tying a financial crisis is not only pertinent to Daniel's character as a business man but to the rising incidence of methamphetamine use in Asia as it is linked to that region's financial ups and downs. (as discussed below)


The highly taboo subject of methamphetamine addiction in Asian cinema has only recently come to light in the past decade mainly in Korean cinema (Old Boy) which tends to be more reality based violent and hard hitting than other Asian cinema. Japanese cinema has dealt with drug addiction as well over the past few years but usually in a surreal way. One such movie, is a comedy about two modern day samurai who are tripping on mushrooms almost the entire time. 

Karl Taro Greenfeld, recent editor of Time Asia, opened the pandoras box of drug addiction that is widespread across Asia in his documentary travelogue Standard Deviations: Growing Up and Coming Down in the new Asia. In it the Japanese-Jewish American chronicles his own harrowing journey with various illegal drugs on his travels through "the circuit" from Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Nepal to Malaysia. He documents the perils of crystal meth most elaborately:


Karl Taro Greenfeld
Karl Taro Greenfeld - Author and Editor, Time Asia

"This Mad Medicine is called shabu in Japan and Indonesia, batu in the Philipinnes, and bingdu in China...You become, after that first hit of speed, gloriously, brilliantly, vigorously awake. Your horizon of expectation expands outward, just as in your mind's eye your capacity for taking effective action toward your new, optimistic goals has also grown exponentially.  Then, eventually, maybe in an hour, maybe in a day, maybe in a year, you run out of speed. And You crash. In country after country throughout Asia, meth use skyrocketed during the nineties. And with the crash of the region's high flying economies, the drug's used has surged again." Speed Demons from Standard Deviations - Karl Taro Greenfeld.


Amphetamine -
Official Movie Site

More about Amphetamine based drugs and specifically Methamphetamine

VAMPS - J-Rock Metal




One the heels of their recent US tour, VAMPS has announced a world tour in 2010. This band represent the milestone reached by many bands in the independent J-Rock scene of how sound production and musical styles of the West can be blended and perfected. Additionally, Japanese bands such as VAMPS are writing many of their songs in English.  So while their Japanese fan base remains solid, bands like X-Japan, VAMPS, and Love Psychedelico are gaining a worldwide audience previously denied J-Rockers due to a pretty rigid language barrier.  It seems (sigh) in the rock world, English dominates no matter what the musical style. (the exception to this rule is the Heavy Metal scene in Europe where English does not seem to be a requirement.



Like most J-Rock bands it is pretty impossible to classify VAMP dominant sound.  Some songs are ballads, others are hard driving speed metal, and some are U2 influenced in terms of         linear guitar licks.  Of course the characteristic "anime wail" of the vocals remains a distinct Japanese style for most of these bands. 

BAND INTERVIEW HERE - J-Pop World

In VAMPS sound you can hear the influences of Gackt Camui and L'Arc En Ceil. No small concidence.  One of the founding members, lead vocalist and guitarist HYDE (not to be confused with the dearly departed HIDE of X-Japan) is a close friend of Gackt's, acted with him in a vampire film Moon Child in 2004 , sang on one of Gackt's duets, and was the lead singer  L-Arc himself since 1991. K.A.Z. has been in a number of J-rock acts. Their support band is currently:

Drums: Arimatsu
Bass: Ju-ken (GacktJob, The Wanderers and Anna Tsuchiya)
Keyboards: Jin Saito (normally credited only as "Jin")

The band has an excellent live concert video of their performance in LA out.  It can be found in most Asian based manga and anime video outlets.

As usual, we at Naifu don't reinvent the wheel, so here is the WIkiPedia entry:

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VAMPS is the name of the band formed by HYDE (L'Arc~en~Ciel) and K.A.Z (Oblivion Dust). HYDE and K.A.Z have been working together on HYDE’s solo work since 2003. After years of collaboration, the two finally decided to form their own band and agreed that there was no better way to announce VAMPS than getting out in front of the fans right away.

Their first Nationwide tour of Japan, "VAMPS LIVE 2008", kicked off at Zepp Tokyo. Between August 1, 2008 and October 28, 2008, VAMPS played 46 shows at the prestigious Zepp live houses throughout Japan. The tour was totally organized by VAMPS and the venues were custom decorated by spray art such as the now-famous VAMPS castle. The band played 6 to 10 shows at each Zepp venue and every single show was sold out. The continuous string of sold out shows were unprecedented and had never taken place during any other Zepp live house tour before. Their second single "I Gotta Kick Start Now" was released on March 13, 2009. A new single "Evanescent" was also featured as a PV.

On January 31st 2010 the band has been awarded with the "Billboard Japan Ranking International 2009" Award for their efforts and success with their Tour in the U.S.A.[2]

After the band released the DVD Vamps LIve 2009 U.S.A. on March 17, 2010, they released the single "Devil Side" on May 12, 2010. Their sixth single, "Angel Trip", was released on June 9, 2010. Following its release, their 2nd album, Beast, was released on July 28, 2010.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vamps

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With song titles such as Trouble and Sex, Blood, Rock and Roll, and the lyrics below. These punker-like pretty boys love the baddish image they present to their many legions of women and fangirls. However, when they address their fans in English conversation they are fairly demure: "When we come back to the USA, will you like to come back and see us?" Hyde tentatively asked his cheering fans. Then he screams an intro to the next song.


LOVE ADDICT

Hey! Keep on rolling baby I want to explode
Oh yes, need you darling with the growling exhaust note

A love addict come light my fire
A love addict I'm already a love addict

Yeah! Just free your mind
Yeah! Let's get it on now
Yeah! Just free your mind
Yeah! Let's get it on now

Mom, I'm sorry am I playing some bad games
We starve like cherries, baby I want to explode

A love addict come light my fire
A love addict I'm already a love addict

_________________

Finally a great live video of Trouble filmed in the venerable Tokyo Budokan Hall. (made famous internationally by Cheap Trick's 1978 album Live at Budokan)



Here is the VAMPS official website:  http://www.vampsxxx.com/main.html in Japanese
Here is there MySpace:  http://www.myspace.com/vampsofficial




Takumi Saito

Takumi Saito - Japanese Actor and Model



Born in 1981, Saito Takumi 斎藤工 has had many appearances on the theatre stage, TV, and Japanese cinema. He also voices a character in the anime TV series Dead or Alive and he appeared in a stage musical called Tennis. Takumi gained his early fame in playing gay romantic love interests in at least two movies: Boys Love and the very intelligent Itsuka No Kimi E where he plays both twin brothers Ryuu and Noboru.



He practices aikido and boxing and demonstrates this skill in yet another, although slightly sappy bishonen (gay teen love interest) movie called Sukimoto and he shows off his martial arts skills in the recent crime Shinjuku incident. He will also be starring in the upcoming movie Shibuya








Itsuka No Kimi e description

After Noboru saves Hayase from drowning by giving him mouth-to-mouth, Hayase grows confused about his feelings. It doesn't help that around the same time he meets Noboru's twin brother Ryu who has a very different, outgoing personality.

Scene from Isuka No Kimi e (spoiler alert)







Boys Love description:

Just doing his job, magazine editor Taishin Mamiya (Yoshikazu Kotani) interviews high school model Noeru Kisaragi (Takumi Saito). Despite Noeru's bad attitude, an enchanting picture of the ocean he draws leads Mamiya to invite him out for dinner after wards. They connect at the restaurant, but while in the bathroom there Noeru solicits Mamiya sexually. The next morning, Noeru's office calls the magazine office where Mamiya works. "Your editor was rude. Have him come and apologize." When Mamiya goes to Noeru's house to deliver the apology, he sees Noeru with a dirty-looking man. Mamiya is shocked to discover at that moment that his interest in Noeru goes beyond article research--he truly wants to know more about him.





Here is a bit from <ahref="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/takumi_saito">Wikipedia</a>


Internet Movie DataBase entry - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1102191/
Facebook Fan Page - http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=73728494344
Flixter Entry - http://www.flixster.com/actor/takumi-saito
Takumi photo Gallery - http://takumi-gallery.jp/

Sultry Takumi video:

X Japan - Nihon's foremost metal band

Inspired by the very interesting Canadian metal movie I just saw, Global Metal, which had a discussion about Visual Kei Japanese metal (the only kind of metal I am into actually :) I decided to post these vids of X-Japan since they were featured in that movie.

Here is Japan at its prettiest with the late Hide as lead guitarist - the one with the blonde and pink hairdos (he committed suicide, according to authorities, in 1998 but band members say it was a tragic accident - see more about Hide Matsumoto here):


And here they are on the Last Live final tour in 1997 (Hide died a year later):

This is a Japanese special documenting the band just before their 2007 rooftop reunion.



Here is part of the wikipedia entry on X-Japan:

(エックス ジャパン, Ekkusu Japan?) is a popular Japanese band founded in 1982 by Toshimitsu "Toshi" Deyama and Yoshiki Hayashi.[1] Originally named X (エックス), the group achieved its breakthrough success in 1989 with the release of their second album Blue Blood. They started out as a power/speed metal band and later gravitated towards a progressive sound, at all times retaining an emphasis on ballads. After three more albums, X Japan disbanded in 1997. Besides being one of the first Japanese acts to achieve mainstream success while on an independent label,[2] the group is widely credited for pioneering the visual kei movement,[3][4] though most of the group's members toned down their on-stage attire in later years.[5] As of 2007, the band has sold over twenty million records and over two million home videos.[6]


Finally here is the I.V. video of the band from their rooftop concert in 2007:


We miss you Hide.


Tags:

Canada's lighter and jazzier answer to Love Psychedelico, with a style vaguely similar to the Bare Naked Ladies - a J-Pop band who sing in Japanese and English in the same song - this time with the gaijin 外人 singing the fluent Japanese:



The band is Monkey Majik, a combination of the Canadian Plant brothers (from Ottawa, Ontario) and Japanese Takuya "tax" Kikuchi (菊池拓哉, Kikuchi Takuya?); and bassist DICK.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monkey_Majik

After five years they are fast becoming a HUGE hit in Japan.


空はまるで


fly

Their wikipedia entry states:

Monkey Majik is a rock band of Japan. The band consists of guitarists/vocalists Maynard and Blaise Plant, brothers who sing in Japanese and English; drummer Takuya "tax" Kikuchi (菊池拓哉, Kikuchi Takuya?); and bassist DICK. The Plant brothers originally hail from Canada. Though most of famous Japanese singers and bands live in Tokyo, they still live in Sendai which is about 350km away from Tokyo.

Their first release was an EP called TIRED, a self-financed release limited to 1,000 copies which was available at Tower Records in Sendai. Their first single was "fly" in 2006. It was a commercial success and was followed by their second single, "Around the World", which peaked at number 4 in the Japanese Oricon top 200 singles chart.

The band is named after a song by Godiego called "Monkey Magic". Maynard Plant, who speaks proficient Japanese, came to Japan in 1997 to teach English after graduating from Queen's University where he was president of the Alma Mater Society. Blaise was a solo musician in Canada before he moved to Japan in 2000.

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Official Website:
http://www.monkeymajik.com/
Blaise Plant's blog about Japan - http://blaiseplant.syncl.jp/

Klack is Back?

One of the MOST controversial visual punk bands in Jrock history, the band Klack クラック [pronounced "crack"] is back with a new single called Machine. 




Klack has not released an album since 2005 and have kept a low profile since showing a controversial video in 2004. The band caused a scandal with the video during a concert of 12 bands, called Beauti-fool's Fest '04.  It was sponsored by a Japanese national broadcaster TBS, in Chiba near Tokyo Disneyland. The group showed a video of the violent beheading of Japanese backpacker Shosei Koda by a militant Iraqi Jihadist group associated with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi the previous October 2004.  The video was shown for 10 minutes in its entirety to an unsuspecting crowd without the knowledge of the concert sponsors.  The Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) released a statement formally condemning the band's action, the band's website was censored for a time, and they received the reputation of being "one of the most disliked bands in Japan" keeping a low public profile for the last few years, according to JaME's biography about the band.


photo from Shosei Koda's Beheading video in 2004 from wikipedia

Shosei's death had been the subject of national sorrow and of controversy around the Japanese SDF's involvement in the rebuilding of Iraq until 2005 when they withdrew from the area. 24 year old Shosei Koda, a fundamental Christian had decided to ignore government and friend's warning to enter Iraq and experience the suffering of the people when he was abducted by a radical Islamist group which demanded that Japan withdraw from Iraq within 48 hours  or they would behead the young Japanese man:  on October 30, 2004 the group carried out its threat. (the link under the wikipedia shows the entire beheading execution video: warning it is graphic and disturbing).  In 2006 one of the members of the group was caught by Iraqi police and sentenced to death for his role in the execution.

The motivation for the showing of the Koda  execution video was reportedly not made clear by the band: was it is simple and vulgar publicity stunt or a graphic antiwar statement? The previous summer the band released a video (shown below) where they pose as terrorists. Reportedly, they have also claimed in interviews that they are terrorists bend on destroying the world themselves [though they look a bit fey to be taken seriously - haha]. Perhaps they only thought it went well with their lyrics in DIE WAY:

DIE WAY
"I wanna travel to Iraq so introduce me to a hotel"
"You shouldn't travel to Iraq. It's dangerous"
"It's ok! I'll be fine. I just wanna look around"
No I go to find myself
No I go to Iraq
No I go everything gonna be okay
No I go to find myself
No I go to Iraq
No I go excuse me
Please forgive me
"Here we are you stupid Jap" Go to hell way
"Here we are you stupid Jap" Go to die way

[It should be noted that many Japanese criticized Shosei's niavete for going into Iraq at all.  Shosei himself apologized to President  Koizumi on the video saying "I am sorry I put my head in your hands".

Klack's lyrics demonstrate a sense of disjointed and obsessive anti-establishment anarchy. Here is a sample from their 3 song mini-release Intifada which got them disassociated from their label Free Will Japan in 2004.
----------------------
INTIFADA 2004 - English translation

More into Bin Laden then brushing my teeth
More into George Bush then talking a shit
My life the rent is too expensive
Everyday is a downfall
So today I am positive like Jong-Il

Thinking solves nothing,
So just go crazy get into a vibe
Thinking solves nothing,
So just go crazy get into a vibe
----------------------------------------
This is the PV video for Intifada posted on YouTube:

The video Seike Wears a Suit - with stock footage of North Korea



These guys are young and it IS punk.  But there is a sharp political awareness here that is usually ABSENT in J-Rock and J-Rap, wherein this band just jumps right in the shit.  Maturity in lyrics and life outlook will only tell what direction Klack will take in 2008. But it should be interesting; unless they fucking sell out :)

Love Psychedelico ラブ・サイケデリコ


Love Psychedelico is a J-rock band which was established in the late 1990s. They are just starting to break into the North American market. Their trademark is their bilingual -English/Japanese (often in the same lyric line) tunes. Kumi (lead singer) lived in SanFrancisco CA as a child. More info on their USA site is here:
http://www.thisislovepsychedelico.com/
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The first paragraph of their wikipedia entry is as follows:

Love Psychedelico (officially capitalised as LOVE PSYCHEDELICO) (ラブ・サイケデリコ) is a Japanese band, widely popular in Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan.

The band was formed in 1997 by singer Kumi (born April 11, 1976 in Chiba Prefecture) and guitarist Naoki Sato (born July 21, 1973 in Shizuoka Prefecture[1]),while studying at Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo. They signed with major label Victor in 1999. In Japan they are often called Delico for short.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_Psychedelico

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I personally think their live performances are much more vibrant in terms of guitar work than their studio albums. Look here how Naoki Sato plays a lead guitar solo, full fuzz, on a friggin' amped acoustic ovation! They really should record a live album.  Here is an example of their hit "Your Song" live from YouTube.

Tokyo Tour 東京と日本 2002

A visual tour of West Tokyo (Inagi City) and Central Tokyo (Shinjuku, Shibuya, Yoyogi). From cosplay to J-rock to towers to crowds; this 2002 video documents the hyper-urban life of Japan.

ZechiMechi ゼチメチ are a unique experimental rock band who are currently traveing through Canada and performing gigs in the cities they end up in. In March 2008 they went to Toronto. They will be back on the West Coast soon. This live concert protrays well the frenetic energy of
Shogo "South" Minami (guitarist/keyboards) and Taro Hayashi (drums/percussion)











Websites:
1)

www.myspace.com/zechimechi

2) http://zechimechi.com

From the back of the manga cover:

Barefoot Gen is the powerful, tragic, autobiographical story of the bombing of Hirsohima and its aftermath, seen through the eyes of the artist as a young boy growing up in Japan.  The honest protrayal of emotions and experiences speaks to children and adults everywhere.  Barefoot Gen serves as a reminder of the suffering war brings to innocent people, and as a unique documentation of an especially horrible source of suffering, the atomic bomb.



From wikipedia:

Barefoot Gen (はだしのゲン, Hadashi no Gen?) is a Japanese manga series by Keiji Nakazawa, which was published by Chuokoron-Shinsha between 1973 and 1974. It was subsequently adapted into three live action film adaptations directed by Tengo Yamada, which were released between 1976 and 1980, two anime films by Madhouse, which were released on 1983 and 1986 respectively. In 2007, a live action television drama series adaptation which aired in Japan on Fuji TV over two nights, August 10 and 11.

It is set in 1945 in and around Hiroshima, Japan, where the six-year-old boy Gen lives with his family. After Hiroshima is destroyed by atomic bombing, Gen and other survivors are left to deal with the aftermath. The story is loosely based on Nakazawa's own experiences as a Hiroshima survivor.

My comments:  This manga probably elicits more emotion from me than any other that I have read; compassion, sorrow, humour, fatalism, horror. It is also politically fair: as much criticism is leveled at the Japanese right wing for continuing the war as it is at the Americans for dropping the two A-bombs. It also shows how savage people can be to each other when they are starving during a war.  However, Nakazawa's work shows the triumph of an optimistic spirit in the face enduring hardship - something even Tokyoites will express in the drudgery of their workaholic lives when they talk of their holiday plans in this millenium.  The wheat always pushes back through the barren ground even when the rice is gone.   Read this manga and you will understand the emotional make-up of Japanese culture even today.

___

If you are interested in the A-bombing of Hiroshima there are many documentaries about it. However, one of the best and most gripping recent documentaries is the Hiroshima (2005).  This episode of the Passionate Eye recreates the Hiroshima bombing with present day special effects worthy of Terminator 2 but with historic accuracy. It also has the dramatic portrayal of what is presented in volume 1 of Hashi No Gen to a family caught in the post-bombing firestorm.