Finally, the one summer movie I cared about (yes, that means I didn’t really anticipated Toy Story 3). Ever since I read that Christopher Nolan was making another movie after The Dark Knight, I’ve been patiently waiting, attempting to avoid all of the trailers, flyers, posters, and rumors. The only information I had was that Leonardo DiCaprio was in it, and there were people that saw the trailers and thought it was stolen from Paprika. So after so many months, I finally sat a movie theater in Kyoto with a few hundred others at around 11 o’clock at night. And it was truly amazing.
Having ten years to write, Christopher Nolan formulates a complex story blending the concepts of dreams and reality. While this formula is not new to the film world (ie, the Matrix and any Satoshi Kon film) or science fiction in general, he attempts to create his own vision using dreams within dreams and “inception”, the ability to change a person’s way of thinking and identity of self.
In general, the film can be viewed in two different ways—the literal, straightforward narrative or the more intentionally out-of-order interpretative narrative. Both ways are enjoyable, though I’d strongly advise the first-time viewer to watch it in the literal, straightforward way. Just watch the movie and enjoy it. Don’t try to think too hard.
Understanding the film can be frustrating, and the multiple interpretations of the film can keep the viewer constantly awake at night, pondering which scene is reality or a dream or out of order. Either way of watching, the film was intentionally done to be enjoyed in multiple ways and through multiple viewings. Everything is meticulously done, whether the film is introducing new characters, leave certain information out, or leaving a scene to what seem too long or out of place. Christopher Nolan is a master at keeping the viewer constantly guessing what will happen or what is actually happening on screen.
The cast are all well thought out. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the protagonist Cobb, a fugitive that uses his expertise in dreams to extract information from others for his powerful employers. Arthur, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is his partner, Other key characters include the powerful corporate CEO Saito (Ken Watanabe), the dream architect Ariadne (Ellen Page), Cobb’s love interest Mal (Marion Cotillard), and the “antogonist” Robert FIscher Jr. (Cillian Murphy). No matter how insignificant the characters seem to be, each have an important role within the film. None of the characters seem too complex, and it might be intentional. With such a strange and complex story compared to what the average film viewer may be used to, keeping the number of characters to a minimum is actually a positive.
Rarely, have I said anything about the story so far. Well, it’s because there’s not much to write in the most objectional way.Of course, a review is never purely objective, but since there are multiple interpretations to the film (and I have my own) I will leave most of the actual plot left to the viewer. I will say, however, that this is an action movie, and though there are deaths and blood, the level of violence is tone down. This is not a romance film; nothing is overly humorous, though it isn’t a tearjerker either. It’s more eerie than anything, and it will keep the viewer guessing what’s next.
There has been some speculation that the film stole key scenes from Satoshi Kon’s Paprika. Whether that is true I don’t know. Having both films, I will say that Inception is an original piece, with it’s own story, major differences, and interpretation. There’s a saying that the greatest artists “steal” (or “borrow” might be a better word). Inception isn’t going to change science fiction, but it is a welcoming film within the science fiction realm. Just as the Matrix was directly influenced by Ghost in the Shell, if the allegations are true then Inception can be said to be influenced by Paprika.
Inception is an exceptional film that require multiple viewings. So far everyone I know who had seen the film had loved it. It is not as eerie as a David Lynch film but just as beautiful and creative. The film not only reminds me of Christopher Nolan’s other works, such as Momento and The Prestige, but also other science fiction films, such as Blade Runner and the Fountain.
I was lucky enough to see Inception in Kyoto at TOHO Cinemas a week before the official opening. I’ve never seen an audience so quiet. Maybe they were awed at how amazing the film was, but if I had seen the film on opening night, I was expecting claps during the end credits similar to my viewings of Iron Man and The Dark Knight. If one watches the Inception trailer or see the poster, the caption ”from the director of The Dark Knight" is in plain view while Christopher Nolan’s name can barely be seen. Whether this was the director’s intentions or not, it is still sad that not many know of him. Though he is a relatively new director, Nolan seems to be already at his prime. Hopefully, his originality will not fade soon. This script may have taken ten years to write, but this will certainly not be his last masterpiece.
Where to begin… Midori is one of those bands that you find by accident and think, “holy shit, where was my life before I heard of this?!” Okay, maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration, but that’s besides the point. A mix of experimental noise rock with a screaming female singer, throw in a crazy pianist and you’ve got Midori. It’s a band that reminds me of the Velvet Underground, an band that makes strange but beautiful music.
The main vocalist and guitarist, Mariko Goto, sings in an unconventional way, switching between yelling, talking, and sometimes actually singing. This isn’t the average j-pop singer. Her voice won’t soothe the listener unless that person is as strange as me. Being not fluent in Japanese I can’t say about the lyrical element of the album, but I can say that they are musically great. The pianist and drummer are also great, keeping up the mostly high pace of the album.
The review coincides with my experience seeing Midori live in Osaka at the BIGCAT (06.19.10). They sounded great on the album and proved to be better live, bringing the crowd into a moshpit. Mariko Goto actually jumped on me at the end of the encore.
I admit that the reason I even gave Midori a listen was because the singer was wearing a school uniform on the cover of the first album, but I’ve grown to really enjoy listening to them over the past year. Midori has become possibly my favorite Japanese band, a band far more original than any pop group I’ve been hearing lately.
I admit that this isn’t really a review, so much as a selfless promotion. Buy Shinsekai. It’s a great album. And if you happen to be in Japan, see them live.
Currently Listening: Reflection Eternal - Revolutions Per Minute; Nas & Damian Marley - Distant Relatives; The Roots - How I Got Over
I’m sitting at one of my favorite local cafes in Kyoto, the Collabo, while sipping a cup of cappuccino and listening to the newest Roots album. I couldn’t bring a laptop with me today, so I’ll be using the old pen and paper technique. This might mean my writing will be rougher, but oh well.
It’s been a great summer for hip-hop. With the amount of travelling and exploring I’m having in Japan, it’s great to bring a little bit of home. Hip-hop seems huge in Japan though, with so many restaurants and department stores playing the latest hip-hop songs without cutting the curse words out. Being an avid CD buyer, Tower Records luckily carries a large catalogue of American hip-hop. Walk down the aisle and you’ll see recommendations for classics, such as Nas’ Illmatic, as well as new critically acclaimed releases, such as Revolutions Per Minute, Distant Relatives, and How I Got Over.
Whether someone is searching for returning collaborations or new experiments, there is something for hip-hop fans. Ten years after their first critically acclaimed release, Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek return at last with Revolutions Per Minute. Talib Kweli slows down his lyrics (but never dumb down) to follow Hi-Tek’s smooth but upbeat sound. It’s a blend of deep bass, rythmic drums, horns, and keyboard strokes. Talib continues to convey intelligent but not overly preachy lines.
The highlight of the album is the single “In This World”, a track filled with hard constant bass, a soulful female chorus, a few turntable scratches, and even a sample of Jay-z off of the Black Album. I’ve been wondering for a years if Talib Kweli would ever use that memorable nod in a song. Talib Kweli’s lyrics in the song are probably the most carefully selected choice of words in the entire album. Instead of rapping as fast as he could to put down as many words in a line as possible, he slows down to let the words speak for itself. Sometimes one word is worth a million.
Welcome to my longitude, the latitude, my attitude is shaping my surroundings, skyscrapers, public housing The sheep is running from the sun, the wolves is howling at the moon It’s tragic how you in the street cause you ain’t got no avenues When it come to rapping who’s the baddest dude? (In this world) You still don’t get it This a recession, what recession? Dog, we been stressing Shit been a mess and we been dealing with this depression since way back, but you ain’t got to say that, that’s the greatest lesson Slave to our possession, greed the devil favorite weapon Fight to the death, only the greatest left (In this world)
The few collaborators on the album add an extra spotlight to an already great album. Bun B returns to working with Talib in the single “Strangers”, a song about livng in constant paranoia and dissidence in the current state of American culture of violence and economic injustice.
[Bun B] Gotta let the people know from the get-go Bun B is a product of the ghetto Good or bad man I just can’t let go No I ain’t a rich man but it’s been set though And I’m still on the grind trying to get dough Why the government wanna keep me in debt for? They wanna keep me in debt for? Look at AIG and the bailouts Stepping on the fish just so you can help the whale out Got his ass out or should I say tail out Need another job like a paper or a mail route We the fresh best in take the stale out Make it rain they see it I’m a put a pail out Man I’m a put a pail out know what I’m saying?
"Just Begun" is a great track featuring New Orleans’ Jay Electronica, J. Cole, and Mos Def, each contributing to Hi-Tek’s drums and horns.
[Jay Electronica] …Build a home, teach a class, start a revolution Free the mind, heal the body, talkin’ evolution This that black Elohim Anunnaki rap That Farrakhan Akeem Olajuwon Qaddafi rap I dedicate this to my niggas in New Orleans Rockin’ black and gold stocking caps and fleur-de-lis Shockey hats I’m in the coatroom, screamin’ “Who Dat” on the double Servin’ gumbo wit’ a shovel, dawg, I’m on another level Me and Kweli come together like two pieces of metal We magnetizin’ the ghetto
[J. Cole] …‘Cause couple years ago, the game had they pajamas on But now they on my dick, man, I should throw a condom on Ay, ’cause a nigga comin’ raw like I ain’t got one on And I ain’t stoppin’ or coppin’ no pleas, I just lock and load, squeeze Dawg, I’m on a higher level, I’m on top of nosebleeds Niggas say they sick, but when they rock, they don’t sneeze Like the nigga on the block wavin’ his Glock but won’t squeeze Please
[Mos Def] Hold your applause until the ceremony end Yours truly, truly blessed, yet again a noble patented Super magic, abracadabra kid Mysterious master Jim, blacker pen, arrowhead With the long-barrel stem, and his apparel fresh Harbor lights shinin’ out the black power grid With the Black Power grip And pure power don’t power trip…
Nas and Damian Marley’s experiment, Distant Relatives, is something that strangely works so well. Nas returns with his usual delivery of African pride, life in the projects, his personal life, and fear of America today. The sound is a mix of tribal drums, soulful choruses, and the occasional piano and violin strokes. I will admit that as much as I enjoyed Nas’ previous two albums, Hip Hop is Dead and Untitled (aka Nigger) is nothing compared to this. It is a breath of fresh air, and although Nas doesn’t technically need to collaborate with others, Damian Marley’s soulful sound help contrast to Nas’ attacking lyrics to create something truly beautiful. I will also admit that I know almost nothing about raggae music other than Bob Marley nor anything about Damian Marley. I do, however, like his voice and will look into him more in the future.
[Damian Marley] …Jah said don’t be a beggar, the Alpha Omega Will bless every soul no matter which name you prefer The immortal stepper, believe in every skin no matter which color they are We never let we don’t know here which kind of weather You’re destined to rise like the Son of Rebecca Don’t stop for a second Everyone reckon, it sure would be good to be there Whether Zion or Mecca When the gates are finally closed And the saints go marching in
[Nas] I’ma street lifer, always harassed by the C-Ciphers Chief-like, Geronimo with his peace pipe I emerged from the street life This for the homies who relate, know what it be like My QB life Taken and turned to the Louie XIII light Twisted and mangled sorta like Bruce Lee life Cursed with his son Brandon, if that’s you and me Knight I pray our fate’s greater I speak like I still matter as a rapper, not doubting… Even Toni Braxton signed a deal with Craig Kallman How in, the hell am I supposed to stay comfy? When I pay child support, alimony, monthly? Got Maserati’s & Ferrari’s Only like a woman whose a rider, but only hoes want me Single life crazy Niggas wives on me I say ’stay faithful,’ they say ‘their man corny’ So I’m stuck with some married woman, so fine Cheating while their husband rushing on the 40 yard line Wonder if, this is what my ex did the whole time Good niggas seem to always end up with some hard times, hope not If a pimp slippin’ in a hoe plot, ain’t nothing to it G In a two-tone drop, kid And it don’t stop, see a nigga disappearing with the baddest honey’s in the whole spot Yeah!
Distant Relatives ends with “Africa Must Wake Up”, an ode to Africa, the birth of civilization and a celebration of its contribution and culture. Within the mix of keyboard strokes and African drums is a guitar solo in the middle as moment of tranquility, drawing the album to a beautiful closing. The last song is one of my favorite within the album. It’s a relaxing song that makes one ease their head after listening to an amazing album, like enjoying a glass of whiskey after a long day.
If Revolutions Per Minute can be described in one word as smooth and Distant Relatives as beautiful, the Root’s How I Got Over would be perfect. The album is a mix of piano strokes, percussions, and drum hits mix in with lyrics about touring, daily struggles, and the current economic uncertainty. Each track seems to just blend to the next but at the same time have something to make it their own. How I Got Over displays how the Roots are seniors in their own right, showing their professionability and musical precision. It might be out of personal preference to more depressing albums, but out of the three albums, How I Got Over is the most complete.
The album is divided into two; the first half is a more depressing take on life, while the second half is sheer display of lyrical and musical ability. Of course there are more uplifting songs, such as “Now or Never” or the album title song “How I Got Over”, but even those songs feel more like about living day by day hoping for something better rather than songs to be inspired. There’s no real standout track from the album because each song is mixed in so well together, but “Doin’ It Again” is my current favorite. The drumming by Questlove is amazing mixed in with Black Thought’s vicious lyrics.
Uh, remix, rising up out of the flames like a Phoenix Straining to carry the weight of my brain like a genius Knowing I’m sowing seeds, let’s see whose thumb is the greenest If I said I mean it, I did it because I need it Eat, sleep it or bleed it, write it down and then read it Asphalt to the cement, your trash talk, delete it I blast off then lay ‘em out like a Tempur-Pedic It’s Black Thought, for certain I’ma win eventually This unsung, underrated, under-appreciated The one them underachievers had underestimated Finally graduated, I’m one of the most hated Something that’s so sacred, nobody gon’ take it Face it, I keep doin’ it well Doin’ it sans assistance, just do it yourself Doin’ it below the radar, we doin’ it stealth Doin’ it again for Illadelph, yo who else? We gon’ do it again!
Black Thought may be one of the most underrated rappers out there, but that doesn’t stop him from delivering great lines. The Roots has been one of the most interesting group of musicians. Having recently gotten into them by their album Game Theory, it’s been interesting listening to how they have changed from Illadelph Halflife to now. Rising Down was good, but it was not as complete as this album.
Well, I drank all of my cappucino hours ago. I just realize that I’m the only one still in this cafe. I guess its time to leave. It’s been a great summer so far, here in Japan and for listening to new hip-hop. Sadly, all of the good hip-hop I’ve been listening to are from rappers that have already been proved to be great. Looking forward to buy the new Big Boi and Nappy Roots albums soon. Hopefully, I’ll write something about them. Until then.