Ifukube performed in Kalamazoo, MI 
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 09:21 PM

Reiko Yamada--pianist

Last Friday (3/28/08), I had the rare chance to attend a performance of one of Akira Ifukube's classical works, Ritmica Ostinata, here in the US. While Ifukube's classical works have no doubt been performed stateside in the past, such chances are few and far between, and seldom publicized. Thanks to a heads-up from my friend Kazuo Sumiya, I was alerted to this piece being performed by the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, featuring Reiko Yamada as the orchestra's principal pianist, as part of a programed title 'Japanese Garden'. Ritmica Ostinata has always been one of my top 3 favorite classical pieces by Ifukube, and one which I had never seen performed, live or on video.

Kalamazoo is a roughly 3-hour drive from my home, meaning that I (together with my friend Bill Gudmundson) would have to invest six hours of driving time for the chance to see a 20 minute piece performed. Stopping off on the way to Michigan to visit with a friend, he shook his head when we told him what we going to do. "Why would you drive all that way just for that?" Well, as an Ifukube-enthusiast, I had no doubt it was the right thing to do, but why we would spend a whole day and a tank of gas for a few minutes listening pleasure?

The concert was held on the campus of Western Michigan University at Miller Auditorium, an intimate venue for a concert. The concert was almost completely sold out, the crowd mostly middle-aged and older. I couldn't help but wonder to myself how Ifukube's music would play for this audience. The evening started out with Tohru Takemitsu's Dream/Window, a rather impressionistic piece that is almost the polar opposite of Ifukube's style. Somewhat atonal and quite challenging for the orchestra due to the lack of specific melodies, this piece did seem an odd choice for opening the program. This was followed by a pleasant rendition of Respighi's The Birds, after which there was an intermission...Ritmica Ostinata would open the second half.

Reiko Yamada has had a long association with the Kalamazoo Symphony, and tonight she would be the featured performer. In a separate interview (see www.akiraifukube.org), Ms. Yamada had expressed how difficult this piece was for a pianist...having heard Ritmica Ostinata scores of times over the last 30 years, my impression was that the difficulty must lie in the timing, as some of the rhythms are irregular. Ms. Yamada came on stage in an elegant powder blue gown, assumed her position at the piano, and the payoff for our long drive was about to begin...

My total lack of musical understanding became immediately apparent...within moments, upon witnessing how the pianist had to perform, I could see how wrong my assumptions were about the difficulty of this piece. Ms Yamada vigorously attacked the keyboard, treating the piano almost as if it were a percussion instrument. This was necessary to make the piano stand out against the orchestra, and playing with a controlled fury was also the only way to make Ifukube's tribal rhythms come across. The intensity of Yamada's performance, the enormous amount of physical energy she expended as she pounded away at the keys, often bouncing off of the piano bench, the concentration required to play in this manner for 20 minutes...it all became clear. Recordings just don't convey this. As the piece progressed, Yamada's facial expression slowly changed...while starting with grim concentration, by the time the last movement came around, she bounced around the keyboard with a wry smile, clearly enjoying what she was doing. Ifukube would have been proud.

Immediately upon the conclusion to Ritmica Ostinata, the audience erupted in loud applause, which quickly became a well-deserved standing ovation. While no doubt drained from the enormous energy she expended in performing, Ms Yamada answered several curtain calls. I doubt that the Kalamazoo audiences have seen this kind of spirited performance and rousing music performed very often. Great music performed with real passion...

That's why we drove six hours...


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Book Review--Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters 
Tuesday, March 18, 2008, 06:45 PM


It hasn't been often that Japanese sf and fantasy cinema has had publications written in English released in this country, and all but a handful have been written by individuals with either little knowledge or respect for the genre. At the end of November of 2007, Chronicle Books published a coffee table hardcover volume called "Eiji Tsuburaya-Master of Monsters" which bucks the trend and provides what many of us have been patiently waiting for over the years. Written by Japanese film expert August Ragone, this book serves up important research on the father of Japanese special effects in a profusely illustrated package.

Visually, the book is quite impressive. Kudos to Chronicle's designers for recognizing that such a visual medium like Japanese sf demands an emphasis on visual materials. The designers present a large number of stills, and wisely most of them are printed large enough so that the reader can drink in the rich details. Brad Warner deserves credit for not only digging up the huge inventory of stills, but also for the far more challenging and frustrating task of dealing with the myriad corporate bureaucracies in Japan to unravel issues of rights and obtain permissions. I'm sure he could write a book on that subject alone.

Unlike Japanese books, whose enjoyment in the West is often limited to the visuals, here is a book which readers can learn a lot from. In terms of style, Ragone's text is economic and accessible, a smooth and informative read. Ragone's research pays off in an interesting account of Tsuburaya's early life, presenting many facts previously unpublished in English. Some complaint has been raised that there are not enough 'making of' stories, but that seems to miss the point of a biography such as this. If anything, I felt the opposite...I wanted to learn even more about the man and his thinking, his accomplishments. The pictures take care of the 'how-to' aspect. The most interesting part of the book for me was Ragone relating the development of Tsuburaya's involvement with tv production. It would be interesting to see what Chronicle's editors decided to clip from the original manuscript for the book, which was considerably longer according to the author. What the editors choose for the last portion of the book turned it into more filmography than biography.

Quibbles? Well, it's a shame that Chronicle chose not to produce the book in an even larger format as with some of their other picture books. These photos are best enjoyed when printed large, a point often lost on Japanese book designers. From a content viewpoint, the choice to refer to films by literal translations of their Japanese titles is rather peculiar. While it is true that many of the the films mentioned are known by several titles outside of Japan, these literal translations do not correspond to any common references. While most people familiar with the films can figure out the proper references, those unfamiliar with these films could easily be confused. Awkward titles like "Beauty and the Liquid People" may be technically accurate, but no one refers to films by them, especially when entirely appropriate titles like "The H-Man" are either well-known or easy to find in reference materials. But it is a small matter.

Quite simply put, this book offers good information presented in a handsome package. If you haven't obtained a copy of this book yet, what are you waiting for? A must have for anyone interested in the cinema of the fantastic. Here's a link to get you on your way...

http://www.amazon.com/Eiji-Tsuburaya-Mo ... amp;sr=8-1

Ed G.

PS - And congratulations are in order for the book getting an honorable mention in the 6th annual Rondo Awards!

Out of hibernation 
Wednesday, March 12, 2008, 07:51 PM
Ok, well, at least it wasn't as long between blog entries as it was between Issues #8 and 9 of JG. Sorry for the long absence in posting, but I have been quite busy in various projects. Sometime this year, what that has been will become apparent and hopefully it will explain my lack of activity here. But enough of that...time to start adding content again.

I recently returned from a business trip to Japan, during which I was able to make time to attend Wonder Festival, a semi-annual event that most collectors should find the opportunity to attend at least once if you can. I filed a report over at SciFi Japan that you may want to take a look at:

http://www.scifijapan.com/articles/2008 ... onderfest/

Ed G.

Whew, it's been a long time... 
Wednesday, July 4, 2007, 11:17 PM
Since this blog has rocked or rolled. This is the official poster for the Godzilla Unleashed game from Atari. Godzilla Unleashed will be released for the Wii later this year.



Gojira Heads to Saturn!!! 
Tuesday, May 15, 2007, 01:26 AM
It seemed that the 2006 Awards season was over but word comes out today that Classic Media's Gojira DVD collected the Best DVD Classic Film Release at the 33rd annual Saturn Awards. The Saturn Awards are presented annually by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films.

For a complete list of winners, visit the Saturn Awards website.


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