Wednesday, 27 April 2011

"Departures" ~ a Japanese film about a young man's unlikely entry into the funeral business

I'm going to remember this beautifully crafted movie for a very long time.  

The story begins as a young man's dream of a career in music crumbles, when the orchestra in which he plays is unexpectedly dissolved.  
Fate takes Daigo Kobayashi (played by Masahiro Motoki) on an unexpected path to the doors of a funeral business, which he realises too late engages in 'encoffinment', otherwise described as casketing.  This is the Japanese ritual of washing, dressing and applying cosmetics to the deceased and then placing them into their coffins.  The ritual takes place in front of the family and others close to the deceased.  Although it is clearly an art it seems it is not generally considered a desirable career!

Daigo's first inclination is to beat a hasty retreat, but one way and another he is persuaded to continue, and as we see him go about his work we see the many widely differing situations in which people die and this work is carried out. 



Events in the young man's life are chronicled alongside this, taking some surprising twists and turns, and add considerable pathos to the story. 

The portrayal of Ikuei Sasaki by Tsutomu Yamazaki, the man who becomes his boss, is masterfully enigmatic and down to earth.

I didn't expect to enjoy this film, but found that I did very much.   I found it touching as well as enlightening even though it is a story rather than a documentary.  We see the whole gamut of emotions and judgements that people have about death and funerals laid bare.  We also see the importance of this carefully controlled and discrete ritual for those who grieve.

Footage of the handling of the (supposed) deceased is entirely modest, so there are no shocking images of corpses to contend with. 

This movie was released in 2008.  Dialogue is in Japanese with English subtitles.

American Idol ROCKS! Casey Abrams and James Durbin carry the day ~

The 2011 season continues to roll forward on a wave of high energy.  It's exciting viewing: each week I wonder what on earth Casey and James are going to come out with next!   At this stage all contestants are very accomplished but these two really pull it out of the hat with their on-stage acts.  This isn't only about singing well, it's about stage presence, and while singing is central to the contest, it's those with the ability to entertain and excite that keep us attentive and move us shout our enthusiasm!

Here is Casey singing  "Harder to Breathe" by Maroon 5:


And James singing "Uprising" by Muse: 
James accurately describes this as being about post-apocalyptic protest.  Nice one, Muse.  I'm sure many people around the globe can identify with these sentiments.


While some parts of James rendition make for uneasy listening, the raw delivery certainly drives home the tension of the lyrics. These should make us uneasy, and James teases out this edginess in his own special way.

These men are both so talented, and pour heart and soul into each performance.  I think this contest is between the two of them.  Although the final result is going to be a matter of popularity, in my view both deserve to win - in different categories.

It's wonderful to see such diversity of talent: Scotty is King of Country, and Jacob of Gospel and Soul; Hayley shines most in Jazz and paired up beautifully with Casey in the duet "Moanin'":


Lauren's Country style is a happy match with Scotty's when they have sung together; James is the Rocker.  With Stephano's departure we see the departure of middle-of-the-road Pop.  Who would have guessed it?  Congratulations to the judges for bringing forward this wide range of talent and to America for embracing it.

Monday, 18 April 2011

The great J.S. Bach and a pile of woodchips

Bach's famous piece of music, "Jesu, joy of man's desiring" is a favourite of mine, and I was enchanted to see and hear it played out on wood chips in the video below.

Yes, it was created for an advertisement, and what beautiful work it is.  Advertising has the scope to create wonderful art forms and the money to fund them.  Anyone with an ounce of music in them added to an ounce of woodwork experience will appreciate what has gone into making this structure produce the music!


There are many versions of this wonderful piece.  Here it is featuring the classical guitar.  This is my favourite: 


And I have to include this choral version as well, which will be much as Bach wrote it, intending it to be sung.  Truly great music has that frisson of uplift that takes us soaring with it, which is what this one does for me.  Wonderful! 


Bach, being German, wrote it in his own language.  The English version differs slightly and I prefer what I understand of the simpler sentiments as expressed in the German, so that is what I include here.  Also, I love to sing choral works in German, not that I have for years, but the music wells up in me...
Jesus bleibet meine Freude,
meines Herzens Trost und Saft,
Jesus wehret allem Leide,
er ist meines Lebens Kraft,
meiner Augen Lust und Sonne,
meiner Seele Schatz und Wonne;
darum laß' ich Jesum nicht
aus dem Herzen und Gesicht.
It's a simple statement of religious devotion which is sufficient unto itself.  Thank you Bach!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Casey Abrams special!

Casey is so talented and so different!  I've already posted a number of clips of him, but these two stick in my memory and I know I'll be wanting to listen to them again, and very likely other fans will enjoy them too.

"Have you ever seen the rain?" by Credence Clearwater Revival.  Randy has said that Casey has started a revolution by popularising the double bass.  Here we can see why!



Here he is singing "Nature Boy" by Nat King Cole.  'Haunting' is the word that springs to mind...