I haven't said much about the earthquake, even though I feel obliged to do so — after all, Japan has been a major focus of my attention for a long time now, so it would feel strange not to say something. But on the whole, I find I have been unable to say much that hasn't been said elsewhere: I wish Japan the best; I remain convinced they have the strength of spirit and the resources to see them through this mess; I've donated to causes that I hope will help; I wish I were there so I could help out (even if that last one borders on the naïve). I will simply bow my head and do what I can on this end, which is more or less what I've been doing for a few days now.
The press notes for Offering claim the album was inspired by the writings of Juran Hisao, a Japanese author not yet translated into English — in particular his mystery/noir novel Golden Wolf (the text of which is available through the public-domain archive Aozora Bunko). As with other Merzbow albums where the influences are worn openly on Masami Akita’s sleeve — A Taste Of... was allegedly inspired by various types of sushi — it’s something of a toss-up to see whether or not one can establish a connection between the music and the source material. I wasn’t able to figure out how this Amlux-like collection of rhythm loops and shearing layers of sound hooks back into Hisao’s tale, and I doubt it has anything to do with my translation skills not being quite up to snuff. The two tracks are titled “Deep Sea” and “The Light”, and you could sink into each of them as deeply as their real-world counterparts. This only makes me wonder all the more what album would spring from Akita’s encounters with Dogura Magura.
A second take on George Russell’s masterwork, recorded eleven years later with a different lineup (Victor Comer, Keith Copeland, Jean-Francois Jenny-Clark, Robert Moore, Lew Soloff) and a markedly dissimilar orchestration. This version switches the piano for organ, slows down the tempo of the opening movement to a funky amble, and makes many other changes. Many passages have the same electric thrill as the 1969 performance, although the brass sounds a touch sloppy and flatulent (particularly in the first movements). I still prefer the original, but this one — and the Essence of George Russell version — are fascinating to compare, both in terms of details and the overall sweep and execution of the piece.
A red herring, sadly enough. What originally looked like an attempt to pick up where Bruce Lee left off when Game of Death was cut short — a philosophical martial-arts movie — has turned out to be nothing much at all. 3 continues where 2 left off, with the hero (Tony Jaa) being nearly broken by his captors but eventually rehabilitating himself via Buddhist mind training. He eventually faces off against his diabolical nemesis (Tony Jaa, again) but only after too few fight scenes and too much plotless weirdness that doesn’t add up to much. The connection with the first film is established, but only in a very backhanded way. It’s frustrating how little of this turned out to be worth the wait, even though there are some individual fights that show Jaa can still dish out (and take) a punch like few others alive right now. Maybe next time he’ll do it in the context of a story worth caring about.
The heck with the labels. That’s what I say when faced with writing about Tow Ubukata’s Mardock Scramble: forget about the categories you could slot this book into; forget about what part of the shelf to stick it in. Just plonk yourself in front of it and read it and have an Experience with a capital E. I took notes while reading, and words like “cyberpunk”, “post-SF”, “transhuman”, “anime-inspired” litter the pages. I even wrote what amounted to a slugline: “La Femme Nikita meets William Gibson.” But after a certain point I put the pencil down and just let the book be its inimitable self, and came away equally impressed by its ambition and its emotion. A story that is both this magnificently strange and this deeply felt is best experienced with as little preface as possible. Don’t let me ruin your chances of having a good time with it.
That said, this is a review, so let me do my duty as best I can. Scramble takes place in a near-future city vaguely modeled after New York, where certain key technological advancements (antigravity, dimensional pockets) have taken place albeit behind closed doors and under heavily controlled circumstances. A teenaged prostitute named Rune-Balot almost dies at the hands of her current john, a gambler and schizo nutcase named Shell, but she’s rescued from burning to death in Shell’s limo by a scientist, Easter, and his shapeshifting sidekick, the “All-Purpose Tool” Oeufcoque. The only way they can save her life is by repairing her body with black-market technology, which grants her a remarkable set of powers (cyber-hacking, endurance, speed, etc.). Read more