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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Conversation on Ai Otsuka, her songs and her music videos

Ai Otsuka in a kimono

Justin: I suspect Ai Otsuka suffers from manic depression, if only because I don't have any other way to explain the striking dichotomy of her songs: they are either hyper-upbeat, almost gleefully demented power-pop, or vulnerable, ingenuous ballads whose productions are detailed with patches of lovely instrumental color.

Singles like 'Sakuranbo' initially made me hate her: her 'upbeat' voice is a hyperspeed nasal squeal that quickly grates upon repeated listening. And I'm the sort of person who gets a kick out of Kana (click link to check out previous entry about her) and Ai Kago's voices, so you know this is some serious shit. (I also lived next to a Japanese girl who would play 'Sakuranbo' constantly, so my patience was tested beyond endurance). Other songs like "SMILY" and "Pon Pon" continued the trend. To get an idea of whether you'd actually enjoy listening to this, please inhale helium and scream the following four lines as fast as you can, with a simplistic (okay, moronic) 'da-da-da de duh de da-da-da' melody.


Ai Otsuka is pretty!This is essentially the entire song. You'd have to be Satan to have written it, or at least some kind of malefic genius. The proto-cyberpunk writer Alfred Bester has a novel called 'The Demolished Man' in which the hero uses an insidiously catchy marketing jingle ('tension, apprehension and dissension have begun') as a psychic shield to protect his plans from telepathic intruders. If 'The Demolished Man' were ever to be recast in Japan, I'm positive Our Hero would immediately call up Ai Otsuka's producers. (There's another song on the LOVE COOK album whose lyrics are a recipe for ramen, and whose melody is equally retarded). Not surprisingly, appreciation of stuff like this (which is about 40-50% of her catalogue) depends on your mood: if you're hungover, broke, and romantically rejected, you're not going to want to hear a bipolar pixie losing her shit over miso and soy sauce to sub-Green Day riffage.

But then there's the other Ai Otsuka, the one who somehow has command of restraint, timing, and pitch. In the slow songs, her voice opens up, finds its range, attains poignance. Beautiful ballads like "Kingyo Hanabi" and "Planetarium" seem like the work of a completely different artist, in a different universe from 'Sakuranbo'. Combined with some genuinely moving and beautifully cinematographed videos (and short films), they more than make up for the sonic schism.

Screenshots from Ai Otsuka's Daisuki da yo music video

So, while Ai Otsuka isn't likely to replace Ayu or Utada in my esteem any time soon (in fact, I think newer artists like sifow have already gotten her beat in terms of consistency), her discography is definitely worth a listen - or reconsideration, if you dismissed her the first time around.

Swifty: I was first introduced to Ai Otsuka two years ago by an old high school buddy of mine when she sent me the MP3 of Kingyo Hanabi. For a period of time, I loved the song a lot, looping constantly, allowing myself to drown within its melody. Unfortunately, I didn't bother to investigate more about the artiste because, being the cold cynic I had became ever since the disbanding of my once-beloved girl pop group, SPEED (which has hiro, object of my teenage romantic fantasies), I had assumed that she would've been a one-hit wonder, disappearing into obscurity thanks to the ever-fickle Japanese public.

To make it sound more dramatic (and fanboyishly stupid)... I COULDN'T make myself fall in love with another Japanese artiste again, fearing that I would face the kind of disappointment I had faced as a SPEED fan (the sudden disbanding, the lackluster solo endeavours, the ignored comebacks, the dumb career decisions etc.). Thus I shifted my attention to safe bets like Utada Hikaru and Nakashima Mika (Ayumi Hamasaki has way too many singles to follow), knowing that they're likely to be around for a while.

But I was wrong!

Young schoolgirl photo of Ai Otsuka!!Ai Otsuka DID become big. A realization that came to me when I found (and added) a fan page of hers on Myspace, and noticed that Ai Otsuka is also the 'Ai' in Justin's favourite Jpop blog, Channel-Ai (I thought it was one of the many Ai's from satanic Morning Musume). Suddenly rediscovering my intense love for Kingyo Hanabi, I tried to seek its music video, and the 15-minute short film of the same title.

I found them (via means I won't divulge here), and was blown away by both. But more the former than the latter, since the latter was somewhat meandering and directionless, too artsy fartsy for one as uncultured as I, being more a mood piece where the undercurrents of subtle emotions would escalate towards its ambiguous ending. And the latter was just, well, beautiful. Watch the following.

The beauty of the music video (and the song) made me want to weep.

And thus, I set out to grab hold of two Ai Otsuka albums, Love Punch and Love Pop, to see what I've missed in the past two years of not following the Japanese music scene. Of course, I will not tell you how I acquired them. But I brought the two albums to Justin, and he became an instant believer.

Like Steelsoulgray, Justin (and most people), I highly recommend Ai's ballads, they are so beautiful that they made me love... life. Her faster stuff, er, well, *points at Justin's comments*

By the way, if you're interested in checking out Ai Otsuka's music videos, go to Veoh instead of Youtube since most of her stuff uploaded at the latter site were constantly taken down due to copyright infringement.

All right, another Ai Otsuka song, Daisuki Da Yo, highly recommended to me by my little Japanese friend, Kyoko.