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Monday, August 10, 2015

Tales from the 2015 J-POP SUMMIT Festival: Eyenoise, Uchizono-san's Pick, and Very Few Mikus

Posted By on Mon, Aug 10, 2015 at 11:00 AM

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The J-POP SUMMIT Festival is a celebration of all things related to Japanese pop culture, and as I lamented in my preview of the Japan Film Festival, this year's shindig moved from its native Japantown to Fort Mason, largely because last year's event was crazy-busy, a teeming crowd of humanity congregated in a few square blocks. This was mostly thanks to Ramen Street, which was curiously absent this year. But once I got over the fact that I'd have to drive all the way across town rather than just halfway, that I wouldn't get to use San Francisco's Best Public Restroom in New People, and that I just like being in Japantown whatever the reason, this year's festival – held on August 8 and 9 – was a similarly fun and gratifying experience.

I've found I'm developing rituals around the J-POP SUMMIT Festival; like last year, I prepared for the weekend's festivities by doing a Festival Preview special Wednesday night on my Radio Valencia show, Nose Hair Lint Gland. The 2014 edition was all about Vocaloid icon Miku Hatsune, and while she was the cover girl again this time around, the episode ended up focusing more on Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, my favorite film of 2015, and "Beyond the White Veil" by SpacEKraFT, which I strongly associate with Miku for reasons too complicated to get into here.

click image NOSE HAIR LINT GLAND, AUGUST 5, 2015.
  • Nose Hair Lint Gland, August 5, 2015.

I also wrote about last year's festival for a "nerd culture" website that I seldom contribute to anymore, because the commenters are largely straight cis males of the sort who consider Ben Affleck playing Batman to be something worth getting very very very angry about thus I have nothing in common with them, and their responses to the article were largely of the "WTF Japanese people are so weird lol" variety. But I'm still proud of the article itself, and their horrible comments have all been disappeared for some reason, so feel free to read it first.

This year's event officially kicked off Friday, August 7 at the Castro Theatre with the opening night of the Japan Film Festival, which is continuing on for a week after the J-POP SUMMIT itself ends. I was accompanied by my friend and fellow adventurer KrOB, and while I was taking this picture, I found myself wondering: do we have an official name for this kind of Castro Marquee shot? Sometimes they seem no less ubiquitous than cat pictures.

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The main feature was Sogo Ishii's Electric Dragon 80.000V, starring Tadanobu Asano (probably most familiar to the readers of that other site as Hogun, one of the controversial yet underused non-white Asgardians from the Thor movies) as a man in touch with his reptile brain, who can also shoot electricity from his fists, and shreds on the electric guitar like nobody's business. It was an hour long, in glorious b&W, and full of awesome.

 

Asano-san was on hand for a post-screening Q&A, and also to receive an Honorary Award from the Japan Film Festival; it struck me that the award took the form of a bouquet of flowers the size of his torso. There are a lot of problems with gender roles and inequity in Japanese society, but at the same time, it isn't considered too un-masculine for him to receive flowers. I like that.

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This was followed by Koji Morimoto's short film Dimension Bomb, with an accompanying live techno soundtrack by DJ Ken Ishii.


Dimension Bomb is an experimental and non-linear film even when watched with the subtitles on, but without subtitles and Ishii's driving beats, it was downright breathtaking. I'd referred to Morimoto and Ishii's collaboration as Eyenoise in the preview piece, and KrOB – who coined the term – agreed that it perfectly fit the bill.

Arriving at Fort Mason on Saturday morning, KrOB and I were greeted by the Paper Bag Fairies, as you will.

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Look, it's obviously not a competition – SF Weekly's bread is buttered on the Outside Lands side (it's on our current cover, after all), and I'll grant that I get cranky about That Thing in the Park because it fouls up traffic in the Outer Sunset and also because my upstairs neighbors host out-of-town friends and oh my gawd they were so loud late into Thursday night – but if there was a competition for the most entertaining cultural event happening on the second weekend of August 2015 in San Francisco, the winner was clearly to be found at Fort Mason.

Though I missed Japantown for sentimental reasons, there's no denying that the new location made it easier to actually move around and breathe.

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It was KrOB's first time at J-POP, and he quickly got into the swing of things…

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…and Cyclops-ed out as appropriate.

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There was free karaokee (you may laugh, but if you think about it, that spelling actually makes sense)…

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…plenty of merch of all kinds…

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amazing futuristic technologies

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…plenty of artists…

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…and more than a few travel agencies, exemplified by the Ryokan Pavilion.

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The Pavilion was ultimately a sales pitch, of course, and while I didn't partake, I appreciated how they went about it, and what it represented. The idea was that you'd take off your shoes and put on the provided kimono robe and wooden sandals, and then go through a series of "mini-theatres" which recreate staying at Ryokan inns "through a combination of HD video projection and life-sized scale model rooms." Again, the whole point is get people to plunk down a lot of money to visit Japan (something I'd certainly do if I had a lot of money to plunk down), but as with the rest of the J-POP SUMMIT Festival, I really like that gaijin such as myself are actively encouraged to wear the clothes and to participate in the culture.

Indeed, the overarching theme of the event is, "Come and play with our toys!"

This means being able to play with those toys with the explicit blessing of that other culture, and presumably without the charge of cultural appropriation. Setting aside for the moment that it's a Chinese rather than Japanese garment, years ago I expressed to a more-progressive-than-thou friend that I'd love to try on a cheongsam were I ever able to find one that fit my frame, and she scolded me for even considering such a thing, informing me in no uncertain but oddly Catholic terms I was being a cultural imperialist by expressing such a thought out loud. (She doesn't talk to me anymore.)

It's why after last year's J-POP SUMMIT Festival, I decided to give Miku Hatsune a shot at the 2014 Cosplay SF Halloween Ball, and then at Further Confusion this past January. Speaking of whom, after the several in attendance at J-POP in 2014 – which was possibly because of the impending release of the Project DIVA F 2nd video game – I only spotted one Miku this year, though it's possible she was present in greater numbers on Sunday.

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My own Miku-ing was not based on the traditional look of the young lady above, but rather the paramilitary style associated with the song "Love is War":

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In spite of having the clothes custom-made for me by Scouts Honor Clothing Company and even acquiring the proper megaphone, my attempts to pull off that look fell somewhere between "noble failure" and "ego-shattering disappointment," so I cut my losses this weekend, just going with the black-and-teal shirt and tie (one of the two circumstances in which I'll wear a tie, the other being when I'm going full-on schoolgirl), and adding a teal streak to my blond-and-pink hair.

As it happens, an artist at J-POP by the name of Yan Wong (aka eight-bears) was offering commissions to, as her sign said, "Turn you into an anime character." I paid her, she snapped a photo of me, and a little while later, she gave me this.

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Y'know what? My previous failures don't seem so bad now. Whatever else I wasn't able to pull off in the past, in that moment I was able to be the basis for this picture, and it made everything up to that point feel worth it. And the day wasn't over just yet.

The J-POP SUMMIT Festival offered plenty of live entertainment, some of it probably what'd you expect, some of it less so.

There was the perfectly pleasant pop duo Faint Star, which is a name I like a lot. It's so modest – they're a star, but a faint star, y'know? They're more like Regulus than Sirius.


Then there was the hyper-kawaii Musubizm, an "entertainment idol" outfit that was only constructed last year, and had their first public performance back in December. This is the kind of thing that aggravates people for whom quote-authenticity-unquote is paramount, but it's their loss, because Musubizm is just a lot of fun.


After the classiness of Faint Star and the relative innocence of Musubizm, there's the come-hither-but-not-too-hither sexayness of Amaiya. And they're twins, even.


If there'd been a lack of anything on the main stage up tot his point, it was hardcore costumery. That drought ended with the appearance of the Go-Torch Characters – mascots representing different Japanese cities or prefectures –and one of whom needed to tune up their guitar while the announcer made it clear who in the audience were Paper Bag Fairies and who was not.


The Characters are introduced, including the three official Paper Bag Fairies collectively known as Sanasenabona, brother and sister bears Koakkuma & Akkuma, and token humie Chicchai Ossan, literally described as "a middle-aged Japanese guy," and quite like Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force with a better attitude. What I was saying before about gender roles is very much on display here – the girl bear Koakkuma is pink and spreads love, while the boy bear Akkuma is blue, has bat wings, and plays electric guitar – but setting that aside, I defy you to play electric guitar so well through a fursuit. Besides, we'll get to girls playing even meaner guitars shortly.



And there is mayhem, oh yes there is. I tried my best throughout to keep the Brian Eno-lookin' photographer out of the frame, but it was quite difficult.



The audience during the performance, including the deputized Paper Bag Fairies.



For as much as I enjoyed the Go-Torch Characters, I was most excited about the return of all-female rock group the Akabane Vulgars On Strong Bypass, who were also one of last year's highlights. Among my rituals is to record each year's performance of "House of the Rising Sun."


Here's last year's performance…


…and I will be there for 2016. But 2015 was especially memorable because at the end of their set, singer and lead guitarist Yumi Uchizono threw her pick into the crowd, and while I didn't "catch" it so much as "picked it up off the ground near my feet," by god, I now have a genuine Akabane Vulgars On Strong Bypass guitar pick, kept safe for posterity in my lanyard.

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I'm sure there was fun to be had at That Thing in the Park, too, but the J-POP SUMMIT Festival was best place for me.



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Sherilyn Connelly

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