Saturday, January 28, 2012

Review: Ayakashi - Samurai Horror Tales (2006)

Ayakashi - Samurai Horror Tales (2006) is a Japanese historical horror show. It is a collection of three classic Japanese horror stories. It contains 11 episodes.

Tenshu Monogatari ~The Goddess of Dark Tower~

Tomihime, a Forgotten God princess who lives in the White Castle, meets a young handsome human in the woods. Zushonosuke is searching for a lost falcon for his lord and asks her has she seen the bird. Although humans are forbidden to enter the White Castle, the lord orders Zushonosuke to continue the search and seize the falcon from the tower. Although Tomihime tells him to never return, Zushonosuke falls in love with her. Their forbidden love leads to tragedy as the barrier ruptures between the supernatural and human worlds.

Yotsuya Kaidan ~The Ghost of Yotsuya~

This is a tale of betrayal, murder and ghostly revenge. Oiwa, a beautiful young woman, marries Tamiya Iemon, a masterless samuri. He has a bitter argument with her father, Samon, who urges Iemon to end the marriage even though she is pregnant with his child. Soon afterwards, he kills Samon. Naosuke, who lusts for Oiwa’s sister, Osode, kills her husband, Yomoshichi. The women find their father and husband murdered in cold blood. Iemon and Naosuke then deceive the women and vow to avenge their deaths. Iemon reunites with Oiwa, and Naosuke enters into a common-law marriage with Osode as part of their agreement. In Yotsuya, Iemon is miserable in his marriage to Oiwa. After having given birth, she suffers some signs of post-partum depression. The Ito family disfigures Oiwa with poison, in the guise of medicine, in order to sway Iemon to abandon her. Horrified by the deception, Oiwa cuts her throat on the sword and curses Iemon to her grave, turning into a vengeful spirit. Anyone who mistreated her is haunted by her curse.

Bakeneko ~The Goblin Cat~

In the Edo period, the young daughter of a samurai family is planning to marry, but not for love. The family has financial debts they need to pay off. To save themselves from disgrace and the poor-house, her parents and the head of family decide to sell her marriage to clear these debts. Meanwhile, a strange, nameless medicine peddler arrives and enters the house, its entrance left unguarded in the rush to prepare for the wedding. The moment the bride crosses the threshold of the house to leave, she is struck dead. The medicine peddler, being a stranger and looking rather suspicious, is seized as the culprit and bound. He breaks his bounds, reveals himself to also be a demon-hunter, and claims the true villain is a bakeneko. The medicine peddler sets up a barrier to keep the demon at bay and begins questioning the family and their retainers to learn the shape (katachi), truth (makoto) and reasoning (kotowari) of the demon so that it can be exorcised. As the story continues, he discovers the truth behind the family’s dark past.

A friend recommended this show when I was searching for new anime to watch in 2012. Although I am not well-versed in ancient Japanese folklore, the tales were gratifying to watch and increased my interest in the show. With 11 episodes, it is easy to finish in a few days. The ending theme song, "Haru no Katami" by Chitose Hajime, rich captures the historical time period of the stories. (She also covered the ending songs for popular vampire anime, Blood+). Since this collection comes in three DVDs, I highly recommend the last two tales.

The first tale had the weakest plot because while it had a promising start it ended abruptly without any closure. The script wasn't even close to the original story, so that disappointed me. The second tale, "Yotsuya Kaidan," gave me goosebumps because I wonder if the ghost actually exists in real life. It also brought back flashbacks of the film, The Ring. "Bakeneko" was the best (scariest and story-telling) tale. Due to popular demand, the producers created another anime series exclusively about the medicine peddler. Stay tune for my next review, Mononoke.


Ending Theme: "Haru no Katami" by Chitose Hajime

Friday, January 20, 2012

Nehmes Bastet, Ancient Female Singer's Tomb, Found In Egypt's Valley Of The Kings

Archaeologists have come across a new discovery in Egypt's Valley of the Kings burial grounds. They have unearthed a roughly 1,100 year-old tomb of a female singer.

It is the only tomb of a woman not related to the ancient Egyptian royal families ever found in the Valley of the Kings, said Mansour Boraiq, the top government official for the Antiquities' Ministry in the city of Luxor,

The Valley of the Kings in Luxor is a major tourist attraction. In 1922, archaeologists there unearthed the gold funerary mask of Tutankhamun and other stunning items in the tomb of the king who ruled more than 3,000 years ago.

Boraiq told The Associated Press that the coffin of the female singer is remarkably intact.

He said that when the coffin is opened this week, archaeologists will likely find a mummy and a cartonnage mask molded to her face and made from layers of linen and plaster.

The singer's name, Nehmes Bastet, means she was believed to be protected by the feline deity Bastet.

You may watch the video of the discovery below.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Film Review: Millenium Actress (2001)

Millennium Actress (2001) is a biographical anime film about the renowned Japanese actress, Chiyoko Fujiwara. When I heard about this film, I could not wait to rent the DVD and see why this movie by director, Satoshi Kon, was fantastic.

Fujiwara was a famous actress who starred in many Japanese films before her sudden departure and disappearance. What happened to her? Genya Tachibara, who sincerely idolizes Chiyoko as an actress and an individual, seeks to find her and create a documentary about her career. With his camera assistant, Kyoji Ida, they locate her and request that she narrate her autobiography for his upcoming film. At the age of 75, she agrees and presents Genya her with a gift—a key—that will unlock her past.

Her story begins when she is 16 in Imperial Tokyo. Born during the Great Earthquake of Tokyo in 1923, war is looming and national pride is widespread. As a young girl, Chiyoko is shy, innocent and unsure about her future. The thought of becoming an actress, especially to her mother, seems ludicrous because it goes against local customs and traditions of Japanese women. Walking home on a cold, winter night, a mysterious running away from the police bumps into her. She hides the man in her shed, and he gives her a key—a key that holds the most important thing she cherishes in life.

Before she can say goodbye, he runs off before the police can locate him. However, she misses the train before she can board. She promises herself that she will return the man his key. Throughout the movie, Chiyoko travels through space and time, pursuing roles of the heroine trying to find her lost love (i.e. the mysterious man). She acts different roles of women from feudal Japan, the shogunate periods, and modern Japan.

Occasionally, Genya will inexplicably help the actress by saving her as if he was part of the cast. As an avid fan, he watched her movies and learned the characters’ roles. She has two enemies—a rival Japanese actress, Eiko Shimao, and the imperial policeman—whose identities change according to the historical eras. Chiyoko truthfully believes that fate will bring her and the mysterious man together again. In addition, she wants to understand the true meaning of the key.

Not only was Chiyoko an icon of Japanese cinema, but she also portrayed Japanese heroines of Japanese history. Nonetheless, she still remembers the mysterious man—her first true love—whom she promises to find although she is becoming older in her roles. She continues to act through the centuries of Japanese history as if she has lived a thousand years. Where is he now? What happened to him? What will become of her life? These are the questions that she must discover, and Genya and Kyoji offer assistance on her quest.

I really enjoyed this movie because in some ways I could relate to her life. There was always something new, both emotionally and historically. As a novice of Japanese history, I had a glimpse of Japanese customs and traditions in just a matter of minutes! Romantic and tragic, this is a great movie to have in one’s collection with Metropolis, Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. However, what irked me the most about this film was the pacing. Since I am a novice of Japanese history, it took me a while to figure out what was happening. I knew these were roles she portrayed in her filmmaking career, but I did not comprehend their significance until later in the film, when they repeat the introduction of the movie. In addition to finding the mysterious man, other common themes in the film included space, time and reincarnation.

Nevertheless, Chiyoko was narrating the story through her own eyes with Genya and Kyoji following along through the stages of time in Japanese history. I noticed the lack of a father figure (in the movie, her father died in the Great Earthquake of Tokyo in 1923) and that this mysterious man could have been an ideal “father figure” to her. Her relationships with men of different personas are also very interesting. Since majority of the characters look indistinguishably from one another (they all resemble Japanese nationals), Satoshi Kon selected a mole for Chiyoko’s face so that the audience can recognize her.

Sometimes, I find it hard to believe this film was only 90 minutes because it definitely felt longer. This is a wonderful film that truly shows the depth and breadth of Japanese anime and storytelling. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Review: Dance of Death (Jonathan Barrett #4)

Threatened by soldiers on the outside and turmoil on the inside, Jonathan Barrett valiantly fights to protect his family and the peace of the Barrett estate in this thrilling sequel to Red Death. Nearly consumed by his dark desires, Jonathan struggles to control his supernatural powers and his overwhelming thirst for blood while in the company of his immediate family and a scheming young cousin.

Dance of Death, by P.N. Elrod, is the fourth novel in the Jonathan Barrett, Gentleman Vampire series. After escaping the Revolutionary War in the New England colonies, Richard and his sister now live in London with their cousin, Oliver. Although he has come to terms with his new condition and supernatural abilities, there is still much he has not learned. Furthermore, his enemies from the previous novel, Death Masque, rise again to cause Jonathan more trouble and angst.

Seemingly invincible since his transformation into a vampire, Jonathan Barrett must admit his own weakness when he unexpectedly meets a four-year-old boy who strangely resembles him. The young boy is actually his mortal bastard son, Richard. Jonathan intends to do right by the lad. When Richard is kidnapped and held for ransom, the only one who can help Jonathan is his long-lost immortal love and creator, Nora Jones.

This is the last novel in the Jonathan Barrett Gentleman Vampires series. It brings me great joy and sadness to finish this series. When I first read the first novel, I could barely understand the language difference. Now, I appreciate Elrod's painstaking efforts in re-creating the word usage and idioms of the English colonists in the late 1700s.

Stay tune for my next review, Omnibus ~Lunch Time Reading~
, a collection of (primarily Vampire Files series) short stories, spanning 15 years of publication.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Review: The Mystic Archives of Dantalian (2011)

The Mystic Archives of Dantalian ~Bibliotheca Mystica De Dantalian~ (2011) is a Japanese supernatural mystery anime. The story takes place in England after World War I (late 1910s). It contains 12 episodes.

After the death of his grandfather, Hugh (Huey) Anthony Disward inherits an old, musty mansion, which contains an entire book collection. In the basement of the mansion, Huey meets a mysterious girl quietly reading among a pile of books -- Dalian. She is a Dantalian (guardian), and the lock on her chest is a gateway to the "Bibliotheca Mystica de Dantalian", which stores the forbidden books of demonic magic and wisdom.

These "phantom books" endanger the balance of the world, but people are always fascinated by their taboo. Those who misuse the powers of the phantom books often suffer tragic consequences. Huey learns the mysterious key that he carries with him at all times serves a special purpose: he has the ability to ability to access the Bibliotheca Mystica de Dantalian (literal meaning: Dantalian's Bookshelf). Upon agreeding to become Dalian's new keykeeper, they investigate local phantom book cases together. As the keykeeper, Huey uses his power to seal the demonic magic and restore order to the local area.

It was sheer coincidence that I stumbled upon this title when I was searching for another anime. The concept behind the "phantom books" and English setting intrigued me. (I am always looking for anime that remind me of Victorian Romance Emma with a supernatural twist.) After a couple of episodes, I enjoyed the plot as Huey and Dalian work together as expert phantom books detectives to solve unexplainable mysteries. What I also liked about this show was each episode was unpredictable because the characters had different motives and consequences for their actions. As a result, the cases were always amusing.

I also adored the opening and ending music, which matched the dark mystery theme of the show. he opening theme is "Cras numquam scire" (Tomorrow is Never to Know) by Yucca (feat. Daisuke Ono) whilst the ending theme is "yes, prisoner" by maRIONnetTe. The song tracks reminded me of the opening theme, Lillium, of Elfen Lied and Japanese visual kei bands I used to hear when I was a teenager, such as Malice Mizer and Janne da Arc. The songs are catchy and symbolic, especially if you are into neo-classical rock music. I highly recommend this show.

Opening Theme: Cras numquam scire" by Yucca feat. Hugh Anthony Disward

Ending Theme: "yes, prisoner" by maRIONnetTe

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Review: Hard Bitten (Chicagoland Vampires #4)

Merit soon finds herself int he dark, heady heart of Chicago's supernatural society--a world of vampires who seem ready to fulfill the protesting humans' worst fears, and a place where she'll learn that you can't be a vampire without getting a little blood on your hands...

Hard Bitten, by Chloe Neill, is the fourth novel in the Chicagoland Vampires series. The shapeshifters recently announced their existence to the world in the city of Chicago. The novelty of the supernatural is wearing off as more people are no longer thrilled with the idea of vampires and other supernatural as neighbors. Cadogan House is under a lot of pressure when anti-supernatural groups camp out and protest outside their yard. Meanwhile, the relationship between Merit, Sentinel of Cadogan House, and Ethan Sullivan, Master of Cadogan House, remains tense at best.

To make matters worse, news of violent vampire raves and three missing women immediately alert the attention of Cadogan House. Merit calls a friend from the Red Guard, a secret vampire intelligence organization, to help her with the case. As she investigates further, she discovers these raves are not just a blood party -- but someone or something is drugging the vampires to turn aggressive and lose control. With both the Chicago mayor and the Greenwich Presidum (top vampire council) breathing down Ethan's neck to fix the problem, everything around Cadogan House and Chicago becomes tougher to endure.

Warning: This section contains major spoilers.

Oh my goodness. I am at a loss of words. I had high expectations for this novel, but the ending just shocked me. I re-read the last two chapters, but still couldn't believe my eyes. Ethan is dead and gone? How is that possible? The couple were one of the main reasons why I continued to read the series because their chemistry was almost perfect. They worked so well together as partners and lovers. Although I am glad Celina is dead, I am not sure where the author is heading with the story. Nevertheless, this was definitely the climactic moment in the series.

Again, I was at a loss of words, but then I realized it is not over yet. What is next for Merit? How will she live on without Ethan? Can this book series succeed without him? Neill must be a very talented writer if she can pull off this story device and have success with the next novel. Stay tuned for the next novel in the Chicagoland Vampire series, Drink Deep.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year 2012; More Reviews To Come!

Wicked Melody's Tavern has set another milestone: over 75,500 visits thus far! I am really delighted about the success of my blog these past three years, and I couldn't do it without the support of fans and new and returning guests. I have been busy with graduate school, so it has cut into the amount of time I spend on this blog. Nevertheless, 2012 will be another exciting year filled with supernatural reviews and coverage. Look forward to more novel and anime reviews soon.

For those into the paranormal numbers, today is also 1/2/12!