Saturday, June 25, 2011

Interview: Neko Neko Maid & Host Club

For the past 2-3 years, I've noticed more and more maids wandering the floors of anime conventions. I learned last year that one of these maid organizations is called the Neko Neko Maid & Host Club. This year, they had a room reserved to cater and entertain con goers at A-Kon 22. I had the opportunity to chat with the co-owners of the group, Kitti and Miki.

What is the Neko Neko Maid & Host Club?
Kitti: It is a touring group from all around the nation that sing, dance, and play games with customers at various anime conventions. I believe we're the only maid group that tours.

How did the group get started?
Kitti: Miki and I were part of show choir and toured together. We both discovered and had an interest in maid cafes, so we became friends.

How long has Neko Neko been running?
Kitti: We started July 4, 2009

Have you ever been to Japan?
Kitti: I have been and Miki will be attending school there soon, but the group has not travelled to Japan.

What is your inspiration?
Miki: Being in show choir, the love of performing, and jpop.

How much does jpop influence you?
Miki: In our performances.

What jpop artists/groups inspire you?
Miki: AKB48 and Morning Musume

How often do you get applicants for being a maid or host?
Kitti: We do auditions all year round, but mainly we hold auditions for upcoming cons.

I noticed that there are many maids and very few hosts, why do you think it's hard to obtain hosts?
Kitti: We mainly focus on getting maids.
Miki: (jokingly) I think the hosts are intimidated by the maids.

How do you figure out the routines you're going to use for each show?
Kitti: Miki decides on the routines.

What is the hardest part about being a maid?
Kitti: As a tour maid, taking time off from school, being away from friends and family in the summer, and adjusting from different weather conditions as well as going from hotel to hotel.

Do you face any discrimination or have been stereotyped for being maids?
Kitti: In the beginning, our families had some concerns, but later they understood and supported us.

Have you had many difficult customers?
Kitti: It's rare, but occasionally we get gloomy customers. They're usually easy to cheer up.

What is your favorite game?
Kitti: Jenga
Miki: For the fans, they like playing "Maids in a Pickle", but I like Pretty Pretty Princess.

What are your future goals for Neko Neko?
Kitti: We want to expand into more cons and we also have a manga coming out.

Could you give a final message to the Cult readers?
Kitti: Come see Neko Neko Maid & Hostess Club at the next event!

If you're interested in learning more about Neko Neko Maid & Host Club, you can visit their site. On the site, you can find out when their next stop is as well as how to audition to be part of the group. I would like to thank Kitti and Miki for letting me hang out at their table and interviewing them!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Review: I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK

Starring: Im Su-jeong & Rain
Directed by: Park Chan-wook
Language: Korean
Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 105 minutes

Young-goon works at a radio factory, putting parts and wires together. Fortunately for her, she's a robot and can use these parts to recharge least that's what she believes. She slits her wrist, attempts to connect the wires to herself, and plugs herself into an outlet. This leads her to be emitted into a mental institution where we meet a few other colorful characters.

One of these characters becomes close to Young-goon, a kleptomaniac who claims he can steal souls/attributes from other people by the name Il-sun. Him and a couple other characters help Young-goon throughout the story by making her comfortable as a robot and transitioning into a somewhat normal human being...or at least a "robot" who will consume food instead licking batteries to recharge.

After watching this movie, I have simply explained it as a Korean romantic comedy version of the classic One Flew Over the Cuukoo's Nest. We have a great set of characters with various mental issues that make the story entertaining and interesting. The colors are bright and vivid, even in dark settings, things stand out and keep your focus on the screen. Although it apparently didn't do so well in the box office compared to other works by Park Chan-Wook, I thought it was a pretty decent movie and I have recommended to others as well as rewatched it a few times.

Each character had great chemistry with each other and I really appreciated the explanation of some of the characters' backstories as well to feel a little more connected with them. If I had to make any complaints, it would probably be the ending. It was a bit open ended, but still somewhat satisfying in the end.

Rating: 3.5/5

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"How Jigsaw Changed My Life": The Journey of "SAW"

Some time in high school, the SAW series was never thought of and I was curious about it. A friend of a friend had the movie and told me what it was about (including the end, as requested). So, I borrowed it from her and I thought it was very unique and stood out from the garbage slasher flicks that have been constantly brought out in the U.S..

The first movie started off as a big mystery, a question upon questions as photographer Adam Stanheight and Dr. Lawrence Gordon awaken in a dingy bathroom with a bloody body in the middle of the room and their ankles cuffed to an inanimate object in the room. Naturally, they are at a panic and questioned the other about what was going on and how they got to where they are now. They soon came across a cassette tape and played it, learning they are part of Jigsaw's game. Both characters are familiar with the name as his prescence has been buzzing around the media. Amanda Young was a survivor of one of Jigsaw's "tests" and testifies publicly that it has changed her life. On the side, we have Detectives David Tapp and Detective Steven Sing showing us previous victims of the Jigsaw's contraptions while trying to solve the current case.

As the story progresses, we learn more and more about Adam and Dr. Gordon and it leads to many questions being answered. Not only do the main characters' backgrounds become revealed, but we learn a little bit about Jigsaw or shall I say John Kramer and his possible connections with one of the characters in the movie. Even though I knew the ending ahead of time, it was still surprising and well thought out.

Saw gave me hope that the genre wasn't completely dead and I'm not sure if they originally planned for this to become such a big franchise later on. Nonetheless, I stuck by the series since it left such a good impression on me and I was more or less pleased with the results.

By the time Saw IV was brought to the theaters, my thoughts of the franchise was waning and I was more excited about hearing X Japan's "IV" in the ending credits of the film than the actual movie. I was a little skeptical with what they were going to come up with **spoiler** since John Kramer died. The acting was improving which was slightly saddening, since the lack of acting abilities tend to be amusing to my friends and myself. The traps were hit and miss, but I was still interested. I thought it would all be over, but somehow they dug up some more inventions to crank out 3 more movies.

Upon the arrival of the fifth and sixth installment, I was becoming increasingly annoyed and was satisfied with everything stopping at Saw IV. Nearly all of my questions were answered, but, thinking like a money hungry Hollywood movie snob, I knew they were just milking it for all it's worth. Perhaps take the glory of being the highest earning horror movie franchise as well.

Despite this annoyance, I watched both seasons of the VH1 reality show, Scream Queens, a show trying to find someone to be apart of the movie, and I also watched the franchise to the very end. Unfortunately, I failed to see the final installment in theaters and checked it out from work.

Before viewing the final installment, I had mixed emotions toward it. I wanted to stay a dedicated fan, since I've seen the previous movies, but the elements that made the franchise special were lacking and were uncreative. I shifted my focus on the storyline and brushed off the poor games that were set up for the characters in each movie after Saw IV. It was also a shame that the movie was in 3D, fortunately, I didn't watch it in 3D. Upon watching the supposed final installment, I was a little bored with what was going on and I almost felt betrayed by the writers, but then the end came. Oh. My. God! Completely unexpected ending and it made me smile. With a clever ending like that, I hope they leave it there. Otherwise, brace yourself for an assload of angry fan letters.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Review: Cruel Intentions

Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon,& Selma Blair
Directed by: Roger Kumble
Language: English
Rating: R
Running Time: 97 minutes

It's quite tragic that I've heard so many good things about this movie and I'm just now seeing it. It deserves all the praise that I have heard too.

We follow upper crest step siblings Kathryn and Sebastian, during their summer break. They are both very in touch with their sexuality and it becomes a somewhat important element in their lives. Sebastian is tired of picking up every naive pretty girls with somewhat low self esteem and having his way with them. On the other hand, Kathryn has learned that the guy she has been seeing has found a new subject to keep him occupied. Cecile Caldwell is an awkward girl that is transferring from an all girl academy and her mother has entrusted Kathryn to taking care of her as she is class president and a seemingly good, responsible person. Unfortunately, Cecile is Kathryn's target of tarnishing as she's sick of the innocent always winning the men.

Kathryn attempts to bring Sebastian into her evil plan, but he has a plan of his own. Sebastian's target is Annette Hargrove, daughter of the new headmaster of their school. She piqued his interest by an article he read in Seventeen about waiting for love and being pure. Kathryn proposes a bet, since Annette will be staying with their aunt for the summer break. If Sebastian can deflower Annette before she completes her plan and before the break is over, he can sleep with her. If he loses, then Kathryn gets his prized possession: a classic sports car.

Although this movie revolves around the art of seduction, it does have an underlying darkness and betrayal in the storyline that makes it intriguing. The chemistry between Sebastian and Kathryn is both interesting and slightly uncomfortable, even though they are only step siblings. Nonetheless, the thought of siblings having such a sexual tension is taboo. Cecile and Annette are also easy to become attached to and you feel sympathy for what they have to go through in this odd sibling rivalry.

I thought the cast choices were good and I can't imagine anyone else taking on such roles. Although, I was surprised by a couple things. I've never seen this dark side of Sarah Michelle Gellar before. It was shocking and admirable at the same time. Another thing that stood out was Reese Witherspoon's character Annette. It was nice seeing a strong female character not falling so easily for the handsome villain's game. Aside for commending the acting, the ending of the movie was absolutely brilliant and unexpected.

If you have not seen this 90's classic, then you should definitely pick it up.

Rating: 4.5/5

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Leessang's "I'm Not Laughing" vs. Red Roc's "Hello" vs. NassuN's "괜찮아"

If you don't read the translations, each music video is deceivingly similar by the visuals: three angry men in pursuit of love and revenge brought on by jealousy and betrayal. Upon reading the lyrics, the story is quite different and has changed my original plans with this comparison.

This "battle" began when I saw Red Roc's video featuring Big Bang's T.O.P with Leessang's song, "I'm Not Laughing". I thought it was the official video, until I read the description underneath. So, I looked up the video and gained a new found respect for the duo thus searching for their music in the long run. The song is very laid back and reminscent of American rap from the 90's [the good stuff ^~]. Upon reading the lyrics, it's a not a song of revenge at all. It's a plea. A song of appreciating someone that you've lost.

According to the lyrics, the male character in this story made a few slip ups in his relationship and when they separate, he realizes how important she is in his life. He's lacking something important and wants to patch things up. Even though he's laughing and moving forward like it's nothing, there's so much pain and sorrow hidden beneath. Surprisingly, we hear her side of the story to some extent. She's sad and upset about the situation, but doesn't want to continue. In the music video, he has the option to let his anger take over or to forgive and forget.

Red Roc's "Hello" has a different sound than the previous song. The videos are deceivingly similar, if you have no knowledge of the Korean language. The music has a reggae melody and an ol' skool flow. The lyrics tell the story of a guy who probably broke up with his girlfriend and now he realizes he wants her back, even though he feels that his love for her wasn't enough, especially upon seeing the new guy that she's with. He's mad at himself and at her and uses that anger toward them in the end. I'm not a particular fan of this song, but I like the music video. T.O.P did a great job acting and my jaw dropped when he shaved his hair. The precious black locks ;~; In the end, the girl was sick of T.O.P's crap and kinda put him in his place with one hand movement.

Lastly, we have NassuN's "괜찮아". Unfortunately, I couldn't find a translation of the song title nor English lyrics, but, honestly, it really does fall in the lines of a cheating partner...or it could be another dose of the crazies. I've become a fan of NassuN's, so it was interesting seeing the many sides to him as an artist. He seems regretful and frustrated. Like the previous two male characters, somewhere along the line all those emotions just build and build until they are released onto their objects of affection and their new partner. With a brick and a bat, NassuN goes up 5 levels with a gun [that apparently has unlimited ammo. Bet he used a cheat code XD].

So, what criteria should I use for this battle? If it was music, I would pick Leessang's "I'm Not Laughing" as it was part of what triggered my interest in Korean rap. Plus, I can listen to that song anytime and not be sick of it. If it was visually, I think it's toss up between Leessang and Red Roc, even though NassuN looked awfully handsome with long hair. I think I'm gonna ask you, my precious Cult followers, who needs the most therapy?

I shall set up a poll for it on the right side when I return from A-Kon!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Quick Movie Review

Clockwork Orange (1971, USA) | Rating: 3/5

One of those "must-see classics" true movie buffs bring up in conversations. I've heard a few things about this movie and how people match it up with Rocky Horror Picture Show. It's a very abstract piece of work that majority of viewers have a hard time translating completely. I'm curious if Europeans even understand it. After viewing it and reading snippets of what people had to say about it, I can get the premise of the movie, but to pick at points in the movie I cannot begin. It's definitely thought provoking [or simply mindfucking] and worth seeing, even if you're not the stereotypical "hipster".

Ashes of Time Redux (1994, Hong Kong) | Rating: 2/5

I'm kinda picky about Asian warrior/fight movies. It can be hit or miss and, sadly, this was a miss. It was more of a tangled romantic story with spurts of fight scenes. It was a little hard for me to follow and, in short, wasn't as interesting as I thought it was going to be. On the upside, I did like the cinematography!

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011, USA) | Rating: 3.5/5

The latest installment of everyone's favorite pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow. I was a little hesitant on seeing it, since Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley wasn't part of it, but I'm glad I did! It was still action packed, comical, and intriguing. They kept everything from the previous movies in this one and made it more amusing. The new characters made me forget Bloom and Knightley and Mr. Depp remains the most entertaining pirate I have ever seen.

Green Hornet (2011, USA) | Rating: 2/5

I wasn't expecting anything amazing about this movie, so I took it very lightly upon viewing. I also vaguely remember the show as I've seen a few episodes as a kid, so I can't clearly compare the two. Main reason I wanted to see this movie: Jay Chou. It's expected for Seth Rogan to be funny, but Jay also added to the comedy. The action sequences were weak and cliched, but I thought it had a stronger comedic component overall.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Comparison: Lalapipo - book vs. movie

I believe somewhere in my search for Japanese authors on Amazon, I came across Hideo Okuda's novel, Lalapipo. Surprise, surprise! I didn't know that the movie I saw was based off of a novel, so I had to get my hands on it. I finished the book a couple months ago and I was impressed. While reading the novel on my lunch breaks, it triggered inspiration to do another comparison post.

Lalapipo, both the book and movie, have a dark comedic tone to it that makes you think. It's mini stories overlapping into one big picture. We follow a handful of characters in their laughable yet hopeless lives. All the characters share a similar pattern in their daily lives. The story focuses on their income, the starting point of their normal life to a saddening one, and a common solution to their problems: sex.

Both the book and movie have several stories going on and linking to another character's story, they execute it in a different order and the movie omits one character that the book mentions. I'll start off by giving a run down of the story based off the novel.

We began with Hiroshi Sugiyama, a 32 year old freelance writer who has face-to-face communication problems due to his interaction with a co-worker in his company he had a crush on. He keeps to himself and, in the book, we hear about his isolated life and the comings and goings of his upstairs neighbors. He gets an interesting young male neighbor that brings in attractive women nearly every night and the activities going on above him become a new hobby for him between downtime. He becomes a bit obsessed with it and begins following the women to see the face behind the erotic noise, then takes a step further to buy something to hear things a little better while pleasuring himself. He soon runs into a woman at a library (or bar, according to the movie) and sleeps with her occasionally, despite his lack of physical attraction to her. Although, his life began promising by reminding himself of his academic achievements, but his lack of social skills overwhelm him to an emotional breakdown in the least, it's better explained in the novel.

Next, we have 23 year old "talent scout" Kenji Kurino who grew up learning that lying is the way to happiness. He lives above the previous character, until he snags some money and moves to a fancier apartment. He uses his charming abilities by scouting beautiful (and ditsy) women on the street to work in hostess/cabaret clubs, then manipulates them by moving them up the ladder of the sex industry such as "massage parlors" and pornography. Surprisingly, while catering to one of his clients, he becomes attach to her and at the same time convinces her to do adult films. He gets himself in a mess of trouble while managing her and realizes that an older client he picked up is related to his love interest and his story ends just a bittersweet as the first.

Living next to a young looking neighbor with an obnoxious dog and a heap of garbage surrounding the inside and outside of her home, 43 year old Yoshie Sato holds many secrets from her family. She started as a housewife and took care of her mother-in-law, but things went downhill during her caretaking. She felt that her husband and daughter didn't care about her and became a bit selfish and useless at the same time, until a man approached her and offered her a job as a adult film actress. She signed a contract without hesitation as long as they blurred out her face and it satisfied her repressed sexual desire that she lacked in her marriage. Later, she changes managers to a young man [guess who? XD] and demands different working situations and higher pay. Even though her family situation wasn't looking good, her career made up for it until officials bring over a notice for her to clean up her home as neighbors were complaining about the smell. She figures out a quick solution to get rid of her horrible living situation, as well as the secret she's been hiding on the second floor, and asks the mystery writer that's been sending threatening letters to her oh-so perfect neighbor with the dog to burn her house down. Things seem falsely happy in the end and the novel's version keeps us in suspense of what happened next.

Next up is no thrills 26 year old karaoke box worker Koichi Aoyagi. He's a pushover and has a hard time saying no, even though he really wants to. He puts all his anger into letters he sends to a young neighbor with a noisy dog. His lack of assertiveness gets him in a lot of trouble, not only in his own apartment, but at his work place with a pimp. He goes along with turning the place into a business for high school girls to exchange sexual favors with older businessmen for money, but the perk is that Koichi and his co-worker can get a free handjob as long as they keep everything on the down low. Between his work turning into a sexual hotspot and his pent up anger toward the dog's excessive barking throughout the night, things quickly get out of hand.

A 52 year old literary fiction writer turned erotic novelist Keijiro Saigoji gets lured by a pimp and a nicely built young high school girl to try out the ways of compensation dating at karaoke bar. His career has gone a different direction than originally set and his wife disrespects him whenever she gets a chance. He uses the opportunity to pay for sexual favors with these easy high school girls as a means of research, but trouble arises and he has to run for his life.

Lastly, we conclude the story with 26 year old erotic novel transcriber Sayuri Tamaki who lures lonely/desperate men at the library to her home and secretly records their sexual encounters. Once they leave, she looks at the videos and sells them to an adult shop. She accepts that she's not beautiful and her self worth is very low when a postal worker and his friends come by and play rock, paper, scissor over her like an object. One of her victims deniably becomes attach to her during their meet ups and she points out how they're meant to be. This ends bittersweetly, but ties up a couple loose ends to some of the other characters' stories mentioned throughout the novel.

Between the novel and the movie, there are some differences. As mentioned before, there is a character missing. He does get some face time in the movie, but he is not one of the chosen characters to be followed. Most of the stories are a bit rushed to fit the time frame, but can be easily assumed what's going on. The director also portrays each piece a little more lightheartedly than the novel describes. If you think the characters' lives in the movie are pathetic and sad, then you have to check out what is left out to these characters' stories. Other little things that are different: Kenji's escape from the police, Sayuri's location of seduction and her career/aspirations, a further exploration of what happened between Yoshie and her daughter Tomoko, lack of detail of Kenji's occupation and relation with his clients and co-workers, and Koichi's illegal troubles and lack of assertiveness as well as his feelings toward the neighbor with the noisy dog.

I've seen the movie before and after I read the book and my impression of it remains the same more or less. The movie is pretty decent and even though things are left out of the storyline that would've been helpful, it's still easy to follow with common sense. The execution and colorization is reminiscent of Kamikaze Girls and still maintains the message the novel gives. Of course, this time around, I believe the novel leaves more of an impression in the mind than the movie. The tales from each character give a stronger and shocking impact as the book progresses. Nonetheless, I recommend both mediums.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Quick Music Review

VALLUNA - silent prayer (2010, Japan) Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: 虐, 「Ghost」

The title track of this single starts off on a dark note, but lightens up with the sound effects going along with the crashing of cymbals and the speed change. It's a slightly different side of the band that some don't recognize. "虐" features that chaotic rage that I enjoy in VALLUNA. It has a good arrangement and is pretty simple in quickness. It kinda reminds me of Dir en grey's "ZAN". "「Ghost」" closes up the single with dramatic backing music and an intense bass guitar. The vocals are best featured in this track and the song leaves a good impression.

ROACH - For you, I will (2010, Japan) Rating: 4/5
Favorite Tracks: Mimi wo sumaseba, scream with love

After being silent for so long, ROACH comes back with a strong opening of "For you, I will". It gives a false beginning of hard screamo-ness, then brings in their signature rock sound that reminds fans that they haven't lost it. "Mimi wo sumaseba" brings out the aggressive side of the band while maintaining their core in the music and vocal arrangement. It shows off Tama's range from growling to unique singing style. "scream with love" closes off this comeback single with a bright, edgy introduction. It mixes hard screamo music elements with their original sound to create a great concoction.

defspiral - REVOLVER (2010, Japan) Rating: 3.5/5

After (re-)introducing themselves to the world and taking some time off, the band busts out with a double single attack. "REVOLVER" shares a similar sound to their debut song, "DIVE INTO THE MIRROR"; an upbeat rock sound that keeps you dancing to your heart's content. "SHINING (IN YOUR HEART)" has a gradual intro build until it hits the drum section and everything picks up smoothly. The music is easily catchy and Taka's vocals are flawless. The remainder of the single consist of instrumental tracks of both songs.

defspiral - Twilight (2010, Japan) Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: 月とヴィーナス

"Twilight" opens up with a dual guitar intro that's very soft and then jumps out at you, showing off both guitarists' skills. Taka's vocals smoothly slip in and the song easily fit the mold of their previous works while changing bits and pieces to make it interesting. "月とヴィーナス" shows of Taka's beautiful range and how the guys can deliver an equally beautiful melody and still keep it rock. "Lost In Shadow" shows a different side of defspiral by adding synth sound and rock into a dramatic musical arrangement. The rest of the single features instrumentals of all three tracks.

cocklobin - grisaille (2011, Japan) Rating: 4.5/5
Favorite Tracks: grisaille, rein, fall on one's knees

After going on hiatus, cocklobin returns with grisaille. "grisaille" gives off a grand, exciting intro and emphasizes the bass and guitar ties expertly through the verses. The perfect song to use as a comeback! "rein" speeds things up a little and still shows off the band's great musical abilities. The pace doesn't take away from their original bass driven sound, but shows a new side to it and adds onto the band's appeal. "fall on one's knees" is a little heavier than the other tracks and a bit quicker as well. The bass stands out a lot, but doesn't take away from the emotion being portrayed by the vocals. It's an interesting arrangement between the music and vocals, but it works so well that it's admirable.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Promo: Aziatix

[from left to right] Nicky Lee, Eddie Shin, & Flowsik
|Official Site|

Aziatix consist of three talented Asian American male artists with various skills and experience in the music scene. Nicky Lee is a popular R&B and soul singer in Taiwan from Los Angeles and contributes a soulful mature edge to Aziatix music. Eddie Shin has self produced his first album in Korea and contributes a strong, unique yet familiar R&B vocal. Lastly, New York underground rapper Flowsik who has done a collaboration with JYJ and adds the hip-hop swag that completes the group. With the help of producer Jae Chong, Aziatix has the potential to make it big in America and possibly give a voice to Asians in the hip-hop industry.

I've explained previously how Korean rap (and even a hint of Asian R&B) music can be popular internationally and Aziatix proves that with a similar formula that OneWay and 2wins display. They have a bit of an upper hand to most Asian acts as they are fluent in English and are American, but even with that it is still difficult for Asians to make a name for themselves in the hip-hop/R&B community.

So far, the trio has a strong fanbase and have released their first mini-album via iTunes. They have also posted a new video on their YouTube channel promoting it. It has their first single, "Go" which gives a familiar emotion, has a genius arrangement, and a memorable chorus. Their second single from the mini is "Cold" which has a slightly different R&B/hip-hop sound than "Go", but is equally enjoyable. I wish Aziatix the best of luck! I believe (with Far East Movement) they can open people's ears to new things.