Black Veil 11th Anniversary Event

It is the fourth of May.  After their great Sabbat on Walpurgis Night, the eve of Beltane, the dark spirits of winter have retreated before the signs of coming spring and summer, leaving the world to flourish and prosper until the following autumn, when tenebrous forces will once again hold sway.  Or so traditional European thought would have us believe.  Here in Osaka, Japan, the streets are surprisingly quiet, and lines of ebony-clad children of the night wait on a staircase that winds ever downward, deep into cavernous underground spaces where sepulchral sounds ring out from the darkness below.  Those dark spirits are surely still abroad this eventide, which marks the 11th anniversary of the longest running Gothic club in Japan: Black Veil.

The event itself dates back to 2001, when a talented DJ and musician named Taiki decided that Osaka needed its own dark sanctuary to celebrate the Gothic and industrial music scene.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a sinister presence in Western Japan prior to the new millennium.  Since 1996, Taiki has been the proprietor of a successful occult shop called Territory, where he purveys not only clothing and accessories sporting his own unique mystical designs, but also imported music CDs and a wide range of antique curiosities.  Covering everything from Satanic art and jewelry to Freemason artifacts and relics from the Third Reich, the small shop serves as a veritable museum of the macabre, where a human-sized replica of Éliphas Lévi’s Sabbatic Goat greets those who enter and the hoarse croaks of Taiki’s pet raven, Damien, echo forbiddingly from further within.  His predilection for the occult is not a mere superficial affectation, either.  Having studied the Left Hand Path from occult leaders in New York City, Taiki has possibly the most extensive knowledge of Western magical thought of anyone that I know.  Before personally meeting Taiki three years ago, I asked a good friend who is known as one of the movers and shakers of Tokyo’s underground club scene and a cyber-Goth fashion guru, DJ SiSeN, about the man behind the Veil.  His answer was short and simple: “A god.”  Having come to know Taiki over the past few years, I wouldn’t disagree.

My anticipation builds as I make my way down the staircase and recognize the throbbing hard industrial and EBM bass lines of DJ Bonzin’s opening set.  Black Veil begins at 21:00, a full three hours before the standard Tokyo event (with the same entry fee), and runs until around 6:00 the following morning.  This translates into longer DJ sets and shows, and the first guests often receive CDs that include some of the mixes to be played during the night’s proceedings.  The music is worth mentioning, as these mixes are often very well-thought out collections handpicked for that particular night.  Perhaps because BV is held on something more like a quarterly basis rather than monthly, the DJs each put a great deal of effort into making their sets as memorable as possible.  One won’t hear single tracks played one after another with unimaginative (or nonexistent) transitions between songs.  They are nearly always non-stop musical journeys that weave melodies and beats intricately together into a beautiful symphony of the night.  I still remember certain combinations of songs played at these events even years after attending them, and they are usually from Taiki’s performances.

And speaking of Taiki, it isn’t long before I come across the man responsible for orchestrating this and other Gothic events in Western Japan.  With long jet black hair flowing well past his shoulders, a neatly trimmed goatee and mustache, and his omnipresent fangs, he fits the diabolical image perfectly.  Slim and short in stature, despite his soft-spoken nature he nonetheless commands a powerful presence.  He greets me warmly and welcomes me to the event, assuring me that it will certainly be an evening to be remembered.  As we speak, a live painting is in progress across one entire wall, depicting a massive Baphomet who leers devilishly at the club-goers as they pass by.

The attendees are all unique and interesting, flaunting a wide array of Gothic-inspired styles.  Host and hostess Guiggles and his companion Rose de Reficul are bedecked in their typically elaborate 18th century-inspired fashion, looking as if they have just crawled out of a Highgate Cemetery mausoleum.  A masked man covered in head to foot with black dances with another gentleman clothed and made up entirely in white. I even spot a decaying zombie and a couple of stray Black Butler cosplayers.   I become entranced by the music, and as the midnight hour approaches, an ethereal artist named Yoko performs a special dark classical/tribal belly dance performance on the floor, creating a serene atmosphere in between the raging onslaughts of aggrotech and dark electro sound.

The witching hour has passed, and soon the lovely Mistress Midori of IDEA arrives, her elegant Gothic dress swirling dramatically behind her.  As always, she is flanked by the beautiful young ladies under her employ at IDEA, and I am pleased to see my friends Iori, A-ya, and Night among them.  The sinister vibrations of selections from units such as Hocico, Grendel, and Aesthetic Perfection fill the club as DJ Syarman plays the last of his set.   At last, it is time from Taiki to end the evening in style.  The dance floor becomes a rhythmic mass of bodies all moving together in celebration of life and the music that forms a part of their personal identity.   Just as there are many ways of dancing to the same beat, I realize that there is indeed a common flame that burns within each of these people despite their incredibly diverse interests and lifestyles.  And it is clear that Taiki has tapped into that Black Flame.

As the last note of Covenant’s “One World One Sky” fades into darkness and each person becomes still, Taiki takes up a large mirrored orb that reflects the entire audience.  He says, “All of you are reflected together in this orb, just as we all share this Earth…Japan is in a time of crisis, but we will overcome these hardships together.”  His words are a reminder of Japan’s current situation, but also a benediction following a celebration of life to affect change for the future.  Through charity bazaar booths and other activities, Taiki and the people of Western Japan are also uniting to do their part to aid the swift recovery of the affected areas.  As I step out into the brilliant sunlight of a new dawn, I recall Taiki’s words and look ahead to the future with confidence and hope.

See the video below for a view of last year’s anniversary party.  RS.

Upcoming Moi dix Mois Live! Madou Gathering Concert – The Moon’s Eighth Night

Only one month remains until the night air of Tokyo is shattered once more by the darkly elegant classical melodies and hard-driving metal sounds of Moi dix Mois, the solo project of former MALICE MIZER leader and guitarist, Mana.  Originally set to be a celebration of Mana’s birthday on March 19th, the concert was postponed due to the Great East Japan Earthquake and will now be held on June 18th.  Horror film fan, avid gamer, talented guitarist, and eloquent composer of the music of the night, Mana is one of my all-time favorite artists, and Moi dix Mois is the dark crystallization of his beautifully insidious vision.  Look forward to a report of the night’s proceedings after the event.  The information for the concert is as follows:

[New Schedule]
Moi dix Mois Madou Gathering Concert – The Moon’s Eighth Night: Mana-sama’s Birthday
New date: Saturday, 18th June, 2011
Venue: O-WEST, Shibuya, Tokyo
Open at 17:30
Start at 18:00
* The open time is not changed.

In other news, my Walpurgisnacht experience at IDEA was recently featured on my dear friend LA CARMINA’s blog with new photos!  Don’t miss it!

Suspension of Disbelief – Walpurgis Night at Gothic Bar IDEA

Walpurgis Night, when, according to the belief of millions of people, the devil was abroad–when the graves were opened and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel…

- Bram Stoker, “Dracula’s Guest”

Also remembered as the “night of evil” in the opening to Tod Browning’s seminal 1931 version of Dracula, the eve of May 1st has long been held in superstitious fear as a time when witches gather to hold their great Sabbat with the Prince of Darkness himself.  The festivals to herald the coming of spring at this time of year later became Christianized under the name of Catholic saint Walpurga, Abbess of Heidenheim and protector against black magic and witchcraft.  This has failed to put an end to the legendary happenings of this magical night, however, as great works of literature such as Goethe’s Faust, and even a famous ballet, will no doubt testify.

And what more appropriate place could there possibly be to celebrate such an unholy night than IDEA, the only mystic, fetish, and Gothic bar in Japan worthy of the title?  As mentioned in one of my previous posts, IDEA is a dark sanctuary created by Japanese kinbaku artist and sorceress supreme Midori, located in the beautiful city of Kobe, Japan.  No stranger to the world of the Western mysticism and the occult, Midori holds special “Sabbats” for each of the eight festivals on the Neopagan Wheel of the Year. On such nights, ladies may enter free of charge, and the eve is filled with decadent rituals and nameless rites.   Walpurgis Night falls on the eve of Beltane, midway between the vernal equinox and summer solstice, and so is considered a cross-quarter day–a Greater Sabbat.

This year I had the great pleasure and honor of being asked my Midori to participate in suspension for this year’s festivities.  For those of you who may not be aware, suspension is a form of body modification that involves suspending a human body through the use of hooks that have been passed through the skin of the participant.  Originally a spiritual meditation technique used by certain Native American tribes, the practice has seen a relatively recent spread as a type of performance art in the US and other countries around the world.  It was truly to be a most memorable Walpurgisnacht.  Let me recount that evening to you now…

IDEA’s darkened space sees a full range of guests, from the curious spectators to the hardened connoisseurs, representing all ranges of the social spectrum and conjuring up an atmosphere reminiscent of a fin-de-siècle London salon.  Or could this be a spiritual successor of the legendary Hellfire Club of the 18th century?  While perhaps not so grandiose, one thing is certain: it will be a night of painful pleasures to memorialize a crucial period in the progression of the seasons and the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

First to be sacrificed on the hooks is my long-time friend Sazuki, a petite Lolita who looks for all the world like a fragile doll as her skin is pierced with four 8 gauge hooks across her shoulder blades.   DJ and body modification artist extraordinaire Bonzin is the man behind the magic this time, and he measures and marks with ease before inserting the wicked-looking instruments, which are actually angler’s hooks usually used for deep sea fishing.  With the preparations complete, Sazuki’s thin frame is whisked up into the second floor gallery where she greets the many viewers above, hanging like a marionette in a frilly skirt and corset.  She holds up admirably well for her first time, and there are a few cringes (and more than a few smiles) as the hooks are pulled from her skin and small rivulets of crimson lifeblood drip down from the fresh wounds.

I have just witnessed what will be happening to me in only a few hours, but before that, the high priestess of the coven herself, Midori, has a special rite planned for the witching hour.  Model and IDEA witch Night is brought to the floor in a crimson robe as Midori slowly and deliberately sets the ritual accoutrements in their proper places: an elegant candelabra, a skull engraved with occult symbols, and, of course, ropes and whips.  Midori’s hands work almost more quickly than I can follow, and it isn’t long before Night is laying on her side–in mid-air–with the ropes that suspend her forming a triangular spider’s web pattern and lit candles skillfully inserted into the weave…truly a living work of art. Midori skillfully whips out the flames without missing a beat, and after more punishment under a rain of leather strips the ritual is complete and the energy is released into the ether to affect its purposes.

After some more pleasant chatting with friends at the bar, the anticipation begins to reach a crescendo within me as I sit down to receive my steel baptism.  This is actually my second time experiencing suspension, although during my first time I had only two 6 gauge hooks placed in my back horizontally.  While the gauge is smaller, the vertical position and greater number of hooks provide a new challenge.  It’s difficult to describe suspension, and everyone I speak to who has attempted it gives a different account of their experiences.  For me it is a “spiritual” one, and with each hook I engrave upon my mind the memories of that night and its meaning for me personally and for the world as a whole.  The piercing pain of the hooks is bearable, but as I stand up my body begins to rebel.  The night has been a long one, and I feel lightheaded as my vision starts to go black…only my mental fortitude and furious refusal to give in to the pain allow me to retain consciousness.  The ropes pull me slowly upward from the floor, and I manage to tell Bonzin to pull me up higher.  He gives the signal, my body is hoisted up, and…I break out in a sweat and feel the rush of adrenaline through my veins.  At last, I feel more alive than ever!  I have passed through the dark tunnel and come out stronger than before.  I discover that the higher position of the hooks allows me greater freedom of movement than my previous experience, as I tread on the air and even swing over the second floor balcony to receive a kiss from Mistress Midori herself!  My journey with the sylphs ends all too quickly though, and I am lowered back to earth to have my new body piercings removed.  A glass of my favorite poison, Laphroaig Scotch whisky, is waiting for me at the bar, and the rest of the night is enjoyed with friends, music, and libations.

This year’s Walpurgis was spent in a tenebrous sanctuary, a displaced reality.  What occurred there was fantasy, elaborately woven and willingly entered into, but having a very real effect on the “subjective reality” of the participants and, by extension, on the “objective reality” around them.   Suspended disbelief and suspended bodies can both have a potent significance, especially on a night such as Walpurgis.  I will be looking forward to my next evening at IDEA…perhaps I will see you there?

IDEA

2-17-8 Nakayamate-dori, Chuo-ku

Kobe-shi, Hyogo-ken, Japan 605-0004

Phone: 078-221-1611

GoogleMap

10 minutes’ walk from Motomachi Station or Sannomiya Station

When traveling by taxi, ask to be taken to Hotel Honjin (the neighboring building).

Romero Retrospective: Diary of the Dead

Ladies and gentlemen, bonsoir.  I am back from another week in Kobe (more on that in a later post), and also back with the latest installment in my six-part Romero Retrospective. This time we look at George A. Romero’s return to independent filmmaking with the experimental film christened Diary of the Dead (2007).  It is here that we witness a clear breakaway from the original storyline, making this cinematic effort a reboot rather than a sequel (a “rejigging of the myth,” in the director’s words).  The outbreak begins again, and we can only dive into the madness to see just what the master has brought to the bloody banquet table this time.

Hello! We’re not dead!

The Good

Making a complete about-face from his previous film with Universal Studios, Romero decided to go back to his roots as a maverick director and make an independent film through the newly formed Romero-Grunwald Productions (a team-up with Romero’s producer friend Peter Grunwald).  Diary of the Dead is unique in that it approaches the zombie epidemic from the point of view of several University of Pittsburgh (my alma mater!) film students who attempt to create a documentary to expose the truth of the undead menace, which is being covered up and manipulated by the media.  Jason Creed (Joshua Close) and his fellow classmates are in the midst of filming a mummy flick as a class project under the supervision of their faculty advisor, Andrew Maxwell (Scott Wentworth), when the radio begins to inform them that the whole world has gone to Hell in a hand basket.  Reports of the dead returning to life and feeding on the living flood in through various media outlets, but governments are quick to crack down and institute information control in an attempt to quell the panic that has gripped the globe.  Jason determines that it is his duty to show the world what is really happening by filming a documentary of the phenomenon while he, his girlfriend Debra Moynihan (Michelle Morgan), and their friends flee from the ghoulish hordes.

The rest of the film mostly involves the group’s various encounters with threats both living and dead as they attempt to seek out the places they call home (mostly well-known cities in Pennsylvania, incidentally).  Friends and loved ones are lost along the way and the psyches of the young men and women are nearly crushed as they face the inevitable collapse of civilization around them.  More important than the story, however, is the way in which it is told.  Since the entire feature is expressed through a first-person camera perspective (edited after the events by Debra), long, continuous takes are the rule of the day, and while Romero relied on hidden cuts to a certain extent, many of the scenes were literally done in one take, resulting in some rather impressive shots.  Starring the youngest cast ever to be used in a Dead film, Diary’s actors and actresses put their theatrical background to good use, and I believe that this enabled George to really push the limits in this particular style.  The relatively low budget (around $2 million) meant that corners had to be cut, but the discrete and unobtrusive use of CGI and digital effects by the people at Spin VFX allows Diary to dish out some mind-boggling scenes of carnage without looking like the next Left 4 Dead sequel.  George is clearly having fun with this film, and it shows in the many unique and innovative techniques that he employs to bring his nightmares to the screen.

Are we worth saving? You tell me.

The Bad

While Diary of the Dead is an innovative and technically impressive film that showcases the work of a great director given freedom to do whatever he wants (albeit on a shoestring budget), it is also a very big departure from the previous films in terms of tone and storyline.  These changes go beyond the mere first-person camera perspective, but they are also intricately intertwined in a dialectic relationship that makes the film what it is.  It really comes down to a matter of preference, and for me, I would say that I prefer any of the first four installments of Romero’s series to this one.  Why, you may ask?  Well, I shall tell you.

Diary of the Dead attempts to take up the topics of blogging, YouTube, media overload, censorship, and various other social issues spawned from the Pandora’s Box known as the Internet.  Social commentary has always been Romero’s strong point, but I believe that what made it so poignant was the very fact that it was underplayed and not openly stated.  Naturally one might find a few scenes of expository dialogue or philosophical ruminating by one or more of the characters, but for the most part, the satire and criticism are conveyed by the situations and images, and the viewer is left to draw his or her own conclusions.  While Diary certainly leaves us with food for thought, we are also inundated with countless analyses through the medium of voiceover narration.

As I watch this film, each time something profound has occurred <What is it? What gets into our heads when we see something horrible?>, or I think that I may have discovered some subtle form of social critique <It’s interesting how quickly we find out what we’re capable of becoming…>, I can’t help but feel like I am constantly being beaten <This is a diary of cruelty> over the head <Maybe you won’t make any of the same mistakes that we made> with a critical message <The more voices there are, the more spin there is. The truth becomes that much harder to find. In the end it’s all just noise…>.  To be honest, during my first viewing of Diary I was so distracted by the incessant chatter of exposition and voiceover narration that I was unable to give it a proper evaluation.  I was left with the feeling that the movie had done all the thinking for me and handed it to me on a gory platter.  Rather than being thought-provoking, I found it to be “thought-deadening,” as I could hardly hear myself think over all of the noise.

Putting personal tastes aside, however, it is here that one can actually find Romero’s true genius in this little zombie epic.  The film’s cinéma vérité techniques offer the viewer with the sense of displaced reality that only a documentary can provide.  We can fully immerse ourselves in the first-person perspective, almost as if we were Being John Malkovich.  Mirrors and switches to other cameras then break the association, but the overall style seems to extol firsthand truth and gritty reality, in stark contrast to the doctored and warped images supplied by the mass media to distort the truth and keep the real situation from the public eye.  Of course, the ultimate irony is that Debra is doing exactly the same thing when she takes up Jason’s film, edits it, and even adds music in the hopes of frightening the audience into “waking up” to (her version of) the truth.  The film includes more than 70 different media sources in the form of various news broadcasts and televisions encountered throughout the young people’s journey, and Jason’s film, completed by Debra, becomes just more “noise.”

And so, my main beef with the film is actually part of what makes it so genius, and I am forced to admit that George has once again proven himself the master of the genre.  If you can get past some of the more heavy-handed narrative elements, the film can be seen as playing with voyeurism and also the need to record our experiences and broadcast them to the world in our YouTube culture and blogging society.  There is also a clever theme running through the story where “shoot” is used to refer to both camera and firearm, culminating in the final scene where a zombie-bitten Jason pleads, “Shoot me,” as he receives absolution through a final Sacrament of Reconciliation with his lens-eyed god before Debra paints the floor with his brains.

Dead things don’t move fast. You’re a corpse, for Christ’s sakes. If you run that fast, your ankles are gonna snap off.

The Undead

So what about them zombies?  Well, despite the rather underwhelming budget, as mentioned previously George does an excellent job working past such restraints to serve up a wonderfully creative cinematic effort.  The people at Spin truly did a praiseworthy job on the film’s visual effects, the difficulties of which were compounded by the shaky hand-held camera, long takes, and lack of noticeable cuts in the editing process.  Gregory Nicotero (who also plays a zombie surgeon in the film) works his usual magic with the prosthetics, and while they are not on anywhere near the level he was able to achieve in Land, they are effective and mesh well with the digital effects.  An Amish man braining himself with a scythe to take out both himself and the zombie behind him, and a ghoul who has most of his head melted away by hydrochloric acid as he lumbers toward the camera are just a couple of the visual treats in store for horror aficionados.

In the end, Diary of the Dead is a film with a message (or many messages, depending on how you look at it), and in that I suppose it succeeds rather admirably.  Spotting cameos (Romero is the police chief) and trying to guess the film/horror icons behind the news report voices is fun, and in the end I have to say that George gives us another satisfying zombie film.  Is it as good as his first four films?  Maybe not, but still a distinguished addition to the ranks of zombie films being churned out these days.  In the next post I will be reporting on my Walpurgis activities in Kobe, Japan, and then it will be time for the final installment of my Romero Retrospective as I dissect Survival of the Dead.  Until then, good night, whatever you are!