I expected last year to be my first and last chance to watch Maaya Sakamoto perform live, but I was wrong and my sentiments at the time were rendered somewhat hyperbolic in retrospect. In spite of the recent events in Japan, I managed to make my way to Osaka International Convention Center last night for her “You can’t catch me” live tour.
This time last year, Budoukan was surrounded by a pink forest of cherry blossoms. The sakura trees have yet to bloom this year because of the colder weather.
Last year’s concert was a joyous celebration of Maaya’s 15th anniversary as a singer and her 30th birthday. This year, it came two weeks after the largest earthquake that ever shook Japan devastated Tohoku, and the Sendai and Sapporo legs of the tour were subsequently cancelled. In some ways, the tone of yesterday’s concert reflected the current mood of the nation. Portions of the setlist were changed and Maaya spoke about her feelings as a self-identified Tokyoite of seeing the great metropolis she thinks of as her hometown falter beneath a dark cloud of uncertainty as epitomized by the unprecedented rolling blackouts and the bent antenna atop Tokyo Tower.
Her performance was enchanting. I actually thought that the acoustics in the convention centre’s main hall was much better than at Budoukan, but my experience might have been slightly enhanced by the fact that my seat was in the 6th row from the stage. Maaya stood literally 7-8m in front of me.
There was a moment where, I swear with all my heart, she looked right into my eyes, our gazes met for a fleeting two seconds, time came to a standstill and the world achieved perfection… Just let a man have his dreams, okay?
Seriously though, it was really a significantly superior experience for me as compared to last year. The premium seat made a huge difference, but the stage also had much better computer-controlled lighting effects and fog machines. The only drawback was that there were no huge LCD screens so the folks sitting far behind were kind of screwed as far as the visual experience was concerned.
My only complaint is that she didn’t sing as many of her oldies as I would’ve liked. Then again, I guess I shouldn’t have expected much from a live tour named after her latest album. The full setlist for Osaka (apparently she tweaks it for every venue) is as follows:
- eternal return
- Utsukushii Hito
- KIMI NO SEI
- Kanashikute Yarikirenai
- MOONLIGHT -mata wa “kimi ga nemuru tame no ongaku”-
- Kazemachi JET
- Private Sky
- Get No Satisfaction!
- MAGIC NUMBER
- Hikari Are
- Bokura no Rekishi
- POCKET wo Kara ni Shite
Overall, I have to say that Utsukushii Hito was hands down the best performance of the night. It must be a really difficult song to perform live, but Maaya pulled it off perfectly as far as I could aurally discern. Plus, the synchronized beams of light casting streaks of shadows through the fog screen gave the entire scene an aura of mystique that played very well with the piece’s classic oriental vibe. (The song was composed by Yoko Kanno for last year’s Shanghai World Expo to commemorate historical exchanges between the Tang Dynasty and Japan.)
The concert also made me realize that Kanashikute Yarikirenai is a really great song. It is one of the three Japanese classics Maaya covered for a recent single release, and I didn’t think much of it until last night. The song is about sadness so intense that there is no end in sight and tomorrow seems as bleak as today. Other than the fact that it is a cover, the song also differs from Maaya’s usual repertoire in that it is about pure unfiltered grief, whereas most of her songs tend to be hopefully optimistic, neutral or at the very least subtly melancholic. I came to this realization during the performance and really enjoyed the way Maaya sang it. Her sorrowful tone sent chills down my spine.
I think Maaya really did an excellent job conveying her feelings about the earthquake through her words and her songs. She wrote a 4-page message that was included in handouts given to all the attendees. She also took the time to explain on-stage why she chose to make certain changes to the setlist.
She shared with the audience how, some years ago, her elder brother was met with a serious accident and went into coma for a month. Her father told her not to cancel a live performance scheduled for the next day because he believed it was vital for life to continue as per usual for the family so that the brother would have a functional family to return home to.
Maaya also shared a fan letter she received from a young man in Sendai who described to her all the things that he plans to accomplish and the places he plans to visit for the rest of his life because he felt that there is nothing he is not capable of achieving after having survived a life-changing event so terrible.
Maaya brought with her a message of hope and humility. There were plenty of teary eyes that night.
Music has the power to make the world better. It sounds clichéd, but I think that Maaya really tries to do good in her own way. It’s easy to assume that everything performers do is premeditated and profit-driven and it may even be prudent to do so. I know that there is quite a bit of controversy online over Maaya’s decision to not cancel all her upcoming lives.
But considering the fact that Maaya consistently puts in the effort to stay true to her message, I think she deserves an exceptional suspension of cynicism. After all, all that time she spent on penning down her thoughts in the form of numerous essays can’t be explained by mere self interest when she probably made many times more money from Ouran.
One interesting takeaway from the concert: Maaya finally explains the meaning of her cryptically-titled song Kimidori, the topic of much fandom debate in the past. The song is about fondly recalling the past and “Kimidori” is an allusion to the seiyuu-incubator Group Komadori of which Maaya was a member in her early teens. In the song, the words “yasashii kimidori” or “gentle kimidori” are actually meant to be “yasashii Komadori” in her mind. She changed the vowels to obfuscate the origin of the title so that listeners could come up with their own conclusions about the song’s meaning. I guess someone should amend the translation here…
Overall verdict: Probably the most awesome concert experience I’ve had so far. And that’s including the time I had supper with May’n.