Sakamoto Maaya: Live2011 In the Silence DVD + First Press Bonus (05/30/12)

Perhaps the biggest highlight of this past week was Wednesday the 25th, when my much anticipated package from CDJapan arrived: the DVD of Sakamoto Maaya's live 2011 concert "In the Silence" and her most recent single, More than Words. My life momentarily felt complete as it always does when I receive a Sakamoto-related package (lol!). This review is dedicated solely to the DVD, which I've watched in its entirety twice since then.

Sakamoto Maaya has been my favorite singer since I was about 10 years old. Her albums, singles, and DVDs are the only luxury items I really don't mind spending what others most likely consider 'too much' money on. Her music has been an important part of my life thus far, and I've attached a great deal of memories to nearly every song I have of hers. That may very well be the reason why this DVD is my absolute favorite of the three I own with live concerts she's held ("We Are Kazeyomi" and "Gift" being the other two).

"In the Silence" is a concert where Sakamoto performs her three concept albums: Easy Listening (2001), 30minutes Night Flight (2007), and Driving in the Silence (2011). As indicated by the dates, this concert consisted of music from across her career, and was consequently rather nostalgic for me. I found myself tearing quite a few times.
Before I get to the DVD itself, I thought I'd go over the packaging and the first press bonus extras. With pictures! =D

ABOVE: DVD with seal/band.
BELOW: DVD without seal/band.

The packaging is pretty much made from durable cardboard with a laminated paper seal/band that [is a pain in the ass to put back on but] features pictures from the concert in the front and the full tracklist in the back. Something neat I found out after watching the DVD was that the packaging design (the red images, I mean) were made based off each concept album's theme: the top row has snowflakes and driving wheels for Driving in the Silence, the middle row has planes for 30minutes Night Flight, and the bottom row has bird cages for Easy Listening.
Now for the inside!

The first thing seen is the color photo book - a first press bonus extra. Beneath it is the DVD itself and, to the right of that, another first press bonus extra: themed ear plugs.

LEFT: DVD (in case).
MIDDLE: Ear plugs.
RIGHT: Color photo book.

I thought the case of the ear plugs was adorable, and including ear plugs in general was interesting. Most people would probably have little use for them but as a musician myself (for fun!) who has performed in high school/college band, I know ear plugs may prove useful if I ever enter the realm of performance again. Here's a closeup of that little extra:

And lastly, here is a picture of what's inside the DVD (well, its case):

There are two discs - the first on the left includes a bulk of the concert, including the performances of all three concept albums. The second disc on the right includes the encore, a 'behind the scenes'/'making of' feature, and a bonus. Lastly, there is a small pamphlet with pictures from the concert and all the credits.

Now onto the DVD.

What immediately stood out to me was the introductory animation - one which recurs twice more as transitions between each concept album. I love how these animations were designed. Let me note that they were all white 3D-ish silhouettes - nothing detailed. In any case, the opening animation included a bird in a dome-shaped cage, much like the bird cages decorating the DVD box. The rounded bars actually carry through into the performance of "Inori," where lighting gives the effect of Sakamoto (and the musicians supporting her) being in the same dome-shaped cage. At the end of Easy Listening, the bird flies out of the cage and - for the brief second it is out of the screen - transforms into an airplane flying through a star-filled sky. Then, at the end of 30minutes Night Flight, the viewer appears to be at the POV of the plane as it lands, but a change in the camera angle reveals that the viewer is instead riding in a car down a desolate winter road. I loved these transitions - they did not only flow beautifully but were unexpected.

My favorite performances from each album were "Another Gray Day in the Big Blue World," "30minutes night flight," and "Chikai." The first, "Another Gray Day in the Big Blue World," was just sung beautifully. I especially loved the violins towards the end and felt chills when Sakamoto sang the final lyric, "Will birds sing?" With "30minutes night flight," I loved that they kept the vocal transition between "30minutes night flight" and "Dreaming" that appears on the album. One of my favorite 'scenes' from the concert overall is the one where Sakamoto is shown singing this transition with the two backup vocalists. The image of the three singers and the sound of their voices in unison were very powerful. As for "Chikai," well, it is composed by Sakamoto herself and she knows her singing better than anyone. I think her performance of this song was stellar. The emotion was definitely there.

I also enjoyed the endings of "Birds" and "Chikai." Because they are both album endings, the band continued to play after Sakamoto left the stage (most likely to give her time to change, as each album and the encore had its own attire). The music was amazing, especially the guitar solos.

One performance that I found slightly disappointing was "Inori." In the recorded version, the song is very peaceful and builds up to the English lyrics of "Who knows where he comes from?" near the middle of the song. Then there is more percussion movement in the piece that really brings it to life. With the live performance, however, the percussion is present much earlier in the song and the buildup to the middle/end of the song is therefore not as dramatic.

A performance that I found much more enjoyable than the recorded version was "Bitter Sweet." I was never a fan of that song, honestly. The heavy bass-line just never appealed to me, even as a bassist. But the musical changes in the song (oh geez, forgive me but my music theory sucks so I have no idea how else to describe it) are much more prominent to me in the live performance and I like them quite a lot. I was happily surprised (sorry Sakamoto/Kanno, lol!).

The encore consisted of "Buddy," "Okaerinasai," and "Rule ~ Iro  Asenai Hibi." I love "Buddy" and think it was performed well, but the spastic lighting during the performance was very trying on the eyes and Sakamoto had some weaker moments vocally in the song - though this song is pretty hard to sing in my opinion. I must additionally note that the bassist was great in this song. I can't slap on the bass for shit so to hear the bass-line live, which I already admired before watching this concert, and then see the bassist perform slaps during the bridge was awesome. "Okaerinasai" and "Rule ~ Iro Asenai Hibi" were both wonderful - the latter being my favorite of the two. Sakamoto just has a way with those older, cheerful songs.

The 'behind the scenes'/'making of' was a nice feature. I couldn't understand any of it, as my Japanese is, well, nonexistent, but I did enjoy in particular the right-before-the-concert and the right-after-the-concert moments. Seeing everyone getting ready together and then celebrating with drinks afterwards put a smile on my face and reminded me of my own experiences with performances. Finishing and being proud of the night is one of the greatest feelings in the world. =)

The bonus is a live rehearsal of "Chikai" with Sakamoto Maaya singing over the support of the pianist. It's a very peaceful version of the song, though her voice is not as powerful, perhaps to compensate for the quiet piano accompaniment.

I really loved this DVD. It brought back a lot of memories from my life and gave me the opportunity to not only view my favorite singer performing live again, but to enjoy songs I've loved in a musically breathtaking way. After all, in my opinion, Sakamoto's songs, which are often quite complex musically, are stunning with a live band.

I know this review is quite lengthy but I do hope that it helps anyone curious in buying the DVD, or simply satisfies anyone's curiosity in what the first press bonus looks like. Until next time. ;]!


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