Friday, 11 July 2014

PV Analysis: Urbangarde - 'One Piece Shinju'

With a sound they describe as “trauma techno pop”, Urbangarde is an act with an electronic sound that delights in skirting genres. Featuring Hamasaki Yoko (Vocal), Matsunaga Tenma (Vocal/Sequencing), Zeze Shin (Guitar/Sequencing) and Kagiyama Kyoichi (Drums), the members draw from an array of backgrounds and influences to coalesce into a distinct and compelling sound. Coming together in the early 21st century, since their major debut single in 2011 they've released 6 albums total the latest featuring “One Piece Shinju”. The PV is sparing in its imagery, but provides an arresting visual to a track that's unflinching and hauntingly vocalised. As I'm working without lyric translations this will be a less than authoritative look at the piece.

Yoko is the only member featured here, as we open on her with her head just above water, and a synth-sound explosion heralds the piece as titles appear on screen. She wears a white eyepatch, submerged to the chin, and as the vocals start, or just before, she sinks into the water, followed by the camera to show her moving below. Text appearing on the screen appears to be the lyrics, and we see Yoko remove her eyepatch in short order. She's wearing a white dress, and the screen flashes red as the first verse ends to start a cross-cut from Yoko in white dress to red with white dots, vaguely reminiscent of Minnie Mouse. The red-dressed Yoko pulls her skirt down modestly while floating.

As the verse starts around the 40 second mark, red-Yoko draws a sword, holding it in front of her, across herself. There's an inscription on the blade, and we see her upside down briefly before the scene shifts slightly. Yoko in red now holds a gun to her temple, and is seen upside-down in short order pointing the gun at the camera. There's a shift to her wearing white and holding the gun in front of her, and then up to her temple, and then back to red-Yoko now holding the gun in her mouth. We're just a minute into the PV and 'don't try this at home' behaviour is in full swing. As 'Shinju' appears to translate as double suicide, this would seem to be a literal take on the titular reference.

There's a quick shift back to red-dressed Yoko brandishing the sword, from various angles. From here, we're shown Yoko 'singing' underwater for a second or so, and then quick cuts from the sword to gun and back and forth, a juxtaposition of instruments of death of yesterday and today? Yoko-in-white is seen in a red-tint again, and we're shown the crosscut of weapons again, followed by the two seeming to face off with sword-draws and gun-play. Though we're only ever seeing one Yoko, the cuts give the impression of this conflict. The implication of the Yoko-on-Yoko conflict would imply some battle within, perhaps to find will to live, from the title of the track.

Around 1:37 the track takes a slower turn, and we're shown Yoko grasping an articulated doll's hand that slows slips away. A foot, a red shoe with white dots, and a shot of Yoko in red upside-down, though near the top of the tank cast a further sense of personal confusion or loss on the piece. She's seen in the white outfit again looking demure, and as a rap vocal breaks out this Yoko is seen wearing thick-framed glasses and flipping through a book. As we're still underwater, the book seems unreadable, as the pages flap and flow in the fluid. I think there's something commentary on the futility of the task from the look on Yoko's face that may be reflecting on the lyrical flow.

From the hip-hop interlude the shot cuts to Yoko in another dress around the 2:24 mark – it's multicolored around the torso, resembling a television test pattern slightly. She wears similarly striped tights, and gloves to the elbow with shiny dots on the black fabric. There's a black skirt as well, and a bow off the back, LED spiked bracelets over the gloves light up – it's one of the longest uncut shots in the piece. We see her from other angles in this new way, and it's presented with some sense of synthesis – taking the 'thesis' look Yoko's sported before in red and white, the 'antithesis' to that of the white outfit, and rejecting both palettes to arrive at a new idea in the third outfit. As I don't see full red or white on the range of colors in the third outfit this seems reasonable, and perhaps is borne out in the lyrics to follow, or preceding.

From the new look we're taken back to the cross-cut field from red to white Yoko, with weapons and without. Red Yoko sword plays, and white Yoko plays seductively with her hair in the frame. The white Yoko is seen with gun and without, and the 'rainbow' Yoko is seen again. As rainbow Yoko isn't seen with weapons of either type, her 'evolved' status appears supported by this lack. That she's never seen miming suicidal action like her other selves would indicate some form of self-acceptance perhaps. The cuts span all the shots so far and the quickness picks up to the end of the song, in a blink and you'll miss it montage, and then we see Yoko in red sing a final line, then the solo red shoe with white polka dots once more, after the song ends.

From the title and the weapon-work involved, the symbolism seems pretty clear, and the track is beautifully shot. The underwater setting further softens Yoko's already beautiful features and serves as a fantastical backdrop to a non-stop track. It's an interesting departure from their prior videos in being less band-focused, but their presence is felt in a big way on the track as it pulses throughout. I'll be looking forward to future releases from Urbangarde based on my impressions from this track, to be sure. 

By Josh Campbell

Pick up the latest from Urbangarde now!