As I have been growing to write reviews primarily based on my own interpretation rather than a somewhat “professional” outlook, I have noticed that there are some major subjects/songs/albums/art/others etc. pieces that have not been discussed on a personal level. A lot of the music and reviews I conduct are pretty simple and basic without any touch of reality or personal connection towards it. So, in order to attract some personal opinions and similarities towards the readers, I will be hosting a category titled The Breakdown. Think of it like an extended review, only with more of a backstory, personal development and an extensive analysis of all compartments to the piece. So, In order to start, I’ve picked out my favourite song: “Passion” and “Sanctuary” by Utada Hikaru. So, let’s go.
I remember when I was around six or seven when my older brother bought me the first Kingdom Hearts game whilst spending Christmas up north in New Zealand. But when I noticed that it was for PS2, I was like; what the hell? The only games I played on a Playstation 2 was in fact video games that didn’t use the analog sticks, so, this was a tricky bet on my intelligence. Even though I screwed myself over numerous times with that damn control set-up, the nostalgic appeal and atmospheric landscapes in the game really took me to another universe; it was like Kingdom Hearts was the first video game to really captivate me into a sense of serenity, exploration and companionship (well, a second to the Tekken series, which made me a video game addict).
One thing that popped out like a small toy from a Christmas cracker was the song “Simple & Clean”, which was a composition by Utada herself. There was something quite dope about the track; its fast-paced dance styles (yes, I have a fetish for all things that are dance music), the unique application of synths and electronic sounds, and her voice to top it all off. It was astonishingly memorable, probably one of the most recognizable anthems to a video game that I have experienced, and trust me, I was an addict to video games when I was young, so bear with my wisdom. Then around 2007, I purchased Kingdom Hearts II. I remember going to my cousin’s house, who also had the game, and I was shook to death by the gorgeous quality and input Square Enix and Disney achieved in this one. This was during an extreme bargain shop for Boxing weekend, which I was striving to purchase because they dropped it from $109 (!!!) to around $50… I know right, I was like “Holy shit, I need this.” I remember asking my mum, but she said if I spent half of my savings towards the game, she would pay the other half. Then wallah, I got it!
Even though the video game was immaculate, the one thing that got me was the theme song; “Sanctuary” by Utada, whom returned to serve her creative geniuses to the world once again. Even though at the time, the theme fit the video game perfectly, I never found it as powerful or catchy as “Simple & Clean”. In fact, listening to “Simple & Clean” really put a lot more impact on me then “Sanctuary”, only because the experimental approach was not really… well, a thing back in those days. It was all about the trend of commercial sounds; oldies were becoming the newbies, and the sound was so diverse that “Sanctuary” wouldn’t have stood a chance in the charts, let along the Western market. So to me, it was just a nice song, more of an accessory to a large piece of clothing to put it lightly (or harshly, whatever lases up them shoes). But now, in 2016, I can’t believe that I value “Sanctuary” my favourite track on earth for numerous reasons (ohh, and it’s nearly “Sanctuary”’s 11th birthday on December 14… so Happy Birthday!).
“In you and I there’s a new land
Angel’s in flight
(wonk uoy naht noitceffa erom deen I)
My sanctuary, my sanctuary, yeah”
“Sanctuary” opens with a hypnotic echoing, overlapped over and over again to sound as if it was an entire choir of Utada’s in one recording booth (ohh, how wonderful would that be?) The striking effect it has on me is the slickness of its guitar strumming at the start and ending, where it keeps it quite restrained but simply performed, also like an anime show with those generic guitars playing at the start to an annoying high-pitched record by a group of pure teeny bopping Japanese girls. Then the rumbling drums come in, which don’t really sound like your typical drums. The electronic sections remind me of singing crickets, all grouping together and playing along with the tracks. What I find particularly better with “Sanctuary” than “Passion” is the lyrical content; “Sanctuary” has a more trance-like story that sounds quite cryptic and mysterious, where as “Passion” is quite straightforward and tells a love story. But collectively, they all tell the tale of experiences in the past, the present, and potentially, the future.
The chorus where she sings “And you and I, there’s a new land, *angels that fly*, a sanctuary, my sanctuary” is just beautiful; the thought process of intertwining a relationship with more dream-like qualities really stands out when it comes to the singers creativity and narratives. The only small critique is that there is no overlapping of vocals here, making her voice slightly weak in compared to the composition. One pointer to get your head around though is that, unlike “Passion”, there is an extra bridge section before the second verse, which struts more onto the riffs of electric guitars and reversed applications of vocals by Utada (“Passion” has an extended bridge section near the end, which I favour more than this one).
Then we get the music video; a spectacular exploration of different atmospheres and infrastructures. It opens with a woman in anime form, whom is supposed to resemble Utada (in a spiritual sense that is), and soars through an ocean of clouds with the sun in the background. This vividly reminds me of the lake scene from Spirited Away, where Haku and Zen (or Chihiro, which ever one fancies ya) cross the lake to find out that Haku was actually named after the Ko-haku River. Pretty stylish isn’t it? The music video then slides into the singer walking through a group of digitialized clouds, but zooms onto her walking into some large-as-hell cathedral. I actually had a dream similar to this, where I was walking through a grand hall filled with strained glasses and entering a circular room housed with more glasses, the were literally larger than majority of the churches I’ve seen. It was quite breathtaking until it starting to all fall down and smash everywhere. Oh yeah, and it was up in the clouds, so that only adds a little more suspension and… um, scary feelings, but that’s another story.
The room starts to disintegrate with her in it, making it feel that she is awakening a new light; then boom! A herd of houses beam through the fields of corn, and then finishes with Utada standing there opening her arms to the vastness of the field and sky. I have not seen a video around the mid-late 2000s that is so immensely gorgeous and ethereal that give me the feeling that all of this was real; the quality of the animation, application of choreography with those cheeky Kachinas and the chroma key effects are beyond perfect.
Needless to say, “Sanctuary” and “Passion” are masterpieces. The effect it has had on the Japanese pop community and gaming community (of PS2 generation) has been quite significant for not only us, but for Utada’s career. That’s one thing that I should have clicked onto when it was release, that I have luckily noticed in recent times, or nearly 11 years since; even though “Simple & Clean” was catchy and powerful, the overall presentation of this single takes Utada and J-Pop to another level of sublime measure; the heavy percussion, the amount of vocals, the ambient textures and the visual complexity of the music video.
In my opinion, “Sanctuary” and “Passion” were defining moments to her artistry and career. She hasn’t really made a track like these ever sense, which is unfortunate, as the sales of “Passion” slumped (for god-knows-what-reasons!), but the tunes still sound fresh and cohesive as they were back in 2005, so they have basically aged like Utada herself; still the same and looking young and gorgeous as hell like ten years ago. But to cap it off, these two tracks are special parts of me, as a visual artist, to never give up and always hope for the best, whether it deals with moving on from the past, living in the present, and seeking towards your goals for the future. Effectively, “Passion” and “Sanctuary” are probably her most accomplished recordings.