The Yoshida Brothers in Vancouver

“Wii would like to (see you) play…”

For the past couple years, the Yoshida Brothers have made their way into a new kind of world popularity with that original Nintendo Wii commercial featuring their song “Kodo”.

And last Saturday, May 24th, I got to see them live in The Vancouver Playhouse downtown – from the fourth row, no less.

Ryōichirō and Ken'ichi Yoshida, for those of you unfamiliar with them, are Japanese brothers and musicians from Hokkaido who have been playing the Japanese shamisen from a very young age. They’ve since gone on to play their very traditional musical instruments in very untraditional styles, mixing east and west, folk and rock, old and new, turning it all into something incredibly unique and memorable. As mentioned above, the 2006 Nintendo Wii commercial in turn catapulted them into an all new audience.

Still, this is not to say that their older audience has forgotten about them. Now I knew the Yoshida Brothers from the Wii commercial, as did my six other friends who saw them with me; I always had it in my head that The Playhouse was going to be packed with young gamer-type people…

…Oh how marvellously wrong I was. The vast majority of the audience that night was composed of older Japanese people, with at least half of them well into their 30s or beyond. This was easily the highest concentration of Japanese Vancouverites I had ever seen up to that point, and they were all here to see the Yoshida Brothers! This clearly wasn’t just a venue for young gamers and otaku (though we were definitely in the audience, as I recall the guys behind us making discussion about Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core). Some of the more traditional-minded types even came wearing yukata and geta – including a non-Japanese couple who sat next to one of the aisles. There were definitely all kinds in that audience… but nevertheless, it couldn’t be helped: this was going to be a very Japanese concert.

The Concert:

The concert officially started at 8pm with the dimming of lights and the appearance of two hosts, one speaking English and the other speaking Japanese. After some brief words they introduced the opening act of a local Vancouver band called Dharmakasa. Much like the Yoshidas, Dharmakasa was a group playing their own unique style of fusion music. The band leader, aside from playing guitar, also played his own invented instruments like a nine-stringed violin (played upright like a cello and having a built-in African thumb piano into its body) and what he called an “electric sitar”. The band front man who did all the talking played the shakuhachi (a Japanese bamboo flute) and – off all things – an Australian didgeridoo. The other two band members included a bassist and a drummer.

Being the gaming/anime geeks we were, several of us were quick to imagine a few of Dharmakasa’s songs as coming straight out of a console RPG, and they later told me how they picked out “the desert map theme” and “the boss fight theme”. Nevertheless, it was a fun experience and complimented the later set by the Yoshida Brothers perfectly. During the intermission after their set I went on to pick up their CD from the table in the lobby before heading back to the theatre. In hindsight, I probably should have bought my Yoshida Brothers album at the time too as there were no lines for them at the time (unlike after the concert, when I actually did buy one).

After intermission, I was back in my seat awaiting the main event...