I recently had the opportunity to purchase and read The Magic of So Sato. As the title is new and not a lot of ink has been devoted yet to its contents, I thought I would take the opportunity to share my thoughts. Below are my opinions on nearly every effect in the book.
First things first, the book itself is attractively designed and printed. The rich red book cover is wrapped in a striking, yellow "obi strip", a Japanese packaging technique that bounds objects in a narrow paper belt. This book will stand out in your library. A performance DVD is also included featuring Mr. Sato performing 20 pieces from the book for a small Japanese speaking audience. No translations are given. None are needed. It's a wonderful addition to the book and it was a genuine treat to see this material performed by its creator.
As for the material itself, a brief description of each effect appears below. I've often been frustrated by titles that don't include descriptions of the effect before the instructions. Secrets of So Sato has excellent descriptions which I seriously considered using verbatim in this review. My cautionary side won out in the end, but kudos to the author and publisher for including accurate summaries.
Effect: A card is selected and lost in the pack. Despite showing both hands empty at the same time, the magician slaps his hands together and a card mysteriously appears trapped between them. It is the selection.
My Thoughts: What a great way to start the book. The effect reminded me of something out of Ernest Earick's book (By Forces Unseen), but unlike the effects in that title, this one is surprisingly, dare I say, easy. There are no innovative one-hand palms, nor technically demanding hand wipes. To the extent that the magician must perform a move or two, the misdirection is built right into the presentation. It is also, like most of the book's material, impromptu.
This is one of several pieces that elicited a gasp of delight from the spectators on the performance dvd. I intend to master this move so that I can hear some of that in my own live shows.
Effect: A selected card is passed back and forth between the right and left hand of the performer at a fast pace, seemingly causing the card to shrink to half of its normal size. This illusion is repeated several times, finally vanishing completely before being reproduced from the performer's pocket.
My Thoughts: This is a neat visual illusion that I'm surprised to I'd never come across before. This is a purely impromptu illusion that works best with certain cards in the deck. Although I understood it completely upon first read, and had already begun to practice it somewhat proficiently, I was blown away by the quality of the illusion in Mr. Sato’s hands. The move is somewhat knacky, but well worth the effort to learn.
I will mention that it occurred to me that a magician so inclined could figure out a method to stitch the book's first two effects into one piece. In other words, a card is selected, removed, shrunk and vanished (as in this effect) and then re-appears after a set amount of time trapped between the hands (a la Magic Slap). I'm surprised that this combination was not mentioned in the book (at least in passing) as it's a combination that I think would excite a lot of card workers.
Effect: A selected card is inserted back into the deck face down. The orientation of the selection and the deck is beyond question. Yet when the pack is simply turned over and spread one, and only card is face down amongst the others. It is the selection.
My Thoughts: This is a very direct handling of the classic reversal plot which is made possible thanks to a new hybrid of the turnover-pass and half-pass. Don't be put off, the move itself is rather straight-forward and looks quite innocent in context. I suspect a lot of magicians will want to work this effect into a larger, multi-phase reversal routine which is certainly doable, but not necessarily needed. This is a powerful one-phase routine shows that reminds us that new wine is occasionally found in old bottles.
In the notes at the end of the routine So mentions that the routine works well for multiple cards, and in my opinion, that is where it's real strength lies. As a single card reversal this piece is strong, as a multiple-card, distributed, instantaneous reversal, I feel it's miracle class.
Another "All Backs"
Effect: Demonstrating that a pack of cards can be "broken" the magician shows a pack that has seemingly lost all of its faces. Yet, with a magical gesture the faces all return and the pack is "repaired" and fully examineable.
My Thoughts: It's very rare to see a take on an established classic that feels new, but that's what this routine has going for it. At its heart is a tabled-display that is visually compelling, elegant, and relatively easy to perform. In many all-backs routines, there is a tongue-in-cheek quality to the proceedings, as though the magician doesn't expect anyone to actually believe the faces have vanished. There is none of that irony here. Sato's display will convince nearly everyone that the faces have actually gone, thus making their eventual return that much more satisfying.
Of course, the display being what it is the performer will need a healthy amount of table room to perform this piece. But if you have a table at your disposal, I can imagine no reason for not adopting this handling of All Backs.
Bath Towel Mentalism
Effect: Two spectators select, exchange, and bury their selections all while their hands are covered in the performer’s bath towel. Despite these somewhat strange conditions, the magician divines the names of both cards without handling the cards and everything is normal and examinable at the end.
My Thoughts: There were a few times in the book that I was taken aback by Mr. Sato's approach. His handlings are so delicate and finessed, that when he throws us a curve-ball in the form of his props (i.e. a personal bath towel) or in his presentations (such as the culturally-risque patter in “Mote-Monte”, later in the review) there is almost a shocking, "say it ain't so" sato, quality to it. Sorry, the point is real but I couldn't resist making that joke. That said, I commend him for taking the somewhat risky decision of using this prop, and I would encourage others to experiment with it as well in their performance. Despite the potential for discomfort, the prop is justified, and ultimately in service of a mystifying effect. There is also a brilliantly-conceived use of the card box, which enables the spectator to unwittingly do the magicians dirty work. Good stuff. For a formal close-up or parlor show, one could get a lot of mileage out of this piece.
Lucky Number Poker
Effect: Two participants are dealt poker hands from a spectator-determined location. Without examining their hand, each chooses a small number and based on a few simple rules, they then proceed to exchange cards several times to create new, seemingly randomized hands. When the cards are revealed, each spectator not only has an impressive poker hand, but the magician proves he knew exactly which hand each spectator would get from the very start.
My Thoughts: This is my least favorite item in the book. Not everything can be gems, and in my opinion, this is just one of those pieces that doesn't work on any level. For me, the procedure is transparent, and easily reverse-engineered. It seemed like poker material for people who don't know about, or care for, real poker. That said, the DVD performance shows that spectators may enjoy this piece more than I did, but for me there are so many stronger gambling and/or prediction effects one can achieve in the hands of the spectator with comparable set-ups, and without the need for superfluous props.
Lateral Thinking Assembly
Effect: The four Kings are clearly removed from the pack, which is then cut into quarters. One King is replaced on each quarter, and the performer openly switches the positions of all 2 Kings, then the other 2 Kings. Immediately all 4 Kings are shown to have assembled in one of the packets.
My Thoughts: This is an offbeat way to do an assembly but that’s actually what appealed to me about it. There is a suddenness to the ending and lack of traditional plot adornments (e.g. 3 cards on top of each King) that help tighten up the proceedings. Given that the routine is built on a rather famous, and difficult Lennart Green move, I think it's fair to call this the 'hardest' effect in the book. That said, for people who've been looking for a way to incorporate some of Green's material without having to do his whole shtick, Lateral Thinking Assembly may be a routine worth checking out.
Effect: The deck is cut into four packets by the magician and a male spectator is asked to identify which packet he's most "attracted to". Half-the-time he finds the one Queen in a group of Kings, thereby validating his masculinity. The other half he finds the one King among a group of Queens, calling into question his romantic preferences.
My Thoughts: Yes, my description is an accurate representation of this routine. It's somewhat mind-blowing that this constitutes Mr. Sato's published, preferred, presentation. As I alluded to in my notes on Bath Towel Mentalism, the presence of this theme literally made my jaw drop, and not in a good way. I can imagine a lot of performers who are not excellent audience managers really going off the rails if they stick, uncritically, to this presentation.
This is all quite baffling to me because this is a potentially charming, bank-night-with-cards type effect and there are so many ways to tweak this presentation (I just suggested one) to make it less risque. In fact, for anyone who does buy this book and wants to discuss alternative approaches and presentations, I will be happy to share my ideas in more detail.
I'm not trying to promote prudery, or "P.C. culture", but I am suggesting that people who want to perform this routine consider very seriously their personality, age, and likely audience, before adopting Mr. Sato's presentation.
Effect: The deck of cards is introduced and left only partially sticking out of the box. Two spectators help the magician by announcing a number between 10-40, and selecting a card mentally. Cards are removed cleanly, one-at-a-time from the box and placed into the performers hand. At the selected number the performer stops and reveals the card announced by the spectator.
My Thoughts: No, this isn't the holy grail. Sorry. But it is a practical, impromptu-ish ACAAN. Experienced performers will find that they can get into the set up relatively openly and go directly into this routine. I like the use of the box as it seems to preclude sleight of hand in the minds of the audience. The selection procedure is also quite interesting - it's based on an old gambit we all know, but with some tweaks to help make everything fly by naturally. Beyond that, the routine does require a move or two to bring about the climax, and while those moves aren't particularly difficult or suspicious, I tend to not like approaches which stop the dealing before the declared number in order to do recap, or show that the named card has not yet been shown.
While I don't see myself performing this version of ACAAN frequently, I'm happy it was included and can see myself cherry-picking some ideas from this approach.
Effect: Nearly identical effect as Solution number 1 except for the fact that the pack begins out of view, and there is now a pad of paper and pen to help the magician keep track of the audience's selections. After a number and card are arrived and noted, the magician removes the box of cards from his pocket and gives it to the spectator, who in turn, counts to the selected number and finds the destined card.
My Thoughts: Mr. Sato admits he has never performed this version of the effect but don't be put off by that admission. While there is a somewhat involved preparation, it is one time only and you're then set to have a very clean approach to the ACAAN plot. I can actually see myself using this approach in the right formal setting, and with the right tweak or two, there is no need to even have to use the note-pad, making this effect propless apart from the deck of cards.
It should be mentioned that the performer who wishes to do this piece will need to devote an ample amount of pocket space - think Tommy Wonder's walk-around set up for Wild Card (for those familiar with it) and you'll have some sense of the wardrobe commitment needed to pull this one off.
The Professor Still Fools Us
Effect: The magician introduces a photo of Dai Vernon and explains his significance to a lay audience. A card is now mentally selected from an invisible deck using the same procedure as Solution 1 and 2. The selected card is named whereupon the deck is removed from a card box where it has been since the routine began, and the spectator's selection is found by spelling Dai Vernon's name.
My Thoughts: I've heard of effects being intended for magicians but I've never heard of a presentation that is. I can't help but think that few performers will ever go through the trouble of getting the photo of the professor made in order to do this effect. That shouldn't stop them however from considering this piece as the photo is only a prop and the only real connection that the method has to Dai Vernon are amount of letters in his first and last name.
A. If your name has the same letter count as Dai Vernon, which mine incidentally does
B. You can think of words or phrases that have the same number of letters, which is not hard
then you can do this effect with an alternate presentation. Again, I don't want to dissuade you from using Sato's quite charming presentation, particularly if you're showing this around to your magic friends. But I question how much mileage is gained in impact, or lay-audience interest, by referencing an old magician in a methodologically unneeded performance prop.
All that said, I actually like this piece quite a bit. It's easily the most practical of the 3 effects which use the same selection process (this effect and the two which precede it). I'm reminded of an overlooked idea from David Harkey (found in the routine "Outsmart" in Ah-Ha) in which a method was given for being able to arrive at any card named by a spectator by spelling a simple word or phrase. That idea was flexible but set-up heavy. This one captures a similar essence at considerably less performance "cost".
You Can Count on Dr. Daley
Effect: Dr. Daley's Last Trick. A variation.
My Thoughts: This is an unassuming version of the old-standby which is based on a single 2-card-monte type move repeated two times to set up the famous transposition. While the move and the psychology behind it are sound, the repetition of method, plus lack of any additional phases or displays make this feel like a small routine - almost like a magazine submission more than a full-fledged routine. Combining this piece with the one that follows, "Love a Dove Dove" does make for a compelling two phase Ace routine, but frankly the same statement would apply to any Daley-type transpo which would precede "Love a Dove Dove". Personally, I will continue to use those other methods although I am happy to add the monte move at the heart of this routine into my bag of sleights.
Love a Dove Dove
Effect: The four Aces are displayed and mixed in the hands. One Ace of unknown identity is removed and trapped on the table under the right hand. The other three are revealed allowing process of elimination to reveal the tabled Ace. Yet when the right hand is lifted, the Ace is gone, ultimately appearing on the card box which has been at a remove since the effect began.
My Thoughts: In recent years, rightly or wrongly, the effect of having an object disappear, only to reappear in full view on the table, has come to be called a "Tommy Wonder" style effect. Like the name or not, that is what we have here. And like all other routines which seek to create this hidden-in-plain-sight effect, the key to the illusion is in the misdirection, the relaxed posture of the magician, and the ability to convincingly feign the presence of the truant object. This routine touches convincingly on all those points. I don't know whether I would call this effect a blockbuster, but stitched into a larger Ace routine this is a fun, worthy addition.
Yin Yang Divide
Effect: The performer introduces a drawing of the famous yin/yang symbol and leaves it on the table. The deck is riffled till a spectator calls stop, and six cards (which are seen to all have different values) are dealt from that point. They are given to a spectator who deals the six into two groups of three on either side of the yin/yang. The decisions are free and fair. When the cards are revealed, there seems to be no discernible pattern connected to the yin yang. Yet, when the performer turns the drawing around, the numbers 19 and 23 appear written on the reverse side. The values of the cards in the two piles are now added together and are seen to equal 19 and 23.
My Thoughts: I like this piece a lot. The presentational hook is intriguing given the universal recognition that the yin/yang symbol has achieved. My only complaint is that I wish there were more to this routine. I see no reason why with some amount of thought and planning this piece could easily have been turned into a two, or possibly even three phase routine. To prove this point, I will mention that the effect described above is usually what happens, but not always. There is a 1/4 chance that the values won't line up as I described, but there is a perfect "out" built right into the effect and it won't even be perceived as an error. So, why did it not occur to the author that said scenario could actually be manufactured as a first phase, and then have a second one wherein the "preferred" outcome described above, would certainly then come to pass?
I don't mean to insist that every effect of value has to be a multi-phase routine, but when we’re already incorporating exotic and interesting props, and the procedure has an alternative outcome built into it, I see every reason to exploit that advantage. It's one of several 'missed-opportunities' I perceive where routines could either have been stitched together, or expanded, to produce more substantive pieces. The silver lining is that reader received plenty of mental stimulation figuring out how to compensate accordingly.
Effect: A selection penetrates through the deck despite the pack being wrapped in a rubber band. The card is now slapped against the face of the bound deck, only to vanish in a flash and reappear in the center. The selection is removed from the pack and held between the performer's palms, only to vanish once more and reappear face up in the middle of the deck.
My Thoughts: This is a very cool illusion. Deck and rubber band routines have often left me a bit cold but this one has what those other lack. This is the only routine in the book that requires arts and crafts, which of course means that only some people will ever create the necessary tool, and even fewer will use it. Those that do will be well-rewarded with a highly visual, easy routine that is surprisingly practical when it's all said and done.
Effect: Two spectators select a card from the deck the halves. The pack is divided into 4 packets (two face-up and two face-down) and then scattered together into a haphazard mess. With a magical gesture all the cards suddenly right themselves so that they all face the same direction. Except for two cards, the selections, distributed in two different parts of the deck.
My Thoughts: There is one fantastic reason to not perform this triumph: you don’t have, or wish to use, a table. Otherwise, this is the best impromptu tabled triumph extant. For my money, the image playing card confusion that this routine builds is even more convincing than Daryl's famous display. There isn't much else to say.
Mass Destruction Stacking
Sato describes a method of preserving a stack despite allowing spectators to shuffle the deck. The concept is intriguing and particularly useful when opening a set, but somewhat less useful for most 'deck-in-use' contexts.
Seven effects are offered using the Mass Destruction Stacking. Those effects run the range from poker demonstration(s); four-card revelations; card revelations; predictions and other effects. In the interest of time I will mention my two favorites:
Effect: After the pack is shuffled by the audience, the performer deals through the deck, without glancing at the faces, eliminating cards as he goes. When only four are left, the magician reveals them to be a high-value four-of-a-kind.
My Thoughts: I'm typically allergic to the Down-Under deal. I've read routines by the best of them (sorry John Bannon) but none have ever made me get over my dislike for the procedure and time that the deal requires. I don't know if So Sato has invented the idea of using four cards at a time, I doubt it actually, but that detail speeds the process up considerably so that a well-constructed, medium length script delivered with steady rhythm could easily cover the length of the deal. Most full-deck, or even half-deck, down under deals still end up having 20+ pairs of deals. This routine has 13. The difference is noticeable and for me, makes a world of difference.
I've already modified the handling to allow me to produce the four aces every time while still preserving the majority of the Mass Destruction Stacking procedure. PM me if you own the title and I'll be happy to share my work.
Effect: 3 Spectators are given a chance to select one of the 4 Aces, leaving the final one for the magician. A hypothetical horse race ensues wherein cards are removed from the deck and the Ace of matching suit may advance one move. The first Ace to advance five moves wins. Despite the fairness of the procedures the magician always wins the race and can show at the end that he predicted the outcome before the event began.
My Thoughts: I actually love this piece. The plot is quirky and charming, and for performers who are quick on their feet and good with character voices, this could literally be a magic-comedy set piece worth its weight in gold. The card handling is completely impromptu, although So Sato once again calls for the use of props that don't advance the method and, while logical, make the handling somewhat less practical. That's fine for formal performance but for spontaneous contexts my suggestion is to improvise with items on hand.
A method of openly displaying a four of a kind when really not all 4 cards are truly present. This idea is an elaboration on a ruse that magicians have been using for ages, although Mr Sato describes a particularly open-display that is a little bold, but very easy, deceptive and flexible. It's the kind of thing that helps squeeze out a extra few percentages of power out of your existing four-of-a-kind routines.
Seven strong routines are presented which utilize the Mimic Show, below are my two favorites:
Effect: The deck is split into 3 and one Ace is buried in all three packets. The Ace of Spades is now handed to a spectator who is asked to insert the card back into the deck in a place of their choosing. After mentioning the magnetic properties of the Ace of Spades, the magician reveals that the other 3 Aces have somehow gathered around the Ace of Spades.
My Thoughts: I love the elevator plot but too many handlings in my opinion resemble ambitious card routines in disguise. Not so this version which genuinely feels like a baffling case of the Aces coming together in a random spot in the deck. Like Lateral Thinking Assembly, this is a 4 Ace assembly in disguise. And further like that routine, the climax comes as a surprise, rather than an inevitable consequence of the performer repeating the same process 3 times (the M.O. of most assemblies). This piece is going straight into my repertoire.
Worker Bee Collectors
Effect: Two cards are selected and returned to the pack. The magician displays the 4 Aces and removes the Ace of Spades. The other three aces are placed face up on top of the deck. The Ace of Spades is waved over the deck and with seemingly no further moves, two face down cards are now seen between the three face up Aces. They are the selection.
My Thoughts: Easy, and direct. This is a collectors plot without much fanfare or gloss but the revelation is both surprising and satisfying. Unlike many of Mr. Sato's other pieces, the tabled space required for this routine is quite minimal and may even be suitable as an in-the-hands piece. It may not be my favorite collectors routine of all time, but it is direct, magical, and surprising.
Bushfire Triumph Ver.1.5
Effect: A variation of the Bushfire Triumph that uses only a single playing card and even more haphazard looking tabled mix.
My Thoughts: See my feelings about Bushfire Triumph above. Somewhat unexpectedly, I think I prefer the two-card version of this routine to the one card handling. The handlings are similar and it is nice to have a version for a single spectator though I'm not quite sure why these two pieces were separated physically into two different parts of the book, rather than being presented together.
Effect: The magician removes two packets of cards from a wallet. One is a stack of identical red Jacks, along with an Ace of Hearts. The other is all black Tens, and an Ace of Spades. The performer explains that the two Aces are leaders and the other cards are followers. Despite repeatedly switching the cards in the followers packets, and even changing the position of the leaders, every time a card is placed down onto the Ace of Spades it is seen to be a black card, and every card placed on the Ace of Hearts is a red card, proving actions to words.
My Thoughts: After a book full of surprisingly few technical demands, we get sent off with one of the more demanding pieces in the book. The routine is built up from a similar technique to the one used in Lateral Thinking Assembly, and features a few additional ploys and moves, all of which will require nimble fingers and plenty of practice. I enjoyed reading the routine, but felt unlikely initially to add this piece into my repertoire, although viewing the performance on the DVD quite nearly changed my mind. I continue to prefer the less-technical versions of this plot by folks like Tamariz, Giobbi, and daOrtiz, but there is still a lot to study in this routine.
While it can technically be performed impromptu, Mr. Sato once again chooses a path of greater resistance vis-a-vis props, in the form of open duplicate cards. Elsewhere I've been critical of that tendency in his magic, but here is a case where his decision keeps the effect crystal clear.
So there you have it. 33 effects in all, with 20 of them appearing on the performance DVD. This was my first introduction to So Sato, and to be honest, I bought it entirely based on Richard Kaufman's assertion that this material was "killer". For a person of his exposure and experience to feel so affected by one person's card magic was enough to pique my interest. I'm happy I trusted that instinct, because it has given me a new treasure for my collection.
Despite one clunker (Lucky Number Poker); a highly questionable presentation (Mote-Monte); and my occasional frustration that with Mr. Sato's use of props, or my perception that he could have expanded some of these pieces, satisfyingly, into multi-phase routines, I am ultimately delighted with nearly everything in this book. I count many titles in my library, among them acknowledged classics which I cherish, from which I can count on one hand the number of pieces or ideas that have entered into my repertoire. I have already begun practicing and/or performing over 15 routines, moves, and ideas from this book. If any of you are looking for a copy of this book, I suggest buying a fresh copy from Kaufman and Co. I won't be parting with my copy anytime soon. Let's support the people who give us this type of product in the hopes that we may get more of it in the future.
Wow... that's a huge great review!
Thanks for the great review! I also purchased the book but haven't yet had the time to start reading it.
Catch me on Twitter @RobertSixx or Facebook -- Robert Sixx
Hot Springs, AR
Excellent review, very well written. Thank you.
Now I am anxiously awaiting your next review!
Thanks for the review. This will be my next magic purchase
Somewhere Between Two Worlds
Thank you for sharing.
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" - Lao Tzu
"There is no substitute for hard work" - Thomas Edison
Thorough and honest review. I too bought this book with only a couple youtube videos and Richard Kaufman's praise, and I have ZERO regrets. I too love the Bushfire, Elevator Action. I mostly though love the Acrobat trick. Not easy but intriguing viaually. Also liked Pick Pocket.
A certified lurker, with only
Outstanding review. That was the last little push I needed to convince me that this is a worthwhile investment. Thank you.
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