Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tetsuo - The Bullet Man (Shinya Tsukamoto, 2009)

The Bullet Man.

Having read only extremely negative reviews of Shinya Tsukamoto's newest part of the Tetsuo series, I felt like I had to make a decision before watching it. Either to watch it with my expectations set really low, prepared to be disappointed by something that isn't what Tetsuo - The Iron Man (1989) was. Or, I could go in with my expectations through the roof, preparing to see something great in its own right, to see where Tsukamoto takes it and see the films own qualities. Since one of the problems I've had with reviews the last few years is that "everyone" only seems to be looking for a repeat. Especially when it comes to directors like Tsukamoto and Takashi Miike, who have a reputation of making a certain kind of films, even if they are in minority in their bodies of work, overshadowing everything else they have done. Because of that I chose the latter and Tsukamoto did not let me down.

The Bullet Man plays like a culmination of all of Tsukamoto's films so far. It is almost, but not quite, like a remake of Tetsuo, made in crystal clear high definition and in english. I can see parallells to other films of Tsukamoto's that probably weren't expected. The dreams of the main characters' wife coming true and the shots of large cold buildings of Tokyo reminded more of Nightmare Detective (2006) than anything from earlier in Tsukamoto's career. The origin of the bullet man also is like a fusion between later films like A Snake of June (2002) and Vital (2004) and the first Tetsuo. Through love in a kind of afterlife the bullet man is born, and through provoked emotion his transformation takes place creating something with the power to destroy the world. The city is still there as a cold and lonely place, but it no longer seem like the main reason for the characters' decline into loneliness and rage.

As a film, it's not perfect. The story in all its simplicity is still hard to grasp sometimes. The motives of The Guy, the catalyst behind the bullet man's transformation, is somewhat unclear, unless he's only there as a "director" character, making the whole thing spin. After all he is played by Tsukamoto himself, just like in the original. Having it made in english seems somewhat unnecessary because even if it were to attract a foreign audience, the rest of the film is hardly mainstream. The dialogue is also delivered in a stilted manner making the feeling of cold people stronger than that of a society built out of steel and concrete. As I'm a non-japanese speaker, having the english dialogue spoken like this actually strengthened the atmosphere of the film and did not work as a distraction. Had it been in Japanese it probably would have been harder to pick up on. The frantic camerawork and editing is still there, making it hard to see what is actually going on sometimes, but together with the loud industrial soundtrack by Chu Ishikawa it works so well that the film becomes more of an experiance than a film, and I believe that that is exactly what a Tetsuo film should be like.

I wouldn't call this new Tetsuo cyberpunk, it's a bit too polished to be punk, just like I disagree with some calling Sogo Ishii's Electric Dragon 80.000V (2001) cyberpunk, even though they are somewhat alike. But if you draw a line from Tetsuo - The Iron Man through Tetsuo II - Body Hammer (1992) and Ishii's Electric Dragon and then this new film, The Bullet Man makes perfect sense being the way it is, just like it does if you take a look at Tsukamoto's recent filmography and don't expect The Bullet Man to be just a remake of The Iron Man.

This is a new Tetsuo, from a new Tsukamoto, perhaps for an entirely new audience.

Big Tits Zombie (Takao Nakano, 2010)

Aoi Sora in Big Tits Zombie (2010).

The questions were, "Can a film called Big Tits Zombie be any good? Can it be bad?!". The answers are "probably not" and "hell yes".

A group of bored strippers spend their time bickering backstage in the dressing room while waiting for customers who never show up. One day they find a hidden passage leading from their dressing room down into the basement. Turns out the basement is full of old black magic books and a mysterious well, and when one of the strippers read from the infamous Book of the Dead, the dead starts walking the earth. Or at least the strip joint.

The problem, or problems, with Big Tits Zombie is that it fails to live up to the promises of its title. The tits aren't that big, there aren't enough zombies and the general craziness that is expected of a movie with a title like this just isn't there. There are many different ways that an ultra-low budget film like this could be enjoyable, it could be extreme like the many recent gore films produced for the American market like Tokyo Gore Police and Vampire Girl Vs. Frankenstein Girl, or it could just be funny or have a lot of nudity. Big Tits Zombie is just bland.

The action is poorly choreographed, there aren't many jokes and the gore isn't very inventive. There is nothing wrong with cheap special effects if done right, but here it just looks bad. But the biggest disappointment of all is the lack of big naked tits. I have a hard time imagining that anyone bought this on dvd or went to see it not expecting to see a lot more of Aoi Sora and the other strippers and not being disappointed when it comes down to just a couple shots throughout the whole film.

On the plus side though, you do get to see a fire throwing zombie vagina.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's here

Finally. I don't care about reviews or expectations, this thing just needs to explode.

Quick takes #7

Josie Ho, lowering the value of some property in Dream Home (2010).

Dream Home
(Pang Ho-Cheung, 2010) - Pang Ho-Cheung does his usual bit of establishing a context of either a social phenomenon or a societal condition and then delivering a film around that subject but in a way that you probably won't expect. This time around it's a gory slasher film about a woman (Josie Ho) having trouble affording an apartment in the pricey Hong Kong real estate market. Pang manages to keep the sharp but still effortless and easygoing tone of his earlier films despite the absolutely over-the-top gore and truly horrible proceedings of the main character. Dream Home is actually the only film I can remember where the gore felt like it was too much to take, despite it being so exaggerated it's shown in a calm and realistic way and Pang manages to make it almost unbearable. With Dream Home, Pang once again shows he's the most interesting director in Hong Kong, can't wait for his next film.

(Kazuaki Kiriya, 2009) - Historical fantasy adventure starring Yosuke Eguchi as master thief Goemon Ishikawa. Directed by Kazuaki Kiriya who made Casshern, Goemon is made in the same style of all CG environments and landscapes with (mostly) live actors. While Goemon is a more entertaining film than Casshern, which felt overly long and slow, I have to say that the computer created world worked better in the sci-fi film than in this period piece. A bunch of great actors in supporting roles do make it a fun time though.

Takao Osawa and Yosuke Eguchi in Goemon (2010).

Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge (Takuji Kitamura, 2007) - Supernatural coming of age action drama starring always annoying Hayato Ichihara. Could have been a pretty cool b-movie about a school girl fighting a chainsaw maniac from the moon and getting unwanted help from another kid at school but takes a turn for the more serious, and dull. It has all the afformentioned but still manages to mess it up by making it a story about Ichihara's desire to do something cooler than his friend who passed away in a motorcycle accident. It should have focused on the chainsaw wielding maniac from the moon.

One Million Yen Girl (Yuki Tanada, 2008) - Suzuko (Yu Aoi) moves into an apartment with a friend and the friend's boyfriend only for them to break up. When the ex-boyfriend later throws out a kitten that someone leaves at the door, Suzuko throws out all his belongings but it turns out to be a big mistake as she is sentenced to prison for it. Apparently the guy had a million yen hidden in a bag in his room and pressed charges. When released, Suzuko decides to leave town to make it on her own, and each time she's managed to save up a million yen, she ups and leaves for a new town and a new job. This of course makes it hard to connect with people, not to mention having a relationship with someone. Nice film, both sad and hopeful.

Yu Aoi and Mirai Moriyama in One Million Yen Girl (2008).

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Green Mind, Metal Bats (Kazuyoshi Kumakiri, 2006)

Masanobu Ando as Ishioka in Green Mind, Metal Bats (2006).

Nanba is a former high school baseball player who's working in a convenience store. Ten years have passed since he failed to enter the national high school baseball tournament but he's still practicing his swing by throwing his bat a thousand times every day, hoping to turn pro. When he's at work he spends most of his time staring at his co-worker Mami, a high school girl that Nanba seems to have a crush on, but Mami is not interested.

On his way home one day Nanba sees a woman in a drunken rage kicking a car. When the car's owner comes out and grabs her, Nanba hits him in the knee with his bat and runs off with the woman. Her name is Eiko and she turns out to be a huge baseball fan and a violent alcoholic. To be able to afford Eiko's drinking habits when his hours are cut down at the convenience store, Nanba and Eiko start robbing people and soon they are wanted by the police.

Ishioka is a bicycle policeman and one of Nanba's teammates from school. Ishioka was the star pitcher for the team and managed to get all the way to the national tournament finals but because of an elbow injury he had leave the game of baseball and became a police officer instead. He's not a very motivated one though, spending most of his time ignoring crimes or making shoplifting housewives show him their panties, even though he's married.

One thing they all have in common except for their love of baseball is, they're all losers. Their lives are full of failed attempts and missed opportunities. Nanba never became a baseball player, Ishioka peaked playing in the finals in high school and has spent the last ten years being bitter. You never really get to know anything about Eiko's past, but surely becoming a penniless drunk living in a one room appartment with an equally penniless guy like Nanba wasn't part of the plan.

I really like this film, the eccentric, sometimes crazy behaviour of its characters, especially Eiko, is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny and even though their lives are pretty bleak and not much good happens, it is obvious that Kumakiri cares for his characters despite, or because of, their faults.

Pistol Takehara and Maki Sakai as Nanba and Eiko.

It's been about four years since I watched this film for the first and only other time and it was interesting to me how differently I perceived it this time. The difference comes from changes in life situation. When I first watched it, I could really relate to the lonely, part-time worker Nanba who wanted to do something completely different from working in a convenience store. Meeting a woman by chance, who happens to be "stacked" and really into the same things you are also seems to be a fantasy of a lot of anime and asian cinema geeks. Despite not much good happening to the characters, the film kind of played like a modest dream come true, and even though everyone in it is kind of crazy, Kumakiri infuses the film with a warm realism.

Watching it now it's more about failed attempts and missed opportunities. Nanba never played in the finals, he was on the cheerleading squad, Ishioka messed up his elbow and had to switch careers losing his girlfriend in the process. Eiko is a drunk. Identification is gone, it's more of an understanding now. This time it's maybe even easier to relate to the bitter, tired of his job, cheat Ishioka than to Nanba. Things change.

What sets Green Mind, Metal Bats apart though from other films where I've noticed that my perception of them has changed is that it's not a case of not appreciating it anymore, or having it go from the true excitement of watching the action movies of my childhood to watching them with a sense of irony or tongue in cheek. With Green Mind, Metal Bats it's purely a change of character identification, a change in my, as a spectator, life situation. It doesn't have to do with maturity, my understanding of the characters is about the same. But still Kumakiri manages to invoke the same feelings for his characters in me, I still care about them, I want them to do well. What wouldn't I give for Nanba to perfect his swing and go pro.

In the end when Nanba and Ishioka finally face off, and Nanba says "I'm having the time of my life" and Ishioka answers "I know" you can feel it. No matter who you are watching this film, Kumakiri makes you feel for his characters and that makes Green Mind, Metal Bats a truly great film.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Snake of June (Shinya Tsukamoto, 2002)

Asuka Kurosawa as Rinko in Tsukamoto's A Snake of June (2002).

A Snake of June takes place in a rainy Tokyo where Rinko works as a psychological counsellor at a call center. She seems to lead a normal life with her older husband, Shigehiko, who's something of an obsessive compulsive when it comes to cleaning. The reason seems to be a fear of or unwillingness to be close to Rinko. Shigehiko not only rather cleans than spends time with her, he also pretends to fall asleep in a chair at night to avoid sleeping next to her. There is no question that they still respect each other and that Rinko has feelings for Shigehiko, but he seems emotionless and their marriage is devoid of physical intimacy. The following text contains spoilers.

One day Rinko recieves a package containing photographs of her masturbating and then a phone call from one of her callers at work who says that he took the photos. If Rinko wants the negatives, she has to wear a short skirt, which she only wears alone at home, without any underwear out in public. Apparently the caller, Iguchi, is a stalker who has been taking pictures of her for a while, and who has also recognized the frustrations in Rinko's marriage. Iguchi is a photographer who has been unable to take pictures of people, turning in photos of sexual objects to an adult magazine, but talking to Rinko and stalking her has made him able to photograph people again, namely Rinko. For this he wants to pay her back by helping her get in touch with her sexuality again and to be her true self and do what she really wants to do.

At first it's not easy to accept that a stalker forcing Rinko to do something against her will is what will release her from her repressions, but the way the film is constructed turns Iguchi more into a part of Rinko's subconscious than a physical character. He's just a voice on the phone, telling her things that is what she really wants to do and he never feels like a threat to her. He has pictures of her but he only threatens to show them to Shigehiko. There is never any physical meeting or violence between them. Soon it becomes clear that Rinko is the one in control as she uses Iguchi to make her husband jealous by letting him find one of the photographs and by that resurrect his feelings for her.

Now I'm no expert on Tsukamoto, but I've seen most of his films and to me A Snake of June definitely represents a big change. From his earliest films and forward, most of his films has contained the conflict between the human body and the city, flesh versus cold, concrete buildings and in every film he's become a bit more intimate, organic. From literally turning a man into metal in Tetsuo - The Iron Man (1989) to covering his characters in rags, dirt and make-up in Gemini (1999). In A Snake of June nature seems to take on a bigger role, a theme which is continued in his next film, Vital (2004). The rain, the images of snails and vegetation in the city, the intimate shots of Rinko, it all adds up to a different kind of atmosphere than in his earlier films, A Snake of June is a film which feels totally natural. I won't go into technical terms that I don't fully know the meaning of, but the way the film is shot, with the tight frames, the black and white images and the rain, creates an almost claustrophobic feel. It's cramped, wet, full of repressed desires and completely erotic.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Invisible Waves (Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, 2006)

Tadanobu Asano in Ratanaruang's Invisible Waves (2006).

Invisible Waves, Pen-Ek Ratanaruangs follow up to 2003's Last Life in the Universe once again teams him up with actor Tadanobu Asano, cinematographer Christopher Doyle, scriptwriter Prabda Yoon and composer Hualampong Riddim and this time the result is a moody, atmospheric noir-like thriller. The following text contains spoilers.

Asano plays Kyoji Hamamura, a chef at a Hong Kong restaurant who is having an affair with his boss' wife. After a while we learn that he's also been hired by his boss to kill the wife and then leave Hong Kong to start a new life in Phuket. Everything is arranged by Kyoji's boss so that he can easily sneak out of the city on a cruise ship headed for Phuket but when he starts his journey Kyoji is having trouble coping with his conscience. It doesn't get any better when he also finds out that his cabin is more of a closet with a bathroom and seems to be located next to engine room, or when he's harassed by a strange man claiming to be an old friend of his from school. The only thing making the trip somewhat enjoyable is Noi, a young lady travelling to Phuket with her baby. She and Kyoji spend some time talking and dancing before they part at their destination. From here on Kyoji's troubles only get worse.

After being attacked and robbed in his hotel room, Kyoji's boss arranges for him to meet another man at a bar to pick up some more money, but that is when Kyoji starts to suspect that maybe it was his boss who had him attacked.

The story, just like in Last Life in the Universe, isn't always completely logical and often somewhat dream like. If it wasn't for this dream like atmosphere things like that Kyoji's boss could easily have had him killed instead of going through all the trouble of sending him on a cruise and have him attacked, might have been a bigger disturbance. The main reason though why the story still works so well is that the focus is completely on Kyoji's inner battle with himself over what he has done. It would be easy to say that he's on a quest for redemption, that the pains he endure during his travels would somehow absolve him of his sins. But Kyoji is a completely selfish character. He has accepted money to murder someone to save himself and while he does feel remorse over what he has done he is totally focused on getting away with it. During the film it never occurs to him to turn himself in to the authorities. He doesn't hesitate to call his boss to ask for more money when he has been robbed, he steals to eat when he's out of cash and he even nags his boss about not wanting to live in Phuket.

When Kyoji finds out that it really is his boss who is behind all his bad luck he sets out to get revenge, because after all, the boss broke their deal. There is no sign in him making you think that he's actually seeing anything that happens as something he deserves because of the murder he committed, but how could he when he didn't know who was behind it?

When finally confronting his boss, Kyoji fails to kill him because of a change of mind caused by his boss' new girlfriend showing up, the woman with the baby that Kyoji befriended earlier on the ship. Kyoji leaves and meets his future assassin on a train and tells him he couldn't kill his boss because he was happy. "Who deserves to live more? A happy man or a homeless ghost?" It seems Kyoji, while not reaching redemption, has reached acceptance. He accepts his fate because of what he has done, but in no way has he attoned for it. Maybe he just realized that killing more people wouldn't solve anything, and like he told his boss, he can never be happy again anyway. Or perhaps it's like his boss said, cause and effect, when you do something bad, bad things happen to you (the invisible waves of the title?). This doesn't seem true to Kyoji's boss though since after hiring Kyoji to kill his cheating wife, he doesn't only get to live but he has a new wife and a baby. But there is a third possibility presented in the film by another character sent to kill Kyoji during his trip who simply says that Kyoji is the "dumbest smart guy" he has ever met.

The ending is the weakest part of the film, feeling rushed and incomplete. It might be on purpose, to put even more emphasis on Kyoji's journey in the first part of the film which also is the most rewarding. The atmosphere and feel of the film, created by Doyle's beautiful cinematography, Riddim's music and the slow pace, makes it feel like a film noir thriller set in the same world also created in Last Life in the Universe. Unlike Kyoji's, it is a wonderful trip but in the end, just like Kyoji, you have to peacefully accept that you don't always get what you want.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Quick takes #6

The villains of Yatterman (Takashi Miike, 2009).

(Takashi Miike, 2009) - Miike continues the work that he started in 2005 with The Great Yokai War and makes another kids movie that isn't entirely appropriate for children. At first look it's a mess of a film. It feels fragmented, like a bunch of set pieces cobbled together more than an actual plot, but in the end Miike won me over by still having the energy of his earlier films intact and crazy ideas coming at you faster than you can register what you just saw. Yatterman is a fun, fast paced, entertaining film. And it's full of mechas.

Samurai Zombie (Tak Sakaguchi, 2008) - A group of criminals, an ordinary family and a couple of cops are stuck in a forest where the dead come back to life due to an ancient curse. Sound familiar? Samurai Zombie is another Versus (Ryuhei Kitamura, 2000) clone that tries to add some more story to the proceedings with a messed up love story and I think that is why it fails. What made Versus so great was its simplicity, it had a forest, zombies and a bunch of criminals battling it out for two hours and that was it, focus was put on the action being as exciting as possible. It also doesn't help that the star of Versus, Tak Sakaguchi, is the director of Samurai Zombie, which is several notches below his other directorial effort of 2008, Be a Man!! Samurai School, or that Ryuhei Kitamura who directed Versus wrote the script, when it's so obvious that they are out of ideas when it comes to action films. Nothing either of them has made post-Versus has lived up to what was expected of them and Samurai Zombie doesn't even come close.

In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar Wai, 2000) - I don't think I'll ever be a fan of Wong Kar Wai, he's just too good of a filmmaker. I didn't really know what to expect from In the Mood for Love, somehow I've managed to avoid reading anything about it except that it's supposed to be great and when it started playing it didn't take long before I was thoroughly bored. The acting, cinematography, music, everything is such a perfect fit that I couldn't help feeling disinterested. It wasn't until right before the end credits that I realized the knot in my stomach, that beneath the perfect, polished surface the film packs an emotional punch that feels real and never sentimental. I believe this is one of the best and most mature films about love that I've ever seen but I still can't call myself a fan, I won't be picking up Wong's other films, not until I'm more mature myself. I wouldn't be able to handle the perfection.

Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love (2000).

Friday, April 9, 2010

Quick takes #5

20th Century Boys.

Lately, I've mostly been working or sleeping, not watching movies. But when I finally do sit down to watch a film, I've haven't been able to formulate a single thought about what just appeared before me on the screen, I hardly even feel anything. Not that I'm usually very insightful or anything, but it is pretty annoying. I remember times when I watched four or five films a night and wanted to write something about every single one of them, now I have trouble sitting through 2o minutes of any film, so these quick takes are going to be real quick.

Lala Pipo
(Masayuki Miyano, 2009) - Written by Tetsuya Nakashima (Kamikaze Girls, 2004, Memories of Matsuko, 2006), Lala Pipo has the same look as his films and kind of the same feel. It features some great performances and touching moments, but ultimately it's kind of flat and empty. I felt the same way about the writers other films.

Stop the Bitch Campaign: Final
(Kosuke Suzuki, 2009) - Let this be the final one. Kenichi Endo is out stopping teen prostitution by having sex with teen prostitutes and humiliating them, so that they'll stop! It's an ingenious plan and it works perfectly until a group of girls decides to catch him and beat the crap out of him, just like in the first two films, only this one is even worse.

20th Century Boys: Chapter 3
(Yukihiko Tsutsumi, 2009) - Big disappointment. The first film was a great conspiracy thriller that was actually kind of creepy in places while at the same time being like a children's adventure but the second film turned into a boring mess. I was hoping that the third film would tie it up nicely though, but no such luck. It has its moments, but they are few and far apart.

Accident (Soi Cheang, 2009) - Starts out pretty good with a story about a group of assassins staging elaborate accidents to get to their targets but turns into a weak psycho drama when accidents start to happen to them. Soi Cheang seems to have lost it with Shamo (2007) and this one, after the great Love Battlefield (2004) and Dog Bite Dog (2006). Louis Koo however is turning into one of my favorite HK actors.

Louis Koo in Accident (2009).

Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl (Naoyuki Tomomatsu, Yoshihiro Nishimura, 2009)

Resurrected schoolgirl getting chopped up for the second time in Tomomatsu and Nishimura's Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl (2009).

I said I wasn't going to watch anymore of these recent low budget gore films out of Japan, but when I saw that Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl was out on dvd I couldn't help myself. I don't know why since I've been disappointed by every single one since I saw Versus (Ryuhei Kitamura, 2000) back in 2001. Strangely enough, the one film I watch after having decided not to watch anymore turns out to be the best one so far. Tomomatsu and Nishimura takes the few good things that worked out of their earlier films and actually creates a pretty entertaining film. I don't know exactly who did what, but I assume Nishimura was more in charge of the special effects and got some help from Tomomatsu with the writing and directing, and it seems to have paid off.

Vampire Girl... is better paced and not as overlong as Tokyo Gore Police (Yoshihiro Nishimura, 2008) and as a result it's a lot more entertaining. The balance between the gore and the moronic story about a vampire high school girl who battles the resurrected daughter of the vice principal/insane scientist (Kanji Tsuda goes Herbert West) is better, less story and more gore that is, and the film is a lot more fun than Nishimuras previous borefest.

After having kind of liked this one, I know I'll end up watching Robo-geisha (Noboru Iguchi, 2009) and Mutant Girls Squad (Yoshihiro Nishimura, 2010) too.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love Exposure (Sion Sono, 2008)

Hikari Mitsushima as Yoko in Love Exposure (2008).

I've never been a big fan of Sion Sono, perhaps unfairly since I've only seen three of his earlier films, Suicide Circle (2001), Strange Circus (2005) and Exte (2007) and they all felt too fragmented and unfinished to be really enjoyable, even though they also had their high points. Going into Love Exposure I kept my earlier experiences with Sono in mind while at the same time being excited about finally getting to see it after reading all the reviews and top 10 lists claiming it to be the movie of the year in 2009. I have to admit though that arguments like "it's 4 hours long, how original!!" and "it's full of crazy!!!" doesn't do it for me like it did 10 years ago when I started out watching Japanese films.

So what's it about? Well, it's hard to say, for a movie with a four hour running time I felt that Love Exposure manages to say very little about the subjects it brings up, religion, extremism, love, passion, acceptance, sex and sin. I guess finding balance between the body and mind, religion and love without letting one or the other take over completely is a theme in the movie, perhaps best represented in the character of the father who decides to become a catholic priest after his wife dies and then finds love again with another woman, who later leaves him which turns him even more into a religious fanatic.

The main part of the story is a love triangle between Yu, the son of the priest, who is forced to commit sins so he'll have something to tell his father in confession which makes him turn to photographing girls' underwear in the streets, Yoko, a high school girl who was sexually abused by her father and is now a man hating ass kicking machine who has run away together with her stepmom Kaori who is the love of Yu's father and Koike, another teenage girl who is a member of the Zero Church cult and who, for some reason, wants to ruin Yu's relationship with Yoko and his family. So basically it's four hours of identity mix-ups, kung fu, praying and up skirt photography.

My feeling here is that I probably just didn't get it, the characters struggles with their emotions probably would mean more to someone who's better suited to analyze these things, but at the same time, I'm not sure that there is so much more beneath the surface. The film gets repetetive very quickly. Even though the settings change, four hours is a lot to sit through. It's the same situations over and over, the same dilemmas and with the performances more often than not being closer to annoying than brilliant, with the exception of Atsuro Watabe as the priest and Sakura Ando as Koike, the long running time takes its toll.

I have to say though that it's not an uninteresting film, it's still with me a few days after I've seen it, and even though I'm sure I won't ever sit through it again, this won't be the last time it crosses my mind. Sono manages to cram a lot into it, as he should with a running time like this, and while it's not executed flawlessly I feel that I'm more interested in seeing what he comes up with next than I was before. As for Love Exposure being the best film of 2009 I have to disagree, but it's not surprising it made those lists with ingredients like panty shots, girls in high school uniforms beating up guys, a lot of references to 70's pinky violence films with Yu dressing up like Meiko Kaji's Scorpion character and other random craziness. It's a geek fest.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

In the mood for Love Exposure

Sion Sono's Love Exposure (2008).

Since the beginning of December I've been really busy at work, starting a new job and working 16 hour days has made me too tired to watch anything. For the last two months I've watched zero films. I started watching Bong Joon-Ho's Mother (2009) and got about 20 minutes into it before I fell asleep, not because of the film but just because I've been too tired to care. Even though I have a big pile of dvds that I'd like to watch, I just haven't felt interested, until now.

Sion Sono's Love Exposure (2008) just arrived in the mail and while I haven't read anything about the story I haven't been able to avoid the headlines calling it movie of the year and after it made the top spot on several of the writers at Midnight Eye's year end lists, I just can't wait.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Zombie Self-Defense Force (Naoyuki Tomomatsu, 2006)

Zombie Self-Defense Force (2006).

Part one of the Nihonbi trilogy, Naoyuki Tomomatsu's Zombie Self-Defense Force starts off with a long monologue where the director speaks about how Japanese WW2 veterans have been treated, and war crimes commited by the US in Japan during WW2 and Iraq in present day. Taking into consideration what film you are watching makes the speach a little harder to take seriously and when it's all tied up with the line that there are good things about America too, like George A. Romero, it's obvious where this is going.

The story is simple, a UFO crashes, turns every dead person in the area to zombies, and a group of random people, some of them members of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, are stuck in a house in the country side and have to battle it out with the zombies. Sound familiar? Tomomatsu also manages to include a legend about a super patriotic soldier from World War 2 who is buried in the woods and has never been able to rest in peace because of the way that Japanese soldiers are remembered, and a cyborg, an alien, and a zombie baby along with references to Kinji Fukasaku's Battles Without Honor and Humanity (1973) and a bunch of other films.

I don't really have much to say about Zombie Self-Defense Force, the acting was bad, the effects were cheap and the story was a mess, like it should be in a film like this. Tomomatsu keeps the action going almost throughout and the films does move at a better pace than its sequels, still I think this will be the last of these lowbudget gore films I'll watch in a while, somehow I always get my hopes up, expecting something more than just blood, but they never deliver. It's like they have all the right ingredients but it never adds up to a good whole.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Samurai Princess (Kengo Kaji, 2009)

AV idol Aino Kishi as Gedohime in Kengo Kaji's Samurai Princess (2009).

Another Japanese gore flick in the vein of The Machine Girl (Noboru Iguchi, 2008) and Tokyo Gore Police (Yoshihiro Nishimura, 2008) among others. This time out the setting is something reminiscent of Death Trance, where people seem to be living in a wasteland and both swords and guns are being used. A runaway scientist is making mechanical implants on people and also using body parts to build his own creations. Two of his androids are running amok, killing everyone they meet, especially young girls, after letting their band of criminals rape them. One girl survives their attack and is approached by the scientist who wants to make her too into an android so that she can avenge her friends.

So is there any difference to other films like this? Not really. It starts off pretty good but quickly turns into a slow mess of flashbacks and a totally unnecessary love affair. Nishimura is behind the special effects in Samurai Princess and limbs are literally flying everywhere and there are some great gore, like when the main bad guy punches the skeleton out of a guy. The big problem is the story and pacing, when a film like this actually manages to hold it all together without grinding down to a complete halt before going into the final showdown it'll be a fun ride, but Samurai Princess gets derailed after about 10 minutes.

I really feel like I'm repeating myself with these films, maybe I should just give up on them. But still I can't help wanting to see Robo-geisha (Noboru Iguchi, 2009) and Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl (Yoshihiro Nishimura, Naoyuki Tomomatsu, 2009), maybe I'm still looking for the next great Japanese zombie/action film, the next Versus (Ryuhei Kitamura, 2000).

Monday, November 2, 2009

Favorite moment #2: The Bird People in China (Takashi Miike, 1998)

Masahiro Motoki and Renji Ishibashi on a quest for jade in China.

Since I just crapped all over a Miike-film, I figured I would list a scene from one of his films that I still find myself thinking about even though I haven't seen the film that features it for years. I don't remember the exact circumstances around it but it's somewhere along Masahiro Motoki and Renji Ishibashi's trip to a small mountain village in rural China and they're having a rest and discussing something, as far as I recall. For some reason Ishibashi's yakuza thug gets offended by something white collar worker Motoki says and unexpectedly kicks him right in the face, hard. It made me fall off the couch laughing. It is one of many memorable moments in Takashi Miike's The Bird People in China, the van that's falling apart is another.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Crows Zero II (Takashi Miike, 2009)

The Crows of Suzuran High.

The follow up to Miike's 2007 hit Crows Zero is basically more of the same. Based on a long running manga by Hiroshi Takahashi, the story tells of rival high school gangs fighting each other and among themselves to gain control over Tokyo's high schools. In Crows Zero II, Genji (Shun Oguri) has captured Suzuran High by beating Serizawa (Takayuki Yamada) in the first film, but he has failed at uniting the different factions at the school and beating loner giant Rindaman. But with the release of former Suzuran student Kawanishi (Shinnosuke Abe) from prison, bigger trouble than petty infighting are headed for Genji and everyone else at Suzuran High. Two years earlier, Kawanishi, the then leader of Suzuran, stabbed the boss of Hosen Acadamy to death and now the new leaders of Hosen are out for revenge, not just on Kawanishi, but on all of Suzuran's students. This along with Genji's yakuza father (Goro Kishitani) being targeted for a hit by another group doesn't make Genji's life any easier.

The biggest problem I have with Crows Zero and its sequel is the drama, both films feel too much like some teen drama tv-show, where it's hard to take the cheesy dialogue about war and tactics as seriously as the characters seem to do, and to believe that these scrawny actors are actually brutal fighters. The parallel of Genji's fathers life, with the same kind of conflicts within the yakuza group and with others, showing what the kids of Suzuran High can expect their future to be, and the message that no matter how strong you are, there is always someone stronger doesn't really fit in the film as much as it does as a continuation of Miike's earlier films where unconditional success is rarely seen.

Genji facing off with Rindaman in Takashi Miike's Crows Zero II (2009).

I think the thing lacking in the Crows films compared to Miike's earlier efforts in the kids-knocking-each-other-senseless genre, like the two Young Thugs (1997-1998) and The Way to Fight (1996), is heart. The previous films were actually showing parts of the characters lives and full of warmth and humor between the fights while Crows are merely showing fighting and discussions of tactics on how to recruit more members to their gangs and how to win fights. Even though there are scenes of bonding and the sense of family isn't taken lightly, the emotional impact isn't there in Crows. The only time Crows Zero II really comes to life is in the fight scenes, which surpasses the first film with their energy but still lacks to be really involving. Perhaps the life of the characters are really shown in the fights, as it is their way to feel alive, and afterwards they rarely seem bothered by injuries or the bruises on their faces like it is their natural state.

At 2 hours and 13 minutes, I wish that Miike would have settled for 90 minutes of high school kids beating the crap out of each other and saved the drama for another film.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Zombie Hunter Rika (Kenichi Fujiwara, 2008)

Risa Kudo as high school girl Rika in Zombie Hunter Rika (2008).

Kenichi Fujiwara's Zombie Hunter Rika is the third part in a trilogy of unrelated zombie films that started with Stacy (2001) director Naoyuki Tomomatsu's Zombie Self-Defense Force (2006). The second film was the not so great The Girls Rebel Force of Competitive Swimmers (2007) by Koji Kawano who after making his feature debut with the lesbian teen drama Love My Life (2006) seems to have found a home in the horror/gore genre.

The movie starts out with Rika and a friend of hers from school being attacked by zombies and being saved by a yakuza who, incidentally, is headed to the same place as Rika, her grandfather's house. Rika's grandfather is a famous surgeon who is struggling with dementia, living with his young wife who may only be after his money. They also hook up with a zombie who's slightly more sophisticated than his undead friends. Their mission becomes to defeat the leader of the zombies named Grorian, killing him will make everything go back to normal. The problem is that Grorian has already killed The Zombie Hunter which will cause the US to send missiles over Japan to eliminate the zombies.

Ultra low budget, shot on video, with homemade special effects, Zombie Hunter Rika isn't a perfect film. The lack of special effects is its biggest weakness since a film like this is really about the gore and not the story. In the action scenes the camera always cuts away and all you get to see is blood spraying from off-screen. The action is directed by Versus star Tak Sakaguchi but it doesn't really show until the final showdown between Rika and Grorian, which is actually pretty sweet albeit short, this must be what they spent the money on as it looks like a completely different movie.

Still, I didn't mind Zombie Hunter Rika too much, it has its moments and the music by Hideto Takematsu seems inspired by Nobuhiko Morino's score for Versus and actually helps to heighten the mood in some scenes, making Rika as a whole become something better than its individual parts.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

New titles from Pink Eiga

Usually I wouldn't do this, but since I think Pink Eiga are putting out some really great films, I'll just inform about what they're planning for this fall. Personally I'm most looking forward to Blind Love (2005) from Daisuke Goto, the director of the earlier Pink Eiga release, A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn (2003). Visit their site to watch trailers for the films.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Invitation Only (Kevin Ko, 2009)

Maria Ozawa in Taiwanese slasher flick Invitation Only (2009).

Invitation Only got some publicity before it's premiere for being Taiwan's first slasher film, and because Japanese porn actress Maria Ozawa has a small role in it, but after the premiere it's been mostly quiet about it and with good reason. Invitation Only starts out with a guy working as a driver being invited to a party by his employer after he accidentaly walked in on his employer and his model girlfriend having sex in the car. At the party there are several people attending for the first time who have all been invited by the people they work for, the only requirement being to write down their craziest fantasy on the back of the invitation for it to come true. Sound too good to be true? It is. And this is when the film stops being good too, if it ever was. It turns out that the organizers of the party are more into torturing and killing their new arrivals than making their wishes come true.

When things are turning ugly for the characters the filmmakers actually manage to bring down the pace of the film and turn it into a sleeping pill. It takes about 45 minutes of eventless running up and down hallways with occassional confrontations with the killers before anything remotely interesting happens, the best thing about the film being the still completely unnecessary set up for a sequel in the final seconds. The only reason to watch the film would be for the gore, there's lots of it and it's very brutal. Not counting pure gore flicks like Tokyo Gore Police, this is probably the bloodiest film I've seen in a while. For me though, it didn't help the film entertain.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Cruel Gun Story (Takumi Furukawa, 1964)

Jo Shishido in Cruel Gun Story (1964).

Another film from the Nikkatsu Action box set. Again with Jo Shishido in the lead, but not quite as slick and cool as A Colt Is My Passport (Takashi Nomura, 1967).

Shishido plays a criminal being released early from prison after killing the truck driver who hit his sister and made her paralyzed. The early release comes from another gangster having pulled some strings to get Shishido out so he can use him for a job, to rob an armored car transport taking money from a race track to the bank. As always not everyone is what they seem. A typical heist movie, with the Nikkatsu Action borderless element coming down to the American fighter planes constantly flying above and the American GIs visible in bars and in the streets, and Shishido's wish to escape to Brazil along with his sister.

Even if it's not as entertaining as A Colt Is My Passport, Cruel Gun Story is still a great film. Shishido is as ruthless as ever and there are some great shootouts to go along with the beautiful black and white cinematography.