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.