When Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb appeared in theaters, there were more than a few critics who hated the movie on principle; after all, nuclear war was nothing any sane person could laugh at. Except, of course, that black humor and comedy are precisely how people have always dealt with the cruelest and most horrible of subjects. Today, complaining about Dr. Strangelove seems almost quaint — perhaps not so much a sign that we are desensitized to the whole apocalypse thing (when does the end of the world ever really stop being scary?) as that we have stopped wasting time with silly grousing about art being in bad taste.
That said, I have no idea how people today are going to respond to The Man Who Stole the Sun, which is to nuclear terrorism what Dr. Strangelove was to nuclear war. It’s a black-comedy rendition of a homebrew doomsday scenario, and its sheer outlandishness threw me off to such a degree that it took me two screenings to just get the movie’s tone nailed down. I remembered how people had described William S. Burroughs’s unclassifiable Naked Lunch as “failed science fiction”. Sun feels at first like a failed thriller, until you realize the movie’s weird, off-kilter humor is entirely the point, and is meant to be as grimly ironic as it is funny. You laugh, and then you feel a chill wind blowing through you for laughing. The movie knows exactly what it’s doing. Read more
I wonder if there are cosmic laws about entropy that extend into movies, keeping certain ones from ever becoming too good. Think of how many movies begin with one wonderful rush of inspiration only to degenerate into another shipment of shrink-wrapped product from the cliché factory. Consider: Brainstorm started with one of the best premises for a science-fiction story, then nosedived into a tired mess about marital strife and nasty meddlesome government agents.
Now consider Sakuya Yokaidan (meaning "Sakuya the Demon Slayer"), which takes a great idea — no, several great ideas — and jams them into a story of such annoying banality that I wanted to shout advice at the screen. Given that I watch most of my movies on my computer, this did nothing except get spittle all over the picture tube, but it sure made me feel better. Directed by Tomoo Haraguchi, who was also responsible for the superior Robokill Beneath Discoclub Layla (a/k/a Mikadroid), it's all flash and filigree without an ounce of substance.
The premise: In medieval Japan, a legendary sword used to hunt demons must be put to use by its most recent designated wielder, Sakuya, a young girl of considerable fighting skill. The problem is that the sword drains the life of the one who uses it — in fact, at the shrine of the girl's clan, there's a candle which conveniently tells you how much life she's got left. She inherited the sword from her father, who with his dying strength destroyed a kappa (sort of a man-turtle from Japanese mythology). Sakuya also adopted the kappa's baby son as her own brother, a move her advisors found questionable, but she saw the baby as being an innocent. (In fact, she goes so far as to fill the kid in on exactly what happened — which winds up being a wiser move than it might first appear.)Read more