Birdy the Mighty starts with a fairly well-worn idea, but jumps beyond its basic conceit and actually does some inspired things with it. Coming up with something original is tough, but in some ways it’s even tougher to start in familiar territory and move past that. It also sports likable characters who are fun to watch and maintain our interest, another thing that’s become deadly rare as of late, and leaves you wanting more even when it’s over entirely too soon.
I could probably run out of disk space enumerating all of the anime I’ve seen where we have an Average Young Person and an Otherworldly Being forced to share the same body / living quarters / school desk. The most simultaneously demented and sentimental of the bunch is probably Midori Days, where a young punk’s right hand somehow turns into the girl who’s been adoring him from afar — it starts as the makings of a hentai title but veers instead into more gentle romantic territory. Read more
There was once a little “science fiction fairy-tale” flick called Star Wars, which came out of nowhere, changed the face of popular entertainment forever, and made dumptrucks full of money. In its wake were some of the most astonishingly shameless rip-offs ever made, many of which are known to and beloved by bad-movie fans and almost nobody else. What to make of Luigi Cozzi’s Starcrash (starring David Hasselhoff, no less), as cheesy as the 1980 Flash Gordon and with even less regard for little things like continuity and the laws of physics? Or Turkish cult star Cunyet Arkin’s infamous The Man Who Saves the World, complete with effects shots stolen intact from George Lucas’s movie? Or Os Trapalhões na Guerra dos Planetas, a Brazilian shot-on-video monstrosity that’s so bad it’s actually entertaining?
The list does go on, and as you can imagine the Japanese got into the game as well. Future Battle Royale director Kinji Fukasaku had a massive hit on his hands in 1983 with his flashy updating of the samurai classic Hakkenden, but back when Star Wars exploded he jumped on that bandwagon with Message From Space — which was the exact same story as Hakkenden, just transferred to a vaguely Star Wars-ish setting and decked out with truckloads of special effects tinsel. I saw it again recently, and what amazed me is how it’s actually more entertaining in a goofy, unpretentious way than Lucas’s miserable follow-up prequels.Read more
Maybe Eijanaika isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. That was one of the many competing theories I came up with after sitting through Shohei Imamura’s 1979 epic about Japan being transformed by Westernization in the latter half of the 19th century. Or maybe that’s not really what it’s about — maybe it’s just intended to be a picaresque series of adventures experienced by someone caught between Japan and the West in that turbulent period, and that we can draw out of it whatever interpretations we like. Or maybe it was intended to be something completely different, and in the decade or so that Imamura wrote and re-wrote the screenplay and tried to mount the production he lost sight of what was really supposed to be on the screen. What I saw was a deeply confused, meandering film that desperately needed a strong editorial hand to tighten it up and give it focus and clarity.
Let me back up a bit and describe the film itself, the better to demonstrate where the problems stem from. Eijanaika opens with Genji (Shigeru Izumiya) arriving rather unceremoniously in 19th-century Japan after having spent years abroad in the United States. He has learned English and understands all too well the congeries of forces that are threatening to come to Japan and remake it forever — the arms dealers, for instance, and he concludes that it might be best to deal directly with them now and get ahead of the game. But opportunities are few and far between, and he winds up drifting into crimes directed against a government that seems increasingly willing to collaborate with outsiders. Read more
Address Unknown has so many moments of real emotional power that I was tempted to overlook the many other moments when the film stumbles. It’s one of the more recent films by Korean director Ki-duk Kim, a man drawn to strong and disturbing material and who seems determined to make films about such things that are insightful rather than exploitive. When he succeeds, the results are movies like 3-Iron, Samaria, The Isle or Bad Guy; when he falls down, we get Real Fiction or The Coast Guard. Address Unknown is certainly one of his better productions, but it’s pockmarked with a host of little problems that collectively keep it from being a better movie. It is also one of his bleakest and least forgiving films — the only movie of his I found more emotionally battering than this was The Isle, and that’s saying a lot.
The film deals with three young people growing up in a rural slice of the Korean backwoods near an American army base. Everyone in that neighborhood is wretched to some degree, but these three are among the most pitiable: a young girl who lost an eye in a stupid childhood accident (Min-jung Ban); a timid painter’s assistant (Young-min Kim); a half-Korean, half-black (Dong-kun Yang), sired by an American serviceman and then abandoned. None of them have any real connections with other people. The girl’s closest to her dog, has no father (he died in wartime) and loathes the rest of her family. The painter’s a routine target for the local bullies who buy porno from the American servicemen, and the half-breed is shunned by just about everyone save the drunken dog-meat merchant who also happens to be his mother’s current lover. Read more
The old man lives with the young girl on his boat, which they rent out for the day to fishermen, and which along with the endless expanse of the ocean is the entire scope of their existence. She fell into his care years ago, when she was little more than a baby, and has lived her whole life there with him. In two months she will be seventeen, and then he will marry her. Those who know of this arrangement regard the two of them with dismay and distaste, but for the two of them, it is their lives. The old man is also not hesitant to defend this setup with violence: when one of his customers tries to playfully grope the girl, his response is to put an arrow into the wall next to his head.
This is the premise of Ki-duk Kim’s film The Bow, his twelfth movie as director and certainly one of his best. It continues his preoccupation with relationships that are considered transgressive or socially unacceptable, but here he does it in a way that is elegant and direct, and avoids the melodramatic complications that plagued some of his other movies (like Address Unknown). The story has the simplicity of a fable, enhanced all the more by Kim’s preoccupation for characters that are almost entirely silent (3-Iron, The Isle, Bad Guy). Instead of giving them speeches, Kim lets them embody their attitudes; he leaves the words to the people who have nothing to really say. Read more