Vexille is a CGI demo reel that didn’t know when to call it quits. Sure, anyone with even a passing interest in digital filmmaking will be absorbed by it, and there are countless frames that more than pass the Desktop Wallpaper Test. But for all the countless CPU cycles they burned up to generate those yummy texture maps and volumetric lighting sources and particle effects, you think they could have also spared a couple of brain cells to bash together for a decent script.
Is this doomed to happen whenever Japan pumps up the visuals for one of their prestige projects? Probably not all the time, but enough for it to be annoying. For every Casshern or Tekkonkinkreet that comes out of Japan — movies that are full of wild, uninhibited invention and more than a little soul — there’s three or four Vexilles or Appleseeds. It’s impossible to look this movie in the eye and deny they sweated blood over it, but it makes the mistake of thinking it has more on its mind when it just doesn’t.Read more
Once again, I’m fighting the urge to collapse into complete blathering fandom. Basilisk is as grand and glorious an anime as anyone could ask for, violent and beautiful and heartbreaking all at once. I love most any show that taps into Japan’s feudal past (read: ninja and samurai), and they generally have a good track record: Hakkenden, Requiem from the Darkness, Shura no Toki, Otogi-Zoshi. Basilisk sits comfortably among the very best of the bunch.
The show also works a roots lesson in popular Japanese culture, sort of. The source material is Masaki Segawa’s manga of the same name, but that in turn is an adaptation of Fūtaro Yamada’s 1959 novel The Kouga Ninja Scrolls. Yamada pretty much created the mythology of the ninja in fiction as we know it right now, paving the way for everything from Buichi Terasawa’s Kabuto to (what else?) Naruto itself. They could have just slavishly followed the plot of the book, which would have worked decently well since the original novel’s two tons of fun all by itself. But the creators of the anime used the original material as a springboard to add backstory and characterization, and turned what could have been a merely fun show into an outstanding one.Read more
You know a series has been more than worth the time when you come to a volume that’s almost entirely character development — almost no action worth speaking of — and at the same time you’re not the slightest bit bored. That’s the latest surprise Witchblade has had to offer up on its fifth disc: there’s very little knock-down-drag-out-style eye candy, but because the writing and characterization have been so strong throughout this series, it’s episodes like these that feel more like a return to true form.
Disc 5 pushes several key plot elements forward, the first and most important being Masane and Rihoko, mother and daughter, now closer than ever but at the same time also that much more troubled about each other. Rihoko’s spent so much time being a mother-of-sorts to Masane that when it comes time for her to be a daughter, she hardly knows how. To that end she does what she can to make things feel halfway normal — mainly, playing Cupid between Masane and Doji Group director Takayama.Read more
Shinobi: Heart Under Blade is a live-action adaptation of Fûtaro Yamada’s ninja-adventure novel The Kouga Ninja Scrolls, which in turn inspired the manga and anime Basilisk — so with a pedigree like that it ought to be a knockout. It’s stuffed with outlandish costumes, lush scenery, savage fights and bizarre adversaries. But it’s strangely unengaging as a story, and anyone who’s familiar with the original material (like me) will squirm at how much has been thrown out.
Back when the original DVD edition of it appeared I wrote a review for my own site where I panned it roundly. Now having seen it again on Blu-ray Disc, I’m inclined to be a little kinder to it, if only because it really does look spectacular on all counts — and because anime/manga fans will almost certainly get a bang out of it. The cliché that this is a “manga come to life” completely applies here, but sadly, that’s pretty much all it is.Read more
Machine Girl is all the proof you need that low-budget exploitation cinema is alive and well. Instead of looking for it in the now-demolished fleapit theaters of Times Square, it’s coming to you in the comfort of one’s own living room, by way of Japan. This is not a bad thing. Exploitation movies are designed to go over the top, and Machine Girl not only goes over the top, it tears the top off, sets it on fire, and throws it back at you.
We are, after all, talking about a movie where a teenaged girl gets one arm amputated by gangsters, then attaches a super-tommy gun to the stump and goes to town on her tormentors. Heads gets blown apart. Limbs are hacked off. Holes are blown through torsos and weapons fired through the holes. Gorehounds won’t just be delighted; they’ll be smacking their foreheads and laughing in disbelief at some of the stuff the filmmakers pull here. But it’s all more surreal and hallucinatory than anything else, and after a while you’re not so much grossed out as amazed at how much they’re able to jam into a mere ninety minutes of running time. Read more