What a surprise. I didn’t expect much from The Midnight Meat Train, and I got what easily ranks as one of the better horror movies of the last few years. That might have something to do with the involvement of a) Clive Barker as the author of the story it was based on, and b) Ryuhei Kitamura as director. Apparently he wasn’t the first choice for the chair, but you could have fooled me. He understands the real impact of a horror movie is after you leave the theater, not just while you’re watching it.
Train is about Leon (Bradley Cooper), a photographer with an attraction to the seedy underbelly of the big city. One night he wards off a gang of thugs who’re about to attack a young woman in a subway. She thanks him, steps on her train — then turns up on the 11 o’clock news as a missing person. Leon goes back over his pictures and realizes he might have also taken pictures of her killer: a hulking giant of a man named Mahogany (Vinnie Jones). He’s a serial killer, cornering late-night riders on this particular train and beating them to death with a giant hammer reminiscent of a meat tenderizer. Read more
Rug Cop ought to have been funnier, but it feels too much like a test run. It’s a spoof of hard-boiled Japanese detective movies and TV shows, courtesy of Minoru Kawasaki (he of Executive Koala infamy), and while some of the spoofing is witty and wacky, a lot of it is just a bunch of skit concepts looking for a better home.
The concept’s giggle-worthy, anyway. Veteran detective Genda (Fuyuki Moto) is one of the best cops around, but he’s not taken very seriously due to his ill-fitting and immensely ugly hairpiece. Criminals that mess with him don’t get shot — they get his toupee flung at them, which hits with the power of a bullet and returns boomerang-style to its owner. He’s paired up with a cadre of other, equally oddball detectives — like, say, the fat one who can attack bad guys with rivers of his sweat — and they go after a terrorist who’s threatening to unleash an atomic bomb somewhere in Tokyo. Read more
“Willfully perverse” was the adjective that came to mind again and again throughout Unlucky Monkey. It’s about a would-be bank robber, Yamazaki, dragged through one unbelievable stroke of luck — good, bad, and horrible — after another. By the end of the film he’s an empty husk, limping into oncoming traffic for speedy deliverance from any further indignity. I suspect most of the people watching would want to hurl themselves in after him.
Me, I was divided. On the one hand, Monkey was put together with consummate skill: it looks great, the acting is solid, and the director — Sabu, of Dangan Runner and Postman Blues, et al. — has a great sense of the absurd. On the other hand, there’s literally nothing else but absurdity at work here. It’s a lot like Scorsese’s underrated After Hours in both tone and logic (or lack of same), but that film had a curious kind of heart and soul to it, and this one just seems to find various ways to repeat the same few basic ideas until most everyone is dead. Read more
Over at GigaOm there’s a piece that outlines three simple rules for making a hit video-game movie. Have it resemble an existing movie genre; put a hot chick in the lead; and keep the budget reasonable. Onéchambara sticks religiously to that tripitaka. It didn’t cost a lot, it ties into the whole post-apoc zombie-hunt genre (yes, it’s a genre unto itself now, deal with it), and it sports a bikini-clad, katana-swinging Eri Otoguro in the title role. Bullseye.
And yet, somehow, Onéchambara doesn’t quite have the same insane electricity as all the original and even lower-budget cult-midnight properties spewing out of Japan’s slit-open cinematic underbelly right now. After Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police and Oh! My Zombie Mermaid and all the rest of them, Onéchambara almost feels like it’s playing it safe. That could be due to any number of things. The fact that it’s a video game adaptation, for one: maybe they ran the risk of fan wrath if they didn’t include this or that element in it, and they had to shortchange real creativity for being faithful to the source. Read more
I have no shame. I admit it, openly and proudly: Tak Sakaguchi is excuse enough for me to see any movie. After Versus and Death Trance and Battlefield Baseball and all the rest of the stuff he’s been in, having his name on a production draws me to it the way other people pick up the Merry Gentry novels. They’re delicious cinematic junk food: probably not good for me, but oh so good to me.
Samurai School, Sakaguchi’s first outing as both director and actor, is also junk food — but not quite as good to me (and a good deal not as good for me) as Trance, Versus, etc. For about half the time, though, it’s funny and witty and snide, a great skewering of the goofus manlier-than-manly / never-say-die shōnen manga philosophy. Then the second half succumbs to the very clichés it was making fun of. If we go by the junk-food analogy, the first half is dinner at White Castle and the second half is next day’s tummyaches. That said, at least the movie succumbs in style and give us a fun ride on the way down. Read more
Toyoji hasn’t done much since he got out of the army. He wanders around the little village where he’s currently bumming favors off people, still wearing his old soldier’s jacket, trying to get lucky wherever he can. He’s grown fond of Seki, a woman some twenty-plus years his senior — although she’s married to Gisaburo, the rickshaw driver, and has children of her own. All the same, he’s got an eye for her, and it’s not hard to see why: Seki’s got the body of a woman many years younger. And from what we can see, maybe the libido of one as well.
Her husband doesn’t give her much to be happy about. He’s drunk most of the time, and doesn’t show any interest in having the kids go to school (a relatively new innovation in the Japan of the 1890s). One day Toyoji’s flirtations turn to all-out sexual aggression, and soon he and Seki are sharing a mattress fairly regularly. Then he makes a demand of her: Kill the old bastard and get him out of the way. Do that and we’ll be able to live together like a real married couple. Scared and nervous, she helps him strangle Gisaburo, dumps his body in a disused well some miles away, and makes up some story about her husband heading to the big city to make more money. Finally, Gisaburo’s ghost shows up, hounding Seki into horrified remorse — and then, later on, looming over Toyoji too. Read more
Mr. Tamura is one of the hardest-working people in his company. He’s been burning midnight oil for months on end to get a crucial joint venture lined up with a Korean outfit. He’s uneasy about the fact that his wife disappeared two years ago, but takes comfort in the fact that his current girlfriend loves him dearly. Then one morning two detectives show up at his job and coldly inform him that his girl was murdered last night, and all the signs point to him being the culprit.
Tamura’s appalled, but staunchly declares his innocence. It doesn’t help that he himself has been carrying around a great deal of doubt about his own sanity, and has been visiting a psychiatrist to help deal with the tangle of emotions inside of him. The police tail him, put pressure on him — and soon Tamura’s sanity and life unravel like someone pushed the Biggest Ball of Twine In The World (from Cawker City, Kansas) down a steep hill.
And Mr. Tamura is a koala. Read more
You can’t make a cult film. They just sort of happen. Killing Machine wants with every ounce of its blurry, pixilated self to be a cult classic, but desire isn’t enough. It has a decently interesting idea — Tetsuo: The Iron Man meets teenaged prostitution in Korea — but I’ve seen movies made in friend’s basements that were better than this. In fact, I’ve seen movies made in friend’s bathrooms that were better than this.
The story’s simple(minded). A girl in high school turns tricks at night for extra money. One of her regular customers is also one of her teachers. She’s also in love with him. She gets on his bad side one night when she entertains one of her clients in front of his mother’s house. Her punishment for this is to be blown apart with a shotgun and then sawed into pieces by three giggling goons. Some other people stitch her back together and turn her into an assassin as per La Femme Nikita. She then goes gunning for the goons and her teacher. They die. You now have an hour of your life back. Read more
Is it possible to be endeared by a movie because it is flawed and frustrating? I’ve grappled with that question before, and now with Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence I’m forced to deal with it all over again. Here is a film that should not work at all, since its flaws are numerous and discouraging. It’s distracting when you’re watching it, but it lingers in the mind long after it’s over, and in the end it goes straight from being inexplicable to a near-masterpiece without touching any steps between.
The film works, I think, because of some strange alchemy between all the elements that went into it. The director was Nagisa Oshima, he of In the Realm of the Senses but also many other films that do not bring to mind the sense they were helmed by the same man. Here, he adapted a novel about the British in Japanese captivity in WWII, Laurens van der Post’s The Seed and the Sower. The novelty of a Japanese director tackling this material is one thing, but Oshima is more interested in the emotional struggles between the characters than he is in making statements about Japan’s collective behavior during the war. There is both individual and collective guilt here, but the movie is focused firmly on the people.Read more
Let me get this part out of the way. Is Yo-Yo Girl Cop a good movie? No. For god’s sake, look at the title. Yo-Yo Girl Cop. Come to think of it, forget the title; look at the artwork. Whoever said you can’t judge a book by its cover was lying.
But is the movie fun? Well, yeah. It features a schoolgirl clobbering on bad guys with a high-tech version of the titular child’s toy. And with those few words, I suspect I’ve allowed the majority of the audience for this flick to select itself. Go knock yourselves out.
For those not in the loop, Sukeban Deka — the original title for Cop in its native Japan — goes way back. Girl’s comic creator Shinji Wada penned a fairly epic set of adventure stories about teen jailbird Saki Asamiya, drafted into the service of various eminences grises as their way into a heart of criminal darkness where no grown man (or woman) can go: high school. A live-action TV show, a series of movies, and an animated adaptation all followed suit. And now Kenta-son-of-Kinji Fukasaku has stepped up with this version, updated for the 21st century but with many of the same basic conceits intact.Read more
With a title like I Am An S&M Writer, I expected some unbridled sleaze-pit. What I got was something far wittier and funnier than such a label would lead you to believe. It’s more in the vein of a black comedy of manners or an old-school bedroom farce than something like, oh, Flower and Snake.
Funny I should mention Flower and Snake, since both that and S&M Writer stem from the exact same source material: the novels of Oniroku Dan. Dan made a name for himself in Japan by writing BSDM-themed erotic fiction — some of it allegedly autobiographical, but who knows how much or to what end. A big chunk of his fame, or infamy rather, came from having his works adapted to or written specifically for the screen. For a while Nikkatsu Studios (the exploitation-picture kings of Japan) practically had a whole sub-industry devoted to churning out flicks based on his work. S&M Writer is far better than most of them simply by dint of being sincerely funny and not mean-spirited, and by telling us a story that’s more than just a run-through of someone else’s fetishes.Read more