Here is another instance of the same material being adapted multiple times — both in live-action and in animation, and with the animated version turning out far better in every respect. The original story is Hundred Stories by Natsuhiko Kyogoku, he who gave us the intriguing Summer of the Ubume — a supernatural detective story where the Fox Mulder in question doesn’t believe in the supernatural, and where the strangest thing of all is the human mind.
I enjoyed Ubume, and also enjoyed Hundred Stories in its anime incarnation, marketed in English by Geneon as Requiem from the Darkness. When I found out a live-action adaptation of Stories had been released, I made an effort to find it, but I’m now convinced my efforts would have been better put towards getting Requiem re-released now that Geneon’s U.S. arm went poof. I suspect it’ll show up as a FUNimation reissue somewhere along the line — but if this version doesn’t turn up here you won’t be missing much. Read more
Was it coincidence or serendipity that the day before I watched Black Dynamite I was having a long, thoughtful discussion with my wife about the differences between satire, parody, farce and spoof? Because here’s a movie that might be all of those things at once, with a generous dollop of loving homage spooned on top. And if categories and labels drive you nuts, I’ll just say the last time I laughed this hard at any movie was when the dog got it in A Fish Called Wanda.
Here is a movie that so perfectly reproduces the look, feel, attitude, tone, style and camp factor of the original blaxploitation productions that at least one friend of mine was fooled into thinking he was watching a reissue. It’s the first spoof of its kind that could easily be placed side-by-side with the originals to do them justice — if only because at their best the originals knew they were preposterous (cf. Cleopatra Jones — seriously, Shelley Winters as a Big Bad named “Mommy”!?) and had fun with it. By the end of Dynamite you know for sure you’ve been watching a spoof, but the put-on’s done out of affection, not sneering.Read more
Maya Kitajima would love nothing more than to be someone else. At the opening of Glass Mask, though, her options for escape are quite limited. She works in the same Chinese restaurant where her mother slaves away, lives with her in a single-room apartment, and with her lousy grades and unfocused work habits she’s most likely headed for a life of minimum-wage drudgery — just like Mom. Small wonder Mom’s an embittered woman with no expectations for her daughter other than mediocrity at best and abject failure at worst.
The only thing Maya can do is dream. When she does, she dreams vicariously — through the characters she watches longingly on her favorite TV dramas and on the big screen. Like someone afflicted with Stendhal Syndrome, the mere sight of acting sends her into a rapture. This is the way out. Small wonder she delivers a ridiculous number of meals over the course of an evening for the chance to snag a spare ticket to a stage play. (When said ticket blows out into the bay, she throws herself into freezing water to rescue it.) She doesn’t just want to watch such a performance, either: she wants to do it, to step out in front of an audience and become someone else again and again.Read more
There’s little more disappointing then a movie where there’s not much, you know, movie. Doubles is about two hundred percent concept and almost no percent actual story, an experiment that most assuredly failed but one where we’re forced to read the lab notes anyway. It was admittedly filmed on a tiny budget and with constrained resources, but a great movie can come from those things without turning into a snake that gobbles its own tail.
The movie is about two disgruntled men who only know each other by their Internet aliases, Gun and Key. Gun’s one of those young techno-wizards with tons of esoteric technical knowledge but lousy people skills. He’s bitter from being ousted at his position at a dot-com outfit, and wants revenge on his former boss. Key is a locksmith, a gloomy man in his forties with money trouble and nothing to lose by helping out someone who needs his magic touch to crack open the company’s safe. They’ve got it all worked out: they can break into the building, loot the office, walk out of there with sixty million yen, and retire to Tahiti or something, all without anyone getting hurt — least of all themselves. Read more
There are many things wrong with Onimasa, and it pains me to no end to say that one of the very worst is Tatsuya Nakadai. Here is one of the finest actors that Japan ever produced, under the direction of the very capable Hideo Gosha, and there is barely a scene in this tiresome film where Nakadai comes off as anything but a scenery-chewing, cotton-in-the-jowls ham. It takes a special kind of miscalculation to reduce the most piercing pair of eyes in all of Japanese cinema to something that looks like a photo from an ophthalmology textbook.
I linger on Nakadai because he serves as an emblem of so much of what is wrong with this film: poor choices. He’s miscast, brutally so, as the pre-WWII Kyoto underworld boss Onimasa. Nakadai is best at playing haunted and tormented souls — the tempest-tossed lord in Ran, the homicidal anti-hero of Sword of Doom. He’s also skilled at giving us men who are beaten on the outside but still spirited on the inside, like Genta from Kill! or Komatsu from When A Woman Ascends the Stairs. But he’s hopelessly ill-suited to the role of a powerful gangster boss; his strutting and sneering and rolling of his Rs seem better suited to a TV comedy sketch than a two-and-a-half-hour crime family saga. Watching his performance in this movie is like seeing a bystander end up wedged between two colliding cars. He just plain doesn’t belong here, and no amount of trying to shoehorn him into the role works.Read more
The fan in me wants to rave and drool. The critic in me will be more modest but still enthusiastic. Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo uses the Alexandre Dumas classic as raw material for a story that spans lifetimes and solar systems, and the end result is an explosion of creativity that’s almost intimidating. The story’s been reinvented, not just retold, and everyone — from the writers to the design directors to the voice actors — has brought something new to the material. This show’s a bar-raiser.
What’s best is that as flashy as Gankutsuou looks — and most of the critiques I’ve read of the show so far revolve mostly around its visuals — it’s not just a graphics showcase. I ended up watching the entire series not once but twice, once for the plot and again for the nuances and characterization. It holds up well enough on repeat viewings to convince me it’ll be a perennial, one of those titles that is always in print somewhere. Shows like this are the whole reason I started watching anime in the first place: to see something new. Read more
What we have here is not a sequel to the original Ong Bak, and most everyone with some clue about either film knows this. It’s Tony Jaa’s attempt at creating the sort of spiritually-fueled martial-arts epic that Bruce Lee was exploring immediately before his death. Check out the bonus features on Warner Brothers’ Enter the Dragon DVD for some hints of what Game of Death was to have been if Lee had lived to finish it.
I can’t yet say if Jaa did in fact pull off something that ambitious, because 2 isn’t really finished either. It’s a part of a larger whole that will only snap into place when the third film in the cycle comes out later this year. I can say that as far as action on film goes, the bar raised by the original Ong Bak has been blown off its supports and left protruding from the ceiling. I have my quibbles with the story construction, sure, but they take a major backseat to the stuff Jaa does in this film with sweat, muscle, sinew, blood, fists, elbows, knees, knives, swords, arrows, and … elephants. Read more