Gozu is a movie where a man receives a dream visit from a monster with a human body and the head of a cow, and that’s one of the less bizarre things that happens to him. It would be tempting to call this an Asian David Lynch movie, except that director Takashi Miike has been staking out his own and equally outlandish territory for a decade now without needing an explicit comparison to the American master-of-the-weird.
No question that Gozu does work in the same eccentric way as Lynch’s odder films (Lost Highway and his near-perfect Mulholland Drive come to mind), but there’s no question it’s its own animal, pun intended. It may also be among the very best movies Miike has ever made, and — strange as this may sound — one of his most accessible, because we don’t need to know anything about Japan or the yakuza to find it exhilarating. Existing fans of Miike should see it as a matter of course, even if they wind up just as baffled as everyone else.Read more
Casshern is one of a very small category of movies I call “experimental epics,” where a groundbreaking look-and-feel is combined with an engaging story to produce something totally new: part science fiction, part retro-futurism, part mystic fantasy and part family epic. It could have been a mere exercise in effects technology, but it has a fearless passion to it, a heedless excess that makes it transcend its pulp-fantasy roots and its occasional heavy-handedness. The real source of the film’s inspiration is the mid-Seventies anime Robot Hunter Casshan, but the film bares only the vaguest possible resemblance to the original story. A slavishly faithful remake would scarcely have been worth bothering with. Instead, the movie takes some of the core conceits, surrounds them with an all-new setting and and allows them to take on an unexpected gravity.
Casshern is set in what could be called a “retro-fascist” world, one where Asia and Russia have been fighting the rest of the world in a war that has dragged on for decades. Massive steel effigies of various dictators loom over giant factories that belch out filth and fire, and all the signage is in both Cyrillic and kanji. Airships ferry soldiers to and from the battlefields, where a few stalwart holdouts (branded as “terrorists,” of course) continue to make trouble. The look and feel of the movie are absolutely dazzling, even if (and sometimes because) they seem not quite real, but fanciful and exaggerated. Blade Runner showed us what the future might actually look like, but Casshern is entirely imagined (which is no flaw, simply a difference of intention). Read more
I always get a chuckle out of how the Japanese form such fanatical affinities for American pop culture (and vice versa), and “Geroppa! [Get Up!]” is like a comedic love letter to such sentiments. It’s a goofy screwball comedy about a yakuza boss who has two big soft spots in his heart: his love for James Brown and his adoration for his estranged daughter. I wondered, though, if the movie tries to get too many of its laughs by simply presenting Japanese people getting funky. Then again, let’s face it: the sight of anyone except James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, getting funky is probably going to inspire big laughs without being terribly mean-spirited.
Gangster boss Hanemura (Toshiyuki Nishida, a veteran of the Tsuribaka Nisshi movie series) has little to be funky about at the opening of the film, though. He’s been found guilty of racketeering and in a few days will be sent back to prison to serve a five-year sentence. Most of his enthusiasm for the yakuza lifestyle has collapsed, and he’s preparing to disband his clan and send his compatriots back out into the world to live normal lives. His right-hand man, the tall and normally reticent Kaneyama (Ittoku Kishibe), swears he’ll do anything for his boss in these last few days. Come to think of it, Hanemura does have two things in mind: to see James Brown one last time in concert, and to be reunited one last time with his estranged daughter.Read more
The third of the Alien films was a murdered movie — abandoned by its director, David Fincher, cut to shreds by its studio and savaged by both critics and audiences — but it was, sadly, never that good to begin with. For years people had speculated about a director’s cut, but Fincher went on record to say that he would never bother; the less he had to do with Alien³, the better. When Fox reissued the other Alien movies in a fantastic series of 2-disc reissues, they decided to produce a special edition for Alien³ as well. Without Fincher, however, they had to rely on using the film’s original answer print, a two-plus-hour version with many additional and extended scenes that represented the state of the film before the tampering began.
I saw the original Alien³ many moons ago, and I was in agreement with its detractors: it was a magnificent-looking movie that completely failed to enlist my interest. The extended version supplies us with far more interesting characters than the first one, gives them more to deal with, and looks terrific, too — but the biggest problems with Alien³ were and still are its weak story. If the first movie was a haunted house in space and the second movie was a war movie in space, the third movie is — what? A monastery in space? A prison in space? Not that the exact label would matter much, but it’s one way of showing how patched-together and haphazard it all is.Read more
“Without demons,” the sorcerer Abe-no-Seimei says at one point in Onmyōji II, “human life would be pretty dull, wouldn’t it?” That’s easy for him to say — he’s the one who can summon, banish, invoke, curse, bless and enchant just about anything in the land. It’s his friend, the churlish Hiromasa, who almost always gets the worst of it when goblins and spirits start running amuck in the capitol. (Given how easily he continues to be spooked, I’m amazed Hiromasa hasn’t opted for a nice, quiet clerical job somewhere out in the country by now.)
Onmyōji II is of course a sequel to the original Onmyōji, which was a visually lavish but ultimately fairly silly fantasy. II is no less lavish and only slightly less silly, but perhaps this time I was primed for that. I walked in expecting nothing more than a goofy good time, and got it. But the mystique inherent in the concept as it is presented here is evaporating fast, and by the time Onmyōji III rolls around I may not elect to bother. You can only ride the same merry-go-round so many times before you realize the horses never change.Read more
Ryuhei (Versus, Azumi) Kitamura’s Alive begins with a premise so intriguing and unexpected that I’m loathe to talk about it openly in a review. It is one of the most well-thought-out and -executed SF movies I’ve seen that doesn’t depend on a giant budget or massive effects scenes to make its points — in fact, the effects and fights are almost an afterthought.
In that sense, it reminded me of Vincenzo Natali’s equally compact and effective movies Cube and (to a degree) Cypher, both of which also grabbed me from the opening frames and never looked back. If that description intrigues you and you’d simply like to be surprised, go see the film and come back here when you’re done. Otherwise, read on; I still plan on preserving the film’s numerous secrets.
Alive begins with Tenshu (Hideo Sakaki) locked in a gloomy maximum-security prison. His crime: murdering the six thugs who raped his girlfriend, and then murdering her. Guards escort Tenshu out and strap him into the electric chair. When they throw the switch, he realizes after a second the current isn’t nearly enough to kill him. Read more