Sogo Ishii has said that the images for his films seem to well up from somewhere deep inside him, without connection to anything earthly. That certainly explains Dead End Run, which seems to come from literally nowhere but ends up going nowhere as well. By “connections”, I don’t mean links to Ishii’s other movies — although there’s the visual kinetics of Electric Dragon 80.000 V and Gojoe, and some of the crazed song-and-dance of Burst City, etc. — but connections to anything other than whatever the director was thinking about filming one day. It’s an arbitrary collection of images and thematic ideas that have nothing in common other than the fact that they’re sharing running time (pun unintended) in the same film, and they’re never developed into anything other than cheesy little outtakes.
Run is not even a full-length movie, but three interlinked shorts that runs a total of just under one hour, including credits. Ishii himself is a fitfully brilliant filmmaker: Gojoe was the best samurai movie I’d seen from Japan in decades, and Dragon and Burst City are more than worth checking out. Many of the folks involved — Tadanobu Asano and Masatoshi Nagase, most notably — have been staple figures in Ishii’s recent productions, so there’s some level of pedigree to the production. But Run is like an anthology of vague ideas that Ishii didn’t want to let go of, and so he recycled them into this lumpen form. The only thing the three movies have in common is the image of someone running, or on the run, or being pursued, but it’s a lame way to link together the stories when they aren’t terribly interesting to begin with. Read more
The Japanese term for a freelancer, no matter what the occupation, is the English-derived prefix free-, and that’s how the two main characters of Vibrator introduce themselves to each other. They’re “free”, in the sense that they have no real obligations to family or friends, no connections with even the society that sustains them, however casually. They’re free to float around like unpaired oxygen atoms in the void, which explains why they bond so violently when they meet. They have nothing better to do.
Her name is Rei (Shinobu Terashima), and she’s a freelance magazine writer; his name is Okabe (Nao Omori) and he’s a former gangster hanger-on, now a truckdriver. They run into each other at a convenience store where Rei is looking for the right kind of wine to drown out the self-hating roar in her head. Nothing in her life seems real outside of the feelings she keeps bottled up inside — and in a country like Japan, where so much depends on the face you present to people, who wants to know you’re an emotional wreck? But she’s drawn to Okabe, with his dyed skullcap of blond hair and his easygoing manners, and she walks out into the parking lot where his truck’s idling to find him waiting for her. He had looked at her and felt the same electricity she did, and with that she climbs up into the cab and roars off with him into the night.Read more
Tadanobu Asano is an actor I will gladly see in most any movie, even ones where his brooding charisma can’t redeem the rest of the project. Asano has been compared favorably to a Japanese version of Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp, and like both of those actors he can make a serious misfire of a film into something marginally endurable. I stuck it out through Dead End Run because of both him and another actor I have the same sort of affection for (Masatoshi Nagase), and I sat through Neji-shiki for the same reasons. Even with him, what we have here is a curiosity whose appeal to anyone outside of its cult audience is probably going to fall flat on its face.
The cultishness surrounding Neji-shiki comes from the fact that it’s an adaptation of a short manga by Tsuge Yoshiharu, a man whose impact on comics inside and outside of Japan is deep but not broadly known. Yoshiharu had a turbulent life, to put it mildly, and that turbulence was channeled back into his work. According to Peter Van Huffel’s MangaGuide, he was raised by his mother after his father ran disappeared, and when he was fourteen he tried stowing away on a cargo ship for the United States but was caught and brought back. His first forays into manga were dedicated products for rental libraries (places where people pay by the hour to browse) — something like the comics equivalent of the direct-to-video movie market, and about as much of a ghetto for a talented man. When that market dried up in the Sixties, he plummeted into poverty, sold blood to put food on the table, and eventually attempted suicide. But he survived, and in 1965 went to work for the underground/avant-garde comic magazine Garo, home to other luminaries such as Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Sanpei Shirato and guro master Suehiro Maruo (whose Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freak Show has also been adapted into a film that apparently didn’t get much of a release). Read more
How quietly and starkly this film tells a story that still has such horrible immediacy. Without politics, without cant or hypocrisy, and without even much fanfare, this film shows us a dramatization of a scarifying incident from real life and gives it meaning and focus. When trailers for the film first appeared and audiences (and pundits, and critics) shouted “Too soon!”, I had to ask: Since when do they need your permission to proceed? An artist that does not provoke is nothing more than a sycophant.
And as it turned out, director Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday) had already gotten permission from the people who were most in the position to give it: the relatives of those who had died onboard United Airlines Flight 93, hijacked by terrorists who ostensibly planned to fly it into a building in Washington, D.C. From everything that has been reconstructed about that event, they died so that others on September 11, 2001, might live. To wait for the “right moment” to tell such a story is simply asinine. The right moment is always now, and some day there will be people who were not alive at the moment and will need to remember what the moment was like.Read more