The Great Yokai War brought back to mind an on-again-off-again debate I’ve been having with friends for a long time: Are kids today more jaded, cynical and worldly than they were even a generation ago, or is that just me? I ask this because the movie serves as the perfect context for such a debate: a fantasy epic aimed mainly at younger viewers, one which comes on like an overheated Asian version of The NeverEnding Story — but it’s been put together in such a way that only adults might really appreciate it. That said, kids today are a lot more sophisticated than most of us are willing to give them credit for, so maybe this is just further evidence to that end. I know I enjoyed it, but I wondered if even the Pokémon and Naruto set would connect with it. Maybe they will, and I’m simply being cynical.
What really had some people’s heads spinning about Yokai was the director: Takashi Miike. Yes, the same Takashi Miike who gave us the cheerfully lurid madness of Dead or Alive, Ichi the Killer, City of Lost Souls, but also more whimsical stuff like The Happiness of the Katakuris and the genuinely bucolic and understated Sabu. As it turns out, he’s a pretty good fit for the project: Miike’s playful, juvenile sense of humor mates well with the movie’s need for a fun center. Even what could have been preachy moralism (“Those who discard the past have no future”) winds up fitting nicely into the movie’s overall feel. Read more
What we have of Ninja Resurrection opens a door just wide enough to give us a tantalizing peek at something good-to-excellent — and then slams that door in our faces forever. The two episodes produced for this mini-series, clocking in at a total of eighty minutes, are all we’ll ever get: like many other direct-to-video animated productions made in the Nineties in Japan, it fell under the axe of the bubble economy, and the remaining episodes for the series were never assembled. If they had followed in the vein of the first two, we might have had one of the better projects of its kind.
Resurrection is actually one of many adaptations of the same source material: Futaro Yamada’s novel Makai Tenshô, first rendered as a raucous live-action movie in 1981 by Kinji (Battle Royale) Fukasaku and starring Sonny Chiba — then remade in 2003 in a more technically-impressive but somehow less enjoyable version. This version — or at least what we have of it — is an exercise in violent, stylish excess in the vein of Fukasaku’s movie; if anything, it’s even more uninhibited, since anime conventions let you thumb your nose at such beggarly concerns as gravity and historical continuity. The look-and-feel of the show is strongly reminiscent of Giant Robo, down to the character designs, and if they hadn’t been interrupted I suspect the finished product would have been about as impressive. Read more
A friend of mine has two abbreviations he uses to categorize certain things he likes: VFM and OTT. The first is “Value for Money” — meaning, it was worth the investment not only of cash but time to watch it. The other is “Over the Top”, which I think speaks for itself: he, like me, gets a huge bang out of something that is willing to be absolutely heedless of critical boundaries to be entertaining. In that sense I’m reminded of that quote by Karlheinz Stockhausen that I come back to a great deal: I demand two things [of a composer]: invention and that he astonish me.
Manji is nothing if not astonishing. It’s a wild, lurid, outlandish slice of melodrama — and Japanese melodrama, no less, a country with melodramatic cinema that puts the most shameless American productions right out into the street. People reared on tamer, more conventional movies will find it a giant headache: they’ll watch with their mouths hanging open in amazement at the amount of manipulation being thrown onto the screen. Not just manipulation of the characters by each other, but manipulation of the characters by the director, the writer — and most of all, the thoroughly shameless manipulation of the audience. But if you go in looking for all that, you’ll get VFM in a thoroughly OTT way. It’s Tennessee Williams by way of Douglas Sirk, and if that isn’t hysterical enough for you, nothing is. Read more
There are two widely-entertained speculations about how civilization might collapse: the first is warfare, the second is boredom. The two seem to be intertwined: when people get terminally bored and disenfranchised, they drift into things they would never have considered otherwise. Terrorists kill, or so the theory goes, because nothing the civilized world has to offer them compares with blowing themselves up on a bus along with a dozen innocent people. But what about folks who one day “just snap” or “go postal” — people with marriages, jobs, friends, children, careers, everything the world could offer them?
Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? handles this question by giving us one such man and scrutinizing his life with such exhaustive and fetishistic closeness that by the time it’s over and he has indeed done something horrible we want to snap as well. In that sense, it’s an exercise in empathy, but set up and played off in a way that probably works best on a second viewing. The film stars the boy-faced Kurt Raab (a veteran German actor) as Herr R., “Mr. R”, an upper-middle-class German with no outward reason to do anything horrible. He wears a floral tie and a well-cut dark suit, and spends his days bent over a drafting table inking architectural designs. He is married, has a child, enjoys the company of his colleagues, and seems likely to be promoted.Read more