The inside of Takashi Miike's head must be like a cinematic scrapyard, where the front end of a musical comedy can be bolted onto the back end of a Coen Brothers-like thriller. That's more or less what he's done in The Happiness of the Katakuris, a sort-of-a-remake of a Korean film, The Quiet Family (which I've not seen), apparently just as darkly comic in its approach. Miike's port of the material adds singing and dancing, almost in the vein of Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective, but not always to an explicitly satirical (or coherent) end.
Next to Takeshi Kitano and Shunji Iwai, Takashi Miike is Japan's most consistently interesting and daring filmmaker, cranking out an absurdly large number of movies a year, each stamped with his own oddball (but often brilliant) outlook. Not all of his films hit the target for me, but they are never less than fascinating even if because they're just so far off the beaten cinematic paths. Katakuris is no less odd than some of his other projects (his most recent movie as of this writing, Gozu, mated his usual yakuza territory with David Lynchian dream-world symbolism), but it's decidedly an acquired taste. If you're already interested in acquiring the taste, however, don't let me stop you. Read more
Sukeban Boy is a cheap, crass little movie about a punk kid with the face of a pretty girl, which causes no end of difficulty in his rough-and-tumble high school years. Please note, I am not using the words cheap and crass as invectives, merely descriptions. This is the sort of project where they knew they were making a cheap and crass little movie, and decided to revel in it instead of tap-dancing around the subject. Whether or not that makes it something you’d want to spend money or time on, I leave entirely to you.
I have to confess, what drew me in first was not the bevy of girls on the cover but the slugline above all of them: “From the director of Machine Girl!” Since Machine Girl has become my new favorite movie to irreparably damage the minds of friends with, this counted as a recommendation. That movie was shot on a tiny budget and showed an amazing amount of ingenuity given that it probably cost less than a day’s catering for most other films. Sukeban Boy, by contract, probably cost about as much as the catering for Machine Girl, and it shows. But, again, at least they knew this. Read more
Horrors of Malformed Men isn’t really an adaptation of any one, or even two, or even three stories by Japanese mystery/horror icon Edogawa Rampo. It’s like a movie version of one of those jazz jam sessions where the band somehow manages to segue between “Melancholy Baby”, “My Favorite Things” and “Sweet Sue, Just You”. Or, in this case, “The Human Chair”, “The Stalker in The Attic”, the story that also inspired Shinya Tsukamoto’s Gemini, and probably three or four others I lost track of somewhere. It doesn’t make a lick of sense, but it’s not meant to: it’s an assault on sense, sensibilities and the senses, all at the same time.
Recanting the plot of a movie like this is pure chicanery. There is a plot, but if you wrote it down and submitted it in a writing class you’d get a long, sad talk from your professor about it. The story, such as it is, is not just lifted wholesale from various Rampo stories but used to evoke the same eerie, decadent, surreal atmosphere that came through in all of his writing. The recent anthology film Rampo Noir did a wonderful job of communicating that same erotic/grotesque or ero-guro sentiment. Men is even more feverish and unhinged, and has the added street cred of political incorrectness in its own country, relegating it to only the occasional midnight-movie screening and rampant bootlegging. Read more