When I was maybe ten years old I read an article named “What Man Has Done To Dogs”, about the genetic damage inflicted on man’s best friend by centuries of inbreeding. It was probably my first exposure to the concept of unrequited animal suffering, and it broke my heart. Not just because no animal deserves to be, in effect, born crippled, but because such an animal has no idea that it is missing out on a birthright of good health. I fought hard against the idea of putting my dog to sleep when it developed brain cancer, but in the end there was simply nothing else to do. His life and death had been in my hands since the beginning, and to put it to sleep was the ultimate expression of that.
I do not, however, remember my first full-on taste of racism, save for a hackneyed classroom experiment in third grade. The class was divided arbitrarily into “racists” and “victims”, and all that happened was everyone who already had a grudge of some kind had the perfect excuse to act it out. I didn’t need that little piece of sociology to understand on a gut level that there were some people who just plain hated each other on principle; I’d already been hit with it. Or so I thought. Read more
Kinda figured that would happen. That’s what I kept muttering to myself throughout Sukiyaki Western Django, Takashi Miike’s too-hip-for-the-room remix of West and East. It’s the kind of movie where someone fires a crossbow bolt at someone and they blast it back at you with a gun, and you sit there and go: Yeah, kinda figured that would happen. It’s not because I’ve lost the capacity to be surprised, I hope, but only because the movie’s so fundamentally dumb that they could have held the camera upside down and it wouldn’t have mattered. In fact, I think at one point they do.
The movie is, I guess, a retelling of the Genji and Heike struggles in the form of a stylized western, or maybe a reworking of Yojimbo in the context of same, but in reality it’s none of those things, neither history nor allegory nor even entertainment. It’s essentially an excuse for Miike to use all the stuff you see in westerns — the showdowns, the sets, the costumes, the clichés upon clichés — as raw material. The ingredients were pretty banal to begin with, but the end result is a horrible mess. It’s strawberry jam on pasta instead of fusion cuisine, and it is quite possibly Miike’s worst and most thoroughly unwatchable movie yet. Yes, even worse than Izo, for those of you who thought Izo was a mess. At least Izo had the courage of its experimental convictions; Django is wholly pointless and insufferable. Read more
Back when I reviewed Machine Girl, I wrote: “[This film] not only goes over the top, it tears the top off, sets it on fire, and throws it back at you.” Now from the same gang of loons comes Tokyo Gore Police, which I’d normally describe as “over the top” — except that this time there’s really no top left to go over. The lid has blown clean off and gone sailing beyond the blue horizon.
The title alone should have told you what was up, and if nothing else it is complete truth in advertising. The movie is set in Tokyo; it deals with a privatized police army (possibly a parody of Mamoru Oshii’s Kerberos Panzer Corps, but who knows); and it is gory as all get-out. We are not even talking about the sort of thing that Dario Argento used to do back in his glory days — e.g., a severed arm spraying enough blood to paint a wall red. No, that’s not enough for Yoshihiro Nishimura & Co. His limb stumps and bisected torsos gush like fire hoses, spewing enough of the red stuff to fill a couple of municipal swimming pools. Every single time. Read more
Here is a film that I know objectively is not very good but which I confess to having a voyeuristic fascination with anyway. Carnival of the Night is part documentary, part glorified home movie and part improvised come-as-you-are / do-it-yourself independent drama. It’s amateurish, disjointed, sloppy and crudely made, but it’s got flashes of on-the-spot electricity that would be harder to find in a more polished piece of work. It also gives us a glimpse, however fragmented, into the Tokyo underground of the early 1980s — one of those “if you weren’t there, it might have felt something like this” experiences that often works despite being anarchic and not because of it.
Carnival revolves loosely around Kumi Ota (apparently playing herself), the leader of a punk-rock outfit. They perform in tiny little Shinjuku clubs where there’s barely room for the lead singer to stand up in front of the audience, and in the opening scenes they’re shown twanging restlessly away in front of a couple of stone-bored slackers who’re more interested in the bench they’re sitting on than the band. Nobody here is looking for a record contract, and I suspect no one who had one would give it to them. Right after the show, a fight breaks out and someone runs off with the till, even though there’s barely enough in there to buy a pack of smokes. Read more
Gegege no Kitaro is a poor man’s Great Yokai War, which is my way of saying go see that movie first and only come back to this one if you absolutely have to. Kids will probably like it — young kids. Really young kids who haven’t yet learned about the Studio Ghibli films, which is my way of saying … okay, you get the idea.
Kitaro’s been adapted from the manga by Shigeru Mizuki, he who more or less did for yokai (Japanese spooks ‘n goblins) what Futaro Yamada did for ninja: turn them into a staple of Japanese popular culture. Once that happens, the original work is ripe for being cross-adapted to other media, as was the case with Yamada’s novel Kouga Ninja Scrolls. That book was turned both into an outstanding manga and anime series (Basilisk), and a pitifully bad live-action movie (Shinobi). It wasn’t just that some things worked better as animation than they did as live action. The manga / TV show had strong writing and both stuck close to and diverged from the source material when it was beneficial. The movie mated cheesy-looking CGI with a pointless trashing of the original story, and came up empty. Read more