Tokyo Zombie. Say it out loud. The name alone tells you everything you need to know, doesn’t it? It’s set in Tokyo, and there are zombies, and whoosh there go the vast majority of people reading this off to update their NetFlix queues. They know what they like. But are they prepared for a movie that’s a mix of zombie horror, deadpan slapstick, environmental allegory and wrestling/sports picture clichés? Well, yeah, maybe they are, come to think of it.
What’s heartening is how they could have easily made a stupid, cheap little movie, but chose to aim higher. The film (an adaptation of Yusaku Hanakuma's manga) takes many of the sociological conceits buried (well, not all that deeply) in movies like Dawn / Day of the Dead, makes them into broad slapstick, and dresses up the results in cheerfully cheap-looking visuals. It’s not as out-and-out ridiculous as SARS Wars: Bangkok Zombie Crisis, but in some ways it’s actually funnier. Read more
Here I was, ready to dump the word disturbing onto the same trash heap of all-but-meaningless words where it’ll be in good company with terms like genius. Does it mean anything to call a movie disturbing anymore, when it feels like half the movies out there vying for our attention are allegedly designed to make us uncomfortable? Well, it sure does when you come across the real thing — a movie that really does make you deeply uncomfortable, that refreshes the parts other films have not yet reached.
Late Bloomer made me squirm, but in a good way. It uses the form of a psychological thriller to deal with a subject that until now has generally only been tap-danced around via feel-good TV movies: the sense of powerlessness felt by the disabled. It’s also not a cheap inversion of values — in other words, it’s not about someone who makes people with disabilities all look like crazy monsters. It’s about the pain and frustration of being a perennial outsider, about having no way in because there’s simply no place for you to go. The format of the film, the twisted-thriller trappings, are there to allow us to feel all the more for the guy.Read more
Geisha Vs. Ninjas (U.S. title: Geisha Assassin) is what I could call a WITTIWYG Movie. You’ve heard of What You See Is What You Get; now here’s What’s In The Title Is What You Get. There is a geisha, who also happens to be an assassin hellbent on avenging her betrayed father; there’s a ton of ninja; the two of them collide; there’s your movie. Refunds are available at the booth if, for whatever reason, you feel cheated.
It’s another production from the same direct-to-video Japanese quasi-underground that gave us such fine, quality filmmaking as Tokyo Gore Police, Machine Girl, Death Trance and Sukeban Boy. Director Gō Ohara was action director for Trance as well as the eagerly-awaited Onéchanbara, so after a pedigree like that I was expecting something so far over the top it ought to come right back up through the bottom again. Geisha is actually pretty sedate compared to the Gore / Machine / Trance axis of movie lunacy. But it’s fun to watch as the lower half of a double feature with one of those films, it’s good-looking given that it was probably shot on a pocket-change budget, and it’s another piece of living proof that unpretentious, honest-to-Zarkoff grindhouse cinema is alive and well on the other side of the Pacific. Read more
Sex films are the bastard children of cinema because of their audience. Porn constitutes one of the biggest segments of the American video market, but the vast majority of porn is so bad it’s no wonder it rarely can be more than a guilty pleasure. “Bad” does not mean “dirty”, unless sexual activity itself is unacceptable; “bad” means mechanical, lifeless, boring, unerotic. As John Waters put it, most porn is about as sexy as watching open-heart surgery.
It’s been said the best way to criticize one film is to make another, and In the Realm of the Senses was designed as a rebuke to not only the vast majority of adult films, but to society’s own treatment of same. Here we have a film that is both a serious and intelligent drama, and also a film so sexually explicit that most audiences can’t help but see only the latter.
Senses is based on the true story of Sada Abe (played here by Eiko Matsuda), a woman who became a popular myth figure in Japan for having strangled and sexually mutilated her lover, the owner of the resort hotel where she worked at the time. That man, Ishida (Tatsuya Fuji, a veteran actor and pop star), is already married, but his erotic appetites appear to be far broader than can be contained by any one woman. Then Sada comes along, and the two are spellbound with each other. She wants him for herself, to the exclusion of everything else in both of their lives — and he finds such passion more exciting than anything else he could come up with, or has sought out. Read more
The first season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex was some of the very best television I had seen, animated or not; the second season is not only an admirable successor to the original but may even be better in some ways. It is certainly every bit as exciting and gorgeous to look at, and it expands on the stories of all the characters we’ve come to know and grow fascinated with: the masterful Major Kusanagi, the rough-and-tumble Bateau, the Everyman-as-black-ops-man Togusa. And of course we still have the comic-relief Tachikomas, who play like a philosophical manzai troupe in robot bodies.The second season of the show picks up immediately where the first one left off, shortly after the death and rebirth of Section 9, a high-tech black-ops / Special Forces team within a future incarnation of the Japanese government. The show is ostensibly set thirty years or so in the future, but it’s identifiably about the here-and-now: the biggest issue of the day is a crisis involving what to do with the millions of refugees displaced in the wake of the last war, a thinly-disguised version of the immigration question. Questions about what to do and where to put them have grown ugly and violent, and with the installation of a new Prime Minister, Kabayuki — a woman who sees Section 9 as something she must use, for good or ill, to ensure that their country has a future. Read more
The Ghost in the Shell mythology, originally from Masamune Shirow’s manga, has been spun off into two feature-length films, a set of video games, and now a 26-episode TV series that may outshine them all put together. In fact, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (as the series has been titled) ranks among the very best productions for TV I’ve ever seen, animated or live-action. Aside from being technically accomplished in every respect, it’s excellently written and directed, and the implications of everything it touches on stay with you long after the final episodes.
Those not familiar with the GitS mythology don’t need to read the comics or see the films: the show stands alone, pun intended. Set in the year 2029, it deals with a society where cybernetization and the interconnectedness of things has become commonplace. Prosthetic bodies and digital brains are as ubiquitous as artificial knees are today, and the network of information that flows around the world has become a birthplace for whole new ways of life. Yet people still drive cars, eat food, shop at the grocery store, save for their retirements, and commit crimes.Read more