Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Blu-ray Disc will not be SONY's Betamax Again!

This is an interesting piece on how a few Japanese porn companies are embracing Blu-ray-- regardless of SONY's (and Disney's) corporate policy might be.

From the Washington Post:


Japanese porn industry embraces Blu-ray Disc

Japanese adult film makers have turned decisively to Blu-ray Disc, breathing new life into its bid to replace DVDs as the disc of choice for home movies.


Dan Nystedt and Martyn Williams


The HD DVD high-definition movie format may have the lead in the U.S. porn industry, but Japanese adult film makers have turned decisively to Blu-ray Disc, breathing new life into its bid to replace DVDs as the disc of choice for home movies.


Sony Corp. has started offering more technical support to the adult film industry in Japan, movie makers said at the Adult Treasure Expo 2007 in Chiba, Japan, and the problem of finding companies to mass produce their movies appears to be over.


It's an important step for Blu-ray Disc. HD DVD has already won over the U.S. adult film industry through its lower costs and ease-of-use. People in the industry say they've received plenty of help from backers of the format, including Microsoft Corp. and Toshiba Corp. But Blu-ray is different. Sony and one of the biggest movie makers in the world, the Walt Disney Co., object to pornography, and Disney maintains a policy against having its own movies replicated by any company working with adult movie titles.


Until now, only a handful of companies operated the stampers needed to copy thousands of Blu-ray Disc movies at a time. But the Japanese company handling most of the early Blu-ray Disc adult film releases in Japan says it has partnered with a Taiwanese company able to secure the necessary equipment from Sony.


"In Japan, there are some problems. Companies cannot press Blu-ray discs because they cannot touch adult-related contracts," said Kiyotaka Konno, director of administration at Assist Corp., a Japanese company that authors and replicates DVDs for the adult industry in Japan. "So we asked some makers in Taiwan to do the work, and then we import the discs back to Japan. The Taiwanese company was able to obtain a pressing machine from Sony and will start mass production in August."


Sony says its policy of not allowing its disc replicating subsidiary, Sony DADC, to copy adult films has not changed. But the company is offering technical support to any film makers looking for help, no matter what industry, a spokeswoman said Monday.


The adoption of Blu-ray Disc by the Japanese porn industry could make all the difference in the format war. The adult film industry has long been a first mover in using new technologies, and many analysts say the industry played a key role in making VHS the winner in the video cassette fight against Sony's Betamax video tape standard years ago.
Blu-ray Disc, also a Sony technology, is now vying with HD DVD to be the high-definition disc of choice in the 21st century.



Japan's adult film industry already has ten movies out on Blu-ray Disc (BD DVD), including "JK," "Sex Vacation in Guam" and "Eroist." More are on the way, said Yoshimasa Nozu, a producer at Total Media Agency Inc. His company plans to release at least one more movie per month on Blu-ray for the rest of this year.



By contrast, only one HD DVD adult film has been made in Japan so far, "Perfect Slave Rin," by Glay'z productions.



"HD DVD is popular overseas, but it faces a tough market in Japan," said Takeshi Kobayashi, head of operations at Taisei Co. Ltd., which distributes films under the trade name Glay'z in Japan. "Sony is really pushing the industry to adopt BD DVD."



Price is one issue. HD DVD movies sell for ¥6,090 (US$51.37) each in Japan, while BD DVD movies cost less, ¥4,935. The main difference is that every HD DVD comes with a DVD as well, so users who want to buy the new format but don't yet have an HD DVD player can watch the DVD until they buy a new player.


Sony's PlayStation 3 also presents a challenge for HD DVD. The game console comes with a built in BD DVD player, giving adult film producers an incentive to put their movies on Blu-ray. Japan has long been a stronghold for Sony in the game console arena, and despite stiff competition from Nintendo Co. Ltd.'s Wii, it has sold 4.3 million players worldwide. That puts at least the same number of Blu-ray Disc players in people's homes.


Microsoft, which is part of the HD DVD consortium, has tried to counter Blu-ray in game consoles by offering an add-on HD DVD player for the Xbox 360. But since the players aren't built in, users can opt to forego them, unlike PlayStation 3 users.


HD DVD does have an advantage in the cost of its stand-alone players. Toshiba Corp.'s HD-A2 costs just US$234.99 and comes with five free mainstream HD DVD movies, according to Amazon.com. A similar machine by Sony, the BDP-S300, costs US$499, the same as a PlayStation 3 with a 60G-byte hard drive. The two devices also include five free movies.



Several U.S. porn studios have also come out as strong supporters of HD DVD. Wicked Pictures released the first U.S. feature-length adult movie in HD DVD in January, "Camp Cuddly Pines: Powertool Massacre," while the first Blu-ray Disc title in the U.S., Vivid Entertainment Group's "Debbie Does Dallas...Again," didn't follow until nearly four months later.


Still, despite the head start, HD DVD isn't exactly taking the porn industry by storm. Several U.S. companies interviewed earlier this year have not made good on their plans to release titles in HD DVD, while Blu-ray Disc appears to be gaining ground with its new initiative to work with Japanese adult film makers. The result could be a shift in Blu-ray's favor. U.S. adult film makers said they would use whatever makes sense, and only favored HD DVD early on because the format is less expensive to make movies with and they received extensive help from HD DVD backers.


A friendlier face from the Blu-ray Disc camp appears to be working with Japan's porn industry. Perhaps it could work in the U.S. as well. Link.


Good Lord! Has anyone seen "Camp Cuddly Pines: Powertool Massacre"? My innocent mind can't begin to imagine what a film with that title could be about...

South Korean films popularity down in Japan...

Read this in Variety and think it's worth a re-post since the Japanese have been the biggest consumers of Korean films (and TV dramas) in recent years:


Exports of S. Korean film down
A drop of 66.6% from previous year

By DARCY PAQUET



Exports of South Korean films showed another precipitous drop in the first half of 2007, according to a report issued by the Korean Film Council.



A tally of 148 deals totaling $7.49 million were recorded in the first half, a 66.6% drop from the previous year. After expanding for nine years in a row to peak in 2005 at $76 million for the year as a whole, South Korean exports have now settled roughly to 2002 levels.



Japan, the territory that powered the mid-decade boom, showed the biggest drop, with $2.2 million worth of deals recorded, compared to $8.7 million over the first half of 2006. Japanese buyers have kept their wallets shut following a string of box office failures in the territory, together with a perceived slackening of interest in Korean pop culture.



Other territories that showed a decline include Thailand ($1.7 million to $760,000) and the U.S. ($925,000 to $150,000).



Increases were notched in France ($1 million to $1.8 million), Taiwan ($145,000 to $230,000), and Hong Kong ($165,000 to $225,000).



This year's decline stands as a further indication of the settling of the Korean Wave within Asia. But it also reflects the fact that few large-scale genre projects are currently in the pipeline, with the notable exception of Kim Jee-woon's epic Western "The Good, the Bad, the Weird," currently in production in China. Link.

TOKKO (特攻) aka. Wings of Defeat (aka. Beyond the Sun)


A little over a year ago, while still living in NYC, I edited a feature documentary called BEYOND THE SUN. Directed by first time feature filmmaker Risa Morimoto and executive produced by Japanese translator Linda Hoaglund, it is about the the Tokkotai (which were the Japanese special attack forces-- aka. the Kamikaze-- during World War Two.) After I left NYC it was re-edited and re-titled to WINGS OF DEFEAT. My credit was changed from Editor to something called an 'Associate Editor' (which I am honestly not entirely sure what it means).

Be that as it may, the film is now playing theatrically in Japan under the title TOKKO (特攻) and is getting very good reviews. The prospects are high that it will be playing around the world at some point in the near future. It is a fascinating topic and deserves to be seen if you have the chance!

Gone to Comic Con... and Now Back!


Spent Saturday and Sunday at the world famous San Diego Comic Con and I am still recovering. I have gone almost every year since 1992 and I can now state, unequivocally, that the event is SO big that it is no fun unless you are between the ages of 16 and 22 sped up on meth.

Still! I was able to stop by both the AnimEigo and the Tartan booths and speak with the folks there. Tartan is pushing mainly Korean horror fare right now, but has some tentative plans to release some cool Japanese stuff on DVD if it's financially viable. It's no secret that the DVD market is tanking and obscure Asian horror has found and lost its nitche. As a result Tartan has really taken it on the chin. That said, I understand that they've got a deal with a small mom and pop store called WALLMART. (And a deal with the monster from Bentonville can make or break a company's coffers.)

AnimEigo, on the other hand, has announced a good set of upcoming release titles that some of you already know about. One of the most exciting, though, is the release of the eight film SHINOBI NO MONO series. Vol #1 is slated for an October release with other following at some sort of regular schedule. I'm particularly happy about this, because until now I've been stuck with wretched HK vcd's that's like watching through Yul Brynner's eyes in WESTWORLD. Yay Ninjas!


Other upcoming titles include: Gosha Hideo's amazing THE WOLVES (Shussho Iwai) and Okamoto Kihachi's incredible BATTLE OF OKINAWA (Gekido no Showashi: Okinawa Kessen). Good job Animeigo for getting these titles! (Now if you can put the paper liner notes back in, go back to the original Japanese poster art and make the menus less DVD Studio Pro 101, it would rock!)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Mini-FANTASIA Round-Up...



My Friend Marc Walkow puts the 'maniac' into 'cinemaniac.'

A veteran fan, he's one of the most knowledgeable people I know about all things genre and while his movie tastes lean more towards my own -- crazy Japanese genre flix -- he is a great consumer of any type of excellent genre film. As to be expected, then, right after his duties at the New York Asian Film Festival ended he jetted up to Montreal for Fantasia. (One the oldest, biggest and BEST genre film festivals in North America and NO I still haven't gone! It kills me!!)

So it seems that he just got back from Canada and as he's in the habit of doing after he visits a festival, he emailed out his thoughts and reviews to a couple of his friends. After a bit of my prompting I asked him if he could post it to his (poorly updated) blog, so I could share his thoughts with you all. Surprisingly he found the time to do so and now you all can enjoy it! Think of this as a 'weathering stick' for good movies as these write-ups are usually really helpful in choosing what to watch in the upcoming months.

Because I know that you all can't be bothered to click through pesky links, I've re-posted it on my site. If you dig it, give him some comments on his blog (or here, whichever's clever.)

Thanks again Marc!!!



ON EVIL GROUNDS - first film I started to watch this year, and first one I walked out on, after 20 minutes. The programmer (Todd from Twitch) billed this as a brilliant Austrian gore/horror film that "takes the piss out of Hostel", but I didn't see that at all. Lame humor, unlikable characters, and a serious budget challenge took its toll on me pretty quickly.

GHOSTS OF CITE SOLEIL - this documentary about Haitian gangs was screening at IFC the whole time our fest was on, but I didn't catch it in NYC. I'm glad I saw it in Montreal. Even though it gets kind of maudlin at the end and features a bizarre subplot about a seemingly level-headed French relief worker who inexplicably winds up becoming the girlfriend of one of the main gang leaders (who looks to be 20 years her junior), it's still a really well-made doc about one of the most dangerous places on the planet. Great soundtrack, too.

THE KING OF KONG - yes, it's that "Donkey Kong tournament" documentary you've probably heard about already. It opens in the US in mid-August, and I'd avoided it at NY screenings, thinking it would be just another snarky, pop cultur-rific doc about yet another niche phenomenon, like spelling bees or crossword puzzles, etc. Boy, was I wrong. Yes, you get the requisite "I love the 80s" look at the brief history of video games, but that's only a short bit at the beginning. Instead, the movie turns into an amazingly detailed portrait of two men, common figures to anyone familiar with the world of fandom or subcultural events: the arrogant, seasoned pro and the fresh-faced newcomer. When this movie is remade as a fictional comedy (mark my words), imagine Will Ferrell or Seth Rogen as the newbie and Ben Stiller as the mullet-headed, evil pro. It's tailor-made for such treatment, and couldn't have been better if the screenplay had been written from scratch rather than taken from real life. You get edge-of-your-seat tournament action, good guys and bad guys, Rocky-like victories, an honestly tearful ending, and some utterly hilarious sequences that will make anyone who's a fan of any kind of geek culture cringe a bit. See this one at all costs.

THE RAGE - ugh. My first midnight movie at Fantasia, and just awful. Former KNB makeup artist Robert Kurtzman's fourth film as a director, and he seems to be getting worse with age (I kind of liked Wishmaster). It was billed as an attempt to recapture the 80s latex glory of movies like Evil Dead, but it didn't even come close. Boring, dumb, poorly written and with some truly awful CGI in it. And not enough rubber monsters.

DEATH NOTE - I caught a bit of this again on the big screen, and the Montreal audience loved it. Of course, we showed parts 1 and 2 at NYAFF and I wound up shuttling director Shusuke Kaneko and friend Norman England to Montreal, along with a bunch of film prints. It was a fun trip and I think Shusuke enjoyed the ride. He loved the big Montreal screen.

ZERO CITY - watched a bit of this 1988 Russian sci-fi flick, but kept drifting off and knew I couldn't stay for the whole film anyway. Looked kind of interesting, but very talky.

HOME SICK - this is a movie that Don May picked up a few years ago at Fantasia from its director Adam Wingard, and they premiered the new version at Fantasia this year. Don and Jerry are listed as producers, and Don did a lot of editing on the film, rejiggering it from its earlier version. I actually really liked it - not just saying that because I'm friends with Don! Bill Moseley has a fun time as a weird stranger who puts a kind of curse on a group of young people who are at a party one night. They are asked to name the person they hate the most, and the curse sends a kind of demon after those people in subsequent days. Ultra-gory but satisfying low-budget and gritty, the flick plays kind of like an underground sort of Final Destination movie. Tom Towles pops up at the end as a hilarious redneck uncle of one of the victims.

13 BELOVED - we tried to get this Thai Falling Down / The Game hybrid for NYAFF 07, but couldn't source a print. I voted yes on it, sight unseen, and would do so again, having now seen it, but it still left me slightly dissatisfied. Weinstein Co picked it up, I imagine for its "Dimension Extreme" line (same label that's doing Nightmare Detective), but I have no idea when they'll actually release it. I bet we'll see a remake of it first. A young office worker having the worst day of his life gets a mysterious phone call offering him a chance to win millions if he'll play along with a private game - complete 13 tasks without question, and the money is yours. Simple, perhaps, but the tasks escalate in their level of violence, anti-socialness and repulsiveness. Make a stranger's child cry? No problem. Beat up a homeless guy? Sure. Eat a big steaming plate of shit? That's when it starts to get difficult, and it gets worse from there. If only the ending and the inevitable revelation that something else is going on behind the scenes lived up to the level of the first 2/3 of the movie. Still, a really audacious flick from a cool new director.

MULBERRY STREET - missed this at the Tribeca fest, but glad I caught up with it at Fantasia. Super-low budget movie about a group of apartment building dwellers in lower Manhattan who must deal with chaos when some kind of rat-borne plague starts infecting the island of Manhattan. Reminiscent in some ways of 28 Days Later (and The Descent, in the way the attacks are handled), the movie still has tons of originality, terrific, authentic-sounding dialogue, and a sense of enthusiasm that carries all the way through the film. Its making-of story is even more amazing, once you hear it. This one's just been picked up by Lionsgate, so keep your fingers crossed for some kind of wide release. And parts of it were even shot in a bar that we've been to - Tom and Jerry's on Elizabeth, just above Houston!

KILTRO and MIRAGEMAN - usually when I hear about martial arts flicks made outside of the HK, Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Thai film industries, I'm suspicious. There's just not much experience or precedent, even in places like the Philippines. So when I read about Marko Zaror, a Chilean martial artist who's begun starring in some films produced there, I was really skeptical. I shouldn't have been - these movies were great fun. Kiltro is a kind of 80s Cannon/New World throwback about an ordinary guy with a mystical destiny, secret martial arts societies, an evil villain who returns to seek vengeance, and so on. It's got lots of misplaced Asian mysticism and magical hooey, but it's still a lot of dumb fun. Zaror is likable and amazing in that he's this giant, muscular guy (he was The Rock's double on The Rundown) who can do amazing flying martial arts stunts. Kiltro is rock-headed, bloody and violent, but Zaror's follow-up Mirageman is the exact opposite. It's a light, shot-on-video superhero comedy about a bouncer, unhappy about the level of crime in his town, who decides to take matters into his own hands. There's lots of humor about him trying to make an adequate uniform, finding unlikely sidekicks, and dealing with the fickle media. Very low-key but smart in its approach, it also features even better martial arts than Kiltro because it all seems more down-to-earth. Running a short 85 minutes, it never overstays its welcome, has some great music, and never takes itself too seriously. Magnolia has picked these up for US release, and I'm sure they'll just go straight to video, but check out Mirageman when you can. It's really worth it.

THE BACKWOODS - Spanish-produced Straw Dogs riff that stars Gary Oldman and Paddy Considine as two Brits who go to the wilds of Spain for a vacation with their foreign-born wives. The locals start lusting after Considine's French hottie, they discover a secret in the woods, and the locals come after them. A serious 70s vibe permeates this movie, which is also a major Peckinpah homage. Unfortunately, the many Spanish sequences weren't subtitled in this print, but we still got the point. It's a good updating of the earlier film, removing much of its misogyny but retaining its viciousness. There's no siege, as in the original, but rather a different kind of final confrontation. The two UK actors are great and the movie is gorgeously shot. Not sure where this one is going in the US, but hopefully it'll see a release.

YOUR MOMMY KILLS ANIMALS - caught this controversial documentary on DVD-R screener, and really liked it. It opens with some shocking footage of workers abusing dogs at some kind of animal testing facility, but backs off the shock tactics for the rest of the film. And despite its oddball title, it's a remarkably even-handed documentary about the animal rights movement that'll definitely change your opinion of at least some of its subjects. The only organizations that really get skewered are the Humane Society and PETA, and that's more for their oversized corporate problems these days than for anything else (although they go into great detail about PETA's seemingly contradictory policy on euthanizing homeless animals). I think this is getting a release here in theatres, and it's worth seeing.

GARY'S TOUCH - the most controversial film of the fest, and it was only a 20-minute short that screened during Small Gauge Trauma. Made by a gay, Asian, Ottawa resident, the movie is about a creepy homeless guy intent on procreating, despite the fact that he's not attracted to women and has some serious personality issues. To say any more would be to spoil this film's myriad surprises. Suffice to say that it's probably best if you haven't had a full meal before viewing it.

THE TRIPPER - David Arquette's directorial debut, a gore comedy about a killer in a Ronald Reagan mask who offs hippies. And that's about it. Not nearly as bad as it sounds, yet not all that good, either.

AMPHIBIAN MAN - the 1961 Russian fantasy flick about an underwater dude who romances a land-girl. Heavily melodramatic and padded, but still charming in its own way.

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR - like last year's The Lost, this one is based on a full-strength Jack Ketchum novel, though this is always the one that people say "couldn't be filmed". Well, apparently there are two versions of the story coming out, this one and another based on the true-crime tale that inspired the novel 20 years ago (An American Crime). About a group of kids in the mid-50s (early 60s in the other movie) led by their delinquent mother to torture and imprison an orphaned cousin who's staying with them, it's grueling throughout and seriously divided the audience. The original story is extremely powerful and well-observed in its ability to show how "ordinary" people can do inhuman things in the right circumstances (think Abu Ghraib, etc), but I think that the filmmakers who did this version weren't quite up to the task of translating the story. It lacks any kind of transcendence or meaningful resolution. Although they certainly gave it the college try, I think it remained beyond their grasp. I'd have liked to have seen what a more experienced group of filmmakers could have done with the material, and definitely look forward to American Crime, which I hear is a much better movie.

AL FINAL DEL ESPECTRO - you didn't know that lame ripoffs of Asian horror came from places other than Hollywood, did you? Add Colombia to the list. Boring, predictable, completely uninspired, even in the 30 minutes I was able to sit through.

THE DEVIL DARED ME TO - Chris Stapp and Matt Heath are New Zealand-based daredevils, and friends of our buddy Ant Timpson. Just don't call them the Kiwi "Jackass"! This is a hilarious, retro comedy about a young stunt guy who seeks to become the best in the biz. Chris and Matt do their own stunts and are lunatic about it - the stuff presented in the movie is just amazing, with very little CGI enhancement. Extremely low-budget ($300K), the movie has supposedly been bought for worldwide release by Uwe Boll's company! Catch it if you can, and hopefully the delightful Chris and Matt will come back to the US to intro their screenings here. Chris even did some live stunts in the cinema, throwing himself onto the audience seats from the stage...twice!

WIZARD OF GORE - remake of the HG Lewis film, and not all that bad. Director Jeremy Kasten and producer Dan Griffiths are great guys, and also hung out all weekend for some drunken revelry. The best things about their movie are Crispin Glover as Montag the Magnificent (sadly underused), lots of naked Suicide Girls, and an extended cameo by the great Brad Dourif as, of all things, a Chinese medicine doctor! The movies goes too far overboard on stylistic shooting and editing, but its combination of film noir and LA postpunk is at least original and it's clear the filmmakers tried to stray as far as they could from the source material, which is a refreshing change.

MURDER PARTY - a real treat, this indie horror comedy was an unexpected surprise. Produced in NY, it skewers the Brooklyn hipster and art scene perfectly while also telling a neat little story about an ordinary, un-hip guy who gets caught up in the titular event, an art "happening" that turns deadly. Spot-on dialogue and some great gore effects contribute to the movie's effectiveness.

POSTAL - the first of the two Uwe Boll movies presented at Fantasia this year, introduced by Boll himself, who's actually a nice guy. This one didn't work for me, however. It's an intentionally "controversial" and "offensive" adaptation of yes, the video game, but also is Boll's personal shout against the martyrdom of everything surrounding 9/11. Although it opens with a hilarious sequence featuring a cockpit conversation between two 9/11 Arab highjackers about how many virgins they'll get in paradise, it quickly descends into lame old jokes and supposedly-edgy comedy. Not really - it all felt like Boll was trying too hard to both shock and make people laugh, and when he appears onscreen in lederhosen and starts giving out gold Jew teeth (concentration camp joke!) as payment, then has himself shot in the balls, I couldn't take it anymore and left.

IN THE NAME OF THE KING: A DUNGEON SIEGE TALE - the other Boll movie this year and you know what? It's actually really good! Although it's plagued with the typical turgid dialogue and situations of all sword & sorcery movies, this epic tale is at least engrossing throughout and despite some early laughs at cast members Burt Reynolds and Ray Liotta in period costume, it all comes together. The plentiful CGI battles look fantastic and the cinematography of the movie (shot on gorgeous locations in British Colombia) is terrific. Jason Statham is good in the lead role, and has great supporting work from Ron Perlman and others. There are a lot of funny scenes (mainly involving Liotta as an evil warlord), kind of intentional, but it all adds to the entertainment value of the movie. It's certainly a helluva lot better than Bloodrayne (which was entertaining, but only in a bad way) and feels like a "real movie". Action scenes by Ching Siu-tung are fabulous. Supposedly coming to theatres in January 2008.

14 AMAZONS - finally, another vintage Shaw Bros film to end the fest. This one's terrific, an epic (yes, again) story based on a classic Chinese novel about the female members of a martial family who go to war to avenge their brother/son/grandson. Ivy Ling Po stars and Cheng Kang directs, with his son Ching Siu-tung (yes, again) providing some of his first action choreography. Gorgeous, restored print courtesy of Celestial, and more onscreen death than I think I've ever seen before.

And that's that. Already looking forward to next year.

Monday, July 23, 2007

活動写真:Japanese Samurai Films Screening in September

Calling all Angelinos! Considering the concentration of Japanese folk in the greater Los Angeles area, you'd be forgiven for thinking that there are constant Japanese film screenings. Wrong! Outside of the periodic event at LACMA it's slim pickings, my friend. So when any sort of Japanese film screening occurs, it's cause for celebration!

Here's one to mark down on your calendars:

On September 30, 2007 there will be an all day Samurai film screening in Little Tokyo. There are two Gosha Hideo titles (I wonder why they chose Kumokiri Nizaemon and not Kedamono no Ken or Kiba Okaminosuke), a wonderful Kobayashi Masaki entry and one by the 'Emperor', Kurosawa Akira.

Films include:

  • 11am Sambiki no Samurai   三匹の侍 (Three Outlaw Samurai)
  • 1pm Kumokiri Nizaemon 雲霧仁左衛門 (Bandits vs. Samurai Squadron) (Coincidentally, I just bought this discounted on Chinese DVD.)
  • 5pm Joi-uchi: Hairyo tsuma shimatsu 上意討ち (Samurai Rebellion)
  • 7:30pm Kumonosu-jo 蜘蛛巣城 (Throne of Blood)
Info:

September 30, 2007, Sunday

Aratani/Japan America Theatre
244 S.San Pedro St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Charge -by -Phone Tel: 213-680-3700
Box office Open Mon.-Sat 12-5pm

General Admission:
Festival Pass: $30, $25 JACCC Members
Single Tickets(per film): $10, $8 JACCC Members, $6 Students

Saturday, July 21, 2007

TEKKON KINKREET and More on Studio 4ºC


I had a friend in town visiting over last weekend who is pretty much the original anime fan -- having been so since he was a wee lad -- and since his timing was perfectly matched up with Sony's US release of TEKKON KINKREET (previous post) we went off to see it while simultaneously experiencing the bizarre pleasure of the flagship LANDMARK CINEMA in West Los Angeles.**

As regular readers know, this was my second time catching TEKKON KINKREET but my first time seeing it with English subs. While I'm not entirely sure that the film really makes any more sense with English subtitles for all of the pseudo philosophical blah-blah-blah that comes out of these character's mouths, it was still interesting to see the choices that were made in translation (example: translating the main character's names as 'Black' and 'White' for 'Kuro' and 'Shiro' seems too literal for my tastes-- it was in katakana to begin with right? Which would imply quotations, but what the hell do I know?).

At any rate, my initial observations haven't changed, the film has a lot of interesting stuff in it, but suffers from poor scripting and some directorial floundering. (Perhaps unjustly) I attribute both factors to the non-Japanese involvement of several key crew positions and the possible collateral that comes from trying to work in a language that is not one's own.

Still, the real star of the film-- and what I want to write about-- is the incredible animation that Studio 4ºC pulls off. My suspicion is that showing off their amazing animation prowess was the true motivation behind Studio 4ºC doing this film and collaborating with a foreign director (who is based in Japan), screenwriter, sound designer and musicians (English techno artists Plaid); in short, 4ºC wanted to greatly increase their global recognition.

Back on Christmas day, 1995, when I watched MEMORIES in a Shinjuku theater I was floored by how much of it looked like 'cinema'. Director Morimoto Koji's installment, MAGNETIC ROSE, was the first time I had seen a true consideration of cinematography (vis a vis light and shadows), camera movements, and mis en scene in an animated movie. Sure, Otomo Katsuhiro's AKIRA had raised the bar for animation with it's precise lip-synching and fluid animation but there was still a 2 dimensional 'confinement' that I was aware of the entire time I watched it: it still felt flat to me.

(Otomo's own entry to the film, CANNON FODDER, with its Stalinist Russia design aesthetic and use of basically one long tracking shot is the stuff of legend and, at the time, promised so much from Otomo that his output since then has been nothing less than disappointing.)

Perhaps then, it comes as no surprise that MEMORIES is considered by the head of Studio 4ºC Tanaka Eiko to be their first movie as a stuido. The icon of the little Boy from CANNON FODDER emblazons the private business cards of Ms. Tanaka and MAGNETIC ROSE's director Morimoto Koji is not only an active animation supervisor and director at Studio 4ºC, he can also be regarded as an unofficial head of the company. (When I was visiting their office, Mr. Morimoto was wearing large SONY headphones and blissfully drawing away at his desk, set without ego amongst the other artists'.)

In the ensuing years after MEMORIES release, with the evolution of computer integration into animation technique, the obvious choice of using computers for full animation proved too tempting for many animators and animation companies-- sometimes with tragic results. But for Studio 4ºC the thinking clearly has always been outside of the box; for them computers are regarded as any other artistic tool that should be used, when appropriate, to tell the best story.

If you were to look at BEYOND C productions (a Studio 4ºC arm) that can be found on many of the GRASSHOPPA! releases, you would find some of the best examples of young directors trying out new animation techniques, including out of the box employment of computers and CGI in animation. But one of the techniques that always struck me as fascinating was Studio 4ºC using CGI to expand the world of traditional cell drawn animation or hand painted backgrounds, occasionally using it to help texture map objects with hand realized images. This allows for more traditional real filmmaking techniques like dolly moves, tilts, and pans to occur in a more convincing manner. Perhaps the biggest compliment to the use of this technique is the fact that as an audience we don't even know it's happening, it's just part of the film.

With both MIND GAME and TEKKON KINKREET we see a different employment of computers in the filmmaking milieu. You're going to find the occasional animated object done in CGI, because it is, perhaps, a more efficient and precise means of achieving a result (example: the exploding crates of rubber duckies in MIND GAME) but the point is, you're more likely to see computer and animation being used to achieve more traditional filmmaking effects: lens flares, hand held shake, film grain, than for animation excess.

In a sense, what was started unofficially in MEMORIES and was harnessed and explored to delirious success in MIND GAME and mastered in TEKKON KINKREET, is the total employment of computers to create a new form of cinematic storytelling in animation. Sure the Studio Ghibli stuff is amazing for it's storytelling and total genius of imagination, but it's still a regular employer of traditional animation techniques for better or for worse. (Just to be clear, I am a huge Ghibli fan.) What makes watching a Studio 4º Celsius work so exciting is that you have no idea what you are going to get -- except for a horizon bending, envelope pushing, totally fresh view of the world.

I recently watched PIXAR's (and Disney's) amazing RATATOUILLE. What made this an example of one of the best animated films I've seen in a while can be boiled down to two factors: 1) Great screenwriting and 2) Incredible employment of technology in animation which is, in turn, in service of the story. The (cgi) animation has never looked more beautiful and the craft has never been higher for PIXAR. (Thank you director Brad Bird!)

I believe that somehow RATATOUILLE is related to TEKKON KINKREET in that they both show off top cutting edge animation craft while showing life on screen in a manner that I've never seen before. However, without question, RATATOUILLE is a better film than TEKKON KINKREET for its commitment to good scripting and strong storytelling.

This, too, is why MIND GAME succeeds: for its brilliant use of animation in service of story. But let's give credit where it's due. Sure Yuasa Masaaki's (湯浅政明) direction is brilliant, but ultimately it's the strength of MIND GAME manga writer and artist Robin Nishi's (ロビン西) original that carries the day. Simply, MIND GAME is inspiring and revelatory in the truths it shares and it leaves us optimistic and somehow empowered-- I can't say the same thing about TEKKON KINKREET (but its goals are admittedly different). (By the way, the fact that MIND GAME still is not available abroad-- legally-- still bugs me.)

As a summation of sorts, it seems clear that with the releases of TEKKON KINKREET, GENIUS PARTY 1 and 2 and the heap of direct to video pieces, Studio 4º Celsius is truly defining themselves as a company of incredible talent with an ability towards radical thinking and invention. With several big come-outs planned in 2008, it could be a big year for them. That said, it seems unclear whether there will ever be anything more than a small fan community abroad that recognizes their genius. However, one way to guarantee an evolution abroad is by upping their storytelling and screenwriting game; their technical ability is there, but let's see some more MIND GAME quality.

Final note: as of this posting, TEKKON KINKREET is no longer playing in LA or NYC. Total length of run: ONE WEEK.

(**The LANDMARK cinema can be summed up as an amalgam of the royal excesses of the now (in)famous Hollywood ARCLIGHT CINEMAS-- where many a Hollywood premier happens, donchaknow-- and pretty much any other multiplex in the United States-- and now, presumably, the world. Of note, some theaters at the Landmark have 'couch seating' and no, it's not as comfortable as it sounds.)

Friday, July 20, 2007

R.I.P. Sherman Torgan...


Sherman Torgan was the New Beverly Cinema and the New Beverly Cinema was Sherman Torgan.

My friend Phil and I had just started getting to know Sherman while planning these 'Saturdays at Midnight' screenings and while my interaction was few, Phil was fast becoming friends with him; it was, as someone in that movie once said, "The beginning of a beautiful friendship."

While I am still relatively new to LA, the New Beverly Cinema was my favorite haunt where I went at least once a week to see a double feature. In a land of hermetically sealed multiplexes with 10 buck popcorns and Blackberry tinkering weenies who are less interested in the movie that's playing than their test messages, it was an oasis for movie fans. (And the popcorn was cheap and amazing!)

Here's an obituary from Reuters:

New Beverly Founder Sherman Torgan Dies
Fri Jul 20, 2007 1:50AM EDT

By Tony Gieske

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Sherman Torgan, who founded and ran the last remaining full-time revival cinema in Los Angeles, died Wednesday of a heart attack while bicycling in Santa Monica. He was 63.

His New Beverly Cinema at 7165 Beverly Blvd. in Los Angeles has been screening repertory double bills continuously since it opened in 1978. Past, present and future filmmakers, actors and movie lovers have been drawn to the house, whose attractions run the gamut from old Hollywood classics, recent independent film and European and Asian favorites, to the occasional silent or animated feature.

Torgan opened the doors of the New Beverly on May 5, 1978, with a Marlon Brando double bill -- "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Last Tango in Paris," which was just then helping to bridge the gap between X-rated and mainstream entertainment.

On its recent 25th anniversary, the theater held no celebration. "Hooray! The Beverly Cinema has reached a milestone," read a notice in agate type on the theater's calendar. "This month marks 25 years of continuous repertory programming. ... The struggle goes on."

After coming west from Philadelphia and graduating from UCLA in 1969, Torgan had relocated to the San Francisco area, where he worked as a location scout and spent a year negotiating the purchase of a theater with several partners.

When that fell through, he returned to Los Angeles, where he leased what was then known simply as the Beverly Cinema and staffed it mostly with UCLA film-school grads. "I didn't want to get in a business that involved getting up too early," he said, "and I wanted to get in a business that really had sort of a positive vibe. Movies put a smile on people's faces."

"I like to say that the L.A. Times put me in business," Torgan said.

Years earlier, the house had been Slapsie Maxie's, a nightclub named for the boxer and, later, actor Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom (model for the Big Jule role in "Guys and Dolls"). The club then was managed by Charlie and Sy Devore, clothiers to the Rat Pack, and was owned by mobster Mickey Cohen.

In the late 1950s and early '60s, the space was taken over by a cinema society; then it became the Europa, specializing in foreign films, and then the Eros, which showed 35mm first-run adult films. But in 1977, the Los Angeles Times suddenly stopped accepting ads for adult films, and the business became a liability.

Film luminaries often stopped by: Seymour Cassel, Malcolm McDowell, Timothy Carey, Allen Garfield, Tom Waits, Andy Kaufman, Robert Altman, Rod Steiger and Quentin Tarantino among them.

"I think anyone who tries to run a revival house will tell you that theaters saw the writing on the wall years ago," Torgan told an interviewer for the L.A. Weekly in 2003.

"I'm just hoping that things turn around. I have another option period for quite a few years into the future. But anything can happen. I'm getting older; it just becomes exhausting, and kind of disheartening.

"I feel unappreciated. In a way, I am supporting the theater, just in the labor that I don't pay myself for. I try to do everything I can myself: I book the theater, I put together the calendar, I distribute the calendar, I buy supplies. I do pretty much everything except run the projectors. My son has helped out since college -- he works a day or two a week -- but he works full time elsewhere."


It's sad that it takes his passing for all of us to voice our appreciation for what he did and while we don't know what the future holds the New Beverly Cinema (or for our Midnight Screenings) I do know, that Sherman Torgan will be greatly missed.

TONIGHT: Real Doll Doctor in Brooklyn!


Info on the right and just below!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

TOMORROW! REAL DOLL DOCTOR Screening in Williamsburg, Brooklyn!

The time has come.

My documentary short REAL DOLL DOCTOR will be screening tomorrow night in Williamsburg, Brooklyn as part of the 2007 ROOFTOP Film Festival's program, "The Way We Get By." (Nice title, btw.)

Alas, I am on the opposite coast and won't be able to attend. But, for those who are in NYC, what better way to spend a Friday night then by watching a handicap tattoo artist refurbish broken sex dolls? Oh, and there's a free open bar too.

(Links to previous postings here, here and heeeeerrrreeee.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

♪愛に生きる人~ MIKAN SEIJIN and ANIKI!!



It's Tuesday again, so here's the requisite video weirdness from Ugo Ugo Ru-ga (ウゴウゴルーガ). (See previous posts here and here.)

This time out we have an eye blistering 9 minute 33 second blast of an Alien from the Planet Tangerine (aka. ミカンせいじん MIKAN SEIJIN) and ANIKI (あにき)! Not much to explain here; do what you need to do and take what you need to take to appreciate the psychedelic weirdness of it all.

~


Thursday, July 12, 2007

!!!

NAGOYA — Police on Thursday found a headless body in a car in the parking lot of Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Nagoya. A passerby spotted the head lying on the ground by the rear of the idling station wagon around 7 a.m. and called police. Police found a suicide note inside the car and believe that the body belongs to a man in his 50s who resided in Nagoya.

The rear door of the station wagon was open and a rope, about four meters long, was tied to a tree nearby, police said. They believe the man committed suicide by tying the rope around his neck, and then accelerated the car, decapitating himself. link.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Studio 4ºC's TEKKON KINKREET Limited LA and NY Run Starts This Friday (7/13)!


Michael Arias' delirious anime TEKKON KINKREET is finally getting a limited run in the US after playing select North American film festivals over the last several months. Come September, it will be unceremoniously dumped to DVD by SONY and will from here on out collect digital dust, neglected like the the little orphans in the movie, Shiro and Kuro.

For shame.

But YOU can save it (and them) by watching it in its limited run-- provided that you live in either LA or NYC. Keep in mind that this film was, after all, designed for the big screen.

New York
The Quad
34 W. 13th St. NY, NY. 10111
(212) 255-8800

Los Angeles
The Landmark
10850 W. Pico Blvd. L.A., CA. 90064
(310) 470-0492


Read the first part of my Studio 4ºC report here. And read a PingMag interview from last November (when the film was originally released) with Michael Arias here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sanada Sensei! (サナダせんせい) A Tapeworm's Philosophical Advice Straight from the Butthole!


It wasn't meant to be this formal, but it's been a week since I made the Puri Puri Hakase post and that means that it's time for more anally obsessed Japanese children's cartoons! (Hooray!!)

Yet another animated interlude on the long canceled children's TV show Ugo Ugo Ru-ga (ウゴウゴルーガ), Sanada-sensei is a tapeworm (sanada means tapeworm in Japanese) that comes out of the butthole of our mysterious host to impart profound philosophical insights to all the little Japanese boys and girls.



In this clip Sanada-sensei imparts this profound observation: "You cannot make good choices when you're young and you also can't when you're old. -Pascal." He then zips back in the anus exclaiming effeminately (as if sniffing a flower), "Wonderful!"

Woah.

link.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

J.A.P. Inc: Star Wars 30th Anniversary Limited Edition Darth Vader Will Make Your Eyes Explode! (JAP 工房の「ダース・ベイダー鎧飾り」!!)

Whenever I go to Japan I always make a special trip out to Kichijoji, Tokyo to visit the J.A.P. Inc. shop. Why? 'Cuz they are just about the coolest jewelry and leather artists/craftsmen out there-- bar none.

Producing original and licenced silver works, they are also proficient costume designers and prop manufacturers whose handiwork have been seen in some of youze all favorite Japanese films including: "Ichi's" suit from ICHI THE KILLER (aka. KOROSHIYA ICHI) (and crew only trench coats) and Asano Tadanobu's Dragon Eye Morrison outfit in ELECTRIC DRAGON 80.000V among others. (Here are links to J.A.P.'s costume pages for KOROSHIYA ICHI and DRAGON.)


I became aware of their silver jewelry when I first saw their ALIEN 'Face Hugger' ring in a magazine. Considering that ALIEN is one of my favorite films of all time and that I believe H. R. Giger's Face Hugger design to be one of the finest creature designs ever made, I HAD to HAVE that ring!!

Happily, with fortune smiling down on me and the fact that my lady loves me, she gave me it as a birthday present 6 years ago. (And, yes, it does come in an egg!) I've worn it everyday until just recently....

Well it now appears that they have put out something else that I have developed a 'jones' for: the Darth Vader Decorative Armor Setダース・ベイダー鎧飾り」! Fucking A!

Running in a limited edition of 300 in honor of STAR WARS 30th anniversary and retailing for a paltry ¥346,500 (!), file this under something to admire -- nay, drool over -- but never be able to purchase (unless I discover an oil field under my living room couch).

There is, it appears, a slightly cheaper helmet only edition retailing for a measly ¥189,000. (Pictured above.) Start up your paper routes and save your spare change, this is something that you know you want.

At any rate, J.A.P. Inc is always doing amazing stuff and is well-worth visiting their shop (and bar: BAR JAP) when you're next in Tokyo.

Friday, July 6, 2007

ATTENTION ANGELINOS: Rad Midnight Movies at the New Beverly!


My old friend Phil Blankenship (together with Amoeba Music and an itty bitty bit of help from me) is starting up a series of midnight screenings at the wonderful New Beverly Cinema here in Los Angeles.

The New Bev (as it's known) is one of the last independently owner-operated single screen repertory cinemas in the US and was most recently home of the infamous Los Angeles Grindhouse Film Festival presented by Quentin Tarantino. (That was an OUTSTANDING series of films!)


Here's what the first two month have in store!

July 14: ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL
July 28: THEY LIVE
August 11: REVENGE OF THE NERDS
August 25: VANISHING POINT

See ya there!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Mab-Pro Blog on iPhone

So my office mate got himself a very sexy and much coveted Apple iPhone. Yesterday I had a chance to run my greasy little fingers over its cool, glassy surface and see what it can do-- which is a lot, apparently**, not the least of which is to inspire irrational thoughts of blowing 600 bucks (not counting fees, contracts, monthly charges and whatever else they can bilk you for) on something that you can [honestly] live without.

Still, with over 600,000 units sold in less than a week, I need to address an important aspect of the iPhone: my blog as it is displayed on it.

Well, surprise! It looks EXACTLY the same, but apparently the embedded YouTube videos don't work (yet). I fully expect them to add a software patch of some sort to the phone's Safari browser to allow for this, in the near future. But you've been warned.

And for giggles if you are reading this on a sexy iPhone, let me know. C'mon, you know you want to brag.

(**But you can read the pros and cons someplace else and not here.)

Joey "Jaws" Chestnut Wins the Nathan Hot Dog Eating Contest!


Breaking news! Tied neck-to-neck at a record smashing 60 hot dogs, Kobayashi 'reverses' (read: vomits up) his hot dogs, disqualifying himself immediately and making Joey "Jaws" Chestnut the winner.

From the AOL live Blog:

"With two minutes to go, it's Chestnut 57, Kobayashi 56. Barring a regurgitation, this is the greatest contest in competitive eating history. We've got one minute to go, and they've both eclipsed the world record.

They're both over 60.

KOBAYASHI REVERSES!! With five seconds to go, Kobayashi lost his hot dogs, which, if the judges rule it vomit rather than drool, will be an automatic disqualification. Either way, Chestnut appeared to have won by about half a dog.

On replay, it's clear that Kobayashi vomited.


Joey Chestnut is the 2007 Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating champion." (link)

Kobayashi Takeru is back in and doing it for his mother!!!



Hot-dog eating champs go eye to eye


By LARRY McSHANE Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK—They stood toe to toe, eye to eye, and—most importantly—jaw to injured jaw. Six-time defending champion Takeru Kobayashi, still unable to open his mouth wide enough for a typical teeth cleaning, joined favorite Joey Chestnut at a Tuesday weigh-in before their Fourth of July hot-dog-eating showdown in Coney Island.


The Japanese title holder declared himself ready to gorge, dismissing suggestions by skeptics that his stiff jaw was nothing more than hot dog head games aimed at rattling world record holder Chestnut.


"I don't care what they think," the 29-year-old said through an interpreter. "I just want to battle tomorrow."

Since going public with his ailment last month, Kobayashi underwent treatment by a specialist and a chiropractor. Event organizers said he also had a wisdom tooth extracted June 26 to relieve what they described as "jaw-thritis."

The slender Kobayashi weighed in at 154 pounds. Chestnut, 23, came in at 215 pounds and added his voice to those unsure what to expect from the champion. "Kobayashi is the underdog," he said, "and he's claiming an illness."

The two are among 17 contestants preparing for Wednesday's eat-off, where the winner must consume the most HDBs—hot dogs and buns.

Last month, Chestnut eclipsed Kobayashi's mark of 53 1/2 in 12 minutes by inhaling 59 1/2.
Urged by photographers to open wide on Tuesday, Kobayashi displayed less than a full range of mandible motion. That could be good news for Chestnut, who's favored to end Kobayashi's record run as holder of the mustard yellow belt presented each Fourth of July outside Nathan's Famous.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg introduced the pair before they stepped on the scales and engaged in a staredown at City Hall Park.
"Many times ... in the annals of sports, the eyes of the world have turned to our great city to watch worthy adversaries square off," said Bloomberg, tongue in cheek. "What comes to mind is Ali and Frazier, the Yankees and the Mets, the Post and the Daily News."

And, this year, Kobayashi and Chestnut. (Link)

It's interesting the Japanese language websites hadn't been announcing Kobayashi's non-participation in this year's hot dog eating contest-- unlike their Western counterparts. So this came as little surprise to me.

But as a bit of analysis: this year's contest has got to suck for Joey "Jaws" Chestnut. Why? Because if he wins-- which seems like a foregone conclusion-- it's to an injured opponent. So where's the glory in that? See you next year for the REAL battle.

Extra: My friend 'The Ninja' sent me this list of the top competitive eaters and their wins. It'll make you puke.

Kobayashi:

Brats: 58 in 10 minutes (Takeru Kobayashi)
Cow Brains: 57 (17.7 pounds) in 15 minutes (Takeru Kobayashi)
Lobster Rolls: 41 in 10 minutes (Takeru Kobayashi)
Rice Balls: 20 pounds in 30 minutes (Takeru Kobayashi) Chestnut:

Asparagus: 8.6 pounds (deep fried tempura style) in 10 minutes (Joey Chestnut)
Chicken Wings: 182 in 30 minutes (Joey Chestnut)
Grilled Cheese Sandwiches: 47 in 10 minutes (Joey Chestnut)
Gyoza: 212 (chicken and vegetable) in 10 minutes (Joey Chestnut)
Hot Dogs: 59.5 (with buns) in 12 minutes (Joey Chestnut)
Pork Ribs: 8.4 pounds in 12 minutes (Joey Chestnut)
Pork, Pulled: 9.5 pounds in 10 minutes (Joey Chestnut)
Waffles: 18.5 (8-ounces) in 10:23 (Joey Chestnut)

Sonya Thomas:

Armour Vienna Sausage: 8.31 pounds in 10 minutes (Sonya Thomas)
Cheesecake: 11 pounds in 9 minutes (Sonya Thomas)
Chicken Nuggets: 80 in 5 minutes (Sonya Thomas)
Chili Cheese Fries: 8.1 pounds in 10 minutes (Sonya Thomas)
Crab Cakes: 46 in 10 minutes (Sonya Thomas)
Deep-Fried Okra: 9.75 pounds in10 Minutes (Sonya Thomas)
Eggs: 65 (hard boiled) in 6:40 (Sonya Thomas)
Fruitcake: 4.9 pounds in 10 minutes (Sonya Thomas)
Hamburgers: 7 (3/4 pounders) in 10 minutes (Sonya Thomas)
Jambalaya: 9 Pounds (crawfish) in 10 minutes (Sonya Thomas)
Maine Lobster: 44 (11.3 Pounds of meat) in 12 minutes (Sonya Thomas)
Meatballs: 10 pounds (3-ounce balls) in 12 minutes (Sonya Thomas)
Mince Pies: 46 in 10 minutes (Sonya Thomas)
Oysters: 46 in 10 minutes (Sonya Thomas)
Pork, Pulled Sandwiches: 23 in 10 minutes (Sonya Thomas)
Quesadilla: 31.5 (4-inch) in 5 minutes (Sonya Thomas)
Sweet Potato Casserole: 8.6 pounds in 11 minutes (Sonya Thomas)
Tacos: 48 in 11 minutes (Sonya Thomas)
Toasted Ravioli: 4 pounds in 12 minutes (Sonya Thomas)
Turducken: 7.75 pounds in 12 minutes (Sonya Thomas)

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

PURI PURI HAKASE (プリプリはかせ) - Daily Inspiration from a Talking Turd!!


'Only in Japan!!' as the well-worn expression goes.

An animated interlude on the long canceled children's TV show Ugo Ugo Ru-ga (ウゴウゴルーガ) -- backwards word play on Go Go Girl -- Puri Puri Hakase (プリプリはかせ) is a talking turd that rises up out of a toilet bowl to give the happy little children of Japan a few choice words of inspiration. What better way to start their little days?



For the Japanese challenged, this one says: "You can still look cool doing something UN-cool, as long as you try your best." Nice. (I wish I had this sort of TV parenting when I was a wee-lad.) Link(J).

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Studio 4º Celsius: Mind Game, Genius Party, Deep Imagination, Tekkon Kinkreet (Film and Soundtrack), and the Future of Anime - PART ONE

So it all started in early 2005 when I watched a mind-blowing anime by Studio 4º Celsius called MIND GAME. (Acutally, I could take it back to seeing 大友克洋 Ōtomo Katsuhiro's MEMORIES in Shinjuku back in December 1995, but I won't for the sake of this piece.)

Directed by Yuasa Masaaki (湯浅政明) MIND GAME is without a doubt one of the best animated movies that I have ever seen and certainly one of the best made in the last ten years. I was so floored by it that I recommended it very highly to my pals at the New York Asian Film Festival. They loved it too and were able to book it for their festival.



When they screened it at the 2005 NYAFF it was the NORTH AMERICA PREMIER** and it played to a sold out house and I was asked to interpret for the head of Studio 4ºC: Tanaka Eiko (田中 栄子)(whom I also interviewed for Midnighteye). (**Note: contrary to what MOMA NYC states; they did not have the North America Premier-- they found out about MIND GAME from the 2005 NYAFF and screened it several months later. They also screened it off of beta while the NYAFF had a rare 35mm with soft-subtitles projected on it.)

At any rate, at that time I struck up a friendship with Ms. Tanaka and another producer and was corresponding with them through out the following year. The next summer, several staff members from 4ºC were in NYC and I met up with them again, and we made a date to meet up at their office the next time I was in Japan.


But it was during this NYC visit I was first told about GENIUS PARTY. They gave me all sorts of shwag including an early chirashi (promo poster) and a keitai strap (cell phone strap). (They also gave me a full-size TEKKON KINKREET poser! Ii ne!) I was intrigued about GENIUS PARTY and what they told me was that (at that time) there was only a plan for ONE movie to be released in the spring of 2007. That was before the heads of 4ºC realized that there was so much more by many different directors that they wanted to share. Now there are two GENIUS PARTIES set to be released.



The first will be out this month (July) in Japan and the latter is now slated for early 2008 (it was supposed to be fall 2007 the last last time I'd heard) and while I have yet to see the films, I have seen enough clips to know that it will be amazing (certainly in parts).

This weeks Japan Time's film section includes Marc Schilling's review of GENIUS PARTY and a feature article on STUDIO 4ºC up on the Time's site. (Check Jason Gray's thoughts here.) They are both worth a read.

One of the amazing and frustrating things about Japan is their special editions and sales only DVD releases. This feeds directly into the fan/collector market which Japan seems to have a glut of. Studio 4ºC has been happily pimping their wares through this non-rental market for years and as a result there are plenty of releases that are hard to see if you're not willing to shell out MANY ducats. (My days of carefree spending are over, unfortunately...)

What proves to be a problem is that these small run, 'sales only' DVDs are often omnibus collections that showcase new up and coming animators and what hot new things they are doing at 4ºC. Ms. Tanaka and the other head's of 4ºC belief is that the only way to inculcate, stimulate, and support new creativity is to give the hard working artist a chance. When I commented to her about how cool I thought this was, Ms. Tanaka seemed taken aback by the obvious necessity of this endeavor: "How else are you going to find new talent?" And she's right.

It's worth noting that these compilations don't always work as a whole, but that's not a bad thing. When I was last in Okinawa I rented their 2007 compilation DEEP IMAGINATION. (Clip below) Fans of 4ºC will note that some of the shorts had been previously released on the GRASSHOPPA! compilations (those, too, are seriously hit or miss-- but definitely worth a look if you can track them down). Taken together, the compilation is supremely weird (which is par for the course) but the quality and the ideas are so incredibly fresh and intriguing that you can't write it off. Singing soy bean sisters? A night at a friend's pad after a punk concert leads to a battle in an alternate universe? Yes, it makes our soft Western brains push up against our skulls trying to compute the madness of it all. So is it worth watching? Yeah. But it's not worth buying at ¥6,000 a pop.



Around the same time that I was in Okinawa, I had a chance to catch TEKKON KINKREET in the theater. Previously, I'd had the privilege of meeting Michael Arias at Studio 4ºC office back in the fall of 2006 and I found him to be a quiet, nice guy from New York. He downplayed the work he did in directing TEKKON-- especially when I pointed out to him that as far as I knew (which is probably not much) he was the first non-Japanese (perhaps Western is better?) to direct an entire animated feature film in Japan. (Readers, is this correct? Let me know!) At any rate, since I was unable to catch as press screening at the Tokyo International Film Festival I was forced to wait for the film. So when I finally did get to see it, several months later, it was after a lot of anticipation.

The title, TEKKON KIKREET is a play on the Japanese word for reinforced concrete Tekken Konkretto and that kind of intertwining of metal and concrete basically sums up the theme of the movie: together they're stronger. The story is simple: it's Yin and Yang, Black and White, Good and Bad. It's about the friendship between two street urchins: SHIRO and KURO (See? Black and White) and how they tire of each other, get into trouble while striking out on their own and then discover that they are two parts of a whole and need each other to survive. That's it. Really.



I liked the film a lot, but I'll be frank: it's weak in the second act (read: sluggish) and since the story is so... hackneyed... it threatens to sink under its own weight at points. But what saves it is dynamic animation-- some of the most stunning I've ever see-- and a director's hand that seemed influenced by the new Hollywood Golden Era of the 1960s and 70s. I mean, I've NEVER seen an anime with hand-held camera, snap zooms, jump cuts, and film grain. Michael Arias clearly was raising the bar with this film and wanted to show that as an animator you could dip into the regular cinema tool box and use some of their tricks. If for no other reason than this, the movie is highly recommended.

But additionally, much bally-hoo has been made about the soundtrack by British techno duo PLAID. I quite like it and find that some of the tracks echo the strongest moments of their best album (in my humble opinion) DOUBLE FIGURE. There is a more rhythmic approach to the score in general, but it has a structure which is similar to the films: dreamy and airy, dark and nightmarish, the dream becomes reality. Think chimes, bells, and soft synths and then dark drumming and heavy baselines, finally ending in a more traditional pop structure. All in all, worth a spin, especially if you like techno. (Suggestion here: since this too is priced at brutally steep ¥3150, it's worth renting from your local Tsutaya the next time you're in Japan!)

So what does this all mean? Well, folks, I'm at a loss for time right now, so I will return to this in my next post to talk more about the future of anime and how 4ºC are leading the way-- torch in hand. (I predicted this way back in 1995.) More to come...