Friday, August 31, 2007
My pal Phil Blankenship, who runs those rad Midnight Screenings at the New Beverly Cinema that I announce every so often and is the owner of uber-awesome/legendary noise labels Troniks and Pac Rec, has a superbly mind-blowing blog dedicated to all things old school VHS.
To be more specific it's all things:
If you're into old genre videos-- or just any video that makes you say wtf? I highly recommend a look at it. Link.
ABASHIRI BANGAICHI (aka. The Walls of Abashiri Prison) is widely regarded as the film series that made Takakura Ken famous. Directed by personal favorite madman director Ishii Teruo (at least for the first 10 entries (!) -- there would be another eight before it was all said and done (!!)), they tell of honorable Shinichi Tsukibana's (Takakura) hard-knocks life -- both in and outside of prison. (Really, you don't expect me to summarize the entire series here do you?)
At any rate, I read this the other day and found it intriguing because it just doesn't make any sense:
A Japanese prison is scrambling to eradicate marijuana plants that keep sprouting up on its exercise ground, officials said Tuesday.
The marijuana plants started sprouting at Abashiri Prison on Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido about a year ago, said prison official Takeshi Okamura. He said officials plucked out as many as 300 marijuana plants and treated the ground last year, but several more sprouted again this year.
Prisoners reported them to the guards.
Officials believe the plants are wild.
"Apparently, somebody knew how to tell marijuana from other plants," Okamura said.
Local botanical experts concluded the marijuana seeds were inadvertently brought in with the soil used for the exercise ground, Okamura said.
"It's a headache," Okamura said. "This isn't a farm."
Abashiri Prison currently has about 1,080 male inmates serving terms of up to eight years in prison. (AP)
August 28, 2007
They keep sprouting up? Officials think that the 'plants are wild?' What, is Abashiri Prison the perfect greenhouse for weed? And what kind of criminal serving hard time would pass on information to the warden regarding the one thing that could help him pass his time more easily (and pleasurably)? Especially considering how clueless the prison officials are about marijuana in general.
This sounds to me like a bang-up idea for a new SHIN ABASHIRI BANGAICHI. Something with an aging Takakura Ken forced to go back onto Abishiri Prison grounds to discover who is the nefarious individual trying to undermine the honor and integrity of the hard working prison population. (Where is the jingi in modern Japan I ask you?)
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
My brother Greg is both a prose novelist and a well-known comic book writer. His new book PATRIOT ACTS comes out today and is the long awaited continuation of his well-received Atticus Kodiak mystery series, which are always an incredibly thrilling read.
Quite simply, even if he weren't my brother, I would absolutely recommend his books. Check them out, if you have a chance.
PATRIOT ACTS plot synopsis from Publisher's Weekly:
Starred Review. At the start of Rucka's electrifying sixth thriller featuring bodyguard Atticus Kodiak (after 2001's Critical Space), Atticus is ready to settle down after years of chasing the deadly female assassin known as Drama and finally breaking her away from The Ten—a group of cold-blooded killers operating around the globe. But when he and Drama, now known as Alena, are ambushed and left for dead, Atticus knows his troubles are far from over. Suddenly, the two find themselves the target of a massive manhunt after being mistakenly identified as Ten members. From a tiny village on the Black Sea to the inner sanctum of the Pentagon, Atticus and Alena race to clear their names and punish those responsible for the shocking death of a close friend. Rucka expertly blends intense shoot-'em-up scenes with biting political commentary as Atticus and Alena uncover just how high the conspiracy reaches within the U.S. government. Kodiak fans who've waited a long time for this installment will find it exceeds all expectations. (Sept.)
Patriot Act amazon.com link.
REVIEW: BUSHI NO ICHIBUN (aka. Love and Honor) on Midnight Eye and a bit on Producer Yamamoto Ichiro
My review of Yamada Yoji's multi-award winning BUSHI NO ICHIBUN (aka. Love and Honor), which I watched in Okinawa back in January, is now up on Midnight Eye. Link.
In a weird bit of coincidence, I spent all day this past Saturday with the producer and co-writer of the film Yamamoto Ichiro, who is temporarily residing in Los Angeles. An incredibly nice chap and totally unassuming, it was very fascinating talking to him about his work as a Shochiku producer and in particular his work with Yamada Yoji (the director, of course, of BUSHI NO ICHIBUN).
One of the interesting things he mentioned was that Yamada Yoji is the last remaining director in Japan who still has a studio contract (with Shochiku)-- an interesting piece of anachronism, I thought. In addition, he mentioned that he could come to Yamada with a film idea, but of course, given Yamada's status, he really chooses which projects he will do (and the studios follow his wishes).
Yamamoto Ichiro also mentioned that one of his jobs was to show Yamada Yoji films as a way of stimulating his creative juices. A cool piece of trivia: The film that inspired the excellent TASOGARE SEIBEI (aka. Twilight Samurai)? John Ford's THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALENCE.
Apparently, Yamamoto Ichiro is in the US on a government funded arts scholarship to load up on classic American films that he can then use as references for Japanese directors when he goes back to Japan. As my friend Marc Walkow and I commented to one another, "I can't even imagine the US government doing something like that."
Let's hope that Yamamoto will go back to Japan chock-full of good films that will inspire more directors.
And here's to good movies in general.
Monday, August 27, 2007
By Andrew Harding (Is this a pen name??)
BBC News, Beijing
There are many thousands of Chinese restaurants around in the UK and everyone has their favourite dish, but only in China itself do chefs specialise in a range of slightly more unusual delicacies.
The dish in front of me is grey and shiny.
"Russian dog," says my waitress Nancy.
"Big dog," I reply.
"Yes," she says. "Big dog's penis..."
We are in a cosy restaurant in a dark street in Beijing but my appetite seems to have gone for a stroll outside.
Nancy has brought out a whole selection of delicacies.
They are draped awkwardly across a huge platter, with a crocodile carved out of a carrot as the centrepiece.
Nestling beside the dog's penis are its clammy testicles, and beside that a giant salami-shaped object.
"Donkey," says Nancy. "Good for the skin..."
She guides me round the penis platter.
"Snake. Very potent. They have two penises each."
I did not know that.
"Sheep... horse... ox... seal - excellent for the circulation."
She points to three dark, shrivelled lumps which look like liquorice allsorts - a special treat apparently - reindeer, from Manchuria.
Government officials... two of them... they're having the penis hotpot
The Guolizhuang restaurant claims to be China's only speciality penis emporium, and no, it is not a joke.
The atmosphere is more exotic spa than boozy night-out.
Nancy describes herself as a nutritionist.
"We don't call them waiters here. And we don't serve much alcohol," she says. "Only common people come here to get drunk and laugh."
But she does offer me a deer-blood and vodka cocktail, which I decide to skip.
The restaurant's gristly menu was dreamt up by a man called Mr Guo.
He is 81 now and retired.
After fleeing China's civil war back in 1949, he moved to Taiwan, and then to Atlanta, Georgia, where he began to look deeper into traditional Chinese medicine, and experiment on the appendages of man's best friend.
Apparently, they are low in cholesterol and good, not just for boosting the male sex drive, but for treating all sorts of ailments.
Laughter trickles through the walls of our dining room.
"Government officials," says Nancy. "Two of them upstairs. They're having the penis hotpot."
Most of the restaurant's guests are either wealthy businessmen or government bureaucrats who, as Nancy puts it, have been brought here by people who want their help.
What better way to secure a contract than over a steaming penis fondue.
Discretion is assured as all the tables are in private rooms.
The glitziest one has gold dishes.
"Some like their food served raw," says Nancy, "like sushi. But we can cook it anyway you like."
"Not long ago, a particularly rich real estate mogul came in with four friends. All men. Women don't come here so often, and they shouldn't eat testicles," says Nancy solemnly.
The men spent $5,700 (£3,000) on a particularly rare dish, something that needed to be ordered months in advance.
"Tiger penis," says Nancy.
The illegal trade in tiger parts is a big problem in China.
Campaigners say the species is being driven towards extinction because of its popularity as a source of traditional medicine.
I mention this, delicately, to Nancy, but she insists that all her tiger supplies come from animals that have died of old age.
"Anyway, we only have one or two orders a year," she says.
"So what does it taste like?" I ask.
"Oh, the same as all the others," she says blithely.
And does it have any particular potency? "No. People just like to order tiger to show off how much money they have."
Welcome to the People's Republic of China - tigers beware.
Sliced and pickled
"Oh yes," she adds, "the same group also ate an aborted reindeer foetus.
"That is very good for your skin. And here it is..."
Another "nutritionist" walks in bearing something small and red wrapped in cling film.
My appetite is heading for the airport.
Still, I think, it would be rude not to try something.
I am normally OK about this sort of thing. I have had fried cockroaches and sheep's eyes, so...
There is a small bowl of sliced and pickled ox penis on the table.
I pick up a piece with my chopsticks and start to chew. It is cold and bland and rubbery.
Nancy gives me a matronly smile.
"This one," she says, "should be eaten every day."
Marc Schilling writes in today's Variety Asia Online that Japanese entertainment company Asmik Ace is moving into the artist management business. Their first signing is Tekkon Kinkreet director Michael Arias, who is apparently preparing a live-action directing debut.
Recently, there has been a comment thread with Michael Arias on my blog under one of the Tekkon Kinkreet posts. It is definitely worth checking out if you have more interest in Tekkon Kinkreet and the making of the film.
Here's a re-posting from today's Variety Asia article:
Asmik Ace Opens Up Talent Shop
Written by Mark Schilling
TOKYO -- Leading indie distrib and producer Asmik Ace has entered the artist management biz, the company announced on Friday.
The first to be signed is toon maker Michael Arias, who will work with Asmik Ace as a director, VFX supervisor, producer and coordinator.
A veteran CG effects specialist who has been working in Japan since the early 1990s, Arias produced the "Animatrix" toon project for the Wachowskis. Last year he made his feature directorial debut with "Tekkonkinkreet," a toon set in a retro-future Tokyo, based on a comic by Taiyo Matsumoto. Arias is in pre-production on a live-action pic that Asmik Ace will produce and distribute.
A leading distrib of American, European and other indie pics, Asmik Ace has been moving into production, including the period drama "Sakuran," which preemed internationally at the Berlin Film Festival last year.
The company also has coin in the Canada-Italy-Japan co-prod "Silk."Link to Variety.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Kowalski + Dodge Charger + Amphetamines = a eulogy for the 1960s!
New Beverly Cinema
7165 West Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA
Friday, August 24, 2007
I realize that some of you will have already read this if you are on the KineJapan mailing list or read Variety, but for those who haven't apparently the Venice Film Festival has decided to created a new award called Glory to the Filmmaker! in honor Kitano "Beat" Takeshi's film of the same name.
I have no idea what the criteria is to win one, and I'll choose not to comment on it. However, I do have a question about Kitano and his recent 'filmmaking'.
Why is it that his early films are both so much more interesting and accomplished artistically and directorially than his recent films (post KIKUJIRO)? Is it just 'player haters' that whisper about a crew of veteran filmmakers that surrounded Kitano on these productions and were the real authors of his early films?
At any rate, one thing I can't dispute, I love these early films and totally dig Kitano's performances.
Venice prize for Japanese helmer
Fest creates Glory in Kitano's nameTOKYO -- The Venice Film Festival will establish a prize in honor of Japanese helmer Takashi Kitano, his office announced Thursday.
Called Glory to the Filmmaker!, after Kitano's latest pic, the prize will be given for career achievement and innovation, with Kitano the first recipient. Pic, titled "Kantoku banzai!" in Japanese, will also unspool out of competition at the fest.
Five of Kitano's pics have been selected for Venice over the years, including his 1997 Golden Lion winner "Hana-bi."
Kitano proclaimed himself "extremely happy" with the award. "It's nice that one of my films will live on as a prize," he told reporters in Tokyo.
He will be on hand to receive the nod on Aug. 30.link.
I knew that this was coming up for a while, but the list of films has only just been released (and is still NOT posted on the American Cinematheque's web site. For shame!).
Named in honor of Chris D's book, OUTLAW MASTERS OF JAPANESE FILM (previously footnoted in this post), Mr. D (it turns out) is also one of the Cinematheque's programmers.
Running a far too short FOUR (!) days - September 6 ~ 9, 2007 - the films screening include one of my all-time favorite Chanbara films Okamoto Kihachi's pitch black, misanthropic SWORD OF DOOM (Daibosatsu Toge) and two Suzuki Seijun films that I have wanted to watch for a long time: DETECTIVE OFFICE #23 - GO TO HELL, BASTARDS! (Tantei Jimusho Nijusan - Kutabare Akutodomo) and FLOWER AND THE ANGRY WAVES (Hana to Doto) .
Here're the films:
Sept 6 - SWORD OF DOOM (Daibosatsu Toge) and THE GREAT MELEE (Dai Satsujin)
Sept 7 - PIGS AND BATTLESHIPS (Buta to Gunkan) and INTENTIONS OF MURDER (Akai Satsui)
Sept 8 - VENGEANCE IS MINE (Fukushu Suru ha Ware ni Ari) and PUNISHMENT ROOM (Shokei no Heya)
Sept 9 - DETECTIVE OFFICE #23 - GO TO HELL, BASTARDS (Tantei Jimusho Nijusan - Kutabare Akutodomo) and FLOWER AND THE ANGRY WAVES (Hana to Doto)
See ya there!
American Cinematheque Link.
(Here's a link to my SAMURAI CINEMA 101 feature article on midnighteye.com for those who know nothing about chonmage and sword sporting dudes in baggy pants and sandals.)
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
The heart and soul of the NOVA school is the foreign-born language teacher and while I grant you that there are so smart and dedicated souls who do this, the argument could be made that NOVA's standards for hiring are only a foreign birth, a university degree, and a pulse. (This, in turn, has lead to what the local ex-pat community lovingly calls 'the NOVA Visa Service'; a quick and easy way to get a visa to live and work in Japan, that serves to the lowest common denominator.)
The NOVA business strategy, as I understand it (and is far better explained in the article posted and linked below), was to put a language school at every train station in Japan (a node that everyone has to pass through at one point or another, so the thinking goes)-- though in lieu of this, a spot at the local shotengai /ichiba would do the trick, too.
I've been reading for months about first, the legal woes and now the resulting financial problems that the pink rabbit is suffering... and it 'don't look good, my friend.' Like a piece of drift wood (or another brown color, stick-shaped item...) slowly circling the outskirts of a whirlpool, coming closer and closer to being pulled under NOVA is in serious trouble as Ken Worsley of the Japan Economy News & Blog writes:
Things just seem to be getting worse for NOVA, Japan’s largest English language school operator. For the last fiscal year, the firm posted a 2,589,000,000 yen loss in operating profit on its consolidated balance sheets. It’s share price, which hit an all time high of 1,750 on March 24, 1999, has fallen dangerously over the past months. Two years ago this week, NOVA shares were going for about 200 yen; on Tuesday they closed at 54 yen, down 4 yen from the previous day’s close.
Everyone already knows that the firm was slapped with a six month ban from effecting contracts longer than one year with customers by the Ministry of Trade, Economy and Industry about two months ago. NOVA still has four months to go, and things are looking bleak.
Still, since there usually tends to be little concerning the details of NOVA’s situation in Japan’s press, I was a bit surprised to open this week’s issue of Toyo Keizai (one of Japan’s larger business magazines) and see an article on page 19 detailing just how bad things are getting for NOVA.
The article is entitled 強まる資金繰り不安説 袋小路のＮＯＶＡ商法, or Intensifying Financial Anxieties: Nova’s Dead-end Business Model
I had heard that NOVA was late paying their staff last month and that the company issued a 750 million yen corporate bond at the beginning of August, which I assumed gave it the cash to pay instructors this month (which was the 15th or 20th - could someone confirm for me?). My own estimates put their foreign staff payroll in the range of 910-1040 million yen per month, so with some cash lying around, it seems they just managed to squeak by this month.
Oh, and rumor has it that the above mentioned bond yields 2% and is unsecured.
At any rate, the Toyo article laid out just how bad things are at NOVA. Here are some highlights:
- NOVA has been late in paying its suppliers/business partners
- NOVA fell into arrears for printing costs at the end of July
- NOVA failed to pay an advertising firm on August 10 (don’t see many of their ads anymore, do you?)
- Scheduled bank repayments have ceased
I’ve been planning on writing something longer considering what’s happened with NOVA (and NCB, and Lado, and ABC). The industry has already seen three noticeable busts since January 2006, and though there are many reasons why they’ve happened, it seems that management of the existing firms wants to keep its collective head in the sand.
A quick look at NOVA’s plan for business improvement shows the lack of ideas rampant amongst management in this industry. NOVA’s big plan? Increase the number of teachers by 98 in August, 527 in September and 686 in October. This is supposed to help students be able to take the lessons they want. One has to wonder if those numbers even cover replacement needs; I estimate that NOVA loses about 160 teachers during normal months. One must assume that they are running away in droves in search of more secure employment at the present.
The mindset betrayed by this phony “business improvement” plan is just one of many, many reasons why this industry is slowing decaying and rotting from the inside out (or from the top down).
However, the point of this piece is not to get into those reasons. When I saw the Toyo article, I knew I wanted to translate it for this site, but someone graciously already has. Hats off to Sean at letsjapan.org, who posted his translation a few hours ago in a post entitled Toyo Keizai Article: Is Nova Running Out of Money?
What follows after the cut is Sean’s translation, though you really should go to his site to read it.
The end of the road for Nova’s business practices as cash flow crunch intensifies
With METI sanction and repeated missed payments, Nova stands at a precipice
Rumors of cash flow problems at Nova, the largest English conversation school in Japan, are coming to light. The August 14 announcement of the allocation of new shares to a third party was for a mere 10 million yen. The spokesperson for a venture business within the TEPCO group that has become a business partner of Nova explains: “We had been talking about working together, but they put forward the idea of increasing capital at the beginning of August.” With Nova chasing after such an exceptionally small amount of capital, is it running short of funds?
According to a credit research company, Nova has repeatedly delayed payment to business partners. In addition to its regular repayments to bank(s) having been stopped, Nova had fallen into arrears for printing costs at the end of July, and asked an ad agency to defer a payment due on August 10th. The July salaries for Nova staff were also paid late. Salaries for the foreigner instructors, the lifeblood of the company, are paid on the 15th of each month. There were fears that Nova might not make it past August, but a 750 million yen private placement bond issue on the 7th bought some breathing room.
Sharp decline in new students
Nova’s cash flow problems are a result of the collapse of its “bicycle business model.” While Nova quickly grew to nearly one thousand schools, it’s primary source of capital came from its students paying lesson fees up front. This money was pumped into opening new schools which in turn collected more money, which was then put towards opening yet more schools. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
But the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry threw a wrench into the works when it ordered the partial suspension of Nova’s business in June. The number of new students decreased and the paying out refunds to students who canceled their contracts began to eat into the flow of cash. Under an accounting item labeled “Deferred ekimae ryuugaku service income,” the total prepayments owed as of the end of March last year was 31.6 billion yen, but dropped 6 billion yen over the ensuing year indicating that banks have cut off funding.
The president of Nova, Nozomu Sahashi, is a well-known for his intense personality. One venture businessman spoke of a marathon meeting that started at three in the afternoon and lasted until five the next morning. This is in contrast to a uniquely opaque way of doing business and transactions with affiliated companies that sell videophone systems for Nova’s ochanoma ryuugaku.
Nova’s only hope at the moment is Sahashi himself. In the previous fiscal year, he received received 400 million yen in capital funding from Nova Kikaku. He used some of his shares in July as collateral to drum up capital from small and medium-sized brokerages. What will he pull out of his hat for his next trick?Thanks Ken for the good reporting! (Go and give him comments on his site!)
(**Thanks to Rameen from The Seveth Letter for the NOVA is OVA quip. Word up!)
Monday, August 20, 2007
Because I'm a shill for the 'man', I'm just copying and pasting some info from their release. (In reality, it's late and I'm tired.)
EPISODE 1: FEMALE DEMON OHYAKU A quiet actress named Ohyaku is wrongly sent to prison, then pushed by her tormentors to the point of no return. With a demon tattoo splayed across her back and a sword in her hand, she embarks on a crusade of vengeance against all those who have wronged her, laying waste to man and woman alike in her quest for bloody retribution. A gruesome Pinky Violence classic, the film’s merciless parade of action, beheadings, tattooing and torture proved highly influential on later series of sexy action films from Toei Studios in the 1970s.
EPISODE 2: QUICK-DRAW OKATSU The daughter of a swordplay instructor takes on a power-hungry magistrate in the second entry of the series, joined this time by Rui, a wild young swordswoman (Reiko Oshida). The two sexy avengers embark on a blood-soaked quest for revenge after Okatsu is raped and her father slaughtered by one of his assistants. From fencing schools to small-town brothels to the imperial city of Edo, Okatsu and Rui slash their way through dozens of evil men in order to settle the score with those who wronged them, in this swordplay classic which features some of the best fight scenes of the series.
EPISODE 3: OKATSU THE FUGITIVE In the final episode of the series, the legendary beautiful swordswoman Okatsu is on the hunt for Judayu, a corrupt merchant responsible for the death of her parents. Betrayed by her fiancé, she finds herself aided in her quest by a handsome stranger (longtime yakuza movie star Tatsuo Umemiya) – who happens to be as handy with a sword as she is! What is the reason for his kindness, and will Okatsu be able to prevail against her nemesis, now a powerful businessman with scores of allies in high places? Whatever the end may be, the restless spirits of her murdered parents drive Okatsu along her crimson-colored road of vengeance.
Other Japanese film nerd info about the films:
Episode 1 directed by Yoshihiro Ishikawa (GHOST CAT OF OTAMA POND). Episodes 2 & 3 directed by legendary filmmaker Nobuo Nakagawa (SNAKE WOMAN’S CURSE, JIGOKU).
The series features an all-star cast of famous faces from the best of Japanese genre cinema, including lead actress Junko Miyazono (ELEVEN SAMURAI, SAMURAI WOLF 2), two-time series co-star Tomisaburo Wakayama (LONE WOLF & CUB, BLACK RAIN), Tatsuo Umemiya (GRAVEYARD OF HONOR, WANDERING GINZA BUTTERFLY), Kunio Murai (SNAKE WOMAN’S CURSE), Ko Nishimura (SNAKE WOMAN’S CURSE, HANZO THE RAZOR), Reiko Oshida (DELINQUENT GIRL BOSS), Yukie Kagawa (HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN, FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION – JAILHOUSE 41), and Yoichi Numata (JIGOKU).
And lastly, but most importantly, the awesome covers: (Yay! Pictures!!)
Saturday, August 18, 2007
The Japan Times Online has an interview with Quentin Tarantino on the eve of GRINDHOUSE's Japan release. It's not a particularly insightful piece, nor do I find it particularly well-written **, but it's worth a quick read for Quentin Tarantino's comments about two things:
1. Japan will get a limited release of the complete 3-hour long GRINDHOUSE before it is released as two separate but expanded films (as per the norm now). Snip:
2. Apparently, Tarantino loves himself some 70s Roman Porno. Ah yeah.... (Like this is a surprise...) Snip:
"I even like — in fact, I'm quite enamored with — the whole Nikkatsu (studio) roman poruno thing ('70s, big-budget adult movies). I almost can't believe that that existed in cinema! The way they did it in the '70s, where they're real movies with real actors. The woman who played the proprietor in "Kill Bill" (Yuki Kazamatsuri), she was a roman poruno actress. I saw a couple of her films and I thought they were fantastic! Even the fact that the genitals were blurred out actually made it work even more!"
You can read the rest of Giovanni Fazio's typically middling write-up here.
Japanese Grindhouse website.
(** Seriously, I'm getting tired of people feeling like they're above 'genre' cinema. This piece on Tarantino feels so phoned in by Fazio and the palpable disdain for genre cinema -- and GRINDHOUSE, in particular -- almost oozes out of the screen like a nose drip on a cold day.)
Taking his vast knowledge of Japanese cinema and large network of people he knows both within the home video world and the Japanese film world, he has started (or should I more correctly say, he's continuing) to produce unique supplementary materials for DVD releases. It turns out that his recent work has been for the boutique home video company SYNAPSE FILMS will have SIX new Toei titles being released over the next NINE months.
On OUTCAST CINEMA's poorly updated blog (sorry Marc, it's the truth) he has just posted a great write-up about the upcoming releases including an exclusive first look at the cover art for the upcoming LEGENDS OF THE POISONOUS SEDUCTRESS (aka. Yoen Doku-fu Den). Check out this link for the skinny.
My lady and I have assisted (in a very small manner) with some Japanese translation and so I have already received our copies of Ishii Teruo's legendary HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN (aka. Kyofu Kikei Ningen) and Nakagawa Nobuo's SNAKE WOMAN'S CURSE (aka. Kaidan Hebi Onna).
I just watched the wonderful DVD of HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN and will post a review soon. Suffice to say, it's a mind-bender of a movie that deserves a watch by anyone who is remotely serious about Japanese film.
(One of the coolest things about this release is the fact that it has a NO REGION ENCODING. This is a wonderful gift by Synapse Films to film fans around the world-- including those in Japan where this film has been unavailable on video and has been limited to the rare midnight screening!)
OUTCAST CINEMA's blog.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Mikogami Trilogy - Part Three: Slaughter in the Snow (Mushukunin mikogami no jôkichi: Tasogare ni senko ga tonda aka. 無宿人御子神の丈吉 黄昏に閃光が飛んだ )
SLAUGHTER IN THE SNOW
Mushukunin mikogami no jôkichi: Tasogare ni senko ga tonda
Director: Ikehiro Kazuo
Format Viewed: DVD (Animeigo)
It's taken me a little while to get around to this, but I finally am posting a review of the final installment -- or should I say, what was not planned to be, but was -- of the MIKOGAMI TRILOGY, 1973's SLAUGHTER IN THE SNOW (aka. Mushukunin mikogami no jôkichi: Tasogare ni senko ga tonda.)
Once again directed by chanbara director extraordinaire Ikehiro Kazuo (the helmer of the first two), this time our titular hero Jokichi from Mikogami (Harada Yoshio) is still a wandering lone wolf looking for bloody revenge-- only the more he searches for the bastards that ruined his life, the farther afield he goes.
Firmly rooted in the matatabi tradition (and what turns out to have been "Ikehiro's last matatabi work to be released theatrically..."**) , this installment is a marked departure from the tone and storytelling of the first two and appears to have been an attempt to delve into a full-fledged chanbara series ala ZATOICHI and NEMURI KIYOSHIRO (both of which have entries directed by Ikehiro). Alas, the studio decided that they'd had enough of Jokichi and he would never be able to satisfy his bloody revenge.
(ATTENTION Miike Takashi! Screw Zatochi! Here's your next chanbara film series to complete! Jokichi has razor sharp finger nails perfect for plucking out eye balls! What more do you need?)
In this installment Jokichi is sketched even darker, as a remorseless, unfeeling knot of a man who wanders the countryside in search of revenge. Hoping one day to eviscerate the men who killed his wife and child he let's the winds blow him where they may, in the hope that fate will guide him to a delicious revenge against: Kunisada Chunji.
When Jokichi meets the tubercular "Windmill" Kobunji (Isao Natsuyagi), so named for his unorthodox use of cooking knives as deadly projectile weapons, he discovers that Kunisada Chunji has a large bounty on his head. Have accepted a 20-ryo advance for the killing of Jokichi, Kobunji hotly pursues Jokichi, taunting our three fingered swordsman with cocky statements about his superior fighting skills. Only, it seems that Jokichi and Kobunji have a lot in common and an unlikely camaraderie develops between them and though Kobunji says he will have Jokichi's head, his heart doesn't appear to be into it. Perhaps Kobunji is taking the money to kill Jokichi for another reason? One that is rooted in the love sick dreams of a former farmer's son who had the misfortune to fall in love with a woman of a higher class?
Back when Kobuji was a lowly farmer's boy he rescued Oharu (Michiyo Yasuda) from a brutal rape at the hands of the Tozo gang and in the process he fell in love with her. His noble actions endangered him and to add insult he was shunned by the woman he loved. But once smitten he became convinced that all of his problems would be rectified if he could raise his social standing. By taking the Jokichi job, Kobunji's path would take him to his home town and to a final happy reunion with the woman he loves-- before he dies of tuberculosis (!).
Alas, Kobunji was born under an unlucky star and once home-- having not killed Jokichi due to the worsening of his tuberculosis-- he discovers that Oharu doesn't love him and in fact, is now in love boss Tozo, the head of the very gang that attacked her! As some consolation for Kobunji though, the ending will prove tragic for all who have wronged him as Jokichi will reign bloody havoc on those who have doomed Kobunji to this pitiful life.
From this description you can tell that the focus of SLAUGHTER IN THE SNOW is not really on Jokichi. This installment seems to be more interested in turning Jokichi into a character with the kind of folklore that the Zatoichi films have with the Zatoichi character. The notion in the matatabi picture of the wandering hero blowing into town and then finding themselves embroiled in some sort of situation that only they can solve through their superlative fighting skills is a classic archetype of the chanbara genre. With Jokichi you've got the added element of the character who has his own shopping list of baddies that he needs to dispatch before he departs this earth, but it turns out that he has an additional calling as a general problem solver-- and if you chose to look at it this way, as the moral conscience of the world he is in.
This structure works fine when you've got a longer series, but it's hampered in this situation by two things-- First: there's no precedent for it in this series. In the first two installments Jokichi is kind of a fuck up and is morally compromised from the get go. Second: through no fault of the filmmakers, the series abruptly ends with Tasogare ni senko ga tonda, and this is the unsatisfying final note on Mikogami. Too bad.
In an interview in Chris D.'s book "Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film" director Ikehiro Kazuo says: "The original idea for those films was to show more with Yoshio Harada's wife and children while still alive, before they were murdered." ºº Presumably the idea being that we see his inner-motivation to survive and fight at all costs. Personally, I'm the kind of fan that likes to get down into the nitty-gritty of character motivation and flaws so I would have liked to have seen where this would have gone if given the chance. Ikehiro goes on to mention that "There was a conviction behind showing Harada's character on his vengeance quest that the men he was killing also had their own wives and children. That Harada, in turn, was becoming no different from them."º* Intriguing stuff. The good becomes the bad-- this is some heady stuff that seems informed by the real world, where heroes can become villains lest they watch their moralizing and justification of their violent actions. (The question is, would audiences have bought into this? Or do they just want a good time at the movies?)
It's a shame that the series ends here, because I kind of like where this third installment goes and would have loved to have seen what would happen next. The moral vagueries questioned in this film and (implied) with future installments would make for good (chanbara) drama.
Technically the film is well done, shot in clean wide-format with a beautiful color pallete of whites, blues and blood reds. The music is 'off-da-chain' with its booty-shaking funk (please, put out this soundtrack SOMEONE!) and the pace moves with a brisk, well focused editorial style typical of these 1970s studio pictures: Get the audiences in, get them out! Sell! Sell! Sell! But with the Ikehiro's 13 years or so of contract directing his hand is firm, but so is confidence in adding with the occasional splash of experimental cinema seen in the psychedelic, kaleidoscopic spinning transitions. I especially appreciated this and it reminds me of Inoue Yoshio's experimental flourishes in THE RAZOR: WHO'S GOT THE GOLD? (Goyoukiba: Oni no Hanzou Yawahada Koban (1974))-- a classic, by the way.
One can only wonder what series of these films would have turned into, but we'll have to file that in the large section "WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN..." As for me, I'm waiting for someone to make a follow-up; there's no time like the present.
Previous Mikogami Posts.
(**D. Chris: "Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film" I. B. Taurus, 2005, p. 103)
(ººD. Chris: "Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film" I. B. Taurus, 2005, p. 108)
(º*D. Chris: ibid.)
Monday, August 13, 2007
At any rate, I was at the New Beverly Cinema yesterday for the most excellent double-feature screening of HOT FUZZ and SHAUN OF THE DEAD, which included clever and pithy opening remarks/Q&A from co-writer/director Edgar Wright -- and a unique curated collection of appropriate vintage trailers that Wright pulled from Quentin Tarantino's personal collection. (I'd seen some of them before but the trailer for Chuck Norris' INVASION U.S.A. was absolutely mind-blowing!)
Anyhoo, before Edgar introduced the 3:15 screening (which started at 3:45 as is the New Beverly's style) one of the projectionists, Jeff (a 12-year veteran), gave a New Bev status update. Here's what he had to say:
Apparently the landlord has SOLD the building (!) and the New Bev is set to continue business through September 2008 at a minimum and at a maximum until 2010. BUT Jeff is planning on starting at 501 (c)3 non-profit organization for the New Beverly with the aim of buying back the building from the landlord. This would obviously be the ideal situation for the longterm health of the theater and so I prefer to look at this all as a positive thing. So there's still hope, we'll all just need to help contribute a little more to our favorite theater in LA (If you don't live here then please visit when you come to LA like Edgar Wright did).
I will post more information as I have it.
Previous post about the New Beverly Cinema.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Tegan and Sara (Interview):
Tegan and Sara (Live Set):
Poncho Sanchez (Interview):
Poncho Sanchez (Live Set):
Saturday, August 11, 2007
From the New Bev site:
Director/Co-writer Edgar Wright is scheduled to appear at the theater in person for both the afternoon and evening screenings of HOT FUZZ/SHAUN OF THE DEAD on Sunday, Aug. 12. At this time, he is scheduled to introduce the 3:15 and 7:30 screenings and conduct a brief Q & A before the 5:35 and 9:50 screenings.
I'll be there so why won't you?
Friday, August 10, 2007
Thursday, August 9, 2007
Today marks the 62nd anniversary of the world's second atomic bomb attack: Nagasaki.
Back in 2000 I was visiting Hiroshima and was able to attend the 55th anniversary memorial service of the first atomic bomb attack. It was a profoundly sad occasion that was passed with great decorum and civility without any angry or maudlin moments, for which there was great risk. While the majority of the attendees were Japanese of all ages, there were also a large number of non-Japanese there. Somehow there was a unity formed with all attending parties, and the desire for an end to violent conflict and wanton death was palpable in the air. At the risk of sounding trite, at that moment one could believe that Peace did, in fact, 'have a chance'.
There's not much else to write beyond that, but legendary Japanese cultural scholar Donald Richie has a book review in The Japan Times of Kikuko Otake's MASAKO'S STORY: Surviving the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima that is worth reading-- less for the comments about the book itself, than for his own reminiscence on the bombings of Hiroshima (specifically) and Nagasaki. For those who don't know, Donald Richie first came to Japan (where he has lived for almost 60 years) as part of the post-war US occupational forces.
Here's an excerpt from the review:
The cenotaph for the Hiroshima victims reads "Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil," but war goes on incessantly in what promises to be the most bloody of decades and the evil here referenced, the atomic bomb, is commonly flaunted as a threat. How then can the souls of the Hiroshima dead rest in peace?
One way is to keep them always in mind and never to forget what happened on Aug. 6, 1945. But that was over 60 years ago, the lifetime of a generation, and forgetting is a way of recovering. Also, while we can keep alive the death of a loved one or two, it is more difficult to feel the same way about larger numbers of people. With the best will in the world, we cannot encompass the emotional demands of thousands — and the atomic bomb destroyed hundreds of thousands of people.
In addition the dead have been drafted for political purposes. It is now commonplace to hear use of the bomb absolved by reference to all of those lives saved that would otherwise have been sacrificed. But those thus hypothetically saved are only nominally alive and those that the bomb killed are actually and irrefutably dead. The future can never vindicate the past. Only the present can do that. So how is memory of what happened in Hiroshima to be kept alive, to be retained in its pain and horror? Each year the task becomes more difficult.
I remember when horror was fresh. That was when I first read about what had happened in Hiroshima. I read it in that special issue of The New Yorker magazine that contained all of John Hersey's report on the effects of the bomb on the city and its people. I read about it here in Tokyo as I was a member of the Occupation forces at the time.
None of us knew much about Hiroshima, since travel there was not yet permitted and the photographs and later accounts were still censored. Such was the Occupation attitude that even this issue of The New Yorker was banned. All of us were thus learning for the first time what had actually occurred.
There was no forgetting this. It was too horrible, too recent, too close. The atomic bomb, far from being a political plaything, was indeed evil, and all of us felt this — and the onus of having used it, no matter how many lives it hypothetically saved.
Read the rest here.
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Bit of a change of venue for him: he no longer posts through Variety directly, but through their Asian film outlet, Variety Asia. (See? You can tell it's 'Asian' by the dragon on its logo!)
The kaijushakedown.com link at this point only takes you to the old archive, but hopefully they should have that rectified soon. In the meantime you can access it through these steps:
1) Go to http://www.varietyasiaonline.com/
2) Go to the menu bar where it says "Departments"
3) Pull that down and click on "Kaiju Shakedown"
There ya go!
Welcome back Grady!
Saturday, August 4, 2007
Just found out that my short documentary REAL DOLL DOCTOR has been up on IFC.com's site since July 2nd?! (Thanks to the Rooftop Film Festival!)
See my previous posts here.
I've been editing for Amoeba Music here in Hollywood and several of my videos are now up on-line. This video I made for the veteran avant-garde noise group Nurse With Wound was cut from their April 5th in store performance at Amoeba Music Hollywood. The clip just went up yesterday (along with a Tegan & Sara teaser clip I cut) and is this weeks Featured Video on Amoeba.com.
Thursday, August 2, 2007
Advertised as a collection of awesome songs performed by "Cute and Slutty 1970s Bad Girls" (!), I knew I had to own it once I saw the cover featuring the foxy Tsutsui Mari (津々井まり) taken from her album "The Love of the Mermaid" (人魚の恋).
The disc is an 18 track omnibus of different sexy ladies crooning and moaning their way through different pop songs. Much less overtly pornographic (like NOT at all) than the Ike Reiko's 恍惚の世界 "The Ecstatic World of Ike Reiko" album I wrote about previously, the tracks follow a typical formula of sing about a current lover, a lover who spurned the singer, or someone they want to get nasty with.
The music itself is pure 70s pop sensation with some tracks veering towards disco or funk, while others feel like they're leftover from some late 1960s studio sessions.
One of my favorite ones musically is the disco funk dripping track by "Erunand" (is this even the correct romaji?) called "Love is Um-Um" (エルナンド／恋はウムウム-- and no, I have no idea what it means either).
For the most part the music is fairly bland but the lyrics are a hoot. Often times their lyrical content is the kind that should, by rights, infuriate any self respecting woman while at others seem like they were written by a love torn 12-year-old girl (or, more likely, a man pretending to be a 12-year-old girl!).
Check out these ones from the excellent "Always in Bed..." (フラワー・メグ／ベッドにばかりいるの).
I'm always together with you in bed
The flowers haven't been watered... [we're] always in bed
We just stare at each other without doing anything
We just smile at each other without doing anything
We're always smooching without doing anything
We don't do anything
I'm always together with you in bed
Pretty mind-blowing lyrics, eh?
The booklet is, as usual, printed on high quality paper stock with beautiful graphic design and font choices. There is a brief forward by the HOTWAX staff introducing the album as a treat for those who remember these songs and for those for whom it is their first time hearing them. (I fall in the latter camp, 'natch.) We then go on to brief bios of all of the artists in order of appearance on the CD and then in the final section all of the lyrics are reprinted in their brilliant glory. Additionally, there are photos of all of the singers and since this was the 1970s and therefore the heyday of the pop idol as pin-up star, there are many pix of these ladies in bikinis-- or sometimes even less. (Meow!)
It seems clear that the "It's Your Fault" comp appears to be designed for joint consumption with HOTWAX's 「Hotwax presents 歌謡曲名曲名盤ガイド」Queen of Japanese Pops Vol. 1. ** , a full color guide book to1970s Japanese girl pop. Many of the HOTWAX releases are like this, but for me, I'm not sure this time how far I'm prepared to dive into it and therefore will probably pass on buying it or any others in this series, preferring to stick with the movie related releases.
When taken as a whole, the entire HOTWAX catalog showcases a lot of cool retro Japanese pop culture, but for me, I think I was expecting a little more bad ass biker chick and less bikini wearing sauciness. But, for what it is, the "It's Your Fault" CD release is a lot of fun.
**On the HOTWAX page there's a dubious subtitle for the book, which I can't find on the dust jacket: 「バッド・ガール＊セクシー＊やさぐれ：Bitch, Sexy & Fury (!)」. Chart this up as a Japanese misunderstanding of the word 'bitch'-- and we can thank 50 Cent and Dre for dat.