Tuesday, December 25, 2007

So, what do you node?

Hi Blog,

The hypocrite that I am, I'm going to illustrate an interesting point made by one of technology's renown critics/commentators, Nicholas Carr. In a brief interview in the Jan '08 issue of WIRED magazine he says:
"Carr: The scariest thing about Stanley Kubrick's vision wasn't that computers started to act like people but that people had started to act like computers. We're beginning to process information as if we're nodes; it's all about the speed of locating and reading data. We're transferring our intelligence into the machine, and the machine is transferring its way of thinking into us."
I couldn't agree with this more. I'm logging off now...

Full interview here.

Monday, December 24, 2007

What good is blood if you can't sing about it?

Hi Blog,

Last Friday my wife and I saw Tim Burton's SWEENEY TODD. Or should that be, Tim Burton meets Stephen Sondheim's SWEENEY TODD? Anyway, you all know this film-- I mean how can you not? It stars that pirate dude and that chick who would hang out at support groups and afterwards hit the laundromat to steal and pawn clothes. You know the one I mean right? But-- <*pssst*> -- listen up buddy, I've got news for you, the real star is the book, you know, as in Stephen Sondheim's book for the original 1979 musical. The lyrics. What they sing, right? You get it.

And you know what else? I liked it. Kind of surprised about that since I haven't much cared for recent Tim Burton films. I think the last one I liked was 1996's MARS ATTACKS! The others.... meh... I don't want to complain here. But suffice to say, they didn't work for me.

Coming out of the theater I was thinking that the film finally bridges two worlds that, on the surface don't appear to have much in common, but somehow actually are soul brothers: the musical and the gore movie.

It took me a couple of days to remember where I'd first read about this idea but finally it just came to me: Travis Crawford's portion of the DVD liner notes for Anchor Bay's edition of Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND (metal tin addition, 2000) he attacks the critics head-on with the following critique:

"...One of the reasons why most mainstream film critics are so occupationally inept is that, still rooted in an archaic literary and theatrical school of criticism that is woefully inadequate for judging a predominantly visual medium, they are often unable to relate to cinema on the purely sensory level on which it should so often be appreciated. And while time has granted genre exceptions-- critics don't typically gripe that the plot screeches to a halt to allow for Fred Astaire dance numbers or Marx Brothers comedy routines-- the inherent disreputability of the horror genre ensures that it will probably be a long time before a New York Times critic pauses from his adherence to the laws of narrative-and-characterization dominance, to admire a well-executed gore sequence..."
When I first read that, I was like, "Woah! Travis is totally right!" It seems so obvious to me in retrospect that, yeah, a spontaneous burst (heh.) of song and dance or, in the case of a Lucio Fulci film, the sudden vomiting of a character's entire viscera are basically spiritual cousins: the visual non-sequitur.

So going back to TODD-- SWEENEY that is-- here you've got a moody dark tart of a film that makes no attempt to hide its misanthropy, opening with a song about how shit London is and then for the next hour or so we watch as Todd awakens to his calling as a merchant of death and then finally starts slicing away. Thankfully, Burton doesn't hide this from us and, arguably, preps us for the eventual deluge with an opening credits sequence that winds through a factory of blood that looks lifted from those grinding gear Lionsgate bumpers with candy cane red blood oozing and dripping about like red mercury through it's grease caked gears.

Multus Sanguis Fluit!

Amid song, Todd's barber's razor cuts a bloody swath through many necks, young and old - a red arc of blood spraying and occasionally hitting the camera lens (some academic will inevitably claim that this implicates the audience with the act, making us aware of the proscenium), with its excited pumping. And yet, somewhere in all of this, the film is about how a man becomes dehumanized by the twisted machinations of another man, and once recognizing it, he embraces this separation and uses it to fuel his cool detachment as he becomes a vector for his physicalized revenge.

In the end, the film does manage to sneak in a moral to the story, but this comes as no surprise considering that horror has always been a highly didactic genre that panders to the basic rules of right and wrong. But the funny thing is, it comes at the end of gleeful bloodshed and singing.

SWEENEY TODD wallows in its baseness-- its Grand Guignol bloody exploitation-- singing and slashing its way with abandon. One reason why it seems to work so well is because song and violence seem to naturally work well together. It's just interesting that it took so long for it to come together on the big screen.

My pal Grady Hendrix has a good review of the film on the NY SUN'S website. He points out, appropriately, the absurdity of releasing the film as a holiday movie.

Some More Amoeba Rucka Edits...

Coupla new clips up on Amoeba.com. As I said before, there're even more that I've cut, which are caught up in the approval pipeline. With some luck mebbe we'll see some more of them in 2008...

Jesu - Interview:

Jesu - Performance:

Gram Parson's Tribute - Long Multi-Band Performance:

Okkervil River - Interview:

Okkervil River - Performance:

Monday, December 17, 2007

My First Liner Notes! KARAOKE TERROR (aka. Shouwa Kayou Daizenshu 昭和歌謡大全集)

Hi Blog,

Has it been that long, really? I'm certainly balder and paunchier, so it must be true... But at long, long last Shinohara Tetsuo's film adaptation of Murakami Ryu's KARAOKE TERROR - THE COMPLETE JAPANESE SHOUWA SONGBOOK (aka. Shouwa Kayou Daizenshu 昭和歌謡大全集) is coming to DVD from Synapse Films on April 29th, 2008. (link)

And why should I report news that you can find a billion other places on-line? Well, that's because I wrote the liner notes for this DVD release!! My very first time doing so, I might add, and while it's been so long that I have no idea what the hell I even wrote about-- trust me, they'll be the best liner notes written by a first timer to be published two years after the fact.

Oh, and for the record, I like the movie. Read my review here.

Update: Apparently the Youtube clip has been taken down. However, Todd over at Twitchfilm.net tells me he has trailers embedded in the Twitch player. Link.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sorry Brits, you'll have to find some other way to kill people...

Hi Blog:

"To mixed response, the UK government announced new legislation this month banning the sale and ownership of replica Japanese swords.

At least five people have been killed in as many as 80 individual attacks involving the use of these replica weapons in recent years. The swords will be added to the UK offensive weapons order in April and will join such items as brass knuckles and nunchaku..."

What about broadswords? Foils? Sabers? Where's the cultural pride?

(via Japanprobe)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Tomorrow @ Midnight! INVASION USA!!

"Invasion U.S.A. is the story of a Soviet attack that is thwarted by one man (Chuck Norris). The invasion consists largely of hiding in the bushes and attacking Christmas trees, shopping malls, churches, and other parts of the American infrastructure with bazookas. The director, Joseph Zito, was called in by the Bush Administration to consult after 9/11..." (link)

Be there. Or be dead.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

おそいひと ー Late Bloomer

Hi Blog,

My close friend Shibata Go's long finished delirious psycho freak-out LATE BLOOMER (Osoi hito) has finally started its official theatrical run in Japan this past December 1st at PorePore Higashi Nakano ポレポレ東中野. Telling of Sumida - a barely ambulatory handicap man who speaks with the aid of a Japanese speak and spell-- and how he becomes a serial murderer, it is one of my favorite films that's come out of Japan in the past five years.

There's nothing I can say here that I haven't already written about on Midnighteye (Shibata interview link), so I'll leave you with those links. Suffice to say, Shibata has earned his moment in the sun-- this film has taken almost 7 years to get to this point. Seriously. Regardless of what you might think of the film, it's nice that Shibata can finally put this film to rest and get on to newer projects (of which I can't speak about at the moment). お疲れ様!

Oh and one more thing, my review has been translated and quoted on both the Chirashi for the film and on the website; how's that for nepotism?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Everything old is totally rad, everything new totally sucks!

Hi Blog,

So, living in LA and with the end of the year fast approaching, there's been an inundation of "Best Movie of the Year" and "A Triumph!" critical nonsense praise being slapped on a whole slew of last minute contenders. Don't get me wrong, I get it from an advertising point of view, but it's got me thinking about how praise is handed out so easily like 2 buck tequila shots.

At the moment the film that's riding the critical praise crest like a surfer on Maui's north shore is NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (how do you like that for mixed metaphors?). Hailed as a return of the golden boys, critics and film-goers have been quick to call this the Coen brothers best film since BLOOD SIMPLE. "The most searing film I've seen this year!" exclaims one reviewer. Needless to say, I had to go find out. Having read the book when it first came out in hardback, I was already a fan. Could it be made into a film? Sure, films are different creatures than books; something was bound to get lost in the translation, but perhaps something else could be discovered and gained.

To be sure, the film has some amazing moments in it. I was riveted by the opening of the film and the tense confrontation at the Texas/Mexico border hotel. But, lets be honest here, there are some boring parts in the film. Parts that the pacing seems off on. There are accents that slip and moments of SFX that seem to be comedic in their explicitness and obvious CGI employment.

Now, hold on a second. Put your pitchforks down; this is one man's opinion, here. But that's the point I'm making: oh so many critics out there are so hungry to praise at least a handful of artistically 'safe' movies -- movies that are regarded by the critical establishment as having arrived with artistic merit -- that it is as if their collected wishes are trying to will these films into becoming classics. Example? David Cronenberg's lackluster EASTERN PROMISES for one. (Great Howard Shore score, btw...)

Here's another example from earlier in the year: KNOCKED UP. This film arrived in the theaters all wrapped up with critical praise: a riotous and heartwarming comedy, "believe the hype!" one review states, "Knocked Up is one of the funniest films of 2007!"

Wow! So with praise like that how could I not take my wife to it? Only, the film isn't that funny. It's not a comedy, it's a weak drama with no mystery (Like, duh, is the fuck-up stoner loser ever going to get his act together and marry the the woman he knocked up and become a man? Seriously, did you ever have any doubt?) What's mildly amusing about the film is Seth Rogan's moron stoner friends making jokes about looking like Robin Williams knuckles. But that, my friends, does not make a comedy.

"So what, Rucka, are you getting at?" You ask.

Simply, how will we view these films in 30 years or in 50 years. Are celebrated classics of yester-year really all that much better? Or are we more forgiving?

One of my favorite films of all time is Akira Kurosawa's SEVEN SAMURAI. I'm floored by the power of its filmmaking and the efficiency and scope of its storytelling.

But, here's the thing: I also know that when I watch it I'm more forgiving of the occasionally overly affected performance (that borders on melodrama), the periodic moment of technical error and the brilliant yet somehow less than subtle score (certainly by our modern standards-- although Hans Zimmer would be a poor comparison) that underlines the films emotional through-lines. I am willing to offer this film these exceptions and heap praise on it since I understand that the film is over 50 years old and has survived still intact, as a piece of powerful filmmaking.

This ability to -- or action of -- qualifying the films I watch goes a long way to explaining why many people poo-poo new films while simultaneously praising crappy films of yesterday. Quentin Tarrantino has made a side business of doing this peaking with the bloated GRINDHOUSE double feature replete with faux vintage exploitation trailers.

While watching a recently purchased used LaserDisc of Jack Hill's seminal (see? There I did it myself!) chick exploitation flick SWITCHBLADE SISTERS that Tarrantino's now defunct Miramax sub-label Rolling Thunder Pictures released back in '97 I was struck by how, well, bad the filmmaking is, but how much I loved it. There's a flavor to the film and a kind of anarchism to it that permeates it-- a funky, free jazz quality, if you will. But here I am watching it in a post-modern context, trying to explain to my wife why this is such a badass film. Seriously, I wonder whether I would've really liked it back in the early seventies?

This carries over to my much loved Japanese SUKEBAN / ONNA BANCHO flicks. It carries over to cheapie TOEI YAKUZA program pictures-- one of which I have a poster of over the desk where I write this. What is the line between good and bad and what we can qualify as being better than it actually is? And then, of course, is the important question of: does it really matter as long as we really like it?

For the record, the movie from this year that I hope gets the forgiving old film treatment is David Fincher's ZODIAC. I have a feeling that many people have already forgotten that it came out in 2007 and that in the mad rush up to the Oscar ® nominations, it will be left out in the cold behind 3:10 TO YUMA and IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH, but I believe that it is one of the films that will stand up to the test of time. Serious filmmaking went into this film, with strong performances, and a puzzle box screenplay-- but what does it matter in the end?

Part of what makes this year-end mad rush to critical praise so bizarre is that it's a way for critics to plant a flag on a movie and say, "Been there, done that. If it weren't for me, this film would've been forgotten."

So I leave you with this, keep in mind all of those amazing quotes that tell you to go see a movie, doesn't necessarily make it a good film. Group think is intoxicating. Furthermore, leave the advertising driven critical praise to the studios: they're only interested in the bottom line. Let's see which of these films, warts and all, becomes a classic.

Finally, for a film that you should see in theater-- because it will become the stuff of cult phenomenon and it is a piece of what I can only describe as 'outsider art' -- SOUTHLAND TALES. No shit. It's unbelievable that it got made in the first place.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

ウゴウゴルーガ - Best Children's Show Ever

Hi Blog,

This has been another obsession of mine. The best children's show ever made: Ugo Ugo Ruga. Yes, I've mentioned it before-- in fact all of those crazy poo and tape worm videos you've enjoyed were part of this insane children's TV show from the early 90s. (Eat your heart out Peewee!) Don't believe me? Look I'll show you.

Here's, like, the weirdest Kaiju opening ever made for a TV show. Ever.

How was that? Okay, so here's another opening to the show. It's kind of hard to make out here, but yes, the people at the bar are eating Yakitori humans prepared by the robot chef. Oh, and the Kaiju Onna from the first clip is sitting at the bar in this Yakitori shop, eatin' her supper.

Did I mention that this was for kids?

Oh yeah-- before I forget, here's one more; this time with a Yakuza Chinpira eating cake with animals in a ginger bread house before driving away into the sky with rainbows coming out of his sweet ride.

Holy. Fucking. Shit.


Hi Blog,

Apologies for not writing but I've been wrapped up in life. No excuses, it goes on... Sometimes priorities get shifted.

I've also been wrapped up in Chuck P.'s newest: RANT

Perhaps because I call LA home (and it's the holiday season), I've become obsessed with this quote from the book:

"...Beginning with Santa Claus as a cognitive exercise, a child is encouraged to share the same idea of reality as his peers. Even if that reality is patently invented and ludicrous, belief is encouraged with gifts that support and promote the common cultural lies.

The greatest consensus in modern society is our traffic system. The way a flood of strangers can interact, sharing a path, almost all of them traveling without incident. It only takes one dissenting driver to create anarchy.
" (p. 130)

Running almost back to back with Lullaby, this is a decidedly different read. Curious to hear what others have to say about it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Outcast Cinema Update: Suzuki Norifumi

Hello Blog:

Marc Walkow is still living it up in Japan and has just added a juicy update to his OUTCAST CINEMA BLOG. If you're interested in Japanese exploitation cinema in general and Roman Porno and Pink Cinema in particular you should check it out. He's been doing interviews with the Gran Meister of Japansploitation Suzuki Norifumi (next to Ishii Teruo, of course) for some up-coming DVDs. Nice.

Here's a clip from one of my personal favorite Suzuki nasties, SCHOOL OF THE HOLY BEAST (aka. Seiju Gakuen). I'm amazed it's still up on YouTube-- not for long, methinks. Warning, there are boobs and general sleaziness:

More on the Suzuki thing at OUTCAST CINEMA.

ImaginAsian Center LA Opening: MIDNIGHT EAGLE

Hello Blog:

Apparently the rumors of the long in development ImaginAsian Center LA are true and not only that it's a reality!

Launching December 7, 2007 and located at the same spot as "...a number of historic theaters, including the Arrow, the Aztec and most recently the Linda Lea, which was a Japanese-language film theater..." the new ImaginAsian Center LA will be the West Coast answer to the ImaginAsian media mini-empire's East Coast flagship theater. (Trivia fact: where several years of the New York Asian Film Festival were held!)

The opening film will be the Shochiku Studios Hollywood-wanabee action flick MIDNIGHT EAGLE, which just opened in NYC this past Saturday as a part of a revolutionary concept for Japanese companies: Day and date world-wide releasing -- see it in Japan and NYC on the same day! (Grady Hendrix at Kaiju Shakedown has more on this here.)

Word on the street is that MIDNIGHT EAGLE is flakey popcorn weenieness, but I'm looking forward to catching it here in LA at the ImaginAsian because it somehow feels spiritually appropriate to the history of Japanese films in LA.

'What do you mean?' I can hear you say. Well, once upon a time there were a number of Japanese language movie theaters in LA including a Toho Studio Movie Theater (the above mentioned La Brea Theater). Why should you care? Well, if it weren't for this then Alain Silver wouldn't have been able to pen his seminal treatise on Samurai cinema, "THE SAMURAI FILM," which he started writing after watching tons of Chanbara and Jidai-Geki films there. (They had subs then! How cool would it be if someone started a new theater just for Japanese films, new and old?)

And now you know.

Link to Film at Eleven's write-up.

Giant Monsters Attack LA!

Hello Blog:

The truly awesome CineFamily movie theater here in LA will be doing a Toho Giant Monster retro on Sundays during the month of December. Films include:


One of the cool things about this new theater is that they do something called 'vertical programming'. Meaning: rather than clumping together a series of films, they have them programmed on the same days of the week throughout the months. Simply put, if you're out of town one week, you can catch another film in the series when you are in town. Nice for us who have other responsibilities than watching movies.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Amoeba Music Videos: More from the archives...

Still a lot going on here, which explains my less than stellar updating skills lately. But I thought that I'd put some more links up for the videos and interviews that I've cut for Amoeba Music that have been approved by the bands and their management -- there's been a lot more that's been cut but we're still waiting approval. (Talib Kweli or Jesu or Galactic or all of you others are you listening?)

Lee Rocker - Interview:

Lee Rocker - Performance:

Film School - Performance:

Gore Gore Girls - Performance:

John Doe - Performance:

Menomena - Interview:

Menomena - Performance:

Sondre Lerche - Interview:

Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Bros. Live at the Avalon Ballroom 1969 - EPK

Guitar Wolf! Get off your lazy asses!

So it's been, what, like 8 months or something since their last album 'DEAD ROCK' came out? I was beginning to wonder why Guitar Wolf didn't have a new album. What a bunch of slackers!

Yeah, well apparently Guitar Wolf thought they were slacking too and so for the second time in one year they have a new album out!

On sale today in Japan (November 22nd) and called 火星ツイスト(or MARS TWIST in English) the album is being released on the eve of their 20th anniversary! (Congrats guys!) The concept behind this album appears to be 'self covers' (セルフカバーアルバム-- their words, not mine...) of various songs and CD comes with a bonus live DVD and a special booklet.

Additionally, and very cooly, bitchin' retro drag-race inspired artist (Coop look-alike) ROCKIN' JELLY BEAN was commissioned to make a limited edition silk screen poster. (See top.) All in all, it makes me want a sequel to WILD ZERO.

In other news, according to Guitar Wolf's homepage, lead singer Seiji (aka. Guitarwolf) has undergone some surgery for a hip ailment "...due to his intense performance history over the years." (And that is approximately how much they rock: they cripple themselves with their intensity!)

Here's hoping that he has a speedy recovery and they can get back and at 'em putting out 3 albums in 2008. I'll be waiting!

You can listen to sound samples here.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Nightmare Detective Review on Midnighteye

Forgot to post this when it went up, but my review of Tsukamoto Shinya's NIGHTMARE DETECTIVE (aka. Akumu Tantei) is now up on Midnighteye. I had a chance to see it opening day in Tokyo and mention my thoughts about that in the review. Check it out if you have a chance.

Link to previous NIGHTMARE DETECTIVE posting.

Stop the Presses! There's a Variety Japan Now?

I was at a birthday party last Saturday and I met a woman named Atsuko Kohata who is (I think) the lone reporter for the newly started Variety Japan (?!).

Yes, you read that right, Variety Asia was apparently not cutting the mustard since it's all in English.

Launched November 1st, Variety Japan is one stop source for worldwide entertainment news that is all in Japanese. Part of their content consists of articles translated the English language editions, but there's also original content (limited so far, it seems) that's being produced for the site (interviews mainly).

Okay, well, that's cool I suppose, but forgive me for asking the big question: Why?

The implication with the Variety Japan launch is that Japanese companies want to expand abroad with more export minded content. But the problem with the export of Japanese media abroad has never been a lack of willingness from companies in the West-- nor a lack of interest from Japanese companies themselves. The problem has been that many Japanese media companies have an over-inflated sense of their own self-worth and, for example, demand premium prices for films that would have no chance in hell of recouping their costs in the foreign market. This is on top of numerous stories I have heard about hostile foreign sales branches for some major Japanese studios makes me highly skeptical of this whole thing.

Perhaps Don (Ryuganji) or Jason Gray can offer some insights on this? (Know anything guys?) But while I wish Variety Japan the best of luck, I hope that the Japanese companies receive a complimentary change of attitude with foreign film festivals and distribution companies included with the yearly subscriptions.

Link here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Kaneda! Tasukette!!

On-line postings about the long rumored AKIRA live action US remake (perhaps) finally getting some traction has pissed off a load of fans in Japan-- inflaming comment boards on Mixi and the infamous Nichanneru.

But why now? The AKIRA remake has been one of those long planned projects that has (rightly) been in limbo for four years.

Well, as shown below, Warner Bros. has been trying to fast track it before tomorrow's long dreaded and looming writer's strike and apparently someone picked up on the following blurb from bloody-disgusting.com and translated it into Japanese. Now fans in Nippon are bristling with self-righteous indignity and calling for blood.

Here's the inflaming post:

One of the greatest post-apocalyptic thrillers ever told was the animated Manga Akira, which saw an announcement wayyyy back in July of 2003 that James Robinson would pen the adaptation with director Steven Norrington. I'm sure this has long passed, but we do have something official that just leaked to us through the grapevine, something that's going to blow your socks off. We've been informed that Warner Bros. Pictures is trying to get Akira off the ground pre-strike and have attached 29-year-old Oscar nominated Irish director Ruairi Robinson! No more details have been revealed other than he directed a mind blowing short film entitled The Silent City, which can be viewed over at BDTV. Watch this spot for more news soon and cross your fingers that this sucker gets rolling ASAP. (LINK)

Hey, you know what? The Japanese fans are absolutely right to be pissed off about this. But before they grab their pitchforks and torches let's remind them that there's another Kurosawa Akira remake about to happen in Japan and if they act fast they can stop it. (Link to this via Twitchfilm.net)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Capsule One: SHINOBI NO MONO Vol. 1

Work has been busy here and I have a lot of projects brewing, which have been keeping me away from the blog. In between all of this, I've been trying to catch up on the stack of films sitting in my apartment while also trying to get out and see some limited-run stuff out in the theaters.

So, in the interest of time and because I think that no one really wants to read one of my long-ass reviews, I've decided to turn in a number of capsule reviews on various films I've seen.

I don't know how long or how regularly I will be doing these, so consider this a trial run of sorts. Oh, and by all means, let me know what you think of these films that I've written about. As they say, "Opinions are like assholes..."

Here's the first one:

Vol. Ninja Band of Assassins
Dir. Yamamoto Satsuo
Ichikawa Raizo
Ito Yunosuke
Fujimura Shiho
Wakayama Tomisaburo (aka. Kenzaburou Joh)
Format Viewed: DVD

The kind folks at Animeigo have been hooking me up with their releases for a while now (thanks guys!) and writing reviews about them when I have the chance. (And if this capsule thing takes, then I will try and go back and post some write-ups on the stuff I've already watched.)

Part one of a slated eight disc series release (let's hope Animeigo is able to do them all), this series stars a young Ichikawa Raizo as Ishikawa Goemon a hot-headed young ninja whose aspirations of ninja glory is cynically manipulated by ninja group leader Momochi Sandayu who wants to kill power hungry Oda Nobunaga (played by a pre-LONE WOLF AND CUB Wakayama Tomisaburo who is credited as Joh Kenzaburo). Oda, it seems, wants to unite all Japan and views the ninja's as a stumbling block. Concurrent with this, Momochi learns that a competing clan, run by the wizened old Fujibayashi, also plans to assassinate Oda and this is intolerable, so far as he's concerned. Framed for a murder he didn't commit, Ishikawa goes on the run with Momochi's promise that if he assassinates Oda before the rival clan does, then all will be forgiven... But being the world of the ninja Goemon cannot believe what he sees or hears and he is forced to survive using all of his wit and skills.

Often credited as the series that turned the ninja from a laughable kids' superhero into something more historical accurate and reality based, director Yamamoto Satsuo (picture right) ** states that SHINOBI NO MONO is different because it was carefully researched and precisely shot. Gone are the ninjas who disappear in a puff of smoke and can fly, instead we are shown how ninja's work their 'magic', as illustrated by their guiding rule: 'Be devious!' Use a rat to distract a person and sneak by, use a long string and a eye-dropper of poison to kill a sleeping enemy etc. (This attention to 'realism' is particularly interesting considering that SHINOBI... was a Daiei production: home of the more lush and stagey jidai-geki productions.)

The fact that Animeigo has taken the initiative and started releasing SHINOBI NO MONO -- arguably the most famous ninja series in Japan -- should be applauded. What's more, it seems that slowly but surely Animeigo is heading back in the right direction in terms of quality production, which for a short time had taken a bit of a dip.

That said, my one itty-bitty grievance is that while I know it costs money to print booklets it would be great to get the old liner notes back on the page and off of the discs, while also, perhaps, publishing some new essays about the series. I'm just saying... (Keep in mind that this is one man's opinion, but I'm still holding onto -- and occasionally buying used -- the old Animeigo Laserdiscs because I loved their production quality, translations and liner notes.)

Most definitely recommended.

** Yamamoto's films are the retrospective centerpiece at this year's Tokyo FILMEX, which, regrettably I won't be able to attend as planned. They will be, incidentally, showing SHINOBI NO MONO on both November 18th and 20th. Ii ne.


Yesterday, at long last, I finally had a chance to watch Ishii Sogo's CRAZY THUNDER ROAD. I will write about it at another time (as part of my new series of capsule reviews that I'm working on) but in short, it's pretty awesome.

While doing some poking around on-line for more Ishii Sogo stuff, I stumbled upon numerous clips from Ishii's seminal 1981 short film SHUFFLE. Unfortunately, these clips only add up to about half of the film (taken from different parts) and while I'm not advocating bootlegging here, there's just no other way at the moment see a lot of Ishii's work.

Ishii Sogo is a badass. It's just that simple. Bursting onto the filmmaking scene in the late 1970s with a vicious DIY work ethic and a punk rock sensibility, what I love about his early films is how they hum with immediacy and burst angry statements about how shit society is.

In my opinion Ishii Sogo's movies are like bottle rockets shot at your eyes: they DEMAND your attention and you WANT to watch no matter how much it stings.

Watching these clips from SHUFFLE I was struck by how much the opening scene seemed to inform Tsukamoto Shinya's opening for TETSUO (I wonder if it's conscious or not?). Every shot in this opening is beautifully composed and has a considered purpose: it's economical and powerful and will eventually act as a counterpoint to chaotic color, hand-held shots that come later.

The rest of the clips, including the mind-blowing ending, ripples with Ishii's regular themes and metaphors: a youth who is bucking against the norm; radical body manipulation, running, fire arms and loud, punk/industrial music.

Question: What does it take for a company to release a box set of Ishii's stuff in the US? Come on, it's been done for you in Japan. Just port it over and slap on some titles. If you do this, you'd already have one sale: ME.

Enjoy the clips!


CLIP #2:

CLIP #3:


Friday, October 26, 2007

Thursday, October 25, 2007

HAUSU! (aka. ハウス)

In 1977 Japanese commercial director Obayashi Nobuhiko -- or OB** for short -- asked his 7-year-old daughter to come up with a horror film. The movie? ハウス(HAUSU). And if you haven't seen it then you're missing out on what one film viewer on-line has rightly called it: "Enough awesome to kill a rhino." Indeed.

How does one describe this brilliant, spaztic film that's like the bastard love-child of a lava lamp and a haunted house? Well, since I'm not feeling particularly creative, I will cut and paste this excerpt from a review on imdb.com: "...the tale of seven "unmarried" young high-school girls who, during a school break, travel to a spooky, remote hilltop house to visit the reclusive, mysterious Aunt of one of their fold only to be consumed one at a time by the Ghost-House/Aunt in increasingly novel ways..."

From the first time I saw it, I was hooked. I saw a shitty VHS boot of the film (go Mondo Kim's!) and wondered how exactly a film as gonzo as this-- with seven cute, young idols who periodically strip nude and get off-ed in some of the most curiously inventive ways this side of road runner (watch out for the piano, gals!) got made. Furthermore, how did he continue to have a directing career? (And how do I get to have that career?)

Obayashi, as y'all might remember, is the dude who made those brilliant MANDOM ads starring Chuck Bronson that I posted on here a few weeks back. A work horse commercial director who, as my pal Marc mentioned before in the comments section, it is largely attributed to premiering foreign movie stars in Japanese commercials. So all of those ham ads staring Sly Stallone that you've been giggling over on YouTube, you can thank this man. (And we salute you!)

In the USA, HAUSU, it turns out, is owned by Janus Films. Those are the arty folks who hold the catalog to just about everything they ever screen for you at film school. (You know, the films you're supposed to be watching instead of STAR WARS for the 27th time?) The Criterion Collection, which is connected at the hip with Janus, had some half-hearted intentions to put it out, once upon a time, but now it's just languishing in their vaults... Whadda crime!

So, okay, where does one see HAUSU since it's not widely available -- especially in the US? Provided that you are in the US-- and are in Los Angeles specifically-- then get your ass over to the Silent Movie Theater here in West Hollywood THIS Sunday, October 28th at 10:30pm where it is screening after Shindo Kaneto's fantastic Onibaba.

Since most prints of HAUSU are in shit condition, the film will be up-converted to HD from the Rapid Eye Movements German DVD. While that blows, it can't be helped and since the Silent Movie Theater has just re-opened after a full refurbishment, the tech specs should be top-notch.

What are you waiting for? If you live in Los Angeles you have NO excuse. Be there.

Here's the mind-blowing trailer:

** Not named after the Korean beer, director Obayashi got the OB nick-name from the foreign movie stars in his commercials who could remember their lines, but not their director's names. Thanks guys.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Kitano "Beat" Takeshi X Kurosawa "The Emperor" Akira

Here I give you two things you have never seen before: Takeshi "Beat" Kitano being nervous, Kurosawa "The Emperor" Akira wearing his favorite Los Angeles Lakers get up, in white socks, holding a mini-dog (...at the end, at least).

While I'm not entirely clear when this interview occurred it definitely was recorded before August, 1994 when Kitano had his motorcycle accident which lead to his partial paralysis. (My suspicion is that it was filmed after SONATINE was released because they make reference to it throughout the interview.)

Unfortunately these YouTube clips are in Japanese only-- but I've done some [really] rough translation of the clips. (I get more into it as the clips go on, which is why there are more comments towards the end.)

Clip One:

Kurosawa likes Kitano's films since they aren't bogged down in explanation.

Kitano jokes that he's seen few films and that he had no idea what the hell he was doing on set the first time we set foot on it. He talks about the difference between the multi-cam shoots of TV and the single camera of films. Kitano says he was dependent on the assistant directors. Kurosawa surprises Kitano by saying that he was the same at the start back at Shochiku.

They talk about the art of making films and Kurosawa says that making movies is like music: rhythm is essential.

Clip Two:

On this one, Kurosawa makes a critique of something he didn't like in one of Kitano's films. (I think this is about SONATINE -- a personal favorite of mine.) Kitano goes on to say that he's a poor judge of what doesn't work-- and then says that he was surprised at how different what he imagined and what actually gets captured on film. Kurosawa says that that difference is definitely there between what you're thinking about and what the actors have in mind (it's something that his mentor had told him would happen) and that it's important to help the actor along the way that you want -- but that you can't force them, no matter what.

Kitano tells an anecdote about how at the end of the film he wanted the actress to cry, but it wasn't happening. So he's telling her to think of sad things and it's not working. So the assistant director gets furious with her and her manager comes over and then Kitano sees that she's crying. So he's telling his crew to get their camera over there and film it!

Kurosawa mentions that he got into the habit of having an editor (editing suite) on set so he could see how the film was coming together. He claims that it was a better way to make a film and to find out what was working. It also made the later editing more relaxed.

Kitano wants to know why movies always start shooting so early. TV is more relaxed (so he claims). Kurosawa says that he loves making movies so much that he can't wait to get to set. He doesn't know about the other crew members, though. As an side, Kurosawa says that if the crew and cast are happy it shows up on screen. Because old movies were so tough to make, you could see it in the actor's faces. That's why, he claims, movies should be fun to make.

Kitano has a toss away joke about how when people hear a Kurosawa film they're impressed but when they hear a Kitano film, they wonder what the hell he's thinking!

An interesting bit here is that Kurosawa says that shooting in the cities is a problem nowadays, but that in the old days it was the Yakuza showing up on set and causing trouble. The pay-off was on a sliding scale and Kurosawa was the most expensive!

Clip Three:

On this clip both Kitano and Kurosawa tells some anecdotes about working with actors and locations and whatnot. The gist of this all is that filmmaking is indeed a strange business with unexpected things happening all of the time.

Kurosawa also states that when he was an assistant director he always thought it was odd that he would yell 'Action!' and then the actors would cry on cue and whatnot.

Kitano also talks about how what you see on screen and how it was actually made are two totally different worlds.

Kurosawa says: "When you have to shoot something strange, sometimes you have to do strange things..."

This is interesting: Kitano says that he's entertaining the idea of doing a comedy for his next film (so this must be right after SONATINE)... (This is an interesting time capsule.)

Kurosawa says that comparing comedy and tragedy, there are far fewer comedies nowadays and that they are much more difficult to do than tragedies. Kurosawa says that he always wanted to do a comedy but it was really difficult to do.

Kitano says that the old style of doing something funny on screen and showing people laughing is gone.

Now this is interesting, Kitano says that he's always wanted to do ZATOICHI. He says that you know how Zatoichi is always helped along by a young woman, since he can't see and then when he comes across a bad guy he fights them and then once he's finished he takes the girls hand and they walk away. Well, Kitano says that Zatoichi should let go of the young woman's hand, think he's fighting the guy, but cuts up the girl and then takes the guys hand and walks away. That would be funny. Kurosawa laughs in agreement.

Kurosawa tells Kitano to make a comedy since he isn't able to.

Kitano makes some other jokes about Zatoichi including a joke about playing a dice game (saikoro bakuchi). He says that if no one around Zatoichi told him that he'd won, then how would he know? (I always thought the point was that Zatoichi would know by his incredible sense of hearing, right?)

Kurosawa says that this is an example of how he doesn't think. He can't do comedy.

Kitano says that he thinks about this kind of stuff all of the time and that it sometimes keeps him up at night. He thinks that perhaps some of it is only amusing to him.

At the end, Kurosawa is holding his dog and tells Kitano, "Let's get a drink."

...and when the Emperor says drink, you drink.

Lucky Post 111: More on Yoen Dokufu-Den on DVD!

(Note: This couldn't be posted yesterday due to some Blogger snafu...)

My pal Marc Walkow (aka. Mr. Outcast Cinema) is finally back home in NYC after traipsing all over the world in support of his cinema addiction. When he's not watching movies, he's trying to figure out ways to get YOU to watch movies. How? By producing brutally cool DVD titles for Synapse Films (update your site guys!), for example.

I've previously posted about the upcoming release of the Yoen Dokufu-Den series (aka. Legends of the Poisonous Seductress series) and at Marc's request he's asked me to not steal his thunder and re-post everything that he's got on his site.

So, head on over to the OUTCAST CINEMA blog and read for yourself the exciting info he has about the series. Revel in the awesome film stills and scratch your eyes in amazement after watching the three blistering trailers that he's embedded.

Having seen the first film of the series, I can promise you that these Pinky Violence quickies are just what your dysfunction needs to heal.



Two nights ago I finally had a chance to see one of my favorite [Japanese] bands, BORIS play here in LA. They're relatively popular in the US (in the alternative doom, metal, noise, shoegazing) music scene and so they usually tour once a year.

The thing is, I've never failed to miss any of their live shows -- not just here, but also in Japan. So I was super excited to actually have a chance to check it out.

A friend of mine at work was able to get me on the Southern Lord guest list (thanks guys!)and so all that was left for me to do was show up, buy some merch and have a few drinks while enjoying the show. Mission accomplished!

I got totally lost trying to find the venue in Echo Park (the Echoplex is a damn hard place to find, if you don't know what you're looking for. Signs would help!) and so I missed the very first opening band. Don't know who it was. But I did catch the incredibly odd programming choice of Damon and Naomi, a kind of acoustic depresso cross of mid-era Swans meets Angelo Badalamenti. Oof. Not for those on prescription mood enhancers. But to be fair, I did like their music at points, though I found the set to be overlong. It might just be a little bit of this stuff goes a long way! Anyway, they were as Demon joked with the audience, the 'quiet doom' to Boris' full-on jet engine of Heavy Rock.

So then Boris took the stage and amid curls and puffs of smoke from a smoke machine hidden behind their formidable speaker stacks. The lovely Wata -- looking like she stepped fresh out of a cafe in Omotesando -- poised calmly with her guitar; Atsuo wearing his headgear microphone sat behind his drum kit replete with a large Sabian Gong; and Takeshi stood front and center with his double-neck Ibanez bass/guitar, howled and took front charge on the night.

Joining both Damon and Naomi and Boris was Michio Kurihara, a polyester shirt wearing guitar maestro who looks like he stepped out of a 70s Shin-Toei Yakuza film. His addition to both performances (Damon and Naomi and Boris) were trippy porno soundtrack gone noise sounding squeals that belched and blurped their accents throughout the songs. At points during the Boris set, he would rip out a particularly intense guitar solo that both excited and punished the audience with its intricacies of play and perversion of the funk genre. Since I am totally unfamiliar with Kurihara's solo work, I can only comment on what I saw and have heard on the Boris with Michio Kurihara Rainbow disc (I own the Japanese version which has a different track list that the US version, for what it's worth) but Michio appears to add an extra layer of psychedelia to the roarin' mix that pulls Boris into a more stoner territory. I personally love the sound, but then again, I'm a huge fan of all things Boris!

Suffice to say, while there were some weenies who seemed to be less than impressed by the show-- hey what do you expect in too cool for school LA?-- I had an awesome time. Definitely try to catch them when they're in your neck of the woods.**

Here's a taste of Boris doing their song Ibitsu:

Boris homepage.

** I see that Boris will be playing at my alma-mater Bard College, on October 27th. Say what you want about the school but Bard always did have good bands play there.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Brian Naas Does Pusan

A pal from my NYC days and a founding member of Subway Cinema, Brian Naas, decided a while back to basically leave the US and take an extensive trip around Asia stopping where he wants and living there for a length of time. (Nice work if you can get it!) And naturally being a member of Subway Cinema he's an Asian film fanatic and so he's been watching a ton of movies during his travels.

I have added Brian's blog link to this page, but seeing as he's currently attending the Pusan Film Festival (Or is that 'Busan'??) and is posting updates to his blog-- and has just posted several new reviews (hot off the presses!) of new Japanese films by Miike Takashi, Fukasaku Kenta and stylish perv Ishii Takashi, I wanted to reprint the first dispatch here. (Images are mine.)

Part of my aim, additionally, is to spread word about Brian's blog Asian Cinema - While on the Road since he's very knowledgeable about Asian cinema (including the much overlooked Thai and Bollywood film worlds) and he writes well.

So, without further ado, here ya go:

Crows – Episode 0

Director: Takashi Miike
138 minutes

Miike continues to make more films than I write reviews it seems – he has two of his films playing here at the fest and they couldn’t be more different – one a Japanese western and this film based on a popular Manga. It takes place in a boy’s high school called Suzuran where the graffiti is omnipresent and the teachers barely visible - these students are the worst of the worst – called crows. The only thing that counts here is surviving and getting to the top of the food chain. There are assorted gangs of boys who all want to be number one – to rule Suzuran – but that doesn’t come easy and as one student says near the end – “you can’t win here – all you do is fight and fight – and then you graduate”. But in the meantime, fighting is the only thing on the curriculum.

Leading the pack is Tamoe – a soft eyed gentle looking kid with the punch of a mule and a love for a good fight – and his crew and every challenge is met with a vicious kick or a hard elbow. Into this mix comes Genji, a transfer student with something to prove to his yakuza father – if he can tame Suzuran, he can inherit his father’s gang some day. With the help of a low ranking yakuza he begins to form alliances with other gangs in hopes of getting enough numbers to take on Tamoe. When he does the challenge is put forth and the rumble is on and hundreds break heads in the pouring rain.

Set a bit in a Manga world where every punch is thunderously loud and every character is either totally cool or off-beat strange, Miike has created an enormously entertaining piece of energetic filmmaking that crackles like punk rock but never takes itself seriously. Even with all the head banging going on, it is almost family fare as there are really no bad guys in this comic world, no one gets killed (though there are plenty of bruises and cuts) and by the end you like all the characters in the film who beneath their tough exterior are basically all softies at heart. Filmed with Miike’s usual flair and panache for visuals, it moves with a wonderful sleekness from scene to scene and rarely slows down. Certainly not Miike’s best, but one of his most fun films.


Director: Kenta Fukasuku
90 minutes

Kenta Fukasuku isn’t usually a name that brings happy thoughts to Asian film fans with his misbegotten sequel to Battle Royale and his cheesy (though admittedly somewhat entertaining) follow-up on the classic yo-yo girl action films of the 1980’s – Yo Yo Girl Cop. So one approaches his films with caution and a fast exit strategy – so both Goran and I were taken aback at how much we enjoyed this outing – we sat there just lapping up the lunacy on the screen. Mind you, this is total B genre film making – a women in peril film set out in the hinterlands of Japan – but there isn’t a wasted moment in the film as it grabs your B film sensibilities from the get go and never lets go.

Two young cuties are getting out of Tokyo for a while to regroup – Shiyori to recover from a broken heart and the seemingly airheaded Aiko to take a break from her many boyfriends. What could be better than a few days at one of Japan’s many hot springs to ease away the worries? Of course you may want to do a little more research the next time and not choose a hot spring where the entire village is full of limping men with really bad teeth who like to take an occasional leg from a nubile young woman as a sacrifice. See – they use to be loggers once upon a time and to stop their women folk from leaving when they went away to work they would cut off one of their legs in a ritualistic ceremony. Got to keep your women one-legged and pregnant for a happy home. So when these two show up from Tokyo, the inn keeper eyes their limbs with delight and reminds them to clean their legs carefully. And if that isn’t enough there is also a psychotic one-eyed female walking around with an arsenal of ever larger sharp scissors repeating “snip snip snip” to the girls and eying up Aiko like a pork chop.

Shiyori hears a cell phone ringing in her closet and upon answering it a frantic male voice screams at her to leave the place before they take her leg and suddenly the lights go off and the chase is on. Fortunately, the men at birth all have one of their ankle ligaments cut to keep them from leaving the village and so they are a little slow afoot as Shiyori tries to elude them and their axes. Aiko has her own problems with the crazy woman chasing after her with her scissors dressed in a pink Lolita outfit and a cute bow in her hair – the duel between them - one with a giant – and I mean giant pair of scissors and Aiko with a power saw is classic. Little Aiko turns out to be as tough as steel. For those discerning fans that can enjoy an insane fun romp such as this, I would definitely keep it on your radar after it is released in December.

Nami- The Actress (a.k.a. The Brutal Hopelessness of Love)

Director: Takeshi Ishii
115 minutes

There isn’t much to say about this latest straight to video production from Ishii who seems to jump around the exploitation genre with the occasional bit of serious fare (Freeze Me, Gonin) but more often with trashy and sometimes entertaining films like The Black Angel series, The Flower and Snake films and such. He gives a certain audience what they want – lots of nudity and perversion. Nudity is especially abundant in this film with actress Mai Kitajima displaying her high voltage charms in a series of lasciviously escalating encounters with men. There is a story of sorts surrounding all the flesh – a famous actress Nami is being interviewed about her films and her life and in flashbacks she lays her soul and body bare. It becomes obvious though that all is not what it seems as her film life and her real life seem to mesh and her grasp on reality is fragile at best. But in between her confessions, she manages to have sex a lot – in a number of costumes, positions and locations. It has its moments as Ishii can certainly use light effectively and Mai is an appealing actress, but at the end of the day it doesn’t amount to much and feels like one of Ishii’s less interesting forays into the world of female sexual psychology.

Here's the link to his original post.