Thursday, May 31, 2007

New York Asian Film Festival (The Best Asian Film Festival in the States) Gets Screwed by Midway Games

So, the guys who run this film festival are very good friends of mine. The hard work and passion that they put into the New York Asian Film Festival every year is an astounding thing to experience-- and a yearly reminder that there are still decent folks out there who still do it just for the 'love'.

This year's line-up was absolutely stellar and had been made possible in large part to a major sponsorship by Midway Games. But as the press release below states, Midway Games rudely decided to drop their festival support without so much as a phone call. The complete and total lack of class and consideration is appalling, but the festival will live on in spite of such callous behavior.

But here's the thing for you to do: if you live in or near NYC you must go to this festival. The movies are awesome, the crowds are amazing and the experience is fantastic. The link to their website is on this page and I will post their (new) line-up just as soon as we have it.

Press Release begins here:

Subway Cinema never thought that the people who invented Ms. Pac-Man would
kick us to the curb, but a mere four weeks before the start of the New York
Asian Film Festival (June 22 – July 8), Midway Games, who had been working
with us as the festival’s presenting sponsor, have pulled out of the
festival entirely.

How did we find this out? One of our members was meeting a team from Midway
at the IFC Center so they could measure the lobby for the installation of
the video game consoles that would launch their new game at our festival.
They never showed up, and they never called. When we finally tracked them
down by phone in Chicago they curtly informed us that they were not giving
us the sponsorship money, the decision was out of their hands and offered
little in the way of further explanation.

The damage has been devastating. We had been working on press releases with
their publicity department, organizing parties to their specifications and
promoting their game with our good name. We had expanded the festival, paid
higher fees for movies, brought in out-of-town guests, and were planning a
number of events to be paid for with the money we had been told was coming
from Midway. Now we don’t even have a quarter left in the bank to soothe our
woes with a game of Tron.

But we will not let this festival die.

Already, we’ve been overwhelmed by offers of support from companies like
ImaginAsian and Magnolia who have stepped in and asked what they can do to
help. Our members are further alienating their loved ones by digging deep
into their own pockets to cover the costs of the festival. We’re currently
in the process of restructuring the fest and will announce some changes as
well as our full line-up and schedule on Monday, June 4.

We want everyone to know that Midway Games and “John Woo presents
Stranglehold” are no longer associated with the New York Asian Film Festival
in any way, shape or form.

But don’t weep for us. The festival is still happening because the New York
Asian Film Festival is like a zombie bunny made of love. It is unstoppable,
it is super-cute, it is coming for your brains and it will always believe in
the healing powers of the weird, wild whirlwind of fun that is Asian cinema.

But we will never look at Ms. Pac-Man in quite the same way again.

Out of the Darkness Trailer on Google Video

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Scars of the Sun (aka. Sun Scarred aka. Miike Takashii's Tiayou no kizu) 太陽の傷

Scars of the Sun (aka. Sun Scarred)
Tiayou no kizu

DIRECTOR: Miike Takashi
Aikawa Sho
Sato Aiko

120 Minutes
Format Viewed: Japanese DVD

Back in January and February of this year I was (wonderfully) stuck down in Okinawa dealing with some US immigration issues (long story). Because I suddenly had a large amount of time on my hands and there is only so much screenplay writing one can physically do a day, I was hitting the old Tsutaya once a week and renting about 10 to 15 films and TV shows at a time. It was pure Japanese media saturation and a great chance to catch up on new releases and a bunch of obscure 1970s ATG productions. (More on the Art Theater Guild at another time.)

One of the films I watch while there was Miike Takashi [then] newly released SCARS OF THE SUN (aka. Taiyou no Kizu). Here's a mini-review of the film that I wrote (in part) back in January (and the rest now). I apologize for the cobbled-together feel of it!

So I watched Miike's fantastic TAIYO NO KIZU last night and I liked it a lot. It's a surprisingly serious production and one that somehow dodges all potential comedic pitfalls that would hit a film with this kind of concept: teenage kids vs. middle age men. The speculation way back when on only added to this saying essentially that the film was veteran Japanese film actor (and V-Cinema star) Aikawa Sho vs. middle school kids. It is not camp at all. In fact, it's dark stuff and the violence in the film is very stark. This is truly post IZO Miike.

First off the film is shot really well. I think that they might have shot it on DV-CAM (DVX-100B?) or HD but regardless it has a really nice film-like and well considered look to it. Not the usual flat and poorly lit nonsense that most recent Japanese films have suffered from-- which is a welcome relief, especially considering that it IS shot on video. The technical end is solid-- especially considering they're shooting some parts wild, out in the real world. (Eagle-eyed viewers will note that Miike can be seen in the background-- in one of opening scenes-- as a train passenger!)

What's really exciting about this movie is that Miike is playing with the filmmaking form in inventive and unique ways that reminds me of the fearless creativity of Japanese filmmakers 30 years ago. One could safely say that this is the benefit of being such a prolific filmmaker who has shot so many different types of productions. This time out, because it's a low-budget guerilla-style filmmaking, he can really play with the film language and not worry about tanking a major production.

So what's it really about? I could call it 'The children are not all right' and that would kind of explain it. I could also put it in a generic Hollywood pitch as a kind of combo of STRAW DOGS meets Schrader's HARDCORE. But it's somehow more than that, Miike and screenwriter Okawa Toshimichi have done a great job creating a world that feels like there's no moral justice and where truly only the good die young (and horribly). Aikawa stumbles upon a group of nasty teenager boys who are beating up a homeless man to an inch of his life. Unable to ignore this Aikawa intevenes and proceeds to take a beating before he seriously fucks up some kids and gets into trouble with the police. Though they are as powerful as full-grown men, they are still protected by the laws governing minors and in the eyes of the law, an adult has beat up a child and that is illegal. Stinging from the injustice of this all, Aikawa has no choice but to acccept it and go on with his life.

Unfortunately, that proves impossible. When the ring-leader of the group of hooligans, holding a grudge, kidnaps and murders Aikawa's young daughter he is punished to the full extent of the law. But the forces of fate are against Aikawa and his wife, wracked with guilt that becomes psychosis, commits suicide. Aikawa truly hits rock-bottom, moving through his life as if it were a colorless plane of meaningless existence. (Realized visually, in this section, in black and white.)

Several years later the young murderer is released from prison, has his name changed and is relocated to a rural part of Japan. When Aikawa discovers this fact he bristles at the injustice of it all: his life was devastated, but this brat has a second chance to get it right? This focuses him and he vows to hunt down the young psycho who destroyed his world and, at all costs, to kill him.

Riding with Aikawa Sho from the get-go, we are prithee to the 'real story' of what happens to him and his family. This continues through the entirety of the film (and Aikawa's in like 85% of the scenes or something) and through this we witness the hell he goes through and so it's inevitable that he's going to snap and that the film is going to end very badly for all involved. But this does not make it a revenge flick per se, but more of a film about how a psychotic 15-year-old and a middle-age man become irrevocably intertwined-- and how this leads to both their mutual destruction and affects the lives those surrounding them.

There has been some criticism of the film for dwelling in demagogury, but for me, I find that it's less pandering than it is truly a 1970s-style exploitation flick. What I mean by this is, in the same way that ROLLING THUNDER, STRAW DOGS, or even HARDCORE detail men who are living their lives, not causing harm to anyone but are compelled into action when outside forces come in and turn their worlds upside down and justice proves ellusive they're faced with the only option left: revenge. TIAYOU NO KIZU takes an issue that is occuring more and more in Japan-- youth gone out of control and violent-- and runs with it.

What is facinating about the film is that Aikawa's character is warned repeatedly by his friends and allies that, as hard as it might be to do, he should let the situation drop and move on with his life. Of course he doesn't (or can't) and the revenge ends up consuming him entirely. In this sense the movie is similar to Miike's IZO, which for all its grand guignol bloodshed and violence is ultimately a ham-fisted anti-war (anti-violence) film. TAIYOU NO KIZU can be read in the same way as an anti-violence, anti-revenge film.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Real Doll Doctor Screening this Summer at Rooftop Films 2007

My 2002 documentary short, REAL DOLL DOCTOR, on the super weird Real Dolls and the even more eccentric guy who buys them used, refurbishes them and resells them on eBay will be screening this summer at the NYC Rooftop Films Summer Series. Info here. (I will update with specific scheduling time once I have it.)

This is kind of an exciting thing for me since the film is five years old and already had some screenings way back when. It was then picked up for a five year distro by UK company Shorts International (aka. Britshorts) right after I made it. What's interesting is that after such a long hiatus the film screened fairly recently during the 2006 Hartford International Film Festival. The response was quite good to it and people keep telling me how much they like the film, which is very cool! So, the fact that it's been asked to screen at the Rooftop festival indicates that the freaky subject matter still entrances people and that there is still more to this story to tell.

REAL DOLL DOCTOR is near and dear to me because it was a short that I never really got to cut into its imagined form. Made during my first year at NYU graduate film school, I was under a 10 minute time limit which severely cut into many of my storylines and choice shots (read: really crazy stuff). For years I've been fantasizing about recutting the film for it's original 25~30 minute scripted running time but it never happened.

That said, with all of the recent interest in the film and the farther out I've gotten from the original production period the more I've been interested in visiting old Slade (the titular Real Doll 'doctor') again and seeing what he's up to. Now that I am settled in LA (the West coast where the film was shot) I am thinking of reviving those old connections to him and seeing where some more shooting will take me... So who knows? Will a longer Real Doll Doctor happen? The signs seem to indicate that it will.

For the pervs and fans of the weird out there, here's a link to Abyss Creations' Real Doll website and to Slade's "Real Doll Doctor" site. (He adopted the name after my documentary.)

Oh, and here's a long forgotten review by Eric Campos from


Monday, May 28, 2007

The Fearless Avenger (Mushukunin Mikogami no Jokichi: Kawakaze ni Kako ha Nagareta)

The Fearless Avenger
Mushukunin Mikogami no Jokichi: Kawakaze ni Kako ha Nagareta

Director: Ikehiro Kazuo
Harada Yoshio
Nakamura Atsuo
Minegishi Ryunosuke

80 minutes
Format Viewed: DVD (Animeigo)

The second film of the Mikogami trilogy and for some mysterious reason named “The Fearless Avenger” though the Japanese title should be translated to something like “The past flows on the river breeze.” You know what? On second thought, “The Fearless Avenger” really is a better title, seeing as this series of films is constructed on one of the old standbys of the Chanbara genre: revenge.

Our favorite razor finger nailed hero, Jokichi from Mikogami, apparently is not that good at what he is billed as being: a badass sword fighter and general ass kicker. He, however, IS good at starting up trouble and inevitably getting over his head into it. Right here we’re already in some interesting territory for the Chanbara genre—and this is one of the reasons why this second film of the Mikogami trilogy is ultimately more interesting than the enjoyable first installment.

While in title it is a revenge story—and this series still has Jokichi hot and bothered on the trail of bloody revenge for the men whole brutally raped and murdered his wife and slaughtered his young son—it proves to be a greater lesson of how shitty life really was in old Edo; how the rich and powerful held onto power in through coercion, manipulation and strong-armed tactics (some things never change!). We also learn that having three main bad guys is a perfect equation for a trilogy because you only need to kill one baddy a time at the rousing climax of each film. But what makes this all alternately interesting and occasionally frustrating is that Jokichi’s odds of survival in these films are so totally against him that he has no choice but to be saved by dumb-luck, last minute decisions for mercy by scheming Yakuza honchos (they never learn, do they?), and the occasional mysterious sword fighter, who has an incredibly well-defined moral compass and stunning sword skills.

Jokichi still on his quest for revenge makes a rash decision to assassinate the evil Chogoro while he is at a meeting of the eight Yakuza heads during the memorial for a deceased comrade. This show of bravado and stupidity guarantees Jokichi a death sentence, which is narrowly averted by Boss Juzaburo, who, for some reason, desires harmony at this important occasion. Now totally in Juzaburo’s debt, Jokichi is hesitant to take up boss Umezo’s request to guard and transport Juzaburo’s daughter Oyuki back to him. Ultimately Jokichi has no choice in the matter and agrees to transport Oyuki through the danger forests home. But tragedy strikes when Oyuki is raped and murdered (this seems to be par for the course in old Japan) and Jokichi becomes truly stuck between bad and worse. All that remains for him is to walk down the path of hell that is his fate in life and fight for his survival and maybe, kill those who destroyed his life.

So, after watching The Mikogami films and Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance Harada Yoshio is officially one of the oddest choices for badass swordsman. Though a relatively famous actor in the seventies who was well-known for embodying anti-hero pathos, he is a veteran of countless films (and still working at a mind-bending rate, thank you very much). That said, there’s something about his slightly cross-eyed, shaggy-haired Jokichi that is anathema to the Chanbara genre. What he does do well as an actor is force and brooding anger. What he doesn’t do so well is romancing the ladies, generally appearing too soft or sensitive—at least to this reviewer’s eyes. While not a bad actor in these early films of his career, he isn’t nearly as engaging enough of a performer to really support the weight of these films. But as I mentioned at the start, that didn’t really matter, what people were coming to these films for was the comfort of the Chanbara genre with, perhaps, a bit of a twist of something new. This time it is a razor taloned sword fighter who is a bit of a fuck up who gets beaten constantly. That, in and of itself, was something that you didn’t see too much in Chanbara. Jokichi is interesting to watch because he doesn’t seem so super powerful, or super human-- that alone made for a different type of viewing experience.

This all being said, the Mikogami films aren’t, honestly, the best of the Chanbara genre. While fun to watch, they are very obvious quickie cash-ins—but that’s what program pictures were intended to be, cash machines. Therefore this film and others of the exploitation genre should be viewed in the same sort of context as the modern V-Cinema flick: they satisfy the hankering for this kind of storytelling. You want O-Toro and Kobe Beef? Don’t eat at the mall. You want some comfort food, maybe a pretty good burger? This is the place to come.

Trail of Blood (Mushukunin Mikogami no Jokichi: Kiba ha Hikisaita)

Trail of Blood (Part One of the Mikogami Trilogy)
Mushukunin Mikogami no Jokichi: Kiba ha Hikisaita

Director: Ikehiro Kazuo
Harada Yoshio
Nakamura Katsuo
Ishimatsu Ryunosuke

88 minutes
Format Viewed: DVD (Animeigo)

1960s and 70s Chanbara films (sword fighting films) are like pulling on an old pair of jeans: familiar and comfortable (partly because they are familiar). They aren’t meant to do much more than entertain and pass the time; they feel familiar because the stories are recycled (as are the actors and the sets) and the action set pieces are more or less the same.

1960s and 70s Chanbara films are also like hamburgers in the same way that you get a craving for one occasionally and then satisfy it. It’s not supposed to be an everyday meal—at least it shouldn’t be if you want to remain healthy, right? Part of the ‘thing’ about these Chanbara films is that they are sword fight movies made by and for sword fight fans. Basically, if you don’t like burgers, you don’t eat them and if you don’t like sword fights, then stay away from these films. They’re for the hungry fans.

I’ll make this clear: I like the Chabara film genre a lot. I don’t expect anything revolutionary and (overly) surprising from these films when I watch them. I gravitate to them when I am in the mood for a thematic treatment of right triumphing over wrong delivered through a sword. It’s that simple.

Director Ikehiro Kazuo is a veteran of the sword genre and came to Trail of Blood after making a slew Chanbara films during the 60s (including several Zatoichi and Nemuri Kyoshiro installments) with a journeyman’s knowledge of what makes one of these films tick.

For a time, what defined the Chanbara film and (therefore) filled seats was to take the equation of a badass stranger with a sword who rolls into town. Next add some sort of local problem that he gets wrapped up in (usually reluctantly) and then, after getting drawn into it, having him get brutally beaten up by the local bad guys. Finally the hero exacts a glorious (and sometimes bloody) revenge typically in a closing blowout that resets all wrongs to rights and the film ends with the hero wandering off to his destiny. The end.

As is to be expected, the audience occasionally tires of the same old thing, new package gimmick and in order to stymie this, the studios would add a little twist to the recipe to give it a different flavor. Enter the blind (or handicap) swordsmen, the female swordswomen, the anti-hero, the swordsman who uses his, ahem, ‘flesh-sword’ for interrogation purposes and, in the case of Trail of Blood, the swordsman with long nails.

The man with said nails, Jokichi ‘from Mikogami’, is a worn out swordsman who after suffering a particularly savage beating decides that maybe it’s time to go straight. Shacking up with the first prostitute he meets (Okimi, who also wants to go straight) they move far away to find their fortunes and be fruitful—but not before raising the ire of a group of yakuza thugs who a) like sleeping with Okimi and b) don’t like a smart ass swordsman telling ‘em what to do. Even with the odds stacked against them, Okimi and Jokichi manage to move to their own piece of land and carve out a quiet life for a short time before their whereabouts are discovered and their lives are brutally disrupted.

Falling squarely into the middle of a rival gang war, Jokichi is forced out of retirement to revenge the deaths of his wife and son, while also managing to lose two of his fingers. But rather than hindering his swordsmanship, Jokichi sharpens the nails on his remaining three fingers and turns it into a razor-sharp finger pitch-fork-- all the better to slash his enemies eyes!

The first installment of the Mikogami Trilogy (see part two’s The Fearless Avenger review), Trail of Blood runs at a brisk pace, has clear storytelling, solid performances, striking visuals and a fantastic score (one of the funkiest of the 70s sword flicks, to my ears, easily winning a cool ‘10’ on the booty-shaking scale!). The fights are good and the blood sprays ejaculates in copious crimson plumes. Collected this all together, if you’re a fan of the Chanbara genre then you already have a good reason to check out the film; but another reason for watching Trail of Blood is for Japanese film historical reasons: cinematographer Miyagawa Kazuo.

While not a household name in Japan-- or anywhere for that matter-- Miyagawa Kazuo’s work is familiar to even the passing Japanese cinema fan. Clearly a giant in Japanese film his career spanned more than 50 years and included cinematography on a veritable who’s who and what’s what of Japanese film: Kurosawa Akira’s Rashomon and Yojimbo, Mizoguchi Kenji’s Ugetsu Monogatari (Ugetsu) and Sansho Dayu (Sansho The Bailiff), Ichikawa Kon’s Tokyo Olympiad, Masumura Yasuo’s Irezumi (The Tattoo) and even an installment of the sleazy and exploitative Razor films! I mean, who was this guy? And yet here we find him doing solid cinematography on a slice ‘em up Toho program picture like Trail of Blood.

Rather than be a sad thing that such a talented and genius cinematographer would be working on an exploitation film, I think it’s kind of cool that he’s working on a genre film that most of the most prudish filmgoer wouldn’t be found dead at. Reason being, you never know what kind of riches you’ll find when you watch a Chanbara flick; that’s what makes them so much fun to watch. Essentially, Trail of Blood has everything that it needs to satisfy that Chanbara hankering but what really makes it cool is what’s unexpected about it—the ‘bonuses’ if you will: a funktastic score, razor talons, and solid genre cinematography by one of the masters. All I can say is enjoy!

Mikogami Trilogy-- Well, parts one and two...

What follows are two reviews that I wrote for Midnight Eye back in the Winter (2006) which weren't ultimately published. Not wanting them to be orphans forever, I've posted them in two parts.

Many more reviews are to come...

Statement of Purpose!

This has been a long time in coming and something that I have debated doing for many years-- and it looks like, at long last, I will finally pull the trigger and commit myself to the wonderful responsibilty of blogging!

As many of you might know, I am a regular contributor (and US correspondent) to the Japanese film website Midnight Eye ( Throughout my long involvement with them I have written some film criticisms which have not been used for various reasons: some didn't fit into the editorial guidlines of the site, some just weren't well written and some got lost in the shuffle.

Not wanting these reviews to fall off into the abyss and also wanting to promote my own filmmaking endevors, I've decided that to blog is actually a good thing!

So here's what I promise you, my faithful readers, from here on out:

1. Japanese film reviews-- many from Japanese language only releases. These would be obscure, forgotten, or just plain esoteric films that I've watched that I want to tell you about.

2. Japanese music reviews: I've been buying old Japanese movie soundtracks and music (punk, noise, psychadelic, enka) for several years. Now is a chance for me to talk about them!

3. Maboroshii Productions news: simply is anything that is going on with me and my film and TV work.

And that's about it! I hope that you check in regularly!

Let's see where it goes!