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:
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)
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Sunday, October 28, 2007
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:
SHONBI NO MONO
Vol. Ninja Band of Assassins
Dir. Yamamoto Satsuo
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!
Friday, October 26, 2007
Thursday, October 25, 2007
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
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.)
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.
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!
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.
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:
** 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
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
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
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
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.
Busy days here, but I'm trying to get some new posts up.
I meant to post this several weeks back and this is being mentioned more as a head's up since Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp have yet to post anything about it on Midnighteye, but the new issue of KATEIGAHO International Edition, a Japanese lifestyle and culture magazine in English, has as one of its features a focus on modern Japanese cinema.
But as the title of this post indicates, as part of their Japanese cinema focus Kateigaho asked Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp (the founders of Midnighteye) to talk about modern Japanese cinema and submit a list of must see films. The choices are interesting-- but not surprising if you read their reviews with any regularity-- and whether you agree with all of the choices or not (I don't...) it's definitely worth a peek.
The rest of the Japanese Cinema round up is actually surprisingly interesting and not nearly as obvious in its focus on current Japanese cinema than one would have expected. The interviews and essays are pretty interesting and surprisingly timely and would be a good reference volume, if you collect such things.
Issues of Kateigaho are available at your local Japanese book shop-- but be warned, they are pricey at ¥1,260 (!). (Conceivably, these are magazines you can keep on your coffee table for eternity... which might assuage your bruised wallet.)
Here's a link to an old interview with Tom and Jasper about the genesis of Midnighteye.