Sunday, January 27, 2008

It's All About the Pace

Hi Blog,

The New York Times has an article in it's Movies section today about the inanity and futility of Hollywood's J-Horror remakes. This article is nothing new really-- hell, I wrote about it nearly three years ago in my 'Death of J-Horror?' feature for Midnighteye. But I wanted to share a clipping from the piece as the article's writer, Terrence Rafferty,[obtusely] makes a valid point at the end that I feel is wrong in its conclusion:
"Rhythm is often the most significant difference between Asian horror movies and their American versions: the good Far Eastern directors know that the most interesting part of any ghost story is the buildup, the dawning dread that gradually makes the world feel alien, uncanny." (link)
Mr. Rafferty includes this discussion of Pace in terms of the difference in horror sensibility vis a vis the East and the West, but it is something that is not unique to horror in and of itself.

First off, Pacing is an essential intangible element in a film -- together with Tone -- that is as important as the time signature in a piece of music. But whereas sheet music begins with this, in a movie, the director needs to find it in the script and then hold it inside herself for the entire duration of the filmmaking process. Sure, you can try to 'fix' the Pace (and Tone) in the edit, but as all editors know a film with a well-defined Pace is easier to cut and breathe life into.

What Mr. Rafferty misses (and I'm at the risk of sounding elitist or overly judgemental here, and that is something I don't want to comes across as) is that the Asian horror works better at times because the burden of proof is off of the filmmakers to make you believe that there is a ghost haunting. The notion of the existence of ghosts is built in culturally-- at least in Japan. So the film is all about building the mood: creating the fright and the dread in the audience-- in short, the Pace (and Tone).

As a bit of comparison, you'll notice that the Japanese zombie movie feels much different than the Japanese ghost movie. Structurally it's very similar to what we get in the west, meaning that it all is indebted to George Romero and the 70s Italian stuff. This is because it is an import. The case for zombies existing in the first place has to be made-- same as in the West. In short, it's not a cultural approach to filming horror, it's how to make their audience feel what the director's desire. Once again, that's done through the Pace (and Tone).

Thursday, January 24, 2008

"That Was Kinda Good, Actually!" List - A Best of Addendum of Sorts...

Hi Blog,

Almost a month into 2008 and finally the Midnighteye Best of 2007 list got posted. I'd planned on writing a big addendum to it to be posted on this site but have kinda slacked on it. Nothing special really, but just something to talking a bit about some other films that I saw in 2007 that I either a) forgot to mention or b) didn't have the space/time/energy/whatever to do so. But things have gotten really busy around the old Maboroshii Farm and so I haven't had much time to do this kind of writing.

Suffice to say, I've finally cobbled together a list of some other films that I saw -- non-Japanese this time around -- that I thought worthy of a mention here 'ye olde blog.' We'll call this list, "That Was Kinda Good, Actually!" Best of 07 List.



BOURNE ULTIMATUM- Dir. Paul Greengrass - You know, this one I just plum forgot to put on my Midnighteye list, which is weird because I really like this series and totally loved this entry (though I still haven't bought the DVD of it; waiting to buy it used, I guess.). Around the time that I saw the Bourne Ultimatum I'd just bought a used LaserDisc box-set of Buster Keaton films. It turns out that there's a lot of similarity between what Keaton does and how this film was made. Wait-- WHAT?!

Hear me out:

The action in Keaton's films were often times derived from the location and situation. The physical stunts were predicated on what the surroundings had and so if Keaton was trying to, for example, build a house, his stunts would all come out of the action derived from this set piece. Keaton was known to work with a prop or set experimenting until he found an interesting and humorous way of using it-- often something that we wouldn't typically expect.

According to press materials I read about the Bourne Ultimatum they didn't have a completed script -- more of an outline, I guess? -- and were constantly getting new pages as the shoot went on. The production had a (virtually) unlimited budget and lots of exotic locations and the director Paul Greengrass and his stunt coordinator and crew would work out how they could shoot in their particular location in an unexpected and exciting manner.

Hey! That sure sounds like Buster Keaton's method. In one of my favorite scenes in the film, the Tangiers set-piece is a testament to this style of filmmaking and made for such exhilarating viewing that I went and saw the film twice in as many days just to marvel at it. (Also, watching it at Hollywood's bad-ass Cinerama Dome at the Arclight, didn't hurt I'm sure.)


A L'INTERIEUR (aka. INSIDE) - Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury - Oof! Where do I begin with this film? The buzz and rumors surrounding A L'Interieur had reached me by the time I caught this at a horror fest here in LA. "Grizzly, brutal, intense! One of the goriest films in a long time!!" So, being a sicko, I was excited to see it and steeled myself for the brutality. And you know what? It delivered. I can't deny that. This film is one sick sick SICK puppy. But as to why I couldn't give this film a 'Best of' designation is for two reasons (you can decide yourself if they're worthwhile gripes):

One, the gore is pretty amazing. But none of it really is anything that you haven't seen before. The movie feels like a "best of" gag reel for a special effects house. The plot is similarly thin serving porno-like as a mechanism for connecting effects tricks.

Two, with the thin plot that it has, I just couldn't shake the heavy handed nihilism of the film. Rather than finding it too dark, it just reminded me of the 'Nihilists' in The Big Lebowski. I don't know what's up with Europe, but there are some pretty angry and bleak movies that are being made there at the moment...

THE LOOKOUT - Dir. Scott Frank - File this under a Lawrence Block mystery short story. I liked this simple concept of a former rich jock high school hockey star who after a car accident suffers a debilitating frontal lobe injury and is just trying to live a normal life when he gets wrapped up in a bank robbing scheme. If this film were made back in the 1940s it would've been a cracker-jack noir. The film has modest aims, good performances and [generally] good directing. There are one or two false-notes in the film and the climax for some reason doesn't peak as much as I thought it could've, but I still really liked the film. Worth a look.

VACANCY - Dir. Nimrod Antal - Another film that has modest aims and shoots and scores. This story of shitty, dysfunctional yuppie couple who has a rural car breakdown and has to stay a night at a motel specializing in snuff films is a tightly made, fast paced genre flick. I really enjoyed it and while the ending is lame (Jeeze guys! What's up with writing scripts with lame endings??) the film is fun viewing. It's worth noting that part of the reason that this film is as strong as it is, is because of it's casting and it's direction. The director Nimrod Antal is a multi award winning director whose debut feature Kontroll was featured at -- among other places -- Lincoln Center's prestigious New Directors, New Films back in 2005. Ooh la la!

GARY'S TOUCH (Short) - Dir. Ken Takahashi - Was sent a copy of this by a sick and twisted friend. The best piece of outsider art I've seen in a long while. Inept filmmaking, to be sure, but who cares? There's more energy, ideas and transgression in one minute of this film than in 90 minutes of Saw IV. I'll quote Fantasia's Mitch Davis as to what this film's about: "Gary hangs around toilet seats in women’s bathrooms. Gary keeps containers of his semen in a refrigerator. Gary walks alone. Imagine a Buddy Giovinazzo film crossed with Harmony Korine and Jorg Buttgereit..."(link) Holy shit.

That's all for now!

Amoeba Music Videos: Talib Kweli & Six Organs of Admittance

Hi Blog,

Took a while but Talib Kweli has finally approved the music video and rockumentary that I cut for Amoeba Music way back when. (Even has the old ghetto title that I did before we had the new branded template.) Anyhoo, there's some unique stuff in this so if ya like your Kweli then check it out. (This was in support of his recent album Ear Drum.)

The other is a clip for San Francisco based uber-guitarist Six Organs of Admittance. The turn around on this video was crazy fast: like less than a week between cutting, color correction and posting for approval and getting approval. Nice.

Talib Kweli (Interview):

Talib Kweli (Performance):

Six Organs of Admittance (Performance):

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Studio 4ºC's 'GENIUS PARTY BEYOND' - World Premiere in Washington DC at the Kennedy Center!

Hi Blog,

I've known about this for a year and half but couldn't talk about it as I made a promise to the kind folks at Studio 4ºC. This is the real reason why all of you film festivals were having a hard time booking Genius Party and the sequel Genius Party Beyond (that's apparently the title of the second film!).

What I was told was that since they were asked by the Kennedy Center to bring something unique to JAPAN! CULTURE AND HYPER CULTURE (February 5-17, 2008) festivities Studio 4ºC wanted to reserve Genius Party as their special contribution. This is why NYAFF couldn't get Genius Party last year and why Fantasia couldn't either etc etc.

Start your booking now. I'm sure that once the Genius Party films have had their screening in DC they'll be available for your local film festival.

Now only if I can get to DC to see this.... (Probably not though...)

The 'Genius Parties' will be screening on February 15-16, 2008.

Info here.

“We called it Che Guevara crossed with Jesus Christ by way of Andy Warhol”

Hi Blog,

It turns out I was right: Rambo is Che and... Jesus?! (Nope. Musta missed that part...)

After snooping around on-line for more info, I found that a certain monsieur 'Cheesesteak the Impaler' of the coolly name Bostodelphia blog actually scooped me on the whole Rambo/Che thing that I wrote about in a previous post. After contacting him about it he just posted back a response mentioning that he had uncovered some new info about the who Rambo/Che ad campaign. As it turns out The New York Times ran an article on January 13th (pic above) called "Tough Guys for Tough Times" (written by Alex Williams) which focuses on the new rise of 80s action stars and their new pop-cultural status.

Comments in the article run from the typical "Everyone is talking about change...[people] want to go back to the way things were, the things they knew." to "Everything seems to be up for grabs; we don’t believe in institutions. This country needs stability, and in an archetypal, hyperbolic way, that’s what these figures represent.”

But the real mind blowing one is the what I have chosen to call this post, courtesy of Lionsgate's co-president for theatrical marketing, Mr. Tim Palen:

It helps that these figures need no introduction. “Stallone and Rambo are huge, iconic images already,” said Tim Palen, who works at Lionsgate, the “Rambo” studio, as a co-president for theatrical marketing. “It’s really kind of holy territory, especially when it comes to young males, and males in general.”

WHEN marketing executives were deciding on a strategy to sell the new “Rambo” film, they shunned splashy posters in favor of a minimalist image of a black spray-painted stencil outline of Rambo’s head on a white background.

“We called it Che Guevara crossed with Jesus Christ by way of Andy Warhol,” Mr. Palen said. “In a way, he’s all of those.” (Link.)

There's a lot I suppose I could write about this, but in the end I agree with Cheesesteak's analysis of it all -- which you should go and check out if you have a moment -- and that is: as long as it gets tickets sold, no one cares about what it actually means.

I'll let you decide if that's problematic or not-- idiotic though it may be-- I think you can guess what I think.

(My previous post is here.)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

From Twitch: Masaaki Yuasa has a new anime coming out!

Hi Blog,

Don't usually like to repost stuff that I've read on (cuz most of my traffic is from people who visit their site too, duh!), but this is both good news and related to a bunch of Studio 4ºC stuff that I've written about here before.

From Twitch:

"Fantastic news here for animation fans. Word has come down that Masaaki Yuasa will be returning to the Japanese airwaves in April with a new series titled Kaiba. Very little is known about the series yet beyond that it is a science fiction oriented love story but the sheer fact that Yuasa at the helm makes this absolutely compulsory viewing. His feature debut, Mind Game, was one of the most startlingly original and utterly compelling pieces of work I’d come across in some time and his television directorial debut Kemonozume has displaced Neon Genesis Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop and Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex to become my favorite anime series ever. Yes, he is really that good. Now somebody out there make Todd a happy boy and license this one along with Kemonozume so I can get decent English friendly versions of them on DVD." (link.)
Señor Todd Brown neglects to mention Yuasa Masaaki's contribution to 4ºC's Genius Party Volume One (HAPPY MACHINE), but I do agree that Yuasa is one of the best 'anime minds' currently working in Japan. Bar none.

This link to Japanese cable channel WOWOW's KAIBA splash page doesn't have any links to any trailer or nuthin' but you can go and see it just to look at some Japanese language characters if you want.

Previous postings: on Mindgame and Studio 4ºC Here and Here.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

CAPSULE REVIEW 2: The Girl Who Jumped Through Time (aka. Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo)

THE GIRL WHO LEPT THROUGH TIME (aka. Toki Wo Kakeru Shoujo)
dir. HOSODA Mamorou
Naka Riisa
Ishida Takuya
Itakura Mitsutaka
Kakiuchi Mitsuki
Hara Sachie
Sekido Yuki

98 min.
Format viewed: DVD

Hi Blog, Been a delay in writing and posting more capsule reviews here. While I've still been watching stuff there just seems to be less time to write about it.... Anyway, let's get on with it.

Hosoda Mamorou's Madhouse production and Kadokawa Herald Pictures distributed anime Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo (aka. TokiKake) is another sci-fi time and logic bender from the fertile mind of author Tsutsui Yasutaka. Famous for writing the source material for that other anime that came out in 2006, Kon Satoshi's Paprika, Tsutsui's story is about firsts and how despite our best intentions we often squander what is most valuable in our lives only to find that we don't miss it until it's gone. I'm writing, of course, about 'time' more than 'love'-- but TokiKake's story as handled by director Hosoda makes little distinction between the two.

Makoto Konno is a regular high school girl who is best friends with two guys: Chiaki and Kosuke. Though just platonic friends, there's a hint of romantic tension between Chiaki and Makoto. When Makoto stumbles upon a totem item that enables her to literally 'jump through time', she uses it at first to satisfy all of her ingenuous fantasies. These consist mainly of eating her fill of her family's deserts and then jumping back in time to avoid detection, but when she starts using her power to avoid a declaration of love from Chiaki we get the sense that something bigger is about to happen. And it does. Right when Chiaki most needs her ability to jump through time to avert the death of Kosuke and his girlfriend she discovers that she has a finite number of jumps and has used up almost all of them. By using this last one to save her friend's life she soon learns that she has somehow sacrificed her friendship with Chiaki, who must now go away. Though I don't want to explain why, because it is a spoiler, suffice to say that we learn that mop-headed Chiaki is not who he appears to be...

An interesting fact that might not be known to most anime fans and certainly not to most non-Japanese anime fans is that there was an original live-action adaptation of TokiKake done in 1983 directed by Obayashi Nobuhiko (of HAUSU fame!). A hit at the time of its release and still remembered fondly by those who were teenagers back in the day, it has not been disregarded for this anime production. In a neat bit of connectivity, the Madhouse animated version of TokiKake includes the main character of that version, Yoshikawa Tomoko, as Makoto's aunt in this story. The aunt we learn in this film version is somehow key to the plot and she hints that she is aware of the abilities that Makoto has gained. Not to be cute here, but to see how, you'll need to watch the movie.

Madhouse's animation is very good for this production. One of the top animation houses in Japan -- and in the world (to my mind) -- Madhouse gives the animation in the film a clean and (somehow) optimistic air. The color palette tends towards the bright end of the crayon drawer with a unique, almost Evangelion inspired character design by Sadamoto Yoshiyuki. (It should, therefore, come as no surprise that he did character design on various Evangelion series.) Sound design and score are solid and all production values are really top-notch.

In addition, the storytelling is spry and well realized with a good economy. While I wasn't as floored by this anime-- because, quite frankly, I don't think it was aimed at someone like me -- I found it a sweet film that was well worth my time and most likely yours. Bandai Entertainment has licensed the film for US distro. Check this out to find out where you can get your copy. (Bottom right corner.)

Sunday, January 6, 2008


LA is plastered with these Rambo posters in a fevered run-up to its January 25th release.

Driving past them over and over again I've been wondering when did Rambo-- the symbol of Ronald Reagan's 1980s-- become a Cuban revolutionary? Because there is more than a passing similarity to the famous Alberto Korda picture of the communist Che Guevara that has become the uber-symbol of dissent and revolution (and fashion!) for pimply youths all around the world.

Are the guys at Lionsgate serious?

(You know, I can't post this without including the incredibly excessive trailer. Just let it load and skip to minute two. Unbelievable.)

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happy New Year! Deadly Mochi Claims Five -- Will the madness never end??

Hi Blog,

Happy New Year! Or as it is formally written nihongo de: 謹賀新年!

It wouldn't be a new year without the annual culling of the elderly through sticky balls of glutinous rice - aka. Mochi. An annual occurrence along the lines of Christmas tree fires in the west, every year a few unfortunate souls choke on a bit of tradition that dates back hundreds of years.

"Five people died in the Kanto area on Tuesday and Wednesday after choking on sticky "mochi" rice cake, it was learned Thursday.

In Tokyo, a total of 13 people were rushed to hospital on New Year's Day and the following day after choking on mochi, according to the Tokyo Fire Department. Two of them -- a 59-year-old man from Ota-ku and an 83-year-old man from Adachi-ku -- died on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

A 71-year-old man from Oyama, Tochigi Prefecture, a 76-year-old man from Tomioka, Gunma Prefecture, and another man living in Yokohama also died after choking on the bubblegum-textured rice cake.

Mochi is traditionally served during the New Year's period in Japan." (link)

I ask you, when will the madness end? (And how can this not remind one of the Monty Python's 'Crunchy Frog' skit?)