Sunday, February 24, 2008


Hi Blog,

Yesterday's Japan Times had an interesting column on the cocktail known as "Chuhai" that's well worth a read, if you have an interest in Japanese booze.

Anyone who has gone out on a bender in Japan has inevitably supplemented their bar drinking with a can of this stuff, while they stumble from one location to another. The reason? It's cheap and rather tasty.

Here're some interesting factoids from the article:
  • The term "Chuhai" is derived from the words Shochu and Highball, with Shochu being a traditional Japanese spirit distilled from any number of ferment-able foodstuffs.
  • Those can "Chuhai" (pictured above) don't have any Shochu in them; instead the alcohol is Vodka?!
  • For all of you boozers out there, there's more alcohol per volume in the cans of citrus flavored Chuhai rather than the other soft fruit flavors. The reason? Citrus flavors demand more alcohol to achieve a better taste combination. (Also, the ladies prefer the non-citrus flavors and according to Kirin Breweries, women don't want as much alcohol in their bevies.)
  • A real "Chuhai"-- made with Shochu that is-- is known as a Ganso (元祖) Chuhai. The article recommends that you go to "...the area in eastern Tokyo along the Keisei train lines..." to try this style of Shochu.
Read on here for more info!

Here's a Chuhai commercial with a guy catching a Frisbee with his teeth:

Monday, February 18, 2008

Coin Locker Babies

Hi Blog,

A quick follow up on the Asano Tadanobu post from yesterday here. The long rumored "Coin Locker Babies" film adaptation of the eponymous Murakami Ryu book is now categorized as "in production" on regular IMDB and "unknown" on IMDB-Pro.

Though mentioned at Twitchfilm way back in March 2005, there was no discussion about how this was a pet project of Sean Lennon (?!) who had optioned the book way back when and has cast himself in one of the parts (presumably, one of the twins). The fact that the story revolves around a pop star and his twin and how they're trying to track down and murder the mother who abandoned them in a coin locker as, you guessed it, babies, is very interesting. Perhaps Yoko needs to hire more protection?

Asano is supposedly still attached, but we'll see. Though there is now a larger crew list complete with cinematographer Steve Gainer's credit and Miramax as distributer, I can't verify the film's status on line.

The key question I have is will the film be in English or Japanese? What will Asano speak?

Anyway, file this under wait and see. Here's a blurb from about some Coin Locker Babies teaser that was on the 2006 Sean Lennon "Friendly Fire":

After Grand Royal Records' demise in 2001, Sean signed with Capitol Records, yet no solo material surfaced until early February 2006, when "Dead Meat" was released as the first single from his new album, Friendly Fire. A promotional trailer for the CD/DVD package of Friendly Fire was leaked online in early 2006. The trailer featured scenes from the film version of the album, a DVD of music videos comprised into a film. In actuality, the videos were screen tests for Coin Locker Babies, another project on which Lennon is working, and rather than waste film, he decided to create a cinematic counterpart to his new album. Friendly Fire went on to be released in October, 2006. (link.)

(Sean Lennon - Headlights Music Video: Will Coin Locker Babies look like this?)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Capsule 3: TOKYO ZOMBIE and ELI, ELI, LEMBA SABACHTANI (Two with Asano Tadanobu)

Hi Blog,

As to be expected, I've got quite the pile of screeners sitting around here. I keep on hoping to catch up on all of the movies I've picked up or had given to me recently, but it's proving to be more difficult than I ever expected. I remember being at college and almost nightly sitting down in the old film department theater and watching two or three films in a row-- with a couple of Fat Albert or Simpsons cartoons thrown in to boot. In this way I was able to see a bunch of stuff and through this fall in love with Asian cinema.

Anyway, as I've gotten older I've discovered that collecting movies is kind of like trying to bail out water from a sinking ship-- basically hopeless; I've got more movies to see than time to watch. In kind of a cool way this has allowed me to always have stuff lying about that I want to see and an added bonus is that I can watch some films that were all buzz a year or so back when the critical or fan hype has died down; this allows me to enjoy it on its own terms.

So as the subject line for this posting states, I finally got around to watch two very different films starring Asano Tadanobu. Asano is an actor who I quite enjoy but I think that it's not so much his performance that I like as much as his on-screen personality. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I never get totally lost in his performance-- perhaps with the exception of KOROSHIYA ICHI or maybe LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE --but I enjoy watching his stuff and (in a sense) 'hanging out with him.' Speaking of hanging out, I've also been fortunate to have met up with Asano several times and am happy to report that he is a very nice chap, who is both totally mellow and easy to talk to. It should come as no surprise considering his marriage to Japanese pop idol Chara, to learn that his first love is music and acting is more or less something that he views as his job.

TOKYO ZOMBIE (aka. Tokyo Zonbi)
dir. Sato Sakichi

Asano Tadanobu
Aikawa Sho
Okuda Erika
Furuta Arata
Matsuoka Hina

103 min.
Format Viewed: Japanese DVD

A couple of weeks ago I wanted to watch a fun piece of action/horror fluff and it seemed like a good time to check out TOKYO ZOMBIE. As most all active Japanese genre fans probably know, this was the long anticipated feature debut from bizarro genre scribe Sato Sakichi. (Who coincidentally has a cameo in the Asano starrer LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE as well as much more prominent gag appearance in Quentin Tarantino's genre milk-shake KILL BILL: VOL. 1).

Designed to be a kind of irreverent... I don't know what, TOKYO ZOMBIE is from its opening shots a silly movie. I knew from the DVD cover that this film was going to go for the obvious gags over the harder earned ones, by putting stars Asano Tadanobu and Aikawa Sho in goofy wigs (afro and bald ones respectively). The world they operate in is a kind of manga influenced one with production design tending towards digital mattes and cgi shading while the story is a half-baked mess of bro-love expressed via jujitsu pins and random verbal associations. (Does this makes sense? Nope, neither does the film.)

The plot goes something like this: Fujio (Tadanobu Asano) and Mitsuo (Sho Aikawa) are two garbage men (?) who get wrapped up in a zombie apocalypse when they deposit the corpse of their loud mouthed boss, whom Fujio murdered, at a mount of black dirt called Kuro Fuji-san, which we learn in an opening preface is a blackened trash pile version of Mt. Fuji, which has become a repository for all of the Japanese society's waste. When the chemicals from all of the trash mingle together they cause the buried dead (presumably ditched there because if it's good enough for your old refrigerator, it's good enough for a person) at Kuro Fuji-san to reanimate as Zombies and the rest is.... You get it.

What struck me as odd in this film is that given Sato's day job as a screenwriter you'd think he'd place more emphasis on actual storytelling and less on gimmickry. Sure, hiring Aikawa and Asano, two veteran actors, seems like a sure thing. Especially since they're both so watchable. But, like a Saturday Night Live skit that starts out less than funny and soon loses its welcome, Sato tries to run this one for 100 minutes filling it out with dumb gag after dumb gag with trying results.

Don't get me wrong, I wasn't looking for serious art here, nor was I expecting top genre filmmaking (possibly because I don't think Sato is capable of delivering this type of storytelling). But while technically it was fine direct to video work, I ultimately felt that there just wasn't any there there. Specifically, the humor was thin through out and all other creative choices I felt I had seen someplace else before.

In the end, TOKYO ZOMBIE was a film that I really wanted to like, but the story and filmmaking kept me from that goal. Quite simply I was bored by it.


Dir. Aoyama Shinji
Asano Tadanobu
Miyazaki Aoi
Okada Mariko
Nakahara Masaya
TsuTsui Yasutaka
Toda Masahiro

107 min.
Format Viewed: Japanese DVD

Looking for something else to watch to clean TOKYO ZOMBIE out of my head, I figured it was high time I checked out Aoyama Shinji's ELI, ELI, LEMBA SABACHTANI; another Asano starrer and one that I had heard so many mixed things about. But first an admission:

As is the case with a lot of Japanophiles, I've been a noise [music] fan for many years. My taste has never been exclusively Japanese noise oriented, but one of the reasons why I certainly chose to live in Osaka was because of two bars: BEARS and BAR NOISE (that and the Boredoms were from there...). Alas, BAR NOISE had closed down a month or so before I moved to Osaka, but BEARS was (and still is?) in existence.

Being a noise fan in Japan during the late 1990s allowed me to see a lot of the Japanese noise bands play live: Merzbow, Massona, Incapacitants, Hasegawa Hiroshi formerly of C.C.C.C., Aube (a personal favorite), Violent Onsen Geisha (see below) etc. It's something that I still remember fondly and wish I could go and do again.

Noise is something that is meant to be experienced. Seeing noise live is radically different from hearing recordings of it. Similarly, seeing it live is radically different than prying a 10" vinyl from a 3 lb. block of plaster with power cables embedded in it. What noise is, as a simple definition, is art that demands an interaction from all who are experiencing it. What happens to you while you are experiencing it is a uniquely personal thing and while on the one hand it can be panic inducing it can also be trance forming. The mind often times tries to find a pattern or some sort of musicality to hang on to to form a kind of safe place from which to experience the noise.

Not to go on a tangent here, but this is one of the things that industrial noise legends Einsturzende Neubauten recognized and experimented with on their epic "Headcleaner"(* see bottom) track from the awesome 1993 album, Tabula Rasa. In part one: Zentrifuge / Stabs / Rotlichtachse / Propaganda / Aufmarsch the music is a discordant banging machine that crushes your cochlea and challenges your patience. With part two, Einhorn, you've got two piercing A notes, in discrete stereo channels that borders on being agonizing to listen to. It's not that the A note is so discordant, it's that they're off just enough and the note holds just long enough, to worm its way into the lizard part of your brain and make you panic. But it's when the concluding part three comes in, Marschlied, it's basically the same as part one, but it sounds totally different and almost calming. What was once agonizing to listen to is now pleasurable, and yes, you feel cleansed: head cleaned, if you will.

This is clearly what Aoyama Shinji was gunning for with ELI, ELI, LEMBA SABACHTANI, a kind of loose sci-fi flick set in a near future (2015) where an epidemic of suicide has nearly devastated the human race (or at least the Japanese countryside). Typical for Aoyama and something I like that is counter to Hollywood filmmaking is the resistance to and therefore lack of explanation about key information: what caused the disease and how is it transfered? No clue. For the story that Aoyama is trying to tell, it's of little importance. What he's more interested in is setting the mood of a wasteland where human life has virtually disappeared and only artistic expression offers a solution or solace to humanity's woes. The art in this movie is noise music and it is found to have a therapeutic quality that forestalls, but does not eradicate, suicidal behavior.

Asano Tadanobu and real life noise musician** (and award winning author) Nakahara Masaya play Mizui and Asahara respectively, two friends who are the most famous musicians in the world for their noise band Steppen Fetchit. Their brand of noise is a kind of guitar and location recording collage thing that finds them living out in the rural wastelands of Japan scavenging for parts to be used in their next noise performance. Old fans, rubber tubing and other sorts of brickabrack are put to use in their recording studio where they spend time making 5.1 surround sound noise. When Mizui and Asahara are approached by an aging politician and his detective friend to cure the politician's suicidal granddaughter, Hana (Miyazaki Aoi), they won't do it. For some reason this blatant exploitation of their art as a cure-all turns Mizui and Asahara off. But when it is revealed that Asahara also suffers from the suicidal bug and he, in fact, makes this artful noise to help himself, it turns out that Asahara is in a much more fragile stage than originally thought. The events that follow lead to the centerpiece of the movie-- and from all signals appears to be Aoyama Shinji's aim in making this film, in the first place -- the giant noise performance.

I'll be blunt about this film: it doesn't work as a whole. But the photography by veteran and genius DP Tamura Masaki (Lady Snowblood!) is first rate and the super scope aspect ratio of the film is fantastic. (If you're a fan of Tamura's work, and if you haven't seen it, check out one of the other Aoyama collaborations, the vastly superior: EUREKA). While I did enjoy the noise enough-- and let me tell you, it gives your surround sound system a nipple stimulating work out! -- the story and performance in the film is somehow lacking. I was never entirely sure of what Aoyama was after in so far as what he wanted to make me (as the audience) feel. In fact, the movie feels like more of a vanity project for Asano Tadanobu's noise music. (Check out Peace Pill for more on that.) As such, the film could have dispelled with story al together and just had two dudes hanging out in the countryside in a post apocalyptic wasteland making noise. Make the film basically dialog free and you'd be doing better. But as it stands ELI, ELI doesn't quite do it as a film.

These critiques on their own aren't to say that the film should be missed-- quite the contrary in fact. I would have loved to have seen this film in the theater and my lasting regret was that I didn't do so when I was in Japan during it's theatrical run. The experiential quality of the movie is worth a 107 minutes of your time. But the best I can recommend is have a drink (or a smoke, if you like), relax, turn off the lights and turn up the movie. Fall into the experience, but just don't expect much more than a pretty good noise performance-- but sometimes that's enough, I think.

(** Nakahara Masaya is the man behind the legendary noise project Violent Onsen Geisha.)

(* Headcleaner Live)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

RIP: HD DVD (2006~2008)

Hi Blog,

News from the wire is that Toshiba is ending its HD DVD business:
NHK said Toshiba would suffer losses running to tens of billions of yen (hundreds of millions of dollars) to scrap production of HD DVD players and recorders and other steps to withdraw from the business. (NYTimes Link)
A while back I wrote about how Blu-ray was becoming the format of choice for Japanese AV (porn) companies. My commentary was that although they weren't actively supporting this, SONY had chosen not to limit access to the Blu-ray compressors and pressing machines abroad -- nor what they were being used for. (They only had issues with Blu-ray AV discs being made within Japan.)

As a result, it seemed that this time Sony had decided at least in action, if not in words, to not fall victim a second time to the simple 'no porn' tactical error that sank Betamax in old the VHS/Beta format wars. In that same piece, I also noted that conversely, that US porn industry had embraced the HD DVD format because it was comparably cheaper to manufacture.

Well, it seems that porn didn't define the current war -- no surprise there, considering the over-abundance available for free online. But that fact combined with the news from earlier this week that key big box store chains in the US would support Blu-ray exclusively it seemed clear to Toshiba that the gig was up.

Toshiba has been rather circumspect about the whole ordeal considering the enormous losses it has sustained. They had this to say:
"Marketing was a weak point for Toshiba. We learned a lot from HD DVD. Strengthening marketing will continue to be an issue for us going forward," the source said. (NYTimes Link)
Really? I wonder how many people will be fired as a result of this... It'll be dark days around Toshiba corporate, I would imagine.

As for me, I'm collecting more Laserdiscs than DVDs at this point. From a cost standpoint, you can't beat it. And quite frankly, I'm waiting to see what the next format will be.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Angelinos! Nikkatsu New Action Series Coming at the End of April!

Hi Blog,

On his Outcast Cinema blog my pal Marc Walkow has posted more dates for his curated Nikkatsu New Action Film Series. And while I recognize that there are other places outside of Los Angeles, I only care about what's happening here. (So there!) But if ya want further info, go to his site-- chances are pretty good it's coming somewhere near you. And if it isn't you can contact him about trying to make it come where you live.

In the meantime, I'm in the middle of writing a piece on Nikkatsu New Action films for Midnighteye. I was hoping to be done with it last week, but it keeps growing. And growING!

April 25-27

American Cinematheque at the Egyptian - Los Angeles, CA Nikkatsu comes to one of the best cinemas in America with Gangster VIP, A Colt is My Passport, The Velvet Hustler, Glass Johnny, Roughneck, and The Warped Ones

Monday, February 11, 2008

Miyake Tomoko: Beautiful chicks eat a lot too, you know...

Hi Blog,

Well, this is old hat for those who are on top of things, but my life is quickly spiraling out of control and I have no excuses any more.

But one look at my tracker statistics and I see that a lot of people are still interested in champion hot dog gourmand and general food hoover Kobayashi Takeru. I don't get it, people. Why are you so interested in a people who eat like ducks for 12 minutes just to see how much they can stuff in their guts without retching or exploding?

Anyway, always being one who is willing shill to the masses, here's a tidbit via the excellent Japanprobe blog reporting on super food chomper Miss Miyake Tomoko. A groovy looking lass who is apparently at least one-third robot with hollow legs who can inhale food stuffs with the best of the competitive eating pros. (Oh! And did I mention that she's a looker?)

Here she is eating a fucking HUGE bowl of Ramen in a half hour or so!

And here she is eating a 3.3 kg (7.27525465 pounds) Okonomiyaki in just under 19 minutes!

You know, I love how they call her a 「食イドル」-- an 'eating Idol'.... What a thing to be famous for! She'll be known everywhere as an expensive date.

Anyway, there's a bunch more clips of her eating all sorts of foodstuffs up on-line. (And I just read that she was in NYC on Feb. 1st doing some eating and filming there. Somebody hide the big apple........... Sorry about that....)

Here's a link to Tomoko's blog.

Link to previous Kobayashi Takeru postings.

Link to Japanprobe.