Thursday, May 29, 2008


Hi Blog,

Okay tough guy. Here's the deal: You think that being a lowly Yakuza is easy? That even down in the lower-ranks of Chinpira-dom that all of that strong-arming, gani-mata de aruku, smoking, womanizing and boozing is easy? Sure, punch perms and sorikomi fads come and go, but the irezumi is for life. Right?

Well, it turns out that if you live life to the Über-Yakuza fullest-- and don't get off-ed in the process-- you'll start falling apart anyway. But if you've got enough money and are willing to shill some soft tips to the FBI you can stroll on into the US and get that much needed liver transplant to get you right back onto the road of drinkin' and hard livin'. (Diabetes, though is another story since they haven't figured out a surgery for that.)

Got 10 minutes? Read these articles on the UCLA liver transplant service for the needy and sick Yakuza. And for the record, just like Dr. Busuttil, I'm not passing judgement here. I don't do that. I just report what I see without prejudice.

Oh, and if you're still around then definitely read Jake Adelstein's opinion piece from the May 11th Washington Post (pasted at the bottom of this post) where he talks about being a beat journalist for the Yomiuri Shinbun who reported on the Yakuza and how his reporting about said UCLA liver transplants lead to death threats against he and his family.


From the LA Times:

Four Japanese gang figures received livers at UCLA

The recipients included one of Japan's most powerful crime bosses. Some in the medical community worry the revelation will have a chilling effect on organ donations.

By John M. Glionna and Charles Ornstein
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

May 30, 2008

UCLA Medical Center and its most accomplished liver surgeon provided a life-saving transplant to one of Japan's most powerful gang bosses, law enforcement sources told The Times.

In addition, the surgeon performed liver transplants at UCLA on three other men who are now barred from entering the United States because of their criminal records or suspected affiliation with Japanese organized crime groups, said a knowledgeable law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The four surgeries were done between 2000 and 2004 at a time of pronounced organ scarcity. In each of those years, more than 100 patients died awaiting liver transplants in the greater Los Angeles region.

The surgeon in each case was Dr. Ronald W. Busuttil, executive chairman of UCLA's surgery department, according to another person familiar with the matter who also spoke on condition of anonymity. Busuttil is a world-renowned liver surgeon who co-edited a leading text on liver transplantation and is one of the highest-paid employees in the University of California system.

There is no evidence that UCLA or Busuttil knew at the time of the transplants that any of the patients had ties to Japanese gangs, commonly called yakuza. Both said in statements that they do not make moral judgments about patients and treat them based on their medical need.

U.S. transplant rules do not prohibit hospitals from performing transplants on either foreign patients or those with criminal histories.

The most prominent transplant recipient, Tadamasa Goto, had been barred from entering the United States because of his criminal history, several current and former law enforcement officials said. Goto leads a gang called the Goto-gumi that experts describe as vindictive and at times brutal.

The FBI helped Goto obtain a visa to enter the United States in 2001 in exchange for leads on potentially illegal activity in this country by Japanese criminal gangs, said Jim Stern, retired chief of the FBI's Asian criminal enterprise unit in Washington.

Goto got his liver, Stern said, but provided the bureau with little useful information on Japanese gangs.

"I don't think Goto gave the bureau anything of significance," Stern said. Goto "came to the States and got a liver and was laughing back to where he came from. . . . It defies logic."

Although Stern was not involved with the deal, he said he learned the details when he became unit chief in 2004 and continues to be troubled by what happened.

After the transplant, Goto was again barred from reentering the United States, said the first law enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and therefore requested anonymity.

But Goto continued to receive medical care from Busuttil in Japan. The doctor traveled there and examined Goto on more than one occasion, said Goto's Tokyo-based lawyer, Yoshiyuki Maki -- and evaluated Goto while he was in custody in 2006.

Busuttil's medical opinion was cited in a successful court petition to have Goto released for medical care at a Tokyo hospital, Maki said.

The Times is not naming the other three transplant recipients in this article because neither they nor their lawyers could be reached.

Several transplant experts and bioethicists contacted by The Times said they were troubled by the transplants, especially because organs are in such short supply in this country. In the year of Goto's surgery, 186 people in the Los Angeles region died waiting for a liver, U.S. transplant statistics show.

Some, but not all, of the experts said a transplant center has an obligation to determine whether a patient would be a worthy custodian of an organ and to protect potential donors' faith in the system.

"If you want to destroy public support for organ donation on the part of Americans, you'd be hard pressed to think of a practice that would be better suited," said Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania.

In a statement, the UCLA Health System said it could not comment on specific cases because of federal patient privacy laws. Generally, it said it complies with all the rules and regulations of the United Network for Organ Sharing, the federal contractor charged with ensuring the safety and fairness of the U.S. transplant system. Last year, UCLA performed more liver transplants than any other U.S. hospital.

"UCLA's processes for evaluating a patient -- both for mental and physical suitability for organ transplants -- are the same regardless of whether the individual is a U.S. citizen or a foreign national," the statement said.

Hospitals and doctors in the United States have the final say on which patients get added to their waiting lists and have the discretion to refuse patients with unhealthy lifestyles that could compromise the transplant's success. Patients may be refused on other grounds as well, including an inability to pay.

At the time of Goto's transplant, liver allocations were made based on both a patient's medical status and waiting time. Since 2002, livers have been allocated to patients based almost entirely on how sick they are.

It is unclear when Goto joined UCLA's waiting list. He had been in the United States two months when he received a new liver. Overall, 34% of the patients added to UCLA's liver waiting list between January 1999 and December 2001 received a new liver within three years of being listed, national transplant statistics show.

Busuttil, a former president of the American Society of Transplant Surgeons who has testified before Congress on who should receive priority for transplants, released his own statement this week. He did not directly address the transplants of the Japanese patients but said in part:

"As a surgeon, it is not my role to pass moral judgment on the patients who seek my care . . . . If one of my patients, domestic or international, were in a situation that could be life-threatening, of course I would do everything in my power to assure that they would receive proper care.

"I consider that to be part of my responsibility and obligation as a physician."

'A serious player'

On May 18, 2001, Tadamasa Goto boarded Japan Airlines Flight 0062 at Narita International Airport, bound for Los Angeles with his son Masato.

Goto, now 65, had hepatitis C and was worried it would develop into cancer, Maki, Goto's lawyer, said in an interview last week in his Tokyo office. Because Japan has an extreme shortage of organ donors, many sick patients feel they need to go abroad to seek treatment.

The FBI did not help Goto arrange his surgery with UCLA but did help him gain entry to this country, Stern said. The agency had long been frustrated by the reluctance of Japanese law enforcement to share information on yakuza members in the United States.

"For American law enforcement, it's been like pulling teeth to get criminal intelligence from Japanese authorities," said David Kaplan, a journalist who co-wrote the book "Yakuza: Japan's Criminal Underworld," published in 2003 by University of California Press.

In his book, Kaplan describes Goto's gang, the Goto-gumi, as an offshoot of the largest Japanese organized crime group, the Yamaguchi-gumi. In an interview, Kaplan said Goto is "a serious player in the yakuza. His gang is known for being particularly ruthless and violent."

A senior member of the group and an affiliated gang member were sentenced to prison for the 1992 slashing of a Japanese director whose film portrayed the yakuza as violent thugs, according to a story in the Japan Times. Goto was not personally implicated in the case.

Goto underwent a successful transplant in July 2001. He received the liver of a young man who died in a traffic accident, Maki said. "Goto is over 60 now, but his liver is young," he said.

Several years after the transplant, in May 2006, Goto was arrested in Japan on suspicion of real estate fraud.

Maki said he and other lawyers worried their client was not well enough to be interrogated. In addition to his liver problem, Goto was suffering from heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

The lawyers asked that Goto be released immediately, but authorities rejected the request, Maki said. He said the lawyers asked that Goto be given his medication at precise times, but that did not happen either.

"Goto lost his appetite, had a terrible headache, scratched his arm until it started to get infected, and he was throwing up," Maki said.

Maki used the interview to vent against Japanese prosecutors, saying he believes they were attempting to exploit his client's poor health to obtain a conviction on what Maki considered groundless charges.

He said Busuttil, along with doctors from Tokyo University Hospital and Showa University Hospital in Tokyo, examined Goto in jail and recommended that he be released for outside medical treatment.

On May 24, 2006, some 16 days after he was arrested, the court temporarily released Goto and he entered the hospital.

Goto was acquitted of the charges in March of this year.

"The UCLA doctor [Busuttil] examined Goto during his detention and again one week after he received his not-guilty ruling," Maki said.

The law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Goto's criminal history includes prison time. But Maki said his client's last conviction was three decades ago, for assault, and that his previous convictions were as a youth.

Court records in Japan are kept by prosecutors who generally do not share them with anyone not party to a case.

Jake Adelstein, a former reporter at Japan's largest daily newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, said he received a tip about the circumstances surrounding Goto's liver transplant in 2005. Within days of making inquiries, however, Adelstein was visited by men who told him: "Erase the story or be erased," he said in an interview.

Adelstein did not pursue the story but mentioned the incident in a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post. He said he would elaborate on it in a forthcoming book.

Dealing with scandals

Word of the surgeries at UCLA comes as the U.S. transplant system is slowly recovering from scandals that forced the closure of three transplant programs in California. In one of those, St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles moved a Saudi national up a liver waiting list, bypassing dozens of others, and then covered it up by falsifying paperwork, officials there have acknowledged.

Overseers of the U.S. transplant system say they are unaware of other cases in which hospitals have provided organs to foreign criminals. But some hospitals, including Stanford University Medical Center, have performed transplants on U.S. prisoners -- often controversial because taxpayers foot the bill.

According to the ethics committee of the United Network for Organ Sharing, "one's status as a prisoner should not preclude them from consideration for a transplant."

The United Network for Organ Sharing encourages transplant programs to give foreign recipients less than 5% of organs from deceased donors each year, but the figure is not a hard-and-fast rule. At one point, in the 1980s, the threshold was 10%, but it was lowered after Congress considered banning transplants for foreign nationals entirely.

Centers that exceed the 5% guideline are asked for an explanation in writing, but none has been sanctioned publicly. In 2001, the year Goto received his transplant, UCLA slightly exceeded the guideline.

Typically, transplant experts say, foreigners cannot receive transplants at U.S. centers unless they are willing to pay the full cost of the procedure out of pocket -- without the substantial discounts given to insurers. Charges for a liver transplant and immediate follow-up care generally exceed $523,000, according to an April report by Milliman Inc., an actuarial firm.

It could not be determined how much UCLA and Busuttil were paid for the Japanese transplants.

Tom Mone, chief executive of OneLegacy, the group responsible for procuring and distributing organs in much of Southern California, said transplants for foreign criminals are "an unfortunate result of a system that's magnanimous to the world."

Mone also said that hospitals do not have the resources to investigate their patients. "The enforcement should be at the borders, not at the hospital," he said.

In recent years, nonresident foreign nationals have accounted for less than 1% of all transplant recipients nationwide, transplant statistics show.

Dr. Mark Fox, associate director of the Oklahoma Bioethics Center, said the UCLA transplants may create pressure to eliminate transplants for foreign nationals entirely, which Fox said he does not support.

"For some people, there are misgivings for transplanting foreign nationals at all. For some people, there are misgivings about transplanting criminals at all," he said. "When you put those two together, it is certainly reasonable to expect that a certain portion of the population would say, 'This is not what I expected when I signed my donor card.' " (link.)

From the Washington Post Opinion Page:

This Mob Is Big in Japan

By Jake Adelstein
Sunday, May 11, 2008; B02

I have spent most of the past 15 years in the dark side of the rising sun. Until three years ago, I was a crime reporter for the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest newspaper, and covered a roster of characters that included serial killers who doubled as pet breeders, child pornographers who abducted junior high-school girls, and the John Gotti of Japan.

I came to Japan in 1988 at age 19, spent most of college living in a Zen Buddhist temple, and then became the first U.S. citizen hired as a regular staff writer for a Japanese newspaper in Japanese. If you know anything about Japan, you'll realize how bizarre this is -- a gaijin, or foreigner, covering Japanese cops. When I started the beat in the early 1990s, I knew nothing about the yakuza, a.k.a. the Japanese mafia. But following their prostitution rings and extortion rackets became my life.

Most Americans think of Japan as a law-abiding and peaceful place, as well as our staunch ally, but reporting on the underworld gave me a different perspective. Mobs are legal entities here. Their fan magazines and comic books are sold in convenience stores, and bosses socialize with prime ministers and politicians. And as far as the United States is concerned, Japan may be refueling U.S. warships at sea, but it's not helping us fight our own battles against organized crime -- a realization that led to my biggest scoop.

I loved my job. The cops fighting organized crime are hard-drinking iconoclasts -- many look like their mobster foes, with their black suits and slicked-back hair. They're outsiders in Japanese society, and perhaps because I was an outsider too, we got along well. The yakuza's tribal features are also compelling, like those of an alien life form: the full-body tattoos, missing digits and pseudo-family structure. I became so fascinated that, like someone staring at a wild animal, I got too close and now am worried for my life. But more on that later.

The Japanese National Police Agency (NPA) estimates that the yakuza have almost 80,000 members. The most powerful faction, the Yamaguchi-gumi, is known as "the Wal-Mart of the yakuza" and reportedly has close to 40,000 members. In Tokyo alone, the police have identified more than 800 yakuza front companies: investment and auditing firms, construction companies and pastry shops. The mobsters even set up their own bank in California, according to underworld sources.

Over the last seven years, the yakuza have moved into finance. Japan's Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission has an index of more than 50 listed companies with ties to organized crime. The market is so infested that Osaka Securities Exchange officials decided in March that they would review all listed companies and expel those found to have links with the yakuza. If you think this has nothing to do with the United States, think again. Americans have billions of dollars in the Japanese stock market. So U.S. investors could be funding the Japanese mob.

I once asked a detective from Osaka why, if Japanese law enforcement knows so much about the yakuza, the police don't just take them down. "We don't have a RICO Act," he explained. "We don't have plea-bargaining, a witness-protection program or witness-relocation program. So what we end up doing most of the time is just clipping the branches. . . . If the government would give us the tools, we'd shut them down, but we don't have 'em."

In the good old days, the yakuza made most of their money from sleaze: prostitution, drugs, protection money and child pornography. Kiddie porn is still part of their base income -- and another area where Japan isn't acting like America's friend.

In 1999, my editors assigned me to cover the Tokyo neighborhood that includes Kabukicho, Japan's largest red-light district. Japan had recently outlawed child pornography -- reluctantly, after international pressure left officials no choice. But the ban, which is still in effect, had a major flaw: It criminalized producing and selling child pornography, not owning it. So the big-money industry goes on, unabated. Last month's issue of a widely available porn magazine proclaimed, "Our Cover Girl Is Our Youngest Yet: 14!" Kabukicho remains loaded with the stuff, and teenage sex workers are readily available. I've even seen specialty stores that sell the underwear worn by teenage strippers.

The ban is so weak that investigating yakuza who peddle child pornography is practically impossible. "The United States has referred hundreds of . . . cases to Japanese law enforcement authorities," a U.S. embassy spokesman recently told me. "Without exception, U.S. officials have been told that the Japanese police cannot open an investigation because possession is legal." In 2007, the Internet Hotline Center in Japan identified more than 500 local sites displaying child pornography.

There's talk in Japan of criminalizing simple possession, but some political parties (and publishers, who are raking in millions) oppose the idea. U.S. law enforcement officers want to stop the flow of yakuza-produced child porn into the United States and would support such a law. But they can't even keep the yakuza themselves out of the country. Why? Because the national police refuse to share intelligence. Last year, a former FBI agent told me that, in a decade of conferences, the NPA had turned over the names and birthdates of about 50 yakuza members. "Fifty out of 80,000," he said.

This lack of cooperation was partly responsible for an astonishing deal made with the yakuza, and for the story that changed my life. On May 18, 2001, the FBI arranged for Tadamasa Goto -- a notorious Japanese gang boss, the one that some federal agents call the "John Gotti of Japan" -- to be flown to the United States for a liver transplant.

Goto is alive today because of that operation -- a source of resentment among Japanese law enforcement officials because the FBI organized it without consulting them. From the U.S. point of view, it was a necessary evil. The FBI had long suspected the yakuza of laundering money in the United States, and Japanese and U.S. law enforcement officials confirm that Goto offered to tip them off to Yamaguchi-gumi front companies and mobsters in exchange for the transplant. James Moynihan, then the FBI representative in Tokyo who brokered the deal, still defends the operation. "You can't monitor the activities of the yakuza in the United States if you don't know who they are," he said in 2007. "Goto only gave us a fraction of what he promised, but it was better than nothing."

The suspicions about the Yamaguchi-gumi were confirmed in the fall of 2003, when special agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), whom I've interviewed, tracked down several million dollars deposited in U.S. casino accounts and banks by Susumu Kajiyama, a boss known as "the Emperor of Loan Sharks." The agents said they had not received a lead from the Tokyo police; they got some of the information while looking back at the Goto case.

Unlike their Japanese counterparts, U.S. law enforcement officers are sharing tips with Japan. Officials from both countries confirm that, in November 2003, the Tokyo police used information from ICE and the Nevada Gaming Control Board to seize $2 million dollars in cash from a safe-deposit box in Japan, which was leased to Kajiyama by a firm affiliated with a major Las Vegas casino. According to ICE Special Agent Mike Cox, the Kajiyama saga was probably not an isolated incident. "If we had some more information from the Japan side," he told me last year, "I'm sure we'd find other cases like it."

I'm not entirely objective on the issue of the yakuza in my adopted homeland. Three years ago, Goto got word that I was reporting an article about his liver transplant. A few days later, his underlings obliquely threatened me. Then came a formal meeting. The offer was straightforward. "Erase the story or be erased," one of them said. "Your family too."

I knew enough to take the threat seriously. So I took some advice from a senior Japanese detective, abandoned the scoop and resigned from the Yomiuri Shimbun two months later. But I never forgot the story. I planned to write about it in a book, figuring that, with Goto's poor health, he'd be dead by the time it came out. Otherwise, I planned to clip out the business of his operation at the last minute.

I didn't bargain on the contents leaking out before my book was released, which is what happened last November. Now the FBI and local law enforcement are watching over my family in the States, while the Tokyo police and the NPA look out for me in Japan. I would like to go home, but Goto has a reputation for taking out his target and anyone else in the vicinity.

In early March, in my presence, an FBI agent asked the NPA to provide a list of all the members of Goto's organization so that they could stop them from coming into the country and killing my family. The NPA was reluctant at first, citing "privacy concerns," but after much soul-searching handed over about 50 names. But the Tokyo police file lists more than 900 members. I know this because someone posted the file online in the summer of 2007; a Japanese detective was fired because of the leak.

Of course, I'm a little biased. I don't think it's selfish of me to value the safety of my family more than the personal privacy of crooks. And as a crime reporter, I'm baffled that the Japanese don't share intelligence on the yakuza with the United States.

Then again, perhaps I'm being unreasonable. Maybe some powerful Japanese are simply ashamed of how strong the yakuza have become. And if they're not ashamed, they should be. (link.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

おそいひと - Late Bloomer NYC Theatrical Run in July!

Hi Blog,

I initially hinted teasingly-like here in Japanese that Shibata Go's awesome feature film おそいひと (aka. LATE BLOOMER) would be getting some sort of NY theatrical run come the summer. Well I got an email from Iijichi-san over at Tidepoint Pictures and he has informed me that LATE BLOOMER will be (finally!) getting it's long overdue theatrical run this July!

It's a teeney-weenie one week run unfortunately but it'll be playing at the cute and compact Two-Boots Pioneer Theater starting Tuesday, July 25th. Calendar info is here. (But curiously there's no info about the film listed on the site as of yet...)

Anyhoo, I like the Pioneer a lot. It's a cool theater on Avenue A in Manhattan that's attached to a pizza parlor and video rental shop. They always show interesting indie films and, in fact, was where I had my very first screening of my short film OUT OF THE DARKNESS way back when. How's that for trivia?

So! If you live in the NY region and have a taste for crippled serial killers with drinking problems, then have I got a film for you! Includes an uber groovy soundtrack by World's End Girlfriend.

Go see it!

Link to longer post about LATE BLOOMER.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The All Seeing Logboy! A Bonanza of Trailer and Film Info!!!

Hi Blog,

The logboy** has forwarded on these tasty (and nutritious!) bits of Japanese movie info and trailers.

Either he doesn't sleep or he already has a bioware port installed in his head and is downloaded Japanese film info 24 hours a day for the good of humanity. If so, I salute you!

KAMISAMA NO PAZURU (aka. God's Puzzle - dir. Miike Takashi) (Miike's tent pole summer film for Toei. What's it about? It looks zany!)

HANSAMU SUITS (aka. Handsome Suits - dir. Tsutomu Hanabusa) (It's like Frankenheimer's SECONDS, but for ugly and dumpy people)

HOMURESU CHUGAKUSEI (aka. Homeless Junior High Student - dir. Furumaya Tomoyuki)(I actually have an interesting connection to this book/project-- but because of a NDA I can't write about it. Anyway, the book was a massive hit, so the film should be too.)

AOI SORA PUNCH! (aka. Punch the Blue Sky - dir. Shibata Go) (I'll write more about this in a couple of days, but this is my good pal Go's long awaited follow up to OSOI HITO aka. Late Bloomer. But before you all freak out, it was a work for hire and as such won't be as transgressive as his other works.) Link to the super short trailer.

JIROCHO SANGOKUSHI (aka. Jirocho the Mighty - dir. Tsugawa Masahiko) (From the director of the humorous and multi-award winning NEZU NO BAN aka. Wakeful Nights comes a comedy that looks like it's once again made for the oyaji set. But wait! Is that Takeuchi Riki in a wig!?) Link to trailer.

And finally, since my fingers are getting cramped from typing up all of this goodness, Kurosawa Kiyoshi's Cannes Film Fest storming and Señor Tom Mes slaying new film, TOKYO SONATA, now has a HP up and running. Word is it's good. Very good. I can't wait to see it. Link. Oh! And check out Jason Gray's copious writings about it here and Tom's review here.

Special thanks to logboy for the always appreciated good info!

** (not his picture)

New York Asian Film Festival '08 Mostly Full Line Up Announced

Hi Blog,

My pals in NYC have announced most of their line-up for this year's fest. I'll leave it to the press release I'm pasting below to explain it, but let me just say that this is probably the best Asian Film Festival in the continental US. And when I say Asian, it's all films from Asia -- not to be confused with the New York Asian America Film Fest, which includes Asian American films too.

Anyhoo, I know that every year it's a royal pain for these guys to get it all together. Even though they're in their 7th year, it only seems to get harder for them to get films they want to screen. This has a lot to do with distro companies over-valuing their films and also it just has to do with bias against small film fests. And yes, NYAFF is quite simply small, scrappy and cult. They show awesome films because they have awesome taste. The feeling of going to one of the screenings is much like hanging out at your cool film maniac friends house with the amazing DVD collection; it's like a party and anyone is invited, provided you pay the 8 bucks.

But these guys need your support. They don't get the big funding bucks like other fests. They are dependent on y'all showing up and paying for the flix. So do yourself a favor, catch some of these films. Some I have seen already and know are good, the others are all films that I really want to see. Don't dilly dally! Buy your tix in advance!!

Here's the press release:




June 20 – July 6, 2008
at the IFC Center (June 20 – July 3)
and Japan Society (July 3 – July 6)

The New York Asian Film Festival is back like a bad dream, ready to cleanse the dirt from your soul with a barrage of sparkling, super-powered movies straight out of Asia. It's a seventeen day orgy of new films from Takashi Miike, Johnnie To, Hur Jin-Ho, Koji Wakamatsu and Shinji Aoyama. Plus, our first-ever documentary (YASUKUNI) and our first movies from Indonesia (KALA) and Vietnam (THE REBEL).

We'll spend the first fourteen days at the IFC Center (323 Sixth Avenue, between 3rd and 4th Streets) and the final four days up at the posh Japan Society (333 East 47th Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenues) where we'll be co-presenting several films as part of their JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Films (which runs from July 2 – July 13).

There are a few more movies to be confirmed, as well as some special guests, but for now here's what's coming. Stills and screeners are available on request.

ACCURACY OF DEATH (Japan, 2008) – sometimes a movie sounds like a bad idea: the Grim Reaper comes to Earth with a talking dog to evaluate the lives of potential dead people. But with Takeshi Kaneshiro playing the Grim Reaper, and set in 1988, 2008 and the near future, this flick turns out to be a light-footed romantic comedy that winds up turbo-charging your sense of optimism. Kaneshiro, a veteran of Wong Kar-wai, Zhang Yimou and John Woo films dominates this flick, and shows exactly what it is that a movie star does to earn those bags of cash. In his hands, every second of this film feels like pure gold.

ADRIFT IN TOKYO (Japan, 2007) - This is a movie about two men walking down the street. Seriously. That's it. But bear with, because isn't CITIZEN KANE just about a guy who owns a sled? A scruffy law school student (Joe Odagiri, the Johnny Depp of Japan) is deep in hock to a thuggish, middle-aged debt collector who offers to forgive what he owes if the kid accompanies him on long walks through Tokyo. What sounds contrived takes about 10 minutes to settle into a loopy, at times hilarious, rhythm as the two stroll through the city trying to figure out how watch repair shops stay in business these days and pondering the plight of the pygmy hippopotamus. After seeing this flick you'll learn the soul-soothing pleasures of walking, and you'll never take the bus again.
(Co-presented with JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film)

ALWAYS 2: SUNSET ON THIRD STREET (Japan, 2007) – one of Japan's biggest hits, ALWAYS: SUNSET ON THIRD STREET rocked the New York Asian Film Festival back in 2006 and now the sequel is back to deliver even more mid-century melodrama about a neighborhood in Tokyo where everyone is struggling to make ends meet and get ahead in post-war Japan. It was a mega-hit in Japan and this time...Godzilla attacks. Seriously. And in case you missed it, we're bringing back the first ALWAYS (winner of 12 Japanese Academy Awards).
(Co-presented with JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film)

ASSEMBLY (China, 2007) – China's second-biggest box office hit of 2007 sets new standards for the dirt-in-your-teeth war film. Taking place during China's Civil War of 1948, it's an epic that boils down to one question: how do veterans deal with the choices they made on the battlefield once the war is over and they've come home? Director Feng Xiaogang is China's biggest hit-maker, and his swordplay epic, THE BANQUET, opened last year's New York Asian Film Festival.

THE BUTCHER (Korea, 2007) – the Korean film industry spent last year falling apart with big, glossy productions bombing at the box office, one after the other. This grotty mash-up of HOSTEL and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was made completely off the map, shot on video far outside the studio system, by first-time director Kim Jin-Won, and in it he depicts the Korean film industry as a bunch of pigs and rapists shooting snuff films for foreign audiences. The comparison to Korea's OLDBOY-inspired cinema of violence is hard to miss.

DAINIPPONJIN (Japan, 2007) – never has a comedy been this patient in setting up its audience. A mockumentary that starts out as the most boring movie ever made about the most boring man on earth suddenly switches gears when we discover that the government job he's complaining about is one that requires him to grow to enormous size and defend Japan from horrible giant monsters. While wearing purple underwear. Written, directed and starring Hitoshi Matsumoto, Japan's number one comedian, this is the movie CLOVERFIELD should have been, combining the lunacy of WWE smackdown with the insanity of THIS IS SPINAL TAP. Ever wanted to know what happens when giant monsters are in heat? See it here!
(Co-presented with JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film)

DOG IN A SIDECAR (Japan, 2007) – it's easy to slam a coming of age movie because there're just too many of them and they usually follow the exact same set of dramatic beats. But DOG IN A SIDECAR sidesteps that problem and breathes new life into what has become a tired genre. It also marks the comeback film for actress Yuko Takeuchi (THE RING) who won six "Best Actress" awards for this film, playing the lazy, uncouth girlfriend of a single parent. Gentle and unambitious, this is a golden example of the small, well-made film that proves good things come in small packages.

FINE, TOTALLY FINE (Japan, 2007) – a spiritual successor to previous NYAFF hit, THE TASTE OF TEA, this flick is almost impossible to describe. On the surface it charts a lazy love triangle between three losers who are hitting 30 and haven't gone anywhere in life. But that leaves out the ghost, the quest to create the world's best haunted house, how not to open a box of Kleenex, the worst way to sell a porno magazine, the joys of used bookstores and the world's biggest, child-killing chewing gum bubble.
(Co-presented with JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film)

HAPPINESS (Korea, 2007) – Hur Jin-Ho has made his career out of looking at worn-out melodramas from new angles, resulting in some of cinema's most sob-worthy and exquisitely crafted romances like CHRISTMAS IN AUGUST and APRIL SNOW. Here he manages to make a love story between two sick people (he's got cirrhosis of the liver, she's got lung disease) feel like something fresh and tender by playing up the moments that get lost and playing down the big dramatic beats. It's an honest tear-jerker, where you feel like you don't have to sell yourself short in order to have a good cry.

KALA (Indonesia, 2007) – Joko Anwar blew away festival audiences with his hilarious JONJI'S PROMISE, but his follow-up film is not what anyone expected. A dark, alternate history film noir set in a version of Indonesia where everyone dresses like it's still the 1950's and where sudden, hideous violence waits around every corner in a black sedan, this conspiracy thriller slowly tightens its hand around your throat until darkness creeps in on the edge of your vision. A narcoleptic reporter and a gay cop are drawn into a murderous plot to find what's known as The First President's Treasure, while the city around them descends into lawlessness. A massive blockbuster in Indonesia, it's an unsettling, stylish walk into the dark at the end of the street.

KING NARESUAN 1 & 2 (Thailand, 2007) – the number one and number two box office hits of all time from Thailand, these massive epics tell the life story of Thailand's warrior king, Naresuan. Full of sets dripping with gold, political intrigue that makes American politics look straight-forward and some of the biggest, most rousing action scenes you'll ever have the pleasure of sucking through your eyes. Imagine THE KING & I with the musical numbers replaced by herds of stampeding war elephants, six-foot-long rifles and bloodthirsty Amazons.

L: CHANGE THE WORLD (Japan, 2008) – the DEATH NOTE movies were massive hits in Japan (and at last year's NYAFF) and now the latest installment in the series hits screens, courtesy of Hideo Nakata, director of the landmark horror film THE RING. This time out it's L, the teen, goth version of Sherlock Holmes who takes center stage. Slotted into the last 23 days of his life, this flick is a big budget summer blockbuster that sees this hunchbacked, candy-munching genius take on a terrorist cult armed with a flesh-melting virus.

M (Korea, 2007) – Lee Myung-Se has the best set of eyes in all of Korea, resulting in the visual extravagances of his action movie, NOWHERE TO HIDE, and his swordplay flick, DUELIST. Now he's turned those magic orbs on the ghost movie and created the divisive, infuriating, totally unique M, that's the closest you'll ever come to dreaming with your eyes open. A popular junk novelist has just blown his latest deadline but hasn't written a word of his new book because his high school sweetheart has suddenly shown up in town from out of the past. She may be real, or she may be a ghost, or she may be a memory, or there may be no difference between the three. Audiences practically tore the screen down when this deeply personal movie premiered, but when cinema owners tried to yank it out of theaters early, fans took to the streets in protest.

MAD DETECTIVE (Hong Kong, 2007) – Johnnie To reunites with actor Lau Ching-wan after seven years to make this crime flick that's like a high performance engine firing on all cylinders. Lau plays a cop who can see people's souls, fired from the force after sawing off his own ear and giving it to his commanding officer as a gift. Now he's pulled back in to solve a crime committed by another police officer and what unfolds is one of the blackest, darkest, most despairing films you'll ever see. Director Johnnie To is available for email interviews.

MISE EN SCENE SHORT FILM FESTIVAL – Korea's number one festival of short films comes back for a return engagement and this time we picked the shorts ourselves. There's the gruesome tale of a fluffy puppy out for revenge against the owners who abandoned it, a plot by zombies to control the Korean film industry, a gang of chickens who eat the moon, a company where contracts are settled by martial arts and a very strange story about the secret love child of famous British author John Fowles.

THE REBEL (Vietnam, 2007) – an old time Republic serial, pumped up on politics and super-charged with ONG BAK caliber action scenes, THE REBEL is the biggest box office hit ever to come out of Vietnam. Set in the 1920's, it's all about a secret agent for the colonial French government who is tasked with rounding up anti-French rebels and kicking them in the head until they die. Then, one day, he finds that he can't put down his own people anymore and he goes on the run. Wall-to-wall beat-downs, insane Vietnamese martial arts, and thrill-a-minute chases make this an adrenaline-charged, bloodied knuckled ode to Vietnamese freedom. Director Charlie Nguyen is available for phone interviews.

SAD VACATION (Japan, 2007) – Shinji Aoyama (EUREKA, ELI ELI LEMA SABACHTANI) is one of Japan's best kept secrets. This is part three of his unofficial "Kita Kyushu" trilogy which started with his first film, HELPLESS, continued with EUREKA and concludes with SAD VACATION (named after the Johnny Thunders song). No familiarity with the previous films is necessary. Instead, all you need to know is that Tadanobu Asano plays a guy who was abandoned early on by his mother and, after taking in a Chinese orphan left over from a human trafficking job gone wrong, he suddenly comes across her again as an adult. He's determined that vengeance will be his, but he finds out that blood is so much thicker than water it'll drown us all.
(Co-presented with JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film)

SPARROW (Hong Kong, 2008) – on the other end of the spectrum, Johnnie To must have fallen in love before he made SPARROW. This charming flick took three years to make and it's a sparkling, life-affirming film about a gang of pickpockets who cross paths with a mysterious femme fatale. An ode to rapidly-vanishing old Hong Kong, it feels like it's going to burst into song at any minute and contains some of To's most gorgeous, intricate and technically breathtaking set pieces. Watching this movie feels like soaking your soul in a big glass of cool, bubbly champagne for 87 minutes. Johnnie To and the Milkyway Image crew are available for email interviews.

SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO (Japan, 2007) – set to be released theatrically later this summer by First Look, Takashi Miike's English-language spaghetti western combines Shakespeare, YOJIMBO, Sergio Corbucci films and plants that grow tiny fetuses into an unholy car bomb of a movie that explodes in your face, showering the audience with a nutso reimagining of American Westerns. Everything you've ever wanted in a Takashi Miike movie, including Quentin Tarantino hamming his way through a cameo that rivals his appearance on "The Golden Girls" and more, more, more! It's bigger! Louder! Faster! Better!
(Co-presented with JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film)

THIS WORLD OF OURS (Japan, 2007) – one of the most astonishing debuts in recent years, 25-year-old director Ryo Nakajima was a hikikomori (a shut-in) who emerged from his room to make this digital howl of rage. Screening at the Vancouver Film Festival, Rotterdam Film Festival and winning three prizes at Japan's Pia Film Festival it charts a continuum of anger that has the 9/11 bombings at one end and high school bullying at the other with gang rape, self-mutilation and school massacres in between. Think A CLOCKWORK ORANGE mixed with Shunji Iwai's ALL ABOUT LILY CHOU CHOU and scored to Beethoven.

UNITED RED ARMY (Japan, 2007) – Koji Wakamatsu, Japan's most controversial filmmaker, wraps up 45 years of moviemaking with this 3-hour, insanely researched epic about Japan's United Red Army faction, one of the world's most notorious terrorist groups. Director Wakamatsu is barred from entering the United States due to his political affiliations, but we will be conducting a live, satellite Q&A with him after the screening on July 5, and the screenwriter, Masayuki Kakegawa, will be attending the festival and is available for interviews. Koji Wakamatsu is available for email and phone interviews.
(Co-presented with JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film)

YASUKUNI (China/Japan, 2008) – this documentary about Japan's Yasukuni shrine to its war dead has become a cultural flashpoint in Japan, with several cinema chains refusing to screen it and elected officials calling for a boycott of the film, while right wingers are threatening to fire bomb screenings. A sprawling documentary about the protestors, right wing nationalists, thugs, patriots and misguided Americans who use the Yasukuni shrine as their stage, this documentary pits war against peace and national pride against xenophobic jingoism. The result will make all audiences deeply uncomfortable.
(Co-presented with JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film)

Please direct all press inquiries to Grady Hendrix at this email address or call him at 917-405-7477.

For press inquiries about Japan Cuts: Festival of New Japanese Film, please contact Natascha Bodeman at (212) 673-4627 or

And keep your eyes on for updates.

JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film (July 2 – 13)
For the second consecutive summer, Japan Society brings a sizable slice of Japan's dynamic contemporary film culture to New York City with the annual JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film, the first and only large-scale annual film festival in North America celebrating the latest films from Japan. Running for 12 days Wednesday, July 2 through Sunday, July 13, 2008 at Japan Society, JAPAN CUTS presents nearly 20 feature films--all U.S. and New York premieres--ranging from blockbusters and animation to documentaries and cutting-edge independents. In addition, special events include collections of short films, family screenings and appearances by leading filmmakers and actors.

To learn more about Japan Society's JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film, July 2-July 13, visit

Link to last year's postings.

Link to the NYAFF site!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

More Amoeba Videos - Kimya Dawson & Kate Nash

Hi Blog,

Have really fallen behind on posting the Amoeba Videos that I've cut (this posting, in fact, only includes a couple of my newer edits). There are a lot more that are pending approval or have already been approved and need to be posted-- while others are lost to the great purgatory of artist lack of interest.

Anyway, here are two sets of videos by two women musicians who are very popular right now. You'll know Kimya Dawson (of the now defunct Moldy Peaches) because her songs filled out the JUNO movie soundtrack. Whether you'll like it or not has to do with whether you find her personality funky and cute or not.

The second set of vids are for Kate Nash, the so-called 'it' girl of the moment. Though still in her teens, her story has been packaged as a Cinderella one having gone from MySpace musician rags to major label international pop star riches in a year. You might not like it, but every teenage girl seems to.

Kimya Dawson Performance:

Kimya Dawson Interview:

Kimya Dawson YouTube Teaser:

Kate Nash Performance:

Kate Nash Interview:

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Indies Fight Major Logjam (from Variety)

Hi Blog,

Here's another article that I wanted to post in the last couple of days, but didn't have a chance to. Last Thursday (May 8th) Marc Schilling wrote an interesting article for Variety on the plight of the indie film in Japan. You can either read it below of click to their site. (Link from Ryuganji RSS.)



Indies fight major logjam

TOKYO -- Japan is the world's second-largest film market, with a total B.O. in 2007 of $1.98 billion on 163.2 million admissions. Also, the Japanese biz released 407 theatrical titles last year, out of a total of 810. Of these local pics, 29 earned $10 million or more at the B.O., compared with only 22 foreign titles -- 18 released by Hollywood majors -- that hit this mark.

All is not going swimmingly for the Japanese biz, however, particularly for the dozens of small- to mid-sized indie distribs, who must fight tooth and nail for a static number of arthouse screens while trying to scrape out a profit from a slowly shrinking DVD market. (Last year, earnings from sell-through DVDs fell 2.3%, and from DVD rentals 1.4%.)

"About 70 new Japanese features ended up on the shelves last year, unable to find a screen -- there are serious bottlenecks in the film distribution system here," says Hirobumi Doi, prexy of Japan Digital Contents Trust, a leading film fund manager.

The average production cost for Japanese commercial pics is about $3 million to $3.5 million, usually supplied by consortiums consisting of a distributor, TV network, ad agency and other media companies.

"(Producers) can usually raise all the financing they need from these sorts of consortiums -- they don't have to go outside the country," says Takashi Uchiyama, director of Visual Industry Promotion Organization (VIPO), an industry org that promotes Japanese content abroad. "They can also recoup nearly all their money domestically, so they aren't very internationally oriented."

The Japanese government, beginning with the powerful Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) is actively promoting Japanese content abroad. For the 2008 fiscal year the government has appropriated $42.2 million for content-related programs. Of this coin, $6 million is going for pic production and $17 million for the Japan Intl. Contents Festival (CoFesta). An umbrella org launched last year, CoFesta coordinates content-related events held in the fall, with the centerpiece being the Tokyo Intl. Film Festival and the concurrently held TIFFCOM market.

Even so, government support for the biz, including tax and other incentives for foreign producers, is still lacking, Doi admits. "It's hard to see the government doing much more than it is already," he says. "Parliament won't pass the needed legislation."

Private backing for production from local film funds is available, however. Most funds are one-shots, set up for a single pic or project, though some fund outfits such as JDC, which launched in 1998, are in it for the long term and serve a variety of clients. One of the biggest, JDC funds, started in April 2006, plans to raise $46 million for a slate of 20 pics for indie producer and distrib Cinequanon.

Among the pics already produced with the fund is "Hula Girls," a dramedy set in the 1960s about a mining town trying to pull itself out of the economic dumps by starting a hula troupe. Based on a true story, the pic was a hard sell to mainstream media companies, who thought its subject matter too downbeat, but Cinequanon manage to make it with JDC coin -- and the pic scored a solid $14 million at the B.O. in 2006. "We could balance the risk with other films on the fund slate," Doi says. "It's an easy concept for investors to understand."

Total film production spend in 2007:
Total B.O. for Japanese pics 2007: $946 million (407 films released)
Top Japanese film: "Hero" ($81.5 million)

Japan does not offer financial or tax incentives to foreign producers. Production assistance is available through the 100 members of the Japan Film Promotion Council, an umbrella org for film commissions throughout Japan.

Japan Film Promotion Council:
Japan Location Market:

Top film:
"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," $109 million
Total B.O. in dollars: $1.984 billion
Total number of releases: 810

"Nim's Island," Kadokawa Pictures
"Running With Arnold," Shochiku
"Rain Fall," Sony Pictures Japan
"The Reader," Showgate
"Mongol," Toei

Read the full article at:

Thanks to the Ryuganji RSS for the link. Check it out if you haven't yet!

Saturday, May 3, 2008


Hi Blog,

Doing a little housekeeping here on the ol' blog-o and wanted to give an update of what I've been up to a bit lately.

First off, I posted about this previously, but this past Tuesday (04/28/08) Synapse Films released Karaoke Terror here in the US. The DVD includes my first [printed] liner notes. Shit or not, I hope people are at the very least reading them. (DVD Talk, among other sites, has a good review of the film and favorably mentions both Christine Yano's notes as well as my own in their reviewage. Read it here.) So, in short, buy the DVD so you can read what I have to say. (C'mon, support the good folks over at Synapse films; they make, like, zilch doing this.)

Next, remember I did that Japan Film Festival symposium back in the beginning of April? It went well, all told, and I hope to have some sort of essay version of my talk up on the blog in the future. That said, don't keep your eyes too peeled as they might dry out... (The reality is, that I don't have much time to write critical theory at the moment... Unfortunately...)

The theme of my talk, if you recall, was how the type of horror known as 'J-Horror' is no longer a type of Japanese film but instead a Hollywood (read: American) creation.

To be clear, I am convinced that J-Horror is Japanese in the way that Benihana is Japanese: they're both simulacrum for the real thing. Here's what I mean: in the same way that Benihana's teppanyaki dinner, which is more about the performance than the traditionality of the food, has become what many people in America believe Japanese food to be for the sake of my talk I called this J-Horror simulacrum a 'California Roll'** for Japanese films. This foodstuff would not (until recently) be found in Japan because it's not Japanese.
And while I recognize that the genesis of the J-Horror aesthetic is something which is found originally in Japan, what we see being remade in Hollywood right now is not Japanese. It's a Hollywood view of Japanese horror. This holds true even when the film is made by Japanese director (and in fact, the argument could be made that the films are better when they're not made by Japanese filmmakers.) Notwithstanding all of this, in the same way that the California Roll has become a dish that people who eat Japanese food expect to eat when they go out here in the US, the J-Horror aesthetic is now what people think of when they go see a Japanese horror movie. And to my mind, that cannot be a good thing of for no other reason than it enforces a culture of stagnation.

You want to hear something funny? The MC for the symposium was Ichise Takashige's assistant here in LA. That's 'Mr. J-Horror,' to you. (Ain't coincidence a bitch?)

Anyway, here are the links to the Japanese articles (Nihongo de!). These are both in PDF format.

Variety Japan pdf.

Nikkan Sun pdf.

(** "The origin of the California roll is somewhat murky, but usually food historians credit Ichiro Mashita, sushi chef at the Tokyo Kaikan in Los Angeles with inventing the roll in the early 1970s. Mashita realized the oily texture of avocado was a perfect substitute for toro. He also eventually made the roll "inside-out", i.e. uramaki, because Americans did not like seeing and chewing the nori on the outside of the roll." Link.)

Angelinos: Kamikaze Documentary "Wings of Defeat" Playing Tomorrow!

Hi Blog,

Beyond the Sun was the version one name of Risa Morimoto's feature documentary Wings of Defeat. I cut that documentary about two years ago while I was still living in NYC and it was after I'd left NY that the director and producer decided to rethink the project and started over from scratch. Wings of Defeat is that new version and I am now listed in the credits as 'Associate Editor'. The documentary has received overwhelmingly positive reviews around the world and has already enjoyed a 23-city theatrical run in Japan and is now available there on DVD. (I wrote about that previously on this blog.)

I feel that Wings of Defeat -- which focuses on the Tokkotai (special attack forces, of which the Kamikaze pilots were but one iteration) and the reality and duress surrounding the use of suicide attacks during WWII -- is of particular interest given the recent controversy surrounding the Li Ying's Yasukuni documentary. The key difference here is that Wings of Defeat features first person interviews with the actual pilots and victims and is a film about understanding what this war did to the young men in Japan and the US who fought in it. In addition there's an effort by the filmmakers to create a cross cultural understanding between the Japanese and the US as witnessed by their recent US education tours wherein they've brought the US victims of Kamikaze attacks and some surviving Japanese pilots to speak at US high schools. NPR (National Public Radio) covered this the other week, in an interesting piece. (Here.)

At any rate, if you live in Los Angeles you can check Wings of Defeat out tomorrow May 4th, noon, at the Laemmle's Sunset 5 where it is playing as part of the Asian Pacific Film Festival.

Screening info here.

More about the documentary and the high school educational tour that has been created in the US to create greater awareness of the issues discussed in the film, here. (From the Japanese Embassy in the US homepage.)

Edgewood Pictures homepage.

Imdb page.