Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bone House Asia Presents: LATE BLOOMER

Hi Blog,

Ijichi-san over at Tidepoint Pictures sends me news of a new DVD label Bone House Asia and Late Bloomer's US release. I wrote about my pal Shibata Go's film Late Bloomer NYC screening before (here) but it's now been confirmed as happening at the Pioneer Theater in NYC from July 25-31st!

So if you're not at the San Diego Comic Con and are in NYC, then don't dally! See the fucking movie! Also, if you're interested in having it play in your area-- and if you are a theater owner/programmer or whatnot-- then contact Ijichi-san via the Tidepoint Pictures website. I know he's still looking for more venues.

The cover for the Late Bloomer DVD is above.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Bumming... WaiWai gone Bye-Bye

Hi Blog,

Some downer news here. Mainichi Daily news has canned it's brilliant WaiWai column. For those who didn't know about it, you missed out on the goofy dregs of shoddy Japanese tabloid journalism brilliantly translated by Mainichi editor Ryan Connell. Today I shed a tear for unsubstantiated sleaze reporting from Japan in English.... Guess I'll have to settle for this.

Thanks to Japan Probe for the bumming news... (More info available there...)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

NYTimes: URA in NYC - Wakamatsu Koji Article

Hi Blog,

There's an article on Wakamatsu Koji in today's NYTimes. Link here.

Over all a good bit of PR for Wakamatsu-san and his roundly praised film UNITED RED ARMY. However, I have a bit of an issue with author film critic Dennis Lim's line about pinku eiga being something to grow out of.

At 72, having outgrown the smut-minded confines of the pink film, he has made his most ambitious work, “United Red Army,” a 190-minute chronicle of the tumultuous rise and self-destructive collapse of the Japanese militant student groups of the 1960s and ’70s...
Okay Mr. Lim, if you say so. As if filmmakers like Wakamatsu or Kurosawa Kiyoshi were slumming and doing these films because they suffered arrested development. Maybe Wakamatsu should've grown up sooner and not at 72?

It's showing as part of the New York Asian Film Festival in conjunction with New York's Japan Society's Japan Cuts '08 festival. (July 6th at 4pm) I have a screener sitting here begging to be watched. I just need 190 minutes to do so...

Midnighteye interview with Wakamatsu here.

Friday, June 20, 2008

New Yorkers! New York Asian Film Festival '08 Starts Today!

Hi Blog!

The title says it all. Arguably the best Asian film fest in the US -- and there's some bias there since they're my pals running it -- starts today in NYC. Running until the 3rd of July, if you live in NYC or anywhere remotely nearby, I highly recommend you catch some films at the NYAFF.

Full schedule is here.

Good luck Grady, Goran, Brian, Dan and Marc! I hope this year's fest crushes New York like iddy-biddy taxis under Godzilla's feet!

Friday, June 13, 2008

New Liver? One Million for the Visa, $100,000 for the Hospital

Hi Blog,

Today's LA Times On-line has a new article on the spate of Yakuza who either came or tried to come to LA for liver surgeries. I previously wrote about this brouhaha here, but this article is of interest for these reasons:

  • Two of the patients donated $100,000 each to UCLA within months of their surgeries, although hospital officials say no preferential treatment was given in exchange for the gifts.
  • Busuttil [ Note: He's the legendary liver transplant surgeon who performed Yakuza leader Goto's surgery ] did not directly address whether he wrote a letter to the embassy on Inagawa's behalf but said he believes that "individuals seeking a U.S. visa for medical treatment are required to substantiate their application with supporting documentation such as a doctor's letter. If I am asked by a referring doctor to provide such a written medical assessment for a person in dire need of lifesaving medical treatment, I do so."

    The U.S. State Department confirmed that it requires such a letter.

    Busuttil went on to say: "I believe it is unethical to discriminate among patients on the basis of nonmedical factors. . . . The healthcare professionals in our liver transplant program have saved the lives of nearly 5,000 babies, children and adults from all walks of life, and of varying nationalities and economic status."
Sorry to interrupt but I have to comment here: "5,000 babies, children and adults from all walks of life..." Seriously? So are there Yakuza babies?
  • The Westwood medical center had developed a reputation among Japanese organized crime figures as the place to go to for transplants, two of the three sources said. Its appeal grew after Tadamasa Goto, whom law enforcement officials identify as a powerful gang leader, received a new liver at UCLA in 2001 and returned to Japan looking healthy and vibrant, they said.
"UCLA became the place," said the lawyer, who specializes in finance and has extensive knowledge of gangs in Japan. "That's how these guys think. One guy does something, the rest of them want to do it."
One stop shopping...

And here's what a former FBI agent that was involved in the visa petitioning process for a Yakuza who wanted to come into the states had to say about his involvement:
  • "I went to the American Embassy and said, 'This gentleman is trying to get into the United States for surgery. He's willing to make a large donation to the hospital that lets him in. I suspect he has some nefarious connections, and you tell me if you want him to come in or not,' " Revell said.
"They came back and said, 'We are not interested in his coming in, irrespective of the amount of money that he might contribute' " to a hospital or the type of information he was willing to provide.
"Gentleman?" Wow. By the way, I like that he makes a point of mentioning the large potential donation that the Yakuza would make to the hospital -- as if that would sweeten the deal.

More of this brilliance can be read here.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

And his family hates him...

Hi Blog,

Of interest?


Guinness certifies Japanese TV host as the world's busiest

AP Photo
AP Photo

TOKYO (AP) -- Flick through a few channels on Japanese TV and Monta Mino is most likely there. And the world's most prolific television presenter, who just broke his own record for the most hours of live television in one week, says he wants to work even more.

Mino, whose real name is Norio Minorikawa, received a Guinness World Record certificate Thursday acknowledging his 22 hours and 15 seconds of live TV broadcasts in April. He broke the previous record - also set by Mino in November 2006 - of 21 hours and 42 minutes.

In counting the hours for the record, Guinness included Mino's appearances on various live shows on several TV channels.

The hyperactive 63-year-old, who claims he only needs four hours of sleep every night, hosts 11 TV programs, including news shows, talk shows, wildlife shows and quiz shows, and appears on television every day of the week except Sunday. But apparently that isn't enough.

"How about a live show on Sunday?" Mino said at Thursday's award-giving ceremony at Nippon Television Network Corp., where he hosts an early morning news program. (link.)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The MACHINE GIRL California Roll!

(aka. Kataude Machine Girl)

Dir. Noboru Iguchi

Minase Yashiro
Ryôji Okamoto
Kentaro Shimazu
Taro Suwa
Yûya Ishikawa

Year: 2008

Format Viewed: DVD

Hi Blog!

So what can I say? MACHINE GIRL absolutely, positively does not need my review -- nor any review for that matter -- because it is essentially critic proof. Pulled from the same brackish waters as the Rodriguez/Tarantino GRINDHOUSE double feature (replete with Bruce Lee yellow and black jump suit font via Tarantino's pop cultural rejiggering) Noboru Iguchi's MACHINE GIRL is an attempt to be knowingly sleazy and exploitative and in doing so, give the audience what they want: sailor suits, geysers of blood and heaps of shot up people that look like poorly masticated hamburger. But the question you should be asking yourself, if you're a curious soul like me is: exactly who is the audience for this film? Japanese? Non-Japanese?

But before I get into that, let me tell you what the "The One-Armed Machine Girl" is all about.

Ami plays basketball, can do a li'l bit of Karate, and looks good in a sailor outfit. In fact, she's so damn sexy that even her circle of femme friends lust after her. But did you know that Ami also has a high school aged brother named Yu? Fortunately for Ami, Yu doesn't mess up Ami's cuteness by being ugly and together they laugh and shadow box with each other; personifying the best in filial love. But alas, behind that cute smile all is not well in Yu-land because he's a giant puss. Like flies to fecal matter, the bullies are attracted to Yu and want to kick his ass 10 ways from Sunday and this, it turns out, is where the story comes from.

Yu, together with his nerdy friend Takashi, are receiving the rough treatment from a group of high school hoods headed by the spoiled rotten son of the notorious Hattori Hanzo/Yakuza/Ninja/I-don't-quite-know-what-the-fuck-they-are gang. But hold up! There's more to the back story it seems. As it turns out, Ami and Yu have been walking around with a cosmic kick-me sign on them. They've got a vortex of bad luck around them and their brief moments of happiness are in actuality superficial displays masking deep emotional scarring. Taking a page from Lemony Snicket, Ami and Yu's folks are dead having committed suicide after suffering the burden of an erroneous murder rap (never explored, nor explained). (Incidentally, this strikes me as incredibly selfish of their parents but it's good for character motivation so I'll go with it.) At any rate, imagine the pain that Ami suffers when Yu is killed by the evil high school yakuza brat and his evil cohorts! She's inconsolable and revenge becomes her modus operandi.

Alas, cuteness has its limitations and Ami has zero luck tracking down her brother's (and Takashi's) killers. Fortunately, through some luck and cleverly placed deus ex machina, Ami discovers Yu's diary where he'd helpfully scrawled the names of the bullies. Voila! We now have a revenge film. Tracking down these assholes, Ami discovers that it's very much 'nurture' and not 'nature' that has turned these kids into murderous little shits; soon enough Ami is mutilating the various parents too. Cue fights and carnage which all leads to a creative and yet somehow contrived (or is it forced?) gore set-piece that culminates in Yu losing her left arm. But being the hero, Ami doesn't bleed to death and in her stupor she conveniently stumbles into Yu's dead pal Takashi's folk's garage who, in a amusing subversion of audience expectation, turn out to be former bosozoku lovers with a knack for auto mechanics and metal shop. Crafting a gatling gun that can mount on Ami's arm she becomes the titular "Machine Girl" and soon is mowing down dinks by the dozens (or half-dozens), leaving pureed bodies in her wake. (Nerd question: is it really possible to miss that badly when shooting a gatling gun in close quarers?)

A month or so back I wrote a bit about a talk I gave at the Japan Film Festival. In it I argued that Hollywood's remakes Asian horror to look and feel like Japanese horror-- even when the original source material isn't from Japan-- is tantamount to claiming that a California Roll is Japanese food even though it isn't. Further more, this packaging of the films as Japanese-like has fostered an expectation in the audience that is incorrect and as a result is forcing filmmakers to produce more works that are simulacra of what is thought to be Japanese. I called this the California Roll as film because just as California rolls aren't wa-shoku it has become what people in the west consider part of a typical Japanese meal.

Ladies and gentlemen guess what? I think what we have here with MACHINE GIRL is a perfect example of a Japanese crew making a California Roll explicitly for the foreign market. (Or would that be for the domestic market in the US?) MACHINE GIRL's production financing (and I don't know the exact break down here so bear with me here) came in part from Media Blasters (aka. Tokyo Shock) via their Fever Dreams production arm. I would argue that the aim of a film like this as judge by the kind of film it is (low-budget Japanese exploitation), to the elements used (High School girls! Sailor outfits! weapons! Gore!) were all deliberately calculated to maximize the satisfaction of the intended audience and thereby Media Blasters profits.

Don't get me wrong here; this isn't a criticism of good business per se and in fact knowing who your audience is and actually delivering in large part on the promised film is no small feat. MACHINE GIRL does so, I think. I do think that the film needed some nudity in it, because a true exploitation leaves no grimy stone unturned. (Besides, why would you hire an AV starlet like Asami and NOT use some of her goods? That's like hiring, I dunno, Orson Welles and having his keep his mouth shut.)

But as much as I had fun watching this film, there's something incredibly odd about it: it doesn't feel like I'm watching a Japanese exploitation film that has somehow lucked out and gotten a DVD release here in the US. It feels like someone had watched a bunch of gonzo Miike Takashi films and one or two Sono Sion flicks said, "Shit we can do that!" and forked over a 150,000 clams to get it made. To put it another way, it felt as authentic as the Kill Bill did to the Asian films Tarantino was making love to. The key difference here is that MACHINE GIRL has been made in large part by Japanese people. But somehow it still chafes; it doesn't fit right. It feels like a Japanese chef has been hired to prepare food that is thought to be Japanese food, but really isn't.

All in all, I enjoyed the film enough. It vacillates between some smart filmmaking (the high school ninja club attacks!) and some incredibly embarrassing production short-comings (Halloween cobwebs and spiders production design?) but for a silly night out it's all right. But I can't shake the feeling that this film could have been better. How? I think ultimately it should've come down to less Tarantino cliche and more expectation subversion. The school girl thing is cute, I guess, but it's played out. Less California Rolls and more regional fare, please.

Here's, like, a BILLION links to MACHINE GIRL via Twitchfilm.