Monday, October 01, 2007

FEMALE PRISONER # 701 : SCORPION

FEMALE PRISONER # 701 : SCORPION
Original Title: Joshuu 701-gô : Sasori
Directed by: Shunya Ito, Japan, 1972
Drama / Thriller / Crime, 87 min
Distributed by: Tokyo Shock

Story:
After being set up and deceived by her “boyfriend / Bad cop” Sugimi [Isao Natsuyagi], Nami Matsushima, aka The Scorpion [Meiko Kaji] finds herself in one of the most violent prisons in Japan. When she isn’t fighting off the other female prisoners, she’s planning a taunting game of cat and mouse with the evil head of the facility Inspector Goda [Fumio Wantanabe, who also returned for the sequel] but no prison is safe enough to keep Sasori behind bars as she is renown for her daring escapes from custody time and time again. No prison can stand in the way of her vengeance!

Me:
You can’t sit though a Sasori movie with out realising that this is Kick-ass cinema when it’s at it’s best, although I don’t feel that this the first instalment of original seventies Sasori is the best of the four movies, I’d like to reserve that spot for Shunya Ito’s third entry; Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable 1973. (Shunya Ito only directed the first three, and then left Yasuharu Hasabe to helm the final instalment in 1973. In 1976 a new series was initiated but this time without the stunning Meiko Kaji , and then spawning several more sequels, even a Sasori in America as late as 1997) Anyhow, you should start off with the original to get into the mood and back-story to who Sasori is and why she doesn’t take any shit from nobody.
From the opening sequence where Sasori and a friend escape from the prison and are chased by armed guards shooting at them like there was no tomorrow, only to take a time out and explain to her friend that the blood between her legs is only her period that has returned after being locked up for so long, to the climactic final scenes where vengeance is taken and justice is served this movie just keeps the punches coming. But having seen my fair share of Women in prison movies (anyone interested in subgenre cinema has without a doubt sat through several hours of cheap Euro sleazy W.I.P. movies) it is very obvious that this movie (like the entire Sasori series) has a very strong feminist theme running through it. Even though the females are victims for most of the film, Sasori still stands strong, and even though each torment is more hideous than the previous, Sasori never sways from her main objective. To break out of prison and take her revenge on Sugami, her one time boyfriend who used her in one of his scams to bust a yakuza gang. Used in the way of letting the gang take turns in raping her and then he nonchalantly throws a bunch of yen notes at her and walks away. From this instance in life, Sasori starts planning her revenge, and it won’t come as a surprise when I tell you that she takes it in full with force too, now will it...

Not having much luck in her career and smaller parts in Nikkatsu’s Stray Cat Rock series in the very early 1970’s actress Meiko Kaji in an attempt to avoid becoming a Pinku film starlet, moved to Toei where she found herself working with director Shunya Ito on a series of adaptations of Toru Shinohara’s Women in Prison Manga. This could have been one of the wisest decisions that Kaji ever took as the films became huge successes in Japan and propelled her to stardom, and probably contributed to her landing the lead in Toshiya Fujita’s two classic Lady Snowblood movies. Meiko Kaji later acted in several of Kenji Fukasaku’s Yakuza movies, Yakuza Graveyard 1976, being the one to stand out the most. But as being one of Japan’s most famous actresses wasn’t enough Kaji also had modest success as a singer, often singing several songs on the soundtracks to her movies. If you saw Tarantion’s Kill Bill movies [2003-2004] you have heard Kaji singing the laid back jazzy "Urami-Bushi" and "Flower of Carnage (Shura No Hana)" from both the Sasori series and the Lady Snowblood movies.

If you want to see where part of the inspiration for Uma Thurman's The Bride character in Kill Bill came from, then check out Shunya Ito's magnificent Female Prisoner #701 : Scorpion. It's a true gem of Japanese seventies cinema, although not a Pinku, it's still violent and sleazy enough to make an impression and become a late night classic. Go get it now!

Image:
2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Audio:
Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0, Optional English Subtitles

Extras:
Photo Gallery, trailers for the other “Sasori” movies released by Tokyo Shock.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

THEM

THEM
Original Title: ils
Directed by: David Moreau and Xavier Palud, France/Romania, 2006 Thriller / Mystery, 74min
Distributed by NOBLE FILM

Story:
One night Cleméntine [Olivia Bonamy] is awaken by strange sounds in the rural countryside house that she and boyfriend Lucas [Micahaël Cohen] are living in. She awakens Lucas and tells him that she thinks someone is in the house. The pair gathers up the courage to investigate, but as they walk around the house Cleméntine notices that their car isn’t parked in the place they left it. Lucas goes out to check, and the headlights flick on and blind him as the car skids away down the drive. Then the power goes out and strange lights start to shine into the house…
Me:
I didn’t know much about this movie when I sat down to watch it, more that the lame US tagline “The film that terrified Europe has come to America!”. So as I haven’t heard anything about this movie before and I live in Europe, I was quite interested to find out what it was about. Is it a ghost story? Is it a gory horror movie? Is it a strange sci-fi? As the opening titles with the “Based on a true story” and a quite routine opening sequence; Something on the road, car swerves into ditch, one person goes out to check while the other waits inside the dark car, then a series of weird events are supposed to freak us out… blah, blah, blah, nothing that we haven’t seen previously, and I started getting fidgety. This is going to suck I thought. But then we leave the horror formula and directors Moreau and Palud start introducing their lead characters. And this they do with a great feeling and skill. After fifteen minutes we know what the two French characters are doing in Romania, we know what they work with, and we know the level/status of their relationship. So many times the directors rush into creating a scary scenario that they completely miss the main ingredient in horror/thriller drama; Do we really give a fuck about the poor sods about to have terrible things happen to them. Apart from decent character establishment, both leads are very good looking, not drop dead gorgeous, but everyday good looking which adds to the lure of drawing the viewer in. The acting is really good, and honestly believable. No sudden, over human feats that have you going, But come on if that just happened there’s no way he’d be able to…, just down toned realism. And that is a key note for Ils, and probably why I found myself really being drawn into this impressive shocker. There is a very bold “low key” feel to the entire movie, and it really works well, the cameras are obviously handheld, possibly DV, and the lighting isn’t the existing light, but it sure looks like it in the darker sets, all of this adds to create a documentary, or realistic feel to the movie if you like, and that is a very effective way of portraying a “based on true events” kind of movie. Also the small details that set the characters into a very believable world, the way that Cleméntine taunts Lucas when he says that a writer is always working even if he isn’t sitting at his computer, the loveable bickering during their very minimalist dinner, the way that the directors dare take time to show them sitting together watching a TV show that they don’t understand, just to pass time before hitting the sack for the night. It’s a very “honest” scene that is set. What I also liked about Ils is the fact that instead of keeping the “Them” as a strange unidentified entity, Moreau and Palud just leave it be and you pretty soon start putting the pieces together and figure it out. This isn’t a ghost story, this isn’t a weird sci-fi, this isn’t a supernatural horror film, it’s playing straight to the heart and the most terrifying thing that you could ever imagine, an unknown person walking in off the street and entering your “safe” home! If you ever have had anyone walk into your house in the middle of the night, like I have, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Keeping in line with the realistic approach, there’s not any silly “you go this way I’ll go that way” scenes either, the few times that Cleméntine and Lucas are separated is all done in a believable way. All this adds up to create a very effective movie, and once again proves that less is more. There are no big scary shock music keys, matter of fact keeping with the realism note, there’s hardly any music in the movie at all, so you can’t figure out, oh here’s the score key coming in, something’s going to happen warning signals, there’s no over the top special effects, just down to earth realistic terror.

So if you haven’t seen Ils, the movie that supposedly terrified Europe, I suggest that you stop what you are doing and watch this movie as soon as possible, because I can bet you that this movie will be picked up and remade in the US pretty soon and probably loose most of its realistic, but scary charm.

Image:

Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1.
Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, Danish, and English subtitles are optional.

Audio:
French and Romanian language, in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS

Extras:
On the Scandinavian release there is only a half hour making of feature, but this is a very informative feature where the directors and actors talk about what they wanted to create and bring to the movie with them.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Marebito

Marebito
Directed by: Takeshi Shimizu, Japan, 2005
Fantasy / Horror / Drama, 92min
Distributed by: Tartan Asia

Story:
Freelance cameraman Matsuoka [Shinya Tsukamoto] has determined to find the true face of fear after documenting a man committing suicide. His search takes him deep beneath the streets of Tokyo and into huge system of complex tunnels. At the end of the tunnel he finds the remains of an abandoned ancient city and there he finds her… the pale naked woman that he takes back to his flat and tries to “acclimatise” to modern society. Each day the woman who he calls F. [Tomomi Miyashita].grows weaker and weaker until Matsuoka accidentally finds out what she needs to regain her strength and health.

Me:
Well I’ve had quite a few mixed feelings towards Shimizu’s movies, I thought that the first Ju-On movies and the sequels where great the first time I saw them, but upon repeated viewing they rapidly get quite annoying as you never really get to know the characters, and his efforts after them, what with the US remakes and all. After I watched Rinne [Aka Reincarnation, 2005] I was truly disappointed and it made me loose interest in his career. But by chance I stumbled over Marebito and decided to give it a chance, even though I previously have rejected it due to reviews. Anyhow, the first ten minutes managed to draw me in and it could have been the way Shimizu starts to unfold this tale of just the fact that it was Tsukamoto in the lead role as Matsuoka. After the quite graphic suicide of Arei Fukori [Kazuhiro Nakagawa] Matusoka starts his quest for the true face of fear, which drives him to return to the scene of the suicide, where he starts searching for clues to what gave Arei that terrified gaze in his stare the seconds before he took his own life. And here Shimizu starts to take on bold steps. Matsuoka finds himself discovering an underground system of tunnels in which he finds the ghost of Arei, and somewhere about here you start to realise that this isn’t going to be a typical J-horror shocker. The ghost is just there and he doesn’t come of as a threat to Matsuoka, who doesn’t even get scared by the ghost. The ghost leads him down the dark corridors until Matsuoka arrives at an ancient city which I to the best can be described as a Lovecraft-ian sort of world which sets a completely different tone to the events to come. Ok so the city is quite bad CGI and I had a few problems buying it, but Shimizu does wise in not focusing on the city and moves rapidly on to the “creature” or naked shockingly skinny naked woman that Matsuoka finds chained to the wall of a cave. He takes her home and starts to study her so that he can adapt her to modern society. He does this with a complicated system of surveillance cameras and even through his cell phone that is connected to a webcam at his flat. Somewhere around here I started to realise that there are two ways to watch this movie, either you can be disappointed because it isn’t turning out to be a J-horror movie within the formula or you can watch it as a melancholic fantasy drama, which plays out like homage to the world of Lovecraft. It’s all there, the lonesome protagonist searching for something, alone with his doubts of his own sanity. The relationship between Matsuoka and F. as he calls her sort of reminds me of George and Weena in George Pal’s The Time Machine 1960. A strange relationship which blends curiosity with fascination and fear for the unknown with protective parental instincts. The lengths that Matsuoka goes to when he realises that F. craves blood to survive are just one example, and the baby bottling of his victims blood is another. Then the question about his sanity! Is he in fact just insane or is this happening? The strange man in black that keeps showing up and talking about the “task” that Matsuoka has taken upon himself, and then there’s the worried woman who stalks him and then claims to be his ex-wife and F. his daughter! Is he insane or is it happening? Also the ending, could you actually ask for a better ending? Matstuoka gets what he is searching for on all levels, the company of F, and he finds the fear that he so desperately was looking for!


In general I enjoyed the movie, there was enough elements thrown in at the right time to keep the J-Horror slow crawling pace alive and vibrant, for instance the suicide, the ghost of Arei, the Lovecraft-ian thread, the finding of F., the mysterious woman Aya Fukumoto [Miho Ninagawa, who you probably recognise from Miike’s MOH episode Imprint], the Man in Black [Shun Sugata, who you may have seen in loads of other Japanese genre movies like Kairo, Koroshiya 1, and even Tarantino’s Kill Bill.] the discovery of F. needs for survival and so forth all the way though out the movie, and it works. I definitely have to revalue Shimizu again, and would highly recommend Marebito to anyone looking for gems within the world of Asian cinema, but keep in mind it isn’t a J-Horror formula movie it’s something completely different even if a lot of the trademarks are there.

Image: Anamorphic Widescreen: 1.78:1, Optional English Subtitles.

Audio:
Japanese Dolby Digital Surround 5.1, Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 and DTS Digital 5.1.

Extras:
There are a few short interviews with Director Takashi Shimizu, actor/director Shinya Tsukamoto and Writer Hiroshi Takahashi. Film notes and the original theatrical Trailer.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Turk Trek

Turk Trek
[Aka: Turkish Star Trek, aka; Ömer the Tourist in Star Trek]
Original Title: Tourist Ömer Uzay Yolunda
Directed by: Hulki Saner, Turkey, 1973
Comedy / Sci-fi, 75min
Distributed by: BijouFlix Releases [www.bijouflix.com]

Story:
Finding himself in quite a tight spot facing a shotgun wedding, Ömer [Sadri Alisik] is miraculously rescued when he is beamed onboard The Enterprise. Pretty soon he becomes part of an investigatory party consisting of himself, Mr Spak, [Erol Amaç], Doktor McCoy [Ferdi Merter] and two red-sweater-guys (and we all know what happens to the red sweater guys in Star Trek don’t we!) who are beamed down onto a mysterious planet to find out what the sinister Professor Krater [Kayhan Yildizouglu] and his army of femme fatales are up to. Things get pretty crazy for a while until Kapitain Kirk [Chemil Sahbaz] beams down to the planet to help Mr. Spak and Ömer sort things out.

Me:
Well if you’re looking for a freaky and hilarious fun filled movie from Turkey, then I’ve got to recommend this one to you. As far as space parodies go this one hit the nail right on the head and makes an impression even if you don’t get much of the Turkish dialogue. Frequently referred to as the Turkish Star Trek rip off, you have to be fair and point out that Ömer the Tourist in Star Trek is in fact the final part in a series of six Ömer the Tourist movies that Hulki Saner directed starring Sadri Alisik in the lead role as the “out of place” but loveable dope Ömer. And even though you probably sit down to laugh at the cheap “rip-off” you will quite soon be blown away by the impressive opening title sequences and the amazing sets that make up the Enterprise Bridge and locations used for the “alien“planet. Loosely based on the first Star Trek “Man-Trap” episode from the first season which aired in 1966 the plot finds Ömer being beamed right into the heart of the action. On the mysterious planet Professor Krater has found a shape shifting alien that sucks the salt out of its victims, and now Ömer is part of the Enterprise gang trying to escape from Professor Krater and at the same time figure out which of the sexy miniskirted dames and loin clothed male androids is the salt monster. Just for good measure Saner throws in a few memorable homage’s to other classic Star Trek episodes like the Kirk vs. Spock fight from the "Amok Time" episode. So if you what to see a rather decent Star Trek parody complete with cast of Turkish look-a-like Star Trek characters , fake pointy ears, scantily clad babes, sinister foes, and an overweight Turkish tourist completely out of place then this movie is definitely something that you want to check out as soon as possible.

A fun note to wrap things up with is that Tourist Ömer Uzay Yolunda shot in 1973 with it’s 75 minute run could actually be considered the first Star Trek Motion Picture as it took another six years before Robert Wise’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture was first seen on the screen in 1979, and apparently the movie did so well in Turkey that it even was sold to Germany with the Turkish communities there in mind.

Image:
Full screen 4:3. The material is obviously taken from a VHS source, but just the sheer cult value of this movie makes up for the few disturbances to the film. Unfortunately there are not any subtitles available, but honestly you don’t really need them. If you’ve seen enough Star Trek you’ll easily figure out what they are going on about, and Ömer’s comedy is all visual.

Audio:
With it’s origins from VHS the audio is only 2.0 Stereo.

Extras:
The releasers of this movie, BijouFlix could have easily just put the film on a DVD-R and left it at that, but fortunately they have decided to fill out the disc with a few interesting items, that have nothing to do with the main feature, but are enjoyable to watch all the same. Three trailers for other BijouFlix releases, Anton Giulio Majano’s 1960 shocker Atom Age Vampire, Jason Griscom’s low budget Zombie flick Come Get Some! from 2003, and Ishirô Honda’s amazing 1963 Sci-Fi thriller Matango (aka Attack of the Mushroom People). There’s also “The Bulleteers” an almost eight minute episode of Max Fleischer’s 1942 animated Superman series. Finally there are two fifties/sixties drive-in commercials, one for “Tastee Treet” and an infomercial reminding customers to hang their speakers back before leaving the drive in.



Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Ghost of Kasane












Ghost of Kasane, The

Original Title: Kaidan Kasane-ge-fuchi
Directed by: Nobuo Nakagawa, Japan, 1957 Horror / Drama, 66 min, Black and White Distributed by: Beam Entertainment / Eclipse Films

Story:
Blind masseur Soetsu leaves his loving wife and infant daughter Rui one night and goes to collect a debt from a neighbour samurai. But the samurai is arrogant and refuses to pay up, and when Soetsu pushes him harder to repay the debt, the samurai nonchalantly swipes out his sword and murders Soetsu. Realising what he has done in his outburst of anger, the samurai drags Soetsu’s body to the nearby swamp where he buries it deep in the waters. Later the same night the ghost of Soetsu appears in front of the killer and scares him into madness. In his rage of fear and fury the samurai accidentally killing his wife. Which leaves the samurai with no choice but to take his own life. Twenty years later the now grown daughter or Soetsu, Rui [Kazuko Wakasugi], has fallen in love with a young man called Shinkichi [Takashi Wada], but she could never have known that he actually is the son of her father’s murderer.

Where their innocent love should bloom and evolve it quite rapidly becomes evident that Soetsu’s curse will continue for many generations and pretty soon everyone connected to the curse find them selves face to face with ghosts and terrifying death.

Me:
Based on author Enchô San'yuutei’s traditional horror novel Shinkei Kasane ga fuchi from 1859, which quickly became a popular favourite in Japan due to it’s what goes around comes around approach not to far from the eastern way of karmic philosophies. To date there have been some seven different versions of Shinkei Kasane ga fuchi spanning from 1928 to the early seventies, and there was also three TV serials based on the novel. Ghost of Kasane is an early Nakagawa film in many aspects, and his version of San'yuutei’s tale of humanity and revenge from beyond the grave is a wonderful early piece of cinema from in my opinion on of the really great Japanese “Horror” directors. Ok so it’s kind of wrong to label Nakagawa as a horror director as he directed some thirty plus films, but it’s his creepy low paced horror films of the later part of his career that he has come to be mostly know for. There are not too many shocks as we have grown accustomed to them during the last few years of Asian horror, but there are still a few very good moments. The effects are often quite few but when Nakagawa brings them on they work. You have to remember that this film was shot in 57, and being of that time period it’s very well crafted. The sudden shocking transformation of Kazuko Wakasugi from sombre Rui to the hideously deformed monster is very effective, and the restrained way that Nakagawa shows her to us, at first reflected in the waters, is a very good build up to the climactic finale.
The tale unravels in a nice controlled pace, the opening murders and death, the love plot between Rui and Shinkichi, and this is where Nakagawa chooses to focus on the empathy between the two and the people who know them and their forbidden feelings for each other. Obviously they are from different families and classes so their love doesn’t come without social complications. It’s Nakagawa’s focus on the empathy that makes this movie stick out. It’s honestly really a love story with a ghost curse delicately woven in to create a sad and spooky tale where the fate of the main characters has already been decided through the sins of their ancestors.

I probably wouldn’t recommend this movie for anyone trying to find “new” treats within the world of Asian horror, for that I’d probably tell you to check out The Ghost of Yotsuya from 1959 or the masterful Jigoku from 1960, but if you’ve been around the block a few times and want something you haven’t seen then this one might just be right up your street.

Image:
Black and White 4:3, Optional English Subtitles.

Audio:
Dolby Digital 2.0

Extras:
Biograpies and Filmograpies, but in Japanese
This since long out of print version of The Ghost of Kasane, can be purchased through
SASORI-41

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
Directed by: Russ Meyer, 1965, USA
Action / Drama, 83Min
Distributed by: RM Films/Nordisk Film

Story:
Three well endowed female kick-ass hell raisers who spend their time off from the strip joint they work at racing their cars in the desert, kidnap stuck-up preppy girl Linda [Susan Bernard] after gang leader Varla [Tura Satana] fights Linda’s boyfriend to the death. After a short stop at a desert gas station they set their sights on an old man [Stuart Lancaster] and his two sons. According to rumour the old man has a fortune hidden away at his home in the desert. Billie [Lori Williams] falls head over heels for the old mans semi-retarded, but incredibly well built son “the vegetable” [Dennis Busch] and after she decides that it might be time to leave the gang, becomes a obstacle for Rosie [Haji] and Varla’s plans.

Me:
This is a fantastic movie and one of my personal favourite Meyer movies ever. It has everything working for it; the amazing trio of Tura Satana, Haji and Williams is probably the best constellation that Meyer ever put together. The way Satana snaps the girls into order, beats the living crap out of anyone that gets in her way, the subliminal lesbian romance between Satana & Haji, the ever provocative Williams, who you always feel is the outsider in the trio, the three male characters, Lancaster’s vile old man taking his revenge on every woman who gets close to his ranch, the retarded hunk-o-muscle who when it all comes around knows that he is doing wrong by helping his father in his rape and murder revenges, and the goody two shoes older brother Kirk [Paul Trinka] who at first lusts for Varla and falls for her female charm before he has a rude awakening and turns to the dark side, it’s all just so brilliantly done. Mayer based his story on frequent co-writer and old wartime buddy Jack Moran’s screenplay, and it’s easily the best movie the two made together. Fast paced editing, screeching soundtrack, fast cars, beautiful women, the whole opening sequence where the tension builds as the narrator [John Furlong, who provided the voice for several other Meyer movies] explains the danger of what we are about to see “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Violence!” before cutting over to the explosive burlesque dance routine that the girls pull off, the always as witty and sharp dialogue that Meyer frequently used to have in his movies (Definitely an influence on Taratino’s way of writing dialogue!) “Breast of thigh, darlin?” said to some of the most stunning women ever on screen. The exagerated violenThe tongue in cheek campiness that became Meyer’s signature mark, it’s all there, it all had to be there, the movie would have been a complete turkey without it, and it’s all these elements that you come to expect when you watch a Meyer movie. Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Just happens to be one of the best pieces of mid sixties exploitation sinema that you’ll ever see. Check it out A.S.A.P.

Unfortunately this DVD was probably one of the lousiest, cheap and exploitative in all the wrong ways that I’ve seen in a long time. The print was a disgrace, there must be a better one around than this one, heck, even the clips in the featurette found on the disc where much better quality than the movie it’s self. And even the featurette isn’t complete, in mid sentence Tura Satana is cut off and we’re returned to the menu screen. Nope, this disc is an outrage, and after reading Jimmy McDonough's Big Bosoms and Square Jaws biography over Meyer, I’m sad to have bought this disc as the money is definitely not going where I would have liked to see it go, and the quality is so poor that I regret ever letting those French VHS tapes go. Meyer himself used to hold all rights to his movie negatives, making sure that he and no one else pocketed the profits from his movies, and knowing how his company was taken over by ass monkeys in his last years of life there’s a bitter after taste in my mouth after enjoying this fantastic movie in such a pitiful state.

Image:
Full frame 4:3, 1.33:1, black and white. As mentioned above, the print isn’t in the best shape.
Optional subtitles in Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and Finnish are available

Audio:
1.0 Mono, no frills here either.

Extras:
None mentioned on the sleeve, but there’s a neat featurette where the ladies (Satana, Haji, Williams and Bernard] now in their late sixties, early seventies reminiscence about the movie, its impact, and their buddy Russ Meyer. But like I also mentioned above, it breaks off before it is finished making it an extremely annoying feature on an already disappointing disc.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Black Lizard

Black Lizard
Original title: Kurotokage
Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku, Japan, 1968
Crime / Comedy, 86min
Distributed by: Cinevista Video
(DVD-R available from SASORI-41)

Story:
Japan’s top private investigator, Detective Akechi [Isao Kimura] goes head to head with the sneaky female jewel thief who goes under the name Black Lizard [Akihiro Miwa]. The Black Lizard has her eyes set on the world’s largest diamond, The Star of Egypt, in the possession of renowned jeweller Shobei Iwasa [Junya Usami]. To get her hands on the star Black Lizard has worked out a series of cunning plans to kidnap Iwasa’s daughter Sanyae [Kikko Matsuoka] to trade for her painfully desired Star of Egypt.

Me:
I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again, you can’t go wrong with a Fukasaku movie. Black Lizard is a perfect example of Fukasaku at his best, but instead of the hard edge Yakuza style that he perfected in so many movies, Black Lizard plays it with a suave campy edge where the two leads, Kimura and Miwa, act out a cat and mouse game with sudden twists to the plot to show how they constantly are one step ahead of each other all the time. When you think that Detective Akechi has a good grip on the situation, Black Lizard quickly pulls her next move which has cunningly predicted what Akechi’s move would be and sets a complete new scenario in play, and every time Black Lizard thinks she’s one step ahead, Akechi is already there to surprise her with his countermove, and that’s how the movie plays. Fukasaku has probably made this structure deliberately and it works with the film instead of against, because even though you may already know that there’s going to be a twist, it just keeps dragging you in as you try to anticipate how they will outdo each other in each step they take. The grand finale is brilliant with it’s many plot twists and sudden revelations when Black Lizard reveals the final details of her fiendish plans for Sanaye and shows off her gallery of life-sized mummified dolls, the panic and fear that Sanaye shows and the sudden twist she’s confronted with as she thinks Amamiaya [Yuksue Kawazu] has come to save her, and then surprise a new twist that you definitely didn’t see coming and at the same time you’re awaiting Akechi to turn up and save the day… It’s an amazing blend of ingredients that make up one hell of a great movie that you’ll want to watch over and over again.

Black Lizard is based on Yukio Mishima’s stage adaptation, Mishimia who two years later committed seppuku, and was eternalized in Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, who also can be briefly seen as one of the human statues in Black Lizards evil lair, anyhow, the movie is based on Mishimas stage adaptation of Rampo Edogawa’s book (who frequently has Detective Korogo Akechi as a main character) and it is an amazing movie with a fantastic aura, great sets, wonderful locations and style that could possibly be called pop-art chic. Quite a few times I find myself thinking of Mario Bava’s Diabolik 1968, or some of Franco’s sexy/kitschy spy spoofs Sadist Erotica & Kiss Me Monster both from 1969 in particular, or even Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter 1966 and Branded to Kill 1967, which is no surprise really, the style, tone and attitude of the movies are very much in the same vain. Tongue in cheek, full of strong visuals, devoted criminals, focused heros , hot chicks and smooth soundtracks. The acting is on a terrific campy level, and the fact that Black Lizard is portrayed by the transvestite Akihiro Miwa, which is never discussed or mentioned in the movie, it’s just the way it is, just adds to the weird atmosphere of the movie, and spices up the passionate thrill between the two leads. (It's worth pointing out that Akihiro Miwa also supplied her/his voice talent to Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke 1997 and Howl's Moving Castle 2004)

Image:
Widescreen 16:9, with burned in English subtitles. Apart from three distortions in the source material the print is immaculate. I can’t dream of what a top notch company could do with a digital restoration of this movie.

Audio:
This DVD-R originates from a vhs master so the sound is Stereo 2.0

Extras:
None apart from the two page chapter sub-screen, but doesn’t really qualify as an extra does it.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Survive Style 5+


Survive Style 5+
Directed by: Gen Sukiguchi, Japan, 2004
Thriller/Comedy/Drama, 120min
Distributed by: Geneon


Story:
Five constellations of people and how their lives are interwoven in a fast paced blend of Guy Ritchie, Wes Anderson and Takashi Miike. There’s Yoko [Kyôko Koizumi] the self centred AD who is constantly trying to sell her abstract ideas to friends and customers, Aman [Tadanobu Asano] who is desperately trying to get away from his wife [Reika Hashimoto], but every time he succeeds in killing her and buries her, she mysteriously is resurrected by the time he gets home and the fight starts all over again. Sombre businessman Mr. Kobayashi [Shihori Kanjiya] and his family who find themselves stuck in a strange state a hypnotism goes terribly wrong, the three burglars Tsuda [Kanji Tsuda], Morishita [Yoshiyuki Morishita] and J [Jai West] where Tsuda is secretly in love with J, and finally the contract-killer-agent [Yosiyosi Arakawa] who has flown in a philosophical killer [Vinnie Jones] to help him out with a few cases.

Me:
I was in doubt a few times under the first fifteen minutes, as I thought Sukiguchi’s almost two hour debut feature would be a typical “first time feature film with a past in music videos” kind of movie and just rely heavily on fast editing fancy colourful sets and pacing to substitute plot and likeable characters but then something started to happen and I was slowly drawn in to the flow of the movie. Characters start to develop, obstacles for the five constellations are set in motion, music cues are introduced (like the “come Baby, come, come baby” Erasure-ish cues every time Tsuda starts to fantasize about J.) and the five individual tales are kicked into motion. One by one the paths cross into each other and have a varied effect on the cast. As soon as the five groups are introduced Sukiguchi starts of his magic, and one of the characters that I thought was going to be a lead character, Aoyoma the Hypnotist [Hiroshi Abe], after interacting with Mr. Kobayashi is violently killed off by Vinnie Jones hit man. This is how it continues to play through out, each set interacting with the others in one way or another. The moods that Sukiguchi tries to put on screen work like a charm, at the end of it all you end up believing the characters and rooting for their inner battles, The Homo-erotic tension between Tsuda and J, Aman and his wife battling it out and the wonderfully poetic twist that comes out of it, and even the surprise ending of Mr. Kobayashi, how unbelievable it still is, works and you feel satisfied with the conclusions. All of this isn’t depending on the fact that there’s loads of music, fast editing and some great sets and costume design, that’s just the two hour music video style and form coming though, No it all boils down to the well written stories and how the group of characters evolve, and the cast is really good, they do a great job of portraying all these fragile characters. The majority of the acting is great, Kanjiya is truly believable as the hypnotised father who now goes on living his life under hypnosis (I won’t tell you how, as it’s a hilarious story in the film), Koizumi sways from happy pitcher to misunderstood creative genius, which I’ve seen happen so many times in reality that I truly believe her. There’s even a great cameo by Sonny Chiba as Koizumi’s boss. It’s always a joy to watch Tadanobu Asano who always manages to wear his characters most inner feelings by only using very small measures; his Aman character is no exception. There’s almost no dialogue at all between Asano and Reika Hashimoto in their scenes, but still they manage to make the larges impression as their tale moves from so many extremes (fighting to the death, to reconciliation and happiness, to finally end up with saddens and despair). The only person that actually feels like he’s completely out of place is Vinnie Jones. His hard-as-a-rock jargon “What’s your function in life?” doesn’t quite work for me, or it could just be the sickness of him sticking to the same type of roles that he’s become accustomed to, like Ritchie’s Lock Stock, and Snatch. A loudmouthed hit man with no sense of remorse anywhere.

So to summarize, Survive Style 5+ truly is a kickass fun fest of a rollercoaster where Sekiguchi skilfully blends his music video and commercial trademarks of vibrant colours and surreal situations with well plotted storylines that make for a great movie which in the end didn’t felt way shorter than the two hours it plays, which is a good thing. Definitely worth checking out. Unfortunately this is the only movie to date that Sekigushi has directed, and that’s a shame, it’s these kinds of young in-your-face directors that we need to keep the Asian film scene from becoming synonymous with Samurai, Yakuza and pale subtle ghosts.

Image:
16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen. Subtitles in Japanese, and English optional

Audio:
Dolby Digital 5.1 & Dolby Digital 2.0

Extras:
Promotional films for the movie, TV trailers and the Theatrical trailer. There could easily have been a lot more on this disc.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

PULSE

PULSE
Directed by: Jim Sonzero, USA, 2006
Horror / Thriller / Sci-Fi, 90 min.
Distributed by: Dimension Films


Story:
When Mattie's [Kristen Bell] computer hacker boyfriend Josh [Jonathan Tucker] starts ignoring her she goes to visit him after a mysterious phone call left on her answering machine. When she gets there Josh is obviously disturbed by something and proceeds to take his life in front of her eyes. Three days later Mattie receives an email from Josh begging her to help him. This is just the start of a series of strange events that seem to be triggered by the wireless technology that we take for granted as a strange ghost like figure glitches it's way into Mattie and her friends life scaring them beyond belief as they one by one fall for the curse that makes them want to take their own lives...

Me:
What a load of bollocks. Honestly, what a waste of time. Based on the far superior movie Kairo by Kioshi Kurosawa, this movie is just another in the way to long line of piss poor US remakes. The acting is appalling, when Mattie finds her hung boy friend the best she can do is blurt out an "Oh My God" which could just as easily have been in reference to the price of her cell bill. It just doesn't work. It's flat and even though they try to make it scary it isn't. In one of the many "featurettes" in the special features they claim to have taken a scary movie and enhanced it so that it's even scarier... Duh, listen here all you remakers, the originals work because they take a low key no frills approach to the spectres, ghosts and scary little white ghosts. They just appear, or they are already part of the scene. When Josh first appears in his flat they use this to perfection just like in the original, he's already there and just stands up. No soundtrack key, no glitchy sound effect, just natural and raw. But after that and Kristen Bell's worst line every delivery "Oh My God.", it just goes down hill. Musical keys all the time, I know that something is going to happen because all the classic Hollywood keys tell me to get ready for a shock, that's what turned me off western horror and made me start watching Asian horror instead. Nope, for me this movie did nothing, nothing at all, and the only thing that made me sit though it was the fact that they at least had carbon copied key scenes from the movie they are trying to outdo. It's also very obvious that Sonzero comes from the music video side of the spectrum. Because there's a feeling to the movie that I can't put my finger on it, but sometimes a movie is all look and no feeling (or acting] and that's a good sign that it's a music director trying to pull off something he can't. Niespel's TCM [2003] remake works in some ways, Tarsem's eye popping The Cell [2000] work's, they have great visuals, rather good acting and the movies have a storyline that create an interest. The last I heard of Sonzero is that he's helming Clive Barker's Hellraiser remake. That is one hell of an original movie to try to remake, and it's more than likely going to be one of the last nails hammered into the last few years remake craze. But perhaps this is a good thing; at least we'll not have to see favourite movies desecrated again and again until the next wave hit's us.

So stay away from this movie, and put your money on buying the original there's a very obvious reason why this film bombed at the theaters.

Image:
Widescreen 1.66:1. For some reason the creators of this movie thought that giving the "ghost scenes" and the "other side" a washed out grey scale look would help the movie, but in my opinion it didn't. It just adds to the fakeness that wasn't anywhere to be found in the original.
Subtitles in English [H.O.H.] and Spanish are optional.

Audio:
Dolby Digital 5.1 & French Dubbed Dolby Digital 5.1

Extra:
A bunch of deleted/additional scenes, including a totally anticlimactic death of Dexter scene that is so lame I'm lost for words. Creating the Fear a making of and featurettes focusing on the visual effects and one on the paranormal phenomenons found in Pulse. Two commentaries that I'm sure never to endure listening too, and the theatrical trailer.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Borat : Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Borat : Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan Directed by: Larry Charles, USA, 2006 Comedy, 84min Distributed by: SF / Fox

Story:
Kazakhi journalist Borat Sagdiyev [Sacha Baron Cohen] takes a trip to the US and A to learn stuff for the benefit of his homeland. During his learnings he sees an old Baywatch re-run on TV and falls head over heels for Pamela Anderson who now becomes his new quest. Together with his producer Azamat Bagatov [Ken Davitian] they take to the road in a desperate journey from New York to Los Angeles.

Me:
Is Borat really a funny movie? Well Ok, so I did laugh out loud a quite a few times. Sometimes over old skits in new settings, old skits taken one step further and obviously some of the new skits and wraparound scenes created for the flow of the movie. But at the same time there's a way too familiar feeling to the movie that makes it feel tiresome, even for its short run of 84 minutes. Sure the gags work, but being an avid fan of Cohen's Borat since he first started hitting the air some ten years ago as part of the Ali G show we've seen the most of it before, we know where there going, and we already know what sort of a pay off we're in for. We've seen the two US seasons and we already know that the yanks are arrogant, racist bigots so I don't really know if we actually needed this movie. That's where I somehow feel that the 2002 movie Ali G Inadahouse, directed by Mark Mylod is in some ways a better film. Cohen uses his writing to set Ali G in his home town of Staines where his life outside of the TV-studios and bad interviewing take a new level, and Ali G has an adventure unlike anything that we have ever seen the character in before. (There's even a Borat cameo in the movie) Unfortunately that's where Borat is sort of a let down. The opening sequences in Kazakhstan as Borat shows us round his village and it's complex gallery of personalities is great stuff, predictable, but amusing, the new "candid" skits like the driving instructor & the ghetto boys before Borat wiggers himself into begging thrown out of a hotel also makes me giggle just writing about them, but by far the best are the scenes with Davitian which mostly work like a charm and have the fresh element that I was asking for earlier. I mean who will ever forget the naked wrestling? So yes, Borat is a funny movie even if it in fact only is a greatest hits package with some new material thrown in, but it works and is an entertaining movie.

Image:
Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic. Removable subtitles in Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and Finnish are optional

Audio:
Dolby Digital 5.1 & Dolby Digital dts.

Extras:
This is the rental version and has nothing apart from a few trailers for other SF / Fox movies.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Kitami


Kitami
Aka Muscle, aka Lunatic Theatre

Original Title: Kurutta Butokai

Directed by: Hisayasu Sato, Japan, 1989

Thriller, 60min.


Story:

Young and good looking art director Ryuzaki [Takeshi Ito] who works for a magazine called Muscle, a pale excuse to be around well built body builders, starts an affair with Kitami [Simon Kumai] but their sexual games rapidly get dangerous as Kitami’s sadistic tendencies start to torture Ryuzaki more than he’s ready for. In a desperate attempt to escape Kitami’s sadistic games, Ryuzaki cuts off Kitami’s arm during a photo shoot. Several years later Ryuzaki is released from prison for his crime but he can’t get Kitami out of his mind and soon starts searching the back streets and underbelly of society for the man he longs to be reunited with, Kitami

Me:
I remember seeing this movie way back in the early nineties, and it definitely made an impression as I was starting to explore the wilder sides of Asian cinema. Now almost twenty years later Sato’s Kuruta Butokai still is a mind expanding piece of Japanese Pinkku cinema. Usually Pinkku is soft core male-female sexual exploits, but what makes Kurutta disturbing is the strong solid gay theme, although nothing is too explicit or hard core, I’m sure that most people would find the underpants licking and the semi nude blokes fondling each others bodies to be quite uncomfortable. Not to forget the violence, even if it is quite timid and far a part. But be assured, if you see this movie you will never forget it; the male nudity, Ryuzaki running around with Kitami’s arm in formaldehyde, the Lunatic Cinema (Where you pay after viewing the movie, if you like it pay, if not don’t), the frequent Pasolini references; the cinema showing Pigsty or Ryuzaki’s desperate quest to view Pasolini’s final movie Salo, and even the use of Coil’s awesome Ostia (The Death of Pasolini) on the soundtrack. It’s a great movie, even if it is Pinkku master Sato’s less explicitmovies, but and if you like your movies weird, provocative and unpredictable then Kuratta Butokai is definitely for you.

Image:

16x9, English subtitles burned into print.

Audio:

Japanese 2.0 Stereo

Extras:
Nothing on this VHS to DVD-R conversion.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not


He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not
Original Title: À la folie… pas du tout

Directed by: Laetitia Colombani, France, 2002

Thriller / Drama 92min

Distributed by: Scanbox Entertainment


Story:
Young, pretty Angelique [Audrey Tautou] finds herself being taunted by her lover Loïc [Samuel Le Bihan]. But when he starts ignoring her Angelique's world starts falling apart, or is it his world?

Me:
An odd little movie that after a quite dull first third takes a sudden unexpected twist, pulls you in and becomes really very interresting. The first third of the movie tells Angelique’s tale of torment as she pines for the final proof that Loïc loves her, who ironically is a heart specialist too. Angelique impatiently waits for Loïc to leave his pregnant wife and go to Florence for a romantic weekend with her… But her wait is long, and painful. The unique twist to this movie is that nothing is what it seems to be, and it’s done in a very creative way after the first third is completed. Obviously there isn’t an affair between Angelique and Loïc, it’s all in her head, which is what we learn as the second third unfolds and we see how Loïc in fact the one being tormented by Angelique and her severe case of erotomania. À la folie… is surprising, in many ways both because it gets off to such a slow start, ad then that it takes such a completely different road after the first third. The final part is all about the two lives of Angelique and Loïc as they patch their now shattered lives together again. There is a twist ending too, not a surprise but a small twist that you should see coming, but the way that Colombani pulls it off is brilliant. A very good debut feature that definitely can be highly recommended and for certain viewed again.

Image:
1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen. Wonderful colours and watch the colour scheme alter as we go through the movie! Nice details there.

Audio:
French Audio, 5.1 Dolby Digital and 2.0 Dolby Digital. Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and Finnish Subtitles are optional.

Extras:
Quite a few for this little oddity, a few deleted scenes, three alternative endings, which you quickly understand why they didn’t use them, Cast Biographies, Production notes and a commentary track by the director Laetitia Colombani. Finally the theatrical trailer and a few promos for other titles on Scanbox.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Nacho Libre


Nacho Libre
Directed by: Jared Hess, USA, 2006
Comedy, 92min
Distributed by: Paramount Home Entertainment.

Story:
Overweight monk Nacho [Jack Black] has dedicated his life to serving the lord. He works at an orphanage where his main tasks are preparing the food for the parentless kids, but without the proper funding the meals are of very poor quality. In a complex plan to gain recognition from the pretty nun Sister Encarnación [Ana de la Reguera] and provide the kids with better meals he takes a huge step into the wrestling ring as the masked hero Nacho Libre. But wrestling is a sin according to the bible and soon he faces a real dilemma. Fight for the lord and be banished from his home at the orphanage or give up his childhood dream of becoming the greatest wrestler of all time.

Me:
So this is definitely not in the same vain as Hess’ previous movie at all. Napoleon Dynamite has a more laid back subtle humour where Nacho Libre definitely has been fuelled with Jack Black to the hilt. It’s a decent movie with quite a few laughs. The pairing of Black with his fakey Spanish, tight perm hair and horrible moustache with the scrawny man-skeleton Esquelito [Héctor Jiménez] is hilarious. These guys cat fight to save their lives, but they soon realise that even the losers get paid which is a decent way to earn money. Obviously they set their eyes on the big league, and have to struggle to get there. This is what I liked about this movie. It wasn’t one of those, magic solution now we rock and win situations, well at least not until the very end, and that made it worth waiting for. Black struts his stuff, sings a few tunes and keeps the laughs coming, the setting in the wrestling world is great, and an old Santos fan like me just can’t stop enjoying the fights. Great stuff.

Image:
1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen.
Swedish, English, Dutch, Finnish, Danish and Norwegian subtitles are optional

Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo

Extras:
A commentary track by Hess, producer7script co-writer Mike White and Jack Black where they are eating dinner during the time adds something new to the usual commentary track. Two isolated clips of Black singing, three deleted scenes, trailers, still galleries, and a bunch of short featurettes promoting the movie are available.