Whenever I do my trailer posts and reference filmographies it takes me an age to look up films I wrote about over a year ago like Cure, Survive Style 5+ because the search function brings up nearly every post in between because I keep referencing different titles. It is a vicious circle that keeps expanding. I have now been inspired by Goregirl to break that circle and create a film review archive which lists every title alphabetically.
When creating this post it was interesting to see the changes I have made over the two plus something years I have been operating.
I have reviewed a lot of western films. That was because I was going to the cinema nearly every week when I first started. Not anymore. I tend to purchase DVD’s and stay home. The last time I went to the cinema was in July for Snow White. The last time I reviewed a western film was Prometheus because I liked it a lot and thought there were too many negative reviews.
Thankfully, I am covering Japanese and East Asian cinema which has given me direction so expect the western films to be in the minority soon. Actually, I think Japanese films already make up the majority of reviews… Whatever the case here is the archive. You can also find it on the above menu and on the right as represented by a picture of Rin Takanashi no less. I will have to revamp my top ten films section as well but for now, happy exploration.
Shinya Tsukamoto Season is drawing to a close this week with reviews of A Snake of June, Vital and Kotoko which feel like totally different films compared to the ones I opened the season with. What has this season meant to me? Rediscovering a great filmmaker, great films, great film soundtracks and, most importantly, enjoying watching great films! Watching these films over a contained space of time revealed Tsukamoto’s progression as a filmmaker and it has been fascinating. I’ll probably put together a wrap-up post with plenty of images.
There is little change in the chart compared to last week apart from the entry of the Tiger and Bunny movie Resident Evil remains at number one and Bayside Shakedown at two. Rurouni Kenshin and Insight into the Universe round out the top five while Key of Life remains at seven. Intouchables actually improves its place this week by rising to six. The Wolf Children Rain and Snow hangs in at number 12.
What are the films released today in Japan?
Japanese Title: アシュラ
ReleaseDate: 29th September 2012 (Japan)
RunningTime: 75 mins.
Director: Keiichi Sato
Writer: George Akiyama (Original Manga), Ikuko Takahashi (Screenplay)
Toei animation have been working at making the movie adaptation of George Akiyama’s manga Asura (1970 – 1971) since 2010. Highly controversial at the time of its publication, Asura is an amoral tale that focussed on the will to live but it drew criticism in Japan due to its depiction of violence which got it banned in some prefectures of Japan. The film is directed by Keiichi Sato (Tiger & Bunny) and the script is written by Ikuko Takahashi who wrote scripts for the TV anime Library War and Mononoke. The voice actors include veterans like Masako Nozawa who voices the titular Asura. She is a major name thanks to her voicing classic characters like Goku in Dragon Ball and Tetsuro in Adieu Galaxy Express 999. Megumi Hayashibara who voices Wakasa is a major seiyuu having voiced Rei Ayanami in Evangelion and winning the hearts of many a fan. Also in the cast are Hiroaki Hirata (Akihiko in Mōryō no Hako, Sanji in One Piece) and Kaori Yamagata (Chacha in Legend of Basara).
Mid-15th Century Japan, the country is suffering war and gripped by drought and famine. When a young child named Asura is born he is plunged into a harsh world of violence and desperation which turns him into a beast that roams the hills. After provoking the rage of a local lord, Asura finds himself being hunted but a young girl named Wakasa comes to his aid. Can Wakasa help rehabilitate him and bring him back to civilisation amidst the suffering and chaos that surrounds them?
Bungo Sasayakana Yokubou
Japanese Title: Bungo ささやかな 欲望
Romaji: Bungo Sasayakana Yokubou
ReleaseDate: 29th September 2012 (Japan)
RunningTime: 107 mins.
Based on a TV series, this is an omnibus movie which adapts six short stories written by some of the most important authors of the Showa era including Kenji Miyazawa (Gauche the Cellist,Night on the Galactic Railroad, The Life of Guskou Budori) and Ango Sakaguchi (Un-Go!!!). The film has two strands: Mitsumerareru Shukujotachi (Eye-Catching Ladies) and Kokuhaku Suru Shinshitachi (Confessing Gentlemen).
The Restaurant of Many Orders (Chumon no Ooi Ryouriten)
The third and final instalment of the anime movie adaptation of Tow Ubukata’s cyber-punk light novels ‘Mardock Scramble’ is due for a theatrical release in Japan today. Here is the trailer!
A young prostitute named Balot walks the neon-noir streets of Mardock City until she is taken in by a vicious gambler named Shell. She would have died by his hand if she had not been rescued by Doctor Easter and his self-aware Universal Tool, Oefcoque who takes the form of a shape-shifting mouse. Now a cyborg, Balot has increased physical powers and the ability to affect any kind of electrical system and she’ll need these powers if she and Oefcoque are to survive the machinations of Shell and his assassin, Boiled.
The vocal cast is led by Megumi Hayashibara (Ai Haibara in Detective Conan and Rei Ayanami Neon Genesis Evangelion) who voices Balot while Kazuya Nakai (Roronoa Zoro in One Piece, and Karasu in Noein) voices Shell. The films have been scripted by Tow Ubukata who was also the man behind the masterful supernatural historicacl thriller Le Chevalier D’Eon. Taking the directing role is Susumu Kudo who worked on Kino’s Journey: Life Goes On. Art direction is overseen by Masanobu Nomura (Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror, Toriko), character design and animation direction will both be handled by Jun Nakai (Speed Grapher, Samurai 7) and Shingo Suzuki (Read or Die, Baccano!) while Music is being made by Conisch (Hitohira). The animation studio producing the film is GoHands (Princess Lover).
Kotoko is the latest film from Tsukamoto which is released on the same day as the Tetsuo set. It stars folk-singer Cocco in her movie debut and she puts in a phenomenal performance which powers the film as it gives the audience a taste of mental illness and a traumatic kick in the guts.
Kotoko (Cocco) is a young single mother who lives alone with her baby son. Suffering from an unknown illness that makes her see doubles of people and not knowing which version of the person is real, it severely impacts her day-to-day life, often leading to her lashing out violently. The only time she does not see double is when she is singing. As her situation worsens and she becomes a liability her son Daijiro is taken from her and put in the care of her sister. Kotoko is left alone with her own thoughts and is at a loss as to how to get Daijiro back. Then a man named Tanaka (Tsukamoto) enters her life when he hears her singing on a bus trip and finds something awoken inside himself. Tanaka is a novelist with a hit title called The Man Who Brightened the Moon in bookshops but he leads a lonely life. Despite initial rejections he persists but Kotoko’s mental state is not getting better.
Comparing Tsukamoto’s early works like Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Tokyo Fist with his later works like ASnake of June and Vital shows a marked change in his approach. The all out visual assault, boundless energy, extreme horror and violence are gradually lessened and his editorial techniques are used much carefully over his filmography as more contemplative and humanistic tales become Tsukamoto’s focus. Kotoko, being the latest, uses the medium of film to track the psychic and mental traumas a character suffers and it carefully uses violence and editing techniques to help convey these traumas.
Starring: Tadanobu Asano, KIKI, Nami Tsukamoto, Kazuyoshi Kushida, Lily, Jun Kunimura, Hana Kino, Ittoku Kishibe
Tsukamoto once again brings us a tale of metamorphosis but, as in A Snake of June, it is more psychic and mental than physical, life affirming instead of destructive and much calmer than usual. The fascination with cyberpunk and body-horror, once an overwhelming aspect of his early films, is toned down and replaced with a humanistic tale of life, death and memory. Warning: this is a long review which does not contain any particular spoilers but discusses the film in detail.
Despite the active presence of women, Tsukamoto’s early films like Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Tetsuo II: Body Hammer end up being masculine stories of malign worlds full of inhuman technology, body-horror and destruction. 1995’s Tokyo Fist was the first where I felt that women were given equal footing. In A Snake of June Tsukamoto once again uses his keen style to explore and depict the dark psychological and emotional pressures that are awakened in a harsh urban environment but the violence and weirdness are replaced with a story of repressed sexual desires of a woman in the vulpine form of Asuka Kurosawa.
Asian film fans across the UK have the opportunity to see some of the best new titles to come out of Asia when a choice selection from the Terracotta Far East Film Festival show up at Manchester, Bristol, Nottingham, Brighton and London. Here are the details:
TERRACOTTA FESTIVAL TAKES 5 ASIAN FILMS ON A UK TOUR
For the first time in its four year history, Terracotta Festival is expanding its successful London residency of current Asian cinema showcase to selected venues in the UK.
The touring festival will kick off at the Cornerhouse cinema in Manchester on September 19th, followed by the Watershed in Bristol and will continue through October at the Genesis in London as well as dates in Brighton and Nottingham. More cities will be announced on the festival website.
Organisers are bringing a shortened programme of five contemporary films offering a taster of the best in current cinema in the Far East.
There will be two Japanese films, including Isn’t Anyone Alive? which marks the return of Sogo Ishii to filmmaking after a 10 year absence, and crowd-pleasing comedy The Woodsman and the Rain. Also in the line-up, two Korean films of different genres: pan-Asian WW2 blockbuster My Way and dark animation The King of Pigs. And the docu-drama Return to Burma which gives the audience a rare insider perspective into ordinary life in this fascinating and topical country.
Here are the films:
Director: Kang Je-kyu, Duration: 137 mins, Starring: Jang Dong-gun, Joe Odagiri, Fan Bingbing Certificate: 18
The most ambitious and expensive film coming from South Korea directed by box office champion Kang Je-Kyu (Brotherhood: Taegukgi, Shiri), My Way is an explosive epic war drama spanning Japan, Korea, China, Russian gulags and the beaches of Normandy, packed with high octane action and heart-breaking emotion that tells, for the first time, the story of the Second World War from a Korean point of view. It stars Joe Odagiri (Bright Future, Adrift in Tokyo) and Jang Dong-Gun (Nowhere to Hide, Friend, The Warrior’s Way). It was one of the official selections at the Berlin Film Festival 2012 and the opening film for this year’s Terracotta Far East Film Festival.
ISN’T ANYONE ALIVE?
Director: Sogo Ishii, Duration: 113 mins, Starring: Shota Somentani, Rin Takanashi, Jun Murakami, Mai Takahashi Certificate: 15
Gakuryu Ishii aka Sogo Ishii has been amusing us with his talent of totally overstepping genre boundaries with striking images and music like Crazy Thunder Road and the twisted serial-killer films Angel Dust. In his latest feature film he has adapted the Shiro Maeda play Isn’t Anyone Alive, an avant-garde story of 18 young students dying one after another. It stars Shota Sometani (Himizu), Rin Takanashi (Goth: Love of Death), and Jun Murakami. It was part of the official selection Edinburgh Film Festival 2012 and appeared at the Fantasia Film Festival 2012
The week that has passed has been pretty mixed for me thanks to time constraints but at least I have a new television to enjoy watching Japanese films on and just in time for Shinya Tsukamoto Season which is entering its final phase. This week saw four new entries including the release details for Kotoko, a review of Tetsuo II: Body Hammer(classic!) and the extras on the Tetsuo release (which had the awesome and bizarre short film The Adventures of Electric Rod Boy!) as well as Tokyo Fist (incredible!). Look out for Vital, Snake of June and Kotoko next week!
Two of last week’s releases, Key of Life and Insight into the Universe, enter the chart at number seven and four. I am going to see Key of Life at the BFI London Film Festival (I am so hype for this) and it is great to see that there is at least one country on this planet where a film mostly about science and a historical figure can break into the top ten. Rurouni Kenshin hangs in the top three in third position and The Wolf Children Rain and Snow drops to fourteenth (another film I am hype for).
What Japanese films are getting released today? Two films full of teen talent and one genuinely interesting noir title!
Yusuke Yamada is back with another of his fiendish short stories getting adapted for the big screen. Out of all the ones I have covered this year, this one is probably the most ridiculous. It stars Sakiko Matsui (a member of AKB48) in her first motion picture role abd is directed by Yohei Fukuda who directed Chanbara Beauty and X Game.
Set some time in the distant future, the death penalty in Japan has been altered. Now a death sentence is decided by game of bingo played by the victim’s family. Masaya (Shimizu) is a prisoner who will find out if he will be given the death sentence. Mayumi (Matsui) is part of the staff who monitor the game.
A manga adaptation which stars a bunch of pretty boys in the shape of Tori Matsuzaka and Masaki Suda (The Wings of the Kirin) and the brilliant actresses Miyuki Matsuda who I can remember from Auditionand Fumi Nikaido who made me cry in Himizu.
It is Mikihiko’s (Matsuzaka) 18th birthday and he thinks of his friend Morio (Suda) who has been in a vegetative state since being involved in an accident at the age of 6. Almost as if on cue, Morio wakes up but he still has his 6-year-old mentality. This reappearance causes Mikihiko to question the direction his life is about to take
This is the debut feature of Daisuke Miyazaki who was an assistant director to Kiyoshi Kurosawa and has won many prizes for his short films. Of all the films released today, this is the one that interests me most and no, not because it is violent but because it is grounded in every day mundanity and feature black humour found in Kitano films. It stars Kuniaki Nakamura, Masayuki Shionoya who starred in Kiyoshi Kurosawa;’s horror film Charisma and Sogo Ishii’s Angel Dust and Nami Komiyama.
Akira’s (Nakamura) parents died shortly after his birth and so he has been raised by Tamegoro (Shionoya), the man who killed said parents. Tamegoro runs a futon store as a front but has been training Akira to be a hitman. After Akira’s first hit he finds himself troubled but a cosplay club/sex-worker named Yukine draws out his more human side. Still, the police are on Akira’s trail and this places Yukine in the firing line.
Tokyo Fist has no biomechanical nightmares and there is only one psychotic stop-motion vision but this film is an intense psychological horror which depicts how people can be warped by a hate so intense that it shapes their world and leads to dreadful violence.
I rarely talk about the extras on a DVD because I am more interested in the film. I do watch the extras but I would rather write about the films. Unless a director says something interesting in an interview or there is something easy or interesting to spot like the quality of the visuals or inaccurate subtitles I tend to leave them alone. I really should get a grip on this situation so now is a good time to start because Third Window Films have pulled out all of the stops for this re-release of the Tetsuo films…
The two films are part of a 2-disc DVD/Blu-Ray set. This Blu-Ray will be the first time the Tetsuo films have graced the format. Most importantly is the fact that Shinya Tsukamoto is heavily involved with the project which means that there are a goodly amount of interesting and hard to get extras.
What are the technical details/extras included?
New High Definition Transfer supervised by Shinya Tsukamoto
Tetsuo: The Iron Man Japanese Trailer
Tetsuo II: Body Hammer Japanese Trailer
Tetsuo UK Trailer
Exclusive interview with Shinya Tsukamoto
‘The Adventures of Electric Rod Boy’ – Shinya Tsukamoto’s early film
The technical aspects of the DVD are excellent and extras are extremely fascinating. Even a guy like me who is usually more interested in the films was bowled over by them. Visually, the differences in the colours are startling. Comparing this set’s films to clips and trailers on YouTube, you can see a real difference in terms of the sharpness of the picture and the way colours are highly defined. You can make out the smallest of details. The sound is also excellent, clear and audible which is why I was able to write a lot about the images and sounds for my reviews. Even Tsukamoto’s early indie effort, The Adventures of Electric Rod Boy, sounds and looks good. This clip on YouTube is nothing compared to the version on this DVD set and we get to see the whole thing through in great quality.
What about the extras? I started with the trailers. There are the original Japanese trailers for Tetsuo and Tetsuo II and a UK trailer that combines the two. I never watch a trailer before viewing a film because I want to go in as cold as possible so I am surprised by the film. The two Japanese trailers give away so much about the films, I am thankful I avoided them. The UK trailer manages to be more enigmatic and intriguing without giving too much away.
Now we get to the real meat of the extras. Shinya Tsukamoto is interviewed. How did he get his start and where do his weird ideas come from? We get some of those insights in an interview which lasts nearly twenty minutes. It gives excellent background information on Tsukamoto’s early career, the making of Tetsuo and he also addresses being compared to David Cronenberg and what cyberpunk means to him. Tsukamoto explains how he went about working on this new release, how he went back to the original negatives and worked from them, rebalancing colours etc.
The biggest plus I can find is the inclusion of ‘The Adventures of Electric Rod Boy’, an early film Tsukamoto made with the Kaiju theatre just before Tetsuo: The Iron Man. Seeing this film for the first time was interesting because it further reinforced the fact that Tsukamoto is a true filmmaker. The creativity flowing through Tetsuo can be seen in this short film. It is an absolute riot.
Hikari, a boy with an electricity pole growing out of his back travels to a dystopian future where he is placed in a battle with a trio of Shinsengumi bio-mechanical vampires who have enslaved humanity.
The best way to describe it might be Tetsuo: Iron Man crossed with Vampire Hunter D and Steins;Gate only far more irreverent, insane and good natured. Sounds like a contradiction but the mixture of time travel, sex, death, mutation, and school comedy antics is a joyful mix in a film which shows more invention than the average Hollywood project. I say that a lot but the low-budget physical effects, the editing, the acting and the story are inventive and enthusiastic and despite the ridiculous narrative and flimsy sets I enjoyed it tremendously. We see scenes and ideas similar to some of the insane sights in Tetsuo such as the stop-motion chase scenes along Japanese streets between the electric rod boy and the vampires, crazy morphing sequences and images of a world heading to disaster. The performances are winningly delivered with the central protagonist being a character straight out of Arakawa Under the Bridge and the villains being goofy Slayers style and all of it is layered with a cute anime soundtrack mixed with hard rock and a nightmare sound-scape. Effectively it all shouts imagination, enthusiasm and effort. Considering the age and nature of the project, the quality of this short film is impressive and it helps to show Tsukamoto’s background. Now this high standard has been set I want to see a Kiyoshi Kurosawa box-set with his un-erotic pink film… for research purposes of course.
I was really impressed by this package and I have been really impressed with the films. The involvement of Shinya Tsukamoto has made this an essential purchase for anyone interested in films. I cannot recommend this set highly enough!
I may have to look at the extras on Blade Runner (there are lots including different versions of the film) and Retribution now… The extras in the Ringu box-set (which my Japanese teacher currently has) Tartan put out are very impressive as well. Expect a separate review for the extras from that set when I come to do a Hideo Nakata season.
Shinya Tsukamoto made a stunning debut with Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1988) which became a massive cult hit. It allowed him to explore projects beyond the indie scene which he came from and so, for his follow-up, he picked the more mainstream Hiruko the Goblin in 1990, a film based on a manga by a favourite writer of his. It was a success. In 1992 he went back to the film which made his name but with a bigger budget and bigger ideas.
Tomoo Taniguchi (Taguchi) is a salary man who lives a happy life with his wife Kana (Kanaoka) and their son Minori (Tomioka). Then his life is shattered when his son is kidnapped by a group of skinheads lead by a mysterious man (Tsukamoto) and a mad scientist who then target him for a series of experiments designed to turn him into a human weapon.
Tetsuo II: Body Hammer is classed as a reimagining of the first film. It uses the same ideas, actors and themes but broadens its palette by morphing from pure horror into, what Tsukamoto describes in an interview on the DVD extras, an urban action thriller. It is a choice which reaps rewards because the sequel feels totally fresh.
The first thing to note is the colour. Unlike the original which was shot in black and white, this was shot in 35mm colour. While the original felt brutal and oppressive, the colour here allows Tsukamoto a wider range of tones to explore his ideas. This world is close to our own with mellow blues and clean whites from the sun indicating safe havens but when things get really dark and the attacks and mutations begin those colours are replaced by scarlet sunsets, dark blues of towering buildings, stifling oranges from furnaces and harsh blacks from shadows bisecting the screen. The use of colour is vibrant thanks to the fact that Tsukamoto has worked on rebalancing them for this new release. While there may be colour what has not changed is the fact that the camera and visual effects are still insane.
Once again the world Tsukamoto envisions is one where the impersonal and unnatural nature of spaces, towering buildings and stretching corridors, swallow up characters. It is not uncommon to see character framed in window panes. There are places of danger like the abandoned factories and junkyards full of mysterious skinheads who train with construction tools around blast furnaces. Then there are the commercial areas of glass and concrete. In contrast, the family home is a happy bubble flooded with light, almost dreamlike when compared to the brutal environment outside, the camera sways gently around and zooms in on happy faces. It cannot last as the skinheads invade it and from this point on the darkness and energy pick up.