An Interview with Mai Nakanishi about Her Horror Short “SWALLOW”

As a horror film fan, Mai Nakanishi is talking my language. When I first saw HANA at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019, it stood out to me as an expertly crafted minimalist horror film given depth by having a subtext about motherhood and career pressure. When news of her latest film came to me, I was very much excited at the prospect of seeing more of her work and that work is… SWALLOW

SWALLOW is Nakanishi’s sophomore short film where the rivalry between two actresses culminates in them attending a banquet which one believes holds the promise of providing food that can sustain her youth. Underneath a bit of body horror lies a satire of our beauty-obsessed world which drives women to pursue youth and good looks at any cost. Expertly shot, this Taiwan-set film features an exquisite horror atmosphere of lavish sets drenched in red and a gripping short character study brought to life by excellent dialogue and performances. 

Mai_picThis is just the next step for Nakanishi who has worked in various roles, including as an assistant director for Eric Khoo and as a producer on the Japanese segments for the horror anthology ABCs of DEATH 2. Most tellingly, she is a founder and director of Scream Queen FilmFest Tokyo, an event which champions horror movies from a female perspective.

In the run-up to SWALLOW playing at forthcoming Skip City D-Cinema Festival, both online (July 21 – 27) and also on site (Convention Hall – 7/18, 13:50 – and the Audio Visual Hall – 7/22, 11:0o), as well as playing online at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (July 07-17). She generously allowed me the chance to watch her latest work and interview her about her fascination with horror, life after HANA, and the making of SWALLOW in Taiwan during Covid conditions, and much more.


Thanks for allowing me to watch SWALLOW”. I was really impressed by HANA– congratulations on Hanawinning the Goule D’or Directors Award at the 2019 Portland Horror Film Festival and Best Short Film at the 2018 Monsters of Film in Sweden! – and I was intrigued to find out where your career would go next, especially because I am also a fan of horror films. SWALLOWis your second work and it has won an award already at the Tampere Film Festival 2022 where it won a Special Mention in the Generation XYZ competition – so congratulations go out for that, too!

I’m grateful to get the chance to interview you and have a number of questions.

Looking at your career, horror films are your chosen metier. What inspired you to become a filmmaker and why focus on horror movies?

I actually started my career in film business with experiences ranging from marketing, programming and acquisitions of films for pay-TV broadcaster and international sales and acquisitions for film distribution companies. I’ve only been involved in filmmaking since 2013, where I had the opportunities to work with international genre stalwarts as a producer, assistant director and assistant production designer and before I knew it, I was directing “HANA”.

I’ve been a huge of fan of the horror genre since I was small. There are many great horror films containing hidden subtext and relevant social commentary beneath the thrills and scares which fascinate me.

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The Thing 遊星からの物体X (1982) Dir: John Carpenter

Happy Halloween! This is the time of year when people celebrate the supernatural and ghoulish aspects of popular culture and national myths. I do my part by highlighting horror movies on Halloween night. So far I have reviewed Nightmare DetectiveStrange CircusShokuzaiPOV: A Cursed Film CharismaDon’t Look Up, Snow Woman (2017) Snow Woman (1968)  Fate/Stay Night Heaven’s Feel, and Gemini. I’ll be departing from Japan and heading to Antarctica for the next Halloween Review!

The Thing    The Thing Japanese Poster

遊星からの物体X ゆうせいからのぶったいエックス

Release Date: June 25th, 1982

Duration: 109 mins.

Director: John Carpenter

Writer: Bill Lancaster (Screenplay), John W. Campbell Jr. (Who Goes There?)

Starring: Kurt Russell (R.J. MacReady), A. Wilford Brimley (Blair), T.K. Carter (Nauls), David Clennon (Palmer), Keith David (Childs), Richard Dysart (Dr. Copper), Charles Hallahan (Norris), Peter Maloney (George Bennings), Richard Masur (Clark), Donald Moffat (Garry), Joel Polis (Fuchs), Thomas Waites (Windows),

Website IMDB

Given the cold shoulder by some big name critics and receiving a lukewarm box-office return from the general public, it is fair to say that John Carpenter’s arctic-set paranoia-fuelled alien killer chiller THE THING was misunderstood at its time of release. Now widely considered a classic, Carpenter’s cold vision of a film has become a sci-fi horror ur-text that has inspired countless filmmakers, creatives, and fans through its adaptation of an influential short story with genre-defining prosthetics, special effects, and great acting for the maximum of horror atmospherics.

The story takes place in the winter of 1982 where a 12-man expedition at a remote research base in Antarctica encounter a shape-shifting alien that has lain frozen in the snowy wastes for over 100,000 years. Thawed out, this parasitic creature proceeds to assimilate and imitate members of the group which causes paranoia and fear to mount as nobody is sure who has been consumed and is now imitated by… the Thing. Bloody body-horror ensues as the men try to isolate and destroy it.

thing-40th-anniversary

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Creepy クリーピー 偽りの隣人 Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (2016)

Creepy       

Creepy Film Poster
Creepy Film Poster

クリーピー 偽りの隣人 「Kuri-pi- Itsuwari no Rinjin」 

Running Time: 130 mins.

Release Date: June 13th, 2016

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Chihiro Ikeda (Screenplay), Yutaka Maekawa (Original Novel)

Starring:  Hidetoshi Nishijima, Teruyuki Kagawa, Yuko Takeuchi, Masahiro Higashide, Haruna Kawaguchi, Ryoko Fujino, Toru Baba, Misaki Saisho,

Website IMDB

I have been sitting on this film review for nearly two years. Due to the tragic death of Yuko Takeuchi, I have released it in her honour. This film is available to view for free on Amazon Prime in Japan and the UK, so please take the time to watch it and see Yuko Takeuchi in action.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa has crafted some chilling antagonists in his horror films, all based on original scripts. The amoral magnetism of the mesmerist Mamiya from Cure and the ghosts of Pulse are some of the most memorable, but they were just the symptom and not the cause of the main character’s true conflicts. Alienation caused by society was at fault for channelling these monsters into everyday settings. This sense of disconnection is something Kurosawa masterfully utilised in the family drama Tokyo Sonata where a patriarch and his clan lose their cohesion after he loses his job and the family each reformulate their sense of place in the world. With family time made unbearable by the barely suppressed anger and disappointment each character feels, it strikes a very realistic chord whilst being scary like much of Kurosawa’s horror output. Creepy is based on a book by Yutaka Maekawa and while Kurosawa may not have scripted the antagonist, he is one of his most odious bad guys yet.

He gave me the creeps.”

Ex-detective Koichi Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) quits the Tokyo police force after a psychopath almost kills him. He ups roots and moves with his wife Yasuko (Yuko Takeuchi) to the suburbs and takes up work as a university lecturer in criminal psychology. Their new life seems stable enough. He thinks his job is fun, she is busy as a housewife and their new house seems pleasant but things turn sour when they introduce themselves to their next door neighbours. One set, the Tanakas’, aren’t interested in getting to know them and then there is Mr. Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa) who seems to hide his wife and daughter Mio (Ryoko Fujino) from the outside world.

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Fate/stay night Heaven’s Feel I. Presage Flower (2017) Dir: Tomonori Sudo [Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival 2019]

The traditional Halloween movie review is back and I wanted to try something different with an action anime I had seen at the Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival earlier this month.

Fate/stay night Heaven’s Feel I. Presage Flower   gekijouban fate stay night heaven's feel ii lost butterfly film poster

劇場版 Fate/stay night Heaven’s Feel I. presage flower Gekijouban Fate/stay night Heaven’s Feel I. lost butterfly

Duration: 120 mins.

Release Date: October 14th, 2017

Director: Tomonori Sudo

Writer: Akira Hiyama (Screenplay), Kinoko Nasu, TYPE-MOON (Original Creator),

Starring: Ayako Kawasumi (Saber), Noriaki Sugiyama (Shirou Emiya), Jouji Nakata (Kirei Kotomine), Noriko Shitaya (Sakura Matou), Kana Ueda (Rin Toosaka), Mai Kadowaki (Illyasviel von Einzbern),

Animation Production: ufotable

ANN MAL Website

Fate/Stay Night is a venerable series for those who know of it. Originally starting in 2004 as a visual novel from indie video game company Type-Moon, it is an operatic story where the protagonist can join three heroines offering different routes to the finish – Fate, Unlimited Blade Works, Heaven’s Feel. What was an underground game won hardcore fans and became esoteric with every addition to the franchise over the years. This includes the many anime adaptations courtesy of animation production powerhouse ufotable (Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack). Close collaborators of Type-Moon, they have attempted to try and be faithful to the game’s story and pack in everything into a short running time. Fate/stay night Heaven’s Feel I. Presage Flower is a fateful adaptation that takes on the same-titled, lesser-explored route.

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The Snow Woman 怪談雪女郎 Tokuzo Tanaka (1968)

The traditional Halloween movie review is back and there’s a continuation from last year as we look at another film incarnation of the legendary Yuki Onna, only this time it’s from an older interpretation of the film.

The Snow Woman   Yuki Onna 1968 Film Poster

怪談雪女郎 「Kaidan yukijorô

Running Time: 79 mins.

Release Date: April 20th, 1968

Director:  Tokuzo Tanaka

Writer: Fuji Yahiro (Screenplay), Lafcadio Hearn (Novel)

Starring: Shiho Fujimura, Akira Ishihama, Machiko Hasegawa, Tatsuo Hanabu, Sen Hara, Yoshiro Kitahara,

IMDB

Yuki Onna has been a famous legend around Japan for centuries and has become a part of Japanese popular culture thanks to seminal works such as Lafcadio Hearn’s collection of folk-tales, Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (1904), a book which went on to inspire Masaki Kobayashi’s omnibus horror film Kwaidan (1965).  Yuki Onna has had many film incarnations, some of which focus on her monstrousness while others look at her humanity and relation to nature like Kiki Sugino’s 2016 film of the same name. Here we get the mysterious and somewhat scary take as well as a rumination on the supernatural world and its relation on the world of people.

Long ago, on the border between Mino and Hida, where there is much snow, there circulated among the people who lived there, the legend of Yuki Onna…”

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The Conjuring

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The Conjuring                                                The Conjuring Film Poster

UK Release Date: August 02nd, 2013 (UK)

Running Time: 112 mins.

Director: James Wan

Writer: Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes

Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lilie Taylor, Ron Livingston, Joey King, Stanley Casewell, Hayley McFarland, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, Sterling Jerins,

Apparently, just like Amityville Horror, this is based on a true story about a real life Perron family who endured the haunting until the Warrens, a real life paranormal investigators intervened which I guess makes it even more scary because this stuff actually happened. Really? Whatever the case, The Conjuring is a pretty interesting choice of title. Conjuring is a word that may make one think of summoning demons or of magicians fooling audiences into believing in magic with sleights of hand. A curse and ghosts are conjured up but the performance aspect of the word is pretty apt here since Wan tells the story with grotesque glee proving that he is one of the best modern horror directors working.

The Conjuring The Warrens (Wilson and Farmiga)

Ed (Wilson) and Lorraine (Farmiga) Warren are paranormal investigators based in New England. In the basement of their house in Monroe Connecticut they keep cursed objects like samurai armour and a haunted doll named Annabelle locked up. Over the course of their career they have investigated many different cases and gained much arcade knowledge but after a traumatic exorcism that leaves Lorraine debilitated they shelve their careers in favour of academic tours and raising their daughter.

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Insidious Chapter 2

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Insidious Chapter 2                                               Insidious 2 Film Poster

UK Release Date: September 13th, 2013 (UK)

Running Time: 105 mins.

Director: James Wan

Writer: Leigh Wannell, James Wan

Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins, Barbara Hershey, Leigh Whannell, Andrew Astor, Angus Sampson, Jocelin Donahue, Danielle Bisutti, Lindsay Seim, Steve Coulter

1986, psychic mediums Carl (Coulter) and Elise Reiner (Seim) are helping Lorrain Lambert’s (Donahue) son Josh suppress his astral projection abilities to keep him safe from the evil spirit of a woman in white who stalks him…

 Insidious 2 A Young and Haunted Josh Lambert

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You’re Next

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You’re Next  You're Next Film Poster

UK Release Date: August 28th, 2013 (UK)

Running Time: 94 mins.

Director: Adam Wingard

Writer: Simon Barrett

Starring: Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Ti West, Barbara Crampton, Rob Moran, Simon Barret, Lane Hughes, L.C. Holt, Margaret Laney, Larry Fessenden, Kate Lyn Sheil

“It should be interesting. You’ll see.”

The film opens on a student (Lyn Sheil) and her older professor (Fessenden) having sex. The professor rolls off the girl and heads to the shower while the girl, evidently unsatisfied, heads over to the stereo and plays the song “Looking for the Magic.” She peers into the garden seeming to sense that someone is observing her…

The song is on repeat for a while but the professor doesn’t twig that something is wrong. He heads out to the kitchen where he sees the girl’s blood is used to write “You’re Next” on a glass door and then sees her mutilated body before he is killed by a man wearing a Lamb Mask (Holt). 

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Bedevilled

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Bedevilled                                                                       Bedevilled Poster

Release Date: 02nd September 2010 (South Korea)

Running Time: 115 mins.

Director: Jang Cheol-Su

Writer: Choi Kwan-Young

Starring: Seo Young-Hee, Ji Sung-Won, Park Jung-Hak, Baek Su-Ryeon, Lee Ji-Eun, Je-Min, Bae Sung-Woo, Jo Duk-Je

When I picked up Bedevilled I expected a slasher film. The cover has a blood-spattered glowering young woman holding a scythe in a forest. What I got was a horror film but one similar to Eden Lake and Straw Dogs. People pushed to the brink and forced into savagery.  

Hye-Won (Ji Sung-Won) lives and works in Seoul. She is a cold and focussed individual and these character traits lead her into a fight with a co-worker. As a result of this her boss tells her to take a vacation. Stumped for ideas Hye-Won eventually goes to Moo-do island, a place where her grandfather lived and a place where she made friends with an island girl named Kim Bok-Nam. When Hye-Won arrives, Kim Bok-Nam (Seo Young-Hee) is overjoyed to see her. It is clear the locals are behind the times. Rather worryingly Kim Bok-Nam is treated like a serf by them but this mistreatment will have disastrous consequences for all involved.

Kim Bok-Nam (Seo Young-Hee) in BedevilledWhen I was watching Bedevilled I felt the spectre of Kim Ki-Duk emerge on screen. He and the director of Bedevilled, Jang Cheol-Su, share concrete connections since Jang Cheol-Su was assistant-director on Kim Ki-Duk’s films Samaritan Girl and Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…  and Spring. Critics have accused Kim Ki-Duk in displaying misogyny in his films, especially Bad Guy and Samaritan Girl with their mix of sex and violence. What about Bedevilled?

Kim Ki-Duk’s influence is seen in the subject matter in Bedevilled as it features many, many uncomfortable moments of sexual abuse, violence, and hatred, a lot of it directed at women. However unlike Kim Ki-Duk’s films where I get the impression that the director is putting his mental anguish on the screen, Bedevilled is addressing issues and the cumulative effect of the action builds up to a bitter diatribe against misogyny and gender roles while offering a warning to women about how self-preservation risks making victims of others.

There are many moments when women are subjected to violence. The violence is graphic and brutal. That is bad in itself but what is worse is the sense that the violence is culturally accepted or at least easily ignored for many of the characters.

You’re an adult you should take care of yourself

Hye-Won (Ji Sung-Won) at Work in Bedevilled

The first character we are introduced to is Hye-Won. We do not see her for a while and instead we see the world of from her perspective as she is driving her car. The opening of the film takes place in night time Seoul and amidst the bright lights and bumper-to-bumper traffic. We witness two men being physically aggressive to a Street Scene in Seoul in Bedevilledwoman. The camera breaks off for a long shot as we see the woman pushed, prodded, and punched while passers-by try to avoid her. The camera cuts back to Hye-Won’s perspective as the woman leans into the open passenger side window begging for refuge. Hye-Won hears her pleas for help and rolls up the window leaving the woman to face the men abusing her.

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Revenge: A Love Story UK DVD Release

Terracotta’s horror imprint, Terror-Cotta is following up Death Bell with Wong Ching Po’s  Revenge: A Love Story.

Revenge: A Love Story Terror-Cotta DVD Case

DVD release of ‘REVENGE: A LOVE STORY’ (CERT 18) on 9th January 2012

A film by Wong Ching Po

Extras:

·         Making Of,

·         Director Interview,

·         Producer Interview,

·         Trailers,

·         “What is Terracotta Festival?” Featurette.

This Hong Kong thriller is a dark and bloody serial killer film telling the killer’s side of the story. It has garnered some excellent reviews . Check the trailer to see more!

 

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