Posts in November 2011

I’m a big fan of Asian Extreme cinema (Patrick Galloway’s Asia Shock is a great introduction). Like most nerds, I’ll watch all movies that fall into this category…even if I only end up liking 50% of them. Unfortunately this was the case with Kaji Kengo’s Samurai Princess (2009). Sporting the talents of Nishimura Yoshihiro (the man responsible for the effects in Tokyo Gore Police), this movie had a lot of promise to be another flick full of nonsense, gore, and gory nonsense. Unfortunately, it fails to deliver on every level.

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I like Kevin Smith as a filmmaker. Though I had my reservations about him making a horror film (seriously, why? Why make a horror film?), I really wanted to like Red State. Overall the movie isn’t really bad per se; it is bizarre, fairly thought-provoking, and decently entertaining. While there are several moments in the film that make me blurt out, “What? Really?…Seriously?”, Kevin Smith is a good filmmaker who can create very watchable films. But, sadly, the overall effect of Red State is ho-hum.

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Perfect Blue

Already before Perfect Blue I wrote a script for another director [Katsuhiro Otomo], an episode of the omnibus film Memories called Magnetic Rose. It was also a story of confusion between memory and the real world. Because I didn’t direct it myself I was a bit concerned about how it was turning out. On many occasions I thought I would have done things differently. I got my chance to realize those thoughts with Perfect Blue. So I already had an interest in that kind of plot, to consciously compose the story in such a manner… To be honest, I care very little about the idea of the stalker in Perfect Blue. The storytelling aspects interest me much more. Looking at things objectively or subjectively gives two very different images. For an outsider, the dreams and the film within a film are easy to separate from the real world. But for the person who is experiencing them, everything is real. I wanted to describe that kind of situation, so I applied it in Perfect Blue. [Kon Satoshi, Midnight Eye Interview]

While all of Kon Satoshi’s work explores similar themes, the thematic line that runs through Magnetic Rose, Perfect Blue, and Millennium Actress (his first three works) is the strongest and easiest to identify. All three films are stories about the confusion between reality and fantasy, the subjective nature of perception and memory, and the identity of the female performer. While Kon explored many of these themes within the script for Magnetic Rose (which I discussed in the previous post), he was finally able to take the helm as director in the 1998 Perfect Blue. The result is an astounding cinematic tour de force. In her essay “‘Excuse Me, Who Are You?’: Performance, the Gaze and the Female in the Works of Kon Satoshi” from Cinema Anime, Susan Napier elaborates, “I use the term tour de force because the film’s brilliant use of animation and unreality creates a unique viewing experience, forcing the viewer to question not only the protagonist’s perceptions but his or her own as he/she follows the protagonist into a surreal world of madness and illusion” (33). For this essay, I would like to examine the themes Kon addresses within Perfect Blue as well as the formal and narrative techniques that he employs to express them. Finally, I will conclude with a discussion of the film’s ending and interpretations.

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Because extreme over-eating and mandatory quality time with in-laws isn’t gruesome enough already, here are the 10 Best Horror Movies for Thanksgiving. Remember, it’s hard to run away from monsters and cannibals with a stomach full of turkey, so plan the most efficient exit strategy out of your house before binge-eating yams and pumpkin pie. It might just save your life, or at least help you avoid a goodbye kiss from your great-grandmother Besty-Lou. If you’re like me, you may enjoy using horror movies to dissuade people from hanging out with you. But, for the social butterflies among you, I’ve divided this list into ‘funny’ and ‘gruesome’:

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Remember seeing the awesome ‘fake’ trailer for Machete when you watched Grindhouse? Remember how they made Machete into a full-length feature film? Do you also remember how much it sucked? I do. If you want to see exploitation cinema done right, then go watch Hobo With A Shotgun. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

 It’s interesting that two films with so much in common – both came into existence as ‘fake’ trailers for Grindhouse, both take their cues from the low-budget exploitation cinema of the 1970s – can be so different in terms of success. But what Hobo With A Shotgun does so perfectly is the exact thing Machete failed to do; exploitation cinema needs to take the story right to the line of decency…and then cross it. Sure, Machete is whacky and bizarre at times and has some good lines (“Thanks bro…I mean, padre.”), but the movie really never gains any momentum and the whole thing seems rather subdued.

 Conversely, Hobo With A Shotgun is pure, unfiltered ridiculous taken to the extreme. Replicating the low-budget, color-saturated feel of 1970’s Technicolor, the story follows a hobo (played with exceptional gravitas by Rutger Hauer) who unwittingly rides a train into the crime-infested Hope Town.  Unable to mind his own business after witnessing a string of horrendous crimes, the hobo sets out to clean up the streets while blasting away criminals with a trusty shotgun. On the way, he befriends a hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold (Molly Dunsworth) and incurs the wrath of the town’s kingpin, The Drake (Brian Downey). Obviously the story is bare-bones; what’s important about the film is the awesome dialog, bizarrely brilliant one-liners, unending fountains of blood and gore, and brutal, cold-hearted violence that makes you wince even though it is over-the-top fake.

 I don’t even feel the need to write anything more about this movie – Hobo With A Shotgun is awesome and you need to go see it now. And massive kudos to Jason Eisener and John Davies for doing exploitation right!

I think one thing that nearly every Japanese film buff can agree on is that commercialization is never a good thing in the modern Japanese film industry (I am purposely overlooking the golden age of Japanese cinema here, it’s a different animal entirely). Particularly for Japan’s horror industry, which became explosively popular internationally off the accomplishments of a few decidedly low-budget works. Since the success of films like The Ring and Ju-On: The Grudge, the Japanese horror genre has become increasingly decayed; focusing entirely on exploitation and losing the atmospheric horror of the earlier works or just being plain boring. Shimizu Takashi’s Shock Labyrinth 3D is another example of this commercialization; taking an internationally-known filmmaker famous for his work in the horror genre and producing a film that uses the latest in 3D technology as an effective gimmick to draw audiences into theaters.

Shock Labyrinth 3D follows four teenagers through the Shock Labyrinth amusement part, the same park where one went missing years earlier. Filmed at the Labyrinth of Horrors in Fuji-Q Highland theme park (Fujiyoshida), the only positive thing I can say about the film is that it makes me want to go visit that damn haunted house. Shimizu does his best creating the atmospheric horror recognizable from his earlier works but his skills as a filmmaker really can’t compensate for the abysmal story and acting. It is fairly surprising that a film starring several well-known Japanese actors – Maeda Ai (Battle Royale 2) and Yagira Yuya (Nobody Knows) – would be so flat and lifeless, but I think it’s safe to assume they happily collected their salaries and mentally checked-out during filming. Make no mistake, this is a studio-driven money-making scheme and raised expectations are just foolish here.

The 3D is one of the best features of the film (even viewed through the glasses included in the DVD) and is used, for the most part, subtly and wisely. While directors typically chose to shove 3D effects right in your face (haha), I think it’s most effective when employed in an unobtrusive, naturalistic style (Tron Legacy, for example). However, 3D is a troublesome match for horror films, which typically make use of shocking rapid cuts and close-ups (accompanied with a blaring soundtrack). 3D, in contrast, works best with long-takes and wide-angle lenses which highlight the depth of the third dimension. In this sense, Shimizu’s style of filmmaking is a good match for 3D; his wide-angle scenes are slow-moving and minimalist, allowing the viewers to absorb the entire scene and notice the uncanny elements within, without any hand-holding from the director. The third dimension is a welcome enhancement to Shimizu’s style; creepy monsters can now move within the environment, without the assistance of edits, revealing and obscuring themselves from the audience. Bodies are dragged backwards into gloom and female ghosts can descend upon us from above.

Thematically, Shimizu again chooses to play with the divide between reality and hallucination. The plot itself remains fairly mysterious through most of the film; is everyone already dead? Is this a nightmare? The character of Rin (Maeda Ai) also represents the limitations of vision and our ability to effectively perceive reality. Despite her blindness, she is typically more perceptive than her comrades and can more effectively navigate the labyrinth with the use of her other senses.

In Shock Labyrinth 3D, Shimizu has shown that he can fairly effectively employ 3D filmmaking in the horror genre and this integration creates a refreshing break of the standard horror movie tropes. However the film ultimately remains crippled by its flat characterization and a narrative that degenerates into a lot of running down corridors while chased by the ghosts of wronged women. If anything, Shock Labyrinth 3D may be proof that the box-office appeal of pale, ghostly women with bad grooming habits has finally died… Until the next sequel, of course.