Kurosawa Kiyoshi should be considered his own genre. While primarily known for his horror films in the West, he got his start with pinku eiga movies (like many other Japanese directors) then moved into yakuza territory before making the switch to horror. Highly skilled, Kurosawa can successfully move between genres but every film he has made is distinctly and undeniably his. He uses unorthodox techniques and favors convoluted storylines with intense thematic complexity. He likes playing with experimental techniques; in his work you will find everything from disorienting shot placement, to musical numbers, to short silent films. There are a few things, however, that he uses with regularity and have become part of his style – ambiguous narratives, the use of both static and tracking cameras that form exceedingly long takes, the tendency to film his characters from a distance, the use of reflection and light, illogical editing, extremely deliberate pacing. He also has very important things to say about Japanese society – social alienation, the gap between generations, the modern family and workplace, morality. But what makes his films so special is that he does these things while scaring the hell out of the audience.
RETRIBUTION (2006, Japanese title Sakebi, ‘scream’) isn’t the best Kurosawa movie and it isn’t the scariest, but it is a great example of what Kurosawa does. The film opens with a static shot of a murder, viewed from Kurosawa’s recognizably distant vantage point. A man in a black trench coat is holding a woman in a blazingly red dress face down in a muddy puddle. The scene is completely silent; when the man finishes his task he walks away. Detective Yoshioka (played by Kurosawa’s cinematic alter-ego Yakusho Koji) is tasked with investigating the murder. However, he begins to wonder if he is the murderer, as he uncovers evidence that seems to point to him and is haunted by images of the ghost in red. As he attempts to discover her identity, a series of similar killings take place in the area – seemingly random people are all drowning loved ones in seawater.
ADRENALINE DRIVE is one of the first movies I watched when I was initially getting into Japanese film. Back in 2000, VHS still reigned supreme and it was pretty difficult to get your hands on Japanese movies in Colorado. Upon realizing that I had exhausted most of the sci-fi movie selection at the local Hollywood Video (remember when people used to RENT movies from STORES???), I stumbled upon a VHS copy of ADRENALINE DRIVE. Up to that point, I had really only watched jidai-geki style samurai movies, so my 12 year old brain was pretty interested in seeing a ‘normal’ Japanese movie. Though I bought it on a whim, ADRENALINE DRIVE turned out to be a ridiculously fun parody of yakuza caper films.
The movie opens with Suzuki (Ando Masanobu), a spineless rental car clerk, accidentally rear ending a car full of yakuza. Always ready to exploit the situation, the yakuza force Suzuki to visit their office and settle the debt. After an uncomfortable moment with the yakuza leader Kuroiwa (Matsushige Yutaka), Suzuki is let off the hook when a gas explosion destroys the office. Hearing the blast, an off-duty nurse Shizuko (Ishida Hikari) rushes into the building to help. Seeing the dead yakuza, Suzuki and Shizuko leave with a case full of blood-soaked cash. However, a badly injured Kuroiwa knows their identities and, now bed-ridden in the hospital, sends a group of low-level chinpira after them to retrieve the stolen money. Now on the run from the yakuza, ADRENALINE DRIVE is about the bizarre misadventures the unlikely pair experience.
I have a very strange memory. I can’t remember most of my life (high school is only a collection fragmented memories), but I have a near eidetic memory when it comes to movies and novels. I think this probably has something to do with the fact that I spend 75% of my time in an alternate reality.
A recent conversation with my boyfriend about STARGATE (1994) made me ponder this:
Me – “I remember seeing the original movie when it came out and being disappointed. I thought they had a really great idea but the movie wasn’t as good as it could have been.”
Him – “The original movie…you mean from 1994?”
Me – “Yes.”
Him – “You would have been 7 or 8.”
Me – “Yes, I have been intellectually pretentious ever since I was born.”
Here are a few more fun facts about me:
– After seeing JURASSIC PARK (1993) in the movie theater, my best friend Lee and I liked to pretend to be velociraptors.
– The first time I ever saw boobs in a movie was also in 1994, when my parents let me watch INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (1994) with them.
– My favorite movie when I was about 9 or 10 was THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966). I remember this quite clearly because I watched it nonstop during the summer my parents got divorced.
– My parents were notoriously bad at censoring my reading choices. When I was in fifth and sixth grade (11 or 12 years old), I read most of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. When I was in junior high, I discovered a few other Anne Rice books – Belinda (an erotic Lolita-esque story) and The Sleeping Beauty Trilogy (the fairy tale retold with a sado-masochistic bent).
– Shortly thereafter I remember reading a Tanith Lee short story about a woman with teeth in her vagina. I found this intriguing. I also attempted to read Don Quixote in sixth grade but found it too silly (irony!).
– When I was around 12 or 13 I started visiting my aunt Val Breiman in LA every summer, to which I can attribute most of my early education about film. Some of the first movies we watched together were DELIVERANCE (1972) and JAWS (1975).
– I clearly remember the first time I was ever alone with Adam Rifkin. We watched the Werner Herzog film EVEN DWARFS STARTED SMALL (1970). In this movie, the dwarfs kill a large pig, set fire to flowers, break dishes and windows, and crucify a monkey.
Now tell me some weird film-facts about you, readers!