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!

Horror is typically regarded as the least feminist genre of film; a genre that routinely objectifies, sexualizes, tortures, rapes and murders women and girls. However, if viewed from a different angle, horror films often feature story lines that grant wronged women the power and agency (in death) to respond to the injustices done to them in life.

‘Dead wet girls’ is a term coined by David Kalat in his book J-Horror to describe the unique female ghosts who are so iconic in Japanese horror. While popular Japanese films like RING and JU-ON have made this figure recognizable to Western audience, the wronged woman has been a prominent figure in Japanese ghost stories and mythology for centuries. Of course, the interpretation of these stories is fairly ambivalent; often the presence of malignant ghosts and spirits is connected back to the failure of mothers and wives to perform their womanly duties. In many Japanese folktales, female spirits are connected back to the savage and unpredictable natural world.


KWAIDAN (1964)

The best example of this connection to nature is the Yuki-onna (snow woman), famously depicted in Kobayashi Masaki’s KWAIDAN (1964). The Yuki-onna is a beautiful woman with long black hair, who typically appears before travelers lost in snow. The Yuki-onna typically kills the unfortunate travelers she meets, though she may also take unsuspecting men as lovers in a succubus-like fashion. She is essentially the manifestation of winter; beautiful and serene yet capable of ruthlessly killing those who are ill-prepared. She is also a reminder of a woman’s fury – like nature, no woman can ever be fully trusted. Kobayashi Masaki’s depiction of the Yuki-onna is captivatingly surreal. Starring Nakadai Tatsuya, the entire segment was filmed in an obviously artificial indoor set with swirling painted backgrounds (featuring an ominous eye).

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Based upon the novel by Otsuichi, GOTH is about two morbid high school students who share a fascination with murder. Kamiyama (Hongo Kanata) is an outwardly friendly and popular boy who hides his potentially sociopathic nature with a carefree, happy attitude. Loner Morino (Takanashi Rin), on the other hand, does little to hide her strange nature; she never smiles, doesn’t interact with her classmates, and wears a long-sleeved, black school uniform even during the middle of summer. While these two seem to share little in common and do not interact with each other in front of their peers, their shared interest in death and murder has turned them into an unusual duo. Initially happy to exchange books on morbid subjects, a series of recent murders spark their interest and they begin investigating the killer. This serial killer has a fondness for cheerful young women and, after severing their left hand as a trophy, displays their dead bodies in public locations to be discovered. After Morino discovers the killer’s notebook in a local café, the two use it to see the corpses for themselves before discovery and attempt to discern his identity. Obviously, the closer they get to discovering him, the more danger they are in.

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Yamada Yoji does not make action-packed Hollywood blockbusters. Stemming from the branch of Japanese filmmakers taught by Ozu and Mizoguchi, Yamada’s films usually take a more introspective, down-to-earth direction. While Kabei: Our Mother marks his 80th film, it was only in the early 2000s that Yamada gained the recognition of Western audiences. The films of his samurai trilogy (The Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade, and Love and Honor) are all more interested in the internal conflicts of the characters and potent characterizations of the decaying Edo era than in epic, choreographed swordfights. The effect is either lost on the audience or whole-heartedly embraced. In terms of samurai films, Ninja Scroll is a bowl of gyuudon and The Twilight Samurai is kaiseki ryori. Both are delicious, but both are eaten with distinctly different intentions. Additionally, Yamada has built most of his career around depicting two specific eras of Japanese history; the late-Edo (ending in 1867) and Showa (1925-1989). Both of these periods marked times of tremendous change in Japan; the forcible ‘opening’ of Japan to Western trade and end of bakufu (Shogunate) rule (shortly followed by the dissolution of the samurai class) and Japan’s ill-fated foray into imperialism.

Like Yamada’s samurai trilogy, Kabei is not a run-of-the-mill World War II film. The story follows Nogami Kayo (AKA Kabei, played by Yoshinaga Sayuri), a mother who must care for her two daughters after her husband, a professor, is arrested and jailed for expressing opinions contrary to the Imperial war effort. Forced to cope with the difficulties of being a single mother and her own reservations about the rising nationalism in Japan, Kabei raises her daughters with the help of her lovely sister-in-law, a rowdy uncle, and the clumsy and good-hearted Yamasaki. Uninterested in action, Yamada devotes the film’s energy to the portrayal of the characters’ experiences. Uninterested in romanticizing the past, Yamada also places his typical emphasis on historical accuracy and goes to considerable effort to accurately capture the look and atmosphere of Showa era Japan.

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This is one of the best movies you will see all year and everyone should watch it. Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil is the funniest, smartest, and most lighthearted satire of horror movie tropes to be released since Shaun of the Dead. Playing with some of the most tiresome and common clichés of slasher movies, this film manages to cast the entire horror genre in an original and refreshingly light.

 Opening on what appears to be a southern Appalachian forest and mimicking a shot made infamous in Deliverance (and echoed in The Descent), the film introduces us to a band of unwitting and mostly dull-witted ‘college kids,’ who we all know will meet a gruesome end by the film’s conclusion. Headed off on a Memorial Day camping trip (why would anyone ever go camping in the South? Seriously, only bad things happen there), they have a brief encounter with Tucker (Alan Tudyk, Firefly) and Dale (Tyler Labine), two well-intentioned rednecks off to fix up their dream vacation home. Unsurprisingly, they completely misinterpret Dale’s attempt to make small talk with the lovely Allison (Katrina Bowden of 30 Rock)…perhaps partially because he brings along a scythe to casually lean-on as he bumbles through an introduction.

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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!