Tag Archives: japanese

Drunken Angel – Review

29 Apr

Akira Kurosawa may very well be the most well known and respected Japanese film makers to ever work in the industry. Throughout his entire life, all the way to the end, Kurosawa has been responsible for many, many excellent stories with wonderful technical work. The film that Kurosawa said to be his real breakthrough piece was his film from 1948 Drunken Angel. This is also the first time he collaborated with actor Toshiro Mifune and composer Fumio Hayasaka. While Drunken Angel doesn’t quite look as good as Kurosawa’s other films, it is a deeply powerful film that left me thinking about a lot of different things and trying to pick out all of the different messages about post-war Japan and self worth that I could find.

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Dr. Sanada (Takashi Shimura) is an alcoholic physician working in a post-war Tokyo slum with a festering sump in the center. Matsunaga (Toshiro Mifune) is a small time yakuza gangster with an ego that’s much more inflated than his actual position in the organization. Matsunaga is a cocky, violence prone man who lashes out at Sanada when he is informed that he is suffering from a possibly mortal case of tuberculosis. At first Matsunaga doesn’t believe what the doctor is saying, but soon decides to be responsible and fight the disease. That is, until fellow yakuza member Okada (Reisaburo Yamamoto) gets out of prison and makes Matsunaga resume his old way of life which includes women, gambling, and alcohol. When Okada makes his motives truly known and threatens Sanada because of something that happened before he was even in prison, Matsunaga sees everything he has been doing wrong and fights his condition so he can get revenge on Okada and defend the doctor that cares for him so much.

Akira Kurosawa has an astute ability to take a story that may otherwise feel boring or like nothing’s really going on and turn it into a story that’s filled with many different layers, themes, messages, allegories and any other fancy word to describe how excellent this movie really is. It’s a quiet film, to say the least, but the imagery is as haunting as a movie as real as this gets. Kurosawa seems to take influence from the American noir films of this time period, but also from Italian neorealism that was around in the early to mid 20th century. This film does feel very real and very personal, not just to Kurosawa, but to the entire nation of Japan.

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Drunken Angel is more than a story about the relationship between an alcoholic doctor and a violent yakuza gangster. It’s very clear throughout the movie that this has a lot to do with the mood and ideals of post-war Japan. The sump in the middle of the slum is a perfect image of what was left of the landscape and the Japanese spirit after the was and the devastating effects of the the nuclear bombs. The characters, being constantly intoxicated and violent, seem to bring to life the weakness and horror of the Japanese mind and body. But this movie isn’t just about the effects of war. On a much smaller level, there are themes of masculinity, weakness, and self worth. These, in my opinion, are the strongest elements of the movie. If someone was to ask me what Drunken Angel was about, I would simply reply with one word. Weakness.

Interestingly enough, Kurosawa originally planned for the story of this movie to focus mainly on Dr. Sanada with the character of Matsunaga being a minor side character. After seeing how well Toshiro Mifune acted in the role, Kurosawa then made Mifune’s character much more important. These two characters now work together as the main protagonists throughout the film. Takashi Shimura, who became a regular in Kurosawa’s movies just like Mifune, is excellent as Dr. Sanada and plays his complicated role to perfection. We want to hate him for being so irresponsible and weak, but he is so good hearted we can’t help but love the guy. Mifune is still the scene stealer here. His transformation from swaggering gangster to a man overcome by his disease is tragic to watch. Tragic only begins to describe his character, and Mifune focuses all his energy into making him more than he was ever supposed to be.

Drunken Angel is the movie that put Kurosawa on the map so that he could go on to do other classics like Seven Samurai and Yojimbo amongst others. This is a much more quiet film than those others, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less significant. This film succeeds at digging into real problems for Japan at the time, but also digging into the darkest corners of people to expose the weaknesses that threaten to bring them down. There are many reasons that make this movie so great, and even if it doesn’t quite fit your style, do yourself the honor of watching this film made by one of the greatest film makers to ever live.

“Lone Wolf and Cub” Series – Review

1 Mar

Samurai movie are a real unique genre because they present a way of life that seems so distant and antiquated, it’s sometimes hard to believe that people once lived like this. Their sense of honor to the point that they would commit the act of seppuku for something pretty minor by today’s standards seems odd, but it’s unbelievably fascinating. The fun doesn’t stop there for the Lone Wolf and Cub series, a six movie saga that spanned from 1972 – 1974 and was based off a manga of the same name. These movies are entertaining, violent, often funny, and takes full advantage of showing off geysers of blood that clearly inspired film makers today, like Quentin Tarantino.

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Throughout these six films, the main plot goes as follows. Ogami Ittō (Tomisaburo Wakayama) is a shogun executioner during the Edo period of Japanese history. After the Yagyū clan conspire against him to claim his role as executioner, he changes his life and becomes an ronin assassin for hire with his young son, Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa). Amidst his adventures, Ittō and his son have to deal with vengeful Yagyū clan warriors, shinobi ninjas, sadistic fighters donning strange weaponry, and murderous women. While the violence never ends, Ittō has one real goal: to restore honor to his family name and kill the leader of the patriarch of the Yagyū clan, Retsudo (Yunosuke Ito).

This is a pretty slim summary of everything that happens in this series. There’s so many awesome and memorable things that happen in these movies that I wish I thought of. The coolest thing out of all the movies is the baby cart that Ogami Ittō pushes around. At first, the cart seems to just be a crudely constructed cart made of wood, solely used to carry Daigoro around. Well, that couldn’t be farther from what it actually is. This is a super weapon that I would love to have on my side in any battle. The cart is built using an arsenal including a spear, hidden daggers activated by buttons, shields, and a strange chain gun like device that has the ability to take down many people in a span of a few seconds. Things like this that happen or is seen in these movies are so cool and make them as memorable as Kurosawa’s more classical samurai films, such as Seven Samurai and Yojimbo.

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This would be a good opportunity to discuss the strange history of the Lone Wolf and Cub movies. The history of the movies themselves is nothing too crazy. Unfortunately, the manga wasn’t finished until 1976, and the last of these movies was made in 1974. That being said, don’t expect a very satisfying conclusion. But what I really want to mention are the Shogun Assassin movies. I knew about those movies before I knew anything about the Lone Wolf and Cub series, and it was surprising to figure out that they are pretty much the same movies. Shogun Assassin and its four sequels are made by editing down footage from the six Lone Wolf and Cub films and splicing them together. I was interested in seeing the Shogun Assassin movies, but when I heard what they actually were, I decided to move straight to the source material and I regret nothing.

The character of Ogami Ittō should be way more popular than he actually is. He’s skilled to the point of almost being superhuman, and the body count of these movies shows that. In the final film, White Heaven in Hell, Ittō holds the record of most body counts by one character at 150 kills onscreen. One of the most memorable scenes is from the first film, Sword of Vengeance, when Ittō cuts the head off of a Yagyū samurai in a duel, complete with a geyser of blood and a dramatic sunset in the background. These movies aren’t just fun and exciting, they’re very well made and look awesome.

The Lone Wolf and Cub series is a great collection of films that I guarantee will entertain you. The characters are memorable, the story is epic, and the history of the time period is really interesting. The films themselves aren’t that long, even though there are six of them, which is good because they don’t mess around. If you love classic samurai films or the history of Japan, but most importantly, if you love having fun, check out this film series.

Detective Story – Review

5 Jan

The job of anyone that is crafting a tale of mystery that takes place in any form of media has a very important, and I’d argue, difficult job. They have to make it intriguing in such a way to keep the audience in the dark and always guessing. Now, the Japanese cult phenomenon director, Takashi Miike, has dabbled in pretty much every genre in his unbelievable filmography of over 90 movies, and Detective Story is his combination of mystery, dark comedy, and his own brand of sick horror.

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Raita (Claude Maki) is a Japanese business man who has recently moved into a new apartment. Coincidentally, Raita’s new neighbor is also a man named Raita (Kazuya Nakayama), a private detective who doesn’t really have both feet planted firmly on Earth. Detective Raita soon begins investigating a series of bizarre murders, in which the victims have had certain organs removed after they were killed. Evidence against the private detective is soon uncovered, so he pulls the business man Raita into the mix of things for help, and the two plunge deep into a sickening quest to clear the detective’s name and solve the mystery of these brutal killings.

There are things in this movie that remind you that you are watching a movie by Takashi Miike. The film was actually written by someone else, but Miike’s style is certainly injected into the story, mostly by the use of his twisted sense of humor and the brutality of some of the scenes. This definitely isn’t as gut wrenching as other films of his like Ichi the Killer and Audition, but Detective Story does have a fair share of scenes that will make the viewer squirm, but laugh at the same time.

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The story is pretty muddled, as is the case of a lot of Miike’s films, but the difference between Detective Story and the other ones is that the others have things happening that really catch the viewer’s attention. The films I already mentioned have a sickening amount of over the top gore, and a movie like Sukiyaki Western Django has pretty insane action and art design that kept me interested, even when the story sort of fell through the cracks. Detective Story doesn’t really have any of this. The beginning and ending are both strong and grabbed me, but the entire middle part is filled with people just running around, doing a whole lot of what seemed like nothing. I felt like the plot got stuck in the mud and was just moving for the sake of a run time.

Now, there are really cool scenes, don’t get me wrong. Unfortunately, my copy of the movie had some things awkwardly blurred out, which kind of pulled me out of the movie for a second. Still there are other scenes that will shock, and others that will make you laugh. Nakayama’s performance is gleefully silly which is nice in a movie that had the potential to be so morbid. A lot of the humor in this movie comes from Nakayama’s ineptness getting in the way of him and anyone else solving the case. There are also a few gory scenes that will be remembered, but that doesn’t really make up for what is a really boring movie.

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I don’t really have much to say about Detective Story because it’s pretty forgettable, save for a few scenes. The story gets so caught up in itself and has this weird way of moving that I felt like I was missing stuff, but it turns out nothing was really happening. I can’t say I was really expecting too much from this movie, but I will say that I expected more. Fans of Takashi Miike will want to see it for his strange sense of humor and a few cool gory scenes, but the rest of the movie falls short and will kinda fade into my memory until it is hardly remembered.

Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl

7 Dec

Here we are again, ladies and gentlemen. Back in the strange world of master Japanese splatter punk, Yoshihiro Nishimura. What a strange wold that is, indeed. This time he’s got his hands on two of the most famous and beloved monsters in history: vampires and the Frankenstein monster. Where could a mind as bizarre as his take these two creatures? What could he possibly make them do? Well, it’s been a few days since I’ve seen Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, and I gotta say, I’m actually a little surprised at what I saw, but even Nishimura’s tricks wear thin after a little while.

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Mizushima (Takumi Saito) is a Tokyo high school student who can’t seem to get a grip on anything. He’s a quiet, unassuming kid who doesn’t want any trouble. Trouble finds him, though, when a fellow student, Monami (Yukie Kawamura), falls for him. What he soon learns though, is that she is a vampire. Complications also arise when Keiko (Eri Otoguro), another student in love with Mizushima falls to her death after trying to attack Monami. Her evil father and mad scientist/chemistry teacher brings her back from the dead using spare parts of other students with special traits. This starts a battle between the two girls for the love of Mizushima and as an excuse to paint the halls red.

The story in this one seems a little tame compared to the summaries of the other films by Nishimura and company that I have reviewed before. Probably because we all know about vampires and Frankenstein’s monster, so they don’t really seem so strange to us. However, Nishimura and co-director Naoyuki Tomomatsu do their best at making sure this is like no other film featuring these two monsters that we’ve ever seen, and I’m pretty sure it is the most bizarre. Certainly not the best, but I don’t think a movie called Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl is really reaching for cinematic greatness.

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Now, I know what some of you may be thinking. A vampire movie in a high school with a budding romance as a main point of the plot? Believe me, Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl is about as similar to Twilight as Casablanca is to Saving Private Ryan. Both WWII films, but absolutely not the same film in any other regard. Nishimura doesn’t hold back on the blood that sprays all over the frame, nor twisted bodily effects that look goofy but are strangely imaginative. I laughed a lot during this movie. But there are things in it that made my head almost tilt off my shoulders in confusion and bewilderment. Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl is surprisingly very racist and intolerant. It’s worth mentioning that their culture and views on race and society are waaaaaay different than ours, but from an American’s viewpoint, I could see how people could get very offended by the movie.

Running at just under an hour and a half, this is not a long movie at all. In fact, it’s quite short. Unfortunately, as with most of these movies, the jokes and tricks and blood and violence all get tired after about an hour. That makes the last half seem to drag on forever. All the violence and silly blood spray and effects are really fun at first, but how much of that and almost no plot can really carry a feature length movie? It really can’t. Watching these movies in two chunks might be the best way to go about viewing them, but watching one in one sitting gets boring after a while.

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Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl is goofy, stupid, violent, bloody and funny… at least for a while. It unfortunately gets old and a lot of it is very offensive to a couple different groups of people. If you can get past that, because it is just a movie after all, and if you’re familiar with this sub genre than give Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl a watch. It’s not anywhere near as good as it could’ve been, and the charm wears off, but if you’re a fan of Nishimura, this isn’t news to you.

Mutant Girls Squad – Review

4 Nov

As I’ve said many times before, I have a soft spot in my heart for over the top B-grade Japanese movies, especially those done by the production company Sushi Typhoon. I’ve already reviewed RoboGeishaTokyo Gore Police, and Machine Girl, and now I’m adding Mutant Girls Squad to the list. This film is directed by Noboru Iguchi, Yoshihiro Nishimura, and Tak Sakaguchi. Iguchi and Nishimura have proved themselves with the insanity of the other films, and Sakaguchi has been involved with Sushi Typhoon in the past, so really nothing can go wrong with this movie!

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Rin (Yumi Sugimoto) is an unassuming school girl who gets bullied everyday at school. If only they knew the truth about her. After her parents are brutally killed, she learns that she is actually a mutant that is descended from the ancient Huriko clan and the soldiers who killed her family are part of a faction whose job it is to wipe these mutants out. Rin’s hand turns into a sharp, wired, muscular killing device and she is soon picked up by Kisaragi (played by one of the directors, Tak Sakaguchi) and his right hand woman Rei (Yuko Takayama).  They being training her and a group of other mutant girls to wage war against the humans who hate them and want them dead. At first all seems well, but Rin soon learns how sadistic Kisaragi is. With the help of Rei and fellow mutant Yoshie (Suzuka Morita), Rin wages her own war against Kisaragi and his loyal followers.

There are a lot of similarities to the X-Men movies and comic books, but there is no trace of characters like Wolverine here. This is pure, unadulterated, Japanese schlock and it is so much fun it should be illegal. Yoshihiro Nishimura not only co-directs, but uses his trademark gore effects to really take Mutant Girls Squad to the next level. This is definitely the best looking of the Sushi Typhoon movies, with the exception of maybe their masterpiece, Tokyo Gore Police.

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There’s almost no point in going into depth about the acting. A lot of it is shit, but some of it is so wonderfully ridiculous that you can’t help but love it. Tak Sakaguchi steals the show as the transvestite mutant Kasaragi. He delivers all of his lines with more menace that is really needed, but that’s what makes him a great villain. That and his whole attire is hilarious and cool all at the same time. Along with the acting, it’s easy to dismiss a lot of the writing as shit, but if you do, you just need to learn to laugh. Hearing a guy yell about how weird it feels to have his brain sucked out of his head is too great. If you were being critical, you would say that it is way too much exposition and over written. But come on. It’s Mutant Girls Squad. This out of this world dialogue just adds to how silly the movie is as a whole.

Back to how great this movie looks though. That’s the real draw in my opinion. The world that is created for this movie is splashed with color in ways that would make Dario Argento giddy with excitement. Rooms are filled with reds and purples. Night streets are made green and blue with wonderful uses of gels all around. Finally, the effects of the mutations and the gore are exactly what fans of these films come to expect. Unfortunately, a good deal of the blood and gore is CGI, but when it’s practical it looks even better. It’s such dark fun seeing blood literally geyser out of a severed arm or through the middle of a head split in two!

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Forget Assault Girls. That movie can rot in hell for all I care. Mutant Girls Squad is exactly what you want to watch when you’re in for a good old fashioned Japanese splatter film. The only problem is that it could’ve been shorter. It seems even I can only take the insanity for only so long. I still love this movie though and had a uproarious good time with it. Tokyo Gore Police still reigns as champion, but Mutant Girls Squad holds a close second in the ranks of the Sushi Typhoon movies.

Assault Girls – Review

23 Oct

With a title like Assault Girls, I was really expecting to see some absurd Japanese B-movie action. Writer and director Mamoru Oshii has already made a name for himself with anime films like Ghost in the Shell and Urusei yatsura, but Assault Girls is his first live action feature film. Well, to be honest, I can’t even really call this a film. This is a landmark review, ladies and gentlemen, because this is, without a doubt, the worst movie I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of stinkers (Geisha Assassin in particular held the spot for a while).

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After a global thermonuclear war, a popular lifestyle choice in the new age of technologic enlightenment is to participate in a massive virtual reality video game where the aim is to hunt down and kill giant sand whales. Gray (Meisa Kuroki), Lucifer (Rinko Kikuchi), and Colonel (Hinako Saeki) are three battle hardened gamers who are each trying to reach the end boss and win the maximum amount of points. They each learn that they are going to have to team up to take down the boss, so the three girls and a drifter named Jäeger (Yoshikatsu Fujiki) being their hunt to find the end boss and defeat it.

Don’t be fooled by the summary. This movie has no plot. If a plot was a skeleton, then all we really have here is a rib cage. There isn’t even a full backbone to support this monstrosity of a “movie.” Clocking in at only 70 minutes, this film doesn’t have a long time to really engage the audience, so it has to really be good to catch our attention. Well, there really is nothing good about this movie if you haven’t guessed. From the start I had to sit through this pseudo-intellectual narration about the new technologic renaissance. As if this wasn’t bull shit enough, it hardly even ties into the movie! Why even have it? It takes up 10 minutes of a 70 minute long movie!

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The trailer looks promising enough. I did notice that the CGI was pretty subpar, but that’s sort of to be expected with a movie of this kind. Even films like Machine Girl and RoboGeisha have shoddy effects, but they’re at least really fun movies! There’s a part in this movie that takes at least 15 minutes of just the characters walking through the desert with overly dramatic music playing over it. This is where the movie tries to get thematic and deep, I guess to match its ridiculous “philosophic” voice over from the beginning. Too bad the characters exist just as much as the story, so I started to skip ahead just to get past all the walking. For a title like Assault Girls, there’s a lot more walking around than there is actual action.

When there is action, it’s almost cool. The huge guns they use look cool and sound cool, and the giant sand whales are passable. The redemption of the movie would have happened at the end when the characters are fighting the main sand whale that’s supposed to be the end boss of the game. The fight, however, lasts about five or six minutes and is so sloppily done and without any tension that I couldn’t believe is was supposed to be the climax. It was, indeed, the perfect ending for such a terrible movie.

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There’s moments when I began thinking Assault Girls was going to be cool and this review would turn out a lot different. But, to my chagrin, it only gets worse as it goes along. This is, without a doubt, the worst movie I ever sat through. The honor used to be held by Geisha Assassin, but at least that movie tried to deliver what it promises. Assault Girls was disappointing on every level, and that’s putting it mildly. I can’t even say it was so bad that it was good. It’s just plain terrible and, in my opinion, hardly qualifies as a movie.

Ju-On: The Grudge – Review

18 Sep

There was a point in time when it seemed like Hollywood was just going to start remaking Japanese horror films instead of thinking up their own stuff. One of the more popular examples is 2004 film The Grudge, which is actually based off of a 2002 film Ju-On: The Grudge. The Ju-On series consists of five other films other than this one, but this is the more popular one, and the only one I will be reviewing as of right now. Ju-On is a strange, startlingly slow, and occasionally boring example of J-Horror that may not really be everyone’s cup of tea.

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When a volunteer house keeper, Rika (Megumi Okina), begins work for an elderly woman in a house with a violent past, she never thought she would be stepping into a world full of horror and death. Other than Rika, a handful of other people have been inside the house, which condemns them to the vengeance of two spirits inhabiting the house that were brutally murdered. One by one, the people who have associated themselves with the house begin being stalked and tormented by these spirits before they are ultimately killed. No one who has been in the house can solve the mystery before it is too late.

The narrative of Ju-On: The Grudge is not like the American versions, despite both versions being directed by Takashi Shimizu. The Japanese version is strange, in that the story is told in episodic segments that are presented out of order. I didn’t expect this to happen at first, so I was completely lost for a little bit before I figured out that the order was completely messed up. Once I caught on, things began making sense and I started to have more fun with the film. This is actually a lot more difficult to piece together than a film like Pulp Fiction, because there are random jumps in time that are never explained and really forces the viewer to be paying attention to the timeline to keep with the pace.

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In terms of scare factor, well maybe I’m being a wuss here, but these movies have always freaked me out more than any other horror film. This is my first time seeing the Japanese version, but the American ones were not bad at all. Still, needing to sit through a movie with my two worst enemies (the two spirits) was fun. The sounds and movements of these ghosts are haunting, and made me not look forward to closing my eyes to go to sleep that night. I would be lying if I said I didn’t glance over at my stairs to check to see if there were any bloodshot eyes staring at me. The fact that these things just appear without any warning and mentally torment you until they kill you is way more than enough to make my skin crawl.

That being said, there is a whole lot of nothing that happens in this movie. The scenes of dialogue or plot and character development are really not that special at all. The characters are pretty dull and aren’t memorable at all. The parts of the movie that are most enjoyable are when the movie tries to scare us, and that seems to work 95% of the time. Unfortunately, this is a 93 minute long movie, and it can’t all be scares. There has to be something of a plot, but this one is confusing and just plain boring. That’s really a lot of points taken off of Ju-On to the point where the whole experience is pretty much ruined.

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Ju-On: The Grudge will bore many a people, that is a fact. A fact that has been strengthened with how bored I was during a large portion of the movie. I still can’t deny how freaky and nerve wracking this movie can be. If it only kept a consistent level of horror and dread throughout the whole thing, I would consider this one of my favorite horror films of all time. Unfortunately, it is bogged down by a confusing story and characters who really don’t mean a thing. This is an important film for the genre, but it really isn’t the awesome film that a lot of people say that it is.

Battle Royale & Battle Royale II: Requiem Review

7 Jul

Before The Hunger Games was even a thought, Koushun Takami wrote a novel released in 1999 called Battle Royale. The following year, Kenji Fukasaku adapted the story for the big screen and was met with worldwide controversy over the subject material. This controversy, of course, garnered the film much respect along with just how well it was made. It’s almost cinematic law now that a successful movie like Battle Royale needs a sequel, and in 2003, Battle Royale II: Requiem was released.

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The first Battle Royale film takes place in a not too distant dystopian future where the Japanese youth has gotten entirely out of hand. As a response to their overly rebellious behavior, the BR Act is passed by the government. A group of students are witness to the effects of the this act firsthand when they are kidnapped on the way home from a school trip where their old school teacher, Kitano (“Beat” Takeshi Kitano), tells them that they are being released on an island where they must fight to the death until one of them is left standing. To make matters worse, unless they are all still alive within 72 hours or they are in a danger zone at a certain time, robotic necklaces that they are all strapped to will detonate. Let the games begin.

Battle Royale is truly an outstanding movie. How The Hunger Games got away with such a blatant rip off is way beyond me, but that’s not what I want to talk about. This movie had a good opportunity to be silly and violent, and in some parts there is great dark humor, but for the most part it takes itself seriously. Not only that, but it succeeds with its serious demeanor. There is lots of violence, but it never gets out of hand or ridiculous. In fact, it is hard to watch at times because you find yourself thinking about what you would do if you were in that situation. This makes Battle Royale a horrifying movie, due to its circumstances.

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Unfortunately, the movie does get a little heavy handed with the dialogue sometimes and it unintentionally funny, but as soon as you find yourself laughing, the next scene will only make you more nervous or upset. Takeshi Kitano is great in this movie and I had so much fun watching him whenever he was onscreen. Talk about taking a character and really making it your own. Battle Royale is a devastating look at teenage rebellion and the effects that it has on everyone around them. If you feel like you can handle the material presented in this movie, it isn’t really one you should let yourself miss.

Now, there really does not have to be a sequel. Can we just forget that it even exists? No? Fine. I guess it is my job to watch it and let you all know how it is. Three years after the original film, Battle Royale II: Requiem was released. Oh boy.

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Three years after the events of Battle Royale, one of the survivors of the games, Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara), has created a guerrilla terrorist faction to seek revenge on adults everywhere for the torture that they put him through. As a result, the government has upgraded their BR Program, and another group of high schoolers are put to the test. This time they are sent to and island where it is believed Nanahara is hiding and given the task to find him and kill him within 72 hours, or the necklaces will explode, not only killing the one wearing the necklace, but also their partner. Once on the island they are quickly launched in a battle with the terrorists who want to survive the onslaught and have their ultimate revenge.

Forget everything that was cool or exciting about the original Battle Royale, you won’t find any of that here. Instead we are forced to see battle scenes a la Saving Private Ryan. Was there anything like that in the original? No! Not only is it completely devoid of suspense, but it gets worse than the most repetitive game you may have ever played. Someone is shot, their partners neck explodes, and their friends all yell their names. Over and over and over again. To me, it almost becomes a comedy of sorts. Once the actual “game” is over and it becomes some sort of quasi-war movie, I completely lost interest.

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Unfortunately, the director of the previous film, Kenji Fukasaku, was set to direct this but dies of pancreatic cancer after only shooting one scene. His son, Kenta Fukasaku, who wrote both films, ended up directing the rest. I gotta say, I’m not a fan of his style. When you need to throw in CGI blood (which it is already known that I despise) and CGI debris in every other scene, the movie just starts to looks silly. That’s what Battle Royale II ultimately is: a silly mess of a movie. An overly long movie at that.

In conclusion, Battle Royale is not a movie that should be missed. It is exciting, suspenseful, and surprisingly thought provoking. As for its sequel, it is the ultimate proof that there are some movies that do not need to be made under any circumstances. Still, I’m glad I got to experience the first entry, and I’ll be sure to watch it again.

The Machine Girl – Review

24 May

I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that a guilty pleasure of mine lies in the realm of Japanese B-movies, more exclusively those that fall into the “splatter film” category. I’ve reviewed RoboGeishaTokyo Gore PoliceMeatball Machine, and Helldriver. Now, adding to this list is The Machine Girl, an over the top blood bath directed by Noboru Iguchi, and gore effects by the master of B-grade splatter movies, Yoshihiro Nishimura.

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Ami (Minase Yashiro) is an average school girl who is very protective of her little brother, Yu (Ryôsuke Kawamura), especially since their parents killed themselves over a criminal investigation involving a murder that they were framed for. One day, Yu and his friend are killed by Sho (Nobuhiro Nishihara), the son of a samurai/yakuza boss, Ryûji (Kentarô Shimazu). Ami vows to get revenge for her brother, but is caught by Ryûji and has her left arm cut off (in a shower of blood that made me chuckle). Ami teams up with the parents of Yu’s friend, Suguru (Yûya Ishikawa) and Miki (Asami). They construct for her a machine gun to attach to her arm, and after some training, wage a war on the yakuza boss and his son.

Just typing this summary out made me realize how absolutely goofy the whole premise of this is. It wasn’t very easy to get it all down and make it sound somewhat interesting at the same time. That’s because the appeal of The Machine Girl is the visual chaos that fills pretty much the entirety of the movie. If you see the trailer, the summary that I wrote down seems a bit more interesting because you have a sense of how silly it really is. Like I said before, this kind of movie is my guilty pleasure. I recognize the fact that they really aren’t good movies. But, and this is a big but, they make me laugh and there’s plenty of blood and gore that paints the screen red.

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So, for the sake of being a proper critic, let’s objectively look at the movie. First of all, it looks really cheap, but that’s because it is really cheap. The movie is shot in HD which is common for movies of this kind and is pretty appropriate for the silly nature of the movie. If it was shot with beautiful cinematography, it would look and feel weirder than it already is. The acting in it is sub par and over the top. I can promise you that there is lots of fist clenching, teeth gritting, and yelling as characters run into battle. Finally, the writing is completely ridiculous. Honestly though, there really isn’t anything special about the dialogue. You could take all of it out and still know exactly what is going on.

A major plus for this movie is the insane camera work that is used during the more violent scenes. When Ami fires her machine gun arm near the camera, it seems to jitter a little bit like it is affected by the power of the gun. Iguchi used the same technique in RoboGeisha, which has a lot of similarities in its style. The gore effects by Yoshihiro Nishimura are also really cool. There is some CGI used for the blood and the gore, but a good deal of it is done with more physical means. Lots of arterial spray and limbs that go flying. The make up used for a character who has nails rammed into his face looks both disturbing, but very funny in its own dark way.

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Above all, that is really my main reason for watching all of these. The blood, the gore, and the action are so silly and over the top that I can’t help but be intrigued. The writing and acting may be bad and the HD may look cheap, but I can’t say that this wasn’t a really fun movie to watch. There were times where I got a little bored or was ready for the movie to be over, but most of the time I was into what was happening and wondered just what could possibly happen next. A machine gun arm, a flying clamp that rips heads off, a drill bra, and more make this a one of a kind movie. Well, perhaps not. It has been compared to Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, which is without a doubt a much better film. Still, I can see how much joy the film makers had making this because the finished product is so kinetic and enjoyable. It’s hard to explain how a movie is when you can really tell the makers were trying to make a movie that they would love to see themselves. The Machine Girl is one of these movies.

So, yeah. This isn’t a good movie, but it is entertaining and silly as hell. I don’t always feel the need to put on some highly artistic movie that will make me reconsider everything I know about film making. Sometimes I just want to see some limbs fly and a girl with a machine gun arm kill some bad guys. This gave me exactly what I was expecting, and for that, I can’t fault the movie. This isn’t for everyone, and to the people who have seen it and hate it, I completely understand. The Machine Girl stupid fun, and I personally had a good time.

House – Review

15 May

This may be one of the hardest reviews I’m ever going to have to write. House is a Japanese movie from 1977 that was directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi, who started as an experimental film maker and advertiser, but was asked by Toho to make a film that would resemble the American hit, Jaws. When Toho got House in return they were completely shocked and eventually pulled it from the theaters after it started doing well in the box office out of fear that people would think that this is the direction Toho would be going in. Is it as strange as this introduction has made it sound? Absolutely right it is, but that is just fine with me.

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Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) is a Japanese school girl who invites her friends to come with her to visit her aunt’s (Yōko Minamida) house in the country. Her friends are appropriately named Prof (Ai Matsubara), Melody (Eriko Tanaka), Kung Fu (Miki Jinbo), Mac (Mieko Sato), Sweet (Masayo Miyako), and Fantasy (Kumiko Oba). Each girl’s name represents their different personalities. When they arrive at the house, they all get the grand tour and are very happy with what they see, all of them looking forward to their stay. Unfortunately for them, on the first night strange things begin happening and one by one they all start to go missing. The house turns out to haunted by the strangest apparition you may ever see on film.

I really can’t give a a summary of this movie and make it sound interesting. It’s a very cut and dry narrative to look at written out. On the surface, it would seem like a stereotypical haunted house movie. That couldn’t be further from the truth. This is a head trip, psychedelic experience, horror film, and dark comedy all mashed together in one film. There’s a piano that eats people, a cat portrait that shoots gallons of blood across a living room, a pair of disembodies legs causing all sorts of mayhem, and of course, my personal a favorite: a giant head that comes out of nowhere with a warning to the terrified girls.

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The real draw to this movie is the in camera and analog effects that Obayashi exploits. He really does not hold back when it comes to showing off what he can do. What one needs to remember when they are watching House is that it is from 1977. A lot of the shots outside used matte paintings to make the world that these girls inhabit very surreal and other worldly. The images seem almost too beautiful and artificial to be real, and that’s because they absolutely are. A lot of the effects are also done with a blue screen which are very obvious to notice. Normally, this would be a detraction, having special effects that look unreal. For this movie, however, it works just fine. Nothing about this movie is supposed to look ordinary, so the effects look very cartoonish and silly. This adds to the whole dream like vision that Obayashi wanted, even though he even said he wasn’t too thrilled with some of the effects. I personally loved them.

For the times where there wasn’t a crazy special effects happening, there was at least one or two boring scenes of the girls just sort of hanging out. This makes the movie feel a lot slower than it should feel, especially with the subject matter of the movie. This could be on account of sloppy writing, since some of the jokes seem to stretch on too long or there are plain and simply scenes where nothing really happens. Another contributing factor to the pacing may be that there are scenes that are so ridiculous that when it slows down, the change almost seems jarring. One second, possessed mattresses are attacking someone, and the next the characters are sitting around talking and laughing. It feels weird to me.

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House truly is a one of a kind movie for better or for worse. Some people will call this a masterpiece when it comes to cult classics. Others will say that it shouldn’t even exist and that it’s a blemish on the history of film making. Personally, I don’t see how you could possibly ignore this. It isn’t perfect, but then again it isn’t really anything that can be classified or labeled. It simply exists, and it is up to the viewer to decide what they make of it. Trying to say that it’s good or bad wouldn’t be doing the film justice. House is just House, nothing more and nothing less.