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Supîkâman: The Boo (2004)
This short film is not what you'd expect from the director of of the misanthropic ANATOMIA EXTINCTION and the arterial-spray epic TOKYO GORE POLICE. It tells the story of an odd creature (or is he a human mutant?) called the Speakerman, who served duty in a small mining village by sounding the siren/megaphone that is his head to tell the workers when it was time for lunch and to alert people in case of a mining accident. When the mine closes, Speakerman ends up lonely and in search of new friends and meaning in his life. The film plays like a warped fairy tale and is oddly affecting despite its weirdness. I'd even go so far as to recommend it as a film for children were it not for the climactic fight between Speakerman and a Cannibalistic Shushi Chef... SPEAKERMAN shows that Nishimura is capable of much more than just pumping geysers of gushing blood all over movie sets and is worth tracking down for people who are interested in watching something different.
Genkai jinkô keisû (1995)
This was fascinating to watch. TOKYO GORE POLICE is far from a direct remake of this film, though there are commonalities. The Engineer is already in this short and he does infect people by inserting a piece of mutant flesh/tumor into the opened-up bodies his victims. There is also already some of the satire regarding the privatization of the Tokyo Police Department. But that's where the similarities end.
The story is about a man who becomes infected by the Engineer and slowly mutates. The chase scenes between the man and the Engineer are very reminiscent of Tsukamoto's TETSUO: THE IRON MAN, in my opinion. Once infected, the Engineer's victims go on relentless murder sprees (there is a hilarious nod to DEATH RACE 2000 in a scene of vehicular homicide) and it is made quite clear that this is seen as the only way to get the exploding population (the world's in general and Japan's in particular) back under control.
In short, ANATOMIA EXTINCTION is sort of set in the same creative universe as TOKYO GORE POLICE but ANATOMIA EXTINCTION and TOKYO GORE POLICE tell totally different stories.
Nishimura showed plenty of talent with this early short film and in retrospect it is both surprising and a bit sad that it took so long for him to be recognized and given more chances to work. ANATOMIA EXTINCTION is definitely something fans should seek out to discover where Nishimura started from.
Zangyaku jokei-shi (1976)
The Art of Vaginal Mutilation
This film just fascinates me. I like to picture a meeting in a conference room at Shin Toho Studios in late 1975 or maybe early 1976. A number of Japanese men in suits, looking the part of serious businessmen, sit around a table and discuss what kind of movies they are going to make. Suddenly, someone suggests an anthology film about vaginal mutilation. There is some hesitation but the vote in unanimous. CRUELTY OF THE FEMALE INQUISITION (Zankyaku Onna Keishi) is given the go ahead and Shinya Yamamoto is brought on board as director.
When I said anthology film I wasn't kidding. CRUELTY OF THE FEMALE INQUISITION is a series of shortish episodes that take place at various points in Japanese history. The only thing they have in common is that at the end a vagina is ripped, torn, burned etc.
The first story takes place during the Meiji Period (1868-1912). A general comes home from war only to find his daughter having an affair with some young lad. She must be punished! So they stick some bamboo rod in her.
Second story is about a farmer who comes home from work to find his wife doing it with a priest. So he takes the huge scissors he used for work and stabs her in the crotch. Repeatedly.
The remaining stories concern an ukiyo-e artist's exploits, a princess having her vagina torn apart by a bunch of horny ninjas and a female convict having her labia roasted during interrogation.
Maybe this film is kinda messed up.
If you have seen Teruo Ishii's JOY OF TORTURE then you can probably picture how this film works structurally. I should also say that since this is a Japanese film and was made in the 70ies you never actually see any close ups of the genital mutilation. It's all very effectively suggested and sold through the actresses' performances.
It may be interesting to know that director Shinya Yamamoto went on to direct the one and only Harry Reems (he of DEEP THROAT) in HARRY AND THE GEISHA (Ikenie no Onna-tachi) two years later.
Gekka no ran (1991)
Passable Yakuza Noir
This early effort from now acclaimed writer/director Takashi Ishii was made in 1991, three years after he had made his directorial debut on ANGEL GUTS: RED DIZZYNESS. Unfortunately this film, a V-Cinema (short for Video Cinema, i.e. direct-to-video) effort he wrote and directed for Nikkatsu, must have been even lower budget than the ANGEL GUTS films. However, that's not to say that GEKKO NO RAN (translation: MOONLIGHT ORCHID) is without its merits.
The story concerns a yakuza who has to witness the killings of both his wife and young daughter but when the assassin is about to shoot him, his gun fails and he flees. 10 years later, we find the protagonist to have become a seemingly emotionless professional gambler. Then, one night, he stops a girl from jumping off a bridge and as a result starts to have feelings again. Just then this other girl is kidnapped by the very same gang who murdered his previous woman. Of course he must do his best to save her as well as take revenge for what happened in the past.
The story is obviously quite by the numbers and the production values are nothing to write home about either. Still, there are quite a few nice touches. The cinematography already shows a bit of the style Ishii would develop later on in his BLACK ANGEL and GONIN films. And since the script was written by Ishii, of course the protagonist's murdered wife was called Nami. (All female main characters in Ishii's stories have that name.) I can't say I am very surprised that this film hasn't seen release in the West. It's not bad but far from great as well. It will undoubtedly be of interest to fans of Ishii's work and die hard fans of yakuza movies. There are certainly many worse films than this among the countless direct-to-video this genre produces every year in Japan.
Za ikenie (1986)
This is NOT a pinku eiga
In the year 1986, the Nikkatsu Studios made a series of films with titles such as ZA GOMON, ZA MANIA, ZA S&M, ZA IKENIE. Many of those also had sequels. These were all directed by the same trio of "directors" (I use that term loosely), star the same actors and actresses and were all filmed in the same sets (i.e. dilapidated buildings, empty warehouses), using even much of the same props (i.e. sex toys).
The interested viewer really shouldn't let the pretty, painted cover artwork for these productions fool them into thinking these will be quality productions of any merit whatsoever. What you will end up spending your hard-earned cash on are pathetically, cheap, trashy (and pixel censored) Japanese porno movies.
ZA IKENIE has almost no plot whatsoever. It's just about a bondage master and how he amuses himself with two of his sex slaves. There is one amusing scene at the beginning where a girl is strapped onto the roof of a car and driven through a fairly busy street while nobody seems to think this in the least bit odd. Only in Japan, I guess. I also chuckled at a mangled, Japanese version of "Silent Night" that is sung by the cast while they have sex under a Christmas tree. Those two scenes are the only reason I gave this film a 2/10 rating.
These ZA-movies may have been a sort of missing link between the pinku eigas of the 70ies and early 80ies (a genre I love dearly) and the AV (Adult Video) porno movies of nowadays. If that makes them interesting viewing from a film-historic perspective you will have to decide on your own.
Jigoku kozô (2004)
Perfectly captures the visual style of Hideshi Hino's manga work
THE BOY FROM HELL is the best cinematic representation of legendary Japanese manga artist Hideshi Hino's overall visual and storytelling style so far, even beating out 1988's MERMAID IN A MANHOLE, which was directed by Hino himself. While other entries into the HIDESHI HINO HORROR THEATER hexalogy of short films may be better films when viewed out of context, THE BOY FROM HELL stands as the single best adaptation in the series.
A theme that is almost always present in Hino's manga work is the isolation and suffering of the outsider, the freak. There is a brilliant scene in THE BOY FROM HELL where the titular resurrected monster happens upon a group of children playing ball. When he approaches them, wanting to join in, the run away screaming. Despite the grisly murders Daio has committed up to this point, you still feel sorry for him in that scene.
Another thing that director Mari Asato and screenwriter Seiji Tanigawa (working from Hino's eponymous manga) nailed perfectly is the mix of grotesque horror imagery and gore with pitch black comedy that permeates so many of Hino's comics. The most wonderful examples of this are the ridiculous fake nose they put on the detective and a birthday party for Daio, during which he is forced to wear a mask similar to that of Hannibal Lecter in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS to keep from from devouring the other little kids. Of course that doesn't work so well in the end ...
I hesitate to recommend THE BOY FROM HELL to the casual horror fan or even fans of Japanese horror. It is wildly different from the slow paced malevolent hair-ghost stories of recent years and hearkens closer to the ero-guro films of the 70ies, while also adding plenty of elements from campy fun splatter movies of the 1980ies. If you like those and/or are already familiar with Hino's manga publications (a fair number of which are available in English translations) then this is a movie you should seek out. Everyone else may come away confused and maybe disappointed.
Ecstatic Stigmatic (1980)
The story of the ecstatic life of Little Rose.
ECSTATIC STIGMATIC starts strong and immediately fascinates. Through the narration of someone, probably a doctor, maybe a psychiatrist, we are introduced to Little Rose, a young woman who is institutionalized in a mental hospital. We are told that she becomes stigmatized because of an "hysteric ailment" and that she was the leader of a blood-letting cult. Then, a new narrator starts talking about Little Rose much less scientifically and much more respectful, almost as if holding a sermon for a saint. All the while, we see Little Rose convulsing on her bed in one of her fits of ecstasy, which are always accompanied by stigmata.
That's what happens in the first 20 minutes of the film. The film gets a little muddled or maybe just harder to decipher after that. There are several layers of flashbacks to Little Rose's childhood and her life with her parents, who were both performance artists.
ECSTATIC STIGMATIC is pretty interesting, occasionally even fascinating experimental film that came out of the New Yorker "New Cinema" movement. It's certainly worth seeking out for lovers of strange, trippy, experimental art-house film-making.
Hellraiser: Deader (2005)
It could have been great ...
HELLRAISER: DEADER is pretty good, especially in the first half which has two of the more intense and creepy scenes I have seen in a DTV flick in a while. I'm talking, of course, about the first videotape and when Amy explores the abandoned house.
Where DEADER fails is when it tries to tie into the HELLRAISER mythology. As has been well publicized, DEADER started out as an original screenplay by Neal Marshall Stevens that Dimension Films bought for no less than 1 million dollars. Then they lost faith in it and let it collect dust before hiring Tim Day to do a rewrite and turn it into a HELLRAISER sequel. I don't blame the guy, because he probably did the best he could, given such a ridiculous task. But it's a shame that DEADER did end up like this. Without the 30 seconds worth of Pinhead at the end this could have been a minor genre masterpiece. As it stands, it's just a bizarre, schizophrenic film with some outstanding moments, some scenes that really work and some that really don't. Once again, shame on Dimension Films for wasting this opportunity.
In addition to original screenwriter Stevens, director Rick Bota also deserves some praise. He's made a good looking and often tense film that is never less than competent. Hopefully he'll be able to break free from his current job at Dimension eventually. The guy has talent.
Panic and Puke
This early short film from the director of PINOCCHIO 964 and RUBBER'S LOVER didn't do a whole lot for me, though I will readily admit that the extended throwing up scene in the middle made me squirm in my seat and wish it would end. I am pretty desensitized to violence and gore by now by now but for some reason I can't quite stomach scenes where people puke for more than a few seconds. So props to Fukui for provoking a reaction. GERORISTO seems to be about one woman's violent revolt against society as a whole, especially the Japanese society where you always have to be polite and blend in. She does the exact opposite, stumbling wild-eyed through the subway, yelling at people on the street, clutching them etc.
A disappointing mess.
What a huge disappointment this film turned out to be! It's just frustrating to watch as writer/director Shugo Fujii fails to capitalize on all the promise his film help up to the last third. There was something really disturbing about the torture and cruelty in this movie that instantly won me over. The evil old woman and the corpse-like teenaged girl who invade a seemingly normal household are quite freaky and used cleverly and effectively. There's a subplot about a newspaper reporter getting on the trail of the two madwomen that injects a lot of tension into the narrative. But one downright silly climax (that is filled with annoying overacting and megalomaniacal laughter) and about ten unnecessary twists (which make both Shyamalan's antics and the ending of Haute Tension look coherent in comparison) later only a distant memory of the above mentioned virtues remains. A Living Hell could and should have been a modern horror film classic but instead it turned into a disappointing mess.
The Passion of Darkly Noon (1995)
The best film I have seen in a long time.
I watched this film yesterday and was pretty blown away by it. It's very much like a magical realist novel in how it mixes aspects of modern life and society with fairy tale mythology and a general dreamlike atmosphere.
The story is basically about a young man named Darkly Noon who has been brought up by religious fanatics and who stumbles upon a weird "family" of three that lives deep in the woods after his parents are murdered. These people consist of Callie, a women who is so beautiful and sensual she's being compared to a force of nature, her mute boyfriend and a third young man. At the beginning Darkly, played by Brendan Fraser who is actually downright awesome in this film, is alone with Callie, which causes a lot of confusion as he's attracted to her and his sexual desires clash with both his religious dogmas and, upon his return, with her boyfriend. There's also a strange old woman living in the woods who claims that Callie is in fact a witch who seduces and kills every man she meets and also accuses her of having murdered most of her family. With that in mind Darkly, who has been continuously mutilating himself to control his urges, decides Callie needs to be punished for her sins against god. Things go very wrong from there...
The Passion of Darkly Noon is a tough film to describe because there really are not a lot of movies that are anything like it. It's part thriller, part dark erotic drama, part supernatural horror and part fairy tale. Now try to wrap your mind around that ... It is expertly and effectively directed by Philip Ridley, who has only directed this film and THE REFLECTING SKIN a few years before it and spends most of his time writing children's books. Which makes sense because DARKLY NOON bears some resemblance to the simplicity of the narratives of children's books. It's just that it goes into extremely dark and adult territory instead of remaining wholesome and family-friendly. The performances by everyone involved are great, Fraser really surprised me with his portrayal of Darkly. The guy once had some promise before he decided to squander it all in ridiculous braindead blockbusters. Ashley Judd, who plays Callie, also does a great job with a very difficult role. Callie is incredibly seductive, naive, playful and almost childlike all at once and Judd pulls it off admirably. Her mute boyfriend is played by Viggo Morensen and he's also good in a role that requires him to convey everything with gestures alone. Special praise has to go to Nick Bicat for a truly haunting score that fits the style of the film and John de Borman's lush cinematography perfectly.
THE PASSION OF DARKLY NOON is the best film I have seen in a long time and a genuine discovery.
Highly recommended for fans of unusual cinema!
When I watched this film I was expecting a descent into total madness with random trip imagery but in fact the story, while simple, is good and the two extended trip sequences are an integral part of the film. The first one is more of a learning experience and a preparation for the finale of the movie.
This is a western so you'd think that it will end with a shootout between the good guy and the bad guy. Instead, they catch up with each other in a secret cave in which dozens of mescalin cacti grow. The bad guy is already tripping his balls off and so, instead of shooting the unconscious man, the hero drinks some of the drug himself and confronts him during an extremely impressive trip sequence that is near impossible to describe. I don't think there's been anything like this in film before and even the comparisons to the end of Stanley Kubrick's 2001 - A SPACE ODYSSEY that I have read don't give you more than an idea of what to expect. It is beautiful and unique, with complex visual images of millions of snakes and spiders, stars, rapid falls through what looks like electrical circuits ... Just extremely impressive work here, both from whoever came up with these images and from the computer artists who brought them to live. I'm not overly experienced with psychoactive drugs and the few times I've taken acid have not been nearly this complex in their optical illusions. I've seen some snakes and one time a huge, slithering, eel-like dragon rushing across the wall but never something like this.
I thought that the final confrontation was very refreshing and better than yet another shootout, which is something we have seen thousands of times already.
BLUEBERRY is an incredibly beautiful film even outside the trip sequences. It is filmed with great technical skill and originality but without letting the visual tricks get in the way of the narrative.
There's great acting from Vincent Cassel and a knock-out performance from Michael Madsen as the main bad guy. He was genuinely creepy. Juliette Lewis, while hardly the most pleasant sight physically (she looks like a shaved monkey) also does a good job in a supporting role.
This is a multi-language film. It's mostly in English and you'll be fine with just understanding that part but there's also a lot of Native American dialogue, mostly before and after the trip sequences, as well as some French and even German!
Open Water (2003)
Over-hyped but still rather good.
This is, for the most part and effective and pretty good film. Way over-hyped but still rather good. What you have to remember is that this is terror cinema. OPEN WATER doesn't give a s**t about looking slick and cinematic or about creative camera angles. All it wants to do is make you jump in your seat and scare the s**t out of you. There's definitely enough scares to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Still, this isn't the instant classic so many critics are calling it.
My main problem with the film was that I really didn't give a s**t about these two people. There is some exposition at the beginning but what we get to know doesn't make them overly likable. They are just a normal, boring couple having a few normal, boring couple problems in their relationship. Maybe some will find it easy to identify with them because of their Joe and Jane average qualities but it didn't quite work for me. The filmmakers should have done more to give them an actual personality and some depth. When they float in the water and bicker and whine it was just like observing some people bickering on the subway or wherever. It's annoying, not involving.
Then there's the camera-work, that shaky cam thing, that really doesn't serve the story at all. I realize that the filmmakers didn't have the money for more professional equipment but unlike say BLAIR WITCH the shaky cam exists for no reason. It does give the film a documentary feel and at times that works for it but the director sets the film up like any feature film, complete with a "based on true events" credit at the beginning. So OPEN WATER doesn't fully embrace the faux documentary thing and it also clearly isn't a regularly filmed feature film. Ultimately, I found this rather irritating.
But let's speak about what works ...
The scenes with the sharks are spectacular and effective and prove impressively that no CGI or practical effects will ever be the equal let alone better than the real thing.
I found the scene with the jellyfishes somehow more terrifying than all the shark stuff, probably because I have zero experience with sharks but I've had a few rather painful encounters with those pesky creatures. Great underwater photography in that scene.
All the underwater stuff worked very well because it provided a break from the shaky camera work on the surface.
To compare OPEN WATER to JAWS is pretty stupid in my humble opinion. These two films have very little in common except that they are about sharks threatening humans. They are worlds apart in approach and style. The BLAIR WITCH comparison is also uncalled for because, again, the only thing that film has in common with OPEN WATER is the shaky camera-work. OPEN WATER never claims to be documentary footage like BLAIR WITCH did. BLAIR WITCH is a fake documentary that used shaky cam to telegraph authenticity, OPEN WATER is a regular movie that used cheap camera equipment because the filmmakers couldn't afford anything better.
OPEN WATER is only a little over one hour long (70 minutes) so it certainly doesn't outstay its welcome. I found the running time refreshing in this day and age where every piece of crap film has to run for over two hours. OPEN WATER never feels padded out. It shows what is necessary and ends at the right time.
Speaking of the ending, and without giving too much away, you go into the film thinking there's really only two ways this movie could end but the filmmakers have a surprise up their sleeves. A pretty brave one, if you ask me.
So as I said at the beginning, OPEN WATER is a good film and well worth watching.
Ultraviolent 80ies Anime.
Based on a manga series by Go Nagai that ran from the mid-70ies until 1990 and amassed a total of 9000 pages, HELL'S WIND was the third and to date last anime adaptation. I have the complete manga series in Japanese box set that includes the entire run in 18 volumes. The HELL'S WIND anime is based on a story that appears in the second volume.
Even though there are a number of differences between the manga and the anime the basic story remain the same.
A woman travels with her male companion and is ambushed by a gang of bikers - who call themselves "Hell's Wind" - who brutally kill the man and rape the woman. Years later the woman, who miraculously survived the abuse, has turned herself into a hardened fighter. When the same biker gang attacks a village she tries to get her revenge. Violence Jack, the mythic hero from Nagai's manga, also joins the battle. His name comes from the huge jack knife he uses to fight and as the finale reveals he's somewhat of a supernatural force as well. Like so many of our favourite 80ies action heroes (Schwarzenegger, Stallone etc.) in their best films, Jack is judge, jury and executioner all in one.
VIOLENCE JACK, no matter in what incarnation, does its name more than justice and HELL'S WIND is no exception. In fact it features some of the most unpleasant and excessive gore and torture ever animated and even veterans of such other "anime nasties" as FIST OF THE NORTH STAR and UROTSUKIDOJI should consider themselves warned.
The quality of the animation may not be up to today's standards but for an anime that is almost 20 years old and was produced for the straight to video market it is still quite impressive and hold up well. I have heard a few people complain about the "bad dialogue" but I attribute that to the English dubbing by Manga Entertainment. I own the Japanese DVDs and I couldn't find anything especially bad or wrong with the dialogue at all. It fits the story and the voice actors do a good job.
Of course this is hardly an anime for everyone. It's aimed at gorehounds and fans of 80ies action movies like RAMBO, ROAD WARRIOR, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and TERMINATOR as well as their cheesier (often Italian) knock-offs. If you're a fan of all that is cute and wholesome stay far, far away...
Nightmare in the Sun (1965)
A very watchable and suspenseful film.
This was Marc Lawrence's first movie, made seven years before his second (and last to date) effort, Daddy's Deadly Darling aka The Pigs. Lawrence is mostly an actor, seeing as he's had small roles in almost 200 films. He's a fine director, though, and might have had a career in that field as well.
Nightmare in the Sun is the story of a drifter who comes into a small town and gets caught up in a rather messy affair. He has a fling with the local beauty (Ursula Andress), who is regularly cheating on her increasingly paranoid husband. Just after he leaves her to travel on her angry hubby blows a casket and shoots her with a rifle. Enter the town's sheriff who decides he'll frame our protagonist in exchange of some of the real murderers significant wealth. Soon a handful of cops, a local mob and two apparently gay bikers (one played by a very young Robert Duvall) are hunting the innocent man ...
It's a pretty basic story but Lawrence makes it work. He puts the barren desert locations to great use and gets some good performances out of his actors, most notably John Derek as the nameless drifter/hitchhiker. The score is a bit overbearing at first and takes some time to get used to but in the end it's pretty effective.
All in all a very watchable and suspenseful film that deserves better than to sink further and further into obscurity. I got it on a used VHS for a couple bucks but someone really needs to resurrect this for the DVD age!
Le temps du loup (2003)
A quiet film about the end of the world.
Michael Haneke's TIME OF THE WOLF opens with a family driving into the country to their weekend retreat. But they find another family in their house. The man has a rifle. He shoots the husband and forces the family to give up their car and supplies and then bury the dead man.
It turns out something is wrong with the world. Animal cadavers of cows and horses are burning in huge piles in the fields. Everyone is hostile.
But there is no exposition in this film. We do not really know what's going on and that's what makes this film so terrifying and real.
I loved how Haneke had crafted a "quiet" film about the end of the world, the apocalypse. While Hollywood and its imitators usually drum up a whirlwind of effects and fireworks Haneke's film is all about the human reaction to the collapse of society. We don't even really find out what happened in the first place. All we get to know is that food distribution has broken down and that the water is contaminated. It could be a war, a disease, an act of terrorism ... But in the end it doesn't really matter as the cause of the catastrophe is not what TIME OF THE WOLF examines, it is how people deal with the end of the way things used to be.
The performances are brilliant all around and I thought the film was very visually beautiful not despite but because Haneke shot it like a Dogme 95 film with only natural light and no fancy camera tricks. Everything in this film looks real and you can very easily imagine being there yourself. When someone wakes up at night in pitch darkness you, the viewer, are blind as well, until a match is struck. Some people seem to have a problem with that approach but it served the story and worked very well for the film.
I'm not so sure what the religious/mythological elements that appear towards the end of the story meant but they were pretty fascinating.
Overall, TIME OF THE WOLF felt like kind of a departure for Haneke, whose previous films all dealt with emotionally and psychologically disturbed people and how they ruined themselves and others. With TIME OF THE WOLF he basically made a sci-fi film but stripped it off all the high-tech gadgetry and futurisms.
Of course there are bound to be those who call the film "boring" and "pretentious" but IMO it is anything but. I'm still thinking about what I saw and quite a few images will stay with me for a few more days I'm sure.
I'm pretty sure the film has only been released theatrically in France, Germany and now Austria but if it ever comes to a cinema near you, be it through a theatrical release or as part of a film festival, give it a try. If the review and what I wrote sounded interesting to you, chances are you'll like it a lot.
Delitto carnale (1983)
A surprisingly good giallo.
Cesare Canevari's DELITTO CARNALE is his contribution to the giallo genre. It is also sadly his last film to date. The plot is about a number of people who check into a hotel to wait for a funeral. Nobody seems to really miss the old man who has died because all they do is get drunk and have non-stop sex, which is slightly disturbing because most of them are related in one way or another. Then, about halfway into the film, the first dead body turns up and of course the police forces them to stay in the hotel so that the killer can strike again ... The rest of the film is about them trying to figure out who the killer is because the police doesn't seem to do much about finding him.
DELITTO CARNALE is pleasantly sleazy with tons of (sometimes quite graphic) nudity. Canevari, the director of such trippy underground classics as MATALO and THE NUDE PRINCESS, also manages to give the film a slightly dreamlike atmosphere and that, combined with the really excellent score by Mimi Uva, makes the film memorable and elevates it above the average.
Jisatsu sâkuru (2001)
A powerful cinematic meditation on suicide.
When trying to make sense of this film one must consider the circumstances under which it was made and what inspired the director to do it in the first place.
Shion Sono started writing the script after a close friend of his killed himself. Nobody had any idea why he did it. He seemed perfectly OK and then one day he was dead by his own hand. There was no suicide not, no explanation, nothing.
SUICIDE CIRCLE, the film, is a cinematic meditation on the theme of suicide. Several times in the film it is mentioned how you have to be "connected" to yourself and not only to your job, your family and your other duties. There's also a reason that happy, laughing, cheerful, young, beautiful people off themselves apparently for no reason at all. Note the shots when the cop is on the subway and he looks at all those people who look dead tired and depressed. Each one of them could kill himself anytime. The end is also about this, the cop character has to give up trying to figure out who will kill himself because ultimately this is something up to the individual and outsiders can only have so much influence on it. In a way Shion Sono excuses himself from not preventing his friend's death with this ending.
The film is ambiguous in many places and does not provide any easy answers. It only gives ideas, offers perspectives, theories and hints. And that's what I like about it. Actually I watched this film for the first time only a few months after getting pretty close to ending my life myself. I thought it was a very intelligent and respectful film about the subject matter and much better than any heavy-handed, whiny, "politically correct" Hollywood film or those horrid movies of the week on TV.
Na srebrnym globie (1988)
Otherworldly and Beautiful!
I finally managed a track down a copy of this film after looking for it forever. And not only did it live up to expectations, it surpassed them in every way possible! I had no idea what to expect from a Polish sci-fi film from the 70ies and the first thing I noticed were the lavish costumes, extremely impressive sets and great make-up. If someone would attempt to pull off something similar in the US today it would cost insane amounts of money. This is a film by Adrzej Zulawski so it figures that there is a lot of philosophical dialog and religious metaphors aplenty. In a way I was reminded of the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky and maybe if he had made his adaptation of DUNE, as he planned for many years, it would have turned out to be something like THE SILVER GLOBE. The copy of the film I watched was taped from the German TV station 3 Sat who actually paid for subtitling the film in German! The rather poor picture quality only stressed the otherworldly beauty of the images. Often the film felt like a transmission from another time or maybe even another planet. It is a truly unique gem, even in it's unfinished form, and a film that is overdue for rediscovery.
A shocking portrait of Austria's highest selling newspaper
This is a documentary about the Kronen Zeitung, Austria's most widely read newspaper. There are 8 million people in Austria and over 3 million of them read this newspaper. With such a large readership (in relation to the populace) comes enormous power and the film researches how this power is used or much rather abused.
First of all the Kronen Zeitung is extremely racist and pushes this opinion on its readers by portraying all foreigners as criminals and scum that needs to be thrown out of the country. In the film several key writers of the newspaper are interviewed and one of them proudly shows the camera-team his books of speeches by Adolf Hitler and his own paintings which are full of Nazi symbols. The film goes on to examine how this racist newspaper may have helped extreme right-wing populist Jörg Haider on his rise to power.
It then goes on to show how every politician in Austria is afraid of the Kronen Zeitung and always checks it first thing in the morning to find out what the editor thinks about certain things. Mr. Dichand, the owner and chief editor of the Kronen Zeitung, comes across as a very powerful (he has regular meetings with the Austrian president) and dangerous man who tries to rule the country through his newspaper.
I was very familiar with the Kronen Zeitung and with its political agenda but this film has revealed many things I had not known. It's scarier than most horror films, that's for sure!
Dorothea's Rache (1974)
DOROTHEAS RACHE begins with the characters talking directly to the camera and thus us, the viewers. But this is only one of the many, many pleasantly weird things you'll discover when watching this film. Right at the beginning we learn that Dorothea, who introduces herself as a 17 year old girl, has just made love to a Martian. And she even has a groovy, smoking meteorite to prove it. The parents are concerned if the pill will work in the case of interstellar sex ... The rest of the film follows Dorothea as she tries to learn more about love (both emotionally and physically) and ends up being abused again and again by an amazing parade of creeps and freaks before Jesus Christ himself pops up to give her some good advice ... Did I mention that this film is weird? The thing that cracked me up the most was Dorothea's father who runs a firm that produces "laughing bags". That's some kind of small mechanism that's in a metal box and is then put into a bag. When you shake the bag you are treated to hysterical laughter ... Awesome, just awesome! If only contemporary German cinema were as fascinating as this 1972 film ...
Jigoku no banken: kerubersu (1991)
A sequel to RED SPECTACLES
STRAY DOG is a sequel/companion piece to Oshii's 1987 film RED SPECTACLES. In RED SPECTACLES we learned how the elite police force of the Panzer Corps. was disbanded and how a group of officers refused to give up their weapons. One of them fled the country and returned years later. RED SPECTACLES was about what he experiences after his return. STRAY DOG is about his adventures abroad. Thus this later film adds information to the story of the earlier film, some of which actually makes the convoluted weirdness of RED SPECTACLES seem a little less impenetrable. STRAY DOG has a unique atmosphere and feels very different from Oshii's typical melancholy and brooding efforts. For most of its running time the film is upbeat and beautiful. It is set in Taipeh and makes great use of the scenery there. And once again this would only be a fraction of the film that it is without the ingenious score by longtime Oshii-collaborator Kenji Kawai.
Bakuretsu toshi (1982)
A cinematic punk rock manifesto!!!
Without the work of Sogo Ishii there would be no Takashi Miike or Shinya Tsukamoto. That becomes quite clear in the opening minutes of BURST CITY. The hyper-kinetic beginning of the film with its lightning fast editing and violent images together with the use of music were obvious influences on Miike's DEAD OR ALIVE and BLUES HARP as well as a number of other films. And the camera-work, use of black and white photography and cyberpunk imagery were later recycled in Tsukamoto's TETSUO films as well as SNAKE OF JUNE.
BURST CITY is essentially a feature length punk rock music clip. The film is set in a kind of post-apocalyptic Japan where everyone is a punk, a freak or a brutal cop. There are non-stop riots in the streets, non-stop punk concerts, non-stop gang warfare, non-stop police brutality and non-stop car chases. This film is one hell of a wild ride and it left me feeling spun. The soundtrack is made up entirely of awesome Japanese punk rock and fits the images perfectly.
BURST CITY is powerful, frenetic, feral, rabid cinema that feels like a transmission from the gutter of the future.
Días sin luz (1996)
Short film from Balaguero ...
DIAS SIN LUZ was the second short film by Jaume Balaguero after ALICIA in 1994. It is very short and easily available on DVD only in Spain and Germany so I will go into spoilers in my review. If you have somehow access to it and not watched it stop reading now or skip the next paragraph!
The film is narrated by the main character, whom we see as a young boy. He first tells us of the night he was born, during a horrible thunderstorm, probably the worst and darkest ever, and how that already was a bad sign that meant that his days in life would be without light. Then he tells us how he lost both his parents. His mother once went into the cellar and simply never returned ... And his father died from biological warfare in some unnamed war. After that he was adopted by a strange woman who often tortured and humiliated her husband while wearing a dominatrix outfit. One day she beats the man so hard that he dies and after that the little boy is forced to take his place ...
DIAS SIN LUZ in many ways foreshadows Balaguero's later theatrical efforts LOS SIN NOMBRE and DARKNESS. There is already the recurring theme of disturbing violence towards children and the film has a similar look. Even the narration reminded me of the phone calls the mother receives in LOS SIN NOMBRE.
Of the two short films Balaguero made before stepping into features, I prefer ALICIA because of it's disturbing imagery and symbolism. But that doesn't mean that DIAS SIN LUZ is a minor effort. Quite the opposite, it is a fascinating glimpse into what makes Balaguero tick as a filmmaker and offers a view of his creativity free from studio influences.
Gongdong gyeongbi guyeok JSA (2000)
I watched SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE a few months ago and absolutely loved it. Brilliant visuals, great acting and the story really moved me. So of course I was curious about what else director Chan-wook Park had done. I decided I would pick up his earlier film "JSA - Joint Security Area" at the first chance I'd get.
However, the film turned out to be a total disappointment. Yes, there were a few brilliant visuals but this time around I just didn't care for any of the characters. I get the impression that the film is supposed to be suspenseful but for me it was mostly boring. The film was a huge hit in Korea so I assume that if you are more familiar with the real life political issues addressed in JSA it plays better. SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE certainly tells a much more universal story that could happen everywhere in the world...
JSA is not a terrible film but nowhere near the brilliance of SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE.