Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Lustful Shogun and his 21 Concubines

If you thought Bohachi Bushido was a good example of sexy jidaigeki, have I got a much-better (and sexier) movie for you: The Lustful Shogun and his 21 Concubines. The story concerns a horny shogunal kagemusha (double) who bonks his way through the ooku (royal harem) of Edo Castle. There's ever so much lovely female flesh on display here, along with all manner of inventive sexual activities employing dildos, midgets, paintbrushes, and a talented pekinese. We also meet a tattooed nun, a lady thief and a couple of Chinese eunuchs. But what we get most of is lots and lots of good old fashioned rumpy pumpy. Yes, whatever complaints you might have about this film, "I didn't see enough fucking" will not be one of them. Frankly, I had no complaints at all; laughs, beautiful women, political intrigue, sword action, and every sex position imaginable -- what's not to like? Sure, the whole affair is decidedly softcore -- no full frontal nudity or penetration -- but there's no denying the Japanese pink film genre's determination to deliver everything but.

The film was directed by Norifumi Suzuki, who, together with Teruo Ishii (he directed Bohachi Bushido), churned out some amazing exploitation films for Toei studios during the late 60s/early 70s. But for my money, it is Suzuki who deserves the mantle of superior filmmaker. While Ishii had his moments, his output was uneven in the extreme, whereas Suzuki always delivered consistently well-made and thoroughly entertaining films.

Featured here are Toei's reigning fleshpots of the period, Reiko Ike and Miki Sugimoto (as the lady thief and a hot noblewoman respectively). Then there's the stunning Yayoi Watanabe as Ukiku, the peasant girlfriend of our impetuous impostor (played with enthusiasm by Shin'ichiro Hayashi). Toru Abe is the manipulative minister who set up the whole imposture for his own ends; his wife and virgin daughter are soon defiled by his priapic protege.

I won't pretend The Lustful Shogun and his 21 Concubines is anything more than a panorama of prurient pleasures with some goofy gags and sword fights thrown in, but hey, it's better than 90% of the crap down at your local cineplex, so why not check it out?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Attack the Gas Station

I often speak of the amazing violence and rage of late 90s/early 00s Korean film, and Attack the Gas Station (1999) is a prime example. While far more light-hearted than something like Peppermint Candy or Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, this comedy nevertheless exhibits the same explosive quality, a product of nearly a century of political repression.

The story is straightforward enough: Four tough misfits from divergent backgrounds (a baseball player, a rocker, a painter and a formidable goofball) decide to rob a gas station, and wind up staying all night. They've hit this place before, you see, trashing it in the process, and the boss is wise; he's given the day's receipts to his wife, leaving nothing for our petulant protagonists. So they decide to hang around and collect what comes in. Fair enough, but things get complicated, as employees and difficult customers are held hostage, local cops get suspicious, and conflicts develop between the fearsome foursome and a collection of high school bullies, gangsters and scooter-driving Chinese food delivery boys. Tension mounts, and what started out as a simple premise becomes an epic of political allegory and high farce (with tons of fighting, property damage, huge bowls of noodles and bad singing).

Fans of Oldboy will recognize Yu Ji-Tae, the villain of that film, here with his hair dyed white as Paint, the artistic member of the group. The aforementioned formidable goofball is played by the unforgettable Yu Oh-seong, who also turns in a great performance in the poorly-titled yet compelling gangster saga Friend (Chingoo, 2001).

I saw Attack the Gas Station years ago, thought of it quite a bit since and finally bought a copy. I suggest you do the same. You'll love it, plus you never know when this stuff will go out of print. One thing: The dimwits at Media Blasters set the default audio to the English dubbing. Do I have to tell you to switch it to Korean and turn the subs on? Good, didn't think so.

Monday, September 7, 2009


You'll never forget this guy (above), although his is the least of the three vignettes that make up this cinematic triptych featuring the directorial talents of Michel Gondry, Leos Carax (both French), and Bong Joon-ho (Korean, he who gave us The Host). Manhole boy here is Merde, the so-called Creature From the Sewers (of Tokyo, of course), played with aplomb by the talented French actor Denis Lavant (he was great in 2005's steamy slow burn Wild Camp opposite the very hot Isild Le Besco). We learn more than we ever wanted to know about Merde, and while Lavant's performance is engrossing, it can't overcome the tedious, static tone of the piece.

Better is Gondry's bit. You'll remember him from such films as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, so so) and Be Kind Rewind (2008, horrible). (More intriguing to me is Gondry's claim that all his dreams are lucid, and he directs them as he would his films -- I guess I should see his 2006 film, The Science of Sleep). Anyway, his deal concerns a hapless young couple trying to make their way in the big city (that would be Tokyo) until the girl makes a remarkable and unexpected transformation ...

Best is Bong's entry, about a thirty-something hikikomori (shut-in) who falls in love with a pizza delivery girl and learns true values (it's a lot better than it sounds). I'd recommend the film just for this segment -- however it's the last one so you might as well watch the other parts as well.

Keep an eye out for some familiar faces, like Nao Omori, forever remembered as the title character in Miike's Ichi the Killer; Teruyuki Kagawa (Tokyo Sonata, Hana, Sukiyaki Django); and the great character actor Renji Ishibashi (Watcher in the Attic, Audition, Crest of Betrayal, Dora-heita, and many more).

The vignettes are far stranger than I was expecting. Refreshing that, as I was dreading some drab, meandering, mumblecore thing. Only the Bong piece truly utilizes and reflects Tokyo's sense of place -- the French films use it more as a backdrop. But all in all, I'd say I'm glad I saw Tokyo! and feel sure it will appeal to fellow Nipponophiles.