Tuesday, August 3, 2010

They can't all be good Pt. 2

Bad choices. They're what holds us back in life. They impact our lives in adverse and unpredictable ways, wasting precious time and resources. I know because I've made some lately, in terms of my film viewing. So once again I must sully the pristine pages of my virtual salon with reviews of bad films. It's the only way to reclaim some vestige of value from an otherwise utterly unprofitable enterprise.

I wasn't expecting much from Tokyo Gore School (2009); it was sent to me by one of my PR contacts, so I figured I owed them a look. I thought it would be yet another OTT gross-out like the similarly-named Tokyo Gore Police or, perhaps, Robogeisha. Turns out there's precious little gore involved, the story revolving instead around an internet-based fighting game where high school kids target one another for fun and cash prizes. So we spend 109 minutes watching kids alternately staring at their cell phones and running after one another. Yawn. Occasionally we get a bit of philosophical rumination re: Japan's school bullying problem, as well as some half-hearted attempts at parkour, but these elements can't save this vacuous life-drainer.

So I turned to a master filmmaker, Yasuzo Masumura, for solace. I'm a great fan of his work and have made an effort recently to obtain as many of his titles as possible (I have over a dozen including Kisses, Giants and Toys, Black Test Car, Manji, Red Angel, Yakuza Soldier, A Lustful Man, Blind Beast and The Razor 2: The Snare). Masumura is one of those go-to guys, always great. Or not. I discovered that Masumura, In common with most of his contemporaries, wasn't perfect (go figure), and on occasion could make a clunker.

In this case, it's a film called Irezumi (which means tattoo) from 1966. It's a tale of a beautiful woman forced into tattooed sexual slavery. The sumptuous cinematography is provided by the great Kazuo Miyagawa, and the cast features Kei Sato and Masumura golden girl Ayako Wakao. The script, by Kaneto Shindo, has passages like this one, spoken by an evil tattoo artist: "The spider is moving. Painful, isn't it. The spider's embrace is strong. Look! Look in the mirror. On your back lives a golden orb-web spider. This joro spider will kill countless men and you will gorge on their corpses. In this creature I have infused the soul of my tattoo art. It's my whole life!" The problem with the film lies in the lack of development of the central character, Otsuya, the wronged woman with the big spider tattoo on her back. We never get a sense of who she really is -- it's as if Shindo and Masumura were captivated with the gothic trappings of the story and forgot to provide essential information that would have otherwise drawn us into the web they were spinning. Anyway, you check it out and see if you agree, but for me it was a dud.

So I turned to another big name from the 60s, Nagisa Oshima. While not a great fan of Oshima (he's always seemed to trade more on controversy than talent in my opinion), I've enjoyed films like Cruel Story of Youth, In the Realm of Passion and Taboo. However he's just as likely to make a crap film like Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence or Violence at Noon. The latter film, also from 1966, I saw the other day, still looking for a redeeming Japanese film experience. It started out promising, again with Kei Sato (this time as a rampaging serial killer). While the performances are great and there are some lovely, Nouvelle Vague-inspired jump cuts, the film dissolves halfway through into tedious, repetitive dialog that goes nowhere for what seems like hours. You're just waiting, hoping, praying for it to end. Really bad.

So there you have it, three more disappointments. I hate to sound like some old curmudgeon, but I have not choice. I write about film, it's what I do. So I think it best to report and keep on moving. Don't let my comments stop you from seeking out these films, though (with the exception of Tokyo Gore School). I could have my head up my ass (wouldn't be the first time). I look forward to your comments.

5 comments:

Peter Nellhaus said...

I saw the Oshima DVDs that comprised the recent Eclipse set and was disappointed. Nothing was as good as Boy or my favorite of his films, The Ceremony. The didacticism of the Sixties doesn't age very well.

Dr. Stan Glick said...

Though I always value and respect your opinion, Patrick, I rather liked "Tattoo." For my obviously different take, see "ACF 515: Tattoo kicks off Mad, Bad... film series at Japan Society this Wednesday" a March 29,2010 post at asiancinefest.blogspot.com.

Patrick Galloway said...

Peter: I need to see the Oshima films you mention. Perhaps they will change my take on him. In the middle of Pleasures of the Flesh now -- not bad. Stan: Maybe I'm being too hard on Irizumi, but I'm judging it against Masumura's other works -- that's some stiff competition!

Hendrik Christian Antepas said...

Great reviews! I am looking for the title of a Japanese sex-comedy/sex film about three women and a man. I watched it at wowow channel but can't make anything out of the tile. Been looking for it. Do you guys know the title of this film?

Patrick Galloway said...

That could be any of 100 movies -- I really don't know. If you can copy and past the kanji, I could take a stab at a translation ...