Thursday, May 21, 2009

New Book Update

Just got the word from the publisher: "Book went off to printer. Have not rec'd ship date yet, but usually 3-4 weeks, and then another couple weeks to show up in stores."

So look for it in early July. Probably best to order from, as my stuff isn't really big box store-friendly (although I've heard reports that some Borders on the East Coast have carried it).

This book has been a long time coming (the MS was done as of February of 2008), but economic trends and production issues have conspired to drag the whole process out. Nevertheless now, at long last, it's comin' to ya, on a dusty road -- good samurai films? I got a truckload! We're talking magnum opus, people. So if you like your shoes, better take them off, because your socks are gonna get blown right through 'em.

Deadly Couples

You're probably aware of Nagisa Oshima's sex 'n castration classic In the Realm of the Senses. Less known is his follow-up, Empire of Passion (1978). According to Oshima, the films formed a diptych (not unlike Kaneto Shindo's Onibaba and Kuroneko). That is, while the class settings in the two films were diametrically opposed, the dominant themes and characters were much the same. In Oshima's case, both films feature a pair of illicit lovers whose passion leads to violence. However Empire is not the explicit fuck-fest that Realm was, much to the chagrin of Anatole Dauman, the French producer of both films who had signed a three picture deal with Oshima expecting hardcore sex throughout; after Empire, Dauman and Oshima parted company.

Empire of Passion is a ghost story set in the late 19th century concerning a rickshaw driver, his wife and her young lover. Two of these people off the third and throw his corpse down an old well. The victim comes back, of course, scaring the shit out of all involved. The film progresses at a leisurely pace, in accordance with many a French art film of the 70s, but I found it absorbing and would recommend it not only for the brilliant colors and passionate performances, but as a strong candidate for anyone's Japanese ghost film collection.

The Watcher in the Attic (1976), an entry in Nikkatsu studio's Roman Porno line, is an exquisite bit of erotic-grotesquerie concerning another lethal couple. He's a bored young voyeur, she's a spoiled wife who likes getting it on with clowns (really). He peeps at her, she gets off on his peeping, and it's essentially love at first peep. Soon they're on a spree of kinky sex and thrill-killing. Based on the writings of Edogawa Rampo, Japan's ero-guro-meister extraordinaire, The Watcher in the Attic is remarkably well-made and atmospheric, far beyond anything one might expect from Nikkatsu's gooey catalog of 1970s softcore sex films. It stars Renji Ishibashi whom you might recall as the demented old pervert who did so much damage to the young Asami in Miike's Audition. (He also has a memorable scene involving a ladle in Gozu.) Junko Miyashita is quite compelling as the hot wife who enjoys the occasional sit on her "human chair" (you'll see ... ). It's all very twisted and I can't recommend it enough.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Tokyo Zombie

While I'm not a big fan of zombie flicks, sometimes one comes along that has just the right balance of innovation and humor to make it pop (Dead Alive, Shawn of the Dead, The Signal, Slither). In this regard, Tokyo Zombie fits the bill. For one thing, it's based on a manga (a somewhat primitivist effort by Yusaku Hanakuma). Manga movies are always culty and outrageous and I can't get enough of them (Lady Snowblood, Oldboy, Female Prisoner Scorpion, The Story of Ricky, Lone Wolf & Cub, Ichi the Killer, The Razor, etc. etc.).

Then you've got two Japanese cult cinema stalwarts, Miike's go-to guy Sho Aikawa and everybody's favorite spaced-out, too-cool-for-school dude Tadanobu Asano. They're a pair of lamebrain laborers at a toxic Tokyo dump known as Black Fuji. Seems the blend of industrial and consumer waste products has begun to spawn zombies, and before long the city has morphed into a post-apocalyptic nightmare society in which the elite class has enslaved what's left of the non-zombie population and entertain themselves with neo-gladiatorial battles between the slaves and the zombies. Then things start to get weird ...

For a low-budget film, Tokyo Zombie delivers, thanks largely to a low-key, deadpan vibe that both contrasts and enhances the bizarre doings in Tokyo town. It's also the first film of it's genre to advocate the use of jiujitsu as the primary defense against zombies. Check it out, Sid.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

I watched this film last night. What a bunch of manipulative, melodramatic pap! I was really rather shocked. Not at the film itself, mind you, but, in retrospect, at all the hype and critical praise that was heaped upon this thing when it was released. People were falling over themselves to say how fantastic it was. I found it exploitational in the extreme, and, while I have nothing against exploitation cinema, let's call it what it is, shall we? The film lurched from one lurid set piece to another, mostly involving the endangerment and abuse of children, all within a cynically-packaged dual frame story of game show/police interrogation. Then, in a final fuck-you-you'll-watch-anything gesture, they tack a Bollywood dance number on the end.

While competently made by the once-great Danny Boyle, I have to say I was never engaged by this movie, much less moved. It was just too obvious. I can only assume that the avalanche of critical love for Slumdog Millionaire was either a simple case of monkey see/monkey do, or that Westerners are complete suckers for sentimental tales of Asian squalor. In that regard, take my advice and rent Salaam Bombay instead.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Director Takashi Shimizu has had a lot of success as a J-horror director. Not only was he responsible for the Ju-on: The Grudge franchise, he's one of the few Japanese filmmakers invited to do the Hollywood remake as well. He also made the very weird and low-key Marebito (starring Shinya Tsukamoto).

But one film he made back in 2005 didn't get much traction here in the US, a little J-horror gem called Reincarnation. Oh sure, it got picked up by the After Dark Horrorfest, but to be thrown in with a bunch of other so-called Films to Die For seems a significant step down for the talented Mr. Shimizu. So what happened? Admittedly the J-horror genre was losing its appeal, and perhaps Reincarnation was considered something to be unloaded for a quick buck. But I can't help thinking the stabbing deaths of two small children had something to do with it. As I pointed out in Asia Shock, killing kids onscreen is more common in Asian horror, but tends to be off-putting for US audiences. While not terribly graphic, the scenes are disturbing, and I wouldn't be surprised if that was the deal-breaker for American distributors.

Reincarnation hits all the J-horror buttons (sympathetic girl protagonist, freaky ghosts, a backstory concerning dark doings decades earlier), but adds a meta-fictional twist: The plot revolves around a movie being made about the events that led to all the horror (in this case a massacre in a hotel). Between the flashbacks, dream sequences, supernatural encounters and filmmaking sequences, it all gets rather disorienting rather quickly, but that's all part of the fun. Oh and to top things off there's a creepy doll that gets creepier as things go along.

As usual, I'm years late writing about this film, but who cares. I don't have to be Mr. First-Nighter at the film festival (although that's fun too). I get to 'em when I get to 'em. And I'm here to tell you, this was a good one.