Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Secret of the Urn (again)

It's a great film, a fantastic entry in the genre, and just a roaring good time.

That's what I said in a recent blog entry regarding Hideo Gosha's samurai classic Secret of the Urn (1966). So you can imagine how surprised I was to read those very words on the back of the box containing Animeigo's new DVD release of the film. Hey, that's me! And it is!

I originally wrote about Secret of the Urn in my first book, Stray Dogs & Lone Wolves. The blog entry was a revisit for the sake of last Fall's annual Wildgrounds' Japanese film blogathon. So between book and blog, I've said pretty much what I want to say about this fine film. Now it's your good fortune to have it readily available. My advice: Carpe diem, temups fugit and that -- snap it up and cherish it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Alien Vs Ninja

The worst thing about contemporary action drama is the practice of presenting a group of undeveloped, cookie-cutter protagonists and expecting the audience to identify with and care about them as they spring into action. There's a name for people we know nothing about. They're called strangers. And we tend to not give a fuck about them. We usually need to get to know someone first before we start to care about them -- it's just human nature. That's why in drama there's something called character development, and it is this element that is sadly lacking in most action films today.

Now you might think I'm expecting too much from a movie called Alien Vs Ninja, but in fact character development does occur over the course of the film (albeit on the fly). So the first act was fairly wasted on me. But the film gets better as we get more acquainted with the spunky young ninja, fighting their hearts out to save their village from the vicious onslaught of their reptilian/humanoid foes.

You've got your main hero, full of gusto and derring-do, his sullen, preening pal, the hot chick, the comic relief guy and the traumatized teen. OK, still pretty cookie-cutter. What ultimately saves Alien Vs Ninja is a combination of hyper-kinetic fight scenes (utilizing swords, mixed martial arts, wire fu, shuriken, biting, nut shots, you name it), over-the-top, splatterific gore and just an overall gonzo, go-for-it vibe. No gag goes unexploited, and there's a nuanced comic underpinning to the film that makes it more enjoyable -- no one is taking themselves too seriously here, and the film is stronger for it. Basically it's a romp.

The top-notch action choreography comes courtesy Yuji Shimomura who also worked on Versus and Death Trance. The heroic male leads, newcomer Masanori Mimoto and seasoned pro Shuji Kashiwabara, are truly awesome fighters, absorbing Shimomura's swift, tightly orchestrated moves seemingly on a molecular level. (Wow, I guess I wound up liking this film more than I thought ... ).

So if you're out for some gory ninja hijinks and feeling particularly like a fourth grader, you can't go far wrong with Alien Vs Ninja, a low-budget actioner redeemed by winning performances and sheer panache.