Archive for the ‘Cult & Exploit. (new)’ Category

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Tag

August 22, 2015

Tag (Real onigokko) (2015)

Sion Sono kills more high school girls than a medium size natural disaster in this often energetic and amusingly over-the-top, but uneven horror film. The story is loosely based on the popular manhunt franchise by Yusuke Yamada (already adapted into 5 other movies and two series), in which a man named Sato finds himself a parallel universe where all people named Sato have been ordered to be captured or executed on spot by killers hired by the government. Sono, however, goes his own way with not a single Sato to be found in the film, and brings the film closer to his own Suicide Club and certain David Lynch twists than Yamada’s straight-forward dystopias. In Sono’s film Japanese high school girls find themselves targeted by someone – or something – that starts slaughtered them in epic fashion.

Tag is bound to anger the more sensitive viewers with its endless schoolgirl splatter, although it also offers quite an interesting commentary and criticism on the Japanese schoolgirl phenomena. In one of the key lines the protagonist utters “stop playing with us [high school girls]” which is clearly aimed at not only characters but viewers as well. Indeed, a notable part of Japanese entertainment industry from family movies to music industry and adult videos is built on the popularity of school girls. That being said, most of the criticism here is probably more comparable with the anti-violence message in Death Wish 3 than anything else, and even the amount of panty shots Sono inserts in the film roughly equals to the number of punks killed by Charles Bronson in Death Wish 3.

The all female cast – there isn’t even a single male seen during the first 70 minutes – is solid as well. Sono is consistently good with young actresses, bringing the best out of them in nearly every film he makes. The handsome heart knob Takumi Saito appears in the film’s only notable male role – a nice shock aimed his Japanese female fans who know nothing about his involvement in racy pictures like this; and indeed, he’s not even credited in the advertising materials or in the end credits.

Like many recent Sono films, Tag suffers from some lame and distracting CGI effects. However, the film also features some nice practical gore courtesy of Yoshihiro Nishimura, and fantastic camerawork with lots of aerial shots done with drones. There’s also a pretty atmospheric score by composed by Takaakira Goto, the lead guitarist for the instrumental rock band MONO. The film’s official “image song” by Glim Spanky doesn’t seem to be in the film at all – and all the better for it. It was used for na on-demand mini-series released online around the same time as the film, featuring three episodes directed by Hajime Ohata (Henge), Eisuke Naito (Let’s Make the Teacher Have a Miscarriage Club) and Kayoko Asakura (It’s a Beautiful Day).

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Yubari 2015: Use the Eyeballs + Kim

August 22, 2015

Use the Eyeballs! (Hana Medama Kotaro no Koi) (2015)

2015 was the 4th year in the row Naoya Tashiro has had his new film screened in Yubari. Most of his earlier works (e.g. Naked Sister, 2013) were amusing short movies. Use the Eyeballs is his first movie to be shown in the competition series. It’s also his first not to feature any kind of horror or splatter elements. In fact, it’s a bizarre love comedy about a bullied schoolboy Kotaro. His problem is the eyeballs – not the normal pair, but the additional pair that pops up from his nose whenever he gets nervous. Needless to say, girls usually run away screaming.

Tashiro is a fanboy director whose films are full of references (e.g. Kotaro gets self-confidence by watching The Toxic Avenger on VHS) and insider jokes. There’s also an amazing cameo at the end of the film. It’s by no means great cinema, and some of the jokes miss the target (e.g. Tokyo Tribe parody), but it’s pretty fun and oddly sympathetic overall. Supporting roles are full of familiar faces like Eihi Shiina (mom) and Asami (evil office ninja) as well as small cameos by people like actor Demo Tanaka and photographer/filmmaker Norman England.

Kim (Fuzakerun ja neyo) (2014)

A terrific, hard hitting and intelligent medium-length film (approx 40 min) by film school student Shunpei Shimizu, who proves to be a more competent director than most mainstream professionals. The film follows an injured boxer who hates Zainichi Koreans, whom he feels are exploiting the Japanese society and giving him a bad name – even though he’s the worst type of Zainichi himself. Unable to fight in the ring, he vents his frustration on the streets by beating people and burns his social welfare money on a housewife-gone-part-time-prostitute who is dreaming of better life.

It’s a thought provoking, technically competent, and uncompromising film. Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tokyo Fist comes to mind a few times; however, Shimizu refuses the over-the-top antics of Tsukamoto and goes for utter, yet intelligent, bleakness. There is neither happy ending nor epic downfall waiting for its sad anti-hero. The film’s Japanese title, Fuzakerun ja neyo, comes from a 1970s rock song by the band Brain Police, effectively used as theme song here.

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Yubari 2015: Haman + Makeup Room

August 22, 2015

Haman (2015)

A high school girl’s first sexual experience comes to an abrupt end when the teeth in her vagina bite the boyfriend’s penis off. It’s not exactly a sophisticated premise, but debut director Tetsuya Okabe (former AD for Takashi Miike and Yoshihiro Nishimura) has a few surprises in his back pocket. Not only is the film pretty well acted, it is actually a moody, melancholic horror drama about a lonely girl who cannot control her body and knows she can never fall in love without endangering other people’s lives. The film never falls for idiotic post modernism or humour, nor does it contain any kind of vengeance / slasher element. On the minus side, the film’s CGI blood is absolutely atrocious. Amusingly enough, the film won the Hokkaido Governor’s Award, who happens to be a woman in her 60s (that that there’s anything wrong with that).

Makeup Room (Make Room) (2015)

This year’s Yubari Grand Prix went to AV veteran Kei Morikawa, whose resume contains more than a 1000 porn films. Makeup Room, one of his first mainstream releases, is an utterly hilarious look behind the scenes of a porn shoot. The movie, which takes place entirely in one room, follows a makeup artist who is trying to prepare the female stars on time for the shoot that is taking place in the next room. However, the day escalates into an apocalyptic farce when everything imaginable goes wrong. Lead star Aki Morita (Henge) aside, the cast is made up of real AV stars.

It’s a very funny, well made film that gets funnier scene by scene. And yes, there’s nudity, although no on-screen sex since the camera never leaves the makeup room. From the typically cynical Western perspective, however, it is surprising how the AV industry is presented in a very positive light: chaotic shoots aside, people are nice and working is rather fun.

While in Yubari, Director Morikawa said he never even dreamed of winning the main price, let alone international recognition. That’s exactly what the film is now heading for with UK’s Third Window Films prepping it for UK release and pushing it to international film festivals. He and his stars have already presented the film at foreign festivals for example in Italy, and received a good bit of publicity in local medias.

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Yubari 2015: Hentaidan + Damager

August 22, 2015

Hentaidan ( 2015)

This is the filthiest film Noboru Iguchi has ever done (excluding his AV work). The medium-length movie (approx. 50 min) brings together all kinds of perverts from shit lovers to piss drinkers. It starts all silly and ridiculous, e.g. with a segment about a man who’s dreaming about a school girl idol’s crap, but gets gradually darker and darker. Towards the end we get a suicide bus and a scene where a woman is slowly hammered to death by a pervert who gets sexually aroused by the sound of breaking bones. Though darkly humorous throughout, it was in scenes like that where even the hardened Yubari audience went totally silent. Impossible to evaluate as a movie, but it certainly is an experience, and not for everyone. Think of John Waters with an Iguchi spin. It just might be the best thing Iguchi has done in nearly a decade.

Damager (Jisho senshi Damager) (2015)

Noboru Iguchi is on fire for a change. This 25 minute half-fiction was born when an ordinary Japanese salaryman Yu Kazama approached Iguchi to realize his lifelong dream to star in a superhero film. Iguchi though the idea was great and would help Kazama find his first ever girlfriend. After all, what’s cooler: to have a profile on a dating site, or to be able to tell the girls you starred in a superhero movie? Iguchi brought together his usual team, had a superhero suit designed, and wrote a theme song. Kazama paid the bills.

The film opens with footage from Iguchi’s office before proceeding to the fiction film which stars Kazama as Damager, a superhero whose superpowers can only be activated via pain (e.g. 40 punches in the stomach to travel back in time). He must now save a pretty high school girl (Airi Yamamoto) from her murderous boyfriend (Demo Tanaka). It’s silly and cheap, but also fun and sympathetic! The film finally cuts back to Iguchi’s office where Kazama receives a copy of the completed movie.

While not exactly a masterwork, the film works perfectly as a short movie when it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It was also an amazing live experience in Yubari with Iguchi, Kazama and the rest of the cast in attendance. The audience was cheering for Damager (almost unheard of with the typically dead silent Japanese audiences) and singing the theme song together with the staff. Kazama, moved by the audience’s enthusiasm, promised to finance a sequel as well. Let’s home Mr. Kazama is a man of his word – and also that he finds a cute girlfriend soon.

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The World of Kanako

July 14, 2014

Kawaki (2014)

Director Tetsuya Nakashima made himself name with hyperactive music video style comedies ala Kamikaze Girls and Memories of Matsuko. Then, in 2010, he had a change of pace with Confessions: a controversial hit about a high school teacher who avenges her child’s death to her students – with half of the film played in slow motion.

The World of Kanako features Nakashima back to his old habits, only this time the genre is violent thriller. Alcoholic ex-cop (Koji Yakusho) goes on a rampage to find his missing daughter, only to discover she wasn’t quite the pure angel he though she was. In fact, the entire school seems to be populated with 16 year old monsters, which raises amusing questions about director Nakashima possible vendetta for high school kids.

To keep it fair, the father is not much better; beating and raping people left and right on his quest to uncover the mystery. “Shock Therapy Entertainment”, as the film’s advertising slogan states.

The film is ridiculously over the top, but decidedly so, and extremely violent in places. It doesn’t quite pack the punch it wishes it would, and it gets a little tiresome after a while. Few cuts last longer than half second, the film goes from music video aesthetics to animated shots, and there’s constant shifting in time between present and past. Still, some scenes hit the nail with a sledge hammer and bring a maniac grin to the audience’s face.

Koji Yakusho is rather excellent in the lead role, despite the frenetic editor serving his performance in one second shots. Nana Komatsu does sufficient job driving everyone mad as the titular character. Fumi Nikaido appears briefly as a bad girl, nearly unrecognizable with blond hair.

The film caused a bit of stir in Japan when the distributor marketed it to young people by giving students an extra discount. The film is rated 15, but some of the content is 18-level by most countries’ standards and guaranteed to upset moralists. Perhaps Nakashima wanted to tell the kids to behave better or they’ll have a psychopath Koji Yakusho after them.

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Gun Woman

March 13, 2014

Trashy action gem is loads of fun.

Gun Woman (2014)

Kurando Mitsutake’s previous genre film, Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf (2009) was a moderately fun film, but had some obvious issues with excessive use of flashbacks and genre film homage overkill. Now Mitsutake returns with a far superior b-action gem Gun Woman.

The ultra-violent action thriller has a structure roughly similar to many kung fu films. The storyline follows a drug addict hooker (Asami) who is sold on the human market. The new owner (Kairi Narita) forces her to go through a hellish physical and mental training to become an assassin. She must acquire the skills to take down a heavily guarded, monstrous Japanese gangster (Noriaki Kamata) who has a taste for necrophilia. Failure would mean death.

Though shot on a very modest budget and not looking all that hot, the film is actually quite a stylish affair. Like Samurai Avenger, Gun Woman is packed with cool camerawork. The soundtrack by Dean Harada (who also scored Samurai Avenger) is downright terrific. AV actress gone genre film star Asami gives her career best performance is a role that doesn’t feature a single line of dialogue. Her fearlessness in front of camera also comes much in need, as the role features her in full nude action scenes while covered in blood. She’s obviously gone through some fight training as well.

The film is incredibly brutal, borderline tasteless even by splatter film standards, all thanks to Noriaki Kamata’s ruthless villain. The mix of ultra-violence, action and sex somewhat resembles the excellent but flawed Troma film Father’s Day (2011). Gun Woman, however, lacks all the stupid post-modernism and cheap humour that hurt Father’s Day. Amazingly enough, screen legend Tatsuya Nakadai (The Human Condition, 1959 ; Harakiri, 1962) appears briefly as the villain’s father. The mere thought of Nakadai in a film like this is mind-boggling.

Though the film’s storyline doesn’t always make full sense, it is nevertheless remarkably badass, especially the final infiltration plan which goes directly to the b-cinema Hall of Fame. As a small flaw Harada’s otherwise excellent soundtrack gets a bit too melancholic during the action packed climax, which is good to know in advance to avoid slight disappointment.

Gun Woman is easily one of the best action films to come out of Japan in years together with Takanori Tsujimoto’s films (Bushido Man, Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle).

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Idol is Dead (2012) + Idol is Dead: Non-chan’s Great Propaganda War (2014)

February 18, 2014

A brand new blood soaked idol society

Idol is Dead (2012)
Idol is Dead: Non-chan no propaganda daisenso (2014)

It is always a pleasure when the latest idol film, seemingly made to promote an up and coming sweet girl band, turns out a splatter movie!

Idol is Dead doesn’t quite follow the usual idol film format. The film kicks off with its protagonists accidentally killing an amateur idol group. To hide their crimes, the girls bury the bodies and steal their identities by becoming idols. They name themselves BiS: Brand New Idol Society. Music and more bloodshed ensue as the girls soon find themselves in an idol event where few walk out alive.

Director Yukihiro Kato’s film shows promise! It’s messy, clumsy, and all-around cheap, but it’s also got something most of his competitors lack: a vision. Unlike much of the new Japanese genre cinema, Kato seems to constructing a world of his own. This involves not only lengthy music performances filmed with the unashamed dedication of a true fan, but cyberpunk –style mutants and severed heads that fill the rest of the film. Effects are old school as well – no CGI. Self-irony is wisely kept understated; the audiences worshipping the idols are like a mixture of zombie army and Japanese otaku.

The 60 minute film hugely benefits from swift spacing which detracts from many of the flaws, such as frequently horrible acting from some of the supporting cast. The leading girls – consisting of members of the real life band BiS – are as energetic as ever. In fact, their name “Brand New Idol Society” would also make perfect title for this trashy vision of idol world gone mad.

The film premiered in 2012. Those who follow the music biz probably knew BiS already enjoyed a reputation as the punk rebel among idol groups. In late 2012 they teamed up with the noise band Hijokaidan to form BiS Kaidan (though they also continue performing as BiS). Reportedly it didn’t take long until one could see the sweet girls screaming and throwing severed chicken heads to the audience on their new gigs.

Fast forward to 2014 and BiS are back on the silver screen with a 90 minute sequel: Idol Is Dead 2: Non-chan’s Great Propaganda War, which sees the girls facing a challenger: Electric Kiss.

Unfortunately the film is a disappointment.

BiS’s new direction with Hijokaidan is hardly visible in the film, save for the loud and very catchy opening scene aside. The film turns out, instead, a far more restrained band product than its predecessor. The frantic pacing of the original is gone, with scenes now running too long and lacking punch. The sequel also tones down the splatter and replaces it with Noboru Iguchi -style wacky comedy, including a bulimia side-plot, and corporate conspiracies. Electric Kiss doesn’t make much of a memorable opponent either.

On the positive side, tech credits are now much better, with solid camerawork and even a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Strangely enough, dialogue occasionally sounds very muted.

The film only redeems itself with a fantastic final performance, in which both BiS and filmmakers get to shine. It’s a nice payoff, but one can’t help but to wonder what happened with the rest of the film? Director Kato managed to overcome most of the original film’s problems, but also introduced a whole load of new ones and lost much of the energy in the process.

That being said, he’s certainly a name to keep an eye on.

It should be mentioned as fun trivia that before Hijokaidan found their new partner in BiS, the noise band considered teaming up with Momoiro Clover – a sweet teen girl band know for their cinematic accomplishments in fake horror doc Shirome (2010) and arthouse film Ninifuni (2011)! All of a sudden idol film industry seems more interesting than in a long time!