Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

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Crest of the Wolf

April 6, 2017

Crest of the Wolf (Ookami no monsho) (1973)

This was the first of the two live action films based on Kazumasa Hirai’s Wolfguy manga franchise. There were two Wolfguy mangas being published simultaneously: “Wolfguy” and “Adult Wolfguy”, aimed at youth and adult readers respectively. This movie, produced by Toho, was based on the former, which followed its werewolf hero as a bullied high school boy. It’s a quite an imaginative and often atmospheric, if sometimes cheesy story that suffers from a couple of slow patches despite the wonderfully short 77 minute running time. Young Yusaku Matsuda does his feature film debut as a villain.

Although the source material was aimed at younger readers, the films is quite bloody and features copious amounts of nudity, especially by the hero’s kind teacher (Yoko Ichiji). As enjoyable as it is, the film pales in comparison to the incredible Toei adaptation Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope (1975), which was based on the “Adult Wolfguy” manga and upped the sex and violence to a whole new level.

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A Haunted Turkish Bathhouse

April 2, 2017

A Haunted Turkish Bathhouse (Bakeneko Toruko furo) (1975)

Director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi (Sister Street Fighter, Delinquent Girl Boss) was widely considered one of the least talented Toei directors of his time. He’s been ridiculed by critics, audiences and theatres alike. When Laputa Asagaya ran a retrospective of Yamaguchi’s films in Tokyo in 2015, the catch copy was “Message? Theme? What are those?”  Yet, the man helmed some of the most outrageous films of the 70s. Here is one of them, a 1975 cursed cat erotic horror flick loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe!

A Haunted Turkish Bathhouse stars Nikkatsu starlet Naomi Tani as an abused wife sold to a brothel to cover her husband’s (Hideo Murota) debts. The deceitful husband is actually behind it all, and in cahoots with the brothel owner who is his lover. Tani discovers the truth and gets whipped to death (terribly ironic considering she survived all her Roman Porno SM flicks alive). However, the dead woman’s soul won’t overlook the injustice.

If that sounded like a spoiler, I’ve only described the film’s beginning. Once Tani is out of the picture, the character’s less charismatic younger sister (Misa Ohara) enters the storyline. She will be the film’s focus from here on, although there’s less fun to be had about her detective story than Hideo Murota occasional sleaze bag antics.

A Haunted Turkish Bathhouse is a real Frankenstein job. Masahiro Kakefuda (Horrors of Malformed Men, 1969) and Nobuaki Nakajima’s (Tokyo Deep Throat, 1975) script steals ideas from Poe’s The Black Cat. The film takes place in a Turkish Bathhouse, a popular topic for Toei’s erotic films and documentaries at the time. The bathhouse, populated by bare breasted girls, doesn’t look too different from the Shogun’s palace seen in Teruo Ishii and Norifumi Suzuki’s films. Star Naomi Tani was of course borrowed from Nikkatsu and together with her came the SM film elements.

A Haunted Turkish Bathhouse also launched director Yamaguchi’s unrelated series of animal themed films. In this film Tani’s vengeful soul finds a new body in a black cat that begins terrorizing the evil doers. Yamaguchi later directed Karate Bull Fighter (1975), Karate Bear Fighter (1975), Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope (1975), and Which is Stronger: Karate or the Tiger (1976), all of which were martial arts films where man fought the fore-mentioned beasts. Bizarrely awesome.

A Haunted Turkish Bathhouse is at its best, and weakest, in the long finale where the vengeful cat flies around slaughtering her enemies and eventually turns into a runway cast member of the Cats musical. It’s all positively insane, but any real horror is long gone by this point. The poor cat, which is being thrown around the room by the crew, doesn’t look even remotely menacing. The ending also pales in comparison to Yamaguchi’s later movie Wolfguy, which was even more insane and benefitted from a better technical execution. Indeed, despite being a movie of different genre, A Haunted Turkish Bathhouse feels something of a dress rehearsal for Wolfguy, only with less violence and no karate.

A Haunted Turkish Bathhouse  is 90 minutes of boobs, violence, supernatural horror that isn’t scary, funky score, occasional apocalyptic sunsets, and bloody cat attacks. It’s a fun film and never boring, but it isn’t quite as far-out as one would wish, especially when compared to the amazing Wolfguy. Consider it Yamaguchi’s House-lite, Toei Porno style.

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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: 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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Yoshihiro Nishimura Early Works

March 27, 2014

Long before Tokyo Gore Police…

The Face (1985)
The Saints Come Marching In (Seija ga machi ni yatte kita) (1986)
Fake Country (Nise kuni) (1987)

In 2014 Yoshihiro Nishimura screened his excellent early horror film Paradox (1984) in Yubari (see my review here). The screening was essentially a continuation of the previous year’s event in Yubari, which saw the screenings of three mid 80’s Nishimura films, all shot on 8mm and running 40-50 min each.

Nishimura’s university era works The Face (1985), The Saints Come Marching In (1986) and Fake Country (1987) offer a fascinating look into the director’s development towards cyberpunk and gore. The Face, just like in Paradox (1984), clearly displays Nishimura’s love for hand-made special effects. The odd 40 minute film follows a student who gets involved in a murder mystery when a murdered detective’s face mysteriously mutates into his stomach and guides him to seek justice for the dead soul.

The buddy film is quite restrained compared to Nishimura’s more recent works, or even Paradox, but quite entertaining. It’s characterized by a strong 1980’s indie / student film vibe. Instead of blood and gore the focus is on romantic encounters and city footage, which are set against an energetic pop score. Were it not for the mutated face on the main character’s stomach, the film would be almost conventional. The first gore effects are only featured during the closing credits, where Nishimura is credited as Crazy Pierrot – a pseudonym Nishimura was using during the early years of his career.

The Saints Come Marching In (1986) opens very much in the same style as The Face. For the first 20 minutes it’s a bright and easy going student drama. After that, however, the film moves to the nightmare territory. The main character gets chased by masked strangers, and the film gets more and more surreal. Gore effects are introduced as well, though they are still relatively few. Nishimura’s skill in synchronising images and music is again clearly visible.

The Saints Come Marching In is also a real curiosity for its casting. The main character is played by Tokuma, who later became a well known singer and a politician who ran for the governor of Tokyo in 2012. Female lead Renho Murata likewise is a popular and even more successful politician. They both attended the same university as Nishimura. No doubt there couldn’t have been a better start for their careers; unfortunately, in their current positions they may prefer their past kept hidden in Nishimura’s vaults.

Nishimura’s third student film, Fake Country (1987) is a full metamorphosis into the cyberpunk he is known for. The ambitious sci-fi film is set during WWIII, in which Japan is fighting the war with human missiles – an upgrade from human torpedoes which Japan used in WWII. One soldier, however, decides not to throw his life away and makes a run for it, only to find himself chased by the government troops.

Even at less than one hour Fake Country is a heavy experience to digest. Gone are all the light and pop music from Nishimura’s earlier films. Every single scene is set during the night. It’s an impressive vision by a young director, and ought to have made Nishimura a well known name. Nishimura did, in fact, submit the film to Japan’s famed indie film fest PIA Film Festival, but for some reason it was rejected. However, Nishimura says he later received a letter from Akira Hoshino, who was a member of the jury, saying he personally thought the film was awesome. He was right, the film is pretty awesome.

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Paradox

March 26, 2014

Long before Tokyo Gore Police…

Paradox (1984)

Yoshihiro Nishimura’s directorial career is often mistakenly believed to have begun in 2008 with Tokyo Gore Police. In fact Tokyo Gore Police was a remake of his terrific 1995 cyber punk film Anatomic Extinction, which remains criminally non-distributed anywhere in the world. Nishimura’s career, however, goes all the way to the mid 1980’s.

In 2013 Nishimura screened his mid-80’s horror and fantasy films The Face (1985), The Saints Come Marching In (1986) and Fake Country (1987) at the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival. Each of those films were shot on 8mm, clocked 40-50 minutes, and were quite good. This year the festival digged even deeper into the history by screening Paradox, an 40 minute horror/splatter movie Nishimura directed in 1984. The film further confirms that Nishimura created some of his best work in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Paradox opens much like an early Sogo Ishii film, though with very obvious influences from Walter Hill’s The Warriors (1979). The opening scenes are nostalgic punk cinema with street gangs fighting and racing on the streets – all skilfully synced to 1980’s rock music. An unexpected turn takes place just 10 minutes in when the main character is killed and a new title screen hits the screen. Paradox turns out to be an episode film.

The obscure second story, fittingly titled “God Damn”, sees youngsters driven to extreme acts by the voice of God (which echoes from radio). Even more bizarre is the third story “Meat” in which killer meats stored in fridge come alive. The young Nishimura gets to show his talent with special effects with a head split in two, and brains coming out through eye holes. The episode’s soundtrack is an obvious variation of John Carpenter’s Halloween theme music.

Paradox closes with “Thriller”, in which Nishimura plays his own vision of Michael Jackson’s classic music video. In Nishimura’s atmospheric version a Japanese woman is trying to escape zombies in a town filled with walking corpses. The episode is in many ways just as cool as John Landis’ famous music video.

Paradox is a well made and fascinating punk/fantasy/horror/splatter film. It is almost impossible to believe it was directed by a director who was still in high school. The special effects are impressive by any standard, and Nishimura’s audio-visual delivery is comparable to early Sogo Ishii films. Somewhat ironically – for being shot on film – Paradox actually looks somewhat more cinematic than Nishimura’s hyper active splatter films from the 2000’s.

The filmmakers’ slight lack of experience shows mainly in small technical hiccups – a few off-focus shots and dialogue that isn’t always easy to hear – and little confusion storytelling. These factors, however, only add to the scratchy film’s surrealism and atmosphere. A remarkable achievement by Nishimura who was only 16 years old at the time of filming.

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Henge (Metamorphosis)

April 26, 2012

Indie wonder challenges Tsukamoto, Cronenberg.

Metamorphosis (Henge) (2011)

First things first: Hajime Ohata’s Henge (Metamorphosis) is the most impressive Asian horror movie in decades! Hopefully soon a sensation, Henge is Tetsuo: The Iron Man and David Cronenberg’s body horror catalogue brought to the 2000’s. You’ll be hearing about this film again – a lot!

Yoshioki (Kazunari Aizawa) and Keiko (Aki Morita) are a normal, happily married couple. Something is not right, though: the husband suffers from frequent strokes and nightmarish visions. In his sleep “bugs” attempt to take over his body. Psychiatrists fight to cure his hallucinations, but with no success. The symptoms getting increasingly violent, it becomes unclear whether the cause is psychic at all.

Premiering at the 2011 Yubari International Fantastic Film festival as an “incomplete” anthology version, and then released in 2012 in its full 54 minute length, Henge is simply the most impressive work in its genre since small eternity. Had the film been in competition it would’ve been an almost certain main prize winner. Awards galore seems secured, though, as soon as European fantasy film festivals spot the film and add it to their line-up.

While destined for Tetsuo comparisons due to its production country, Henge is, in fact, a representative of the more melancholic end of the genre. Rather than a rocking industrial nightmare it is a Cronenbergian body horror with strong character focus serving as backbone. Special effects become almost secondary in the hands of the relatively inexperienced director Ohata, still fresh from the film school bench, who manages a seamless fusion of drama and horror.

As Yoshihiki’s disease takes ever more grotesque forms, the character emphasis is increased is equal amounts. Violence and special effects do not steal the show until at the very end. Hiroyuki Nagashima’s stunningly atmospheric soundtrack adds the final touch. Production values, while limited, are sufficient. The digital cinematography comes out almost comparable to traditional film, with none of the typical contrast and brightness disasters found in many recent Japanese small budget films.

Some small flaws do exist, though. Casting could’ve been improved in terms of one exorcist – the role calls for a booze reeking Richard Burton rather than a young woman – and CG blood should never have found its way to the screen. The latter is, thankfully, so sparsely used that it hardly hiders the film’s impact. Otherwise the Ohata relies on old school effects to the extent that less sophisticated audiences may fund the 80’s style make up circus slightly distracting. The lack of slime and grease leads to a slightly sterile appearance, though it’s hardly major shortcoming.

Henge is, despite its small flaws, a near masterful horror drama where strong character drama meets traditional make up effects horror. The film would, however, be best viewed without too much prior knowledge of it (some of its trailers and other promotional materials, as well as most likely film critics in the future, give away too much of the film). That being said, Ohata’s film is strong enough to deserve repeated viewings. The ending alone, while no doubt an opinion divider, is stunning enough to leave the audience in a need of medical treatment!