Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

h1

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).

h1

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.

h1

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.

h1

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.

h1

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!

h1

Sushi Typhoon – Part 6X: Helldriver again

December 20, 2011

After the initial zombie experience at Nippon Connection, I ended up revisiting Helldriver on home video in its full uncut glory not once, but twice. And, strangely, was left up with different feelings both times.

Bargain Apocalypse: A CG-Hampered Zombie Epic

Sayonara Japan! A zombie epidemic breaks out. Japan is divided in two, with the North populated by the living dead, and the south turning into slums due to overpopulation. To solve the crisis one girl with chainsaw sword and artificial heart is sent to end it all. Japan’s most celebrated gore maestro Yoshihiro Nishimura’s messy but ambitious zombie epic wipes its ass with its mini budget.

While incredibly bloody, Helldriver also stumbles with frequent and disappointing use of CG in explosions, backgrounds, vehicles, sometimes even gore. Strong horror and genuinely grueling scenes are missing in favor of goofier approach, even with some badly fitting classical pieces on the soundtrack as additional comic relief. Nevertheless, most of the gore is made with practical effects, the soundtrack kicks ass, and the ride never ceases to entertain.

Welcome to Zombie World: Yoshihiro Nishimura’s Helldriver

Nishimura’s goofy zombie splatter is an epic to be enjoyed in the right state of mind. Z-Grade CG and the lack of true horror must be overlooked. But, overcoming these flaws Helldriver can be a hell of a ride indeed. The practical special gore effects are charming, Nishimura’s make up artistry often insanely imaginative, and Koh Nakagawa’s score bad-ass beyond belief. In addition, despite being a thoroughly ugly film there are bits and pieces of strange, gory beauty.

Even in all its messiness Nishimura’s vision of a zombie world is a fascinating one. Human rights become a political game, cities turn slums, and the no-go area a wild west where semi-intelligent zombie leaders command the dead troops and enslave the living. CG is mostly used for elements that strike the mental insanity meter through the roof and leave the viewer breathless: the climax must be seen to be believed. Plus, you gotta love a film that slaps its blood soaked title card only after 48 minutes of non-stop action. Flawed and over-packed Helldriver may be, it’s still a truckload of gory fun to serve multiple viewings.

117 Minute Bloodbath

The very first festival print and Japanese theatrical cut, which sadly was later replaced by an interior International Version, is now finally available to foreign audiences via home video editions. This version restores some 12 minutes of footage. All of the additions are to the film’s benefit, adding nasty old school splatter, welcome characterization with fan favorites Asami and Takumi Saito, and even some additional moody and satiric bits. The main additions include:

– School girl cannibalism at the zombie bar. This is an excellent addition which extends a scene that is found in both versions, bringing some unsettling brutality to a film that in general is a bit too lighthearted to function as real horror. Victim: AV-star Rui Saotome.

– Asami and Takumi Saito as hyper police (the armored mercenaries). Saito appears briefly in the International Version, too, but his partner Asami was edited out. Here they have a some brief dialogue scenes, with both actors doing good job establishing likable characters in very limited screen time, as well as some additional fight-splatter. The gore storm at the end feels more satisfying when it is preceded by a couple of quiet moments and the characters have been introduced to the viewer.

– Romero / Day of the Dead esque side plot concerning a priest (Kanji Tsuda) with zombie sympathies. Greatly enhances the film’s satiric edge, and adds some moody bits, handmade gore, and Nishimura’s daughter as zombie (very beautiful!)! In addition to this side plot, there are other satiric bits added to the film, including more footage concerning the politicians and the slums.

Conclusion: the International Version appears to be designed to attract more casual festival viewers who might be scared off by a two hour running time. In terms of quality the shortened version is nonsensical: it removes some of the film’s best scenes, corrects none of the flaws, and retains the exact same pacing by removing an equal amount of action an characterization. The film is essentially one feature film long action scene – no doubt an overkill for some, but whether it runs 105 minutes or 117 minutes makes almost no difference at all.

Spin Off x 3

Following the tradition of accompanying feature films with spin off short movies (something that started back in the Versus days and has continued ever since) Helldriver features three spin-off short stories. They were directed by Nishimura’s assistant director Jun Shiozaki, lighting director Hiroshi Ota, and Sushi favorite Yoshiki Takahashi.

Shiozaki and Ota’s efforts, titled Helldriver dokata and Catch Me if You Can, suggest these two gentlemen would better not leave their day jobs right yet. Helldriver dokata is the comeback of the giant but sympathetic machete zombie that was loading the sky with severed heads in the main feature.

A “drama-comedy” with martial arts and cleavage, it starts promising, but the joke runs dry soon. Style is lacking and potentially entertaining elements do not receive the treatment they deserve, but come out clumsy and dull. Still, it’s got a few moments that potentially make it a passable time killer for 11 minutes. Director Shiozaki previously helmed the Tokyo Gore Construction Worker short film (for Tokyo Gore Police extras) and Helldriver dokata continues very much in the same vein but with less success. Comes with: zombie “cameo” by horror blogger John Skeleton.

Catch Me if You Can fares even worse – it’s a CG-packed imitation of Nishimura madness, but without much gore, catchiness, or style. It features the “upper torso zombie” from the end of Helldriver (the one that says “hello” to Gadarukanaru Taka) chasing people. The hyperpolice also make an appearance, but without Asami or Takumi Saito. Like Helldriver Dokata, Catch Me if You Can recycles music from Helldriver, but never manages to be more than a pale imitation. Comes with: zombie cameo by Norman England.

Yoshiki Takahashi’s entry, Bailout, is by far the most interesting of the three spin off movies, and not only because Takahashi is the screenwriter of Sono’s Cold Fish and the graphic designer for Sushi Typhoon. Bailout comes out an unexpectedly ambitious 19 minute feature, setting its fully independent storyline into post-apocalyptic future that shares very little with Nishimura’s film.

Bailout follows two men traveling in the deserted “dead land”, and two women hiding in an underground hideout. It’s a moody and genuinely scary horror piece that somewhat resembles the cyber-punk films of Shozin Fukui. Whether Takahashi has what it takes to direct a feature length film remains unclear, but this is certainly a promising effort. A feature length V-Cinema project might be an interesting next step. Comes with: boobs.

Behind the Splatter

Sushi Typhoon Tokyo Invasion is a 21 min feature directed by Norman England (who also does a cameo in the film). In Japan Helldriver, Alien vs. Ninja, Yakuza Weapon and Deadball were released simultaneously as “Sushi Typhoon Matsuri” (Sushi Typhoon Festival) event. Ginza Cine Pathos in Tokyo was decorated with blood and guts, and Noburu Iguchi hosted the three week even during which the films were screened countless times. Mr. England captures much of the fun (and these people are always fun live), even though the feature does get a bit repetitive towards the end.

The best extra, however, is the 43 min Making Of documentary, directed by fan favorite Demo Tanaka (he’s the man in the cage, whose arm gets chopped off by Honoka). This documentary is an absolute must see for fans of Nishimura, capturing the extremely difficult filming process and demonstrating the special effects work as well as the hell the actors had to go through with Nishimura completing approximately 300 shots per day (leaving him almost no time at all to sleep during the two week shoot).

Conclusion

As usual with Nishimura’s movies, it’s necessary for fans to own two home video editions of the film. Before it was Japanese DVDs (for spin offs, extras and soundtrack CDs) + and Western Blu-Rays (for technical presentation) but with Helldriver US + UK Blu-Rays would seem sufficient, since they combined have the approximately same set of features as the Japanese DVD release. Tokyo Invasion and the Spin Off films are on the US release, the Making Off documentary and Japanese trailer (both in high definition) are on the UK Blu-Ray.

h1

Shirome

July 6, 2011

Shirome (2010)

Horror x J-Pop. Grotesque director Koji Shiraishi has been rejected by UK’s BBFC, and slated as copycat hack by others. But he’s more than that – he’s the director of the very best J-horror ghost film since Ringu: Noroi – The Curse (2005). He’s also the director who ought to have the entire faux documentary genre copyrighted to his name – not because he invented it, but because along the years he has made it his own.

At the other end of Japanese entertainment world stands Momoiro Clover, yet another recently established pop idol group, courtesy of Stardust Agency. The girls, aged 13-16, are well known stars today, but not in early 2010 when director Shiraishi first approached them. Momoiro Clover was in a need of publicity, and Shiraishi wished for a new project. What the crew came up with wan an idea of an idol documentary for TV, with Momoiro Clover visiting a haunted house. The legend says that the spirit in the abandoned school building can make wishes come true. The legend also tells more than a few people have gone mysteriously missing in the same building.

Not a standard gig for teen idols, it was nevertheless an opportunity to gain publicity. Part of the deal was, of course, that the girls would be performing their new song in the school building and wish luck for the upcoming Kohaku utagassen song competition (which would be on Japanese TV on New Year’s Eve). With Shiraishi the girls would be in good hands – he has experience from working with idols (as do many other Japanese film directors from Sion Sono to Nobuhiro Yamashita, all if whom have worked in idol videos). Time to roll cameras.

What Shiraishi didn’t explain the girls, is that in reality he’s making a “horror movie”, all the people around them are hired actors, and there’s a special effects team doing live work around them. The poor girls were clueless of their starring role in a horror movie.

Morally questionable and damned funny, Shirome is one of the best things to happen to J-horror since Sion Sono. It’s not a brilliantly directed film by any means, in fact there’s a lot to be improved on, especially towards the end that goes on for too long. Yet, at same time it’s a real treat for anyone who can see the simultaneous genius and ridiculousness of both idol and j-horror scene. It may come out as a bit of a curiosity for J-outsiders, though, but at least random laughs ought to be guaranteed to anyone.

Momoiro Clover themselves are a rather typical J-idol group, although at the time of filming still in the process of mastering their kawaii-skills and personal roles (the youngest of the bunch is the “sexy momoclo”, of course…). Shiraishi takes enough opportunities to include these idol routines in his film. As trained performers the girls know how to run a show in front of camera, even if unaware of the film’s true nature. This is what makes it all the more exhilarating when real scares enters the frame and the show girls find themselves in doubt whether something is seriously wrong. Is Momoclo being cursed?!

What Shirome stumbles with most, is deciding what it wants to be. The catch is a must know for audiences – without knowing it’s a candid camera show it would come out as just another average, if not below, genre film. Yet, it’s actually not explained until the end, although much of the film’s advertising material does indeed reveal it. Shiraishi went as far as to add special effects into the film, for the audience’s scare. It does not sink the film, and can actually be taken as joke to certain extent, but does nevertheless provide a jarring element into an otherwise excellent pic.

Despite its flaws, Shirome is a Red Bull Six Pack for J-horror genre, and comes warmly recommended to any idol fan not so serious enough about their love to curse Shiraishi to seventh hell for what he has done here. In fest circuit at least, it ought to be minor hit among J-aware cult audiences. Oh, and to those wondering about the film’s last scene: only she was acting!