Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

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!

h1

Sushi Typhoon – Part 6: Helldriver

May 5, 2011

Nihon bundan: Heru doraibâ (Japan, 2010)

“Sayonara Japan!”

Yoshihiro Nishimura does not believe in budget limitations. Sushi Typhoon have him $200 000 and a two week filming schedule, Nishimura announced he’d be making the all time zombie epic. He named Romero’s satirical genre films as inspiration, and 8000 liters of blood as his personal contribution. A fitting follow up to his previous solo project Tokyo Gore Police, in other words.

It doesn’t take a genius to say Nishimura was basically trying the impossible. Preparations were extensive: the 3500 storyboards prepared by Nishimura speak for themselves. At filming site Nishimura seemingly broke his own records, completing close to 300 shots per day. In this hurry screenplay was left for lesser care.

The storyline is simple but fast paced. School girl Kika’s (Yumiko Hara) life is hell on earth. The sadistic mom Rikka (Eihi Shiina) beats her daughter, and eats the father’s legs in the lack of better things to do! One day an asteroid falls from sky and makes a hole in Rikka’s chest. Pissed off, she rips her daugher’s heart off and places it in her own chest. Kika is taken to medical care while half of Japan falls under zombie epidemic due to the ash from the asteroid. Mysteriously, Rikka, as the first victim, seems to have gained control of the zombie legions.

The storyline can now begin, although we haven’t quite reached the opening credits yet!

It’s obvious from the beginning Nishimura’s puns at politics and the Democratic Party Japan (human rights, etc.) are little more than gags. Nishimura wouldn’t have time for real satire even if he wanted to, as there’s more gore and action in Helldriver than one movie can take. The actual plot kicks off once Kika, now enhanced with iron chest and chainsaw sword, returns. It’s time to forget “human rights” and go behind the Great Wall (separating the “normal” and the “infected”) and kick mom’s ass. And kill a few creatures on the way.

For his entire career – the directorial efforts only counting for a fraction of it – Nishimura has worked on makeup effects. This is where Helldriver excels, too. It’s unbelievable how much care has been put into stylish zombie makeup despite the tight schedule. Aside clearly distinctive zombie designs there are other creatures all the way from spider zombies crawling in the frames. Not your most typical living deads, that is.

Nishimura’s zombies are flesh eaters with varying amount of brain damage. Some of them settle for dinner hunt, others engage in minor communication. This is not entirely satisfying, but at least better than parkour zombies seen in some other recent genre films. Nishimura’s zombies, with a few exceptions, don’t really run, which is a refreshing return to how zombies should be. The horns on their foreheads, used by Rikka to control their movements, is something Nishimura could have left out, though. Thankfully the anti-idea is not extensively used in the film.

As far as mood goes Helldriver is laidback but enjoyably trashy, with some over-enhanced and perhaps unnecessary color adjustment (leaning towards red and orange). Composer Koh Nakagawa’s easily recognizable tunes are mixed with rock and even waltz in a gore dance, a scene quite over-used by the director by now. Despite the goriness real mean violence, essential to zombie movies, can be found only in a few scenes.

One of Helldriver’s problems is over-packing. Nishimura’s got tons of interesting ideas, with too little time to properly exploit them on screen. It makes a lot of fun, but strange characters and weapons are brought in and thrown out before full use of them has been taken. Atmospheric build ups are missing, and action scenes seem rushed. Occasionally humor and gags become too dominating.

The second major gripe is the extensive use of CGI, which goes against genre logic. Nishimura’s films have drawn large following due to amazing old school special effects work. Here much of this is visible here, but he also does too many things with computer generated images. CGI blood is mixed with real ketchup, which leads into divided rather than multiplied excitement.

Now, it must be stated that this review is based on the 105 minute International Version. The original cut is 10-15 minutes longer, and even features nasty handmade gore shots not seen in the shorter version. The full version premiered at the Fantastic Fest in Texas, but was taken back to editing table (due to?) after abysmal feedback. Sushi Typhoon’s official US face Marc Walcow later admitted having learnt his lesson: Nishimura films are not to be screened for “Iron Man 3 audience”. The same edit later opened for enthusiastic audience in New York, with people wondering how anyone would want to miss even a second of it.

With one of the film’s main problems being the hectic pacing, it’s easy to imagine the original cut being superior. It no doubt still suffers from CGI problems, but most likely comes with vital bits to enhance the overall experience. Nishimura also stated many fan favorite actors get more screen time in the long version. Even in the 105 minute cut one can spot the regulars from Takashi Shimizu to Cay Izumi and even Marc Walcow as the insane doctor.

Helldriver was to be Nishimura’s best movie. It is not. The amount of CGI and the lack of slower atmospheric parts hurt the film. Focus on vehicles is also relatively sparse considering the film’s title. However, the review being based on the shorter cut it would feel untimely to lay final judgment right yet. Besides, all the criticism is to be seen against the enormous potential of the film, and Nishimura’s amazing track record. Even as an “incomplete version” Helldriver is a hellava fun ride. It’s an epic trash movie that, despite its problems, doesn’t get boring for a second.