Archive for the ‘Sushi Typhoon’ Category


Sushi Typhoon – Part 7: Karate-Robo Zaborgar

May 6, 2011

Denjin Zaborgar: Gekijo-ban (Japan, 2011)

“Part motorcycle, part karate expert, all robot!”

New wave cult fave Noboru Iguchi’s been drifting towards larger audiences since Robo-Geisha (2009). Karate-Robo Zaborgar continues in the same vein. As a full blooded tokusatsu superhero film – a genre still enjoying remarkable popularity in Japan –it’s a movie with notable mainstream success potential among Japanese kids and fathers. At least if the parents don’t discover about Iguchi’s past career in the dirtier side of Adult Video industry…

Any success would be fully deserved, though, as Karate-Robo Zaborgar is Iguchi’s best film to date. Unlike many other new age jokers Iguchi has always made movies with pure love. The shortcomings have been technical. The Machine Girl lacked punch in editing and execution, Robo-Geisha dragged with its jokes. Karate-Robo Zaborgar improves on both areas.

The base comes from a 1974 television series. It’s was the era when Bruce Lee was the latest craze. Karate Robo’s protagonist Yutaka Daimon was hence made a martial arts expect who would battle the baddies with his iron fists. It wasn’t a rip off though; Daimon’s trusted partner, the transforming robot Zaborgar, was one of first of his kind. It has even been claimed the original Karate-Robo Zaborgar provided the inspiration for Transformers.

The original as well as Iguchi’s film adaptation set Daimon and his motorcycle-robot partner Zaborgar against megalomaniac super villains in wheelchairs and their sub-ordinates. The monsters are ugly, the cars have teeth, and the every single female wears iron bikini. Of course they do.
Gratuitous violence and sex, typical to many of Iguchi’s works, is missing from Karate-Robo Zaborgar. It’s a decidedly family friendly movie. This is good, as getting stuck in the middle doesn’t serve anyone.

Yet, Iguchi is his own recognizable self. The girls are sparsely clothed and their asses are filled with deadly weapons. Originally Iguchi wanted to have topples female villains who would be beaten by grabbing their breasts – an idea that was dropped as producers begged Iguchi to restrain himself. Iguchi also revealed there will be an extended version with additional footage and a sex scene between the younger Daimon (Yasuhisa Furuhara) and evil Miss Borg (Mami Yamasaki). The festival circuit version is the International Cut, running 101 minutes. However, unlike Nishimura’s splatter fest Helldriver, Karate-Robo Zaborgar feels perfectly fit and complete in its current form.

Karate-Robo Zaborgar works best during its first half. The fights come fast, the jokes are frequent, and the soundtrack is pure 1970’s tokusatsu gold. Composer Yasuhiko Fukuda’s new contributions are mixed with original tunes by the series composer Shunsuke Kikuchi, the legendary man behind Kamen Raider and Female Prisoner Scorpion scores.

As typical to modern tokusatsu, Karate-Robo Zaborgar comes with hefty amount of CGI effects. These vary from enjoyably clumsy to genuinely impressive. The film’s easy going and comedic nature considered the computer generated images blend in well. Old school effects have not been abandoned either. Most of the fighting consists of men battling in robot suits. Iguchi even brought back the original skull mobile from the television series. Martial arts choreography is competent enough, but hardly the main sales point. It’s there as an ingredient, played simultaneously with other attractions.

A bit less successful is the film’s second half. This is where Iguchi is on his own, departing further from the original contents. The special effects get bigger, and so does the drama. It drags a bit in places, but remains entertaining enough. Much thanks goes to Iguchi regular Itsuji Itao, and new discovery Aimi Satsukawa (iron bikini, again), both very pleasing performers. Many other familiar faces appear in the film as well, including Yoshihiro Nishimura as karate instructor, and Robo-Geisha trio Asami / Cay Izumi / Yui Murata as bikini fighters…

Despite some weaknesses towards the end, Karate Robo Zaborgar is a hugely enjoyable crowd pleaser, and well fit for mainstream distribution with its competent visual outlook (Iguchi had a multi-million dollar budget for it). The audience would be advised to live the experience. Iguchi himself wished the audience would shout out loud “ZABOOGAR, GO!” every time Zaborgar is in a tight spot. This is exactly the way the film should be enjoyed!


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.



April 23, 2011

I had an interesting morning a few days ago, finding out my blog had topped its previous traffic records… at 10 am. I’m both honored and a little bit embarrassed by this visibility. Thank you Sushi Typhoon, and ありがとうございました、西村さん。ヘルドライバーを見ることを楽しみにしています。

– ミッコ


Sushi Typhoon – Part 5: Cold Fish

April 20, 2011

Tsumetai nettaigyo (Japan, 2010)

“He will make you pick up the pieces!”

Sion Sono is a strange man. He went from poets to suicide pop, and eventually to his grand work, the 4 hour up-skirt love-story Love Exposure (2008). Then, he delivered a slow moving hospital drama (Be Sure to Share, 2009) – a genre disliked even by the director himself.

Love Exposure and Be Sure to Share marked double dose of love and tears. Personal therapy was needed next. Hook up with some old buddies, kill everyone on screen, and have Sushi Typhoon finance the mess!

Sono’s serial killer film Cold Fish is a bit of a strange fish. Although produced by an exploitation studio, it’s not as splattery as Sushi Typhoon’s standard output (Mutant Girls Squad, Helldriver). Instead Cold Fish is reaching towards mainstream audiences, with domestic and overseas theatrical distribution already in process. And, quite deservedly so, as Cold Fish is one of the best Japanese serial killer films since Vengeance is Mine (1979).

Sono and his scripting partner Yoshiki Takahashi drew inspiration for Cold Fish from the 1993 Saitama murder case. Later sentenced to death for their crimes, the dog breeder couple Gen Sekine and Hiroko Kasama were found guilty of killing four people. Several others around them had gone missing and never found. The bodies were dismembered, burnt, and ashes scattered in forest.

Sono and Takahashi (who is also the graphic designer for Sushi Typhoon) have borrowed several characters and killing methods from real life, but the backgrounds have been re-written. Dog kennel has been turned into a tropical fish store, and much of the focus is on family unit falling apart.

The protagonist is Shamoto (Mitsuru Fukikoshi), whose troubled daughter is caught shoplifting. Fellow fish dealer Murata (Denden) comes to rescue. He offers Shamoto’s daughter a respectable job, and consoles Shamoto’s young wife. Little by little, he seems to be stealing Shamoto’s entire family.

Sono plays with the opposites of Japanese society here. Murata is the wicked showman and leader persona. Shamoto portrays the humble worker. In a society built on hierarchical status and obligation networks, Shamoto is bound by the honne-tatemae philosophy. He shows gratefulness (the public front, tatemae) to his savior, and hides his real feelings (honne). But there’s a limit to everything, and Shamoto isn’t the strongest man around. It’s only a matter of time when he will break and start developing balls.

Sono throws punches at the Japanese, but the foreigners aren’t safe either. The traditional Japanese status society is not entirely different from certain aspects of Western religious life. For fans of the director it comes as no surprise that when the killings begin, Christian references find their way into the film. In Love Exposure the church stood as an example of institutional authority that sometimes overlooks the individual and common sense. In Cold Fish the references are less obvious, but present. Were Sono a Christian, his films would be easy to interpret as collective accounting on the sins of our fathers.

In Cold Fish the primary criticism would be, however, aimed at the Japanese societal structures. The Christian references are not out of the wind, though. Sono has had his own adventures with cults, and screenwriter Takahashi mentioned borrowing from the Jesus Arch case of the early 1980’s. The notorious cult was reported “seducing” lost Japanese souls into their house of God. The members, of course, were accommodated in a dormitory. In Cold Fish, Murata has a dormitory full of troubled young women he has taken under his wings.

There’s a whole variety of other recognizable Sono moments, too. The drum heavy opening could be from Love Exposure. The family unit falling apart is a regular Sono theme as well. But even then, Cold Fish feels different from most of the director’s films. Compared to his most typical high-atmosphere and somewhat freely structured films, Cold Fish puts notable focus on telling a specific storyline.

Sono’s skill has always been in creating atmosphere and images. Despite thematical and graphic extremes, his films are usually harmonic. In Cold Fish, however, Sono takes the characters to emotional extremes. Denden’s acting is brilliant, but it’s also one step away from over-kill. Sometimes the film crosses the line. There’s too much shouting. The ending would be better were it not so loud. But it comes from Sono’s heart. Cold Fish was his cinematic punching bag for a bad day.

Cold Fish is a heavy piece of cinematic nihilism. It’s also a thoroughly captivating serial killer film – a competent piece by any standards despite small harshness here and there. As typical to Sono, it’s a long movie (144 min) but the length is justified. It’s a character study, and would easily lose important bits were it any shorter.

That is not to say Sono doesn’t play with various pop elements from shock gore to black humor and Megumi Kagurazaka. The famous gravure idol put a countdown to end her former career by appearing in nude photos. A clever man Sono is, he naturally took advantage of this by including a shower scene. These “lighter” bits, however, do little to alter the film’s pitch black spirit.

“You will be victimized!”

(note: I will take a bit of break from posting reviews now. Next week I’m off to Frankfurt / Nippon Connection. When I’m back, I’ll try to wrap up the Sushi Typhoon series with Helldriver and Karate Robo-Zaborgar reviews. じゃな!)


Sushi Typhoon – Part 4: Mutant Girls Squad

April 19, 2011

Sentô shôjo: Chi no tekkamen densetsu (Japan, 2010)

“Mutant Girls Squad is kind of like X-Men. Except that the X-Men didn’t rape men with mutant tentacles.” – Kalle Karinen / Night Visions catalogue.

Sushi Typhoon’s third announced but first released film places the company’s three major aces on the table: Tak Sakaguchi, Noboru Iguchi, and Yoshihiro Nishimura. The action / comedy / special effects trio was each assigned to do what they best know, even though, in my humble opinion, Iguchi doesn’t know anything that well.

While splitting directing duties in three, each of the madmen were also given special responsibilities. Iguchi was the one who created the story, Sakaguchi choreographed the action, and Nishimura – no surprise here – splattered everyone’s brains all over the place.

The outcome is a mixture of cartoonish superhero action, Japanese teen girls, and mental insanity.

The premise is simple enough. Rin (Yumi Sugimoto) is a bullied 16 year old schoolgirl, who discovers on her birthday that she’s actually a mutant. Pissed off and upset she grows a steel hand kills half of the town’s population. She’s then taken in by a transvestite mutant leader (Tak Sakaguchi doing triple shift here).

The opening third is all Sakaguchi’s courtesy, which should be obvious from excessively long street fight, shot without fast cuts or tricks, although not quite overwhelming with the action choreography. There’s more CG blood than the doctor recommends, but the comedic nature keeps it from becoming too distracting.

Sakaguchi is relatively inexperienced at directing, but he has improved since his 2008 debut Be a Man! Samurai School. The pacing problems of Be a Man! are gone, replaced by machine gun mix of comedy, action, strange-ass drama, and cuteness.

Enter the ass chainsaw. It’s Iguchi time. The more comedic middle third is a strange mutant girl boot camp with obscure references to Sukeban Deka 2: The Girl with the Iron Mask (1985). It’s just a shame the tekkamen (iron mask) is not used to a large extent and no real Sukeban Deka connection is created.

While a lesser episode in the film, it’s not worse than average Iguchi. The jokes are a bit old, and CG is still over-used, but Iguchi also introduces the most adorable tentacle rapist mutant (Suzuka Morita). She even got her own spin off short movie. Something for home audiences to track down!

One hour into the movie Nishimura takes over. A fan of handmade murder, Nishimura does not rely much on CG. Rather the opposite – he bought a pump to handle all three thousand litres of blood he used in the film. Being quite reminiscent of Nishimura’s short films (Reject of Death, 63 Minutes into the Movie, etc.) it’s essentially John Woo gone platter – an outrageous ballet of gore. A talented visual storyteller Nishimura is, he stages all the bloodletting to the epic score by Koh Nakagawa.

A potential mishmash turned surprisingly even and thoroughly entertaining film Mutant Girls Squad is an extreme between extremes. While not quite as dark as Tokyo Gore Police, it’s still more brutal than Nishimura / Tomomatsu’s charming love comedy splatter Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl. In genre terms Mutant Girls Squad is essentially more of the same, that is, A-grade mental insanity that overcomes its production values with a vengeance.

And the familiar faces? They’re all here. Iguchi (ancient nobleman), Nishimura (exploding head soldier), Benny (romantic guard), Asami (eye patched assassin), Mizui (astro mutant), Izumi (breast katana), and Takashi Ishii’s favorite actor Naoto “what the heck happened to my career” Takenaka as a politician. Just to mention a few.

You know what you’re into.