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Yubari 2015: Hentaidan + Damager

August 22, 2015

Hentaidan ( 2015)

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

Damager (Jisho senshi Damager) (2015)

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

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

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

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Yubari Fanta 2013-2015: Part 2

August 22, 2015

Here are some pictures from the streets of Yubari.

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Yubari Fanta 2013-2015: Part 1

August 22, 2015

I had intended to write a long article about Yubari International Film festival; however, since it seems I’ll never find the time I’ll just post a very quick introduction with some pictures.

The festival is held in the small town of Yubari in February, when the whole place covered in snow. It’s a pretty beautiful view with all the snowy mountains. The city streets alone are good enough a reason to visit Yubari since they are packed with beautiful old movie billboards from samurai films to yakuza flicks and Charles Bronson movies. I have counted at least 50 of them and trying to find all of them is part of the fun. I’ll post some pictures in the next post.

The festival itself focuses on small genre and indie films, from splatter to drama. Most of the films are world premiers of titles you’ve never heard about before – and may never hear about again. Consequently the average level of the films may not be as high as on some other festivals, but there are many small treasures to be found every year.

Another highlight is the insane side-program. If you attend a screening of a martial arts film, you can probably expect a live martial arts demonstration. If you attend a screening for a special effects splatter film, you may see the film’s makeup artist holding a 2 hour workshop on how to turn an actor into a zombie. And if you attend anything with regular quests Yoshihiro Nishimura or Noboru Iguchi, you should expect total insanity. Seriously, half of the madness that goes on in Nishimura and Iguchi events cannot be posted publicly, with the two gentlemen running around naked in snow being among the cost casual and innocent of their acts. Others include a human sushi plate (a naked woman, of course), Iguchi and Nishimura dancing to a AKB-48 pop song while dressed in girls’ school uniform, and SM torture competition hosted by Eihi Shiina – just to give a few examples of things that kind of can be mentioned publicly.

“Cruel!”. In front of the venue for an insane 2 day Yoshihiro Nishimura program.

Yui Murata mini concert

Nishimura, Iguchi and Kayano dancing to ABK-48

Iguchi and Rina Takeda in Iguchi event

Nishimura, Iguchi, Asami and others

The oriental Tom Cruise

Makeup effects wizard Soichi Umezawa does his magic on Momoko Kuroiwa

Band playing at the closing ceremony

Of course there are also some relatively down-to-earth Q&A sessions, like

Asami, Kudando Mitsutake and Dean Harada at Gun Woman premiere

Maki Mizui and Yoshihiro Nishimura at Kept (Ra) premiere

And what’s best, there are no red carpets in Yubari. Filmmakers and the audience hang out together, sit in the audience together, and constantly run into each other everywhere. In fact, most of the time when you’re sitting in the audince you later discover the guy next to you was the film’s director/actor/cinematographer etc. Or you’re eating delicious deer in the stove party and only later realize the cook was Masanori Mimoto…

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Reserved for Chiba

August 22, 2015

Review to be added at a later date

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Reserved for Chiba

August 22, 2015

Review to be added at a later date

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To be continued…

September 25, 2014

I ran out of time to write reviews… There’s still going be three more Chiba posts, but I need take a break now. I’ll get back to it as soon as I have time, but I don’t know when that will be.

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Sonny Chiba A Go Go (Part 7)

September 20, 2014

Sonny Chiba Festival Day 7: July 4th (Friday)

Memoir of Japanese Assassins (Nihon ansatsu hiroku) (Sadao Nakajima, 1969)

Sadao Nakajima was one of Toei’s seminal genre film directors. He worked in almost any genre that was popular at the time, and delivered competent films that ranged from ninja adventures to sexploitation and yakuza movies. He had, however, also an urge to deliver something more ambitious, as evidenced by his surprising 1973 visit to Art Theatre Guild where he directed the gangster drama Aesthetics of a Bullet. Memoir of Japanese Assassins is another odd beast is his filmography. This all star political slaughter fest chronicles murders committed by assassins in different eras, all based on reality. Stars like Ken Takakura, Tomisaburo Wakayama and Bunta Sugawara pop up for their 5 minute episodes only to cut someone’s head off, stab someone to death or blow someone into pieces with a hand grenade.

The seemingly endless cavalcade of ultra-violent kills finally comes to an end about 25 minutes into the film. This is when the film finds its main story: an impressive tale of a young man slowly transforming into a political assassin. Sonny Chiba portrays this character; a youngster living in the middle of never ending poverty and misery. He eventually finds new home with a revolutionary group, which begins his long road to becoming a political assassin. This episode takes no less than 90 minutes of the film’s 142 minute running time, features almost no action or bloodshed, and gives Chiba more screen time than all the other stars combined.

Chiba is quite good in the leading role, despite slightly overdoing his most emotional scenes. He actually won an acting award for his performance at the Kyoto Citizen Film Festival (Kyoto shimin eiga sai), where Hideo Gosha’s Hitokiri was also awarded the same year. Yakuza film queen Junko Fuji also appears in a seminal supporting role in this episode. Once their story concludes, the film still continues with two more short episodes (one of them featuring stock footage from the earlier Chiba film The Escape, 1962). As a whole the film is a bit uneven, but it’s nevertheless a fascinating and occasionally epic (partly thanks to composer Isao Tomita, whose score plays on repeat) movie. Easily recommended!


 

Tokyo Daijishin Magnitude 8.1 (Kiyoshi Nishimura, 1980)

The second film for Friday was a real rarity: the 1980 special effects extravaganza Tokyo Daijishin Magnitude 8.1 (literally Tokyo Great Earthquake Magnitude 8.1). This generously budgeted TV film premiered on Nihon TV in 1980, and completely disappeared from the face of earth until it was screened in a special event in Tokyo last year. That screening was reportedly so popular that only a fraction of the willing customers were able to obtain a ticket. Cinema Vera gave the film no less than three screening days, during which it was seen from a relatively worn out 16 mm print, which would of course be the original format.

As the title suggests, it’s a disaster movie based on the premise of a giant earthquake hitting in Tokyo. This fear stems from real life: Tokyo has been destroyed by earthquakes several times, most recently in 1923 when more than 140 000 people died and over 400 000 buildings were destroyed. When it comes to Japanese cinema the genre may not seen very common – a couple of exceptions aside there aren’t many Japanese disaster movies – however, it closely relates to monster movies and other tokusatsu epics that have long traditions in Japan. It was a short way from giant monsters stamping Tokyo to a natural disasters creating similar cinematic destruction.

Indeed, a couple of shots in Tokyo Daijishin Magnitude 8.1 seem so familiar that they just might be old Godzilla sets put into new use. That wouldn’t be surprising considering many of the filmmakers, including producer Tomoyuki Tanaka and special effects director Koichi Kawakita, and co-production company Toho, had their background in Godzilla films. The fine, even if obvious, miniature work is actually the best thing about the film. There are a couple of especially memorable scenes, like a passenger plane flying over Tokyo that has turned into a giant inferno, and dawn in the destroyed metropolis.

As a character drama Tokyo Daijishin Magnitude 8.1 falls flat. All the usual clichés from helpless grandmother to dumb children and even animals escaping at the wrong moment are included, not to mention characters discussing how terrible it would be if an earthquake hit Tokyo just a few hours before it really happens. That is quite disappointing considering the film was directed by Kiyoshi Nishimura, who had helmed interesting thrillers and existential action films like The Creature Called Man (1970) and Hairpin Circus (1972) for Toho in the 1970s. Perhaps he just couldn’t help the screenplay.

Sonny Chiba plays the starring role; however, he doesn’t have much else to do than run back and forth in the special effects shots, and worry about supporting characters constantly getting in trouble. It’s not an especially physical role since most of the effects are make-believe. His most memorable scene involves blowing up a door while taking cover inside a safe. Yutaka Nakajima, who appeared in some earlier Chiba films like The Executioner (1974), plays the female lead, but her role is very forgettable as well. There are a few other supporting actors as well, but amusingly a great lack of extras. It seems the entire budget went to special effects since there are only a handful of people in Tokyo and they miraculously run into each other throughout the film.

Because of its rarity Tokyo Daijishin Magnitude 8.1 will remain to be sought after movie. It’s a decent special effects show that probably deserves to be seen by genre fans, especially for its nostalgia value, but it’s hardly a great movie. For fans of Chiba it’s passable viewing, but not among his most memorable roles.

As a side note; the film’s budget was 150 million yen, which was five times higher than the episode budget for the famous cop-action series Seibu Keisatsu (which is still fondly remembered for its insane action scenes full of car wrecking and explosions) that was screening on TV around the same time. By the 1980s many of the former actions stars, like Yujiro Ishihara, Tetsuya Watari, and Chiba himself were mostly working on TV. Chiba had already starred in hundred of TV episodes in various different shows since the 1960s, like Key Hunter (1967-1973) and The Bodyguard (1974). In the 1980s television became his primary employer as well. It was a great era of epic small screen action entertainment that often rivalled, and sometimes surpassed, the theatrical films. Nothing like it exists on Japanese TV anymore.