Thursday, August 30, 2007

Wandering Ginza Butterfly & Red Peony Gambler 3 - The Flower Cards Game

Two ninkyo eiga, still two very different things.
Wandering Ginza Butterfly takes place in the Seventies and is a standard but extremely unsleazy member of its genre. It's (yeah you guessed it) very solid, but has three points of brilliance: A billiard sequence that takes the place of more traditional ways of gambling and is just great fun; the scene after the climactic battle, when our heroes are standing on a street corner, waiting to be arrested, smiling and looking as if waiting for a taxi; and the great, grand and always glorious Meiko Kaji.

Red Peony Gambler 3 is the first movie by ninkyo directing god Tai Kato I've seen and if this is indicative of his usual style there is no way I'm not going to find more of them.
Design and feel of the movie are striving (and seem) to be much more historically accurate than in parts one and two, there's a palpable tension in each angle and although the level of melodrama is cranked up to eleven, the whole film feels tight. The way heavy melodrama and heavy violence feed each other reminds me of the later "heroic bloodshed" genre in Hong Kong Cinema. I would be greatly surprised if John Woo had not seen more than one film in this style.
Also, blood is very thick and red.

Zatoichi and the Festival of Fire

is one of the lesser films in this very long running series, my Kenji-Misumi-love notwithstanding. It's not that there aren't many impressive sequences or some of the strange little occurrences I like so much about the Zatoichi films. The problem is rather that neat little moments and moody shots don't always make a consistent film. By which I am not saying the movie is bad, it just isn't as good as I wanted it to be.
But the film made a little clearer to me why I find the character of Ichi so endearing. Obviously, I, like every right thinking biped, love bad-ass swordsmanship and kind-hearted heroes, but these aren't very hard to find. What makes Ichi so lovable is his little, self-deprecating laughter (that sometimes at the same time mocks his opponent), the way in which it is always clear that Ichi is able to laugh at himself and mean it. In many of the films this laughter even seems to be the thing that keeps him going, as broken as he may get.
And about which other chambara hero can you say that?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Cash Calls Hell

Another victim of my mad quest to see every damn Japanese genre movie ever made. This one's by Hideo Gosha again, with Gosha (and Okamoto) core actor Tatsuya Nakadai. It's a kind of late born noir with nouvelle-vagueish (is that a word?) bits, quite mean spirited and well worth my time.

Robert Charles Wilson, The Perseids and other stories

This first collection of (interconnected) short stories by one of the few hard science fiction writers who is interested in science and people and strangeness, was obviously written to stick pins in a lot of my personal pressure points.
The stories are interconnected, through places (Toronto!), characters, moods and themes, but the connections are obscure and/or obscured most of the time; some stories leave faint echoes to be heard in other stories. The stories are nominally science fiction, but the kind of science fiction that always stands on the verge of becoming horror. Lovecraft's "Cosmic Horror" without the Great Old Ones, in feeling very close to the urban horror stories of Fritz Leiber, sometimes as silently terrifying as stories get.
There's not much release to be found in this book, knowledge does not make anyone happier or better in its world, knowledge of oneself can be nearly as dangerous and terrible as knowledge of  the world.

, you should really read this. I promise, it's more awe inspiring than depressing. 

Wrestling Women vs The Aztec Mummy

This grand transcendent work of art only has a single flaw: Its title. Obviously this movie of movies should be called: "Wrestling Women vs Mexican Japanese Fu Manchu vs The Aztec Mummy".


See: The mind controlling power of The Black Dragon and his mystical TV set!

Experience: The true meaning of the word love when listening to the no-good boyfriends of our heroines complaining that their Wrestling Women can't possibly win against the Black Dragon's evil Mexican looking Japanese judo-fighting sisters!

Feel: The mind boggling power of laughter at the sight of The Aztec Mummy!

Dream about: A future when all problems will be solved by Wrestling Women and/or El Santo (idol of the masses)!


Darlings of the Day: The Wrestling Women!

"Now watch me as I dominate this girl's will and use her as an instrument in our struggle against whoever stands against us."

"Those wrestling girls stopped us."
"A curse on them!"

"They were trying to send us to Paradise. And Paradise is boring without you."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Red Peony Gambler & Red Peony Gambler 2 - Gambler's Obligation

As is traditional in longer running Japanese movie serials, the second part is much better than the first, unless you got a thing for origin stories.
The Red Peony Gambler films are ninkyo eiga with the exciting twist that the honest yakuza hero is actually (gasp) a woman, played by Junko Fuji, wandering all over Japan, righting wrongs by being incredibly virtuous and incredibly good at killing people.
Part one is very watchable, very solid and entertaining enough, but without any real sparks. And letting Ken Takakura do what he always does (be tragic, kill evildoers, die in the last scene) distracts a little too much from our actual heroine, especially adding the way she lets herself be patronized by him.

The second part, helmed by beloved (to some infamous) Norifumi Suzuki works on many more levels in much more interesting ways. Suzuki's direction is as stylish as one expects, the carnage is much bigger and interesting to look at, there are the evil yakuza capitalists, Bunta Sugawara practices his evil stare as henchman no.1. Like in most movies by Suzuki I know, there is also the feeling that he likes the conventions of genre films, but likes to play with these conventions just as much. He has a much easier time to make Fuji the actual heroine of the piece, even if the underlying view of womankind still is a relatively conservative one.
But what really surprised me was the psychological and emotional depth of the movie. It lets some of the stock characters grow into people, transforming melodrama into drama.
The theme of the picture isn't the usual "how to uphold your honor" either. Instead, it is about scars: The way you can't deny them, the way you have to live with them, and the way you can be loved in spite of them.


 

Edit: To correct Ken Takakura's name. What the hell was I thinking!?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Yokai Monsters: Along with Ghosts

Well, this was a little disappointing. What we have here is not another festival of latex and weirdness like Spook Warfare, but a bog-standard, solid yet unremarkable yakuza tale of the ninkyo eiga variety with way too little supernatural spice to make it interesting.
And if the hero wasn't so darn incompetent, not even the fifteen minutes of yokai that are there would be needed at all.

Darling of the Day:
"Boss, I'll go beat that little kid and ask what she did with the document."
"Yeah, do that."

That figures

Your Score: a Ninja


You scored 11 Honor, 5 Justice, 3 Adventure, and 4 Individuality!




You are a soldier of the night. You rely on no more than your cunning and your reputation to strike fear in the hearts of lord and peasant alike. You've a sense of honor, but one that comes from within, not imposed from outside.

Black clothes and shuriken for you. You're gonna do just fine.





Link: The Cowboy-Ninja-Pirate-Knight Test written by fluffy71 on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test
Found via http://brutalwomen.blogspot.com/

Sunday, August 26, 2007

So

is there actually music any better than very scottish guitar pop with a definite love for sixties girl groups and the third Velvet Underground album and a girlish sounding singer with one of these incredibly charming accents?
Right now, I don't think so.

Camera Obscura. *sighs*

Sarah Monette, The Virtu



This very fine book is the sequel to the nearly as fine Mélusine. It starts more or less where the first book stopped, the first person narrators Felix and Mildmay not-quite preparing for the journey back to Mélusine to somehow mend the destroyed Virtu. And in the "not-quite preparing" and the "somehow" lies one of two problems I have with the book: The protagonists never really seem to plan anything, they are more or less drifting into certain circumstances that require certain actions. Most of the time, this is completely in keeping with the characters, but sometimes -for example the mid-book "jailbreak"- it strains belief a little.
Something in which Monette really excels is her use of voice, both narrators always beautifully characterized through their unique ways of speaking. The characterization alone would make the novel recommendable. Although (and this is my second problem) Felix and Mildmay seem to me a little too angsty, their wounds a little too near the surface, when interacting only with each other sometimes. I think I wouldn't even have noticed this, if the brother's relationship didn't seem so real most of the time. Oh, and I'm really in love with Mildmay's voice and character and very much not in love with the personality of Felix; both signs that a character really comes to life in my mind.
Also very fascinating is the recurring motif of labyrinths, tightly connected with the (lovely/terrifying) magic system and the structure of the book itself.
Another thing Monette is exceedingly successful at is the building of atmosphere: I don't think I will forget the scenes under Klepsydra soon, or the conceptual beauty of the Omphalos and so on, and so on.
The plotting seems to me much tighter than in the first book. It always helps when a book has an actual ending instead of just stopping. (Yes, I was a little grumpy about the way Mélusine ended.)


I'm looking greedily at the next sequel, The Mirador, alas I can't throw any money at hardcovers right now. As it goes.

Sleepy Eyes of Death 1: The Chinese Jade

Possibly the greatest achievement in the history of humanity.


Darlings of the Day: The scene in which our hero cuddles his sword.

But let's hear what he has to say for himself:



"Tonight has been particularly enigmatic. Ninja...a monk's note...and vanishing corpses."

"You must have also heard that I'm a rogue who slices men like they were radishes."

"Will you tell me your name?"
"Negoro Ryu of the Iga ninja."
"I shall remember you...I shall remember that there once was a very skilled swordsman of that name. This is so wasteful. Your training must have taken many years."

"Don't get too close to me. I've come from killing many men. You'll reek of blood, too."

Three Outlaw Samurai

Hideo Gosha's debut movie is a strange beast. It already shows his stylistic flourishes in surprising clarity, but still contains remnants of an older, more melodramatic and sentimental chambara style that stand a little uneasy next to the film's meanness and unrelenting drive.
Even I was a little set back by the astonishingly high quotient of sacrificing/sacrificed women. The gender politics of Japanese genre film have never been anything one could call progressive, but the number of women who have to die here to drive the plot and our male characters borders on the intolerable.
Which makes for very uncomfortable viewing.

Darling of the Day:
"Why are you on the peasants side?"
"No particular reason. I spent half an hour with them and now I feel solidarity."

Saturday, August 25, 2007

About me

Ten Top Trivia Tips about Houseinrlyeh!

  1. Houseinrlyeh is 1500 years older than the pyramids!
  2. The colour of houseinrlyeh is no indication of his spiciness, but size usually is!
  3. You would have to dig through four thousand kilometres of houseinrlyeh to reach the earth's core.
  4. Britain's Millennium Dome is more than double the size of houseinrlyeh.
  5. The first toy product ever advertised on television was Mr Houseinrlyeh Head.
  6. The first houseinrlyeh was made in 1853, and had no pedals!
  7. There are six towns named houseinrlyeh in the United States.
  8. If you keep a goldfish in a dark room, it will eventually turn into houseinrlyeh!
  9. Houseinrlyeh is the sacred animal of Thailand.
  10. Two grams of houseinrlyeh provide enough energy to power a television for over twenty-three hours.
I am interested in - do tell me about

The Great Duel/The Grand Melee (1964)

Japanese Genre cinema started early with films full of anger at the world and humanity it seems. I wouldn't have expected to find something like this deeply pessimistic parable of the Japanese student movement in a film made before 1967 and I really know better than to expect a film this good.
But aesthetically minded viewer beware: The picture is visually very inventive, dynamic when it needs to be, but never beautiful. The violence is extremely visceral and messy; not nice to look at at all. So if you are watching samurai movies chiefly to see elegantly choreographed sword fights in colorful landscapes you should probably miss this. Or grow up.

Darling of the Day:
"There's no one in heaven, but on earth there's us."

Death Note & Death Note - The Last Name

Weren't these supposed to be good? Of course, you can call them good, if good means affectless acting, the dramaturgical sloppiness of a bad American TV movie and the incredibly annoying habit of explaining everything at least three times, explaining everything at least three times, explaining everything at least three times.
Did I mention that everything is explained at least three times?
Very special props go out to Tatsuya Fujiwara who is trying to play our anti-hero, sociopathic mass murderer Light Yagami and achieves the glorious feat of being so incredibly bland, uncharismatic and so obviously not acting at all to make Keanu Reeves look like Harvey Keitel.
Other things that annoyed me: Even worse actors in the minor parts, no visual points of interest, sloppy looking CGI creatures, intellectual dishonesty concerning the moral aspects of the story, the usual superficial media criticism, no tension, no nothing.

Disclaimer: I like the original manga quite a bit.

Darlings of the Day: You gotta be kidding me
 

Friday, August 24, 2007

I confess

that my favorite Abel Ferrara picture is The Addiction, the one about the philosophical minded vampires who love discussing the nature of Evil (with a very capital E) and original sin even more than shooting up blood.
Ferrara's Catholicism makes this atheist writer more than a little uneasy, but I think I would like the movie far less if it would be just like me. It never made much sense to me to be only interested in art that tells me about my own life or sprouts my own thoughts back at me. Analyze this.
Anyway, I can't talk about The Addiction without mentioning Lily Taylor who probably is The Greatest Living Actress, a title she shares with Jennifer Jason Leigh. Here, she's acting in a hyper-naturalistic way, but projects a certain distance to her role at the same time.

I don't understand

How is it possible to make a movie about the adventures of a bunch of Japanese soldiers time-stranded in the era of Japanese civil war(s) starring Sonny Chiba so.Incredibly.Boring?

At least these will stay with me:

Darlings of the day:
"The steel horse is making noise."

"Kano, is killing people so cool?"

"All we know about time is that there are 24 hours in a day."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Norman J. Warren's Prey aka Alien Prey

Well that was weird.
A flesh eating alien scout, a murderously psychopathic lesbian and a sub bisexual meet in a cottage and play out a nearly indescribable variation on psychodramatic tropes. Watch sex of Jess Franco-like ickyness, aliens in drag, eaten animals and slow motion pseudo drowning. Ask yourself why. Cry, laugh and...Damn, I'm starting to sound like a Bleeding Skull review. So just watch it.

But don't forget the moral of the story: Humans are tasty.

I Vampiri (1956)

This is the place where genres begin. Although the mad-scientist-kidnaps-and-kills-women-to-rejuvenate-duchess-while-hunted-by-a-trench-coated-reporter-plot wasn't even new in 1956, the picture invents large parts of the visual style and form of the Italian Gothic and the Giallo. Even heavily erotic undertones and extremely loose plotting are to be found.
Which shouldn't come as too big a surprise if one considers the director Riccardo Freda and especially director of photography (if you believe some sources co-director) Mario Bava. But I was very much surprised how much this looks like a Bava film, lighting to camera movement to dream-like pacing.
Another point of interest is the strange juxtaposition of ultra-modern feeling 1956 and the gothic dream fantasy of the villain's castle and I can't help but see the film as proof of the siamese twin theory of Italian genre cinema; just before the operation.

No Darlings today, I watched in Italian without subtitles.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Drifting Classroom Volume 7

Probably the maddest, most hysterical manga one can find outside of Japan. With each new volume I'm asking myself how Umezu could possibly top the hysterical tone and insane plotting in the next one, and with each new volume I answer myself "easily".
This time in our school stranded on post-apocalyptic earth: Evil mutant mushrooms! Evil mutant mushroom mutated school kids! Children praying to the bust of our hero's mother! A secret mushroom eating school kid cult praying to a bust of the crawling eye! The crawling eye! Mob psychology! Drool! No sentence without exclamation mark! The best double page spread of the series! Even more exclamation marks!

So, who's gonna publish Umezu's other horror and SF manga? 

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Live and learn

Sleepy Eyes of Death 2: Sword of Adventure

Thanks to this nice little film I finally understand what made Kenji Misumi a near infallible director: It's the noodles!
Or, to be more exact, the fact that Misumi put as much thought, detail and visual style in scenes showing people eating noodles, walking, looking at each other as in the scenes of violence (in this case) or (in later films like his contributions to the beloved Lone Wolf & Cub series) ultra-violence.
Add to this an ability to make his inhumanly capable samurai human by the smallest of gestures and movements and you have my favorite chambara director.

Darling of the day:
" I laughed because I was just imagining how dirty the blood you'll soon be coughing out will be." (Our hero, nicest man alive)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Linkage

Here are links my only reader won't care a lot about *g*:

My favorite games journalists are starting a PC games blog. What's not to like?
http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/
(One of them, Kieron Gillen, also is the writer of the very great comic Phonogram, drawn by Jamie McKelvie)

And this is the best (/most stupid) conspiracy theory of at least the last hour:
http://www.prattle.net/archives/002253.html


Possibly (or not) coming attractions of the next month (or so): Wrestling Women vs. The Aztec Mummy! Elizabeth Bear: Genius or just very, very good!? Okkervil River drowns listeners in great music!

H.P. Lovecraft August 20, 1890 - March 15, 1937

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Cronos (1993)

There is an old saying in B-Moviestan that goes something like this: "The only antidote for a bad vampire movie is a very good vampire movie.". So, never one to doubt the wisdom of the elders, I just watched Guillermo del Toros debut film, which is a very good vampire movie, although so damn sad in the treatment of its themes, dying, love and growing old (instead of the usual vampiric stuff like sex, violent sex and dangerous sex), that my mood hasn't really improved.

I should probably start to watch stupid Hollywood comedies. If these things just weren't so damn depressing.

Another darling of the day:
"Christ walked on water. Just like a mosquito." (Yes, del Toro really likes his bugs)

The horror

The Breed (2001)

As must be obvious by now, I will watch anything. Sometimes this leads me to little pockets of intelligence and filmic grace like Perfect Creature. Other times to...atrocities like this.
There is no reason to give a plot synopsis, as The Breeds plot actually sounds kind of interesting in a original vampire movie sort of way, but believe me, it isn't.
What one inflicts on oneself when watching is a noxious mixture of stupid-trying-to-be-clever dialogue, absurdly shoddy production design and direction that does anything (except for using "Look how bad this is" placards) to demonstrate its own incompetence.
The acting is of course terrible, not even Bai Ling seems to be trying. And then, there are the fake accents...
It's just painful.



Darling of the day:

"Did you smell him?"
"The odor of burning flesh overpowered all else." 

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Wicked Priest

Tomisaburo Wakayama can speak for himself:
"Master superior, I'm a brawler. I love alcohol, women and gambling. I am a wicked monk."

And a terrible singer.

Cure

Kiyoshi Kurosawa is my favorite director with that surname. I love not only his horror films, but also his "artsier" stuff - or shall I say "even more artsy" stuff?
Cure is one of his horror movies: An amnesiac hypnotizes people so they commit motiveless murders. A cop with the a mentally ill wife hunts him.
As is his wont Kurosawa doesn't tell this simple story in a very straightforward manner. He instead opts for disturbingly symmetric framing, deliberate slowness, sometimes unintuitive cuts to dissolve all certainties. Even scenes that would in lesser hand (hello, Last Broadcast) be "reveals" of "twists" the viewer has seen coming for miles keep this feeling of uncertainty and ambiguity.
The only obvious thing is that Kurosawa is not out to scare us (although his films can be very scary indeed), but to disturb us and ask questions concerning the nature of loneliness, alienation and life in this century. I am not sure if he is trying to answer these questions. If he does, he doesn't communicate them very well, but (and please repeat this after me:) art (popular or not) is not about giving answers.

Wish of the day: Kurosawa doing a Lovecraft adaptation. 

Great

Tenchu!

What a great movie! The great Shintaro Katsu and the equally great Tatsuya Nakadai starring in the greatest of many great films by great director Hideo Gosha. Okay, I'm probably overusing a word here, but I really think this is the best chambara I have ever seen. It tells the story of the rise, betrayal and redemption of Okada Izo (Katsu!), a killer for Tosa clan, one of the "loyalist" factions of the late Tokugawa period.
The film is quite long, but so densely plotted and deftly paced that nobody could honestly complain about it.
The real revelation, though, is Katsu, at this point in his career worn-out and overweight looking - theoretically. In practice his portrayal of a man torn between his wishes and best intentions and the social structures and personal flaws he cannot escape is possibly the best showing in his career. He's (and, yes, I know, cliché) nearly tearing the screen apart with energy and tenseness and a fragility manly-man actors seldom dare to show.

The only thing this movie needs is a decent European DVD release, so one could watch this masterpiece in an appropriate way and not as a crappy looking VHS-copy. 

Darling of the day:

"Sorry, gotta go!" (Izo, after nearly killing an innocent he has mistaken for his victim.)



EDIT: Added darling.

Friday, August 17, 2007

In an Ornette Coleman style

Warren Ellis & Ben Templesmith: Fell Volume 1 - Feral City
(contains Fell #1-#8)

Some artists are doing their best work when they're constructing a set of formal strictures or rules for a given piece, not to lay down a new dogma, but to try out new ways of doing things.
My favorite example of this is Ornette Coleman, never afraid to try even the most absurd things (like recording with his twelve year old son as a drummer) and weird or great enough to develop his own musical system, Harmolodics. And, you know, that's how you get to be one of the great musicians alive.
Warren Ellis, too, seems to thrive on following strong formal concepts. Case in point is the first trade of his and artist Ben Templesmith's "slimline" book Fell. The formal rules: Every single contains 16 pages of story, each single is a self-contained story. Each page is based on a three times three grid.
The protagonist is Detective Richard Fell, transferred "over the bridge" to a "feral city" called Snowtown, where most social structures are in decline or already destroyed. Ellis uses his character and this place to tell slightly weird, tightly paced minimalist stories with dialog as good as he has ever written and a sense of rhythm one does not find too often in comics.
Just as good is Templesmith, avoiding to clutter the page with too many details, nonetheless always showing the telling details. Somewhere between his first outings and a million 40 Days of Night books, the artist seems to have solved the mystery of human expression and body languages without developing a "realistic" style. Nearly as great as Guy Smith.
So this is as good as comics get.

The Last Broadcast

Stupid, stupid twist ending!
Stupid, stupid, unsurprising twist ending!
Stupid, stupid, unsurprising stupid twist ending!

Where are the rat creatures when I need them?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Wave of Mutilation

Ah, "The Crippled Avengers" (1978). A masterpiece of gleeful mutilation by Chang Cheh, featuring the Venoms. It's the age old story of a man whose wife is killed and whose son is mutilated by his enemies, who in turn don't survive his wrath for more than three punches.
Well, so far we're only five minutes into the movie, more has to happen! So, man builds iron arms for his son, teaches him Kung Fu and together they become some of the pettiest small town tyrants the martial arts movie world has seen, merrily blinding, mutilating and mistreating people left and right, until four of their freshly handicapped victims learn Kung Fu themselves and take beautifully choreographed bloody vengeance on them.
Well, yes it is that kind of movie.


Darlings of the day:

"Don't be formal. Demonstrate it on my body, okay?"

"Your feet are really made of iron!?"

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Killer Clans

Probably one of Chu Yuans best movies, which automatically makes it one of the best Shaw Brothers film, which obviously makes it one of the greatest movies ever. It's as gorgeously artificial as every other of the director's films, full of beautiful sets, bavaesque lighting and yeah, lots of people killing each other.
The plot about backstabbing and intrigue in the martial world is not as convoluted as I've gotten used to in these movies, one could even call it focused.
What surprised me a little was the number of location shots: Luckily the intrusion of real trees and water doesn't diminish the visual strength of the piece.
The only thing I missed was an appearance of Ti Lung as melancholic and/or alcoholic and/or embittered swordsman. Well, one can't expect perfection.

Darlings of the day:
"Killers are like shooting stars. They appear in brilliance and vanish in no time. Besides, they have no name."

"Do you think this man is reliable?"
"This man waited for me in the canal for 15 years. Do you think he's reliable?"

"Loyalty's precious in life. Let's sacrifice the kids."

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Surprise

Warren Ellis can actually write insightful columns when he drops his Wild Man of the Interwebs act. One of the more enlightening (and short) introductions to Philip K. Dick and the state of mind in the 20th Century I've read in quite a while.

http://suicidegirls.com/news/culture/22087/

Yo-Yo Girl Cop

This movie should have everything going for it: the promise of yo-yo ultra violence, serviceable acting, school uniforms, Riki Takeuchi. Sadly, most of these (very important) things only grace the first and last part of the film in any way that matters. The rest is the plodding middle to end all plodding middles.
You see, the film thinks it has some very important things to say about teenage angst, teenage angst and teenage angst. But actually it hasn't. And so this ever optimistic viewer ended up with watching thirty very entertaining minutes and a full hour of boredom.
So it goes.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare

This is definitely the only movie about the war between an evil, children(sblood)lovin' spirit and a group of benign yokai you'll ever need to see. It's utterly charming and goofy as hell.
I mean, one of the yokai even has a TV belly!

Line of the day: "You suck, Buddah!"

Well

Now that I have this thing, I might as well use it. Or not...