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All reviews - DVDs (5)

The Happiness Of The Katakuris review

Posted : 11 years, 6 months ago on 14 January 2007 03:42 (A review of The Happiness Of The Katakuris )

It is a sad fact that many people who love Takashi Miike films love the director not for his unique insight, his playful narratives, his genre busting, or his quirky sense of humour but for the visceral stomp that Miike has shown himself to be more than capable of providing.

I say this is a sad fact as in many ways one of the finest talents to have emerged from Japan is often times viewed as car crash movie making. His films seen as macabre theatres of blood, gore and general grossness. This is a real shame, as there are very few Miike films that don’t have something to say beyond the blood, semen and eviscerated guts.

The Happiness of the Katakuris in many ways has been his best received film over in Europe. Picking up plaudits that his other films missed out on due to their grotesque nature. It is easy to see why this film got so much attention. When you watch an average Miike film it is like watching a hyperactive David Lynch movie, when he is on form he is transcendental.

Happiness of the Katakuris is actually a remake of a fairly recent Korean film. The original was a dour, painfully unfunny satire about a family who set up a remote guesthouse and find that none of their guest’s can last the night. Faced with a growing number of corpses the family begin burying them out in the surrounding wasteland.

Happiness of the Katakuris follows this same basic story structure but charges the rather dull narrative with flashes of intense brilliance. While that may sound hyperbolic there is no denying that a film which starts with a little vignette about a goblin emerging from a bowl of soup, ripping out a girl’s tonsils, flying off and getting eaten by a crow which itself is mutilated by a steel clawed bear is playing by a whole new rule book.

There is no denying the absurdist charm of the movie especially when faced with characters like Richard Sagawa, played by controversial punk rocker Kiyoshiro Imawano, a half-British half-Japanese member of the US Air Force (no make that the Royal Navy) who is the secret lovechild of Queen Elizabeth’s younger half sister and whom regularly flies missions over Iraq. Sagawa is the main romantic interest for Shizoue Katakuri and in his limited screen time he directs a grand love song, flies into the air, gets poisoned, hit over the head, dropped off a cliff and much more.

The film is just jam packed with a cheeky exuberance which makes it both hard to take seriously and also unforgettable. The cast of characters is perfect from the determined husband and wife duo who lead the house, to the crotchety old granddad who steals every scene and musical number he appears in. Add to that a menageries of guests that include a singing suicide victim, a peppy schoolgirl and her gigantic sumo boyfriend, and a family who seem doomed from the moment they enter and it is almost impossible to get bored throughout the proceedings.

In the end Happiness of the Katakuris despite all the death, deceit, premature burials and zombie dance numbers is actually a really bright positive movie. It really is the feel good movie that Miike was hired to direct, just done in his own style.

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The Great Yokai War: DTS review

Posted : 11 years, 6 months ago on 14 January 2007 03:41 (A review of The Great Yokai War: DTS)

Also known as the Big Spook War. The Great Yokai War is Miike’s attempt at a family film and damn fine job he does as well. The problem is that I can’t imagine many parents wanting to subject their children to this movie. The best kids movies are the ones that are scary or have mildly disturbing imagery, Neverending Story and Return to Oz spring to mind, but in the case of the Great Yokai War Miike probably takes things a little too far. In fact at the screening I was at the person introducing the movie reiterated to the two families there that it was probably not very suitable.

The film kicks off with the young hero of the piece introducing himself and explaining about his current family problems. This brief moment of mundanity is sharply broken as a cow gives birth to a calf with the face of a human whom screams that something horrendous is coming before falling dead like the abomination it is (it is quite possible that the sheer hideousness of the creature is some bizarre Quato homage).

Following an incredible introduction for main baddie Kato, and his henchwoman Agi (a surprisingly attractive Chiaki Kuriyami), by way of an apocalyptic army raising. The story reverts to normal for a while, but it doesn’t take long before any and all logic goes down the drain and the young boy teams up with a group of Miyazaki rejects to take out the evil sorcerer.

The plot of the movie is fairly basic and surprisingly hackneyed at times, the entire chosen one just seems completely out of place in a movie which so regularly breaks clichés, but is aided by a simple awe inspiring vision of a magical world. This really is a Miyazaki movie made into a live action movie, albeit a much seedier and more vicious than usual Miyazaki movie.

The film is simply a joy to look at the designs of the Yokai is colourful, and largely practical, while the evil robotic monstrosities while not displaying the best CGI in the world have a practicality and menace to them which gives them far more of a palpable threat than you would imagine.

The cast is uniformly excellent, they just make their characters seem perfectly natural which is commendable when you consider that most of them are in full body makeup or latex suits. Even Agi lumbered with a ridiculous beehive comes across as sultry and deadly thanks to surprisingly excellent acting from Kuriyami.

While the film does have many elements which put it firmly into family movie territory; cute creatures, junior heroes, a thoroughly evil villain, a sense of mischief and adventure, and a telling lack of violence. There are elements which make you question whether Miike should have directed such a movie.

The robot army is a genuinely terrifying menace everyday items warped into monstrous beasts that look like T-101 sans skin and with added chainsaws. These beasts rip characters to pieces; suck creatures into their blood stained mouths, and abduct children from their homes by swiping them right from under their parent’s nose before indulging in a little patricide.

The creation of the creature is equally arduous for young minds. The Yokai, essentially the heroes, are feed into a giant furnace full of a liquidised form of hate which corrodes the Yokai’s flesh and forces their angry souls to possess lumps of metal. If kids thought smouldering Anakin was bad wait til they see a man sized hedgehog burning to death in a vat of molten hatred for a minute before being turned into an abomination of a motorcycle. There is also limb severing, in one case a severed hand twitches in front of the camera dripping with blood, a fair amount of sexual energy (Agi wears one dress designed specifically for fan service and seems to only have sleeping with Kato as motivation, while the Princess of the Rivers wears next to nothing and gets her thighs groped by the young hero in several scenes), and general humour which will go right over the heads of the audience that this technicolour wonder was seemingly designed for.

At the end of the day The Great Yokai War is easily on of Miike’s stronger recent films. While it lacks some of the perverse charm of say Gozu or Ichi it is just continually pushing the audience down a road of general insanity. In fact this is easily Miike’s most deranged movie in that he embraces the sheer magic of the subject so wholeheartedly.

Well worth a watch just for the occasional flash of Gogo arse.

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Tokyo Drifter review

Posted : 11 years, 6 months ago on 14 January 2007 03:40 (A review of Tokyo Drifter)

Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter is one of those movies which is all about the experience. A stunningly shot, vibrantly designed gangster movie which like Goddard’s ‘À bout de soufflé’ perfectly reflect the revolution that was occurring in cinema at the time. In fact in many ways Tokyo Drifter epitomises the cool that is often associated with the French New Wave.

Tetsu and his boss Kurata are ex-gangsters looking to put their life of crime behind them and go straight. When a rival gang, not convinced of their intentions, sabotages Kurata’s loan Tetsu is drawn back into the underworld. Following a bloody confrontation Tetsu finds himself fleeing from Tokyo for his life.

Tetsu, an ice cool hitman in a pastel blue suit, isn’t your typical amoral gangster. He follows a samurai’s code of honour and has undying loyalty to Kurata even when offered an incredible position within the rival gang. He is just the personification of cool unflinching and determined to carry out whatever task he is handed.

The film is simply a joy to look at with Suzuki’s eye for visual design proving to be consistently astonishing. While the film open’s in grainy black and white, with a scene where Tetsu gets roughed up, it soon develops into a pastel coloured flurry of wild and vivid set design.

Everything bursts with life and vitality from the crisp red of the baddies suit, to the purple glow of the nightclubs and luscious whites of the snow-capped mountains where Tetsu makes his retreat.

It’s a shame then that with all of these wonderful design elements that the story at best fails to engage and at worst is outright boring. The main problem lies in the fact that not many of the scenes connect very well and it soon starts to feel like a series of set pieces which all form together to create one basic narrative. While the individual scenes are engaging enough and the concepts throughout the movie varied and interesting the overall package doesn’t gel together as well as Suzuki’s later masterpiece Branded to Kill.

That’s not to say the film is terrible, in fact it has some moments that are pure cinematic moments and some truly inventive ideas. The assault on the snowy yakuza headquarters in the 2nd act of the film is a truly wonderful piece of action and the final confrontation is a moment of pure celluloid magic.

It comes down to the fact that this film is very much style over substance. What is interesting is that while Branded to Kill inspired a large amount of western directors, look at Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai for evidence, Tokyo Drifter seems to have resonated far more with Japanese directors.

Certainly Takashi Miike fuses the sheer abusive violence of Kinji Fukasaku with the more surrealistic elements of Suzuki; Tetsu constantly whistling his own theme tune is a device that perfectly demonstrates the internal logic of Tokyo Drifter. Beat Takeshi also seems to have taken composition and plotting elements from Suzuki, in fact Tetsu can be seen as beta version of the characters that will appear in films such as Hana-Bi.

What Suzuki ultimately accomplishes is a film which while uneven has moments of pure genius and which has tangible influences even today.

I would recommend this as a curio for people interested in seeing where contemporary Japanese directors got their inspiration. For anyone wanting a film which is pure entertainment then Suzuki’s Branded to Kill, a film which eventually ended his studio career, is a far safer bet.

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One Armed Boxer 2 [1975] review

Posted : 11 years, 6 months ago on 14 January 2007 03:39 (A review of One Armed Boxer 2 [1975])

There is something refreshingly awesome about a film that starts with a blind monk practicing kung fu, decapitating chickens, and exploding his house after receiving a brail message, by carrier, informing him of his student’s death.

Such is the start of Jimmy Wang Yu’s One Armed Boxer vs. The Master of the Flying Guillotine. A sequel to the largely forgettable 1971 movie ‘One Armed Boxer’ this 1975 film is probably the best film that Wang Yu would make even surpassing 1976’s One Armed Swordsman in terms of sheer ingenuity and style.

Set in a time of political turmoil an imperial decree has created a sect of rebel hunters who use a peculiar weapon which is essentially a hat on a leash with teeth. This unique weapon when thrown lands around the victims head and cuts it off at the neck.

The blind monk, Fu Sing Wu Chi, introduced at the start is one such rebel hunter and is out to avenge his fallen students who died at the hand of famed one armed boxer Yu Tieh-lun. Unfortunately for the armless populace the monk doesn’t have a name and as such is inclined to kill anyone missing an arm.

Such a simple framework would undoubtedly be enough for a solid Kung Fu movie, but it’s only through the introduction of a second element that the film manages to make even the most violence obsessed a little bit kung fu fatigued.

Amidst all of the decapitations a martial arts tournament is taking place which pretty much dominates the 2nd act of the movie and is essentially eight or so fights with little or no gap between them. As well as showcasing a plethora of martial arts styles and weapons, including some pretty nice Naginata work and monkey kung fu, it sets up the fodder for later on in the movie.

Amongst the entrants are a Thai knife fighter, an Indian fakir who can extend his arms, and a Japanese karate expert with the name ‘Wins Without A Knife’ who uses tonfa batons and rather bizarrely a knife.

These characters serve as ‘sub-bosses’ in the movie, forcing the one armed boxer to ply his trade while withholding the confrontation between him and the monk to the last act.

Jimmy Wang Yu not only directs but stars as The One Armed Boxer and in my view he is probably the one weak link in the movie. His prowess as a martial artist is visibly lacking and despite some nice techniques and some great editing it is very apparent that his lack of skill, in comparison to the rest of the crew, is being worked around.

The real star of the film is of course the Monk played with chilling ruthlessness by Kang Kam. The monk is essentially the kung fu variant of the terminator, unstoppable in his quest and unbeatable with his guillotine.

However despite Wang Yu’s fighting chops his invention is top notch as is his direction. The major fights are not your typical kinds of fight, again probably to accommodate his less than graceful movements, and are largely about invention than lightning quick moves. Key examples are a fight in what is essentially a room sized oven and the final battle in a coffin shop complete with spring loaded hatchets.

His talents as a director are far more impressive and even on horrible versions of the movie you can still see his flair for set design and iconic imagery. Special mention must be made to the music, in particular the monk’s theme which is both iconic and wonderfully fitting.

I’d call this film a guilty pleasure, but I think it transcends that to be honest. The film is really well made, the fights are fun to watch, and the characterisation warrants at least a little respect.

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The Wicker Man - Special Edition Director's Cut [1973] review

Posted : 11 years, 6 months ago on 12 January 2007 07:48 (A review of The Wicker Man - Special Edition Director's Cut [1973] )

When Sergeant Howie, a mainland police officer, receives a letter detailing the disappearance of a young girl on the isolated Scottish island of Summerisle he launches an investigation to find young Rowan by himself. However upon arrival the righteous police officer finds himself dealing with obstructive locals and practices which shake his Christian core.

Made in the winter of 1973 The Wicker Man still stands as one of the finest British films ever made. Mixing a stunning script and tight plot by Anthony Shaffer, stunning direction by Robin Hardy and two central performances which have yet to be topped by either Edward Woodward (Sgt. Howie) or Christopher Lee (Lord Summerisle), it is an ingenious and peculiarly British film.

What is the central crux of the film is Howie’s rigid clash with the pagan ways of the islanders. From the moment he arrives on the Ireland Howie views himself as a bastion of moral and ethical superiority, his religious convictions putting him squarely at odds with the locals who flaunt their old ways with reckless abandon.

Howie finds himself in a world of pagan song and dance from which he is completely isolated. Saving himself for marriage he encounters a community who use sexuality as their way of worship, girls jump naked over fires, the maypole is declared a sign of fertility, boys are ritually matured, couples engage in romps below the stars, and the denizens of the pub break into rapturous verse about the Landlord’s daughter, Willow (a truly stunning performance by Britt Ekland).

Taking its practices from St James George Frazer’s ‘The Golden Bough’ and incorporating the works of Robert Burns into its 13 songs the Wicker Man is a wondrously energetic and spirited glimpse at a neo-pagan community left to its own devices. Created by Lord Summerisle’s grandfather as part of an experiment in artificial crop production the practices of the island were assimilated from the very real mythology of ancient Britain, albeit a hodge podge of different customs.

However despite the initial frivolity it soon becomes clear that Howie has landed himself in a trap of epic proportions, a fatal game devised by Lord Summerisle and played by the entire island leading Howie, seemingly by his own freewill, to his brutal appointment with the Wicker Man.

The Wicker Man is a masterful horror movie largely because it mixes a general sense of unease with a vibrancy and playfulness that lures the viewer into a false sense of security. Sgt. Howie is not much of a sympathetic character and his reactionary response to the pagan practices does little to endear him to the audience. Standing against the rigid, pious and narrow minded police officer is an ensemble of characters that seem to bear the officer no ill will on the surface.

That the conclusion, despite being the only natural end to the story, is tragic and upsetting is down to Woodward’s performance who gives Howie an innocence that offsets his less than friendly reaction to the islanders. For all the possible accusations of anti-Christianity levelled against the film the last minutes, when Howie accepts his fate it can be seen as a powerful depiction of Christian martyrdom.

If I have not mentioned the finale in any great detail it is because I wish not to surprise the sheer cataclysmic horror of the initial reveal and subsequent end.

The Wicker Man is a movie that has been with me for 10 years now and despite the horror elements it is a film that I find to be constantly uplifting and enrapturing. Aided by a wondrous folk score, provided by Paul Giovanni, and beautiful location shooting it is by far one of my all time favourite movies.

It is a great crime that the original negatives of the film have been lost, seemingly forever, but as it stands this is one of the great British movies and without a doubt the pinnacle of Christopher Lee’s career.

This film is an iconic masterpiece which should be essentially viewing for any person interested in movies.

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