Archive for all posts in 2004


Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia sticks in my mind the way few movies do, if only because it is so sad and single-minded. I saw it years ago, in a rather butchered version on late-night TV,...

Yojimbo

When they ask him what his name is, he’s not even sure at first. It’s been so long since it mattered, he’s simply forgotten. He glances out the open window, sees a mulberry field undulating in the wind, and says,...

The Sea Is Watching

I’ve written elsewhere that one of the hallmarks of a truly great filmmaker is that even his “worst” movies are better than most people’s best efforts. This is especially true of Akira Kurosawa; there isn’t a movie of his that...

Hiruko The Goblin

Almost any director of note has one Contractual Obligation movie, a film which they did so that they could go and do better things. In Shinya (Tetsuo) Tsukamoto’s case, his Contractual Obligation project was a film he did right after...

The Nest (Nid de guêpes)

The first half or so of Nid de guêpes has maybe twenty lines of dialogue, total, but that’s only because the movie does such a good job of showing its story that talking about it would be redundant. The remainder...

When the Last Sword is Drawn (Mibu Gishi Den)

When the Last Sword is Drawn tells a worthy story that is more than capable of holding our attention, but tells it at such length that its final third borders on redundancy. The first two-thirds of the film are excellent,...

Gozu

Gozu is a movie where a man receives a dream visit from a monster with a human body and the head of a cow, and that’s one of the less bizarre things that happens to him. It would be tempting...

Casshern

Casshern is one of a very small category of movies I call “experimental epics,” where a groundbreaking look-and-feel is combined with an engaging story to produce something totally new: part science fiction, part retro-futurism, part mystic fantasy and part family...

Geroppa! (Get Up!)

I always get a chuckle out of how the Japanese form such fanatical affinities for American pop culture (and vice versa), and “Geroppa! [Get Up!]” is like a comedic love letter to such sentiments. It’s a goofy screwball comedy about...

Alien³

The third of the Alien films was a murdered movie—abandoned by its director, David Fincher, cut to shreds by its studio and savaged by both critics and audiences—but it was, sadly, never that good to begin with. For years people...

Onmyōji II

“Without demons,” the sorcerer Abe-no-Seimei says at one point in Onmyōji II, “human life would be pretty dull, wouldn’t it?” That’s easy for him to say—he’s the one who can summon, banish, invoke, curse, bless and enchant just about anything...

Alive

Ryuhei (Versus, Azumi) Kitamura’s Alive begins with a premise so intriguing and unexpected that I’m loathe to talk about it openly in a review. It is one of the most well-thought-out and -executed SF movies I’ve seen that doesn’t depend...

Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural

I’ve used the term “fairytale for grownups” before when referring to some movies, although this is I think the first time I’ll be using it in reference to a live-action film. Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural, despite the...

Young Thugs: Nostalgia

Takashi Miike has made more than thirty movies in every conceivable genre—science fiction, fantasy, slapstick comedy, gross-out horror, surrealism, cold-blooded gangster violence, and intermixings of all and any of the above. With Young Thugs: Nostalgia, he’s dived back into his...

Dead Leaves

The term “over-the-top” will not suffice for something like Dead Leaves: it’s more of a fall-off-a-cliff-and-no-bottom-to-hit. It is not so much a form of entertainment as it is an attack on the senses, where the barest germ of a story...

Living Hell

The slugline for Living Hell is “A Japanese Chainsaw Massacre”, and it’s easy to draw parallels between the two films. Both were shot on extremely tiny budgets with relatively unknown actors, both involve deranged, bloodthirsty families, and both are pretty...

We're Going to Eat You

Comedy’s hard enough, and mixing comedy with horror is even harder. Leave it to Tsui Hark, one of Hong Kong’s best directors for decades, to combine the two effectively and even enjoyably in We’re Going to Eat You. This was...

The Punisher

The Punisher was one of the most atypical of the featured characters in the Marvel Comics stable, and for that reason all the more interesting. He didn’t have super-powers, and he didn’t have a lofty ethical code, either; he was...

The Black Cauldron

The Black Cauldron was Disney’s “lost” movie of the Eighties, a groundbreaking release but also a deeply troubled one. It was the first animated Disney production with no song score (a profound break from tradition that was not to be...

Junkers Come Here

Hiromi’s family life would be enough to stress out any teenager. Her mother and father are so estranged from each other they barely know how to say hello; her housemaid is closer to her than either of her parents; she’s...

Junk

After seeing a Hong Kong take on Italian horror (We’re Going to Eat You), I decided to check out a Japanese version of the same. Japan has produced explicit homages to Italian horror before, like the good-to-excellent Evil Dead Trap,...

A Snake of June

If eroticism resides most in the mind or spirit rather than the body, then A Snake of June may well be the most erotic film ever made. Like all the best movies of its kind, it is not about sex...

Azumi

The more I watched Azumi, the less I wanted from it. Yes, this is the sort of movie where excess and overkill are the name of the game, but if they had pared it down, they might have found a...

Party 7

The first half hour or so of Party 7 is so funny I had a hard time seeing how the laughs could hold up for the entire movie’s 107-minute running time—and, big surprise, they don’t. This is like a...

Shogun's Samurai: The Yagyū Clan Conspiracy

There’s two ways to look at Shogun’s Samurai: it’s either a clever reinvention of history for the sake of drama, or a shameless excursion into total fantasy. The fact that most Western audiences won’t know the way history’s being so...

Ley Lines

The third of Miike’s “Black Society” trilogy of films about the foreign criminal underworld in Japan is called Ley Lines, and it’s one of those titles that doesn’t make sense until you’re well into the film. Ley lines are divisions...

At kende sandheden (Facing The Truth)

The boy has suffered a stroke, leaving one entire side of his body paralyzed. Dr. Malmros (Jens Albinus) is one of the best men in the whole of neurosurgery, and his exceptionally steady hands make him a prime candidate to...

Witch Hunter Robin

Witch Hunter Robin is the kind of show I always feel the most ambivalent about: one which has the seeds of greatness in it, but seems arbitrarily hidebound by its style and approach. For a good deal of its running...

The Apple

The Seventies stunk.There, I’ve said it. I hated the Seventies. Anglo afros, ugly interior design, gas rationing and herpes—you couldn’t pay me to feel nostalgia for the decade of my birth. Feel free to call it a case of sour...

Better Luck Tomorrow

The problem with stereotypes is that a “good” stereotype is just as dangerous and misleading as a “bad” one. Back in my high school, it was a hoary cliché that the Asian-American kids were the studious, quiet and polite ones...

Ninja Scroll: The Series

Sometimes the spinoff is better than the original. It happened with Alien Nation, a mediocre movie that turned into a very good TV series. The same thing happened with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a rather minor-league comedy that was turned...

Angel's Egg (Tenshi no Tamago)

Talking about a movie like Angel’s Egg is bound to be frustrating, because my first impulse is just to recommend it unhesitatingly to anyone with the slightest interest in animation as art. Like Koyaanisqatsi or 2001, it doesn’t lend itself...

Makai Tenshō (Samurai Reincarnation) (1981)

Among Japan’s most prolific authors of samurai-fantasy and lady-ninja adventure stories was a fellow named Futaro Yamada, and his Samurai Reincarnation (also known as Darkside Reborn) was a wildly successful retelling of various samurai legends all spun into one with...

Haibane Renmei

Some stories are about small, simple questions: Will the guy get the girl, defeat the bad guys, and live happily ever after? There’s nothing wrong with that, as many of the best movies are precisely that simple. Then there are...

Armed Audio Warfare (Meat Beat Manifesto)

When a band does a closet-cleaning album, it’s often just not that interesting a closet—so it says something that Meat Beat Manifesto were able to assemble an album of outtakes and closet-cleanings that’s more cohesive than most actual albums by...

Blue Spring

His name is Kujo (Ryuhei Matsuda), and he looks far too delicate and handsome to be a Japanese high-school gang leader, but I think that's the idea. Kujo and the rest of his buddies do things like dangle themselves backwards...

Oldboy

The drunken man is chained to the wall of the police station, waving a picture of his wife and child, donning the goofy angel wings he bought for his little girl as a birthday gift. His name is Dae-su Oh,...

Battle Royale II: Requiem

The original Battle Royale was one of the most audacious movies I’d ever seen; it used pulp-movie violence as a way of making uncomfortable points about the way society preys on its own. It was in a class by itself,...

Natural City

The reviews for Natural City describe it variously as an homage to, a rip-off of, and a sequel of sorts to Blade Runner. Of the three, I’d select somewhere between homage and rip-off. Natural City’s debt to one of the...

Throw Away Your Books, Let's Go Out into the Streets

Throw Away Your Books, Let’s Go Out Into the Streets is unquestionably a product of the late Sixties and early Seventies, when rebellion ruled the artistic roost and everything from “anti-theater” to “un-universities” were in vogue. In the same way,...

Battle Royale

When a number of Hollywood studios tried to license Battle Royale for distribution in the States, they were all rejected. Maybe it was for their own good: This is easily the most violent and disturbing “mainstream” movie made in any...

Yesterday

Here we have one of the most uncompelling movies in recent memory, wrapped up in a visual style that's needlessly confusing and weighted down with performances that have all the flavor of a loaf of unbaked bread. Yesterday is not...

Tokyo Godfathers

Tokyo. Christmastime. Dozens of homeless line up for a pageant, a sermon, and a free meal. Hearing the priest gabble on about the plight of the homeless, they groan and roll their eyes. Words don’t fill an empty stomach; they...

Dogura Magura

If someone like me, a fairly seasoned veteran of moviegoing and -reviewing, can’t make head or tail of Dogura Magura, what does that bode for everyone else? I ask this question not because I’m hostile to difficult movies; in fact,...

The Pornographers

The Pornographers is not so much about porn or sex as it is about frustration, and what better way to talk about frustration than through sex, or the lack thereof? It takes place in post-WWII Japan, where pornography is illegal,...

Funeral Procession of Roses (Bara no Soretsu)

There’s no question that awareness of truly great movies from Japan and the rest of Asia has exploded in the past few years, but there are more than a few directors and films who remain almost totally undiscovered in the...

Zatōichi

Takeshi Kitano’s Zatōichi is not only one of the best movies Kitano has made so far, it’s a distillation of everything he’s ever put into his movies. In his time Kitano has moved through grim, nihilistic police-and-yakuza dramas (Violent Cop,...

Ong-Bak

There is a scene in Ong-Bak where the hero, Ting, kicks a bad guy out of a second-story plate-glass window, then jumps out after him and delivers several pummeling blows to the guy's chest while still in free-fall. At another...

Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis

Taking cues from, but not imitating, the classic Fritz Lang movie of the same name, Metropolis has the ambition and the scope of the last great animated Japanese epic, Princess Mononoke. Metropolis isn't as profound or thoughtful as that movie,...

Chihwaseon

Traditional movies about artists follow a fairly well-defined path: The artist is a tortured outsider, irascible, often unlikeable, but redeems himself through his work. An exceptional movie about an artist, though, will find another level of insight. To wit: Amadeus...

Alien

A man said to the universe,"Sir, I exist!""However," replied the universe,"That has not filled me withA sense of obligation."-- Stephen CraneThat sense of cosmic contempt is what makes Alien tick. The universe is not simply indifferent to life but outright...

Dune (1984)

Here's a dichotomy for you: As entertainment, or an adaptation of a novel, or anything vaguely resembling a watchable movie, Dune just plain sucks -- but as some kind of freaky '70s-throwback movie-art head-trip experience, it's only paralleled even moderately...

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