07/19/2018

Review: Violence Voyager (Japan Cuts 2018)

by Matthew Hawkins

Time to look at JAPAN CUTS 2018‘s other animated feature, and much like Night is Short, Walk On Girl, it’s not your ordinary anime. In fact, Violence Voyager is so unique that Japan Society saw it fit to give the film its very own trailer…

Simply put, Violence Voyager is one part children’s book story, other part body horror tale. The film concerns Bobby, who despite his initial status as the cool kid in class, by virtue of being an American in Japan, is now low on the social totem pole. Perhaps due to becoming best buds with Akkun? Aside from being a nerd, he looks frankly weird. Like, he resembles an alien, that weird (spoilers: he’s not). But whatever, Bobby & Akkun have each other, all the other kids be damned, so that’s what really counts… though there’s actually a third boy, who resides in a faraway village.

When Akkun discovers a path in the woods, him & Bobby decide to pay the aforementioned Takaaki a visit, but are sidetracked by an amusement park, again in the middle of nowhere. The pair discover that the place has been single-handedly built by just one guy, the proprietor. Both Bobby and Akkun are impressed, as well curious (well, more so the former), so they end and… Surprise! The place is a trap; at first it’s fun & games, running around the park & shooting at cut outs of robot looking monsters with water guns, but when they discover Tokiko, a young girl who has been separated from her boyfriend and held prisoner for days, along with actual monster that shoot flesh melting acid, things go to hell real quick. Cuz it’s discovered that the park is used to snare kids, so the proprietor can subject them to a process that mutilates and transforms them into a mindless army of killing machines (i.e. the aforementioned robot looking monsters). At least there’s heartwarming reunion of sorts…

It’s worth noting that the kids are stripped naked, so if you were someone uncomfortable with the tiny bit of nudity in Ghibli flicks, then consider yourself warned. Violence Voyager tries its best to unsettle & disgust the viewer in a wide variety of ways, via disturbing subject matter, and is successful thanks to the non-traditional animation style; we see illustrations move around on screen in like paper dolls. Though imagine one that resembles a child that’s naked, covered in blood, and with one eye ball sucked out of its skull, now residing on the side of its malformed head (with its optic nerve stretched out to a crazy degree). The best part is the use of “practice effects”; when kids vomit, it’s real liquid we see flying. I LOVED Violence Voyager: it’s seriously one of the best films to come from Japan Cut, not just this year but ever IMHO.

Yet I fully realize that it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea… then again, Ramen Shop has been long sold out (trust me, you’re not missing anything; Violence Voyager is legit a thousand times more compelling & engaging, whereas Ramen Shop is a flat out bore)… why not see for yourself this Friday, July 20, at 11:30 PM?

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So what’s next? Oh, you know what’s next… it’s the 2018 edition of JAPAN CUTS! Hit that trailer…

And as I did with my NYAFF coverage, expect to see pairs of reviews over the next few (that’s the plan, at least). As for today, I’ll be looking at the festival’s two animated features…

Back in the day, when it was more commonly referred to as Japanimation, one of the main selling points of anime in America was “this ain’t cartoons for kids!” Aside from referencing the fact that most cartoons in the US at the time were aimed at kids (on a mainstream level to be clear), they were also seemingly indistinguishable. Largely because, again, they were mostly for children; never mind how a considerable bulk of anime itself looks fairly similar back then. And that’s still the case today. I say this has a HUGE fan of anime, but let’s be honest here: much of it is indistinguishable from each other. Also, while much of it may not be appropriate for children (and proudly so), that doesn’t mean it ain’t juvenile either. Yet such homogeneity is completely understandable; anime comes from a relatively small country with not exactly the most diverse culture, plus it’s a cottage industry. Anime is a product. Hence why Night is Short, Walk On Girl is such a welcome splash of cold water, by defying what’s possible or at least what we’ve come to expect.

Though as one might have guessed, the film takes place over the course of a single evening and follows an unnamed individual that’s only referred to as “The Girl with Black Hair“, a wide-eyed & warm-hearted college student who kicks her evening off by sneaking out of a social gathering, to check out the town’s night life by bar hopping. Cuz this girl… boy oh boy… can she drink. One of the very first that she shares is with some dude; he treats “The Girl” cuz she reminds him of his daughter. Yet he still tries to grab her tits. Cuz the guy’s a perv, obviously, yet not just personally but professionally as well: the bills are paid by dealing erotic art. Something he’s embarrassed by, enough to stop him from showing up to his aforementioned daughter’s wedding party, hence why he was found drinking his sorrows away. Turns out, the bridal celebration is also what “The Girl” had snuck out of! Which happens a lot in this film; around every corner, she runs into one wacky character after another, all of whom are connected in some manner. Not long, she’s in a drinking contest with some rich old guy… then she’s at some night time book fair… then she finds herself on stage as the latest lead in some guerrilla theater troupe… and so forth.

Night is Short, Walk On Girl‘s ultra-freewheeling atmosphere, which often times reaches hallucinatory levels, is largely accomplished due to its playful animation style, and as somewhat hinted at the top, is a serious breath of fresh air. I honestly have no idea what the scale of its production was, but it feels like a small budget film that got its money’s worth, thanks to animators and the like, who simply had tons of fun. Also again, it’s not a kids movie, but that’s not to say that it’s no appropriate for children; a certain portion will go over their heads, but it’s like cool adults talking. The film also is heavily stepped n Japanese traditions, so even adults who are gaijin might be confused. Alas, the night is long on various levels; despite only being an hour and a half, the end needlessly drags on a bit, by hitting the viewer on the head with THE MESSAGE way too much. For better or worse, Night is Short, Walk On Girl does at this point succumbs to certain tropes (not inherent to just anime but all Japaneses live action media as well) and ends up resembling at least one other anime that many are already familiar with, specifically the last two televised episodes of the original Neon Genesis Evangelion. Still, it’s highly recommended! Unfortunately, Japan Society’s sole screening is sold out, but it’s getting a wider release next month, courtesy of GKIDS.

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07/03/2018

Review: Paradox (NYAFF 2018)

by Matthew Hawkins

For a certain set of individuals… specifically hardcore Hong Kong cinephiles… all that needs to be said is that Paradox also goes by Sha po lang 3 (aka Kill Zone 3). But then again, those same folk have probably seen the movie already, given that it came out last year. So for everyone else… yes, it’s the third installment of what could be considered officially a franchise, one that sprung from a film that basically helped to rescue HK’s cinema scene from the brink of oblivion. Though there’s basically zero connection to the original, aside from the return of director Wilson Yip, plus Sammo Hung is as the fight choreographer, credited this time.

Alas no Donnie Yen this time, but the star instead is Louis Koo, and more or less everyone agrees that it’s one of his finest performances in recent memory; Koo assumes the role of Lee, a HK detective whose daughter runs away from home. Basically, he didn’t approve of his little girl’s choice of a husband to be. So much so that dad had the guy arrested. Plus he forced his daughter to get an abortion. Hence why she escapes to Thailand to hang with a friend, but ends up missing, so Lee heads on over to assist with the investigation that’s already in progress. One spearheaded by Chui, a fellow Chinese detective on the local police, played by Wu Yue, plus Chui’s partner Tak, who’s a Thai native and played by Tony Jaa. I initially assumed that Tak was in Sha po lang 2, which I never saw, but Wikipedia informed that this wasn’t the case. Though it’s a safe bet that Jaa was as god damn charming in that movie as he is in this one.

As it turns out, there’s also this politician with a bad heart, so the slimy assistant played by the always awesome Gordon Lam reaches out to an illegal organ harvester, who produces vitals from kidnapped victims… I think you know where this is going. The most important thing is this: the fight scenes, predictably, are AMAZING. I mean, it’s Sammo Hung calling the shots, what else would one expect? Yet also seeing Jaa pulling them off… it’s pure magic. The production values are also ultra-slick, as one would expect from any big budget HK production with the aforementioned big names involved. In the end, Paradox is… mostly okay. I mean, it’s no Sha po lang 1, but that movie was the right place at the right time. Which is not to say Sha po lang 3 is bad, just missing that little extra (to be more precise: Jaa is severely underutilized). Nonetheless, it’s a fine way to spend your 4th of July, especially since the AC at Walter Reade Theater is quite superb; the film plays at 7:45pm btw.

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