12/12/2012

Farewell Dracula, Farewell Youth

by Matthew Hawkins

There are numerous highlights from the past couple of days. Four in particular stands out:

#1

Here’s what Hilary had to say when I told her that I just received a hug from guy who directed Hausu

Indeed (also, guess it’s about time I changed my iPhone’s animu wallpaper). But I’m getting a head of myself; last weekend saw Nobuhiko Obayashi in New York City.

The MoMA is doing a massive look at Japanese underground cinema, with a focus on the Art Theater Guild. And to kick things off, not only did they screen some selected works of Obayashi, but they also flew the guy in to help introduce and discuss them.

For the most part it was mostly his short films that were shown, his earliest and most experimental. Of the four screenings, I managed to catch three (unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make the one on Friday night, due to “Early Winter Dude Night”, as organized by Dave).

Dadanko, Mokuyoubi, and Nakasendo are all 8mm shorts that, admittedly, are also as art school as they come. Though given how they were Obayashi’s very first attempts at filmmaking (Dadanko was actually Obayashi’s first movie period, when he was just 25 years old), it’s to be expected. And even by that standard, they were all more than decent.

Plus, he described them as “private films”, movies that Obayashi only made for himself and his close pals. Whereas Tabeta Hito, Complexe, and Emotion were all shot on 16mm and, aside from exhibiting Obayashi’s growing maturity and confidence with the medium of film, were also intended for more than just his chums. Which is why they were also far more watchable.

Tabeta Hito (aka An Eater), is about a waitress who is overwhelmed by all the patrons stuffing their faces and is thusly dissected by the head chef; her guts are removed and served to the aforementioned customers, plus a man’s face shows up in her stomach. Which is then baked and served as part of the menu. Wacky stuff.

Complexe, can be best described as an experimental art house flick that also pokes fun at the genre. It contains plenty of stop motion hijinks, cute Japanese girls, and messing with kids. It’s also the first example of his work to embody the same spirt of playfulness that would later be filled to the brim in Hausu.

Plus, it’s at this point that Obayashi had found the right group of friends to help fully realize his vision, who were also forging new territory in the world of independent Japanese cinema themselves. Together they all contributed to the rise of Art Theater Guild; by the 60s, all the major Japanese film studios began to hit the skids, which contributed towards an increased interest in European art house flicks. ATG started out as a distributor of such fare.

They even ran a theater, in the heart of the Shinjuku. Not only did it show movies, but held avant-garde stage productions as well. Eventually, ATG began producing homegrown flicks, which they did for nearly 20 years (including two of Obayashi’s feature length films).

In addition to the ATG theatre, Emotion, was also shown in every film school across Japan. I believe that’s still the case today; it’s that big of a deal. The short represents a major breakthrough for Obayashi, plus it’s a great example of how Japanese girls that are heavy into the London scene circa scene are much cuter and hotter than ones decked out in sailor outfits you see everyday today and that most dudes jack off to.

Emotion is Roger Vadim’s Et Mourir de Plaisir (aka Blood and Roses) and represents Obayashi’s attempt at making a vampire movie. Why? “Because all the great movie makers all make Dracula movies, and I wanted to copy them” he explained in the Q&A afterward.

Like all of his earliest works, Emotion is super difficult to accurately describe. Thankfully, I managed to track down a not so bad copy and have uploaded it onto YouTube. Unfortunately the Japanese narration is not subtitled, but it should be easy enough to follow along regardless. As for the plot, it’s pretty simple: Emi is a bored country girl who comes to the city and meets Sari, a super cool city girl. They become best friends, but when Emi meets Sari’s man of her dreams, the dude instead falls for Emi. Oh, and he’s also a vampire…

The two aforementioned feature-length Obayashi flicks that ATG produced was also shown. I was only able to catch one, though what bums me out the most is how Tenkosei (also know as Transfer Student, Exchange Students, and I Are You, You Am Me), is such a hard movie to track down, because it was absolutely amazing.

The movie revolves around Kazuo, a boy that tries his best to act all rough and tumble around his bros, but is ultimate somewhat meek and “girly”, and Kazumi, the new girl in school who’s a real type-A personality, one who tries her best to become b-fries with Kazuo, but only seems to get on his nerves. It doesn’t help that she embarrasses the guy, literally every ten seconds.

Anyhow, due to an incident, they end up swapping bodies. A rather sticky situation that’s made worse by the news that Kazuo’s dad has just gotten a promotion, so he’ll be leaving for Yokohama in just a few shorts weeks. As they attempt to figure out how to set things right, they also struggle to maintain their new identities; Kazuo ends up becoming more of a dude than he ever was as an actual boy.

Which is not just alarming to Kazumi’s mom, who is hardly fond of how boyish her little girl is all of a sudden acting, but Kazumi herself, since the steward of her body does little to maintain it properly (he not only drives it around in a very un-lady like fashion, but his appetite risks ruining her girlish figure). Meanwhile, Kazumi’s feminine ways simply exacerbates Kazuo’s reputation as a girlish male even more so.

Naturally, all kinds of gender politics are explored, plus the pair (whom everyone starts to suspect is an item, due to all the time that they share together… hint, hint, hint) manage to get into all kinds of wacky situations, like when Kazuo, as Kazumi, goes on a date that the girl has had an eye on forever, with Kazumi, as Kazuo, acting a a third wheel, to feed herself lines.

It’s all fun and lighthearted initially, but as time runs out, and with no resolution in sight, Kazumi as Kazuo becomes super depressed and decides to runaway from home. Fearing that she might kill herself (which would suck on a number of levels), Kazuo as Kazumi tags along, and they go on a road trip! The kind that’s filled with self-discovery and all that jazz, but one that’s also kinda creepy, since this is a Japanese flick after-all.

Like when Kazumi asks to bury her face in Kazuo’s bare chest, since she may never get to feel them every again. Which isn’t so weird considering that it’s her body to begin with, but they’re also like 15.

Speaking of, the two actors playing the leads were absolutely incredible. The girl acting like the boy was quite convincing due to all sorts of subtitles, and vice versa. And the movie itself, top to bottom was fantastic. Not at all like Hausu, which was Obayashi’s feature length debut, and from which he clearly drew from his indie roots. Tenkosei definitely felt more mature and focused, at least in a stylistic and narrative sense, but that sense of wonder and whimsy was still there.

What’s especially amazing is how it looks on par with any major motion picture, but was made entirely on a shoestring budget. Obayashi explained how it was originally backed by a studio, but they decided to drop support. I think the fact that Obayashi changed the age of the kids (it’s based on a book) might have been a factor; the reason for the move was because it would have just been a kids movie otherwise, Obayashi reasoned.

He also noted that he later remade the move, 30 years later, but further changes were employed for that version. Like how Kazumi does in the end. Maybe successfully kills herself? I dunno. Anyhow, with no studio backing, that’s where Obayashi’s wife stepped in, to help produce, which meant another movie that was a family affair (the script for Hausu was written by Obayashi’s daughter, who was 11 at the time), and that was totally fine in his book. Once completed, ATG stepped in to lend further assistance and to help distribute.

By the way, it goes without saying that Nobuhiko Obayashi in person was simply incredible. The dude was such a kind and gentle soul, who also happens to have more talent in one toe nail that virtually everyone running Hollywood, head to toe, combined. But the dude really shined during the Q&A; not surprisingly, people in the audience asked the stupidest, most incoherent questions imaginable (as noted in the past, it’s simply par for the course at such things). Yet Obayashi managed to exhibit some truly impressive powers of spin, by using them as a means to share his philosophies as it pertains to his work or life in general.

Here he is, during the final night of his visit, alongside his wife and his daughter…

He was in such a happy mood (hey, I’d be on cloud nine as well if I was invited to NYC at the age 74 by the Museum of Modern Art, to be a part of a screening of movies done during my 20s, to houses packed by young folk who recently discovered my work and consider me a genius) that the man was giving out hugs. Which I gladly accepted! Hey, better him than some dork with a Free Hugs sign at New York Comic Con, right?

I also never ask for autographs, but simply had to make an exception…

#2

Moving on, and sticking to all time favorite things that also happen to hail from Japan and which are also on the groundbreaking/avant-garde tip, Jake Kazdal (who worked on Rez, hence the connection) was in town earlier this week as well. And I got to show him around the Big Apple; here he is, taking a picture, due to being blown away by how much Tokyo-like New York City is…

Gotta say, as someone who has grown somewhat sick of NYC, showing someone around always reminds one of how awesome this place actually is. Plus I always love taking friends to Hagi, primarily those who have worked and lived in Japan, and therefore can appreciate how genuinely authentic the place is.

Also got to hear what it was like to work on Rez, alongside the men who made Panzer Dragoon Saga, another all-time fave game of mine. Get this: no one in Team Andromeda could play their own game for any real length of time, due to motion sickness! Even though it wasn’t a first person game. Man, and I thought I had it bad.

BTW, Jake was my very first interview for Gamasutra! To check it out, its the second thing listed in highlights, to the right of this page.

#3

Earlier this evening was the Everything Is Terrible! Holiday Special 2012! at the Bell House, which Steve treated me to, as an Xmas present…

And it was pretty awesome! There was little doubt as it pertained to EIT’s ability to curate hilariously stupid found footage, but I had some concerns going as to how their live show would be like. Mostly due to bad memories stemming from the one time I saw the Found Footage Festival‘s live screening.

Sorry, but if you have batsh*t insane footage, why not just let it stand on its own? But instead, the Found Footage guys have to talk over everything, and in a manner that makes the absolute worst Mike episode of MST3K look like the absolute best one starring Joel.

Admittedly, the “intermission” featuring Food Party was something I could have done without. Sorry, but there is absolutely nothing entertaining about an excessively unimaginative and lazy rip off of Pee Wee’s Playhouse combined with a cooking show in which everything looks revolting, but not even in an interesting manner.

Otherwise the evening was excellent, and I was legitimately blown away by how much god awful footage that was on-hand. Though I will say, the crowd really did make me feel my age. Whereas myself and Steve all laughed uproariously whenever Henry Winkler or Mel Torme was on screen, the rest of the early 20 something crowd were totally clueless and silent. Though I can’t think of an opposite scenario (other than everyone else liking Food Party and us hating it).

Anyhow, my favorite take away of the entire evening was discovering the existence of GETEVEN

As soon as I can isolate a copy, it shall be mine! UPDATE: A copy has been found and purchased! Though I just hope it shows up (and giving De Hart my home address is something I don’t live to regret).

#4

And finally, as some of you might recall, today is the day in which FORT90ZINE4ANSWER was supposed to be finally finished. Unfortunately, I’ve had to push it back just a tiny bit more (once again, the new and final date: 12/21/12).

Yet I do have a zine to share with everyone nonetheless, even if I didn’t put together (though I did help contribute). It’s a little something that’s dedicated to a person who was extremely dear to myself and countless others, Marc Wilkofsky

As noted not too long ago, a friend of mine passed away recently, and that person was Marc. You’ll have to trust me when I say that Marc was unquestionably the most giving, the most sincere, and the most flat beautiful human being that walked this earth. Though anyone who did have the pleasure of knowing the man knows these truths already.

There have been many highs this year, as well as many lows. In the case of the latter, I’ve now lost four people very close to me already. Marc’s passing hit me the hardest; I won’t go into the details (mostly because, even after weeks of detective work, I’m still not 100% of the entire picture, which has been a large source of frustration), but let’s just say that his death is a tragedy in every sense of the word.

As also noted before, I organized a memorial gathering for Marc, which took place last night. It was a chance for friends and colleagues of his to gather and share information as to what happened exactly, though it was mostly designed as a venue to swap our favorite stories starring our dearly missed friends, and thankfully that’s exactly what went down.

Some tears were shed, but it was mostly laughs, and I believe Marc would not have wanted it any other way. Though the one thing that did the most to help achieve the evening’s goal was the zine you see above, that Dave put together. It’s such a wonderful, heartfelt tribute, for a man that embodies both those qualities and more.

Also, even if you didn’t know Marc, you have to admit: a zine created to honor the memory of a person that has just passed is a pretty awesome thing. When I kick the bucket, I only hope that someone might do the same for me!

  • Jonathan Bilski

    Wait… I interviewed Thu Tran of Food Party. It was one of the weirdest one’s I’ve ever had. All she did for the everything is terrible fetival in LA was eat mcdonalds then spit it out and pass it around the theater audience, did she actually have puppets or a show for yours?

    Also jelaous of you meeting house director

    • http://www.fort90.com/journal/ fort90

      So Thu ate McDonald’s, spit it up, and then passed the results around for people to look at? Hate to say this, but I’m pretty sure it would go over well in Williamsburg (where everyone loves her to death to being with).

      Anyhow, she basically just showed her latest “Christmas special” in which she cooked meat. Then at the end, dressed up in huge Furby and gave out the gross looking meatballs while dressed as a Furby.

      Which impressed my pals, but I’ve seen it WAY too many times. Cuz, you know, Williamsburg.

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