07/06/2009

“I’m a Gay of Demonic Charm”: The New York Asian Film Festival 2009 Part 2

by Matthew Hawkins

Everyone have a decent 4th? Mine was quite nice; Katie and I went over to Long Island, to the John Green’s family residence, as I’ve done so for… gosh… over ten years now. Another pleasant afternoon spent sitting by the pool and consuming assorted meats grilled over an open flame, but this time it was a tad bit better than previous years. Maybe because the weather was particularly awesome, plus it was the first time assorted other peeps were present, like Allan, Alisa, Allison, and Scott.

The rest of the weekend was almost entirely spent in front of the television, with one kind of game controller or another in my hands. Tried giving Bully for the Wii a second chance; got it as a birthday present a while back and played it only once. Didn’t like my initial ten minutes with the game, and after spending a solid hour and half with it yesterday, I now know for certain that it’s absolute garbage. I still can’t believe how so many people jacked off to it during its release. Wait a minute, yes I can, because it’s Rockstar and anything they produce is supposedly gold, or at the very least garners a conspicuous amount of high scores; Katie more or less hit it on the head by stating that R* is basically the Family Guys of video games… and for those people out there who love to claim that they have such sophisticated storytelling in their titles, please to explain to me if there’s any real point to the mean-spirited ridiculing of fat girls in the beginning, which just left a nasty taste in my mouth. Then there was Ninja Blade, the lame-o fusion of Ninja Gaiden and God of War for the 360. Since I’m weaksauce when it comes to any Team Ninja title, and unable to deal with GoW’s aesthetics (hate to be one of those kind of people, but I just find Tokyo of the near future more appealing then ancient Greece, though Ninja Blade’s art design is pretty ugly as well), I figured I’d also give it another shot; MS sent me a review copy a while ago, but it kept crashing my debug. All I can say is… God, I’m so done with Quick Time Events.

Played a bunch of other stuff, but in the end, I find myself knee deep in Super Mario Galaxy; there were some worlds I had totally forgotten about. God that game is still so amazing. Meanwhile, Katie, who had been playing Persona 4 is now knee deep in Pop Cutie, the fashion designer simulator for the DS. Once she’s done with the DSi, I can get back to Flower, Sun, and Rain, whose charms have finally begun to wear off on me, but I’m too deep into things to bail out now. Plus, I’m in the midst of downloading Bit.Trip Core, and been trying to figure out how to use Kodu, that new game making tool for the 360, all morning but I’ll save the rest of the game speak for later, because now it’s time for…
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So the NYAFF is officially done and over with. And as noted last time, the 09 edition was perhaps the best one thus far, simply by virtue of introducing to me the glory that is House, along with a few other gems, which I’ll be detailing in just a bit. Sorry I wasn?t able to file my festival report in a timelier manner, though there’s a good chance that most of what’s mentioned will be coming to an art house theater near you, or perhaps on DVD/Blu-ray if we’re lucky. Hence why I’m gonna pass over the clunkers, which there were a few…

Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl

When the final line-up for the New York Asian Film Festival 09 was at last revealed, I noticed the abundance of “gore” films and was somewhat confused, even a tad bit concerned. At the very least, it just felt like overkill. On the bright side, it meant numerous pre-movie antics between the aforementioned Nishimura and Iguchi, which turned out to be one of the biggest highlights of the entire festival; both men more or less had their hands in every single one of these movies (so I’m assuming that Subway Cinema must have gotten some kind of package deal or the like). So to avoid burnout, I decided to check out a few, with Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl appearing to be the one with the most potential for both Hilary and myself, especially since the trailer had the same vibe as Tokyo Gore Police’s, which we both enjoyed so much last year. So the verdict? It’s no TGP, that’s for the damn sure.

For whatever reason, Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl just didn’t do it for us. Perhaps it’s the fact that the movie only used half the amount of blood as Tokyo Gore Police (according to co-director Nishimura in the Q&A, plus he’s gone on record as stating that it’s basically a gore movie for beginners). The basic premise, which is infusing the TGP formula into a high school romance, certainly seemed promising enough; there’s this guy who’s dreamy and all, but also rather shy and somewhat wimpy. Hence why he doesn’t put up much resistance when the resident tough gal, an ultra aggressive gothic lolita that commands a small army of like-minded chicks, demands that he becomes her boyfriend. Though on Valentine’s Day, the transfer student offers the boy some chocolate (in Japan, on that day, it’s girls who offer boys candy, as a sign of intense affection), which he accepts. Just half a bite into the odd shaped morsel reveals a very odd taste… it’s blood! This new girl’s blood. Who happens to be a vampire, which naturally turns the boy of her dreams into one as well. Gothic lolita gf naturally gets quite angry by this turn of events (though she’s completely unaware of the vampire part, just the fact that there’s another girl is enough to set her off) and gets in transfer student’s face. One thing leads to another and gothic lolita girl is soon dead, but thankfully, her father is some wacked out mad scientist that brings the dead back to life! Plus he always tries to make improvements, which means killing assorted classmates and borrowing their best attributes.

The movie is not without it’s moments; for starters, I was happy to see that wrist cutting as a popular pastime for girls, as introduced in TGP, was back as an after school club. That wacky sense of humor from before has definitely carried over, but even more offensive this time around, as evidenced by it’s interpretation of the ganguro craze, which is a term for Japanese girls obsessed with darker skin, normally typified by having fake and back tans, to the point of looking orange. Well in the Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl universe, they adopt some not so pleasant and flat-out racist black traits; not to go into details, but let’s just say that any African American viewer that’s offended as a result has somewhat of a just cause. Then again, that’s Japan for you, things are just different over there. Also loved the chain-smoking Chinese teacher, portrayed by the director of Ju-On (plus the scary lady from Audition also has a brief cameo). And as already noted, there’s not a crazy amount of gore when compared to Tokyo Gore Police, but the stuff that’s there is just as finely crafted and hilarious as one would expect. The real issue is how much of the TGP’s charm, for a lack of a better term, is simply missing; VG vs. FG is certainly crazy in parts, but TGP was REALLY out there. Translation: there’s nothing close to the magnificence of the pussy chair to be found, sadly. Yet the gore fans in attendance certainly ate it all up, enough to sell out both screenings and prompting a third, much to both Hilary and I’s total shock. Again, wasn’t going to concentrate on the clunkers, but given how it was the festival’s biggest disappointment, along with one of it’s most high profile films to begin with, figured passing along my two cents was almost necessary.

Blind Love

Before each screening, the folks who run the festival will give away assorted prizes to the audience, usually movie posters, DVDs, or gay manga. And at VG vs FG, Hilary won a free ticket to the second Pink Eiga program for later that evening; Pink Eiga is an American distributor for classic Japanese pink films, which are essentially soft-core sexploitation movies, but as crazy as it might sound, the genre actually commands a certain degree of respect in its native land. Numerous established directors got their start in pink, and it continues to thrive today (whereas in America, not only is there no real equivalent, plus as we all know, porn is bad for you, period). Both Pink Eiga programs were on my list of stuff to maybe see but were ultimately cut, though Hilary winning one ticket was the reason I needed to plop down one of those comp passes from Ip Man.

Because pink movies are a bit on the short side, each of the programs contained two films, and the first one here, Blind Love, simply blew us away. It’s the story about a short fellow who is a ventriloquist and the blind girl that falls in love with him, or at least his voice. After a performance, she shows up with a bouquet of flowers and a big hug for the new man of her dreams, but accidently gives it to his apprentice, who is much taller than his boss. But the ventriloquist plays along by saying thank you while standing on a chair and talking to girl over said lackey’s shoulder. At first, both men act as if the girl is no big deal, but each secretly begins to obsess over her, and next thing you know, each is on a date with her, with one supplying the mind and the other the body. Since this is technically a porn flick, yes, there is a sex scene involving all three people. Now, I realize much of what I just described sounds pretty silly, but trust me when I state that Blind Love is honest to God one of the most touching, as well as heart-wrenching love stories one will ever find on film, period; not to give anything away, plus I’m usually not the type to get emotionally crippled by a movie, but that ending is something that both myself and Hilary are still trying to recover from. The degree of sensitivity and pure raw emotion simply puts all the trite romantic comedies and dramas that Hollywood routinely produces to absolute shame. The funny thing is how the film would have completely worked without any of the sex scenes, and in a certain sense, is somewhat dragged down by them, with the exception of one, since it’s fairly key to the story. And that’s a sentiment that was actually shared by the director himself, Daisuke Goto, who was in attendance. Who also btw looked like a total Yakuza badass. But as Goto explained, the reason why many get involved in the world of pink in Japan is because it offers a fast track for many hopeful directors to helm a 35 mm vehicle, while normally it takes many years in the traditional studio system. I have no idea if Blind Love is available on DVD in America, though the Pink Eiga representative was pushing another work of Goto?s that evening (who btw was simply hilarious), that being A Lonely Cow Weeps At Dawn. It’s about a woman who lets her senile father in law to believe that she’s his favorite cow, which recently died, by allowing him to milk her. That at least sounds more like an actual porn flick.

The second pink film was Groper Train: Wedding Capriccio, directed by Yojiro Takita, whose actually an Academy Award winner (for directing Departures last year). Already, that’s good news, right? Long story short, it was by far the worst thing I have EVER seen at the NYAFF. There was absolutely nothing worthwhile from the entire thing (the advertised Close Encounters and E.T. jokes were certainly not worth the time wasted waiting for them), with the worst part being that there’s hardly any actual groping on trains to speak of. Over a week later, I still want my 68 minutes back.

Fish Story

When it comes to most films, no matter how wild and wacky the story or characters might be, one can almost always figure out at a certain point where things are going, generally speaking. That’s definitely not a knock, but simply how things are; even when it comes to Japanese cinema, whose filmmakers love to keep its audiences on their toes by constantly jumping all over the narrative timeline and the such, it’s not hard to tell what is happening and what possible (or natural) outcomes will be. Take something as insane as House for example, which is ultimately a horror flick involving a bunch of girls in a haunted abode, so we all know that they’re probably all going to die. But every so often, and quite rarely, comes along a movie like Fish Story, which from beginning to end is absolutely unpredictable and completely validates the aforementioned contemporary Japanese style of jumping around (which truth be told, has become so standard fare that its on the verge of becoming obligatory).

The story kicks off in the near future, a few hours before the end of the world; there’s a meteor about to hit the coast of Japan, and ensuing tidal waves promises to wipe the country from the face of the Earth, plus civilization as a whole will surely crumble due to the ensuing climate changes that will also come as a result. But despite the futility in such an act, everyone in Tokyo has deserted the city for higher ground, except for two dudes in an underground record store, completely oblivious to the world at large, and a grumpy old guy whose at death’s door, who therefore don’t feel bad about the end of the world and is almost gleeful about it, such as when he breaks the grim news to the two young fellows. So what does the guy who runs the shop do upon hearing all this? He plays an old and obscure Japanese punk song called Fish Story, from a band that never made it, mostly because they came a few months before the Sex Pistols, so no one at the time had any idea what to make of this strange loud noise. Cut to… the mid 80s, with three guys listening to the song on a tape during a car ride. At this point, it’s developed a minor following among those who believe supernatural stuff, due to the completely missing guitar solo which has been completely muted; some say that a woman’s blood curdling screaming was the reason for the edit, and those with a sixth sense can still hear it, which might be one of the three! Next we jump forward almost fifteen years, to 2000, at a doomsday cult that believes the world will end according the Nostradamus’s predictions the very next day. Which doesn?t happen. Just a few years later, we have a girl that’s stuck on a cruise boat and the weirdo waiter whose parents trained him to be the ultimate champion for justice, and which he’s able to demonstrate when the vessel gets taken over by terrorists. Eventually we go back in time to the 70s and visit the band that would create the song that a person promises will one day save the world. And it does!

Again, movies that go back and forth in time to visit same the people in different places is not exactly new, especially in Japanese cinema these days, but there’s something decidedly fresh about Fish Story that is almost impossibly to properly put into words. Perhaps it’s the fact the film’s director, Yoshihiro Nakamura, who does an absolutely brilliant of job of giving the audience only the barest of essentials while maintaining multiple mysterious in multiple timelines till the very end; the biggest revelations, after so much build up, are thoroughly satisfying and genuinely inventive, and not some overly big and contrived affair that insults one’s intelligence that it could of easily been. Though also lending considerable support was the immensely charming cast across space and time; never before has a feel good movie made one actually feel really good after all was said and done (I’ve never heard such hearty and enthusiastic applause from an audience at the end of a movie, ever). I’ll bet you anything that the thing gets remade by Hollywood, and it will be utter horsesh*t, but at least that means the original might have a chance of being released in America as well. But yeah, along with House, Fish Story is easily one of the best films I have seen in a very long time. If you get the chance to check it out in whatever fashion, do not miss the opportunity.

Antique

A Korean cinematic adaptation of a Japanese manga, Antique is the story of Jin-Hyuk, a man who decides to open a cake shop despite the fact that he hates cakes and sweets in general. Why? Doesn’t matter, at least in the beginning. What does is how the supremely talented chef he hires, Sun-Woo, is not only gay but gay for Jin-Hyuk, or at least was; back when they were in high school, Jin-Hyuk confessed his love for his classmate and was thoroughly rejected. Which oddly enough triggered something in him, basically transforming the formerly meek and modest schoolboy into the “Gay of Demonic Charm” almost overnight. And since then, practically every male that comes his way, gay or straight, is hopelessly smitten, but since his boss is somewhat of a homophobe, we have the ultimate boss/employee pairing! Plus add a former boxer who wishes to learn the essence of proper cake making from a master and the somewhat oafish bodyguard from Jin-Hyuk’s past to the staff, along with a host of other colorful characters, you have…

In America, whenever there’s a movie that tries to adapt a comic book, usually about a handful of issues are tapped as source material. Never saw it, but I’m assuming that Watchmen was perhaps the most ambitious by trying to cover 12 issues in the course of 2 hours (or did it? again, didn’t see it and probably never will). Well, much like Cromartie High School from three years ago, the film version of Antique (actual name of the manga is Antique Bakery, for those interested), clearly tries to cover about 120 issues in 2 hours, and unlike that previous effort, here it actually succeeds… somewhat. The pace is almost too quick to the point of confusion, but that’s only because there’s so much material to cover, not just story-wise. Interestingly enough, Sun-Woo’s homosexuality and the effect it has on people does not take center stage… not due to shyness on the director’s part, but maybe because it’s such familiar territory for Min Kyu-Dong, who also helmed one of my favorite Korean movies of all time, Memento Mori, which also deals heavily with gay romance (albeit on the girls’ side of things). Perhaps it’s a case of been there, done that? As a result, Antique isn’t just about good looking Korean boys (hey, I’ve always said that Korean girls are the hottest of all the Asians sects, so I guess it only makes sense that Korean dudes are also pleasing to the eyes… or at least I’m assuming), but scrumptious looking pastries of course (this film will make you hungry for chocolate cake afterwards, that’s guaranteed), fun song and dance numbers (which I guess isn’t much of a shock either cuz, you know, gay dudes eat that stuff up), and… solving a rather grim, unsolved crime involving boys being kidnapped and abused.

That last part sounds kinda ridiculous, and is sorta is; by the end, you’ll be somewhat scratching your head, wondering what the hell such and such was about, though you’ll also be too hungry to really dwell on the negatives. It is pretty amusing how the same ultra quick rhythm and wit that makes things hard to grasp is also what makes the entire thing work and so enticing in the end (accentuated by some terrific cinematography and editing). Antique is hardly perfect, but like Sun-Woo, it’s charms are irresistible enough to forgive any real issues, and you don’t have to be a gay guy to totally dig the movie. Now I just have to figure out if the original comic is worth scoping out. Though if it’s straight up, flat-out yaoi… at least the graphic kind… I’ll have to pass.

Tokyo Gore Night

First, some clarification: when I first heard about Tokyo Gore Night, I was under the assumption that it was the sequel to last year’s mind-blowing Tokyo Gore Police and even stated as such in previous entries. Wrong. When Hilary pointed out that it was actually a bunch of short films that take place in the Tokyo Gore Police (and Machine Girl) universe, along with an encore screening of TGP, my immediate reaction was “oh.” But we decided to go anyway, if only for the new stuff and for another chance to check out the pussy chair on the big screen.

Well, when it was finally show time, the both of us were fairly spent from the screenings from the previous two days, as well those from earlier that afternoon (my first film, Fish Story, was at 1 in the afternoon, and here we were, a little past 11 on a Saturday night). The plan was to check out the new stuff, stick around for the Q&A and prize give away that would be happening in-between, and then skip out on the feature attraction (especially since Hilary had forgotten to bring the flask of vodka, which definitely added to last year’s screening, perhaps considerably). Once the lights went down and the energy of the very enthusiastic crowd finally became apparent, I got my second wind, and then began to rethink my plans… That was until the two “music videos” for TGP played, which basically showed all the best, gory bits from the movie, set to the TGP theme. Not sure what the point of those were, other than to make us not feel so bad for wanting to skip out on the whole thing later on. Problem was, again, NO PUSSY CHAIR, WTF. Next was a short called Tokyo Gore Day Laborer, which centered on a way to the side character from TGP, trying to re-adjust to live after the events of that movie. It was mostly just funny to see the director of Ju-On reprise his racist Chinese character yet again. Afterwards was Machine Girl Lite, which featured the Machine Girl’s best friend, also with a gun for an arm, but also out of her ass. That was okay as well. Sprinkled about were some more fake commercials, which was a definite highlight of the film proper, and the same applies here.

Afterwards was when the aforementioned Q&A, and comedic duo of Nishimura and Iguchi were back in full effect, along with Tsuyoshi Kazuno, the visual effects supervisor for TGP, Machine Girl, and VG vs. FG as well I’m assuming, plus Grady and Mark from the Subway Cinema team… all wearing fundoshi. Another guest at the festival, Tak Sakaguchi, was also present; he’s the dude from Versus, along with various other flicks, whom Hilary and I happen to find ultra boring, hence why we skipped Be A Man! Samurai School, which he also directed. Looked rather lame, though Hilary was somewhat interested because of his rad looking coat that he happened to be wearing instead of underwear. Like the other Japanese dudes, I believe he also had his hands in virtually every single Japanese film at the festival, at least the ones that featured fight scenes (his main forte is fight choreography and it shows, but his acting leaves much to be desired I’m afraid). What followed was a series of routines, starting with everyone trying to see if they were man enough to enter Samurai School, which basically meant Sakaguchi throwing darts at their asses. Half the time he would miss and get someone’s back instead, but even with all the fat that’s found at a person’s rear, they still apparently hurt like hell. So that fun to watch; this entire part lasted for like half an hour it felt. Next was Iguchi’s surprise birthday celebration; a cake with a ton of candles were brought out… all jokey-joke candles… and another solid ten minutes was spent watching Iguchi trying to blow them out AND deal with a wardrobe malfunction; the front of his underwear kept unraveling. The thing about Japanese comedy is how, aside from being very violent, there’s also a lot of homosexuality involved, so it was somewhat par for the course that the other dudes were either fondling or trying to cover up, yet still handle his wiener.

Next it was time to present Iguchi his birthday presents; I believe Kazuno gave him the Japanese photo essay of women’s butts, while Nishimura presented his pal with a dildo chinstrap (for those giving oral pleasure to woman, to also allow for penetration at the same time, natch). Getting it on properly took another ten minutes and required the female translator to get involved as well (who herself had been pretty damn entertaining the entire fest also). Grady’s present was a rubber paddle that had the word “BITCH” imprinted on it (which was clearly picked up at one of the sex shops that’s next door to the IFC Center), and four audience members were called to the stage to spank Iguchi, one for each decade. Each slap left the word emblazoned across his ass, with the best part being Iguchi going “thank you, thank you!” after each contact. Afterward it was finally time for the prize drawing! And what a prize it was; a DVD of an absolutely insane looking porn flick directed by Iguchi called Hypertrophy Genitals Girl. Not even gonna bother to describe the clip that was played, which almost made everyone?s heads explode, but those who still want a taste after hearing such a title can simply go here, and I suppose it goes without saying that it’s totally NSFW.

Finally we all got the very first look at Iguchi’s latest project, RoboGeisha, which has since become somewhat of a minor YouTube sensation. Looks awesome! Comes out later this year in Japan, and will apparently be here for the NYAFF 2010 edition. Anyhow, some of other stuff went down I believe, but the entire evening is somewhat hazy at this point… it was pretty late and all. By the time TGP began to roll, it was close to 1 and definitely time for me to head back home (since I had the NY Zine Fest the very next morning). As for what I missed, it was basically a live director’s commentary with I believe some audience participation, but since it was recorded for the new special edition DVD release, so I’ll just pick that up when the time comes. According to Dave, who was also in attendance, everyone afterwards got movie posters, which is neat and all, but I’ve still yet to frame my Dasepo Naughty Girls one from two years ago.

… The rest of my report in just a few!

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