08/01/2012

Japan Cuts 2012: “Rent-A-Cat” & “Space Battleship Yamato” + Not A Broken Record, But A Severely Bent One

by Matthew Hawkins

Well, it’s August 1st. And I had planned on making a big announcement today! But due to an unforeseen delay (some fine-tuning, behind the scenes, basically) it will have to wait, just a tiny bit more. I hope! But hey, now’s a good time to post two final Asian movie reviews for the summer, right?

Rent-A-Cat

In the end, I wasn’t able to give Japan Cuts nearly the amount of time as I would have liked. The timing of this year’s NYAFF could not have been better; I was between certain things and could afford the luxury of seeing three different Asian flicks in one day, for multiple days in a row. But in the past two weeks, I simply got very busy (again, you’ll all learn why soon enough), yet there was no way in hell I was going to miss something called Rent-A-Cat. I knew almost nothing going in, but had my guesses, along with a considerable degree of expectations, due to the title alone. Which were all met handily; if you like cats (which is a silly question; if you’re reading this, your an internet regular, and who amongst us doesn’t like them>?), then you absolutely NEED to see this film. It’s filled to the brim with you-know-what; they all gravitate towards Sayoko, whose basically your typical, garden variety crazy cat woman. But because Sayoko’s also a Japanese cutie, she’s not nearly as demented or horrific as her American equivalents.

Sayoko is an eccentric, loner type (gee, big shocker) who wants to help lonely people out by lending her cats to them, since they’re the key to happiness. Even though how she herself is pretty lonesome. The film is comprised of four short vignettes, which all follow the same basic structure: Sayoko encounters someone who needs a cat for whatever reason, we see the positive effect that said felines has, and finally Sayoko encountering said person again, to witness (or deal with) the aftermath. First is an old woman who could really use something to fill the hole in her heart, which comes in the form of an older tabby that resembles a long lost friend. The second is a family guy who is away from his family, due to business, and who is also bummed because his daughter says he smells “like an old man” (or just simply stinks), but a kitten that loves smelly stuff becomes his new best friend. Third is a bored (and lonely) woman who works at a rent a car shop, and the fourth is a guy that Sayoko runs into, and whom she refuses to do business with due to her being embarrassed (and possibly also having a crush on him).

Did I mentioned the wacky, cross-dressing next door neighbor, who at the end of each episode, tells Sayoko right her in face that she’s destined to die a lonely woman, because she’s a total pathetic loser? There’s that too. But yeah, there’s no overarching narrative that unifies everything or the like. Again, just a bunch of random, self-contained episodes; Rent-A-Cat definitely feels like a television show and most definitely should be. After the screening, director Naoko Ogigami hit the stage to answer a few questions. Making the movie was a real challenge; aside from being an independent filmmaker in Japan, Ogigami is a woman. Plus, she was pregnant at the time, and “cats cannot be told what to do”. But she did note that there was an audition process for the movie. It’s highly recommended, but even if it wasn’t, some of you would have tracked it down anyway. Since, you know, cats.

Space Battleship Yamato

The original Space Battleship Yamato anime was something I watched as a kid, way back in South Korea. Though I ended up watching more of the American version (Star Blazers) after arriving the US, which I therefore have a far stronger emotional bond to. Plus none of that can compare to the original Transformers anyway. But that’s neither here nor there; I went into the live action version with zero expectations, and the assumption that it would suck like most live-action adaptations of anime and manga generally suck big time. And it most certainly does.

In the future, aliens are showering the Earth with meteors that cause radiation to fill the air, forcing humans to go underground. Unfortunately they can’t last down there forever, nor can they go toe to toe with the vastly more powerful Gamilas as they are called. But one day a strange object falls from the sky; in the original cartoon, it’s an alien hottie, and here it’s just a foreign object. A total bummer. On the plus side, the person who stumbles across it, Kodai, our hero of the story, establishes early on that his best friend is his PDA with Siri-like capabilities. And that was pretty funny. Anyhow, the object contains plans for a warp engine that will allow interstellar travel, plus a weapon that can offer humans a reasonable chance against their alien overloards. With mankind given just one year left, the final spaceship left in the fleet (is built upon an actual WW2 battleship) is sent to the locate source of the capsule, which supposedly contains the key to earth’s salvation. Volunteers are asked to be part of the mission, and Kodai signs up. Mostly to see the captain, Okita, eye to eye; he was the a**hole that allowed his older brother to perish in battle. But Kodai learns quickly that Okita is a great man after-all. Too quickly in fact. We also discover that Okita’s health is declining, so he chooses Kodai to be the new ship’s captain. Even though he was part of the crew for literally 15 minutes.

The basic problem is its attempt at retelling everything that happened in the first season in just two hours. There have been numerous films that attempt to cover the bulk of its source material, whether it be a TV show or comic book, in an expedited manner. And while certainly tricky, it’s certainly possible (Avengers immediately comes to mind). But Space Battleship Yamato‘s attempt is pure torture. Character development is nonexistent; you have a few interesting personalities, like the tsundere squadron leader, a ditzy doctor who loves sake and cats, plus even the captain himself is a real bad ass in the cartoon. All rendered cliched and predictable thanks to time constraints. And because so much is happening so quickly, you have massive leaps in logic that damn near approaches Prometheus-levels of stupidity. But the best part is how everything comes to a screeching halt at the very end; it would seem that the director wanted to re-create all the tearful moments of pathos that punctuated the end of the series, which was originally spread across several episodes, but presented all together in a 20 minute long death scene that caused me to seriously hold back laughter in the movie theater. At least the death of the PDA was somewhat genuinely touching. Once again, it’s true: when Tokyo tried to be like Hollywood, the results is always a disaster.

NYAFF & Japan Cuts 2012 Recap, Side B

Man, what a way to end things on, but otherwise, my summer of Asian cinema has been otherwise awesome! Building of my first list, here’s the second half…

- ?Asura? & ?Smuggler?
- ?The Scabbard Samurai? & ?The Atrocity Exhibition?
- ?Potechi (Chips)? & ?Monsters Club?
- ?Gyo? & ?Tormented?
- ?Rent-A-Cat? & ?Space Battleship Yamato? (see above, obvi)

In the end, the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival was one of the its strongest showings yet. Thankfully, they’ve stopped chasing the Tokyo Gore Police ghost with one of the most varied selections yet. It also helps that Hong Kong cinema has had made a majore comeback. Can’t wait for next year, and thanks to everyone at NYAFF, Lincoln Center, and Japan Society for allowing me to be their guest! Can’t wait for next year.

UPDATE: Just got an email from the NYAFF, and they state that the 2012 Audience Award goes to Ace Attorney! Hardly a shocker, but a deserving winner nonetheless.

Odds & Ends

Anyway, before signing off, some random odds & ends:

- So I went to see Rent-A-Cat with Kyle, the biggest cat fancier that I personally know. He loved it of course. Afterwards we went to Udon West for some curry rice, and outside I spotted this?

Why yes I would love to eat discount sushi till 2:30am this Friday night with a bunch of animu dorks, thank you very much! Oh, and I also took this a few weeks prior, on route to Gyo I believe?

- Remember my mention of Game Play 2012 from last time? Well, my report is finally up. And yes, the comments are indeed hilarious?

- Guess what arrived in my very tiny mailbox just the other day? Why, my Kickstarter rewards from supporting Venus Patrol, that’s what! It was both a reason to get happy and angry. On the plus side, the Mikko Walamies shirt is absolutely gorgeous?

But as noted, my mail box is very small. Hence why my idiot mail carrier had to work very hard to shove the Moon Grotto 7″ into inside, but he somehow managed. Which also ruined exp. -3?

Swear to God, literally 80% of the zines I order have all been mangled by my the mail person. And it’s not like I haven’t tried complaining? actually, more like begging for this madness to stop. But they don’t give a rat’s ass.

Does anyone remember last year, before TCAF 2011, when that one Postal nutjob threatened to destroy any mail for me that came his way, because he didn’t like my “attitude”? And how when I tried to report the guy, the local sheriff’s deputies literally told me to “f*ck off”? These are just a few of the reasons why I’m thinking of moving out of NYC (among several).

Thankfully, I already have a gem mint copy of the zine when I saw Mathew at TCAF 2012. As for the record, it’s not like I have any means to play it, but it still pisses me off. UPDATE: Brandon was nice enough to offer a replacement. What a swell guy! But I respectfully declined. Sure it’s a beautiful package, but again, that’s all it is. Besides, I can listen to the music thanks to the just released digital version!

- And finally, last night was a gathering for game journalists at Barcade. lulz. At least it was mostly filled with some halfway decent folks, even more so in some instances! Like Chris, who mentioned how he recently saw a video from Game Center CX/Retro Game Master‘s American debut at the NYAFF several moons ago, and how I was one of the people that was interviewed!

I did see the footage afterwards, but that version wasn’t dubbed in Japanese. But the one on Jenn Frank’s blog is, which can be seen here. Fun-fact: that dude next to me was on-hand to pitch his own American take on Game Center CX/Retro Game Master. He even gave me a copy and? well? it’s certainly unique, to put it mildly (perhaps one day I can share it).

UPDATE: Chris also turned me onto the follow: a YouTube channel in which guys goof on other people’s Let’s Play videos?

Sorry, but I just think you REALLY have to hate Let’s Play vids as much as I do to see the humor it in this. Anyhow, will be making a BIG announcement very soon; stay alert.

  • aLobstersJohnson

    That is Slow Beef, considered to be the CREATOR of “Let’s Play”. Nobody hates let’s play more than that poor man, he knows what he unleashed and is doing his best to destroy it.

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