07/15/2012

NYAFF & Japan Cuts 2012: “Gyo” & “Tormented”

by Matthew Hawkins

Today’s the last day of the of the New York Asian Film Festival! But, I already wrote about the fest’s closing films yesterday, so here’s two other movies that I wasn’t able to catch beforehand. Both are two different takes on your favorite, but not necessarily mind, Japanese horror?

Gyo

Gyo is based upon the seminal piece of work by the master of horror manga himself, Junji Ito, and was one of my very first tastes of the genre. So expectations were quite high going in, and which were thankfully left. Other than a few key changes (most the gender swapping of the two leads), it’s still the classic take of death to humanity, in the form of fish with legs. One that is just as horrific, and flat out disgusting. The story beings in Okinawa, which is the tropical southern portion of Japan, where a girl named Kaori is on vacation with her two gal pals, while her boyfriend Tadashi is back in Tokyo, doing his thing as a sound effects engineer (in manga, they’re both together). When the three women arrive at the summer cottage where they’ll be resting and relaxing, they immediately encounter a putrid stench in the place, which is traced to a fish. One that is able to scurry across with the help of mechanical legs, via a insect-like lower torso. What seems like an isolated anomaly become a wide spread thing, with countless fish coming emerging from the ocean, and running around the streets of Okinawa.

And because its happening in Tokyo as well, Kaori makes a mad dash to be reunited with her bf, leaving her narcissistic, slutty friend and the chunky depressed pal behind. The former almost immediately has a threesome with two local dudes, which pisses off the latter, but who is soon laughing when the slut becomes infected (when she was stabbed in the foot by a rampaging land shark). Gone is her sleek and slender body, which is now bloated, covered with boils, and green, plus letting loose that same noxious gas from before. By the time Kaori arrives back home, all hell has broken loose. The roads are completely flooded by sea life running amok, making travel impossible. Even worse is how she’s unable to get ahold of Tadashi, and it begins dawning on her that the worst might have happen. Though she does make friends with a reporter, who is out to seek the truth behind it all. Eventually, people in Tokyo start to become infected as well, and it’s not just fish and sharks and octopus on those weird legs of steel, but cats and dogs and? yup? even people. Kaori and the reporter eventually tracks down a researcher that has uncovered the mystery behind all the madness: during WW2, the Japanese developed a virus that turns victims into biological weapons, who as mindless drones, emitted a gas that was then harnessed by a man-made shell. Yes, yet another example of Japan’s very dark history being used as a plot device in a NYAFF flick. Comes with the territory.

The battleship that contained these experiments were sunk by the Allies, but it would seem that such insane technology is now back, and as payback for humanity’s arrogant and destructive ways (the gas itself also seems to have a mind of its own, something that is never fully explained). Oh, and the doctor is also Tadashi’s uncle, who has been placed his infected nephew in a mechanical support that also taps into Tadashi’s death stench, which he created himself (hence why it’s all sleek and modern looking). The money shot of every good “it’s the end of the world!” movie is when the main character has that key revelation, as does the viewer, that things are truly f’d up, to an unimaginable insane and officially hopeless degree. Like the scenario that’s described above. Gyo‘s version of hell on earth, which is populated by corpses that fart into pipes that powers their coffins with legs, is truly a nightmare that one send chills down one’s spine if seriously pondered. And again, the animated version does an admirable job of fleshing out the printed form; the production quality isn’t the absolute best you’ve ever seen, but it’s still far more interesting than the vast majority of anime on the market today (if only due to subject matter). Check it out if you can.

Tormented

Fun-fact: I love scary comics from Japan, but scary movies? They just don’t work do it for me. While I certainly understand and even appreciate the kinds of chill that they’re supposed to provide, when you grew up watching Faces and Traces Of Death, you end up being a tad bit desensitized (but again, I appreciate a damn fine horror flick like nobody else, and yes, I too agree that Cabin In The Woods is the greatest thing since sliced bread). I also can’t stand 3D movies, so the idea of one that’s also J-horror is pretty much no buys in my book normally, even if it’s by Takashi Shimizu, one of the chief architects of the genre (dude is best know for Ju-On , aka The Grudge). The Japan Society for various reasons decided to show Tormented, which happens to be such a combination, in 2D. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m legitimately upset that I didn’t get the chance to experience it the way it was intended, in three dimensions. Granted, the stunning Christopher Doyle cinematography certain helps (he’s the reason why Wong Kar-wai?s movies looks so damn good), though Tormented is also a breath of fresh air for a genre that, even its biggest fans will admit, has become mighty stagnant. Things kick off with a young boy putting a hurt rabbit out of its misery with the help of a huge rock, which earns Daigo the title of “rabbit killer” among his classmates. But that’s okay, because big half-sister Kiriko, who also happens to be a mute (but it’s not a big deal when you’re a librarian), has his back. Who exhibits far more concern than the guy they both call dad, who instead holes himself up in his study, working on pop-up books for kids (and gorgeous ones at that).

One day Kiriko takes Daigo out to see a movie? a 3D J-horror flick, of all things. And in the middle of the picture, a stuffed rabbit emerges from the screen and lands right in the boy’s lap. Talking about realistic special effects! And that’s when the problems start; later that night and in his dreams, Daigo encounters a life sized version of the stuffed rabbit, who takes him to a bright and cheery amusement park. And all is fine, until he’s next taken to dark and scary hospital, where he seems his mother, covered in blood, and being hauled away on a hospital gurney. In real life, he ends up in the closet, which is somewhat off limits; it’s also where the remaining vestiges of his mom can be found, who is no longer alive. And for whatever reason, most of the pictures are torn or scratched up. Anyhow, another nightmare takes place, and it soon becomes clear to Kiriko that Daigo’s dead mother is trying to take her son back with to wherever the hell she dwells. Naturally, dad flips his lid when hearing such crazy talk (which Kiriko conveys by writing words down on a notepad), especially the notion that Daigo is on-bard with such notion. And that’s because [spoilers] Daigo doesn’t actually exist. He died while his dearly departed wife was trying ti give birth. And thus we hit the part in which we can’t tell what is reality and what is fantasy, and which belongs to whom.

At this point, Kiriko realizes that the root of all evil is this stuffed bunny that was acquired at the 3D J-horror flick, and thus a natural solution is fomrulated: just go back and throw the thing back inside the screen. But that plan totally backfires when Daigo is sucked in. Kiriko freaks out (must to bemusement of theater goeers, who just want to watch the damn movie), and she’s finally institutionalized per dad and her doctor’s recommendations. At this point, we see flashbacks to when she was a child, back when dad showed up with a new mother. Along with Kiriko’s vitriolic reaction to mom ver. 2.0′s heartfelt attempts at warming up to her new daughter. Eventually, after a nice lengthy stay at the hospital, Kiriko comes to terms with what the real deal is? until it becomes clear that, no, dead stepmom really is a ghost that’s trying to mess with everyone’s minds, so she wasn’t crazy after-all. Anyhow, I didn’t expect Tormented to nearly as remarkable as it ended up being. The only reason why I bothered in the first place is because it stars Hikari Mitsushima (who, as stated in my Smugglers review, I am a diehard fan of), whose quite brilliant in her portrayal of a woman who has lost her voice, btw. Ultimately, the whole thing is simply unlike most J-horror flicks out there today; it’s actually really good. It completely tosses aside clich?d conventions to tell a different kind of scary ghost story, the shot in the arm that genre desperately needs. Too bad I’m in the minority; most reviews have panned the movie, but I still say give it a shot.

… what’s next?

Is that it for my NYAFF coverage? Nope; there are three movies that I have yet to rundown, which I hope to do so, for the sake of being a completionist. And remember, I’m also covering some of Japan Cuts as well. Because I’ve seen them already, and because they’re readily available, I’m going to pass on running down 13 Assassins and Cure, though if you checked them out yet, please do so! Regarding the latter, and back to the subject of horror real quick, it’s honest to God one of the frightening movies I’ve ever seen period.

Both are part of a Koji Yakusho retrospective that’s taking place during Japan Cuts 2012, and who is unquestionably one of the greatest Japanese actors working today, if ever. I really wanted to catch The Woodsman and the Rain, but because Yakusho will be in attendance, and is therefore a very big deal for Japan Society, ticket prices are… a bit out of my budget I’m afraid. Also, I sorta need a break from Asian movies for a little while. Maybe I’ll talk about video games next time! Maybe.

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