Each and every summer I see a LOT of movies, and then talk about them, as evidenced by all the New York Asian Film Festival and JAPAN CUTS reviews that are posted year after year. There’s actually three film fests that I care about, with the third being Fantasia Festival!

Which… I’ve never been to, cuz it’s not in the Big Apple, but the Great White North. Yet this year I’ve been invited to check out some of the programming! Actually, I’ve already seen some of it, via the two aforementioned fests… such as Inuyashiki & Violence Voyager… that’s just how these things work.

Then there’s movies I’ve seen already, many years ago & many times already, which you’re probably familiar with as well, cuz they’re classics and therefore household names. Gremlins, Five Fingers of Death, Blood & Black Lace, and Body Melt… okay, maybe some are more recognizable than others to regular folk.

Anyhow, am still in the midst of finalizing my plans for coverage, though here’s my top five that I’ve love to see most (hopefully I’ll get the chance to review them)…

Mandy

Here’s the deal: been a legit fan of Nicolas Cage since I was a kid (thanks to Raising Arizona), so am not trying to be ironic when saying that I really enjoy his work. That being said, I have enjoyed how much of a meme the guy has become, and am therefore interested in a movie in which he’s in the middle of the woods, covered in blood, and slicing up cult members with a blade that resembles with Worf from Star Trek: TNG used to wield.

Relaxer

Am very much into cinema, obviously, as well as video games, also obviously, and most especially when the two are combined…. provided it’s off the beaten path. Hence why my favorite video game flick is based upon a Hans Christian Andersen poem, I REALLY want to see a movie about someone tasked with getting the high score in Pac-Man without once getting off the couch… and that’s it. That’s the whole movie, apparently.

The Traveling Cat Chronicle

In addition to being a connoisseur of video game cinema, the same could be said for films starring cats, in particular those from Japan. I’ve seen some damn fine ones, like If Cats Disappeared From the World, and I’ve seen ones that are total crap, like Neko Atsume House. Thankfully, The Travelling Cat Chronicles sounds a serious contender for the first category (it already has bonus points for sounding like a road flick, and I’m sucker for those that take place in Japan as well).

Tokyo Vampire Hotel

I was originally going to just say Sion Sono and ‘nuff said, but apparently his latest was originally a ten episode series (for Amazon Prime, in Japan I’m assuming) that has been edited down to form a movie… just like Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s latest. Which I thoroughly enjoyed, cuz it’s Kiyoshi Kurosawa after all, but that’s not to say that I didn’t think it was perfect either. And as much of a super fan I am of Sion Sono, I also didn’t think Love Exposure was a staggering work of genius either. Yet given how strongly I resonate with his genre efforts… and this film happens to feature vampires… my gut tells me that it’ll be awesome.

Mega Time Squad

I’m not only about Japanese cinema; have also really gotten into Kiwi cinema as of late. Like everyone else, Taika Waititi has been my gateway, though that world as a whole is not completely unfamiliar, thanks to my interest in my long-standing interest Ozploitation (hence the aforementioned interest in Body Melt). But anyhow, Mega Time Squad is again about two things I love in one: inept criminals and time travel.

The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot

Um, the title of the movie is called The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot, ‘nuff said. But also, Same Elliot is great!

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07/25/2018

Review: Yocho, aka Foreboding (Japan Cuts 2018)

by Matthew Hawkins

The latest from Kiyoshi Kurosawa serves as a companion piece to his previous film, Before We Vanish. As one of the curators at Japan Society noted at the screening, they share the same “cinematic universe”, though Yocho feels less me too-is when considering the original format; it was initially a television miniseries that made its debut a month after the precursor hit the big screen. The theatrical version is essentially the original five episodes in a heavily edited compilation; I’m dying to know how long each one was, and therefore how much (as well as what exactly) was left on the cutting room floor. Because…

Yocho is essentially Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s take on Invaders of the Body Snatchers (well, technically his second). Which means it’s also about aliens planning a takeover of earth, who have embedded themselves in society, to covertly gather intel. But instead of stealing people wholesale, as in their identities, they rob people of abstract concepts, or “conceptions”. Early on a victim has the concept of “family” taken, hence why she freaks out when encountering her father, since she no longer understands the word, along with the meaning behind it. This same individual eventually becomes comatose, since the very concept of family is the basis of human society. The film primarily revolves around two humans; first is Etsuko, friend of the aforementioned victim, who after taking her to the hospital, ends up having a chance encounter with an alien pretending to be a doctor. Second is Etsuko’s husband Tatsuo, the assistant to one Dr. Makabe… aka the aforementioned alien in disguise? It works like this: when an alien lands on earth, they appoint an escort to show them the lay of the land. Tatsuo is one such lucky human, who picks and chooses Makabe’s victims, as well as help him produce the concepts that are desired at the moment.

Initially, Tatsuo targets individuals that he has issues with, but as things keep going, the weight of the situation becomes unbearable. But it’s not like he can just walk away from his role… or can he? Also, there are other aliens besides Makabe, right? Overall, Yocho is a fine accompaniment to Before We Vanish, yet one can’t help shake the feeling that perhaps it’s best absorbed via the original format. Because there’s definitely the sense that something is missing; with so much material to pull from, it’s understandable that the priority would be parts that ultimately drive the narrative forward. Yet any fan of Kiyoshi Kurosawa can tell you that the appeal of his work comes from the silence between the beats (hence why the idea of a conceivably five-hour long flick by the man to be most intriguing). Yet despite all that, Yocho nevertheless a thoroughly engaging and entertaining flick, one that further cements Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s status as a master class director, perhaps the absolute best in the realm of modern Japanese cinema. It’s just not his finest; see them both, and in any order really. Alas, I wasn’t able to see a screener beforehand, so the film’s lone screening has come and gone, though it will hopefully show up in one of the two dozen Roku channels that has become the home for Asian cinema!

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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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