So what’s next? Oh, you know what’s next… it’s the 2018 edition of JAPAN CUTS! Hit that trailer…

And as I did with my NYAFF coverage, expect to see pairs of reviews over the next few (that’s the plan, at least). As for today, I’ll be looking at the festival’s two animated features…

Back in the day, when it was more commonly referred to as Japanimation, one of the main selling points of anime in America was “this ain’t cartoons for kids!” Aside from referencing the fact that most cartoons in the US at the time were aimed at kids (on a mainstream level to be clear), they were also seemingly indistinguishable. Largely because, again, they were mostly for children; never mind how a considerable bulk of anime itself looks fairly similar back then. And that’s still the case today. I say this has a HUGE fan of anime, but let’s be honest here: much of it is indistinguishable from each other. Also, while much of it may not be appropriate for children (and proudly so), that doesn’t mean it ain’t juvenile either. Yet such homogeneity is completely understandable; anime comes from a relatively small country with not exactly the most diverse culture, plus it’s a cottage industry. Anime is a product. Hence why Night is Short, Walk On Girl is such a welcome splash of cold water, by defying what’s possible or at least what we’ve come to expect.

Though as one might have guessed, the film takes place over the course of a single evening and follows an unnamed individual that’s only referred to as “The Girl with Black Hair“, a wide-eyed & warm-hearted college student who kicks her evening off by sneaking out of a social gathering, to check out the town’s night life by bar hopping. Cuz this girl… boy oh boy… can she drink. One of the very first that she shares is with some dude; he treats “The Girl” cuz she reminds him of his daughter. Yet he still tries to grab her tits. Cuz the guy’s a perv, obviously, yet not just personally but professionally as well: the bills are paid by dealing erotic art. Something he’s embarrassed by, enough to stop him from showing up to his aforementioned daughter’s wedding party, hence why he was found drinking his sorrows away. Turns out, the bridal celebration is also what “The Girl” had snuck out of! Which happens a lot in this film; around every corner, she runs into one wacky character after another, all of whom are connected in some manner. Not long, she’s in a drinking contest with some rich old guy… then she’s at some night time book fair… then she finds herself on stage as the latest lead in some guerrilla theater troupe… and so forth.

Night is Short, Walk On Girl‘s ultra-freewheeling atmosphere, which often times reaches hallucinatory levels, is largely accomplished due to its playful animation style, and as somewhat hinted at the top, is a serious breath of fresh air. I honestly have no idea what the scale of its production was, but it feels like a small budget film that got its money’s worth, thanks to animators and the like, who simply had tons of fun. Also again, it’s not a kids movie, but that’s not to say that it’s no appropriate for children; a certain portion will go over their heads, but it’s like cool adults talking. The film also is heavily stepped n Japanese traditions, so even adults who are gaijin might be confused. Alas, the night is long on various levels; despite only being an hour and a half, the end needlessly drags on a bit, by hitting the viewer on the head with THE MESSAGE way too much. For better or worse, Night is Short, Walk On Girl does at this point succumbs to certain tropes (not inherent to just anime but all Japaneses live action media as well) and ends up resembling at least one other anime that many are already familiar with, specifically the last two televised episodes of the original Neon Genesis Evangelion. Still, it’s highly recommended! Unfortunately, Japan Society’s sole screening is sold out, but it’s getting a wider release next month, courtesy of GKIDS.

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07/03/2018

Review: Paradox (NYAFF 2018)

by Matthew Hawkins

For a certain set of individuals… specifically hardcore Hong Kong cinephiles… all that needs to be said is that Paradox also goes by Sha po lang 3 (aka Kill Zone 3). But then again, those same folk have probably seen the movie already, given that it came out last year. So for everyone else… yes, it’s the third installment of what could be considered officially a franchise, one that sprung from a film that basically helped to rescue HK’s cinema scene from the brink of oblivion. Though there’s basically zero connection to the original, aside from the return of director Wilson Yip, plus Sammo Hung is as the fight choreographer, credited this time.

Alas no Donnie Yen this time, but the star instead is Louis Koo, and more or less everyone agrees that it’s one of his finest performances in recent memory; Koo assumes the role of Lee, a HK detective whose daughter runs away from home. Basically, he didn’t approve of his little girl’s choice of a husband to be. So much so that dad had the guy arrested. Plus he forced his daughter to get an abortion. Hence why she escapes to Thailand to hang with a friend, but ends up missing, so Lee heads on over to assist with the investigation that’s already in progress. One spearheaded by Chui, a fellow Chinese detective on the local police, played by Wu Yue, plus Chui’s partner Tak, who’s a Thai native and played by Tony Jaa. I initially assumed that Tak was in Sha po lang 2, which I never saw, but Wikipedia informed that this wasn’t the case. Though it’s a safe bet that Jaa was as god damn charming in that movie as he is in this one.

As it turns out, there’s also this politician with a bad heart, so the slimy assistant played by the always awesome Gordon Lam reaches out to an illegal organ harvester, who produces vitals from kidnapped victims… I think you know where this is going. The most important thing is this: the fight scenes, predictably, are AMAZING. I mean, it’s Sammo Hung calling the shots, what else would one expect? Yet also seeing Jaa pulling them off… it’s pure magic. The production values are also ultra-slick, as one would expect from any big budget HK production with the aforementioned big names involved. In the end, Paradox is… mostly okay. I mean, it’s no Sha po lang 1, but that movie was the right place at the right time. Which is not to say Sha po lang 3 is bad, just missing that little extra (to be more precise: Jaa is severely underutilized). Nonetheless, it’s a fine way to spend your 4th of July, especially since the AC at Walter Reade Theater is quite superb; the film plays at 7:45pm btw.

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06/30/2018

Review: Inuyashiki (NYAFF 2018)

by Matthew Hawkins

Inuyashiki is a tale of your average downtrodden salaryman, Ichiro Inuyashiki. It’s immediately established that he gets zero respect from his wife, let alone his boss, and just ten minutes in, Ichiro also discovers that he has cancer PLUS his wife tells her loser of a husband to get rid of his dog, the man’s only friend (never mind best). Well, one evening while walking the pup in a nearby park, a white light envelops Ichiro, who wakes up the following morning with zero recollection as to what the hell happened. So he heads back home to have breakfast with the rest of the fam, but cannot, cuz Ichiro’s now a robot! Or something like that; his new form cannot process miso soup. A more noteworthy attribute is healing powers; when an injured pigeon that Ichiro handles becomes 100% by just holding it in his hands, he decides to swing by area hospitals and cures everyone of their serious maladies (though he keeps his profile low and is known by the public at large as an unidentified miracle worker).

But Ichiro wasn’t the only one at the park that night; Hiro, a high school student was close by, who also enveloped by the light and as such also received super powers. When revealing this to his best buddy Ando, he claims that he’s a super hero and demonstrates this by blowing a pigeon out of the sky by pretending his hand is a gun? Seems more super villain-ish than anything else. And Hiro becomes more or less a full-fledged bad guy when… after spending time with dad, who seemingly loves his son a whole lot, but if he really did, why did he leave mom and get a new wife plus new kids… decides to take that aggression out on some innocent family while heading home. So Hiro is no hero, yet he’s not a total jerk either; it takes zero effort to add dollars to his bank account, which he happily passes along to Ando as spending money, tho his best bud wants no part… especially after also discovering that Hiro killed that family from the news.

Hiro also loves his mother dearly, as established by the resentment towards his father. When the police identifies him as the killer, Hiro’s mother is bullied by the public over her son’s crimes, ending with her suicide. Which causes her son to completely snap and go on a killing spree, which is when the film truly comes to it’s own. Because up until this point, the movie has actually done an admiral job of doing what has always seemed, in mind, impossible for a movie produced in Japan: by successfully reproducing elements found in America, in this case a super hero flick. For years, dare I say decades, Japan has attempted to make the kind that Hollywood pumps out, and the end result has been abysmal, and Inuyashiki marks the first legit successful attempt in recent memory. But on top of all that, the aforementioned rampage also manages to tap into J-horror tropes, and brilliantly so.

2018′s New York Asian Film Festival will be the year in which my faith interest in Japanese cinema has been completely restored, thanks to films like Liverleaf, One Cut of the Dead, and now Inuyashiki. Can’t recommend it enough! And not just cuz I’m a sucker for a good super hero flick… though it definitely plays a huge part. Inuyashiki is the first film of the final day of NYAFF 2018, Sunday July 15, 1:00pm at the SVA Theatre.

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