Friday, February 26, 2010

Belated HAUSU (1977) Review

It's actually been about a year-plus since I first (finally) experienced Nobuhiko Obayashi's HAUSU via an imported dvd, and will come clean by admitting that this has easily been one of the more dreaded reviews I've ever had to write. Well, is this film bad? Goodness in the universe, NO. In fact, the complete opposite reaction is apt to even remotely describing my views on this much overlooked, underseen manic masterwork. The core reasons why this writeup has so long eluded me is something a little tougher to elucidate, because in its most simplistic of answers, HAUSU is defiant in nearly every respect to description. Defiant in regards to what it truly is, defiant in regards to how the masses, no matter the generation would ever be viewing it. It is simply in a category all its own, and dares anyone in its path to sum it up in any simple. label-ready manner. And considering the international success of latter films such as RINGU, JU-On, and others, it will go down in the history of hidden shame that the world didn't embrace this film, even as some kind of bizarre curio centerpiece for gonzo cinema. HAUSU is truly that unique, and then some.

The framework (rather than simple story) is that the lovely young Oshare(Ikegami Kimiko) upon news that her widowed father would soon be remarrying, decides to take a trip to the hills to spend some time with her aunt(Minamida Yuko), who's wealth, and reclusive tendencies have had her living within a lonely old house, far from prying eyes. Along for the trip are her classmates whom have names that singularly describe their respective personalities. There's Maku (Sato Mieko), who loves eating, Suiito (Sweet), the requisite "moe" element, Melody(Tanaka Eriko) , the musician, and yes, Kung-Fu (Jinbo Miki) & Fanta (Ohba Kumiko). When upon finding grandmother's country home, we are already host to a surreal, cartoon world that clearly is meant to imply the universal nature of these simple characters. Because when we realize that the house in question is in fact possessed by a malevolent force, matters of simple horror are exaggerated to levels of absurd that the film teeters beyond simple parody, and into a heightened art level that is sheer audio-visual hyperbole, out to devour all who stand to survive the night.

Whether it be via the inanimate, home animals, and even those once thought to be trusted, nothing is as initially presented, and comes with a menace unrivaled in film anywhere else. Where most genre films decide to hit the brakes, HAUSU pushes past, goes for broke, and leaves one dizzily wanting more.

Using all the means at his disposal, commercial director, Obayashi sees his debut film as a chance to let loose in the most literal sense of the expression. And in an astonishing reminder of the times in which it was made, the TOHO studios actually accommodated these desires.(That , or just didn't notice until release. Can only imagine what that must've been like.) His aggressive use of animation, bleeding pastels, experimental filming, editing, and analog weirdness is enforced as if at war with the very notion of film itself. Punk-horror at its most definitive. And even this seemingly random barrage of assaults does not gloss up the almost fetishistic idolization of his heroines, who are clearly the film's true focus. Pre-dating the heyday of Japanese idols, the film also serves as a celebration of young femininity at odds with the then-all-consuming notions of marital bliss, and the ostracism that comes without it. It almost carries a sort of double-edged logic that on one side praises the status-quo, but within the horror lies a seething sense that Post-War Japan had indeed created a land of domestic monsters residing within the very comforts of westernization.

Easily, many will compare the frenzied energy of this piece to films such as Evil Dead II(1987), and even Braindead (1992), but what is witnessed here is a delirious shotgun blast of a horror film that has a lot more on its mind than mere crowd-pleasing schlock. And even if Obayashi's latter films never reached the heights of this late 70s masterpiece (his movie version of Umezu's classic manga,The Drifting Classroom is a legendary misstep), it is clear that his immense talent is in full, unchained bloom here. It's like a fever dream brought on by one too many Yoo-Hoo's, cough medicine, laced with some of that famous punch everyone keeps talking about.

Now to even go further into what makes HAUSU so special would be to take away from the entire experience. Which is exactly as it should remain, a movie experience like no other that deserves multiple viewings to be fully appreciated.

This review was finally completed after news came that Janus films announced their showings of HAUSU in L.A. at the New Beverly, starting Friday, March 12th-the 16th before Criterion finally brings the film home to DVD. Either way, one can't lose, but I'll definitely will be in the crowd come March 12th, so I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Vengeance (2009) Review

It's far from anything remote to say that the artistic arc of one Johnnie To has been one of HK cinema's great hard lefts to greatness. Starting up within good 'ol Tsui Hark's camp of madmen in the 90s with the camp-soaked Heroic Trio, and inevitably becoming one of Asia's foremost cinema stylists has been something of cult legend. His journeys into a noir vision of the east's criminal element, and beyond have had the kind of artful eye that is capable of rising above even middling material. Which is perfect for Vengeance, which could have easily been a lesser film in another's hands.

French rock legend, Johnny Hallyday plays Costello, a restaurant owner who's rarely seen daughter is the survivor of a savage home attack upon her husband and children in Macau. New to the geography, but bristling with rage, employs the aid of a cadre of professional hit-men, led by the ever-great Anthony Wong. But in the hunt for those responsible, the lines between Costello and his killer charges soon resemble one anothers, leading everyone to question, just who is this mysterious chef anyway?

Again, with a synopsis like that, it's easy to dismiss this as late night movie-time fodder, but with To at the helm, we are host to some stunning imagery & mood as both camps of killers lock horns in a game that has some oft-unbreakable rules. It is the life of those who take them that are the main focus of the piece, and the sacrifices to self that it entails hovers over the cast like a shroud. And as the film's larger scope than is normal for a To film, it is rife with gorgeous action, cityscapes, and interiors that invoke a kind of ghost world aura that these men inhabit. To, Hallyday, and Wong are fully aware of the kind of film that is at play here, and milk it for everything it's worth. Also in on the wild proceedings are Simon Yam as a criminal boss, and Ip Man's Lam Ka-Tung as one of Wong's crew.

Also of note are the blistering shootout scenes that are amped to absurd levels with a terrific combo of no incidental scoring in these scenes, and a powerful sound mix, creating a tension that is truly nerve-busting.

And yet even as all of this sounds great at the offset, it is still clearly To's precision-based direction that is at front and center with this film as the story takes some unexpected turns in the third act. Even when some of the decisions don't work altogther, it's the attention to Hallyday and his journey toward the final showdown that make it work. Taken for what it is, Vengeance is a beautiful noir actioner that lives and breathes atmosphere if not effective drama.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Playing On Old Directives

Blame Mouthmaster Murf & the rest of The Anomalies because I've been on a late 80s kick since last weekend as I dug out my old copy of Paul Verhoeven's dystopian masterwork , Robocop. As much as I'd love to heap more praise upon this, a longtime favorite of mine, I'd rather just spend a few moments on just what kind of impact this very R-rated film had on a twelve-year-old me.

5. It exposed me to the true definition of forbidden fruit.

Confession: RoboCop was the first R-rated film I repetitiously sneaked in to see, and reigns supreme as the one film I've seen the most times in a theater. (Seven times!)My father took me the first time, and it was like something akin to that first score, just irresistible.

4. It reawakened my love of mecha.

Since I was very small, it was a little too clear that I had a grand love of all things cybernetic. From military-issue, to superhero, to hard-suit, I was always crazy for machines living alongside humankind. And Robo's particular stylings added a dimension most reminiscent of certain manga and video-games.

3. It offered me a grand mistrust of corporations.

Let's just face it. Murphy's fate at the hands of the folks of OCP is not only questionable, but downright tragic. Whether Dan O' Herilhy's Old Man was truly evil, or just a dreaming fool, undermined by cutthroats and opportunists is beside the point. The line at which these men stop at clawing for their own gain is nonexistent to the point that they would sacrifice semblance of order for a mere profit share. If there were any true villains in this film, there they were in their towers, hovering around the edges of the narrative as Detroit descends into hell.

2. It made me a fan of brashy, no-holds-barred cinema.

As much as I watched some pretty wild fare growing up, this was the film that opened my eyes to the possibility of using film to push the envelope in regards to not only subject matter, but of the content. Who else witnessed crowds of people shriek, and cringe at the violence meter in this film? It was unprecedented at the time, and still has impact today, despite being able to realize anything now with CG, proving it isn't so much what one says, but in how one says it. And RoboCop does so in a particularly aggressive, memorable fashion.

1. It enhanced my love of thoughtful science fiction.

Seriously. Outside of films like 2001, Terminator, and books like War Of The Worlds, Dune, and others, I was still very much a child of Star Wars/Star Trek, and could only really make noise about the more action-based elements of these. As brainy as I saw myself, I never at that time saw films carrying deeper ideas that I could instantly read into until this sly little piece of work came out. Even as the film storms its way in as a summertime popcorn-chomper, I very surprisingly also found it to be savagely funny in how it seemed to deliver a bruising sucker-punch to a decade drowning in excess, at the expense of the working class. I didn't need an adult to explain to me the concerns bubbling through the fire and smoke. Something was indeed coming through loud and clear upon witnessing Murphy's transformation from dutiful working man, into a blank-staring, sharp-shooting product.

And just happy to say that after nearly 25 years later, it's still an addiction that requires lapses every now and then.

Friday, February 12, 2010

In The Pipe 5 X 5!

Been listening to this track since Monday, and I can say without reservation that this is a most accurate fan representation of how I felt upon first watching the 1986 Jim Cameron masterpiece ALIENS. Originally popular for their Amazing Robocop & Predator raps, The Anomalies & pals have served up above and beyond (apparently the story of the making of this video was almost as heart-stopping as the films they were paying tribute to as the hardware hiccups almost lost the project to time immemorial.) to deliver the perfect 10 -minute summation of one of the most intense pieces of pop cinema ever made.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Original Macross On Hulu After All...

Okay. In only a few brief posts, we have revealed that I'm a scatterbrained curr when it comes to a blog like this, but now readers will stumble upon another closet fact..I can be an idiot at times.

Yep. Turns out that Superdimension Fortress Macross is indeed on Hulu, and in BOTH Robotech, and original (albeit more recently dubbed) editions! Leave it to my lack of checking on the pull down tabs to find this little piece of info out.

The dub exhibited here was done a few years ago by the folks at ADV, and is perhaps the best possible job done with this 80s classic. Also worthy of note is the unprecedented casting of songstress Iijima Mari, who originally played the iconic super idol Lynn Minmei in the original 1982 production, making this version a real family affair for fans new and old.

Again, I must restate my love for this series, and hope this move by Hulu will introduce it to a whole new battery of admirers.

Click Here To Remember Love

Regarding Courtship Rituals...

In celebration of the chocolate-slinging, and promise breaking ahead, I figured it was time to share some thoughts on dating between not only anime/manga fans, but just about anyone in general. Modern romantics invited!

Mushy Post Ahoy!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Gerwalk This Way

Just stumbled upon the news that a seminal series from my childhood has been given perhaps the biggest free-content compliment any show could be granted in this day and age, a Hulu release! It is no secret that one of the flagship few that drew me hopelessly into the fanboy web called otaku was a little TV series called Robotech. Its three seemingly connected stories featuring a struggling humanity against far more powerful alien foes while sporting some awe-inspiring mecha was something of a godsend for a kid who's love of Star Wars had reached critical mass. As the Holy Trilogy had indeed been over for a little over a year, it seemed only sensible that this project would crack the code of my mind, and present me not only with a great follow-up to shows such as Star Blazers(Uchu Senkan Yamato), Battle Of The Planets (Science Ninja Team Gatchaman), and Voltron (Golion). But this series had elements that were special in how it took some incredibly absurd ideas, and made them pillars of legend.

Most notably, the first series within the trilogy, Superdimensional Fortress Macross (originally produced in 1982 by Studio Nue & Tatsunoko) was the singular event that possibly heralded my future interests within and beyond the anime medium. It was a series that took the space war format, and created a world where not only action was the order of the day, but so was the unwavering power of culture. It also presented me with something I hadn't ever considered in this type of tale, an honest to goodness love story fraught with complications, pratfalls, and ultimately growth. Macross' brilliant tapestry of Mecha melodrama, War Tale, Science Fiction Epic, Love Story, and paean to all things creative was perhaps a sparking point in what would ensure my return to the medium several years later (after I had once assumed maturity, and beyond such things-go figure). It is a series made by fans for fans, and was apparently speaking in a timbre I immediately recognized because its resonance can still be felt today. Yep. That silly bar was raised quite high very early on.

And now, the Americanized version I first grew up with is on Hulu with every episode uploaded. And despite the fact that as an elder lover of the original Japanese series, this is as good an opportunity as any to catch a singular part of my wandering days as a child. (This was years before catching the 1984 feature film, and inevitably the untouched Japanese version, not to mention all the follow-up TV and Video series.) Just be wary that this version was produced in the less trusting 1980s where dubs were a dicey proposition, and often not known for their quality. But in its defense, I will say that much of the original scripts, however juvenile at times, remain intact with the exception of inferences to "Robotech Masters" later in the series, these were merely inserted as lead-ins for the other two (in reality) unrelated tv series (Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross & Genesis Climber Mospeada) as part of a means to play them off as a sort-of trilogy.

Ok...As goofy as that just sounded, it's important to consider just how rare it was to even have anime brought to the US at this point. This was the only reasonable way to even bring Macross to the West, which is why I don't fault Carl Macek or Harmony Gold for taking the measures they did in order to bring this amazing series to a broader audience. Even to this day, it still remains an extremely fun, inventive, thrilling, and even strangely moving experience that I can recommend to just about anyone. And that's a big part of Macross' greatest claims to fame, it balances the human and the absurd in appropriate doses to deliver all encompassing entertainment, and it shouldn't be missed by anyone interested in anime history. For all its age, and influence, the song of Macross travels on...

(If you still need convincing, and maybe even wish to know more about Macross, check out DarkMirage's post as he explores every series and comes up with some interesting thoughts.)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Halcyon Go Round

You know? After last night's viewing of the Korean Romcom, Crazy Waiting (aka The Longest 24 Months), I've been back into the groove of catching asian films with aesthetics such as lingering handheld shots, unusual cutting, austere use of color, and an appealing young cast, creating a soothing effect without irony or sarcasm. The film was harmless enough, and perhaps not even worth writing anything about. But it definitely had me watching like a long recovered addict who has accidentally fallen into a crack party.

As artificial as it may seem to some, there's also some very earnest material brought forth in films like Tokyo Trash Baby (2000), All About Lily Chou-Chou (2001), and Distance(2001). There's also this great, grizzled sort of verisimilitude that elevates these works to a more subconscious level for me. Perhaps it is the lack of reliance on knee-jerk gimmickry, or even the focus on an almost surreal vision of young life. And even as it can be said that I myself still have a few good years left before I can honestly look back longingly, there is something to be said about the last ten years regarding verite filmmaking. A sort of in-the-moment take on cinema that echoes eras such as the late 60s-early 70s, when shooting from the hip was catching fire in Europe and beyond. Seeing that sort of expressonistic bent taken in more mainstream terms can be seen as disheartening to some, but I feel that with an honest outlook, any good story can be told in this manner. Which is to say that there are many other unexplored angles with which to dive into come future days.

I just happen to love catching films with this sort of almost-controlled chaos driving them. It also helps to have an indie tinged soundtrack, and some very sweet notions amidst said torrent.

Not the most representative trailer, but a fun diversion nonetheless.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Living & Breathing Kanno

And where would this blog be without some of the rare few individuals who have not only provided me, and many others with enjoyment, but have also been a profound fuel for inspiration in my world. Would be easy enough to just highlight a list of these folks, but in the spirit of the sheer weigh of inspiration we are dealing with, it only makes sense to give full stage to someone who's works have not only helped illuminate great stories, but significantly helped raised the bar for production value for an entire medium. In V.Zero, they would be considered titans. This is something far more significant.

Muses can exist.

But to perhaps gain a clearer idea of what I mean, I probably need to reveal a little more about certain inspirations in my life. Like most people,one of the greatest sources of dream fuel I had was music, and no type of music was more potent to me than the sound of a full orchestra. Be it listening to an old vinyl recording of Bach or Tchaikovsky, or another of my endlessly growing collection of movie scores. I was infected by the film score virus quite early, mostly due to one John Williams, who's Star Wars, Jaws, and Close Encounters albums were immense in complimenting my dreams, be it day or night. And soon came Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Hermann, James Horner and many others...

But upon growing into my high school years..The recoil began to surface,and I soon found myself rebelling against the very thing that inspired me. Not quite sure what I would find on the other end, it was a world that was ripped wide open due to discovering pop-core legends like Pixies,and then into esoterically bizarre material like Throbbing Gristle, SPK,and soforth...Over really began to feel as if my tastes had mutated into a limitless space of pure possibility.....or just plain artistic absurdity.

And then the anime bug came back with a vengeance...but with a new pack of venom called Macross Plus. Being the big budget new chapter in what was perhaps my first true favorite series, i was taken aback by the idea that some companies saw money in bringing some soundtracks overseas...(remember..this was a time when fandom was mostly comprised of older men..the Pokemon/shoujo revolution was at least four years away)The sky blue cover with Sharon Apple symbol on the cover,mentioning the music composed by a completely unknown female writer. Well..being one never to shy away from a tease(I hadn't watched Plus just yet...I just found a new job and was doing something I like doing,...listening to a film's music before seeing the work,just to put myself in the headspace first.), I bought the first album.....and was simply stunned at the pure vision this composer had. The music budget was clearly higher than for most anime I had heard at that time....And the amazing mix between orchestral sweep,and intimate usage of guitar,pianos, & synth...signaled a calling.

One that would speak to me in a way that I always wanted to hear...but never could believe was probable in this modern musical climate.

That was August of 95. The effect was immediate. My bloodstream caught the grand and beautiful illness called Yoko Kanno.

Since then, her output has been nothing short of mind-boggling as she continues to shock, amaze, and continuously refresh my mind with her incredible resolve and deep sense of life. Whether it be her too-cool-for-Lucas collaboration with Hajime Mizoguchi in Tenku No Escaflowne, eclectic etherea in Brain Powerd, industry smashing rock-jazz extravaganza Cowboy Bebop, or others..she never ceases to transport hundreds of thousands in search of what most musicians could only dream of achieving in one lifetime. Only in her albums can one have a massive orchestral piece, replete with choir, shift to a sullen country ballad, then go wild jazz, suddenly to pure experimental and even metal in the same twenty minutes of cd time. It is not only my admiring of her immense crop of work..she is also an incredible collaborator.. Often working alongside amazing talent like Maaya Sakamoto, Mai Yamane, Steve Conte, Tim Jensen, Origa, Ilaria Graziano, Gariela Robin, Akino Arai, James Wendt, and many others..She is a musical luminary not unlike David Bowie, Brian Eno, David Byrne, and perhaps capable of heights beyond. There's just noone out there who's musical bases are this ambitiously covered.

(and let's not forget the hyperbole-defining work she contributed toward making Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex one of the defining anime works of the modern age.)

And there isn't a genre she doesn't love either..which is also a testament to the power of her work.

Right around the period upon which america was just beginning to catch on with the stateside release of Escaflowne and Bebop, she made a rare appearance to Anaheim's Anime Expo in 99,...where not only did a friend and I lost one night's sleep in order to be in line for her performance/panel...We were able to get tickets in order to meet the woman herself...A life memory I wouldn't trade for all the money..anywhere...She wasn't only the most focused person I had ever met,..she was also one of the funniest,most inviting folk I've ever had the dumb luck to meet.(Radical Edward is more than comic relief, and loosely based on her often loopy personality.)Just being able to ask her whom she'd love to work with in america was enough for me to feel blessed.

Perhaps one can even imagine my reaction when her music adorned the flashy fan "thank-yous" of Macross Frontier. Needless to say I felt as if I had skipped death, and was in smack in the middle of musical Valhalla, with perhaps some of the most ambitious work she has done to date, delivering J-Pop beyond anything readily available in the mainstream. Frontier's musical charms were proof that Kanno has only emboldened with time, and will remain a force to be reckoned with when regarding musical image.

So I guess you can say that Kanno-sensei has pretty much been a very important part of the last fourteen years, and i could only look forward to the day when her voice reaches that much larger of an audience.

Or perhaps it has already happened, and she's frankly beyond anything remotely within the West's reach?

-Oh..and as for the one director she'd love to work for in the US?

David Lynch...But she says he has a great enough one though. (Badalamenti)

Well put. Well put indeed.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Foregoing the initial testing to just say that this was perhaps an inevitable move from the bustle of a first website that was in serious danger of an identity crisis. There must be a home for not only the spontaneous reports and thoughts that spur to mind about current pop culture without endangering the flow concerning new, emerging works that deserve more focus.

And while The Cortex was undoubtedly a fun time, it is time to cast aside that baggage, and give the creature his own set of islands to explore. Enter The Wandering Kaijyu, home to news, thoughts, and even the occasional fiction & video. Dare to travel with me?(I even have a few stashed bipeds in my knapsack for some noms later.)

Expect new, and fun posts soon!(damn, these taste awesome)