Saturday, October 30, 2010

Doppelgangers Of The East?

Okay, perhaps I'm just being another starstruck cineaste with this one, but I couldn't help but be again hit with the anime star sighting bug upon re-watching Kenji Kamiyama's & Production IG's Eden Of The East (Higashi no Eden - My review from last year.). What I'm talking about here is when Japanese animators pay homage to live action film icons by sometimes placing their likenesses as characters in their projects. This has happened before numerous times in anime, and among the most famous ones can be traced to shows like Shinichiro Watanabe's Cowboy Bebop(1998), where the likenesses of even Woody Allen can take shape on the run from our ever starving space bounty hunters. An early one for me was during the run of of Kimagure Orange Road, which not only made a valiant nod to Mike Nichols' The Graduate (1967), but in the second season featured a character wearing a certain sunglasses-wearing Austrian bodybuilder's face for a killer mask. At this point, it is more than common practice in places, but rarely do I ever see anime parody japanese cinema that isn't as leaning on genre as I've recently pondered.

When I think of the films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, the first mental images that come to mind are that of long stretches of quiet as the camera breathes in the atmosphere of a particular moment. two actors also prominently come to mind in his works much like a comfy blanket, and a cat by my side, and they are often in the form of Jun Fubuki & Koji Yakusho. Many of his films revel in the at times dark material, punctuated by a certain unspoken wisdom in letting the scene play out naturally, instead of manipulating our emotions. And Yakusho & Fubuki are masters of this manner of verite. And they're pretty iconic to look at to boot. Whether it be in Kurosawa's Charisma (1999), or the often brilliant Seance (2000), and even in the more mainstream J-Horror subversion, Kairo (2001), their presence is almost ever constant. It's no wonder the director loves working with them.

Adding this to a series featuring a romantic lead with a love of the cinema (as his only remaining memories post brain-wipe), Eden Of The East is a sweeping series with added movie savvy, and I'm not doubting if Kamiyama, along with noted character designer, Chika Umino made a minor reference to Kurosawa in a character that helps establish the central plot. Doing my best to not spoil anything, I'll leave these images here for thought purposes. And again, I could be very wrong, but there's just something about this character and his arc that reminds me so much of the plight of many of Kurosawa's characters. Especially when his arc is fulfilled, it is a moment that ranks among one of my favorites in recent years. And executed with a naturalistic tone, not unlike the in-the-moment style of one of my current favorite filmmakers in the world today. 

A Near Decade Of Restless Dreams: Silent Hill 2 on Combo Attack!!

And yet, it all feels just right..

The latest edition of the cross media culture podcast, Combo Attack!! features an at times astonishing look into the darker corners of the video gaming experience. Joel, Alain and I are joined by film CG Texture Artist/Modeler, Krystal Sae Eua for what is easily my favorite episode thus far as we talk up current habits, upcoming stuff, and get up to our bleeding eyeballs in that oh so special place called Silent Hill. Finishing out our October series on a pretty high note, this is a 90-minute plus, super-episode filled with insight into the world of a unique gaming experience, and perhaps a little on what has happened to games of this ilk since SH2 debuted on the PS2 nearly a decade ago.

Technical issues aside, this was a great show to put together, and I'm proud to share it with all my fellow creatures.

Go Here For The Episode & Link Here For More Fun!

Taking On The Ultimate Monster Question...

Roughly a week and a half ago, Infant Island partner Jenny and I went right ahead and dove head on into the depths of a great mystery, and came up with one truly fun podcast for everyone to enjoy. This is one that from the creation of the Adventures podcast, I had been longing to gather data from, and it is at long last here.

Whether it be Toho's beloved behemoth, or Daiei's champion to children, there's no denying the simple power of a good giant monster film, so we decided to take them both on, with interesting results. I may have a growing affection for these films of an era long past, but hearing about them through new eyes is what it's all about.

So who wins out in the ultimate kaiju battle?

Find out here!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Nightmare Fuel Runner-Up Rundown!

Okay, so for those not yet on board, we at the Combo Attack!! podcast recently opted to, out of the many pillars of cinema freak-out that are out there in the ether, share a singular DVD pick that best encapsulates the Samhain season for each of us. This was largely due to scheduling, and frankly budget issues that left us with only so much space to work with. But when one thinks about it, this also makes for a potentially interesting, since there are so many other horror classics that I was think of when the leaves begin to fall, and winter's early chill begins to take hold. And since I only could pick one (which will be online shortly - Alain drew first blood HERE) , here are my top five that missed the hallowed spot.

Keep in mind that like favorite children, I'd pick them all had the podcast allowed for it!

So let the carnage begin!

5. Halloween (1978)

I'm not sure if there's anything I can add here that hasn't been raked through the coals already beyond recognition. John Carpenter's indie masterpiece is a thing of sheer wonder that while the world we live in now couldn't be more different, the tale of babysitter murders on Halloween night has something of a mythical quality that hits where it counts. Such a simple premise played to the hilt by cinematographer Dean Cundey, as well as the iconic performances by Donald Pleasance, and Jamie Lee Curtis. In fact, the entire tapestry of the film's production is a case in conceptual perfection. (Can one imagine Halloween without Carpenter's spiritual mindscrew of a score?) And topping this all off by utilizing the squeaky-clean seeming suburban hells of L.A. as Haddonfield, Illinois , as endless labyrinth. While it does very little for gender politics, it more than makes a strong case for independent female leads in genre film by an impressive bound. And let's not discount that still astonishing finale that drives home the ultimate expression of fear in familiar places. One cannot truly kill evil.

4. Night of The Living Dead (1968)

C'mon! They are going to eat us!!! Alain said it best when he mentioned the primal fear that runs though us all in our last Combo Attack!! There's just something truly horrid, and bold about what George Romero and pals set out to do as the world was on edge with change. The fear of living with a wholly new order of thought as they advance upon our complacent way of life is a powerful notion, and with Night, it is encompassed with the kind of veracity, and acerbic wit often missing from most horror films. And even as zombie films have 'advanced" over the years, into a state of pre-packaged irrelevance, this film stands as a powerful indictment of a nation's shameful hypocrisies, and offers the dreadful end result of such lack of any real connection between neighbors.

3. Kairo (2001)

As much as I enjoyed a few major entries in the J-horror wave of the late 90s, including Hideo Nakata's RINGU, and Takashi Shimizu's Ju-On, few riffs on the "angry ghost" cliche nailed it with as much topicality & power as Kiyoshi Kurosawa's brilliant inversion of the subgenre. Less interested in playing it like a film, and more like a dark stage parable on the mutual divisiveness of internet culture, Kairo is a no-holds-barred haunt fest, filled with enough memorably eerie sights and sounds to fill several films. While most definitely a slow burn, Kurosawa makes it clear with his youthful cast of net neophytes, and experts that he is concerned with his nation's increasing cloud of disconnect seemingly linked to technology in time of extended economic recession. The use of largely abandoned cityscapes, interiors, and some seriously troubling music by Takefumi Haketa, creates a world becoming overwhelmed by the machines that once heralded pride, and comfortably nestled in increasingly desperate isolation. Forget that unforgivable US remake, this is true fear.

2. Psycho (1961)

Hard to imagine the slasher film ever happening without this coming down the lane. Leave it to the mighty Hitch to deliver a one of a kind look into the look of varying degrees of evil. And yet somehow, he also finds a way for us to relate to the killer. And that is for me, PSYCHO's masterstroke. Forget that phenomenal swerve early in the film, and keep in mind that with most films of this kind, the so-called monster is often viewed as an external force to be dealt with from the outside of the good. (aka -Us) With the tale of Norman Bates, Alfred Hitchcock establishes the convention of the slasher by doing something most films wouldn't dare do now. Case in point is the scene where the vehicle carrying evidence is run into a watery bog. To see the vehicle stop sinking, we ourselves are implicated, and this is where the disorientation begins to take full shape, and we are now accomplices to the crime. All performances by Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, and even Martin Balsam are wonderful, but I doubt they knew what kind of game changer they were involved in. Still stunning.

1. The Exorcist (1974)

And now we're down to it. yes, I understand just how obvious this all seems, but it just stands to reason. Few films embraced as equal focus on the realism of a world, as well as the supernatural. It is at times the perfect marriage of verite cinema ever attempted as the worlds of the dramatic and horrific do a rare dance that defies expectations, and delivers one impactful scene after another. In some ways, I'd love to see William Friedkin's classic as less of a "horror film", and more a gut-wrenching mediation on faith. Excellent performances by Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller, Linda Blair, Lee J. Cobb, and Max Von Sydow highlight this cinematic equivalent of a penultimate magic act. Even after so many viewings over the years, the film loses none of its potency. As the frazzled Chris MacNeil finally convinces the faithless Father Karras to bring in noted exorcist, Merrin, and the film's climax begins proper, there's this sense that it is time to truly check your gut at the door, because it is an ultimate expression of the eternal battle between polar opposing forces. The battle for little Regan's life is handled in a manner that still defies belief, and instills me with that rare feeling that movies can...rarely achieve. And even as the calm reappears in the final moments, Mike Oldfield's classic Tubular Bells serve as a reminder that this is something to be mindful of, always. While I may be a lover of being frightened, The Exorcist is a reminder of things beyond the screen in a way that rivals profundity, and transcends belief systems all over by walking the walk, as if over the finest razor's edge.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Rubber Gods & The People Who Love Them

Feels pretty good to be able to get back on the back of the creature once again, and share someof what's been happening as of the last few days. And among the cool things in the works at the moment, we here at Kaijyu have finally been able to coordinate, and finish what could be a signature episode of the Adventures On Infant island podcast! With the completion of a full watch of several James Bond films over the last several months, we have also go ahead and completed a long awaited viewing of 1954's Gojira, as well as 1965's Dai Kaiju Gamera respectively, so that we could share some words with listeners. So in the spirit of drumming up some anticipation for this episode, I found it to be fun to share a few things that came rushing to my mind this time with two films that have long had a history in my life.

With this weekend's viewing, it came to pass just how diversely these films affected me as a quiet, introverted 5 year old, living in the quiet farmlands of South Cal. To see both of these films back to back, it suddenly occurred to me which one was the more scarring, indelible piece of work, while the other was an encompassing of everything that was being young, and coming to terms with a world not well understood. Honda's monster movie, was something of a grand scale parable of horror that helped me understand what it was to survive within the malestrom of clamity, whether it be disasters of the natural persuasion, or man-made ones. It's a scary, personal piece that helped put those frightening paintings I saw in maritime museums with mankind's grandest creations succumbing to the monolithic forces of nature into more vivid perspective. While Yuasa's giant turtle movie is something more akin to a youth forced into a world without proper guidance, all the while throwing a gargantuan tantrum via stomping & sucking fire in some fruitless yearning for understanding in a world running for their guns.

Catching these films on Los Angeles-based channels KTLA & KHJ Channel 9 were amongst the more impression-making tv memories I have growing up as these channels often had marathons of english-dubbed kaiju movies. Not only were these films major totems of my childhood in featuring the coolness of monsters destroying cities, toppling models, and fighting increasingly bizarre opponents, but they also served as an early mirror to how another culture handled their heroes, as well as each other with an unrivaled gusto.(they made these elaborate toys, models, and environments- almost exclusively to be destroyed! COOL.) And these were clear, even as the localization often did their damndest to make it easier for us westerners to understand what was going on. And yet, it hardly mattered at the time. Monsters Were Fighting! (And wasn't that a giant robot?)

But it was these two giants that made for some truly unforgettable weekends with family.

While I may use the visage of the legendary "friend to children" on my site, it is more of an embracement of that sense of childhood wonder, and perplexed nature that comes with exploration. As much as Gojira always made the deeper impression, his presence is more of a seething anger with tackling life now co-mingled with the existence of science in the service of mankind's greatest weaknesses, and therefore feels a lot less appropriate. If this were a rant & flame site, carrying some kind of splintery lumber on my shoulder at internet fandom, or some other "them", perhaps the big lizard would have been more prescient on these pages. But alas, the pages of The Wandering Kaijyu serve more as a love for culture, and the mutations that helps spur forward the evolutionary changes that myth may offer in such surreal, promising times. And perhaps through this, we may also find flight, and perhaps even inspire kinship with those looking to inspire, rather than decry.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Horrors Inherent In Waiting

Posts should soon come back to regular rhythm soon, but until then...Surprise!

Two Combo Attack episodes within weeks of each other. This is more like it! Ah, October...Time to kick some tropes around, and see what was so darned good about zombies in their heyday.

This one's for you, George.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Playing Up Desperation (Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt)

Now I'm likely to get flack for the little blurb I have for you this morning, but these thoughts seriously require a home here.

While it's becoming more and more evident that it's probably best to share views on a show after it ends, there are just some projects that are much like sampling foods where some just aren't going to jibe with what it's attempting to accomplish. And that is seriously at the core of my problems with GAINAX's latest.

Horoyuki Imaishi's Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt is a case study in what I'd like to call Lush Desperation. Even as the product itself is made with an impressive amount of enthusiasm, it is all in the service of some misguided idea of commercial value. Played out more like an early day Cartoon Network show on goofballs, P & S w/ G is likely aiming for a market that has long since become a disposable american staple of cable animation, with an added dash of the crude to make it stand out. And the end result is something akin to many ad campaigns of days past, packed with visual flare, but could easily fill the background with noise, rather than any proof that the product bears any value to the consumer. (An intellectually empty - Adult Swim wannabe -CHECK.)

And that's the tragedy of it all, while attempting what clearly seems to be an overture to international cult success, it fails at being remotely funny or engaging. Just name out any number of CN shows with this type of temperament in ADD-drowned entertainment, and it all just becomes a dull blur. I don't really care about what is happening, nor am I amused at the antics on display. And this is a terrible shame, since the presentation is at times brilliant for the eyes, and has so much talent on display. To see this all squandered in a time most in need of a crossover hit, this is more like forgetting the fences, skipping a low grounder with bases loaded, and just aiming for the pitcher's mound.(

While I'm sure many animation nerds will eat it up, there is little to recommend about the pilot, and gives me little hope for future episodes. All I can see is more of the same, with pretty pictures, and more gross-out ala the occasional Korean comedy. It just speaks little to me, and reminds me more of what "Chi" said on ANNCast several months back, regarding the industry's recent number-crunching to seek out the upcoming "fads" in american pop culture. This reeks of that disconnect in a BIG way, and I don't think we're going to see the end of it soon.

What a gorgeous waste of time.