As a three day weekend comes to something of a relaxed close, it felt like a pretty good time to go ahead and share some thoughts on a number of things watched over the last few weeks. And since Gamera: Revenge Of Iris is nowhere to be seen on Blu-ray, this feels like a good place to follow up my reviews for Kaneko's first two monster entries. And while the majority of what's been playing in the domicile veers relatively far from the Kaiju side of things, I'm sure there'll be something worth examining here as many of these are re-watches that are telling of how much certain views of them remain the same, versus others that may have changed over time (or rather, post-film education, podcasting, reading, etc.). It is an interesting thing to re-evaluate something that at one time may have had a more prescient place in the heart. But before getting to all that, here's something I wasn't sure was going to wind up on these pages...
Midnight Eagle (2007)
Oh boy. If there is anything regarding J-cinema that hurts like a rock in the shoe, it's television-laced sentimentalism, and artifice. And that pretty much oozes throughout Izuru Narushima's adaptation of Tetsuo Takashima's political thriller novel.It's the story of respected photojournalist Yuji Nishizaki (played half asleep by Takao Osawa), who's work covering not only war-torn lands in an unnamed Middle Eastern nation, but of vast mountain ranges becomes witness to what looks to be the downing of a U.S. aircraft into the snowy Northern Alps of Japan, where he is enlisted to attempt to cover the story, which could very well blow the lid off of several parties looking to gather the remains of the plane by any means necessary. The plot grows more suspicious when it is revealed that the pilots were not as one may assume, and the aforementioned unnamed parties are in hot pursuit of those responsible in order to silence them. All the while, Nishizaki & magazine rep, Ochiai are in the mountains, surrounded by not only JSSDF, but another unnamed party with full knowledge of a terrible secret, an explosive nuclear payload within the remains of the plane! And we haven't even mentioned Nishizaki's estranged son, his (also journalist) sister-in-law (Yuko Takeuchi) looking to gain custody, the Japanese Prime Minister looking to do the right thing, and a group of (again nationality unnamed) refugees chased by men with coats and guns. What it all adds up to, is a slow, tonally uneven piece that careens headlong into melodramatic (There are still apparently many in Japan who found Michael Bay's ARMAGEDDON impressive, and influential.) territory.
To muddle matters even further, is a clear decision to not name opposition. This treading on thin ice approach is not only naked, but it serves to make matters even more confusing than the film has to. Especially in nearly a decade after S.Korea took on regional tensions to great success with Shiri(1999), this feels ill-concieved, not to mention murky in the storytelling department. If we are meant to feel any sympathy for the refugee characters, let alone our heroes, it takes much more than showing a cute kid, and some treacly photos to make the viewer care about any of this. And considering the subject matter (US aircraft involved in potential conspiracy opening rifts between the long, tenuous relationship between the american military and the JSSDF, and the ramifications of Article 9.), this could have been a golden opportunity to further explore the debate in a way that Mamoru Oshii & Kazunori Ito so eloquently did with an anime film (Patlabor 2 - 1993). But as it stands, the film opts for languid pacing, tin characterization, and forced sentimentalization to wrench whatever crocodile tears it can. It's the type of film that requires the audience to know who is what, and what is at stake beyond the nuclear threat to drive such themes home, and as a movie experience, Midnight Eagle fails to do any of this. In fact, one can even argue that once the scripts comes to an impasse with the political plot, it cops the nuclear finale as a last resort. If one is willing to explore touchy subject matter, it's best to go as far as one can, or not at all. And From the looks of things, it feels as if there wasn't enough from the getgo to even warrant a release. JSSDF involvement, or no. It lacks the punch required to make something like this truly work, and is indicative of many trends bogging down recent Japanese film. It's like directing in a vacuum; cold, empty, and utterly devoid of risk. File Under: dreadfully dull.
And it isn't even that this is the kind of film to normally even be considered for the Kaijyu, but rather the spiritual connection to Patlabor 2 hovers over the film like a cloud. But the big obvious difference here, is that even when Oshii's film opts to give a little to the mecha otaku near the finale, it reverts quite nicely into the central debate, which ME clearly forgets halfway through the film.
Thank goodness for antidotes. Especially older, still potent antidotes!
Had the chance to spend some time in early 90s Hong Kong this last week with another semi-annual ritual viewing of John Woo's initial goodbye to British HK, Hard Boiled(1992), and it remains one of the last truly astounding pre-CG action achievements. Sure, it's loud, cartoony, completely illogical, and over the top, but hey, the film knows exactly what it is, and delivers the goods without regret. For those unlucky five who haven't seen the film, it is essentially a bombastic precursor for Andrew Lau's Infernal Affairs films, and the ultimate primer for virtually every first person shooter ever created. Simple plot: Renegade cop, Tequila (played with every last bit of charisma by Chow Yun Fat) is on the trail of the Triad baddies who's trail left him without a partner, leading him to a bright & dangerous killer(a still fresh-faced & pre-dramatic legend, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) who's obviously more than he seems. Mix in an almost meta-now Anthony Wong as the unstable gun runner, Johnny Wong, along with Phillip Chan, Teresa Mo & martial arts favorite Philip Kwok, and one has a "they truly don't make-em like this anymore" good time complete with insane stunts, pyrotechnics galore, and some great drama to hold it all together. It almost doesn't even warrant posting since this has become such a part of cine-geek royalty, but it just stands to reason. Woo's film was meant to be something of a Dirty Harry-styled epic sendoff before his mixed trip overseas, and it remains an influential piece of action cinema that any admirer of genre shouldn't miss. The mention here comes courtesy of finally getting claws on a copy of the Blu-ray, which for better or worse is lacking the trailer which is mentioned in the print (false advertising chaps, no matter what), and the three-year-old Dragon Dynasty commentary by Bey Logan is still very informative, if a bit dry. Either way, all this recent talk of a sequel/remake of Woo's films remains as ineffective for this writer, as it seems that more than ever, action films are at a place where story comes first. But can these projects ever come as close to death-defying as they were back in HK's heyday? Doubtful.
As for anime, well I guess it's going to be hard to be considered anything but a yearning for nostalgia, which in some ways can be true. But giving some old favorites a good re-watch lately has been interesting. Now granted a part of me is looking for a means to better explain these thoughts, as Anime Diet is in need of some more 80s anime discussion. But I will share here for now that these thoughts involve shows made during the early days of the OVA, and considering how rocky and still untested the medium was, the results were often mixed to almost revolutionary for an industry that remains shackled to an antiquated tv-based model. Again, now isn't the time to go into it all, but for now...