Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Blind Woman's Curse (1970) Movie Review

After spending three years in prison, former gang boss, Akemi Tachibana has returned to regain and protect what is hers, but in lieu of a terrible inkling. Plagued by dreams featuring a blood-hungered black cat, Akemi, while a confident and tough Yakuza leader, worries that her luck is to take some manner of a fall. And so matters come in waves as the rival Donbashi-gumi begin taking terrible shots at her clan. Only further adding to the melee of violence and tragedy, are the lives of many whom Tachibana touches from a tough do-gooder (Makoto Sato), a retired elder gangster and his sunny daughter (Yoko Takagi) who also work as proprietors of a local eating establishment. More ominous yet, is the arrival of a blind swordswoman with a terrible tale and a score to settle. Could a premonition truly be at work?

Not so easily summed up as even a simple narrative, Blind Woman’s Curse, not unlike so many films bearing the name of often controversial film icon, Teruo Ishii, is more about experience than plot. As much like an improvisational piece as it is often symbology-riddled, it is both refreshing, and at times disorienting. And even as Tachibana’s tale remains one of the classic yakuza revenge variety, there is an often freewheeling, borderline surrealist mind at work within the heart of it as it often wildly vacillates between standard storytelling, and even dreamlike excursions into old fashioned horror. Visions of hell haunt much of the story, as it delves closer and closer toward what seems to be Tachibana’s fate. It is as much a loopy haunted funhouse trip, as it is a simple tale of karmic retribution. Hell seems just a flirt away with some truly creepy elements from a nightmarish traveling fair, to some effectively eerie backgrounds toward the finale. Chock full of color, and theatrical tricks, it is an out-of-control piece that is more likely for the psychotronic set than perhaps even yakuza eiga nuts.

To even try to make sense of the film is akin to an exercise in futility, even as it attempts to weave a web of past and recent deeds, leading to a twist-packed finale. As Tachibana’s return to gang leader life is complicated by members on the inside plotting to betray her, outside forces are hard at work to make sure her return is but a brief one. It’s not long before betraying parties are revealed to be working for the local top contender in violent drug peddler, woman trafficking Donbashi. A man who seems unfazed at doing more than smearing names to get the job done. Almost immediately, bodies begin to pile up, and reputations are tarnished. And it’s bad enough being dogged by the fundoshi-sporting weirdo in Aozora and his lot, but the sleazy and conniving ways of Donbashi eventually push Akemi and cohorts into breaking vows, and diving headlong into a bloody confrontation with destiny that must be seen to be comprehended.  

Also noteworthy aside from the near assault-like psychedelia on display, is the initial starring role of one Masako Ota, who later became known as Meiko Kaji. More a preview of her own specific brand of stoic beauty, the film’s take on her character is that of one sure of her comeuppance. She is aware that something is indeed coming her way. And as a strong leader, is doing her best to lessen the storm damage that seems to be unavoidable. So when her ultimate rival comes in the form of blind swordmaster, Hoki Tokuda, who is in her own right an imposing presence, the film is at times at least attempting to make some manner of moralistic stance as both are primed to clash, and yet have so much in common. (Personally speaking, a whole movie featuring this character would have been more than enough great material to work with.) In all, Blind Woman’s Curse is akin to those classically anarchic drive-in pastiches of the past. But it also has with it tons of style to spare. Ishii may have let simple sense get away from him here, but it is no way a total deterrent. Great, mad fun.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

State Of The Kaijyu : Tripping The Life Lulltastic?

Not going to make up any excuses as to my current status. As of this moment, Kaijyu's concentration lies heavily on new stuff I've been able to watch, read, or places I've been able to go. And since the flow of life has remained wildly busy in more than one manner, a big sporadic post here or there will have to suffice until further notice. To be completely blunt, I haven't been seeing much lately that has me charged up enough to write about them beyond the occasional Twitter post. But fear not. There are many new potential posts in the planning, along with reviews and write-ups that have already been submitted to their appropriate places. (Two of which are awaiting release at VCinema-one of which concerns a 1990s favorite that continues to inspire me in many ways.) Not to mention a recent, and very hopeful prognostication piece over at Anime Diet, where I offer thoughts on what excites me most about the coming year.

So for the time being, my Twitter feed will remain as busy as I can make it until time and material frees up. With some more than exciting changes on the roster within the next month, things might begin looking much busier around here, as well as at Cel Count Media. As a matter of fact; count on it. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Karaoke Terror: The Complete Showa Era Songbook (2003) Movie Review

Early twentysomething, Ishihara (Ryuhei Matsuda) one day makes friends with a most peculiar group of friends. All male, and of similar ages who all seem to share a love of voyeurism, karaoke sessions set to decades old pop tunes, and most unusual, older women. Led by the clearly troubled, Sugioka (Masanobu Ando), these boys continue their quirky lifestyles. That is until until one day, the knife-wielding leader commits murder after being turned down for sex. Sugioka, now gloating about his deed to his seemingly amazed friends, unbeknownst to him, has incurred the plotted wrath of a close-knit group of divorced, karaoke-loving middle-aged ladies known as the Midoris. It is in this one young man's act, that not only is a bizarre blood feud of sorts spawned, but a grudge match between two generations seems ready to come to a devastating head.

Based on the 1994 novel by satirist, Ryu Murakami, Karaoke Terror is that all-too-common duck that takes a twisted approach to illuminating contemporary metaphor, but finds itself at odds with how to make it work. And in this case, the war between Sugioka's band of aloof sociopaths and the aimless, yet now determined Midoris make for a potent look at the 1990s sense of deep enmity between adults and kids, but takes it into the more rarified territory of the May-December romance (essentially romantic affairs between younger men, and elder women), making this an all the creepier affair. The film wastes no time in establishing Sugioka's clearly paranoid mind, but once the inciting murder is committed, director Tetsuo Shinohara and company can't seem to figure out a means toward making the ensuing conflict make any deeper impact than a few unique images and grotesque yuks. Being a definite product of the post Battle Royale cult-cinema high Japan was going through after the horror boom ended, the film at times feels torn between extremes, and always at odds with the source material's need for emotional immediacy.

In some ways, Karaoke Terror delivers some memorable characters, particularly in the main members of the Midoris. Most standout are Kayoko Kishimoto, and Kanako Higuchi who create something of a believable backbone for the remainder of these women on a mission. Kishimoto's take being that of the sexually liberated Hemmi, and Higuchi as the magazine editor who's assignment to meet these ladies led to the formation of this group years ago, grant some semblance of class to the film. Sometimes, one cannot help but wonder if a more subdued black comedy about the lives of these characters might have made for something far more engrossing than what we do have here. As the Midoris come across as the film's closest thing to a beating heart amidst all the blood and explosives on display, one wonders if Shinohara was even the right choice considering the cartoonish nature of the violence, which does reach absurd proportions by the finale.

The script adaptation by Sumio Ohmori seems almost ready to carry Murakami's warped yet telling themes to fruition, but the largest problem seems to lay square in the lap of Shinohara, who seems to be attempting to direct a completely different film- or at least isn't as ferocious as the themes call for. Even as we are privy to the lives of the karaoke-loving cretins who start the film, enjoying watching a woman across the way striptease with windows undrawn, and in full-lit abandon, we never really get a glimpse into who they are as the borderline mentally stunted drones they seem to be. Ando's Sugioka seems to be the only one worth writing home about, and he doesn't last past the first half of the film. To make matters more difficult, the pacing is almost unbearably staccato; often stopping after a surreal joke, or violent zinger to draw out the story which is already fraught with forced story beats. The means by which both factions implicate each other throughout the film is often by way of wildly improbable leaps of convenience. It hardly matters how, but rather that they do find each other, and draw weapons. The big problems here, are that tales like these require a more visceral amount of action and humor to buoy the ensuing escalation of violence. Without this, what we have here are a series of fun, quirky cul-de-sacs barely held together by anything. And the at times too clean, pretty cinematography by Hiroshi Takase contradicts all that is happening between these often less than attractive characters.

So when thinking about it, Karaoke Terror is something of a deeply acquired taste. It does offer some handsome production values, a decent number of kooky moments, punctuated by instances of hyperbolic violence that can attract those merely ready for a unique night watching movies. But in a post-Fight Club cinema environment, one wonders what this would have been like if animated and directed within more constrained circumstances. What could have been a tight, provocative, and savagely funny voyage through contemporary Japan's war of the generations, merely plays as a leisurely blueprint of weird. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Kaijyu Comes To VCinema!

Well. Figured it was more than overdue to spill about what has been going on behind the scenes as of late. True to this (and other) blog's roots, reviews and thoughts are more than waiting in the scaly wings, as I've been hard at work fine-tuning a wholly new & challenging life schedule. But the biggest news to come out of this resides in the newest place fellow monsters can check out for my signature (read: silly) rantings and ravings. Turns out after much radio silence, I'll now be providing occasional commentary for the fantastic souls over at VCinemashow! A truly one-of-a-kind home for news and reviews spanning asian cinema of all shapes and morphology, my duty will likely mostly consist of thoughts regarding anime films/ OVAs, and various strangeness in between. I must admit to being a little nervous, but that can only better fuel the excitement. So please, add VCinema alongside everything else to get a more vivid picture of what excites us about far east visual culture & more! It's bound to be a worthwhile trip.