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July 03, 2008

The Booth

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Yoshihiro Nakamura - 2005
Tartan Asia Extreme Region 1 DVD

I only have a couple more titles to go before I have seen every Tartan Asia Extreme DVD available from the Denver Public Library. The Booth is a pretty good little film that is closer in spirit to the films by Yoshitaro Nomura than to contemporary Japanese horror films. The story is about the final night of a Tokyo disc jockey who hosts a talk show devoted to advice for the lovelorn. Due to a move by the radio station, the show is done in the booth that developed a reputation for being haunted when a DJ with a similar show, hung himself. The lesson is that hurtful words can literally come back to haunt you. At less than 75 minutes, Nakamura creates suspense through sound and flashbacks that only partially reveal the truth.

With the discussion about the end of Tartan as a label, comes some some negative comment about Tartan Asia Extreme. While the label probably painted itself into a corner by concentrating on genre films, that these films were made available for US audiences should be appreciated. Some of the films in their library were better than others. The one Tartan Asia Extreme release I was unable to sit through was the GCI heavy Korean science-fiction film, Natural City. For myself, some of the criticism toward Tartan Asia Extreme smacked of snobbery towards genre filmmaking as well as disinterest in examining differences in Asian culture.

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In his book, The American Cinema, Andrew Sarris discusses the problems of appreciating certain filmmakers who are associated with specific genres. The western isn't just pantheon directors John Ford or Howard Hawks, but also John Sturges, Anthony Mann, Henry Hathaway and even William Whitney. The MGM musical is not just Vincente Minnelli and Stanley Donen, but also Charles Walters, George Sidney and Don Weis. The Italian western is not just Sergio Leone, nor is Dario Argento the only giallo filmmaker worth investigating. Additionally, one would expect there to be acknowledgment of the country of origin and if needed, some discussion on how that impacts a film. What genuine film scholarship has shown over the years is that the importance of a film does not always relate to the genre or even to the critical reception the film may have initially been accorded. Keep in mind that four time Oscar winner John Ford never was awarded for a western.

The Malaysian, The Maid, for example, may owe much of its style and subject matter to the ghost stories of its Asian neighbors. The film also serves as a critique of the treatment of Filipinas, as well as the influence of Chinese culture in Malaysia. Being a film fan without discrimination is just the flip side of being a film critic who doesn't bother looking beyond the surface of the genre or country of origin.

For myself, it was viewing genre films that has helped fuel my interest in the works of films and filmmakers who might fall outside the description of "extreme". While I would have preferred a US DVD release of The Unseeable or Alone, hopefully The Victim may stir interest in not only Thai ghost stories, but Thai cinema in general. While I did not care for Phone, this is a film with some very enthusiastic defenders. Not every film in the Tartan Asia Extreme library was in the class of Oldboy. Still, considering the spotty availability of any Asian films for US film fans and scholars, Tartan should still be appreciated for what they did right.

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Posted by peter at July 3, 2008 07:54 AM


Thanks for that post Peter...I agree with you wholeheartedly.

I've also read a few sharply critical articles and posts directed at the Extreme line of DVDs which offhandedly dismiss just about all the films except "Oldboy" and "Tetsuo". Like any genre there were ups and downs in their selection, but it's a shame that people might not even give "The Maid", "Marebito" or "Acacia" the time of day. Not to mention Tsukamoto's other films - "A Snake Of June" is quite the experience.

Though I didn't like "Ab-Normal Beauty", "Koma", "Pray" or "Unborn And Forgotten" that much, titles like "Cello", "Doppelganger (Kiyoshi Kurosawa!) and "Face" were well done and entertaining for me. I even liked "Phone" I admit...Not great, but I thought it held a few genuine moments of dread. Though I think it might all unravel if I examined the plot closely...B-)

Posted by: Bob Turnbull at July 5, 2008 02:57 PM