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September 30, 2012

Coffee Break

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Bette Davis in Where Love has Gone (Edward Dmytryk - 1964)

Posted by peter at 08:33 AM

September 29, 2012

The Architecture of Vision: Writings and Interviews on Cinema

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Michelangelo Antonioni - 1996
University of Chicago Press

I think that cinema, as a form of spectacle, is destined to undergo a transformation in the near future. For years now it has been showing signs of fatigue. In many countries, cinema is no longer able to compete with television, although from the artistic point of view television is at a much earlier stage of development. This is proof that cinema has wasted time following paths which are by now well-trodden. Cinematic narrative has lost a lot of its original character, and it is less and less able to satisfy the demands of today's public. Old formulas are constantly reiterated. Despite the changes that have occurred in the last few years, directors are limited by technology. Forced to respect a series of conventions which influence his style, the director has lost his freedom over the subject of the film, over his own reality.
- Michelangelo Antonioni

What I can be certain of, fifty-two years after this statement was first published, and based on other statements and writing, is that were Michelangelo Antonioni still around to make films, he would chuck celluloid in favor of the latest digital technology. 3-D? A big maybe. A music video made in 1982, when he was seventy, is at heart the work of someone playing with new gadgets to see what can be done, back when computer generated special effects were still in their infancy. Antonioni liked working with as small a crew as possible, and probably would have been intrigued by notion of making a feature with a small digital camera, as Monte Hellman had done with The Road to Nowhere.

What gets repeated in the writings and interviews are how Antonioni improvises on the set, usually taking a half hour or so to be alone prior to shooting to set up his shots, and how he sees actors as part of every aspect of the film he has in mind, doing what he can to get the performance he envisions. One chapter explains in greater detail how the famous seven minute shot in The Passenger was accomplished, just a short time before the Steadicam was made available. In some detail, Antonioni relates what happened before, during and after his making of his documentary on China. There is also some discussion on a couple of films not made during the period between Identification of a Woman and Beyond the Clouds.

Antonioni also talks and writes about his childhood in the small town of Ferrara. Among the surprises is that the filmmaker famous for the ending in Blow Up with the invisible tennis ball was himself a prize winning tennis player in his university days. Also, Antonioni would have made his feature debut with The White Sheik, which instead went to his peer, Federico Fellini. Antonioni also notes having fun shooting second unit work for the Alberto Lattuada's big budget, The Tempest.

One wishes the editors of this American version, culled from Antonioni's original Italian multi-volume published writings and interviews, were as exact as the author. Aside from some sloppy proofreading errors, are mistakes that I have to assume were to be found in the Italian edition. In discussing locations visited for Zabriskie Point, Barstow (California) is rendered as "Barnstone", while San Francisco based filmmaker Bruce Baillie is referred to as "Bruce Belley".

One also comes away with a sense of generosity of spirit, especially towards filmmakers admired including Ingmar Bergman, Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, and even Steven Spielberg. Antonioni also shows openness to how his films are interpreted. As articulate as he is about himself and his work, the way Michelangelo Antonioni would best want to be remembered on this centennial celebration of his birth, is to let his films speak for themselves.

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Posted by peter at 08:18 AM | Comments (1)

September 27, 2012

Sector 7

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7 gwanggu
Kim Ji-hoon - 2011
Shout! Factory Region A BD

The movie might be dismissed as a Korean creature feature, Alien on a remote oil rig. And the monster, a combination of giant catfish, saber tooth tiger, and other ugly body parts, is not going to be the cause of too many nightmares. And yet, I kept thinking how much this movie made me think of Howard Hawks, not only with his version of The Thing, but how Sector 7 might be appreciated as an updating of the "Hawksian woman".

Admittedly, none of this may be deliberate on the part of the filmmakers, although Hawks' films have created templates used by others. The connection to The Thing begins with the setting, an oil rig somewhere off the Korean coast, populated by a small group of men and two women. This setup also recalls Only Angels have Wings. In Hawks films, these groups are marked by professionalism, as well as their ability to take on risky tasks. Just as the title character in The Thing, the so-called "intellectual carrot", while an unknown and threatening being, is relatively simple, and is dispatched with with relative ease, the demands of the genre sixty years later demand a smarter, more sophisticated creature. It takes greater effort, but the creature in Sector 7 is defeated with even greater mechanical brutality than Hawks might have considered.

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The character of Hae-jun, played by Ha Ji-won, strikes me as Hawksian from the get go. Not only is Hae-jun one of the crew leaders, but in her introductory scene she is shown as a woman of action. When there is a problem with the main pipe, Hae-jun wisks from the high end of the rig on a rope, down to the base, joins the men in wrestling the pipe back in place, and dashes over to turn the pressure valves. With her relatively short hair, and white tank top, Hae-jun has something of the appearance of one of the boys, remarked upon by the rig's medic. There is also a scene of Hae-jun demonstrating her motorcycle riding skills which recalls the a scene in Hawks' Red Line 7000. In the Hawks film, the character of Julie is first mistaken for a man because of the way she rides to the motel where race car drivers are staying, as she is disguised by her helmet. Even with the helmet removed, Julie's identity as a woman is still questioned by one of the racers. Hae-jun is not the most feminine of women, with the guys at the rig providing the nickname of "Hard-ass". In a scene of group bonding, the crew member display their most distinctive scars, with Hae-jun showing the broken skin on her back. Putting to doubt any questions about sexuality, it is established early on that Hae-jun is in a relationship with the ruggedly handsome Dong-su. Near the end, there is a brief moment of reversal of traditional roles as it is Hae-jun who fights the monster to save Dong-su.

One might argue that Hae-jun's equality, if not superiority, to the men on the rig reflects societal changes regarding the role of women. To a certain extent this is true. What makes Hae-jun Hawksian is both her role within a primarily male group, and that she is never passive in spite of the everything seeming to go wrong, almost constantly in motion. In comparison, it is the clearly more feminine crew member, a scientist, who finds herself in a situation she can not get out of, victimized by one of the men.

Simply on its own terms, Sector 7 was made to take advantage of new 3D technology, with even the Blu-ray in 3D. That it is about a giant monster can be attributed to the popularity of The Host, at the time of this writing, Korea's biggest hit. There is some serious intent on man versus nature, and the exploitation of the natural world on behalf of business interests that probably aren't altruistic. Some of the special effects are decidedly not that special, but I did like the tiny incandescent sea creatures that become more significant to the story. Especially when heroic characters in movies are seemingly inconceivable unless part of a comic book franchise, Sector 7 should be appreciated for having a woman of action who wears nothing more than a blue collar uniform.

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Posted by peter at 08:45 AM

September 25, 2012

Headshot

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Fon Tok Kuen Fah
Pen-Ek Ratanaruang - 2011
Kino Lorber Region 1 DVD

I feel a little bit of a loss at not seeing Pen-Ek Ratanaruang last two films, Nymph and Ploy. Previous to those to films was Invisible Waves, which I wrote about a little over four years ago, when that 2006 film was made available as an English subtitled DVD. Invisible Waves marked Pen-Ek's drift away from conventional narrative. That Headshot is perhaps incorrectly acclaimed as a return is more due to the framework of familiarity provided by certain genre trappings. As much as Pen-Ek's previous films, Headshot is about a character trying to find his bearings in unfamiliar territory.

The source novel's title, by Win Lyovarin, Fon Tok Kuen Fa, translates as "Rain Falling Up the Sky". It refers to the way Tul sees the world after being shot in the head, upside down. That Tul sees the world in this way also fits as a metaphor for his own life, a former cop turned "assassination expert", turned fugitive on the run. There are just enough point of view shots to let the viewer see how things look through Tul's eyes. That Tul is initially disoriented is shown when he staggers through his own apartment, holding on to a table, before seating himself.

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Doubling also plays a part in the story. Tul both pretends to be a Buddhist monk, and becomes a real monk. Tul also is imprisoned for two murders, one staged as part of a blackmail plot. The doubling also involves Tul's prostitute girlfriend, Tiwa, professionally known as Joy, and Tul's doctor who goes by the pseudonym of "Dr. Demon". The doctor first comes to the attention of Tul based on his thesis that people are genetically disposed to commit evil. With only the briefest exchange of words, Tul attempts to wind his way between free will and fate or karma.

The expression of internal dichotomies is also culturally specific to Thailand with clothing as a signifier. Whether as a disguise or as a real monk, Tul's head is completely shaved, and he wears the orange robe. The woman who introduces herself as Joy, wears mini-dress designed to be sexually alluring. As Tiwa, she is seen wearing a blouse and jeans, visual shorthand for being a "good girl" most significantly used as part of the closing shot in Chatrichalerm Yukol's Angel from 1974, about a Bangkok prostitute who reformed at the end of the film, shucks her dress in the trash.

Win's novel is not available in English. How much of the film is directly from the novel is unknown to me, yet, Tul's first person voice overs suggest that Win has some familiarity with the connection between crime novelists and existentialists, especially Albert Camus' The Stranger and the novels of James Cain, Camus' stated source of inspiration. To what extent Pen-Ek is also familiar with these writers, I do not know. I bring this up because much of Headshot is a visual meditation on a disconnected life. There are the genre moments of chases and shootings, but there are also long moments of staring out windows, or gazing on the pictures that cover a wall in Tul's apartment. Bangkok seems to be uncharacteristically desolate, with empty streets, empty highways and forests. Even though Pen-Ek has chosen to describe this as "film noir", beyond the shifting between past and present, Pen-Ek emphasizes mood over motivation.

Vichaya Vatanasapt's score also provides an atypical aural compliment. Just as Pen-Ek strips the narrative aspects to the essentials, Vichaya often just uses a solo piano, if not a handful of instruments to create music that just brushes on the side of the experimental. The overall effect gives Headshot the feel of a European art movie from the early Sixties.

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Posted by peter at 08:08 AM

September 23, 2012

Coffee Break

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Ouassini Embarek and Isild Le Besco in A Tout de Suite (Benoit Jacquot - 2004)

Posted by peter at 09:24 AM

September 22, 2012

Strip Mahjong: Battle Royale

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Mark P. Forever - 2012
Danger After Dark Region 1 DVD

Prior to the beginning of Strip Mahjong were some trailers for other Danger After Dark films. Suicide Club was my introduction to Sion Sono. I've written about the superb Epitaph, and should probably see it again, as the book, Virtual Hallyu points out several cultural and historical points that I missed. I hope that this reactivated label brings more films of this quality to DVD.

Strip Mahjong really isn't the kind of movie made for any kind of serious critical consideration. On the other hand, if you want to see a bunch of reasonably attractive Japanese girls in various states of undress, baring their breasts, this might do, especially with a six-pack or two of your favorite beer at your side. I will be honest, though. One of the girls has a very pronounced overbite, the kind that makes you wonder about casting decisions, or if someone was doing someone else a favor. To call this soft core might be overstating what's on the screen.

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There actually is a plot. Four young women with huge debts from playing mahjong are kidnapped and forced to play a game in which the losers shed articles of clothing, and the winner leaves alive with a suitcase full of money. The game is played on a special television broadcast, with a slimy host, his snarky assistant with the aforementioned overbite, and some hooded guy wearing nothing but a jock strap. There might be some drama for the few people who actually know the rules of mahjong. For the rest of us, it's just a matter of watching the girls attempt to outsmart each other, and seeing what bits of clothing they will be forced to discard. The only depiction of sex is a lesbian tryst between Runa Shimotsuki and Kaori Sasaki, that some may find titillating.

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I tried to find out about the director with the name Mark P. Forever, and came up with nothing. Research did show that the actresses are AV (Adult Video) stars of varying popularity in Japan. As for the one with the biggest onscreen credit, the singularly named Nina, some readers may want to explore her other work. Others may simply enjoy reading the titles in her filmography. The same could be said for the long limbed Runa Shimotsuki. Also, Hitomi Usano, and Mako Higashio, the girl with the pronounced overbite, have their share of fans. Those with greater interest will find more to explore on any of these actresses as none can be described as being camera shy.

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Posted by peter at 08:33 AM

September 20, 2012

Lone Wolf and Cub

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Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance / Kozure Okami: Kowokashi udekashi tsukamatsuru / Wolf with Child in Tow: Child and Expertise for Rent
Kenji Masumi - 1972
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx / Kozure Okami: Sanzu no kawa no ubaguruma / Wolf with Child in Tow: Perambulator of the River of Sanzu
Kenji Masumi - 1972
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades / Kozure Okami: Shinikazeni mukau ubaguruma / Wolf with Child in Tow: Perambulator Against the Winds of Death
Kenji Masumi - 1972
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril / Kozure Okami: Oya no kokoro ko no kokoro / Wolf with Child in Tow: The Heart of a Parent, the Heart of a Child
Buichi Saito - 1972
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons / Kozure Okami: Meifumando / Wolf with Child in Tow: Crossroads to Hell
Kenji Masumi - 1973
Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell / Kozure Okami: Jigoku e ikuzo! Daigoro / Wolf with Child in Tow: Now We Go to Hell, Daigoro!
Yoshiyuki Kuroda - 1974
AnimEigo Region A BD

Coincidentally, when I purchased a blu ray player, I received a this new collection from AnimEigo. The best part is that I had no seen any of the Lone Wolf and Cub films previously, not even in the Shogun Assassin version. Yes, I know it may seem surprising that I some how missed seeing these films in all this time, but, hey, even some of the better known film critics, and I'm not going to embarrass anyone by naming them, have their gaps in films that are considered classics.

The collection is on two discs in a case no bigger than any single disc case, so kudos just for saving shelf space. Each of the films is in Japanese with colored subtitles, with a few historical notes as supplements to explain some of the more arcane references to places and people.

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The basic setup is that the Shogun's chief executioner, Ogami Itto, has been falsely charged with an act of treason. The head of the Yagyu clan, jealous that they didn't get this coveted position, is responsible. Ogami's wife is killed. Ogami's infant son, Daigoro, is given a choice between joining his mother in death, or joining his father in meting out death. The little boy chooses daddy's sword. The six films follow Ogami, with Daigoro in a special 'baby cart", traveling throughout Japan, taking special assassination jobs for 500 pieces of gold, while confronting various members of the Yagyu clan along the way.

Having seen all six films now, the popularity forty years after the initial appearance is not surprising. Along with geysers of blood gushing from every cut of Ogami's blade, there are flying body parts, amputations of arms and legs, as well as some dashes of bawdy humor, and a generous dollop of bare breasts and nudity. Heads are split open, torsos are cut in two, but the movies themselves are uncut.

The films were successful starring vehicles for Tomisaburo Wakayama, the older brother of Shintaro Katsu, famous for his series as the blinds swordsman, Zatoichi. The brothers are similar looking, although Wakayama appears a bit heavier. As Ogami, whole armies are decimated. One person claims that around 450 people get killed in the entire series. But there's more than the high body count. Daigoro is the secret sauce here in the form of young Akihiro Tomikawa, four years old when the series began filming. There's the perfect facial expressions, and the eyes that alternate between inquisitiveness and intensity. If Ogami was just another ronin that killed a lot of people, interest would probably be short lived. It is the scenes of paternal affection that make the difference.

The baby cart evolves to a point where one can compare this series to that of the James Bond films. From hidden blades in the cart handle, to spring loaded blades in the axles, and hidden weaponry that shoots arrows or bullets. The cart floats in water, and glides across desert sand and snowy mountains. The sixth film is the most gimmick laden as Ogami faces an army of samurai on sleds and skis in a glacial outpost.

The best of the series are those films directed by Kenji Masumi. What is notable is the use of sound, alternating between the natural sounds of the environment and total screen silence. Masumi also likes to cut to shots of small animals, frogs seem to be a favorite, from the point of view of Daigoro.

A constant in the series is an examination of the social rules of 17th Century Japan, with a sometimes complex caste system, and rules of protocol that govern every aspect of life. As such, Ogami and Daigoro encounter both the highest and lowest of Japanese society. There are several scenes depicting popular culture of the day.

Also, Buddhism is integral to the series. Not only are there scenes of priest and formal practices, but also scenes taking place at roadside shrines. In one film, a hungry Daigoro takes the food left at a shrine, but leaves his little jacket behind as an offering. Similarly, Ogami leaves coins in the offering dish when taking food from some shrines. The attention to cultural and character details help distinguish these films.

While the film is filled with many of the expressive faces of Toho's supporting players, there are a few guest appearances of note, including So Yamamura, Eiji Okada and Go Kato.

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Posted by peter at 09:10 AM

September 18, 2012

Southeast Asian Cinema

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Vietnamese movie posters on a wall in Ho Chi Minh City

Southeast Asian Cinema / Le Cinema d'Asie du Sud-Est
edited by Jean-Pierre Gimenez
Asiexpo Edition 2012

Yes, I wrote a chapter to this anthology, one of twenty-eight entries. Even if editor Jean-Pierre Gimenez describes those who contributed as experts, I would hardly claim to be one. I will only claim that my knowledge of Thai cinema, which I wrote about here, and Asian cinema in general, is above average.

I should also admit to having communicated with three of the other authors in varying degrees in the past. Noel Vera and "Oggs" Cruz both have links on this blog. Noel Vera has written a noted book on Filipino cinema, Critic After Dark. I have also exchanged emails with Kong Rithdee, film critic for the Bangkok Post. Should I also mention that Wisit Sasanatieng, Thai filmmaker most famous for Tears of the Black Tiger, who appears in the DVD supplement, is a Facebook friend?

It's not a perfect book. Some of the English translation or writing in English is a little awkward. Some of the writing gets redundant with the repetition of film history in some of the countries. Some of the chapters are more academic than others. And yet . . .

It should be noted that the countries covered here are generally the ones that are usually overlooked when discussing Asian cinema. There were times when I was thinking that the people who should really be reading this are the ones who think all Asians are the same, or are culturally the same. What does link these countries though are similar problems: money, censorship, cultural differences within each country, the challenges of a global market, and the domination of Hollywood.

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Joko Anwar

The countries covered are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. My favorite chapter is by Davy Chou. Chou's grandfather was a film producer in Cambodia, during what was considered the golden age, from the Sixties through the mid-Seventies. When the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia, the film industry was totally destroyed, and many of the people in the Cambodian film industry who were unable to escape, died. Chou's documentary of the movies and the film artists, Golden Slumbers has been appearing at several film festivals. His chapter consists of diary extracts from his meeting with filmmakers sharing their memories, as well as collectors who have saved films or film fragments.

There is also discussion of the films by Norodom Sihanouk, who found time between acting as King of Cambodia to also make a fair number of dramatic films, usually starring members of the royal household. The briefest entry is by Kong Rithdee, writing about how one defines Thai cinema. Interestingly, in one of the chapters of Laotian cinema, one of the writers considers Apichatpong Weerasethakul closer to Lao culture, in part due his being from the northern part of Thailand, as well as due to certain spiritual elements in Uncle Boonmee.

Certainly one aspect of Southeast Asian Cinema, and Asian cinema in general, that needs to be addressed more thoroughly would regard genre films. Horror and action films are discussed by some of the writers with ambivalence at best, and scorn at worst. This is not simply a matter of aesthetic tastes. Genre films have historically been the most easy to import, whether you are talking about films coming from Hollywood, or more recently, Asian films seen in western countries. The downside is that often those are the only films exported. The problem and solution lie both in what is made available in the marketplace as well as audience demands. One possible solution, if financially viable, would be to make more films available through streaming devices, as theatrical release is too costly and the DVD market has its financial limits as well. To some extent, this is being done through Asia Pacific Films. Even if films like Ong Bak from Thailand, or The Rebel from Vietnam, are produced more for commercial than artistic purposes, they have introduced more people to films from Thailand and Vietnam respectively, hopefully opening the way for audiences to investigate other films.

The DVD contains interviews with various filmmakers, archivists and historians, in their home countries. Among the better known filmmakers including Wisit, are Eric Khoo and Joko Anwar. Just as the book is bilingual, with French alternating with English, the DVD has subtitle options of French and English. The quality of the interviews is mixed, but most of the discussion adds to understanding of the state of cinema in the respective countries in the past year.

An except of the DVD is available on Youtube. The book was published in conjunction with Asiexpo's annual film festival held last October. The direct link to purchase from Asiexpo is here.

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Eric Khoo

Posted by peter at 07:21 AM

September 16, 2012

Coffee Break

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Michael Shannon in My Son, My Son, what have Ye Done? (Werner Herzog - 2009)

Posted by peter at 08:23 AM

September 13, 2012

Female Teacher: Dirty Afternoon

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Onna Kyoshi: Yogoreta Hokago
Kichitaro Negishi - 1981
Impulse Pictures Region 1 DVD

Ignore the salacious title. If you cut out the requisite sex scenes, what is left is a superb drama about alienation in contemporary Japan. As has been previously noted, especially by Jasper Sharp in his history of Roman Porno, young filmmakers hopped on the pink bandwagon to jump start their careers, and often used the opportunity to explore more serious issues. Kichitaro Negishi makes the most of what he has both in story and style.

The teacher Sakiko is called by the police to pick up a student named Sueko. The young woman is unknown until Sakiko is reminded of a time she was a student teacher in a small mining village. Sueko was one of her students. The memory of that time is painful as Sakiko was raped by a man who smelled of paint thinner. Sueko's father was the man identified as the rapist. It turns out that Sakiko identified the wrong man, causing a rupture to the family, now trying to establish their lives in Tokyo. In the meantime, Sueko makes it a habit of being picked up by older men for an afternoon of hotel sex. Feeling guilty, Sakiko attempts to make amends with Sueko's father, at this time fully addicted to
huffing.

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Credit is also due to Yozo Tanaka, still active, and most recently the writer for Negishi's most recent film, the acclaimed Villon's Wife. Add to that a considered use of the wide screen. Negishi sometimes has the characters framed in such a way that we see the characters in profile with space between them. Such framing emphasizes the gap between the characters, and this is one of the main themes throughout the film. The spaces between people are often emotional, but also based on differences of gender, age, class, and region. To illustrate how the lives of women are disregarded by men, Sakiko's boyfriend states that he doesn't want to carry the burden of her memories after she recounts the time she was raped, while Sueko likes to talk non-stop about her childhood in the mining village, much to the annoyance of her pick-ups. There is no comfort in the trappings of stability as Sakiko finds herself alone in a seemingly empty Tokyo, while Sueko finds temporary happiness in an itinerant existence with her father.

And yes, Yuki Kazamatsuri, is sexy, even when wearing nothing but a pair of glasses. The act of seeing is a recurring motif. Additionally, there is a scene of Sueko looking at Tokyo through a large telescope. Sueko and one of her pickups talk about how they've noticed each other, making their meeting less than accidental. Characters catch each other in compromising acts, silently watching. It was in 1981 that Negishi made the transition from pink films to the mainstream. Looking beyond the surface attractions of Female Teacher makes it clear why the transition was seamless, and within the confines of the Japanese film industry, not unexpected.

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Posted by peter at 08:12 AM

September 11, 2012

Hammer House of Horror

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Tom Clegg, Alan Gibson, Don Leaver,
Francis Megahy, Peter Sasdy, Don Sharp
and Robert Young - 1980
Synapse Films Region 1 DVD (Five Discs)

This is the collection of all thirteen episodes of the 1980 British television series. The final episode, "The Mark of Satan" features Peter McEnery attempting to perform brain surgery on himself. There are also a couple of scenes involving brain surgery, not very graphic, but enough to have upset a few viewers thirty years ago. Still, I found this episode especially fitting coming from a company called Synapse.

Actually, the most shocking aspect of this television series is how much nudity was featured. The classic Hammer movies were as much about young full breasted women showing a certain amount of cleavage, as they were about vampires, werewolves, and assorted monsters. Still, I wasn't prepared to see Patricia Quinn as a 17th Century witch back from where ever she'd been for three hundred years, shedding her cloak to reveal nothing underneath, to seduce Jon Finch. Miss Quinn isn't the only one to bare breasts or backside in the series. For some viewers, of course this is a bonus in this newest DVD version of the series.

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As for the horror aspect, a few thrills and chills. It should be pointed out that all of the stories have contemporary settings. Some of the episodes felt more like extended versions of the kind of stories one might have seen in the portmanteau films like Dr. Terror's House of Horrors or The House that Dripped Blood. There are also recurring motifs such as the car that mysteriously goes out of control, the guy who gets stabbed in the chest, and the unfaithful lover. As for scariness, if you've made it though the original "X-Files", you're home free.

The Hammer connection is a bit spotty, with house producer of the last features, Roy Skeggs, on board, with Phillip Martell as music supervisor. The directors from previous films include Don Sharp, Peter Sasdy and Alan Gibson. Some of the more interesting work is from Don Leaver, a mainstay of British television, who directed the first episode with the naked witch and the final episode with Peter McEnery's misguided attempt to ease his mind.

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The actor most associated with Hammer, Peter Cushing, makes what might be assumed to be an almost obligatory performance. But what may be of greater interest is seeing the gallery of other British actors who participated, some former top names, one future star, and a handful of people who briefly were associated with high profile projects. Among these are Dinah Sheridan and Powell-Pressburger regular Marius Goring, Brian Cox and a nebbishy Pierce Brosnan not yet hitting their respective strides, and persons of interest including Simon MacCorkindale, Leigh Lawson and Christopher Cazenove.

My own favorite episodes feature veteran actors. In an episode that might strike some as a little bit similar to Groundhog Day, Denholm Elliott portrays a real estate salesman who has a recurring nightmare that he's been accused of murdering his wife by some unknown, and usually unseen, person. Showing up at his office is luscious secretary Lucy Gutteridge who appears in a different outfit and different persona, each time Elliott enters his office in the morning. The episode is by turns funny and sexy until Elliott actually does wake up to a real nightmare.

The other episode that may come closest to being a reminder of classic Hammer films features Diana Dors as the overly friendly, and mildly creepy "mother" to a brood of young children, in a very large house deep in the woods. Even though the twist here is more predictable than in some of the episodes, Dors makes it fun to watch with her own sense of pleasure, leaving her "Blonde Bombshell" days well behind.

Kathryn Leigh Scott and Mia Nadasi briefly share their recollections on the same episode, "Visitor from the Grave", directed by Nadasi's husband, Peter Sasdy.

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Posted by peter at 08:24 AM

September 09, 2012

Coffee Break

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Kseniya Rappoport in The Double Hour (Giuseppe Capotondi - 2009)

Posted by peter at 09:09 AM

September 06, 2012

Nympho Diver: G-String Festival

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Shikijo Ama: Fundoshi Matsuri / Lusty Ama: Loincloth Festival
Atsushi Fujiura - 1981
Impulse Pictures Region 1 DVD

Nobody asked me, but I would have suggested "Fundoshi Festival" as the secondary title for this film. I think it has a nice, alliterative ring to it. For those unaware, fundoshi is the traditional underwear worn by Japanese men, more commonly up through World War II. A type of fundoshi is worn by sumo wrestlers.

As for the basic story, coastal villages were famed for their female divers who wore very little, and dove for abalone and pearls. While there have been films about these "girl divers", it was a series of films from Shin Toho, mostly in the late Fifties, that emphasized the erotic possibilities with wet clothing clinging against the skin, and filming underwater where there were possibilities of placing the camera in more unusual angles. An excerpt of one of the films, Girl Divers of Spook Mansion, might still be available on Youtube. That film was shown as part of a tribute to Shin Toho at the Far East Film Festival at Udine, Italy. As they've done with other films, the Roman Porno squad took some inspiration from past exploitation movies.

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Most of what we have here is good natured comedy about a small town trying to reverse its declining fortunes by inducing some attractive young women to come work as divers. Persuading these women is Nobuo, the goofy son of the mayor. As it turns out, Nobuo is caught in a triangle between the Tokyo girl who accepted his proposal of marriage, and the local girl, daughter of the woman who owns the bar where everyone meets. As it turns out, there are more than these two women who are competing for there claim on Nobuo.

Unlike any of the earlier "girl diver" films, the camera never goes underwater. Aside from a scene purporting to be that of a traditional fertility celebration, where everyone shows up wearing fundoshi, the "g-string festival" in the title, the most significant display of flesh is to be seen on the movie's poster. I do have to give some credit, where as most films presentation of intergenerational love is with an older man and a younger women, Nympho Diver also has the coupling of a mature woman with a younger man, although further details might give some viewers pause. The woman in question isn't the only matron in this film to make clear her sexual urges.

Nympho Diver isn't a bad film, but it's not particularly memorable either. The women are generously proportioned, but this is an ensemble show with no real star. Too put this in some perspective, Nikkatsu was a true film factory in churning out these films. But if you're like the audience of this movie from thirty years ago, you could do worse than this lightly enjoyable time waster.

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Posted by peter at 09:35 AM

September 04, 2012

Karate-Robo Zaborgar

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Denjin Zaboga
Noboru Iguchi - 2011
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

It's been months since the last Sushi Typhoon DVD came my way. And in comparison to previous releases, this is almost family friendly entertainment. The original inspiration, a Japanese television from 1974 must have captured the heart of five year old Noburu Iguchi. From what I could tell, Iguchi's movie was a loving, and comic, tribute to a childhood fantasy, updated with computer generated special effects, some mildly risque humor, and a few sprays of blood here and there. The original series is available on DVD and even has spawn some pricey dolls action figures, so there is a cult out there for this new version. Those in search of something more along the lines of Machine Girl or RoboGeisha might be disappointed.

For those like myself, unfamiliar with the series, the setup is that the young hero, Daimon, is the son of a top scientist, a specialist in robotics. The father was kidnapped and killed by a rival scientist who rules from his perpetually airborne lair called Sigma. Before he was killed, the father created a robot that could transform itself into a motorcycle. The robot, Zaborgar, was made in part with the DNA of Daimon's twin brother who dies in infancy. The villains of Sigma are a bunch of cyborgs with human DNA. The goal of the villains is to destroy humanity. Sent to earth is Miss Borg, who falls in love with Daimon, who in turn questions his own beliefs, especially in the face of the obvious corruption of the man slated to be the next Prime Minister of Japan. Daimon's conflicted interests cause him to be kicked out of the secret police.

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In the manner of writers who take classic novels and create fanciful sequels or revisions, Iguchi forwards twenty-five years later. Daimon is in ill health, and has just been fired as the chauffeur for the Prime Minister. Sigma is still working on their plans for world domination. Two more cyborgs have been created, one of whom is the daughter of Daimon and Miss Borg.

There is a lot of silliness here, with a giant robots and weird science. Weaved into this is a satire about Japanese politics and protocol, as well as the concept of "righteousness". Iguchi also takes the basic framework from the television series, and pushes at several of the premises to comical conclusions. Even better than the movie is the series of very short episodes playing with the limits of Zaborgar's limited intelligence such as trying to put out a fire with water that continually slips through his fingers, or his inability to pick up a coin due to those very thick fingers which work best for punching out enemies.

The most notable actor here is Itsuji Itao as the older Daimon. A popular presence in genre movies, Itao probably was seen to best advantage as the sad sack bachelor in Air Doll. Itao looks like the kind of guy who's only known disappointment in life, and has no reason to expect it will ever get better. Mami Yamasaki appears with the kind of metal bra Madonna dreams of wearing, at one point leading a trio of babes clad in bikinis and football helmets.

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Posted by peter at 08:02 AM

September 02, 2012

Coffee Break

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Kate Winslet in Mildred Pierce (Todd Haynes - 2011)

Posted by peter at 09:47 AM