Friday, December 11, 2009

Things we did in Japan

Had a terrific two-and-a-half week visit to Japan, mostly in Tokyo but also some vacation time elsewhere and one "work" trip outside the city. Will be posting specific updates on a few things later, but for now, here's an overview which includes some film-related news.

DEATH KAPPA set visit
We were invited to the set of Tomoo Haraguchi's DEATH KAPPA, which is the latest Tokyo Shock / Media Blasters production, and an old-school giant monster movie! I didn't see any of the miniatures in person, but got to participate in a "running from the giant monster" crowd scene, out at Nikkatsu Studios. Fun, and hopefully we'll end up in the final movie, which is due out next spring. You can watch a promo for the film from director Haraguchi, which we premiered at the New York Asian Film Festival last summer, here.

HUNTERS preview
I got to watch a rough cut of an upcoming Japanese genre film, a kind of Pinky Violence modern-day hybrid / tribute, called
HUNTERS. It's directed by noted packaging and poster designer Kazushi Nakadaira, who co-directed a short film (with Shinichi Okuda) called YAKUZA HUNTER back in 200. It was originally included as an extra in the DVD box set of the short film collection 893239, but has since been made available separately (trailer is here). HUNTERS is the second follow-up to the short, with part two (called HUNTER'S, I think - ?) directed by Okuda and part three directed by Nakadaira. Part two is a Spaghetti Western riff, and part three is all 1970s Toei and Nikkatsu action film. Both star action-gal Asami (also in MACHINE GIRL and ROBO-GEISHA) as a vengeance-fueled killer who seeks to rid the world of the gangster scum who killed her boyfriend, employing weapons like a shotgun that fires the severed fingers of other yakuza victims. What I saw was a rough version without finished audio, CG or final music, but it was a lot of fun. A bit long-feeling, but it's still being edited; it perfectly captures the feel of 70s Japanese action films, though, and Asami is great in the leading role. Expect to see this one on the usual festival circuit—along with its predecessor and maybe the short, as well—next year.

AVN preview
I also caught a peek at the upcoming Nikkatsu / Sushi Typhoon production ALIEN VS. NINJA, specifically the final fight scene. Also missing final music and full CG, it was about what you would expect: crazy action, lots of blood and creatures effects, and terrific martial arts. Looking forward to seeing the final version of this one fairly soon.

One of the things TOKYO GORE POLICE director Yoshihiro Nishimura was happy to talk about during his visit to this summer's New York Asian Film Festival was an upcoming project of his about a high school girl who's also a zombie fighter. Set in a post-apocalyptic Japan, this is another Nikkatsu / Sushi Typhoon film, due to shoot in the spring for a summer release worldwide (again, expect a lot of festival play). I was lucky enough to sit in on auditions for the leading role of Kika, the girl whose own heart is ripped out by her mother before becoming a world-class zombie-killer (and apparently an undead or cyborg one?).

Noboru Iguchi (MACHINE GIRL) created this 12-episode television series (also known as "Kodai shojo Dogu-Chan") that been airing since October in the western Kansai region of Japan only. Its final episode shows next week and the same day, a first half-season DVD box set streets in Japan, giving Tokyo viewers their initial taste of the madcap adventures of a Jomon-era
yokai hunter who is resurrected in modern times with the help of an archaeologist and his high school student son. For foreign fans, the entire series has been uploaded (non-subtitled) at various streaming sites, which should tide people over until there's a legitimate overseas release. Alternatively, Iguchi and Nishimura (a collaborator on the series) also just completed a theatrical version of the series that runs two hours and will be released in Japan next February, probably around the time the second half of the TV series comes out on DVD. The theatrical version will include excerpts from various episodes of the show, including ones directed by Takashi (THE GRUDGE) Shimizu and others, in addition to Iguchi. Best of all, the theatrical version will include the full premiere of a 30-some minute "splatter version" of the concept directed by Nishimura and starring Asami, who with her performance makes the strongest break yet from her idol girl / AV star past. We've seen a rough cut of this and believe me, it delivers comedic gore and insanity in a way that lives up to the work Nishimura did on TOKYO GORE POLICE.

ROBO-GEISHA in Nagoya & Tokyo
Speaking of ROBO-GEISHA, one of the things that director Iguchi (as well as Nishimura) always do for their films is to support them with stage greetings and other personal appearances in Tokyo and other cities. These usually involve onstage fundoshi (sumo diaper) shows, Q&As, giveaways, you name it—anything to please the audience, particularly repeat viewers, and keep them coming back. We've participated in such stage greetings at foreign film film festivals, and also a few times for VAMPIRE GIRL VS. FRANKENSTEIN GIRL, and got to visit Iguchi and actress Cay Izumi when they did one at Shibuya's Theater N, which is where most of these films wind up screening in Tokyo. Then a week later, we saw Iguchi, actor Demo Tanaka, Cay, Asami and several of the Geisha Army actresses, do another stage greeting at the same cinema. But best of all, we were lucky enough to travel to the city of Nagoya, in central Japan, to watch—and participate in—a stage greeting at the great Cinema Skole, a tiny theater (owned by radical 60s filmmaker Koji Wakamatsu) which has showcased all of Iguchi and Nishimura's works in the past. A very drunken (and cold) night of
fundoshi play, horse-meat sashimi, autograph-signing, needles-in-butts, and other craziness ensued. It was unforgettable.

New Films from Japan
Each year during Tokyo Filmex (an Office Kitano-sponsored film festival held in Yurakucho, showcasing mainly foreign—non-Japanese—films), government film promotion office Unijapan allows overseas festival programmers and press access to a huge stockpile of English-subtitled DVD screeners of major and minor films from the past year and beyond. We spend three to four days sitting at TV-DVD setups, running through as many of these possible. I got to check out a couple dozen new titles, since we are beginning to think about NYAFF 2010 about now. Nothing incredibly surprising, but some standouts included the Shunji Iwai-produced BANDAGE, one-take musical performance film LIVE TAPE, indies LOOP_0152 and LOST PARADISE IN TOKYO, Akira Ogata's NORIBEN, and a few others. Expect to see many of these on the festival circuit next year.

There were many, many other fun activities on this trip, most of the rest too complicated (or too private) to detail here. I had my head cast for a future project involving mayhem perpetrated to my skull (see photo at the top), chatted with directors Taku Sakaguchi, Takenori Tsujimoto, Sion Sono, Daisuke Goto, Kengo Kaji and others about upcoming films, met an old yakuza movie star, went to an amusement park with Iguchi and crew, scouted films and met with distributors about next year's festival, and most importantly saw lots and lots of good friends, ate great food, and soaked up the atmosphere of my favorite city. Can't wait to go back next year!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A nice pair from Pink Eiga!

Los Angeles-based video company Pink Eiga released two new titles at the end of last month, and both are worth picking up. Both were also screened at this summer's New York Asian Film Festival, by coincidence.

First up is DEPARTURES director—and Academy Award winner—Yojiro Takita's GROPER TRAIN: SEARCH FOR THE BLACK PEARL, a goofy comedy featuring SHALL WE DANCE? co-star Naoto Takenaka and 90s GAMERA series stalwart Yukijiro Hotaru. The nominal plot involves a private eye on the hunt for a woman whose nether regions provide the key that will unlock the mystery behind a legendary relic from the end of World War II. It really just provides an excuse for wacky comedy, copious sex scenes and lots of shots of Hotaru digging around in womens' butts and crotches in a subway car. The trailer is here, but check your sanity at the door!

The other release is significantly more worthwhile, at least in terms of its value beyond the sex scenes. It's Daisuke Goto's BLIND LOVE, and if that name is familiar, it's because he's also the man behind the impossible-to-believe pink film A LONELY COW WEEPS AT DAWN, released by Pink Eiga in their first batch of titles earlier this year. The movie would honestly work as well without the sex scenes in it, which only serve to flesh (ahem) out the romantic story further, and make it all feel a bit more adult and realistic.

It's about a pair of ventriloquist comedians who fall in love with the same woman, who happens to be blind! There's a bit of identity swapping since the woman falls in love with the voice and personality of one of the pair, but the body of the other. Despite the far-fetched plot (like LONELY COW), the movie is a touching character drama that will linger long in the viewer's mind after the memory of the sex scenes goes away. It had a great reception at its NYAFF screening this year, and I'm proud to have been able to present it to our audience. Goto is an uncharacteristic pink filmmaker, and his talent shows through in the three films of his I've seen so far (MOURNING WIFE is the third, in case you're wondering). Check out the trailer here to see what I mean.

BLIND LOVE comes to DVD with a bunch of special features, some of them related to NYAFF. An audio commentary with Goto and cinematographer Masahide Iioka is on the disc, as well as new video interviews with them separately. Their introduction to the film and post-film Q&A from the festival is also included, as well as trailers, posters, and other goodies. I haven't had time to listen to the commentary yet, but the video interviews are really revealing and quite well-done; Goto isn't afraid to talk honestly about his abilities and what parts of the film he believes work the best.

Both of these DVDs are available online for about $20, at Amazon, Diabolik DVD, and other retailers. They're worth picking up, and definitely keep an eye open for Pink Eiga's mid-January release of the two other pink films we screened at NYAFF this year: Takita's GROPER TRAIN: WEDDING CAPRICCIO and the absolutely filthy JAPANESE WIFE NEXT DOOR!