Thanks to a nasty bout of the flu combined with extreme broke-ness, I have, of late, ended up watching lots of dodgy DVDs from the local video shop. My policy of indiscriminately renting any Japanese flicks I can find with English subtitles has resulted in me seeing some truly bizarre films. Here are reviews of a few of them:
The Man who Stole the Sun
Look out for the beguilingly psychedelic cover of this DVD, a hilariously overblown, big-budget film from the 70s, in which a trendy young high-school science teacher somehow makes a nuclear bomb in his Tokyo studio flat, in order to hold the world to ransom. The bubble-gum blowing anti-hero is played by then pop-star Julie (a guy despite the girl’s name) who looks more like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever than any school-teachers I remember.
The film plays on the public’s fear of nuclear weapons, but whether or not you get scared depends on how far you’re willing to suspend your disbelief. After some early attempts at political commentary, it turns into a full-blown action film, with endless jaw-dropping stunts. Julie single-handedly hijacks a power station to steal plutonium for the bomb, and the cop in hot pursuit throughout the movie is as tenacious and indestructible as a Terminator as he dodges explosions and jumps from helicopters.
Ultimately, after all his efforts, the best thing Julie can think of to do with the nuclear-bomb-earned power is to phone up a TV station and demand they don’t interrupt baseball games to show the news! Although a tad overlong at 2 and a half hours, this film is constantly mad, unpredictable and unintentionally amusing. Animal lovers beware- Julie does some rather nasty things to his cat in the name of science.
Electric Dragon 80000V
This hour-long dose of high-energy madness is another case of “what the hell was all that about?” A kind of arty rock n’ roll superhero movie, it looks like it was made by a music video director, and it has the same kinetic black-white visual style as the cult cyberpunk-horror film Tetsuo: The Iron Man, the underground hit from the eighties. A childhood electric shock “awakens the dragon” in our hero, and leaves him with electrical superpowers and, bizarrely the ability to talk to reptiles. He can only control his powers by thrashing about on an electric guitar. He eventually meets his nemesis, Thunderbolt Buddha, who also has electric-based powers, and the film climaxes with an explosive showdown between the pair.
The Color of Life
“This is not a horror film” claims the host of this deliriously weird movie. You’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise, as he’s standing between two murdered corpses at the time. A spin-off from the late-night cult TV-Tokyo show “Vermilion Pleasure Night,” the film is comprised of surreal comedy sketches based on the broad theme of Life, and is evidently inspired by the absurdist black-humour of the Monty Python films, in particular “The Meaning of Life.” A family of zombies have a domestic squabble over the dining room table, nurses make music from the screams of their patients by jabbing needles in to their bums, and a smiling daytime TV host cheerfully explains how to cook human flesh in a delicious send-up of Japanese cooking shows. Best of all, the film features the Fuccon family from the popular TV show “Oh! Mikey”, a family of showroom dummies, which satirise foreigners living in Japan. This is a good one to watch if you’re disappointed that Japanese TV is not as insane as you’d been led to believe at home.
This is a fun, frenetic film from a few years ago, which attempts to do for toy collectors what “Trainspotting” and “Requiem for a Dream” did for junkies. Crazy camera angles and pounding techno music document the main character’s downward spiral of toy-collecting addiction. His obsessive quest to find an extremely rare toy called “Hellbanker,” (a comic-book character who is half demon, half bank accountant) causes him to sell all his furniture and break up with his girlfriend. This is all faintly ludicrous because it takes it’s silly subject matter rather seriously, and you can’t help thinking the main character is an imbecile for letting a plastic toy destroy his life. What’s more, the actor is way too good-looking to play a nerdy collector.
The story is intercut with animated scenes from the “Hellbanker” comic and weird fantasy sequences from a post-apocalyptic future where the all-important Hellbanker toy is the only thing that can save the human race from destruction. Absurd, but amusing.
Nope, it’s not set in Egypt as bad spellers may be led to believe by the title. In this horror flick, a computer geek tops himself and leaves behind a mysterious computer disc which leads to all sorts of macabre and unpleasant goings-on involving an internet ghost. There’s a current vogue in Japan for stories about innocuous, commonplace electrical items turning nasty. We’ve already seen a cursed video tape in “the Ring”, and haunted mobile phones in “One Missed Call”, and now it’s the computer’s turn to be an evil bastard, with a supernatural hacker from hell terrorizing a bunch of university students via their PCs. Evidently Japan’s love of technology is in decline. I’m looking forward to the inevitable movies about a haunted Dance Dance Revolution machine, an evil vending machine or a possessed Print Club booth.
Kairo’s plot is incomprehensible, but the film was a lot more upmarket than the cheap Ringu-rip off I’d expected, with good music and camera-work. It’s also pant-soilingly scary in parts, and features the familiar long-haired ghost-woman I’ve come to expect in these kind of films, moving around like a performance-art student on downers. Why are most Japanese ghosts female? I suppose it’s because most horror movie geeks are terrified of talking to girls.
The hero of the film is no geek, however, and is endearingly inept at computers – a bit unrealistic for a Japanese guy, if truth be told.
Daimajin Strikes Again
This one starts with the usual ominous music, thundering footsteps, collapsing scenery and people fleeing in terror. Yep, it’s a good, old-fashioned monster movie with lots of mayhem and destruction. Daimajin is a massive 60 foot statue who comes to life whenever he’s angry. It takes a while for the abominable beast make an appearance, but when he does it’s quite a spectacle. A weird-looking fellow, Daimajin looks like a super-sized samurai with the face of the Wicked Witch of the West, if you can imagine such a thing, but he’s as hard as nails, and could hold his own against Godzilla. His stomping ground is feudal-era Japan, where a small mountain community worship the huge statue as a god. When an evil warlord messes with his homies, Daimajin opens a can of whup-ass, a sight akin to witnessing the big Buddah in Kamakura springing to life and going apeshit. Daimajin demolishes houses, crushes people underfoot, and skewers one poor bloke on his sword like a kebab. A vast, epic production filmed in lurid technicolour, evidently no expense was spared to make Daimajin Strikes Again, although it obviously owes a debt of gratitude to the big green lizard.