Land of the Uprising Daughter

December 13, 2012

Here’s a fake horror movie trailer I made with some friends for shits and giggles.
It’s highly amateurish but was good fun to make!

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White on Rice

February 2, 2010

I’ve had a chance to see a preview of the new film, “White on Rice”, which will be shown at the Osaka Asian Film Festival in March.
The latest offering by Dave Boyle, the U.S-based Japanophile who directed “Big Dreams Little Tokyo” in 2006, “White on Rice” is another warm and quirky comedy.
The story is about the romantic misadventures of Jimmy, a hapless ex-pat from Japan, reduced to living with his sister in America after a divorce, and trying to date the local ladies. Jimmy has to put up with a disapproving brother-in-law, and having to share a bunkbed with his 10-year old nephew (who is cleverer than he is.) When his brother in law’s beautiful niece moves in to stay, Jimmy is besotted, but has to compete for her affections with his handsome workmate, Tim (played by James Kyson Lee from “Heroes”.)

Hiroshi Watanabe (“Letters from Iwo Jima”) gives a endearingly goofy turn as the dopey Jimmy, and Mio Takada and Nae give solid support as Jimmy’s ill-suffering hosts. Lynn Chen as the object of Jimmy’s desires is way too young and sexy to ever be a possible match for him, (he’s definitely out of his league) but I suppose this makes his misguided pursuit all the more more awkward and funny.

Sitting in Japan, watching an American movie with mostly Japanese dialogue was initially discombobulating, but at least it’s a novel direction to take. Dave Boyle is the only Western film-maker I can think of who seems to have been influenced by Japanese romantic comedies (as opposed to Japanese anime/horror). It’s refreshing to see well-rounded Asian characters in a US film who aren’t the usual stereotypes; and hopefully Boyle’s movie will inspire American Asians to pick up the cameras themselves more often (picking up cameras offscreen rather than onscreen, as it were.)
Overall a fun, charming, and slightly odd film, with a winning performance from Watanabe.

Here’s the movies’s website: http://www.whiteonricethemovie.com


More Mad Japanese DVDS

November 12, 2007

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.

Blister

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.

Kairo

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.


Samurai Stuff

November 1, 2007

Trips to the local video shop have revealed to me an inventive new wave of samurai and ninja movies that seems to have developed in recent years. Instead of trekking around temples and museums, now I can explore Japan’s rich and fascinating past from the comfort of my sofa. (I’m a lazy sod, you see.) The films below are all readily available in Japan on DVD with English subtitles. But if you watch any of them expecting a history lesson, beware- they display a willful disregard for historical accuracy. That is, unless Tetris, tap-dancing and time-travel were the order of the day.

Samurai Fiction

This stylish black and white feature messes with conventions and has a contemporary soundtrack, aiming to inject a little Tarantino-esque post-modern cool into the samurai genre. It stars lanky guitarist Tomoyasu Hotei (one of whose songs later featured in Tarantino’s Kill Bill, funnily enough.) Pierre Taki from techno duo Denki Groove also makes an appearance. What is it with Japanese movies casting musicians? Didn’t they learn anything from they mistakes of Madonna and David Bowie?
The title draws attention to the evident “Pulp Fiction” influence, and the film doesn’t benefit from the comparison, to be honest.

Azumi

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Here we learn that Ninjas were often nubile teenage girls. I didn’t think people wore miniskirts in those days, let alone shave their legs (but who’s complaining?)
Starring the adorable Aya Ueto (another pop-star!) as Azumi, this is an action-packed adaptation of a long-running comic-book series, directed by trendy Ryouhei Kitamura (of cult sword-fighting zombie movie “Versus”.)

Zatoichi

This hit movie, a remake of the classic blind-swordsman series, is directed by the ubiquitous Takeshi “Beat” Kitano (who, when he isn’t receiving awards in Cannes, is receiving pies in the face on Japanese game shows like “Takeshi’s Castle”.) Poker-faced Kitano also stars as the titular blind swordsman who wanders into a town dominated by two rival gangs. He allies himself with two geishas out for revenge, and takes on the bad guys. Cue lots of kinetic swordplay and deadpan humour. More lighthearted than his intense and violent gangster flicks, this one even features a nice “Stomp”-influenced tap-dancing number at the end, apparently a popular form of entertainment in the Edo era.

Mayonaka no Yaji-San Kita-San

Taking anachronism to another level, “Yaji-San Kita-San” features two gay Samurais travelling down the old Tokaido road on a Harley Davidson (that is, until the police stop them because motorbikes haven’t been invented yet.) A fun and truly bizarre film, another comic-book adaptation, it`s the directorial debut of Kankuro Kudo (writer of “Ping Pong”.) There are parallels with “Easy Rider” and “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”, as the eponymous characters set off on their odd, existential quest across Japan. Along the way they encounter the afterlife, have drug-induced “Tetris” hallucinations, try their hand at stand-up comedy and record a hit single. There`s also a lot of modern Japanese pop music on the soundtrack, including the charming ditty “I wanna be your F*ck” by the Zazen Boys over the closing credits. The film gets increasingly more confusing and serious towards the end but it remains a unique experience. Surely this is amassing a cult-following already.

Nin-Nin

Yet another pop-singer-starring-comic-book-adaptation, which seem to be all the rage in Japan right now, “Nin Nin” features Smap’s clownish Shingo Kattori as an inept Ninja who ends up in contemporary Tokyo and befriends a lonely schoolboy, who he amuses with various inane martial-arts shenanigans. Shingo must protect his new master with his life, without breaking the sacred Ninja code. His inexplicable, multi-purpose catchphrase is “Nin!” which he says frequently (like a less funny version of Monty Python’s Knights who Say “Ni!”)
Don’t expect too much- this is aimed squarely at kids. On the plus side, this means it’s actually quite easy to follow by the usual standards of Japanese Japanese film. It`s a familiar story, with the shy, geeky kid, ignored by his parents and peers, being helped out of various scrapes by his secret (imaginary?) new pal. A bit like ET, but nowhere near as good. Shingo (popular with foreigners thanks to his English quiz on TV) does a fair job at the face-pulling and prat-falls, but keep a sick-bag ready for the massively sentimental ending.


Movie Review: “Big Dreams Little Tokyo”

September 5, 2007

I’ve had the opportunity to see the film “Big Dreams Little Tokyo” ahead of it’s release. It’s a quirky little gem of a film, written and directed by Dave Boyle, and has fun playing with cultural stereotypes.
While often in movies we see a wise-cracking American wandering around the streets of Tokyo, bemused by his wacky surroundings, “Big Dreams, Little Tokyo” turns this cliche on its head- the protagonist, Boyd (played by Boyle, himself) is a white American who desperately wants to be a Japanese businessman, and hangs out in San Jose’s Japan Town, wearing a suit and handing out business cards to anyone he can, as he tries to sell the textbook he’s written, or to sell his services as an English teacher and translator.

Much of the humour comes from Boyd’s relationship with his Japanese-American room-mate Jerome (played by a scene-stealing Jayson Watabe), an aspiring sumo wrestler who constantly eats in an attempt to gain weight. Jerome lives with Boyd in order to learn Japanese, but often gets roped into his roomie’s crack-pot business schemes.

The austere, buttoned-up Boyd is more conventionally “Japanese” than the laid-back Japanese-Americans he encounters. Many are baffled by Boyd’s oddball behaviour. One frustrated bookstore owner screams “You are not Japanese!”
In direct contrast to, say, Bill Murray in “Lost In Translation,” who feels isolated in Tokyo and seeks companionship with another Westerner, Boyd lives in California but is only into meeting Japanese folks. When asked to give a white woman Japanese lessons he hilariously responds “I don’t do white people.” Although the root of Boyd’s obsession is never clearly explained, the guy reminds me of many of the Westerners I’ve met in Japan, who avoid other Caucasians like the plague.
In fact, Westerners who live in Japan or have done in the past, will find a lot to enjoy in this movie, particularly the bilingual humour. For example, drunk Japanese pranksters trick Boyd into saying “Kesa mai-asa” (“this morning, every morning”) which sounds like “Kiss my ass!”
There are also plenty of recognizable situations, like raucous drinking sessions with sake-swilling salary-men, and Boyd’s offer of English lessons as an attempt to get to know a Japanese girl (a cute nurse played by Rachel Morihiro).

Meanwhile, native Japanese viewers will be fascinated by the surreal parallel universe that Boyle has conjured up. It’s almost like a fish-out-of-water film about a Japanese guy in America, with the Japanese guy played by an American, and the Americans played by Japanese actors.
In fact, the film is very similar in tone to recent Japanese comedies, with it’s static cameras, restrained performances and gentle, eccentric humour. For this reason, it’s probably more likely to find success in Japan than stateside. However, it may well find an audience with fans of unconventional, character-based comedies like the “Station Agent.”

Since this site’s about drinking in Japan, I’d have to say my favourite scene involved Boyd acting as a translator at a dinner meeting between obtuse Japanese businessmen and a no-nonsense Mexican factory owner. When the Mexican asks his clients why the sake cups are so small, they reply. “The smaller the cup, the more you can say ‘kampai!'” That’s one line I’ll have to remember!

Here’s a link to the “Big Dreams Little Tokyo” website


Wet Hot Sake

September 1, 2007

I thought I’d spice up my site by mentioning “Wet Hot Sale,” a raunchy Japanese sex comedy which manages to combine the twin passions of sake and sex.

In the ludicrous story, a pub owner discovers the secrets of making delicious sake by using the bodily juices of sexy virgins, who do aerobics in specially-designed sake-filled leotards. The sleazy publican learns that this demented technique won’t work unless the girl is virginal, so he coerces his comely daughter into getting hymen regeneration surgery so she can help him make the tasty drink. Charming! It’s a heart-warming story for your children and grandparents to enjoy.
I’m sure Steven Spielberg is being lined up to direct a Hollywood remake as we speak.

Read more here.