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February 2009 Archives

The tale of Mimi Nashi Hoichi (Earless Hoichi) is perhaps well known to Western audiences and may need no real introduction. But here I go anyway...

Besides a tale about a highly gifted yet unfortunate Biwa player, this narrative strongly recollects a critical battle in Japan's history, the Battle of Dan-no-Ura. Fought on April 25, 1185, the Battle of Dan-no-Ura was the decisive victory of the Genji Clan over the Heike (Taira) Clan. The tale of this heroic battle and the ferocious losses is forever captured in the Japanese classic Heike Monogatari. In great part, Mimi Nasho Hoichi is not only set within the ghostly aftermath of this battle but spends much of its focus on the battle itself. The intermingling of ghost tale with dramatic historical narrative makes this Kwaidan tale a beloved amongst Japanese.


You know me; I love traditional Japanese tales and enjoy fitting all the obscure pieces of the puzzle into a single coherent whole. But even I must occasionally stand back with mouth agape (!!) wondering whether or not the ancient Japanese ingested some psychadelic herb to aid them in their creative storytelling. And I venture to presume that you will also be wondering the same after reading the brief yet fabulous tale of the The Monkey and the Crab.

Though if contemplated, the moral lesson of this tale becomes crystal clear, at first reading, simply compare the bizarrities here with those of, say, Alice in Wonderland.



Fated love and its power over karmic re-birth is a recurring theme in Japanese film and folk lore. Usually this involves the lovers being reborn at a later time where they once again meet and fall into an irresistible love through the strong bonds of destiny.

In the following tale, however, the bond between lovers is so strong and pure that the fated reincarnation of the lover occurs while the other still lives. As told by Lafcadio Hearn in his 1904 Kwaidan, this is a satisfying tale of the ultimate victory of love over death and karma.



???

Here is a tale presumably recollecting the actual experiences of author Lafcadio Hearn's during his life in Japan. It portrays a very mundane aspect of daily life in his village which becomes to vehicle for a depth of insight into common traditional religious and superstitious intuitions. Though barely mentioned, the undeniable backbone of this tale is a mother's love and prayer for her deceased child. Look carefully and you will see it. Also here is the comforting Buddhist (not Shinto) notion of reincarnation. Lastly and perhaps most intriguing is this tale's implicit yet wholly indescript doctrine regarding the spiritual power of a grave site. This last aspect is the type of common superstition which is rarely written down or formally declared yet somehow lives eternally through the generations of a people group.


Just when you thought it was safe to pet the kitty!!

Here's a classic Japanese tale dating back to the Hizen daimyo of the Sengoku Era (1568-1615). It presents a Shinto perspective of the spiritual dimension of Nature itself, here depicted in the form of a large cat who not only consumes humans, but then supernaturally changes its form to become that human, after which it interacts and easily deceives everyone it encounters.

Until, of course, a world-wise roaming priest enters the picture...

The following tale is taken from Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford's Tales of Old Japan, dated 1910.


Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis
[Teito Monogatari]

Genre: Battle Of White and Black Onmyoji Magic over Tokyo's Urban Development [Taisho Era 1912-1926]

review in one breath

This incredibly ambitious and well-cast film depicts a spiritualized version of Japan's gradual turn away from its ancestral religion and toward modernity starting in the early Taisho Era and ending in the Showa Era. Whereas actual secular history accounts for the great earthquake of 1923 and the subsequent rebuilding of Tokyo using modernized architecture and technology (such as a subway system), here we are told of both evil and benevolent spiritual forces at work behind all these events. Available now in subtitled Region 1 DVD and running at slightly over 2 hours, this is a highly involved and sometimes confusing tale of Japan's irrevocable turn toward modernity.



A Yakuza in Love
[Koi Gokudo]

Genre: Love Tale amidst Dismal Street Realism

review in one breath

When an innocent young country girl falls for a low level yakuza, she enters a completely different world in which the line between good and evil are quickly blurred. Through great ups and downs their love will be tested, but the ultimate test lies in whether or not they will survive the downward pull of the lifestyle they have chosen.



Tokyo Psycho
[Tokyo densetsu: ugomeku machi no kyoki]

Genre: Fact-Based Psycho Thriller

review in one breath

First, Yumiko begins receiving very creepy love letters from a secret admirer. Then, her closest friends begin disappearing. All clues point toward Mikariya, a former classmate who allegedly killed his family but was deemed criminally insane. And now Mikariya is back, intent on making Yumiko his bride. From the director of Tomie, this film is based on true infamous crimes in Japan, and depicts an amazingly twisted Tokyo psycho!



Shinsei Toire no Hanako-san
[Toilet Hanako-san: New Student]

Genre: Creepy School-Based Horror

review in one breath

This is the fourth and final film in the Hanako series and provides some truly creepy Shinto-based horror involving decrepit shrines, an amazingly demonic doll and plenty of mind-bending (and eye-popping) possession. This is a spooky and effective finale to the well-known Toire no Hanako-san tales.



Toire no Hanako-san : Kyoufu kousha
[Toilet Hanako-san: School of Fear]

Genre: School-Based Horror Story

review in one breath

Though far less than terrifying, this third version of the Toire no Hanako series opened up so much weird Japanese superstition that I can only stand in awe with jaw wide open. Exposure to this wholly foreign perspective of ghostliness thoroughly makes up for this film's lack of cinematic polish.



The Neighbor No. Thirteen
[Rinjin Juusan Gou]

Genre: Jekyll and Hyde meets Friday the 13th

review in one breath

After years of being bullied, Murazaki Juzo's harbored anger now manifests itself as a self-conscious personality deep within him. As if driven by forces he cannot control, he finds himself precariously close decades later to his worst bully. As Juzo watches on in increasing horror, his alter ego gradually comes violently to the fore in what increasingly appears to be a highly orchestrated vengeance. This is a riveting psycho-revenge film with a superb soundtrack and plenty of eye candy.



Pray

Genre: Supernatural Ghost Horror

review in one breath

Mitsuru and Miwa kidnap a little girl in the hopes of collecting a huge ransom, but their risky plan takes a bizarre turn when the parents of the girl claim she has been dead for a year to the day. While holed up in an abandoned school building with their comrades deciding what to do next, very strange and violent things begin to happen as Mitsuru becomes increasingly mesmerized by the seemingly innocuous little girl.



Mail

Genre: Supernatural TV Mini-Series

review in one breath

Following his recovery from blindness, paranormal investigator Akiba Reiji has tracked down and dispensed with dozens of malevolent spirits. His adventures bring him into contact with Mikoto, a young woman sharing similar abilities. As Akiba's 100th ghostly encounter approaches, a flood of long absent memories suddenly returns. This Western release contains a recently popular theatrical release of a popular Japanese TV mini-series.



Here's a rather creepy tale involving entrenched folk superstition, Buddhist theology and Karmic principles of retribution for evil deeds.

The notion of a Jiki Ninki or Flesh-eating Goblin appears in several forms within Japanese folk tales. The story below is a very old and original version which conjures skin-tingles at the thought of encountering dilapidated shrine hermitages along darkened mountainous passages. Here's why...


Takeshis'

Genre: Introspective Deconstruction

review in one breath

In his latest film, director/actor Kitano "Beat" Takeshi literally deconstructs himself in a simultaneously sad and bizarre spiral of reality, dream and dark possibility. Due to an almost chaotic dissonance, this film will certainly not appeal to everyone, but for those who are familiar with Kitano's history and willing to absorb his introspective imagination, this comes across quite powerfully.



Peep "TV" Show

Genre: Almost Interesting Youth Angst Documentary

review in one breath

As the one year anniversary of the World Trade Center collapse approaches, a socially skeptical young man begins a web project entitled "Peep TV" which streams voyeuristic video, all in the name of showing "Reality". As the 9/11 anniversary draws closer, his projects turn darker and more serious, catching the eye of Moe, a Gothic Lolita who sees in his work an authentic expression of her own contemplations of isolation and identity.



Love & Pop
[Rabu & Poppu]

Genre: Unnervingly Realistic Social Commentary

review in one breath

This film follows one day in the life of high school student Hiromi as she meets with her friends in Shibuya for a shopping spree. Their mundane adventure is brimming, however, with the seedy undertones of contemporary Tokyo's prolific tendency to sexualize and bait high school girls into enjo-kosai, dating for hire. What starts out as an ordinary day with friends will end in irrevocable, life-changing events for Hiromi.



Kirei?
[Kirei: The Terror of Beauty]

Genre: Cosmetic Surgery-Fueled Psycho Thriller

review in one breath

A prosperous cosmetic surgeon is approached by a woman utterly crippled by an inferiority complex over her lack of beauty. When the woman hands over wads of cash during her request, the doctor quickly agrees and a series of initial surgeries are scheduled to fix eyes, nose and chin, etc. But with the completion of each surgery, the woman desperately pleads for another and then hands over another mountain of cash. When the doctor finally asks a psychiatrist's opinion of the woman's never-ending hunger for more surgery, he strongly warns against any further procedures and worries for the safety of the doctor, leaving the doctor to decide between this advice and the huge sums of money.



Kill Devil
[Kiru Oni Gokko / Kill Tag]

Genre: B-Grade Youth Slasher De-Fanged

review in one breath

The year is 2025, the entire human genome has been decoded, and the genetic fingerprints for human violence have been identified. In a highly classified attempt to study the effects of this genetic disposition to violence, a small group of youth exhibiting the gene are abducted and kept on a deserted island. With all past memories erased, they are left to fend for themselves using only their immediate reflexes.



Youth of the Beast
[Yajuu no Seishun]

Genre: Yakuza / Tough Guy

review in one breath

Director Suzuki Seijun teams up with prolific tough guy Shishido Jo in this tale of bad cop seeking employment by the highest paying yakuza lord. Though initially enamored by his formidable brutality, the yakuza soon realize there may be more to this rouge than they initially perceived. And then all hell breaks loose.



Kanto Wanderer
[Kanto Mushuku]

Genre: Tale of Principled Yakuza Folly

review in one breath

In trying to revive the declining influence of the Izu yakuza family to which he is sworn, Katsuta is increasingly troubled that love of money has all but replaced the traditional yakuza notions of nobility and honor. Finally taking matters into his own hands Katsuta shocks the other yakuza families and appears to return his Izu boss to a prominent and respected stature. Ironically however, his honor-based actions quickly set off an unexpected chain of events which undermines his life and his allegiances.



The Guard from Underground
[Jigoku no Keibin]

Genre: Slasher Horror

review in one breath

Akiko's first day on the job soon turns out to be the most hazardous day of her life as she inadvertently discovers the murderous activities of a recently hired security guard. This early film by director Kurosawa Kiyoshi pays tribute to the era's slasher genre and already demonstrates his fascination with societal relationships and psychological horror.



Hellevator : The Bottled Fools
[Gusha no Bindume]

Genre: Bloody and Claustrophobic Social Satire

review in one breath

Luchino's routine morning elevator ride up from her subterranean home on level 138 to her school many stories above turns horrific when the elevator operator is ordered to pick up two passengers from floor 99, the maximum security level. What starts as psychological manipulation soon turns wholly physical as both the cruel convicts and Luchino's own dysfunctional past are unleashed. And then every passenger must fight for his or her survival.



Freeze Me

Genre: Revenge Thriller

review in one breath

Thinking she had put her past behind her, Chisato is suddenly confronted by the men responsible for her humiliating rape years before. Their sheer disrespect for her slowly destroys the home, job and relationships she had built up for herself. With literally nothing else to lose, she gradually takes things into her own hands, exacting the revenge her merciless abusers deserve.



Cursed
['Cho' Kowai Hanashi A: Yami no karasu]

Genre:

Food Mart From HELL !!

A seemingly innocent Food Mart apparently harbors massive spiritual malaise as various demonic curses inflict everyone who purchases something from the store. Only when a couple of intuitive souls wander into the store is the formidable mystery explained.



Honto ni Atta! Noroi Bideo 2
[True Happenings! Cursed Video 2]

Genre: Documentary-Styles Haunted Videos

review in one breath

This is the second in a LONG and popular series of documentaries investigating real-life cursed videos. This collection contains nine video clips believed to have captured a spiritual entity or be in some way the cause of misfortune for those who have seen them. The series' producers investigate the origin of each tape and interview eye-witnesses to their spooky impact. Then you are given a chance to see the tapes for yourself... AND THEN YOU TOO ARE CURSED!! Oh my.



The Kaidan Shin Mimi Bukuro horror series has been blossoming in Japan for a couple years now. There are currently thirteen different DVDs available, none of which have been released in English-subtitled versions. Thus keeping track of those which trickle over to the West has caused some confusion.



Blood and Bones
[Chi to Hone]

Genre: Proto-Yakuza Korean Immigrant Drama

review in one breath

This amazingly gritty saga of the formidable rise and demise of Kin Shunpei, a Korean immigrant to Osaka, Japan in the 1920's depicts not only the struggles and victories of the early Korean immigrant communities within Japan but also the almost unwitting emergence of a highly entrenched (Korean-immigrant-based) Yakuza presence which (it is said) exists to this day. Chi to Hone offers the Japanese version of a far more brutal and far less idealized Godfather. This is undoubtedly one to see.



One Missed Call 2
[Chakushin Ari 2]

Genre: Supernatural Ghost Story

review in one breath

The horrific deaths by phone continue and the trail eventually leads to a desolate Taiwanese village decimated by a mysterious fate. This rather creative and multi-faceted sequel to Miike's original provides an entertaining and spooky continuation of the Chakushin Ari tale.



Booth
[Busu]

Genre: Supernatural Psychological Meltdown

review in one breath

A well-known and somewhat haughty radio host is suddenly haunted by his past when his show temporarily moves to an outdated basement studio booth with a notorious history. Though his job entails giving cheerfully confident advice to others, on this particular evening he is forced to undergo some terrifying introspection. This is as much a psychological thriller as supernatural ghost tale and is the second film in the recent "New Generation Thrillers" series.



Calamari Wrestler
[Ika Resuraa]

Genre: Pro-Wrestling Seafood Love Story

review in one breath

The Japanese pro-wrestling championship match is suddenly interrupted by a large Squid whose unrivaled wrestling skills make him an overnight wrestling sensation -- Squid Wrestler!. But then formidable contenders emerge including a large Octopus and a huge Shrimp with a killer punch! Tune in as Squid Wrestler attempts to hold onto his title and get the girl! A truly strange film, this one.



Giants and Toys
[Kyojin to Gangu]

Genre: Satire of Capitalism Run Amuck

review in one breath

As three rival Caramel companies prepare for their annual promotional campaigns, the corporate backstabbing begins. But when the PR director of World Caramel discovers Kyoko, a cute but rather unpolished girl to star as the new face of the campaign, the competitive tide seems to turn in their favor. Until, that is, Kyoko becomes such a wild sensation that the entire campaign implodes. Director Masumura here explores the non-ceasing battle between pursuit of profits and business ethics in Japan's increasingly cut-throat corporate world.



Blind Beast
[Moju]

Genre: Philosophical Exploration into Absolute Hedonism

review in one breath

A blind sculptor convinced that a new era of tactile-centric art is necessary, abducts and holds captive a leading model in the hopes of convincing her to participate in his artistic dream. What ensues is a truly remarkable avalanche of human emotion, instinct and depravity. Here director Masamura leads audiences down seemingly harmless philosophical corridors until we too are convinced of his mind-breaking conclusion.



Be-Bop High School: Elegy
[Koko Yotaro Aika - Erijii]

Genre: Outrageously Over-The-Top Brawl Comedy

review in one breath

Based on the popular manga of the same name, Be-Bop High School drops you into the middle of brawling rival high school gangs who do little else than chase each other around with knives and baseball bats. Using local yakuza ruffians as their role models, these high school hooligans pound themselves senseless as fawning girls adore them from the sidelines. Not much plot here; Just a WHOLE LOTTA fighting!



All About Lily Chou-Chou
[Lili Chu Chu no Subete]

Genre: Youth Angst Amid Moral Chaos

review in one breath

This rather profound film follows a class of Japanese students as they transition from Junior High to Senior High and from optimistic childhood into the murky and tragic ambiguities of adolescence. The clarity and depth with which All About Lily Chou Chou plumbs the moral vacuum into which these kids fall is wholly mesmerizing and memorable. Eerily paralleling the narrative is the fan-based internet bulletin board to which students and others post using pseudonyms, allowing them to anonymously express their core intuitions and angst. Both beautiful and disturbing, this film is highly recommendable.



Afraid to Die
[Karakkaze yaro]

Genre: Demise of a Yakuza Schmuck

review in one breath

When Takeo is released from prison for attacking Handa, a rival yakuza lord, the last thing on his mind is taking over the position of his recently deceased father, boss of the Asahina clan. As he and his older brother Aikawa contemplate their options, they soon entertain the idea of falling in love with maidens and leaving the yakuza life altogether. But their exit proves more difficult than planned when their rival clan steps in to exact a little revenge.



MPD: Psycho 3
[Multiple Personality Detective 3]

Genre: Psychotic Thriller

review in one breath

These are the final two episodes of director Miike Takashi's truly bizarre and engaging psychotic thriller. Here the mind-bending nature of the detective Amamiya's schizophrenia and its relation to the Lucy Monostone Seven is finally divulged. This is a satisfying and eery finale to the very unique MPD Psycho series.



MPD: Psycho 2
[Multiple Personality Detective 2]

Genre: Psychotic Thriller

review in one breath

The mind-boggling bizarre murders continue as Amamiya Kazuhiko inches closer toward the psychically elusive masochist Nishizono Shinji. In this second of three installments of director Miike Takashi's visually hypnotic sci-fi crime thriller, we gain further insight into the past of Amamiya and his early relationship with his now nemesis Nishizono. The pace, visuals and pure intrigue of this series remains as high as ever, as does its completely baffling storyline.



MPD: Psycho 1
[Multiple Personality Detective 1]

Genre: Psychotic Thriller

review in one breath

Truly STRANGE goings-on permeate Tokyo in this eerily beautiful yet mind-numbingly mysterious psychotic thriller. By the deservedly notorious director Miike Takashi, this tale will undoubtedly capture both your intellect and imagination from the very start.



Yurika-chan

Genre: Psycho-babble Action Thriller

review in one breath

For starters we have to talk about the director's name. The kanji making up the name Saishu Kyoshi was more than a little difficult to decipher. Even my (college prof) Japanese friend couldn't read it. After spending about an hour trying to crack the Kanji mystery which is Saishu Kyoshi, I was startled by the results.



Zatoichi - The Blind Swordsman

Genre: Samurai par Excellence

review in one breath

"Even those who are not blind fail to see many things."

I assume we all know and love the Zatoichi character starring in a huge number of samurai films ranging from Zatoichi 1 (1962) to Zatoichi 26 (1989) (!). Fortunately, director Kitano Takeshi (aka Beat Takeshi) didn't title his rendition "Zatoichi 27", but instead brings a rather fresh, contemporary approach to this otherwise classic character.



Chushingura Gaiden: Yotsuya Kaidan
[Crest of Betrayal]

Genre: Historical Supernatural Samurai [Tokugawa/Edo Era: 1603-1867 AD]

review in one breath

Directed and written by Fukasaku Kinji, Chushingura Gaiden: Yotsuya Kaidan presents a classic tale combining two very well known Japanese traditions. The Chushingura Gaiden is an actual historical episode, better known in the West as the story of the 47 Ronin, and constitutes one of Japan's most beloved samurai stories. It involves an extensive plot of revenge enacted by 47 samurai whose leader was ordered to commit seppuku after attempting to kill an oppressive rival. (A "ronin" is a leaderless samurai.)



Yogen
[Premonition]

Genre: Psychological Supernaturalism

review in one breath

Caught in a perpetual re-living of the tragic death of his daughter, Tachihara follows increasingly mind-bending clues until his entire world turns upside down. What first appears to be simple deja vu quickly turns into a supernatural cascade where the distinction among life, death and delusions quickly disappears.



Yakouchuu
[Noctiluca Scintillans??!]

Genre: Supernatural Boob-Fest or The Horny Adventures of the Invisible Man

review in one breath

While police investigate the suspicious death of Okuda Koichi, one by one his co-workers die (usually in the throes of passionate sex) in very bloody and mysterious ways. The diabolical killer has skillfully eluded all police detection, almost as if he were invisible, which of course, will also allow him to watch huge numbers of buxom girls disrobe and jiggle before getting on with his modus operandi.



Woman in the Dunes
[Suna na Onna]

Genre: Existential Drama

review in one breath

Here is a visually fascinating tale providing commentary on the meaning and meaninglessness of the human condition. The imagery is realistic and tactile throughout, and leads to a sense of amazement at the bizarre trap our main character suddenly finds himself in. This trap becomes a metaphor for the often meaningless social rituals contemporary souls find themselves locked into.



Versus

Genre: Extreme Zombie Action

review in one breath

When you exempt the mega-budget/block-buster stuff of Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, and the Wachowski brothers, what movies come to mind as jaw-dropping entertainment? Well, director Ryuhei Kitamura's Versus is now at the top of that list. Of course you and I are different (for example, we can both agree I am better looking) and so our lists of "most memorable" may indeed differ. So let me qualify this praise. For those interested in non-stop, full-throttle action involving, yakuza, zombies, karmic cycles, sinister priests, human sacrifice, revenge themes, and limb-hacking extraordinaire, this will likely top your list as well.



Uzumaki
[Vortex]

Genre: Traditional Superstition Horror

review in one breath

I had a good friend who during his youth enjoyed consciousness expansion through the use of hallucinogens. I remember the day he ran up to me and still with a bit of panic in his eyes told me of his previous night's adventure. It seems that in the midst of chatting with some friends, he came to the realization that his arms were getting longer. "Out of the corner of my eye I could see my arms becoming rubbery and elongated, drooping nearly to the floor!". Convinced he was merely hallucinating, he looked directly at his arms, expecting a reassuring snap back to reality by the sight of their normal length. No such luck. Looking down he was terrified to see that his arms were rubbery straws now defying those physical laws he had heretofore taken for granted as governing normal bodies. "It was as if I were coming undone at the molecular level." His strange story stuck securely in my head and I often found myself trying to imagine what it would be like if the world suddenly unbound itself from the way it has always been. I mean, why couldn't someone's arms and legs suddenly become spaghetti-like through some sort of cosmic hiccup. Someone will claim adamantly "this doesn't happen", but by this is only meant "this has never happened before". What if the rules governing the world suddenly changed?



Twilight Samurai
[Tasogare Seibei]

Genre: Historical Samurai Drama

review in one breath

Japanese actor Sanada Hiroyuki is becoming widely recognized as Japan's most prominent contemporary action hero. Though given a moderately visible role as Uijo in the lamentably caucasian-centric Last Samurai (2003) (he's the angry samurai who gives Tom Cruise a well-deserved thrashing), Sanada has appeared in numerous leading roles throughout a great number of popular Japanese films. Readers of my reviews will be most familiar with his role as Ryuichi in Ringu (and thereby also Rasen and Ringu 2).



Tomie: The Final Chapter - Forbidden Fruit

Genre: Supernatural Horror

review in one breath

Tomie: The Final Chapter - Forbidden Fruit is the fifth (and apparently final ?) in the line of Tomie-based horror movies. Tomie, of course, has a life well-beyond the walls of cinema, and originally flourished in the minds and nightmares of innocent Japanese through the manga by Ito Junji.



Tomie: Beginning

Genre: Supernatural Horror

review in one breath

Within days after the mysterious new student Kawagami Tomie joins a high school classroom, all hell literally breaks loose. Simple in-fighting between boys and girls over Tomie's oppressive shadow soon gives way to mind-breaking violence culminating in a grizzly dissection which ultimately leads to suicide, insanity and even more violence. Six years after his original 1999 Tomie, director Oikawa Ataru returns to explore Tomie's "beginnings".



Tomie: Revenge

Genre: The Film That Cannot Be Killed!

review in one breath

I'm running out of witty intros for Tomie films! Here, Tomie not only turns out to be the innocent and lovable protagonist, but also delivers a heartfelt anti-penile plea for the destruction of all males on the planet! This latest film effortlessly continues the almost permanent state of disappointment faced by Tomie fans.



This tale, dating back to the 1600s, is clearly intended as a message regarding the efficacy of earnest prayer the deity Fudo Myo-O associated with Saihoji Temple in Kyoto. (Fudo Myo-O is primarily emphasized by the Shingon school of Buddhism.)

But although the tale contains two "testimonies" of effective prayer, another central moral lesson undoubtedly involves the noble willingness of an individual sacrifice for the greater good.

Simultaneously religious, haunting and beautiful the tale of Ubazakura has always struck a chord with the heart of Japanese existential sentiment.


Tomie: Replay

Genre: Supernatural Horror

review in one breath

I guess it was inevitable that the otherwise horrific Tomie receive a major makeover and start walking around in slightly damp lingerie. Apparently no one, not even the most evil among us, is exempt from this required beautification following a few popular films. I mean, even Sadako, the mother of all baddies in Ringu went through a similar transformation, first into a sex-crazed hottie in Rasen and then into a shy and rather angelic young woman in Ringu 0.



Tomie: Rebirth

Genre: Supernatural Horror

review in one breath

Tomie: Rebirth is directed by Shimizu Takashi, creator and director of all the incredibly popular Juon movies (all five versions!). In addition to (and following) the original Tomie (1999) there have been six additional films made of which Shimizu's in the third. Shimizu's directing talent, along with his ability to avoid some of the pitfalls encountered by the prior versions, makes Tomie: Rebirth a thoroughly effective depiction of the horror implicit in Ito Junji's manga character Tomie.



Tomie: Another Face
[Tomie: Anaza Feisu]

Genre: Supernatural Horror

review in one breath

Tomie: Another Face (aka Tomie: Anaza Feisu and Tomie: Kyoufu no Bijousho) is a straight-to-video production directed by Inomata Toshiro. A colloboration between Toei Films and Kansai Television, this three-part tale was released the same year as (though several months after) the original cinematic version of Tomie (1999).



Tomie

Genre: Supernatural Horror

review in one breath

I must confess that I've been looking forward to seeing Tomie for quite some time. For various reasons I've seen most of the Tomie sequels prior to seeing this original version. To varying degrees, these sequels were good (or not so good) at conveying manga artist Ito Junji's original vision of the Tomie character, but now, at last, I've visited the mothership and stand before you today, testimony in hand....



Tokyo Drifter
[Tokyo Nagaremono]

Genre: Noir Yakuza Tale

review in one breath

Tokyo Drifter is a stylish noir film by director Suzuki Seijin. The film is very well-known, as is Suzuki, and both have a well-deserved cult following. Suzuki directed several memorable films in addition to this, including Fighting Elegy (1966) and perhaps the mother of all Japanese gangster noir, Branded to Kill (1967). In Branded to Kill Suzuki tells an amazingly bizarre yakuza tale in black and white, with stark photography and vibrant, over-the-top characters. In Tokyo Drifter, the characters seem much more mainstream and Suzuki chooses the visual medium to channel the majority of style. The film moves from one colorfully designed set to the next, employing various camera techniques and angles. The result is clearly a pop-noir yakuza movie whose characters border between the stereotypical and comic book-like.



Tokyo Dragon
[Tokyo Ryuu]

Genre: Apocalyptic Emergence of an Ancient Power

review in one breath

Tokyo and the surrounding Kanto area has been under a torrential downpour for weeks and there is little prospect that the rains will stop anytime soon. As the streets flood and general civic services grind to a halt, a sense of panic slowly builds, as electrical and computer systems begin to fail under the persistent humidity. The health hazards caused by the rampant mildew and uncollected garbage have caused even the television news stations to contemplate false forecasts predicting sunny days ahead. But the storm only grows larger, as if it were a living organism, swirling in an increasingly visible spiral pattern directly over the heart of Tokyo. At the same time, very far away at the remote Japanese island of Okinawa, a monstrous presence has stirred deep below the ocean's surface amid ancient religious ruins.



Tokyo 10+01
[Tokyo Eleven]

Genre: Cheese Action

review in one breath

Oh my. This was painful. Very painful.

There are some movies which, after watching, one is forced to ask: why? Why? WHY? There are other movies which, after watching, one must refrain from throwing oneself out a window screaming: why? Why?? WHY???(!) Tokyo 10 + 01 is defintely of this latter sort and will have you questioning how such an obvious atrocity as this could expect anything other than a loud THUD as the audience's last shreds of hope in director Higuchinksy's skill hit the floor.



Toire no Hanako-san: Kieta Shojou no Himistu
[Toilet Hanako-san: Secret of the Disappearing Girl]

Genre: School-Based Horror Story

review in one breath

This is a creative and effective sequel to the 1995 Toire no Hanako-san about a ghostly young girl terrorizing the fleeing students of an elementary school. In this film, the horror moves to a high school where a spiritually sensitive student soon succumbs to a growing presence in the school. By the time she is able to convince her classmates of her premonitions, the formidable power of Hanako is in full swing.



Three... Extremes: Box

Genre: Surreal Nightmare

review in one breath

Three... Extremes is a trilogy of relatively short films each by a different asian director. Box, the 40 minute film under review here is directed by Japanese director Miike Takashi. Dumpling is a 37 minute film by Hong Kong director Fruit Chan. And Cut is a 48 minute film by Korean director Park Chan-wook. (PS: Although all three of these very cool films are contained in the single DVD I hold in my nimble fingers, I will only review Miike's film since (a) this is a Japanese movie review site, and (b) my utter lack of experience with Hong Kong or Korean films will undoubtedly result in my review simply saying these films are "very cool".)



Stereo Future

Genre: Utopian Love Story

review in one breath

First off, this is a love story. And if you're familiar with the type of films I prefer to review, you'll have noticed that the only love stories dealt with here involve unfortunate demises, tragic karmic fates, or general spousal "conflict" leading to the psychotic haunting of one by the other. Thus my reviewing Stereo Future here might suggest to some of you the possible presence of formidable malice or weapons of mass destruction. But, I would like you all to know, I have a much softer side which is able to enjoy cuddling on the sofa basking in the warm glow of a romance..... heh.



Stacy
[Stacy: Attack of the Schoolgirl Zombies]

Genre: Schlock Gore Zombie Fest

review in one breath

Wow! What a gore-fest this is!

The world as we know it is in utter chaos due to the inexplicable, sudden transformation of all girls ages 15 to 17 into blood-thirsty zombies! Not only does this significantly curtail procreation amid a plummeting world population, it also necessitates the widespread annihilation of these girlie undead lest they consume every remaining man, woman and child! (And consume they will!)



A Snake of June
[Rokugatsu no Hebi]

Genre: Erotic Thriller

review in one breath

A Snake of June is a 2002 film directed by Tsukamoto Shinya. Tsukamoto has an impressive and creative career in both acting and directing. He has appeared in numerous films, many of which he also directed. Films in which he holds this dual role (of director and actor) include Tetsuo (1988), Tetsuo 2 (1992), Bullet Ballet (1998) and A Snake of June, the film under review here. Other films which Tsukamoto directed (but did not appear in) include Hiroku: Goblin Hunter (1990) and Gemini (1999).



Sky High
[Sukai Hai]

Genre: Supernatural Crime Drama

review in one breath

Sky High is based on the popular manga by Tsutomu Takahashi. (Takahashi also authored another manga entitled Alive which director Kitamura Ryuhei cinematically recreated one year prior to this film.) This theatrical version by Kitamura serves as a prequel to the very popular 10-part TV series (entitled Sky High) produced for TV Asahi (which aired in March 2003) for which Kitamura directed the 10th episode. While the TV series focused predominantly on the predicament and adventures of Mina (Shaku Yumiko - who plays the same character in the movie), the Keeper of the Gate through which slain, departed souls must pass, this theatrical version focuses nearly exclusively on the events whereby Mina becomes this Gate Keeper.



Shudan Satsujin Kurabu
[Group Murder Club]

Genre: Slasher / Supernatural Horror (Comedic)

review in one breath

I've watched quite a few Japanese films and TV dramas, but I must confess that I have not seen anything from Japan that quite resembles Shudan Satsujin Club. This is part schlocky slasher and part bizarre comedy. In some respects Shudan Satsujin Club strongly alludes to the comedic horror style of Evil Dead.



Shizuka na Seikatsu
[The Quiet Life]

Genre: Autobiographical Family Drama and Coming of Age

review in one breath

This is not the type of movie I generally include among my reviews. (Just look at the "zero strangeness" score below!) But I've decided to list it here due to what might be worthy characteristics, namely the level of accomplishment by the writer and the fact that this is based on his own family's experience. Here I have only provided a brief overview of the film and some relevant information for those who have seen the film or wish to learn morn about it.



Shiryoha
[Dead Waves]

Genre: Supernatural Ghost Story in Techno-Babble parlance

review in one breath

When a television producer visits the home of a brother and sister to interview them for his series on paranormal phenomena, what first appears to be a simple case of psychopathology turns into a full-blown epidemic of demonic manifestation. To his horror he realizes that he is not only a witness to the blossoming insanity, filming each scream and horrific expression, but that he and his technology have been intricately tied to the cause and conduit of its spread.



Shinjuku Triad Society
[Shinjuku Kuro Shakai: China Mafia Sensou]

Genre: Extreme Cop Versus Crime Syndicate

review in one breath

"I know a love story that's both sweet and sickening.
That's the way love really is."

These are the opening lines to Shinjuku Triad Society and this is precisely what this film delivers in eye-popping manner; a complex, disturbing, yet absolutely gratifying story of violent sacrifice for the sake of one's parents and sibling.



Shikoku

Genre: Traditional Superstition Horror

review in one breath

One of the main reasons I enjoy Japanese horror is that these films so often tap into real cultural traditions and superstitions.One can actually learn or experience quite a bit about Japanese culture simply by watching the films. Shikoku is a prime example of the intermingling of actual folk lore with cinematics and as such is thoroughly enjoyable.



Shibuya Kaidan 2
[The Locker 2]

Genre: Creepy Urban Supernatural Horror

review in one breath

Demonic little Sachiko is back! And she is literally crumpling any foolish soul which dares open Shibuya coin locker #0009. Picking up at precisely the moment the prequel left off, the trajectory of horror continues as we learn more and more about the cause behind a growing epidemic of unnatural deaths. This sequel was recently released to US audiences along with the prequel on a single DVD entitled The Locker.



Shibuya Kaidan
[The Locker]

Genre: Creepy Urban Supernatural Horror

review in one breath

A Tokyo urban legend comes to life in unexpected, terrifying ways when a group of young people use a coin locker at the Shibuya station. As members of the group begin dying in bizarre and excruciating ways, the survivors frantically try to understand the curse they find themselves in. This prequel was recently released to US audiences along with the sequel on a single DVD entitled The Locker.



Shibito No Koiwazurai
[LoveSick Dead]

Genre: Supernatural / Psychological Horror

review in one breath

Based on an Ito Junji manga, Shibito no Koiwazurai drops you once again into a sleepy rural village populated with high schools students and permeated with folk superstitions. There have been many attempts to successfully recreate Ito Junji's manga worlds into cinematic expressions, but very few succeeded, whether visually or popularly. Uzumaki set the standard for such attempts, and most fans agreed that the film was both visually stunning and dramatically compelling. I'm happy to announce that Shibito no Koiwazurai comes in as a close second and likewise successfully creates a visual ambiance and narrative force able to carry the audience into the nightmarish world intended by Ito.



Senrigan
[Clairvoyance]

Genre: Techno Thriller

review in one breath

Senrigan (which means "Clairvoyance") is a techno-thriller in which a mind-controlling doomsday cult threatens to blow up half of Japan in the hope of ushering in a new world order. I use the term "techno-thriller" quite loosely here, since you may find yourself searching hard for both the technos and the thrill...



Sabu

Genre: Loyalty Drama [Edo Era: 1603-1867 AD]

review in one breath

Sabu is directed by Miike Takashi and is based on the classic novel by Yamamoto Shugoro. It provides an impressive exploration of the depths and complexities of friendship and loyalty between two childhood friends who mature into harsher realities. Director Miike Takashi is undoubtedly notorious for a certain genre of film, but his direction of the much more traditional Sabu is flawless. The film was intended as a commemorative broadcast for the 40th anniversary of Nagoya Television. The project pulled in significant talent for both the production and cast, and the final result is nothing short of a compelling film which in no way resembles a made-for-television production.



Ring 2
[Ringu 2]

Genre: Supernatural Techno-babble Horror

review in one breath

First, it must be admitted that one will have absolutely no idea what is going on in Ringu 2 without first seeing Ringu. Basics such as character identity and Sadako's history fully assume familiarity with the original story.



Ring 0: Birthday
[Ringu 0: Baasudei]

Genre: Teen-Angst Supernatural Horror

review in one breath

Ringu 0, directed by Tsuruta Norio (who also directed Kakashi a year later) is the last in a line of (Japanese) movies based on Nakata Hideo's Ringu. In Ringu, you may remember, the plot revolved around discovering and uncovering the mysterious Sadako who lived 30 years in the past from the characters' perspective. And although the story's characters do a pretty good job of locating the source of the malevolent evil they are experiencing, by movie's end Sadako seems more enigmatic than where we began. Enter Ringu 0, which takes place those 30 years ago and tells the (nearly) complete story of an adolescent Sadako during the weeks leading up to her fateful meeting with her father at the well.



Ring
[Ringu]

Genre: Supernatural Horror par Excellence

review in one breath

Let me begin by stating: YOUCH! VERY CREEPY!!!

Okay. Ringu is based on Ringu (1991), the first of a trilogy of novels by author Suzuki Koji. The movie became wildly popular in Japan and spawned several sequels/prequels, two television mini-series, a Korean, and eventually US remake. Ringu was held from release in the US until the release of the US remake, The Ring, in 2003. (Go figure.)



Revolver
[Riborubaa: Aoi Haru]

Genre: Youth Self-Discovery

review in one breath

Revolver is directed by Watanabe Takashi, whose earlier work leans primarily toward themes of guns and yakuza. His latest films, which include this one, focus on an overlap of such social violence and fringe groups of high school youth. The Japanese term Aoi Haru which appears as the subtitle of this film, though literally translated "Blue/Green Spring", is a common idiom connoting the vigor and wide-eyed expectation of youth. (Due to a long running manga by that title.) Thus here Watanabe presents audiences with a rather entertaining and thoughtful tale wherein the naivete of three high school boys is challenged by a brush with harsher realities.



Returner
[Retana]

Genre: Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Action

review in one breath

Simply put, this is a very good movie which again renewed my respect for the ingenuity of Japanese film making. In addition to superb special effects, an excellent cast, and groovy soundtrack, Returner offers a veritable smorgasbord of storyline content.



Red Shadow
[Akakage]

Genre: Ninja Drama (Comedic)

review in one breath

Here is a light-hearted ninja adventure filled with techno music, strobe lights and acrobatics. The title Akakage refers to the name of the lead character who, along with his childhood companions Aokage and Asuka, fight myriad evil forces threatening Japan. Our dynamic ninja trio consists of two often goofy guys and one always sexy gal. The name Akakage means Red Shadow and Aokage means "Blue Shadow". Asuka, the name of the ninjess means, well, nothing. From a very early age, all three have been strictly trained in the Kage (Shadow) School of Ninja-ry under the auspices of the Master Ninja Shirokage ("White Shadow"). Now as young adults, both their friendship and skills are strong but (both) will soon be tested.



Angel Guts: Red Porno
[Tenshi no Harawata: Akai Inga]

Genre: Libidinous Morality Tale

review in one breath

The Angel Guts series consists of five films based on the 1970's Japanese "horror" manga by Ishii Takashi. After an initial failure to successfully break into cinema, Ishii poured his creative energy into a manga series entitled Tenshi no Harawata (Angel Guts). Ishii's horrific manga was much more popular than his initial cinematic endeavor, and yet came full circle when its popularity resulted in the production of five films, the fifth of which Ishii himself directed. Most of the five films in the Angel Guts series is directed by a different director and each thematically involves the rape of a young woman named Nami.



Angel Guts: Red Classroom
[Tenshi no Harawata: Akai Kyoushitsu]

Genre: Morality Tale Exploring Irrevocable Demise and Depravity

review in one breath

The Angel Guts series consists of five films based on the 1970's Japanese "horror" manga by Ishii Takashi. After an initial failure to successfully break into cinema, Ishii poured his creative energy into a manga series entitled Tenshi no Harawata (Angel Guts). Ishii's horrific manga was much more popular than his initial cinematic endeavor, and yet came full circle when its popularity resulted in the production of five films, the fifth of which Ishii himself directed. Most of the five films in the Angel Guts series is directed by a different director and each thematically involves the rape of a young woman named Nami.



Reborn from Hell 2: Jubei's Revenge
[Makai Tensho: mado-hen]

Genre: Quasi-historical Supernatural Samurai [Tokugawa/Edo Era: 1603-1867 AD]

review in one breath

"Can Jubei rescue the Princess Ohiro and stop the Demon Warriors in time to save the ENTIRE WORLD???!!"

Alright! Our one-eyed hunk of samurai, Jubei Yagyu, is back to kick some demon derri�re, and this time he means business! By the end of the prequel Reborn from Hell: Samurai Armageddon we had no doubt that Jubei rocked! By the end of this movie, we will be utterly awash in Jubei manhood and the shameful puniness of our own pectorals!



Reborn from Hell: Samurai Armageddon
[Makai tensho: The Armageddon]

Genre: Quasi-historical Supernatural Samurai [Tokugawa/Edo Era: 1603-1867 AD]

review in one breath

Here is a bizarre tale that mixes apocalypticism, classic goth horror, one-eyed samurais, and nekked virgins!



Rashomon

Genre: Frankenstein

review in one breath

"The demons living here have fled in the fear of the ferocity of man."

his movie was one of Akira Kurosawa's first to gain widespread recognition and as is characteristic with many of his films, contains an unusual theme which is later mimiced by myriad others. The movie is based on the novel "Yabu no naka (In a Grove)" by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, and presents a tale wherein truth appears to be merely in the eye of the beholder.



Rasen
[Spiral]

Genre: Sexy Supernatural Horror

review in one breath

Rasen is directed by Iida Joji and was billed as the sequel to Ringu until Ringu director Nakata Hideo directed his own sequel, Ringu 2 a year later. These two sequels present radically different takes on the events following the initial saga of Ringu. In Ringu 2, the story revolves around Mai's (student and lover of Ryuji) search and adventures with Yoichi (Ryuji's son) which eventually pits them against creepy Sadako, the uncanny accuracy of ESP, and quasi-scientific techno babble. Rasen, on the other hand, follows the amorous encounters of Mai and (genetic engineer) Ando, which eventually pits them against a seductive Sadako, the uncanny accuracy of ESP, and quasi-scientific techno babble. (!)



Rainy Dog
[Gokudo Kuro Shakai]

Genre: Yakuza Existentialism

review in one breath

"I heard a story once of a prisoner who was alone in his cell so long that he started to care for a fly. Then one day, he found that the fly had disappeared. From that day, he began to lose his mind."

Rainy Dog is the second film in director Miike Takashi's Black Society Trilogy. Each of the three tales in this trilogy is an independent story involving different characters and storylines. The commonality among the three (besides their all being yakuza stories) is that each of the main characters is of mixed Taiwanese/Japanese blood and is thoroughly bi-lingual and bi-cultural. By choosing such an mixed ethnicity for his protagonist, Miike immediately taps into an inevitable atmosphere of social isolation and ostracism. Miike's characters thus not only find themselves outside the mainstream of normal society (due to their criminal behavior) but also outside the mainstream of both cultures. Rainy Dog, as will the other films of the Black Society Trilogy, leads audiences, perhaps as never before, through the violence, desperation, and social isolation within this ethnically marginalized criminal group.



The Pornographers
[Jinruigaku nyumon / Introduction to Anthropology]

Genre: Existential Quest for Fulfillment

review in one breath

The Japanese title of this film is simply "Introduction to Anthropology". Only in the West was the prefix "The Pornographers" (or "The Amorists") added. The concise Japanese title is a much more accurate reflection of the content and message of this movie by Shohei Imamura. Although the story's three main characters are in the business of producing and selling underground pornography, their occupation merely sets the backdrop for an exploration of the larger human themes of love, money and fulfillment in life. This was actually a rather complex story which probably needs to be seen more than once to adequately unpack.



Perfect Blue
[Yume Nara Samete]

Genre: Estrogen-Centric Psycho Babble Snooze Fest

review in one breath

First there was the 1997 novel Perfect Blue by author Takeuchi Yoshikazu. Then there was the 1998 anime version of Perfect Blue by director Kon Satoshi whose progressive style of anime caught both audiences and critics by surprise. And then there was this, a 2002 live-action version of the same. The general storyline of all these versions consists of a budding young starlet and a crazed, psychotic stalker. The 1998 anime version really took this general premise to extremes resulting in a mature and rather violent (and sexy) full-length anime feature. When rumor of a possible live-action version of Perfect Blue emerged, it was assumed that it would somehow attempt to mimic or expand upon its very popular anime predecessor. Such assumptions, however, proved utterly mistaken when Sato Toshiki, a director otherwise widely known for rather risque Pink films, unveiled this violence and nudity free rendition of Perfect Blue.



Owl's Castle
[Fukurou no Shiro]

Genre: Quasi-Historical Ninja Tale (Momoyama/Sengoku Era 1568-1615)

review in one breath

When a highly-trained ninja is called upon to avenge the ruthless massacre of his family and clan, his mission will take him into the heart of the nation's most formidable castle in a bid to assassinate Japan's top military figure, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. This epic history-based and action-packed film will satisfy anyone with an interest in the history, politics and scenery of 16th century Japan.



Saint John's Wort
[Otogirisou]

Genre: Video Game-Based Mystery

review in one breath

In terms of video/PC games, I generally prefer those which focus on heavily armored robots with heat-seeking missiles. There is, however (and amazingly enough), another, entirely different genre of game which involves you exploring every nook and cranny of an environment to discover clues (which generally lead to keys which help you unlock further clues) into some over-arching sinister mystery. In the West, games like Myst or Riven, or more recently Syberia are exemplars of this genre.



Oshikiri
[The Strange Story]

Genre: Low-budget Sci-Fi Horror

review in one breath

Enter another bizarre world from the mind of manga artist extraordinaire, Ito Junji! Oshikiri is based on the Ito Junji manga of the same name and delivers his characteristic exploration of strange phenomena whereby the darkest side of human nature emerges.



Onmyoji 2

Genre: Quasi-historical Supernatural Drama

review in one breath

Abe no Seimei, Japan's greatest Yin Yang Master is back! And this time he must battle the evil reincarnation of one of Shinto's most primordial deities!



Onmyoji
[The Yin Yang Masters]

Genre: Quasi-historical Supernatural Drama

review in one breath

Set in Japan's Heian Period (794 to 1192 AD), Onmyoji draws a picturesque world straight out of the Genji Monogatari. In many ways, the Heian Period can be viewed as the cultural zenith of Japan, for during this time Japanese art and literature flourished. It is during this period that the samurai class is first established, that the Japanese writing style of Hiragana is developed, and higher Japanese culture distinguishes itself from that of monolithic China sitting just across the Japan Sea. The period is marked by the temporary movement of the capitol from Edo (Tokyo) to Heian-kyo, today's Kyoto. The most culturally significant piece of literature produced during this era was the Genji Monogatari, a story of dynastic succession and turmoil. The Genji Monogatari's value lies not only in its status as one of the earliest epics in Japanese literature (and as a cultural treasure due to the wonderful paintings contained in the scroll), but also for the unparalleled vivid description of life within Japan's High Court and Royal households.



Onibi
[The Fire Within]

Genre: Yakuza Drifter tale par excellance

review in one breath

A classic theme in traditional Japanese film is that of the nagaremono, a yakuza soldier set adrift following the demise of leaders to whom he had pledged his utmost loyalty. In many respects such nagaremono are a contemporary version of the more traditionally beloved ronin tales of masterless samurai who despite thorough and terrifying training in the disciplined ways of bushido nevertheless wander, almost as vagabonds, once their traditional hierarchy is suddenly, often violently, taken away.



Noroime
[Cursed Woman]

Genre: Psychic Sci-Fi Thriller

review in one breath

Things have not been easy for Michiko, who while not working in a standard OL job under a manager who bullies her, is home taking care of her twin brother Seiji who has been blind from birth. Michiko and Seiji have always been very close, particularly due to their mutual suffering at the hand of their psychotically abusive mother. Now, in their mid-20's, the twins continue to live together, occasionally visiting their docile, medicated mother in the psychiatric ward.



9 Souls
[Nine Souls]

Genre: Escaped Convict Coming Home Road Trip

review in one breath

In 2002 Sai Yoichi directed the well-received Keimusha no Naka ("Doing Time") focusing on the hopes and hopelessness of five prisoners all sharing the same cell. The backdrop of Sai's exploration is the thoroughly structured yet near-meaningless daily regimen imposed upon prisoners as a form of discipline and rehabilitation. Through this grueling yet mundane daily routine, each prisoner either gradually comes to terms with himself or mentally/physically collapses under the strain. Keimusha no Naka is drawn in thoroughly traditional strokes, focusing on a classic humanitarianism and casting the highly popular talent of Yamazaki Tsutomu in the lead role.



Angel Guts: Nami
[Tenshi no Harawata: Nami]

Genre: Extreme Social Commentary

review in one breath

The Angel Guts series consists of five films based on the 1970's Japanese "horror" manga by Ishii Takashi. After an initial failure to successfully break into cinema, Ishii poured his creative energy into a manga series entitled Tenshi no Harawata (Angel Guts). Ishii's horrific manga was much more popular than his initial cinematic endeavor, and yet came full circle when its popularity resulted in the production of five films, the fifth of which Ishii himself directed. Most of the five films in the Angel Guts series is directed by a different director and each thematically involves the rape of a young woman named Nami.



Nama Gomi: Shitaiiki
[Raw Garbage: The Abandoned Corpse]

Genre: Zombie Pornography

review in one breath

To those who have seen this film, it will be no surprise to learn that director Murata Keiichiro went on to produce two adult films immediately following Nama Gomi. Also of no surprise is the title of one of those films, Uniformed Girls. I say these will be of no surprise since easily two-thirds of Nama Gomi is prolonged sex scenes, many of which involve the classic Japanese fantasy of uniformed nurses. In fact, this film has so much sex in it that things like dialogue and plot are merely distractions from the true purpose of this film, which seems to be to provide an illustrated guide to a variety of erotic fantasies and sexual positions. (!!!)



Malice@Doll
[Malice Doll]

Genre: Computer Generated Sci-Fi Horror

review in one breath

"Let me give you a kiss.
It's the only thing I can do."

Much more akin to the Computer Generated (CG) graphics of Final Fantasy than to a traditional "anime", Malice@Doll tells a dark and surreal tale which conjures up the darkest moments of Stanley Kubrick's vision in A.I.. Although not quite as lavishly realistic as Final Fantasy, which strove to depict such things as the independent movement of hair follicles, the graphics in Malice@Doll are nevertheless meticulously done and its environments are convincingly dismal and nuanced.



Makai Tensho
[Samurai Resurrection / Reborn From Hell]

Genre: Quasi-historical Supernatural Samurai [Tokugawa/Edo Era: 1603-1867 AD]

review in one breath

Makai Tensho, Makai Tensho, Makai Tensho (Makai Tensho).

Only a mere five movies share this same title, attesting to the fact that this is a very popular traditional tale. Each retelling is undoubtedly different in both seriousness and content. The story itself does not seem to be fixed and can take on several forms, as long as most of the main characters are present. (For a very over-the-top rendition of this tale, be sure to check out the (hilarious) two-part Reborn From Hell: Samurai Armageddon .)



Nagai Yume
[Long Dream]

Genre: Low-budget Sci-Fi/Psycho Horror

review in one breath

One expects a sort of "double-whammy" from Long Dream. On the one hand it is based on an Ito Junji manga, and on the other hand, Long Dream is directed by Higuchinsky (aka Higuchi Akihiro), who is otherwise held in great reverence for his unparalleled recreation of another Ito manga, Uzumaki.



Ley Lines
[Nihon Kuro Shakai]

Genre: Youth Yakuza Action

review in one breath

Ley Lines (Nihon Kuro Shakai) is the third and final film of director Miike Takashi's "Black Society Trilogy". Each of these films is an independent story and contains no overlap in location or characters. The commonality of these films lies in their exploration of an underground and ostracized world of crime populated by characters of mixed Japanese-Chinese ethnicity. The first of the trilogy, Shinjuku Triad Society (Shinjuku Kuro Shakai: China Mafia Sensou), has a storyline which leads audiences from Tokyo to Taipei, Taiwan and back, while the second, Rainy Dog (Gokudo Kuro Shakai) takes place solely within Taiwan. This third film, Ley Lines follows the violent adventure of three Japanese-Chinese youth as they attempt to find passage off the Japanese Islands in the search of new beginnings.



Kyouki no Sakura
[Madness In Bloom]

Genre: Japanese Fascism Meets Clockwork Orange

review in one breath

The title Kyouki no Sakura, though translated rather simply as Madness in Bloom, is in fact a play on words. The pronounced term "kyouki" perhaps most commonly connotes "madness" (aka "dangerous spirit/mind"), but it can also mean "chivalrous spirit". In the title of this film, the term is spelled using one character from each of these meanings, specifically using the character for chivalrous rather than madness. The term "sakura" could likewise mean "bloom" in general but here most clearly refers to the more specific cherry blossom, long beloved by Japanese as their national flower. (The flower permeates the film, most dramatically in the yakuza boss' home.)



Kyoufu Gakuen
[Terror School / A Frightful School Horror]

Genre: School-based Ghost Stories starring Too Many Starlettes

review in one breath

In three separate ghost stories Japanese folk intuitions regarding malevolent spirits, Shinto-based animism, and cute young girls prevail. Each tale takes place in or around a school building and involves the haunted demise of bewildered female students at the hands of unforgiving supernatural manifestations.



Kourei
[Seance]

Genre: Supernatural Psychological Suspense

review in one breath

Kourei ("Seance" in English) is directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, also responsible for the likes of Cure (1997), "Hebi no Michi" (Serpent's Path, 1997), Charisma (1999), and Kairo (2001) among others. Kurosawa is increasingly recognized as a premier director able to deliver significant impact. His films are characterized by his willingness and patience to allow audiences to arrive at an understanding without being spoon-fed or merely told. In other words, this Kurosawa enjoys watching your mind interact with his film, and his relish of this interaction causes him to refrain from spelling out every detail and nuance he wishes you to catch.



Shin Kyofu Taiken: Kiku to Nowareru Tapu
[True Terrifying Experiences: The Cursed Cassette Tape]

Genre: (Very) Low-budget Supernatural Horror

review in one breath

The Cursed Cassette Tape is one of the Shin Kyofu Taiken (True Terrifying Experiences) series produced by Broadway Productions (Tokyo). Broadway produces a lot of documentary style B-Horror for Japanese television, including the very popular Honto ni Atta! Noroi no Bideo (True Stories! The Cursed Video) and Ju-Lei: Shin Rei Mystery File (Cursed Ghost: Paranormal Mystery File). Alas, Broadway is also responsible for some laugh-out-loud bad documentary style Z-Horror. Rensa: The Cursed Video belongs in this category, as does the film we are now reviewing, Shin Kyofu Taiken: The Cursed Cassette Tape.



Kichiku Dai Enkai
[Banquet of the Beasts]

Genre: Extreme Youth Political Violence

review in one breath

In 1972, a small group of students affiliated with the Allied Red Army (Reng�e Sekigun) held a hostage in the mountain village of Karuizawa in Nagano-ken (Japan). The stand-off and ensuing battle between the student revolutionaries and the police were broadcast live into Japanese living rooms via intense television coverage. When the police finally overcame the leftist radicals, they found that the small group had violently turned upon themselves, committing brutal murders in order to purge themselves of those not fully committed to the path they had taken. This infamous scenario became known as the Asama Sans�o Incident (Asama is the name of the mountain there) and is generally viewed as the collapse of the New Left student movement of the 1970's.



Kaosu
[Chaos]

Genre: Psychological Thriller

review in one breath

Kaosu (English title Chaos) is a mind-spinning psychological suspense directed by Nakata Hideo whose other works include the trend-setting Ringu (1998), Ringu 2 (1999), and Dark Water (2002). This film is indeed a suspense story rather than of the horror genre for which Nakata has recently become so well known in the West. The movie is based on a work written by Saito Hisashi and employs a shifting timeline which provides dramatic incremental clues into the unfolding complex plot. Nakata fans will enjoy Kaosu for its most endearing characteristic: pure psychological manipulation of the viewer without recourse to special effects or blood and gore. This, of course, is precisely what makes Nakata's horror films so effective and internationally appealing.



Kansen
[Infection]

Genre: Amoebic Horror

review in one breath

A mind-crushing viral infection is slowly spreading through the patients and staff of a small dismal hospital, causing all in its wake to disgustingly melt into green lime jello. By days end, Dr. Akiba thinks things couldn't possibly get any worse, until he learns the true mind-bending nature of this disease from hell.



Kamen Gakuen
[Persona]

Genre: Supernatural Psychological Mystery

review in one breath

Into the bully-infested home room class struts a fearless, ceramic-masked student. Squarely confronting a gang of ruffians, it is soon discovered that behind the mask is none other than Danta, an otherwise weakling student who has heretofore been picked on relentlessly by these same bullies. Donned with his mask, however, Danta exhibits a totally other personality, lacking fear and intimidation. The other students, looking on, soon experiment with the power of masks and find to their glee that behind a facade of anonymity, they experience an overwhelming power to act without the confines of self-consciousness.



Kakashi
[Scarecrow]

Genre: Supernatural Local Superstition

review in one breath

Kakashi (which means "Scarecrow") is based on a manga by Junji Ito (as are Uzumaki and Tomie) and tells the story of Kaoru and her unfortunate adventure into the isolated mountain village of Kozukata in search of her brother Tsuyoshi. In its broadest sense, the tale is much like Woman in the Dunes and Inugami which also revolve around the misfortune of an unexpecting outsider who stumbles upon an isolated and bizarre community. Unlike these two, however, Kaoru is neither trapped (as in Woman in the Dunes) nor seduced (as in Inugami), but is instead virtually begged by the townfolk to leave. Her desire to find her brother is what keeps her in Kozukata, despite some very freaky people and events, and by the time she catches up with Tsuyoshi, all hell has literally broken loose.



Kaisha no Kaidan 2: Office Horror Story

Genre: Supernatural Ghost Stories

review in one breath

Kaisha no Kaidan and Kaisha no Kaidan 2 were both directed by Katou Fumihiko in 1997. Katou is not exactly a distinguished director as most of his other work was done from the position of Assistant Director. His only other work as principal director is the interestingly titled Orgasm Mariko (1996). Being unable to locate a viewable copy of this undoubtedly great film, I can only wonder what it could be about. Any guesses?



Kairo
[Pulse]

Genre: Apocalyptic Ghost Story

review in one breath

Kairo (2001) has been out in the mainstream for quite some time and is already rather well-known in Western circles predominantly due to its being a film by Kurosawa Kiyoshi, a director with a number of films appearing on many j-horror fans' list of favorites. (Kurosawa films which are reviewed on this site include: Cure (1997), Charisma (1999), Kourei (2000), Akarui Mirai (2003), and Doppelganger (2003). ) A characteristic motif of his films is the fluidity of individuality and his narratives almost always consist of a character's inner transformation through extreme situations. For Kurosawa, this transformation is not simply one toward greater maturity or conventional notions of self-knowledge. It often entails what he understands to be a consistent trajectory with the harsh, often cruel realities of the natural world, and so his characters often transform from a state the audience can at least identify with into one which lies outside the bounds of our expectations.



Juusan Yoru 3
[Thirteen Nights 3]

Genre: Supernatural Ghost Stories

review in one breath

Juusan Yoru was a brief yet popular TV series appearing for thirteen episodes. The series revolves around a popular radio show hosted by DJ Endo Kumiko (who appeared the same year in Tomie: Rebirth), dedicated to "paranormal spiritual research". Throughout each of the 30 minute episodes, the guest commentator is Tsunoda Jirou, a well-known author and director specializing in the supernatural. The entire TV series is now available on 4 sequential videos, Juusan Yoru 1: Reikai Kara Shoutaijo (Thirteen Nights: Written Invitation from the Spirit World), Juusan Yoru 2, Juusan Yoru 3: Jitsuroku Kyoufu Shoutaijo (Thirteen Nights: True Accounts of Terror), and (you guessed it) Juusan Yoru 4. I haven't yet found a copy of either the second or fourth video and thus cannot provide you with the subtitles or reviews. (Sorry.)



Juusan Yoru
[Thirteen Nights]

Genre: Supernatural Ghost Stories

review in one breath

Juusan Yoru was a brief yet popular TV series appearing for thirteen episodes. The series revolves around a popular radio show hosted by DJ Endo Kumiko (who appeared the same year in Tomie: Rebirth), dedicated to "paranormal spiritual research". Throughout each of the 30 minute episodes, the guest commentator is Tsunoda Jirou, a well-known author and director specializing in the supernatural. The entire TV series is now available on 4 sequential videos, Juusan Yoru 1: Reikai Kara Shoutaijo (Thirteen Nights: Written Invitation from the Spirit World), Juusan Yoru 2, Juusan Yoru 3: Jitsuroku Kyoufu Shoutaijo (Thirteen Nights: True Accounts of Terror), and (you guessed it) Juusan Yoru 4. I haven't yet found a copy of either the second or fourth video and thus cannot provide you with the subtitles or reviews of those. (Sorry.)



JU-ON

Genre: Supernatural Horror

review in one breath

Here is a creepy Japanese movie straight out the Ring tradition. Shimizu Takashi is the director here, working with both Kiyoshi Kurosawa (director of Cure, Charisma, and Kairo) and Hiroshi Takahashi himself (screenwriter of the Ring trilogy). What this triad brings to the table is a classic japanese horror film relying on mood and sound and Japanese cultural intuitions about the fate of wronged souls.



JU-ON 2

Genre: Supernatural Horror

review in one breath

The following review is full of "spoilers", though I doubt these will reduce the chill factor of seeing the movie. At the time of writing this, the TV movie version of Juon 2 is currently unavailable in a dubbed or subtitled version (at least in the U.S.) and so this review serves more as an explanation of the story rather than as a teaser aimed at getting you to go out and see the movie. Word has it that remake rights for Juon 2 have already been secured by an American production company (as has Juon) and so the day may soon come when Hollywood will have its own version of the following story (no doubt greatly modified, though).



JU-ON 2: Final
[JU-ON 2: The Grudge 2: Final]

Genre: Supernatural Horror

review in one breath

Hold onto your bonnets boys and girls! Kayoko and Toshio are still holding a grudge toward anyone crossing their path in Shimizu Takashi's phenomenal sequel to the wildly popular Juon.



JU-ON - The Grudge

Genre: Supernatural Horror

review in one breath

Hoo boy! Another scary Japanese movie straight out the Ring tradition (and indeed the movie flyer looks eerily similar to that of Ringu 2). Shimizu Takashi is the director here, working with both Kiyoshi Kurosawa (director of Cure, Charisma, and Kairo) and Hiroshi Takahashi himself (screenwriter of the Ring trilogy). What this triad brings to the table is a classic japanese horror film relying on mood and sound and Japanese cultural intuitions about the fate of wronged souls.



JUNK
[Shiryou Gari]

Genre: ZombOObie Fest

review in one breath

The world is a dark place indeed when you can't trust heavily mustached U.S. army generals in charge of secret experimental laboratories tucked away in the interior of Okinawa Island. And pity the naive Japanese biochemist whose deep sense of loss and sorrow over the recent death of his (amazingly) buxom girlfriend causes him to blindly follow the evil schemes of aforesaid general aimed at developing a fluorescent green elixir which brings the dead back to life. And pity the entire population of Okinawa when despite great expenditures of technology and man hours, the U.S. army fails to consider putting their fluorescent zombie potion in a bottle with a spill-resistant screw cap. But NO... you say, we ought not judge these soon-to-be-munched scientists with our 20/20 hindsight. For if they had simply put this potion in a spill-proof bottle the entire movie would have come to a screeching halt after only 5 minutes.



Ju-Rei 2: Kuro Ju-Rei
[Ju-Rei: The Uncanny]

Genre: Supernatural Horror

review in one breath

Ju-Rei 2 is perhaps Broadway Production's scariest and most polished horror production to date. Although coming out less than a year after Ju-Rei, the difference in maturity and delivery is palpable. Ju-Rei 2 contains none of the comedic elements or goofiness which characterized the prequel. And whereas Ju-Rei consisted of three non-related horror stories, Ju-Rei 2 contains ten interrelated vignettes. The first vignette the audience sees is in fact the last vignette chronologically in the story. Thus each vignette brings the audience back one step toward the origin of the horror sequence. The vignettes overlap character appearances and are thematically linked through the presence and demonic influence of a Black Spirit.



Ju-Rei
[Ju-Rei: The Movie]

Genre: Low-budget Supernatural Horror

review in one breath

I just want to say that I appreciate the fact that this title explicitly declares itself to be JuRei: The Movie . Although its embarrassing to admit, I actually entered the video store looking for JuRei: The Musical. Thus the foresight of Broadway Productions in providing this descriptive title certainly saved me quite a surprise!



Ju-Lei 3
[Ju-Lei 3: Haunted Exorcist]

Genre: Supernatural Ghost Stories

review in one breath

Ju-Lei 3 (2001) is the third of five in the Ju-Lei/Ju-Rei series. This is the last straight-to-video version, and is followed by two theatrical versions, the last of which, Ju-Rei 2: Kuro Jurei (US title: Ju-Rei: The Uncanny, 2004) was recently released to Western audiences. For some inexplicable reason the English spelling of Ju-Lei/Ju-Rei differs between the video and theatrical versions. This is no doubt due in part to the fact that Japanese pronunciation cannot differentiate between the English "L" and "R". Broadway Productions, which produced all five films didn't help much when they decided to spell out the title in English on each cover graphic, changing their spelling midstream after Ju-Lei 3.



Ju-Lei: Shinrei Mystery File
[Cursed Spirits]

Genre: (Amazingly Unscary) Supernatural Ghost Stories

review in one breath

Watch in sheer horror as you experience the mind-melting mediocrity of yet another laugh-out-loud Z-horror attempt by Broadway Production. This is the first in the Ju-Lei video series which eventually spawned the recently popular Ju-Rei movies.



Ju-Kai
[Ju-Kai Special: Noroi no Bideo]

Genre: Frankenstein

review in one breath

Ju-Kai (2000) is probably the best documentary-style horror tale I have seen thus far. By "documentary style" is meant, of course, the now well-known genre seemingly spawned by the low-budget, highly popular Blair Witch Project. A necessary discussion which I have never heard take place, however, is whether or not the producers of Blair Witch actually borrowed their "wildly original" format from prior Japanese horror videos.



Suicide Circle
[Jisatsu Sakuru]

Genre: Blood-Bathed Social Commentary

review in one breath

Suicide Circle packs many cultural nuances which are very prevalent in the contemporary Japanese psyche but which are either quite taboo or completely bizarre in American culture. This discrepancy undoubtedly creates significantly different attitudes and impressions of this film between its intended Japanese audience and the rest of us who look longingly into Japanese cinema.



Jigoku
[Japanese Hell]

Genre: Frankenstein

review in one breath

In this world, the acts of man are the foulest of the foul. As the years pass, the number of those in Hell grows, proving what sad shape the world is in! Man only thinks about committing more crimes, turning a blind eye to the horrors that await them.


There are three films entitled Jigoku. The original Jigoku released in 1960 and directed by Nakagawa Nobuo has become a classic among film aficionados but remains generally unseen by Western audiences. A remake by director Kumashiro Tatsumi appeared in 1979 adding to the formula more "contemporary" horror elements. And in 1999 director Ishii Teruo created the version we are here reviewing.



Izakaya Yurei
[Ghost Pub]

Genre: Humanitarian Ghost Story

review in one breath

Sotaro (Hagiwara Kenichi) is a hard working owner of a traditional Japanese izakaya (pub) which nightly serves its neighborhood patrons his traditional style cooking, cold beer, and warmed sake. After every day's long, hard work, Sotaro retreats to his living quarters above the pub, where his deathly ill wife Shizuko (Muroi Shigeru) quietly lies. Through his gentle encouragement she is able to smile and chat, but she feels the inevitable approach of death encroaching upon her. Almost jokingly, Shizuko disapprovingly suggests that after her death, Sotaro will quickly find another woman. And though Sotaro adamantly swears to the contrary, Shizuko does not seem satisfied until she makes him seal his promise, warning that if he should break it, a haunting obake (monster) will surely come.



ISOLA
[ISOLA: Tajuu jinkaku shojo]

Genre: Supernatural Psycho-babble Horror

review in one breath

As I sit down to write this review, the phrase "Sigmund Freud's Psychedelic Nightmare" keeps running through my head. This is because ISOLA packs more bizarre psycho-babble per square inch than most films would dream of attempting. You have your cute, young psychic whose ESP is so rampant that only strong medication makes life bearable. Then you have your cute, young schizophrenic whose multiple personalities make Sybil look well-adjusted. And then you have your cute, young and nude psychology student whose sensory deprivation experiments result in a classic case of astral projection gone awry. AND THEN you have your cute, not-quite-as-young high school counselor turned self-appointed psychoanalyst sticking her nose into everyone's psychopathology. Throw a young, brooding (and single!) male doctor into this mix of psychotic babes and you've got the recipe for the mother of all (psychological) cat fights! (woo hoo!)



Inochi
[Life]

Genre: Existential Autobiography

review in one breath

This is an impressively deep story based on the autobiography of Japanese novelist Ryu Miri. Inochi was originally published as a short story and writer Ryu Miri has gone on to write several other novels, a number of which have been translated into English. This film is directed by Shinohara Tetsuo and was awarded Grand Prix at the 47th Asia-Pacific Film Festival.



1-Ichi

Genre: Bizarre Underdog Super-Hero Action

review in one breath

1-Ichi is the directorial debut of Tanno Masato and is certain to be a favorite among fans of Miike Takashi with whom he worked as assistant director on Ichi the Killer (Koroshiya Ichi, 2001), Happiness of the Katakuris (Katakuri no Kazoku no Kofuku, 2002), and Gokudo kyofu dai-gekijo Gozu (2003).



Honto ni Atta! Noroi Bideo
[Cursed Video: The Movie]

Genre: Documentary Style Tale of the Supernatural

review in one breath

A real life investigation looks into a young man who suddenly dropped dead after watching a "cursed video". The trail of clues leads to several horrifying (and not so horrifying) tales of the woeful consequences of viewing this VHS from hell. By the documentary's end, the demonic recording is located and offered to you for viewing, but not without a major disclaimer!



Hiruko: Goblin Hunter
[Hiruko: Youkai Hantaa]

Genre: Good-Natured, Traditional Monster Adventure

review in one breath

Hiruko - Goblin Hunter (1990) was immediately well-received among the Japanese public. The lead actor, Sawada Kenji, is far more well-known in Japan for his early days as the popular rock star Julie. His singing career easily segued into an acting career due to his personability. He has appeared in numerous films, often in leading roles, with great success and acceptance by Japanese audiences. His appearance in Hiruko was no different, and was a major factor in this film's mainstream popularity. In addition to Sawada, several other well-known actors appear herein, including Mirota Hideo and Takenaka Naoto.



Angel Guts: High School Coed
[Tenshi no Harawata: Jokosei]

Genre: Experimental Film / Rape Theme

review in one breath

The series of five films all sharing the (partial) title Angel Guts derives from 1970's Japanese "horror" manga by Ishii Takashi. After an initial failure to successfully break into cinema, Ishii poured his creative energy into a manga series entitled Tenshi no Harawata (Angel Guts). Ishii's horrific manga was much more popular than his initial cinematic endeavor, and yet came full circle when its popularity resulted in the production of five films, the fifth of which Ishii himself directed.



Heat After Dark

Genre: Yakuza Action par Excellence

review in one breath

Heat After Dark is director Ryuhei Kitamura's first theatrical release. This 50 minute film is predominantly a character study within an intense action drama. Those familiar with Kitamura's later works, perhaps especially Versus will realize this is the beginning of his characetristic modus operandi. Here, the well defined characters consist of the innocent (the cop), the relatively good (Atsuro Watabe), the relatively bad (Shinichi Suzuki), and the absolutely bad (Shigeru Izumiya ), and a few other Yakuza hoodlums thrown in for entertainment.



The Haunted Lantern
[Otsuyu - Kaidan botan dourou]

Genre: Traditional Japanese Kaidan

review in one breath

This tale falls firmly within the classic Japanese "Kwaidan" genre, and is (one version) of a very well-known traditional Japanese ghost story. (For a little on the history of this story, see here.)

To this day, one of the most important traditional holidays in Japan is the Obon Festival during which kami (spirits) of dead ancestors are believed to revisit their former homes. In a society where one's home and property are generally passed down from eldest child to eldest through generations, this means you will likely have many ethereal guests arriving for the party! The title's reference to "lantern" is that of the Obon Lantern which was placed outside the home on this occasion as a welcoming invitation to ancestors and deceased loved ones. Given this background, is it any wonder its haunted?(!)



Hakuchi
[The Innocent]

Genre: Surreal Apocalypticism

review in one breath

I really enjoyed this movie. It is imaginative and visionary while grounded in in a few ancient intuitions. Hakuchi blends and evokes images reminiscent of the realpolitik of Salome, the apocalyptic state of Blade Runner and the societal perversity of Clockwork Orange. Its underlying framework, however, is grounded in Japanese (Shinto and Buddhist) notions of renewal, redemption and the end times.



Guuzen ni mo Saiaku na Shonen
[Suddenly the Worst of Youth]

Genre: Urban Youth Existentialism

review in one breath

Director Gu Suyeon, himself a Korean-born Japanese citizen, explores the difficulties and near-hopelessness of being raised ethnically different within Japan. Guuzen ni mo Saiaku na Shonen follows Kaneshiro Hidenori (Ichihara Hayato) who, though raised his entire life within Tokyo, nevertheless carries the distinction of being Korean. The stress upon Kaneshiro's parents to "fit into" Japanese culture was tremendous throughout Kaneshiro's childhood, eventually resulting in their divorce. This has left Kaneshiro, now a high school student, to live an unsupervised life, which soon leads to a rather chaotic and hapless lifestyle.



Gojoe: Spirit War Chronicle
[Gojoe reisen-ki]

Genre: Quasi-historical Samurai par Excellence

review in one breath

I was trying to think of a comparable Western genre to that of Gojoe and realized that there really isn't one. On the one hand, Japanese samurai movies are alot like our "cowboy" films (and there has been alot of historical dependence of Western films on Japanese films in this regard). But there are very few (if any) good or convincing cowboy movies involving the ghostly or demonic. There are, however, many good examples of Japanese samurai movies involving the supernatural. Recent films like this would include Onmyoji and Red Shadow, and more historical examples include the classics Throne of Blood, Ugetsu Monogatari, and OniBaba.

Gojoe is an excellent example of this intertwining of historical piece, samurai action, and ghost story. It is not over-the-top and humorous like Red Shadow, and it is much more serious and realistic than Onmyoji. Unlike these two, the swordsmanship displayed in Gojoe is formidable, fearsome, and yes, exhilarating to watch.



Go Go Second Time Virgin
[Yuke yuke nidome no shojo]

Genre: Dismal Tale of Primitive Morality

review in one breath

Go Go Second Time Virgin is a rather dismal tale of primitive morality in the face of degradation, humiliation and abuse. The title is based on a defiant poem consistently recited by Poppo, one of the main characters. Similarly, the movies theme song is based on a forlorn song of loneliness and resignation sung by the other main character, Tsukio, at a crucial moment in the film. The story revolves around both characters' befriendment and subsequent attempts to deal with their traumatic past and present.



Gakkou no Kaidan 2
[Haunted School 2]

Genre: Child-centric Ghost Story

review in one breath

The original 1995 version of Gakko no Kaidan, directed by Hirayama Hideyuki was an instant hit with Japanese audiences, resulting in a series of direct sequels, TV series, and a remake. Gakko no Kaidan 2 is also directed by Hirayama and, as the name implies, recreates the basic formula of the original, a haunted school which provides the setting for creepy and harrowing experiences. Apart from the director, however, there is very little overlap with the original. The sequel introduces an entirely new cast, again made up predominantly of elementary students. Even the haunted school itself is a different school from the original's.



Full Metal Yakuza
[Full Metal Gokudo]

Genre: Extreme Sci-Fi Yakuza Action

review in one breath

Full Metal Yakuza is a very effective blend of yakuza tale, science fiction and real comedy. The main character is Hagane Kensuke (played by former "Kodomo Band" rock star Ujiki Tsuyoshi), a young yakuza initiate whose good-natured, over-sensitive demeanor make him perhaps the most inept yakuza to hit the streets of Japan. When Hagane's child-like admiration for a yakuza strong man places him smack in the middle of a yakuza power struggle and betrayal, he is literally shot into pieces and considered dead. But Hagane is put back together and revived by a quirky, yet well hung mad scientist. When Hagane awakes, he realizes that he is now an assemblage of human and robotic parts with a variety of powers and strengths well beyond those of normal humans. As a Full Metal Yakuza Hagane can find solace in only one thing, seeking vengeance on those who had betrayed him.



Fighting Elegy
[Kenka Ereji]

Genre: Quasi-historical Action [Showa Era: 1926-1989]

review in one breath

The early trilogy of movies by Director Seijun Suzuki, of which this movie is the last, examines the impact and ludicrousness of the forces leading to war. Fighting Elegy follows the life of Kiroku, a junior high student in 1935 rural Japan, through a series of over-the-top humorous brawls. Under the instruction of master brawler "Turtle", Kiroku undertakes a rigorous training which involves mastery of several fighting techniques and an austere abstinence from mingling with the opposite sex. Unfortunately for Kiroku, he resides in a boarding house along with the young and beautiful Michiko, who sends Kiroku's raging libido off the deep end. To battle his urges (and sudden, ill-timed erections) Kiroku throws himself all the more fervently into his scuffles.



Embalming
[Embamingu]

Genre: Frankenstein Meets Psychoanalytic Acupuncture!

review in one breath

When the embalmed head of a powerful congressman's son goes missing the investigation leads to, among other things, a shady buddhist priest, a renegade embalmer, a highly dysfunctional teen love gone terribly awry, and black market organ trade. Throw a little acupuncture and schizophrenia into to the mix and you've got the perfect recipe for this truly bizarre tale!



Ecstasy of the Angels
[Tenshi No Kokotsu]

Genre: Extreme Youth Coming of Age (Political)

review in one breath

This film is the creation of Director Koji Wakamatsu who, after filming the Japanese Red Army in the Palestinian territories, became a target of both the Japanese government and Interpol, and was blacklisted by the American government. To this day he is unable to leave Japan.



Dragonhead

Genre: Sci-Fi Apocalyptic

review in one breath

Attention fans of the apocalypse! Coming to you live (!) from the FIERY END OF THE WORLD is the visually stunning Dragon Head!

Based on the long running manga series by Mochizuki Minetaro, director Iida Joji has created a thoroughly compelling vision of the decimation of civilized Japan. Dragon Head offers perhaps a thoroughly Japanese perspective of the nature of the End. Unlike most Western apocalyptic films which generally resolve (!) through either human ingenuity pitted against Mother Nature (ie "Armageddon" or "Deep Impact") or the triumph of the Terminator over Satan ("End of Days"), Dragon Head presents a world already utterly overwhelmed with catastrophe and the human race on the brink of self destruction, as the few remaining survivors kill each other off out of panic and hysteria.



Down to Hell

Genre: Extreme Zombie Action

review in one breath

Four violent delinquents have established for themselves a "simple" game of survival, which starts with a terrifying chase and kidnapping of an unsuspecting victim along isolated urban streets, and ends with an all-out, literal, man hunt wherein the four assailants methodically track down the victim as he desparately flees through dense, remote forest. When all hope for the victim's survival is lost, a strange. unseen power overtakes the corpse, turning it into the hellish means of ultimate retribution. As the delinquents are eliminated in gruesome ways one by one, the horror is only beginning, as each of the dead begin their hellish resurrection in order to pursue the remaining assailants.



Doppelganger
[Dopperugenga]

Genre: Quasi-supernatural Psychological Suspense

review in one breath

In Doppelganger director Kurosawa Kiyoshi continues his fascination with the notion of human individuality. The exploration of this theme can be found in most of his major films (including Cure (1997), Kourei (2000), Charisma (2000), and Akarui Mirai (2003)) and generally involves the evolution of the main characters' moral standing in the face of strange and difficult experiences. In Doppelganger, Kurosawa's exploration takes an entirely new approach and involves the impact upon individuality when the main character confronts potential madness and the sudden appearance of an evil twin ("doppelganger").



Donor

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror (Schlocky Gore)

review in one breath

What a bizarro movie this is!

Young Yuka Yamanishi (Nakayame Shinobu of Gamera fame) has had a difficult life indeed. After the sudden, tragic deaths of both her father and mother, she was raised by her elder sister Eiko who worked as a nurse at a local private hospital. Then Eiko tragically died, leaving Yuka to her own devices for survival. Following in her sister's footsteps, Yuka has trained to become a nurse, and when we catch up with her, she is preparing for her first day on the job at the very same hospital Eiko had worked, the Kamioka Hospital. Never mind her persistent nightmares of being chased down darkened hospital corridors by a surgically garbed assailant into operating rooms adorned with horrific specimens ...



Dead End Run

Genre: Experimental Supernatural-Action Vignettes

review in one breath

Director Ishii Sogo is on an excellent roll in terms of producing top-notch Japanese cinema. Consider, for example, his most recent films. Gojoe (2000), at a rather epic 138 minutes, was excellent both cinematically and choreographically and continues to rank at the top of my "swordsmanship extraordinaire" category. His next film, Electric Dragon 80,000 V(olt) (2001), is much more brief at 55 minutes and filmed entirely in black and white, but has nonetheless earned the reputation of an action packed (electric) explosion.



Dark Water
[Honogurai mizu no soko kara]

Genre: Supernatural Horror

review in one breath

Dark Water is director Nakata Hideo's latest horror film. Nakata's previous outstanding horror successes include Ringu (1998), Ringu 2 (1999), and Kaosu (1999). Much of the Ringu cast returns for Dark Water, which is also based on a novel written by author of the Ring trilogy, Suzuki Koji. Kawai Kenji, who produced the score for Ringu, also handles the soundtrack for Nakata's newest work.



Daibyonin
[The Last Dance]

Genre: Death and Dying (in Dignity) Drama

review in one breath

Director Itami Juzo is well known for tackling rather serious social ills, wrapping them in a narrative populated with interesting characters, and then presenting it back to audiences with hint of humor mixed in. Since his films skillfully deal with mainstream, real-life situations in a slightly comedic fashion, which simultaneously highlights the problem while also defusing it, Japanese audiences find within them not only entertainment, but also a means to better understand and deal with the social issues observed. His films became widely popular and many have been available in subtitled version throughout the West for many years.



Cure
[Kyua]

Genre: Quasi-supernatural Psychological Suspense

review in one breath

Cure is the first theatrical film directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who later went on to direct many popular thriller/horror films including "Hebi no Michi" (Serpent's Path, 1997), Charisma (1999), Kourei (Seance, 1999) and "Ka�iro" (2001).



Cross Fire
[Pyrokinesis]

Genre: Fiery ESP Crime Thriller

review in one breath

Cross Fire (2000) is directed by Kaneko Shusuke whose other directorial work includes Gamera 1, 2 & 3 (1995, 1996, 1999), Gakkou no Kaidan 3 (1997) and Azumi 2: Death or Love (give me love, Azumi!). And if that list isn't diverse enough in terms of genre (ranging from large monsters to ghosts to sexy samurai), then add to that an ESP-fueled crime thriller under review here. Mixing ESP with crime drama is nothing new in Japanese film (see the bizarro Isola for evidence) but director Kaneko does bring to the scenario a satisfying degree of special effects and action. And by "special effects and action" I literally mean humans spontaneously bursting into immense balls of flame, screaming and flailing about in amazing duration until they are reduced to charred ash. Hell (no pun intended), this happens at least a dozen times in this film!



Christmas Eve
[Kurisumasu Ebu]

Genre: Slasher Horror

review in one breath

Christmas Eve is a straight-to-video slasher horror with a rather bizarre twist. Director Saiga Toshiro, who does not have any other films on Western radar with the exception perhaps of Hogi Lala (2002) and whose most prominent work is likely the several Mahjong-themed videos he directed, employs a huge variety of cinematic techniques in iChristmas Evei undoubtedly in an attempt to make this a cool, MTV-styled horror piece. In addition to the often jarring camera techniques, Saiga throws in some rather bizarre temporal shifts which will undoubtedly keep the audience conceptually at work trying to figure out what the hell is going on in the storyline.



Charisma
[Karisuma]

Genre: Psychological Action

review in one breath

Heaven and Earth are not humane.
They regard all things as straw toys.
Therefore the wise man is not humane.
He regards all people as straw toys.

(~ Tao Te Ching)

Goro Yabuike (Koji Yakusho) is a Tokyo precinct detective who is called in for the difficult cases. His entire waking life consists of crazed lunatics and senselelss murders. Somehow he has found himself in the position where he is the soul who stands between the lunacy and civilized society, sometimes as translator, sometimes as the sole person who will decide a tragic situation's outcome. We are introduced to the sleep-deprived Yabuike as he is called to intervene in a hostage situation whose demands are simply "To restore the rules of the world". Reading this demand, he gives up any hope of resolution and as he leaves the presence of the gunman, the entire hostage situation goes to hell. His recurring preoccupation with this scene underscores his growing disdain for the chaotic social order in which he is steeped.



One Missed Call
[Chakushin Ari]

Genre: Supernatural Ghost Story

review in one breath

Director Miike Takashi, best known undoubtedly for his extreme yakuza films, has recently tried his hand at horror. Within a year's time he has produced both an outlandish (and characteristicly bizzarro) yakuza horror Gozu: Gokudo kyofu dai-gekijo (2003.07.12) followed by a much more mainstream horror flick which we are here reviewing entitled Chakushin Ari (2004.01.17). According to the dates on JMDB, the production of Gozu precedes that of Chakushin Ari by 6 months. Thus it is not unimagineable that Miike, after exploring his own mixture of over-the-top yakuza and horror genres, felt compelled to try his hand at a more classicly styled horror film aimed at a potentially much larger (national and international) audience awaiting the next best j-horror. Certainly "lesser" directors have scored big time in this mainstream horror endeavour, as evidenced by the debut this week of the multi-million dollar US remake of Shimizu Takashi's Juon.



Bullet Ballet

Genre: Nihilistic Plunge Into Existential Self-Discovery

review in one breath

Director Tsukamoto Shinya's more well-known film, Tetsuo (1988) explored through vivd imagery an individual's violent metamorphosis, both physically and psychologically, due to the overwhelming influence of dehumanized modernity. So drastic was this influence in Tsukamoto's vision that the main character himself gradually becomes machine through an agonizing process. In many ways Tsukamoto's later Bullet Ballet (1998) explores this same theme, though here the film's main character Goda (played by Tsukamoto himself) finds himself gradually drowning in a dehumanized underbelly of society which deals in extreme violence and nihilism.



Branded to Kill
[Koroshi no rakuin]

Genre: Noir Yakuza Action

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"He loves the smell of boiling rice more than anything in the world."

Enter the world of rice-sniffing Yakuza killers! Enter the world of moth-collecting nihilists! Enter the world of Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Kill (1967)! This is the type of pop noir movie where you sit with mouth open in a state of disbelief.



Bounce Ko Gals
[Leaving]

Genre: Extreme Youth Coming of Age

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Bounce Ko Gals is the grand-daddy of the "cute little girls gone bad" genre which currently seems so popular in Japan. Though lacking the violence and gore of later imitations (such as Akuma ga Sumu Ie 2001 (2001) and Shudan Satsujin Kurabu (2003)) this film creates the effectively dismal moral morass which cute high school girls seem cinematically destined to occupy for many years to come. Here girls band together in shockingly street-wise ways amidst a male dominated society offering them opportunities galore to trade their innocence for cold hard cash. Innocence, of course, is not required, as anything can be bartered, from used underwear or school uniforms to being audience to raunchy, fantasy-laden stories from creepy old men and middle-aged losers. Bounce Ko Gals depicts like no other the sleazy underbelly of Tokyo which lies in wait for young girls in search of money or attention.



Black Lizard
[Kuro Tokage]

Genre: Extravagant High Camp

review in one breath

Japan's number one detective must match wits, winks and breathless philosophy with the notorious Black Lizard, the sultry, diabolical drag queen intent on stealing the humongous Star of Egypt while adding to her collection of human stuffed dolls!



The Black House
[Kuroi Ie]

Genre: Sexy Psycho-babble Thriller

review in one breath

Although The Black House is generally categorized as belonging to the "horror" genre it is in fact a non-supernatural psychological thriller exploring the making and mind of a "psychopathic killer". The backdrop of the story involves the intricacies of Japan's insurance agencies and the various types of questionable claims for compensation they receive. There are, for example, the yakuza who conjure up various schemes to fraudulently benefit from insurance policies. There are also the category of people officially referred to as yubikarizoku, those who inflict injury upon themselves to collect insurance payments. And then there are those who go to the extreme of injuring others in order to collect on policies taken out on behalf of the victim.



Bird People in China
[Chugoku no chojin]

Genre: Contemporary Fairy-Tale

review in one breath

Bird People in China is truly one of Miike's best films. Director Miike Takashi has always been a master of exaggeration and most notoriously so in the areas of extreme violence and sexuality. Here, however, he utilizes exaggeration in an utterly unique manner and leads audiences to an intersection of gritty realism and dream-like mythology. Though Bird People in China starts in rather familiar territory for Miike fans, with violent Yakuza lurking in the shadows, it soon departs from his characteristic formula and travels instead to the idyllic mountainous landscapes of remote China. There, far removed from the bustle of the city, Miike not only allows his characters to be completely transformed amid nature's grandeur and the smiles of gentle villagers, but also wraps the entire narrative within an ancient, inspiring mythology.



Battle Royale II: Requiem
[Battle Royale 2]

Genre: Sappy Political Melodramatic Action

review in one breath

Fukasaku Kinji (1930-2003) directed over 60 films in his lifetime, including Black Lizard (Kurotokage , 1968 - working with and starring Mishima Yukio) , Mansion of the Black Rose (Kuro bara no yakata, 1969), Chushingura Gaiden: Yotsuya Kaidan (Crest of Betrayal, 1994), and the wildly popular Battle Royale (2000). Fukasaku Kinji died of prostrate cancer shortly after the filming of Battle Royale II: Requiem started, and thus most of the directorial responsibilities fell upon his son, Fukasaku Kenta, who also helped in the writing of Battle Royale. Thus the film clearly credits "Fukasaku Gumi" or "Fukasaku Group" with the directorial role, alluding to this exchange of responsibility.



Azumi

Genre: Samurai Ninja Action

review in one breath

With the exception of Messenger (2003), I've had the pleasure of viewing (and reviewing) all of the films currently directed by Kitamura Ryuhei. And without exception, I've enjoyed every one of them. Kitamura's earliest films, entitled Down to Hell and Heat After Dark were both completed and released in the same year (1996) but demonstrate wildly different styles and story genres. Down to Hell was a stylistically experimental and visually gritty zombie movie with an underdog who was suddenly bestowed with super abilities with which to enact revenge, while Heat After Dark was a straight-up yakuza action film which was superbly orchestrated and cinematically polished.



Blue Spring
[Aoi Haru]

Genre: Extreme Youth Coming of Age

review in one breath

If adolescence means to Americans separation and rebellion, sexual experimentation, the search for an adult identity, and the potential for antisocial or deviant behavior, then the lives of teenagers in Japan will confound the American observer.
(from Video Letter from Japan II: Suburban Tokyo High School Students

Try as we might, there are just some things that simply cannot be translated into Hollywood parlance, and Blue Spring is certainly one of those things. Though faced with their own unique and serious challenges, the pressures faced by Western youth differ vastly from their Japanese counterparts due to the unparalleled priority Japan places upon Education. Unlike the west, where educational priorities focus on issues of accessibility (and for this reason it is assumed that one can enter a college simply if one desires to), the focus in Japan is upon achievement.


Another Lonely Hitman
[Shin Kanashiki Hittoman]

Genre: Humanitarian Yakuza Hitman Tale

review in one breath

Mochizuki's earliest directorial work was limited to pink / "porn" films, producing six such films between 1983 and 1992. Following this fleshy foray, Mochizuki turned almost exclusively to Yakuza-themed films, starting with Gokudo Kisha (1993) for Daiei Productions. Since this shift in content, Mochizuki has directed 29 yakuza-based films the most recent of which is Gokudo Kisha (2004) starring pop legend Matsukata Hiroki. Another Lonely Hitman, the film under review here, is the 6th film following Mochizuki's reformation and is a sequel of sorts to the 1989 film Lonely Hitman by director Ichikura Haruo starring (then) heart-throb idol Miura Tomokazu as the hitman.



Another Heaven
[Anaza Hebun]

Genre: Inexplicable Sci-Fi Horror Crime Thriller

review in one breath

Grab your showercaps boys and girls! Tokyo is being plagued by brain-eating WATER FROM HELL and no one is safe! Especially not the hunky, brooding Tokyo cop Manabu Hayase and all the many cute girls who dig him!



Alive

Genre: Sci-Fi Action

review in one breath

Ryuhei Kitamura is undoubtedly one of Japan's stellar directors when it comes to contemporary Horror or Sci-Fi action. Alive is Kitamura's fourth film and thoroughly carries through with the evolution of his polished style, character development, and delivery of visceral action. This evolution can clearly be seen through the progression of Kitamura's prior three films, Heat After Dark (1996), Down to Hell (1996), and Versus (2000). In Alive, Kitamura channels his efforts into a cinematic recreation of the science-fiction manga by Tsutomu Takahashi of the same name. (Kitamura also later reproduced a TV series based on another manga by Tsutomu entitled Sky High (2003).) Kitamura brings to the project most of the star power of his earlier films, as well as few new (beautiful) faces including Ryo (who will later star in Kitamura's Azumi (2003)) and Koyuki (of Kairo fame). Yes, two beautiful women with no last names. Hmmm.



Akuma ga Sumu Ie 2001
[The House Where the Evil Lives 2001]

Genre: Slasher / Supernatural Horror

review in one breath

If you had the pleasure of reading my extremely insightful and witty review of Shudan Satsujin Club, you may recall my suspicion that a general (Japanese) societal hatred of cute, high school-aged girls may be afoot. After watching Akuma ga Sumu Ie 2001 I am now convinced that nubile japanese females may soon be an endangered species.



Bright Future
[Akarui Mirai]

Genre: Contemporary Urban/Existential Drama

review in one breath

A characteristic exploration within the films of director Kurosawa Kiyoshi has to do with the fluidity of "individuality" within the ever-changing environment of his characters' worlds. In Cure (1997) the main character, forced to confront and consider the absolute amoral attitude of the antagonist, undergoes a radical transformation regarding his own moral conscience and action. In Charisma (1999), the seemingly nihilistic main character flees the chaotic moral morass of urbanized civilization into a more "natural" environment, where, after observing the lessons of an even starker reality, returns to the city morally emboldened. In Kourei (2000), through misfortunate happenstance, the naive and humble lives of the two main characters are plunged, first into moral ambiguiuty, and finally into the collapse of character.



Ai Jin Rei [Ghost Lover]

???

Genre: Supernatural Tryst Gone Horribly Awry

review in one breath

What was intended as a romantic rendezvous with her lover turns into utter humiliation when his wife suddenly shows up. Heated arguments soon turn violent leaving Naomi with a knife-sized hole in her heart and occupying a shallow grave beneath her (ex)lover's cabin. But what the wife and husband believe to be the end of an unfortunate event turns out to be just the beginning of far greater misery.



Ageman
[Tales of a Golden Geisha]

Genre: Love and Power Politics (Slightly Comedic)

review in one breath

In Japan (and undoubtedly in other Asian societies) there are the well established notions of sageman and ageman. The term sageman derives from the Japanese verb sageru (???), which means "to lower", and refers to a person who has the undesireable characteristic of absorbing others' good luck. Ageman on the other hand refers to someone who has the tendency to bring good luck to others. (Ageman comes from the verb ageru (???), which means "to raise").



Afterlife
[Wonderful Life / Wandafuru raifu]

Genre: Supernatural Drama

review in one breath

This film, written and directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, gets an "A" (in my book) for conceptual creativity. Afterlife (also known as Wandafuru raifu or "Wonderful Life") truly challenges its audience (as well as its characters) to ponder deeply the meaning of life and death. The story is set in what one might call "limbo", although here this consists of an entire world which looks, feels and is populated exactly as the real world. The characters, however, are all deceased and we accompany them through their first seven days of this "limbo" during which they must decide on only one memory from their life with which they will spend the rest of eternity. While the many characters wrestle with isolating a single significant memory from among many, or from among none, we in the audience will inevitably begin thinking along these same lines, searching for criteria whereby some past moments are deemed more valuable than others. Should a "fun" moment be prioritized above a "serene" moment? Or how about the moment of sexual ecstacy or the moment of secure love?



Boy
[Shonen / Shounen]

??

Genre: Social Commentary on the Tragic Failings of Traditional Authority

review in one breath

A self-centered and uncaring father forces his wife and young son to fake being hit by passing cars in order to extort large sums of money from drivers. The increasingly violent authority of the father over the family, and their growing unwillingness to participate in his fraud leads them all on a downward spiral both physically and psychologically. This film is directed by renowned "new wave" director Oshima Nagisa and provides a stark vision of the tragic impact of child neglect and the failure of traditional authority structures.



Hakuchi no torima

Violence at High Noon

Genre: Existential Drama (Extreme)

review in one breath

"Love is incapable of changing anyone."

Director Nagisa Oshima's movies often are portrayals of intense love relationships and the social alienation caused by them. His earlier Cruel Story of Youth (1960) and the later In the Realm of the Senses (1976) and In the Realm of the Passions (1978) are of this sort. All three of these tales involve the violent clash of innate passion with societal convention, usually ending in the "triumph" of social convention and a sad demise for the couple. Violence at High Noon is a variation of this same theme, though here the tension exists between human passion and sheer human evil. Our characters are pitted against themselves rather than against society, and the human soul is portrayed as the source of great harm rather than apathetic collective convention.



Ai no corrida

In the Realm of the Senses

Genre: Death Spiral of Obsessive Love

review in one breath

This movie by Oshima Nagisa contains scenes that go well beyond the allowances of the Japanese film industry censors and was thus produced in France. This could easily be (and has been) considered a form of pornography, but is seldom declared such due to perhaps the historical background of the story and Oshima's determination to have this produced as an artistic revolt against Japan's unwillingness to allow anything of this sort (at a time when Western film was producing pornography). That said, those watching this movie are in for some very graphic sex scenes which leave little or nothing to the imagination.



Seishun zankoku monogatari

Cruel Story of Youth

Genre: Extreme Youth Coming of Age

review in one breath

Holy Cow!
Let's just start by saying that the word "Cruel" in the title should be in all caps! As in: CRUEL(!) Story of Youth ...

This movie is directed by Nagisa Oshima, who is perhaps better known for his much later In the Realm of the Senses (1976). Both movies revolve around a love relation in which the main characters find themselves; a relationship of such intensity that it breeches the confines of social expectation, thereby requiring the characters to redefine themselves solely in terms of their love. Both movies also view social expectation as ultimately unyielding, resulting in inevitable tragedy for the characters who have forsaken the protection of convention in the pursuit and realization of passion. The world, we find, is brimming with harsh, harsh reality. (Some might even call it Cruel!)


About the year 1680 there stood an old temple on a wild pine-clad mountain near the village of Kisaichi, in the Province of Inaba. The temple was far up in a rocky ravine. So high and thick were the trees, they kept out nearly all daylight, even when the sun was at its highest. As long as the old men of the village could remember the temple had been haunted by a shito dama and the skeleton ghost (they thought) of some former priestly occupant. Many priests had tried to live in the temple and make it their home but all had died. No one could spend a night there and live.

At last, in the winter of 1701, there arrived at the village of Kisaichi a priest who was on a pilgrimage. His name was Jogen, and he was a native of the Province of Kai.

Jogen had come to see the haunted temple. He was fond of studying such things. Though he believed in the shito dama form of spiritual return to earth, he did not believe in ghosts. As a matter of fact, he was anxious to see a shito dama, and, moreover, wished to have a temple of his own. In this wild mountain temple, with a history which fear and death prevented people from visiting or priests inhabiting, he thought that he had (to put it in vulgar English) 'a real good thing.' Thus he had found his way to the village on the evening of a cold December night, and had gone to the inn to eat his rice and to hear all he could about the temple.


Long ago, at a small and out-of-the-way village called Kumedamura, about eight miles to the south-east of Sakai city, in Idsumo Province, there was made a tomb, the Fuezuka or Flute's Tomb, and to this day many people go thither to offer up prayer and to worship, bringing with them flowers and incense-sticks, which are deposited as offerings to the spirit of the man who was buried there. All the year round people flock to it. There is no season at which they pray more particularly than at another.

The Fuezuka tomb is situated on a large pond called Kumeda, some five miles in circumference, and all the places around this pond are known as of Kumeda Pond, from which the village of Kumeda took its name.

Whose tomb can it be that attracts such sympathy The tomb itself is a simple stone pillar, with nothing artistic to recommend it. Neither is the surrounding scenery interesting; it is flat and ugly until the mountains of Kiushu are reached. I must tell, as well as I can, the story of whose tomb it is.


In the wild province of Yamato, or very near to its borders, is a beautiful mountain known as Yoshino yama. It is not only known for its abundance of cherry blossom in the spring, but it is also celebrated in relation to more than one bloody battle. In fact, Yoshino might be called the staging-place of historical battles. Many say, when in Yoshino, 'We are walking on history, because Yoshino itself is history.' Near Yoshino mountain lay another, known as Tsubosaka; and between them is the Valley of Shimizutani, in which is the Violet Well.

At the approach of spring in this valley the grass assumes a perfect emerald green, while moss grows luxuriantly over rocks and boulders. Towards the end of April great patches of deep-purple wild violets show up in the lower parts of the valley, while up the sides pink and scarlet azaleas grow in a manner which beggars description.


About one thousand years ago (but according to the dates of the story 744 years ago) the temple of 'San-j?-san-gen Do' was founded. That was in 1132. 'San-j?-san-gen Do' means hall of thirty-three spaces; and there are said to be over 33,333 figures of the Goddess Kwannon, the Goddess of Mercy, in the temple to-day.

Before the temple was built, in a village near by stood a willow tree of great size. It marked the playing-ground of all the village children, who swung on its branches, and climbed on its limbs. It afforded shade to the aged in the heat of summer, and in the evenings, when work was done, many were the village lads and lasses who vowed eternal love under its branches. The tree seemed an influence for good to all. Even the weary traveler could sleep peacefully and almost dry under its branches. Alas, even in those times men were often ruthless with regard to trees.

One day the villagers announced an intention to cut it down and use it to build a bridge across the river.


Here is a folk tale taking place in the northernmost reaches of Japan and set during a period when the samurai class is waning. It is at core a love story similar to that of the Peony Lantern but with a very different perspective and description of the ghostly apparition. Like so many of these old tales, the notion that a beloved artifact or object remains tied to the soul of the deceased and becomes a conduit through which the dead spirit once again enters the land of the living. Here the object is a golden hairpin which is exchanged between lovers at the beginning of what would become their sad and tragic relationship. 

Up in the northern city of Sendai, whence come the best of Japanese soldiers, there lived a samurai named Hasunuma. Hasunuma was rich and hospitable, and consequently much thought of and well liked. Some thirty-five years ago his wife presented him with a beautiful daughter, their first child, whom they called 'Ko,' which means 'Small' when applied to a child, much as we say 'Little Mary or Little Jane.' Her full name was really 'Hasu-ko,' which means 'Little Lily'; but here we will call her 'Ko' for short.



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