Sunday, 31 January 2010

Unlucky Monkey

Sabu AKA Hiroyuki Tanaka gives us a true slice of Japanese cinema with Unlucky Monkey; the good and the bad. The good: dark humour, outrageous genre crossover, weirdness in spades (and reanimating corpses). The bad: messy, disjointed, unevenly paced.

The film veers from B-movie yakuza action to existential psycho-drama and back again. Then back again. It's got 3 endings, each one a variation on the same theme: the futility and randomness of life - eliciting a howl of rage, a dejected trudge or a blithe shrug of the shoulders. Sabu gives us them all. You gotta love this guy's sense of humour - there are some deliciously absurd moments of blackness here.

アンラッキー モンキー
Dir. Sabu, 1998

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

In the Realm of Passion

There's a lot to be said for a simple story told well. In the Realm of Passion is a classic ghost story from a master of the genre, Nagisa Oshima.

It doesn't rank among Oshima's best works, but it's enjoyable nonetheless. For a Japanese film made in the late Seventies, it's surprisingly Film Noir. The characterization - the femme fatale and jealous lover plotting to kill the unsuspecting husband - the cinematography - the wonderfully dark, bleak world Seki and Toyoji inhabit - In the Realm of Passion comes from the pages of hard boiled pulp fiction, relocated to Nineteenth century Japan.

But it's also in the tradition of Japanese ghost stories - hence the familiar archetypes of the vengeful spirit and the well; a symbol of repressed fear. The way the action is framed by narration gives a slightly unreal, allegorical feel to the film; a welcome respite from the relentless realism of modern cinema.

Dir. Nagisa Oshima, 1978

Monday, 11 January 2010

Ghost in the Shell

A much feted anime and in many respects it's not hard to see why. At the time of its release, in 1995, it was groundbreaking on a visual level, using cutting-edge technology to deliver animation of unparalleled depth, with a truly filmic quality. The fact that it still has the ability to impress today is testament to the painstaking work of a talented animation team. Everything from the realism of reflective surfaces and the naturalism of movement, down to the details like the different physical effect of bullets striking different materials is stunning to behold.

Kenji Kawai's score is equally effective, capturing the mood of the film perfectly - its haunting, traditional sound works better than a futuristic electronic score would have done. It has a timelessness - the main theme is bordering on legendary.

The story is perhaps less impressive: exploring the implications of AI is not new in sci-fi, but it's easy to overlook the prescience of Oshii's vision of the net. Self-mutating digital viral strains travelling an invisible global network, the association of computer programs with DNA - these ideas are very familiar today, but the world wide web was barely in its infancy when this film was made. Despite owing a lot to Blade Runner,
visually and thematically, Ghost in the Shell will rightly go down as a landmark anime.

Dir. Mamoru Oshii, 1995