Monday, 30 August 2010

Assemble Insert

OK, I think it's about time I reviewed the anime that gave its name to this blog. Truth is, I probably like the name more than the movie, but this parody of anime staples (idols, mecha, pop culture) is not without its charms.

The story centres around Maron Namikaze, a 13-year old girl with superhuman strength. Improbably, she is recruited by the Tokyo police department in their fight against a criminal gang called Demon Seed and in true generic anime style, holds down a day job as a super-famous pop idol, while moonlighting as a crime-fighting superhero.

It's hardly jagged-edged satire, but it does a decent job of spoofing the actual thing, and if you ask me, that needed doing. I've seen a lot of anime in my time, but I wouldn't call myself a fan. The good films are few and far between; for the most part it's inane bollocks - a waste of animating talent and viewing time.

Dir. Ayumi Chibuki, 1985

Friday, 27 August 2010

Battle Royale

One of the landmark films of modern Japanese cinema, bringing together social satire, video game aesthetics, and ultra-violent, coming-of-age drama in a perfectly paced, completely enthralling couple of hours of mayhem and carnage.

Set in a near future Japan, Battle Royale is a deadly reality game, devised by the government to make an example of a Youth out of control. 40 school kids are thrown onto a remote island and forced to battle to the death with a diverse array of weaponry, from pick axes to sub-machine guns - the spoils for the winner: survival. The game poses the question "would you kill your best friend to survive?" Each pupil answers it in their own way, choosing variously to rebel, fight, collaborate, run, hide, or die.

The fact that it's an often laugh-out-loud funny splatterfest (a pupil's decapitated head tossed into a building with a grenade in its mouth is particularly choice) doesn't entirely detract from the serious questions raised by the film's 'Battle Royale Millenium Act': Is this the extreme conclusion of social engineering? Society's fear of Youth given license to express itself in a murderous display of power. Is Battle Royale the reality game show the adult world secretly craves?

There are obvious parallels with Lord of the Flies and A Clockwork Orange, but veteran filmmaker Kinji Fukasuku succeeds in updating these ideas for the new Millenium. Takeshi Kitano stars once again, playing the world-weary teacher and ringmaster of his gruesome circus with maniacal glee. If you haven't seen the movie, this is going to sound very wrong, but the moment when he hurls a knife into a pupil's forehead from halfway across the room is priceless.

Dir. Kinji Fukasuku, 2000

Sunday, 22 August 2010


Possibly the most inaccessible of Kitano's films for a Western audience, Dolls draws on the traditional Japanese theatre of Bunraku for its look as well as its core themes. Kitano was inspired by the idea of lovers' suicide in the work of Chikamatsu Monzaemon, Japan's answer to Shakespeare. He takes the central preoccupations of classical tragedy - love and death - and refracts them through a modern medium.

Dolls is unconventional, by normal cinematic standards; it doesn't follow a three act structure and more closely resembles a stage play in many ways, as a series of interwoven vignettes. It's philosophical, but economical with it; there is very little in the way of exposition - the film is ripe with symbolism, but Kitano allows the viewer to make their own connections. A lot of the symbolism of Dolls is uniquely Japanese - the four distinct seasons, cherry blossoms and falling leaves denoting fragility (of the lives and the sanity of the protagonists), the red cord that ties the 'bound beggars' a reference to a Japanese saying about married couples being bound at the fingertips by red string. There are also invisible strings - tying together the tragic fates of disparate characters, guiding their actions and chance meetings - strings pulled deftly by Kitano, as director and puppet master.

Not an easy film - slow-paced and somewhat disjointed - I can well imagine it being dismissed as pretentious or a mere exercise in aesthetics (the cinematography is exquisite throughout), but as a piece of magical realism, a very personal take on traditional Japanese theatre and philosophy, Dolls is unique. It adds to Kitano's impressive oeuvre, underscoring his growing range as a filmmaker.

Dir. Takeshi Kitano, 2002

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Dead Leaves

During a pre-screening Q&A at the Tokyo International Fantastic Film Festival, the interviewer describes watching Dead Leaves as like eating raw meat in the morning - I don't think I can come up with a better analogy.

The film grabs you by the balls and doesn't put you down again for its 50 minutes duration. There's zero depth - no time to think, barely time to draw breath - just time to let your senses be pummelled by some of the most insane, frenetic animation ever committed to screen.

Harsh, but watchable.

デッド リーブス
Dir. Hiroyuki Imaishi, 2004