Wednesday, 22 September 2010


A collection of three short films curated by Katsuhiro Otomo. To say it's a mixed bag might give the impression that it contained a gem amongst the straw but ironically, the closest thing to luster here is Stink Bomb - a somewhat amusing take on biological warfare, with a lowly research employee wreaking havoc across Japan by literally becoming a human dirty bomb. The sight of a gormless idiot on a scooter trailing a cloud of toxic fumes behind him whilst being torpedoed by an armada of jet fighters, all set to a bebop jazz soundtrack is actually pretty awesome. However, the short does end with a forehead-slap-worthy punch line straight out of 100 Greatest Biohazard Jokes.

Not too much to say about the others. Surprisingly, Otomo's is the worst of the three - deploying a primitive style of animation more reminiscent of Monty Python than Akira and again, giving range to his obsession with an antiquated future world full of cogs and pistons and steam (see Steamboy) that leaves me cold. It's probably trying to say something about the futility of war... but who isn't? Finally we have what is really the centerpiece of Memories; Magnetic Rose - a dull and vaguely pretentious ghost story needlessly set in space, which rips off variously 2001, Alien, The Matrix and any haunted house movie you care to name.

In a word then, no.


Dir. Koji Morimoto / Tensai Okamura / Katsuhiro Otomo, 1995

Saturday, 18 September 2010

The Happiness of the Katakuris

I first saw The Happiness of the Katakuris at Frightfest in London, back in 2002. It's fair to say I wasn't quite so gobsmacked on this viewing, but that's mainly because I knew what to expect the second time around. I was still grinning like a fool for the duration of this feel-good surrealist horror musical pastiche - a berth it doesn't share with too many other bedfellows.

It takes a lot for me to enjoy a musical of any kind. I hate musicals with a passion, but here it just works. It's full of imaginative whimsy and distinctively Miikean touches (with a nod to Jan Svankmajer) - like the opening sequence with the small fellow being forked out of a bowl of soup and stealing the diner's uvula - inspired! In a nutshell, Katakuris is about a family's quest to find happiness in their new life together and the struggle to attract guests to their idyllic, but remote guesthouse in the lea of a volcano. The few guests who do manage to find the place are invariably dysfunctional and have a hard time making it through the night.

This is a slight film for Miike, a comedy farce essentially, but a uniquely enjoyable one nonetheless. He also hits on an ingenious way to save money on expensive special effects - cut to clay!

Dir. Takashi Miike, 2001

Thursday, 9 September 2010


Mind-blowing, jaw-dropping anime that set the benchmark almost
20 years ago and remains the jewel in the crown. Adapted from his original manga and directed by Katsuhiro Otomo.

Quality seeps through every pore of Akira. The visuals are stunning - from cataclysmic explosions to the infinitesimal detailing of smoke wreaths and ghost flares from bike lights - everything rendered with style and precision. The score is eerie and atmospheric, but never obtrusive. The scale is epic; Tetsuo's transformation at the end of the film and the subsequent fallout is a wonder to behold.

Thematically, it's in a league of its own: you could write pages on
the meaning of Akira... an imagining of the future evolution of Man, in the vein of 2001, as much as it is a reflection of Man's nuclear past; about the mysterious, transformative power of the atom as much as its potential for destruction. Akira is a film that retains its enigma and fascination through repeated viewings.

Perhaps the greatest thing about it though, and something that merely good anime like Ghost In the Shell lack somewhat, is that kinetic energy and drive - never a dull moment, or any sense of expository overload. It's the kind of film that reminds you why anime, at its best, is unique. When it's done as well as this, with a seriousness of intent you'd normally only find in feature films outside of Japan (especially at the time of its release), it tells you a lot about the way comics and animation are deeply embedded in Japanese culture - seen as a valid, mainstream medium, not just the flickering-light basement preserve of geeks and misfits.

Dir. Katsuhiro Otomo, 1991