Sunday, 31 October 2010

The Grudge

Halloween occasions the watching of a scary film and this year it was the turn of Takashi Shimizu's Grudge - the original. Now I'm not exactly up to speed when it comes to The Grudge franchise; I know it extends to about a dozen movies, but this was my first experience of the creaking woman and elusive boy who may or may not be a cat.

Was it scary? Hell yeah! As scary as Ring? Well... no, not really. That's partly because there are some familiar motifs, essentially lifted from Ring: mutated faces in photographs, television pictures breaking up freakily, apparitions getting up close and personal on screen, lank haired dead women, the corporeal supernatural, even the curse itself. That creaking though... jesus.

My problem with the film is actually nothing to do with its originality or lack thereof, it's that it doesn't really seem to make a lot of sense. Apparently anyone who goes into the Saeki house is afflicted with a curse and will be haunted and ultimately killed by the ghosts of his murdered wife Kayako and son Toshio. Anyone who hasn't been into the house can't see them (as the scene in the restaurant with Rika and Mariko shows). That being the case though, how and why is the security guard in the social service office killed by Kayako? By the logic of the film, he shouldn't be able to her see her. Is it that anyone who comes into contact with anyone who's been in the house is also affected? Maybe. But then what about the people they come into contact with? Are they OK? Other things that had me scratching my head: Izumi ages about 5 years in no time at all. Her friends suddenly turn into zombies. Mariko is inexplicably relocated to the house, calling for Toshio... The fact the chronology is constantly shifting around doesn't help - it makes it very hard to keep track of what's going on and causes character arcs to become a tad disjointed and confused. The end sequence is puzzling too - it seems to be suggesting Rika is somehow a reincarnation of Kayako, but it's not clear why.

To a greater or lesser extent you can chalk any inconsistencies in plot up to general weirdness; it's quite possible that it's an intentionally disorientating ambiguity on Shimizu's part - drawing on that peculiar kind of twisted dream logic that informs much J-Horror. The real acid test of a good horror film is how effective it is at scaring you and on that level The Grudge definitely succeeds. It maintains a nail-biting level of tension throughout and has plenty of genuine scares, that stay with you after the end credits roll. In a world where horror can all too often be corny and predictable, that's no mean feat.

Dir. Takashi Shimizu, 2002

Friday, 29 October 2010

The Big Tits Zombie 3D

Second up at The Barbican was The Big Tits Zombie 3D and what a steaming pile of shite it was.

Now you could say "what do you expect from a film called The Big Tits Zombie 3D" and you'd be right, but even so, this plumbed new depths of cinematic incompetence. Not only was the 3D intermittent, meaning you had to fiddle about with your stupid 3D glasses every 5 minutes, but when you did don the hallowed specs the 3D didn't even work - it simply revealed a murky triple-imaged version of the same drivel you'd just been watching.

I accept that Nakano, whose previous 10 films have been straight to video pinkies, was probably working with less than a shoe string budget here, but there's still no excuse for actors who would struggle to act their way out of a shampoo advert delivering turgid dialogue on sets lit less atmospherically than your average supermarket aisle. Frankly I've seen in-game cut scenes with more going for them than this movie.

Dir. Takao Nakano, 2010


The first film I've seen - the first of several that will feature here over the next couple of months - in The Barbican's Aspects of Japanese Cinema festival, kindly pointed out to me by Al.

It was pretty much what I was expecting: a low-budget, comic book-style knockabout starring bionic geisha girls and gallons of fake blood. Robo-Geisha made me smile (occasionally) but never entered the realm of laugh-out-loud funny that it did for some of my fellow cinema-goers in the back row (although I think they'd had so much booze you could have shown them a documentary on Hiroshima and they would have pissed themselves).

It may seem like a strange thing to say about a film featuring girls with hinged heads, rotating saw blade mouths and eyes with optical zoom, but the dialogue and slapstick humour are rather conventional; a bit Americanized even - it put me in mind of films like The Naked Gun at times and made me think that Iguchi has one eye on DVD sales overseas. Basically, Robo-Geisha is not very good, but it offers a bit of harmless fun if you're into this sort of thing.

Dir. Noburu Iguchi, 2009

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Cold Fish

My enjoyment of Shion Sono's remarkable new film was soured slightly by being physically assaulted in a McDonalds afterwards. This incident confirms what I've long suspected about Leicester Square; despite outward appearances, it truly is the armpit of London. Still, bruised rib aside, I've lived to tell the tale.

So on with the review. Shion Sono's Cold Fish is the only Japanese film I managed to get tickets for in this year's London Film Festival. Naturally I wanted to see Miike's 13 Assassins, but it sold out faster than a whippet on a travelator. As it happens, I don't think I got the short straw: Sono will have enhanced his reputation no end with this highly unusual thriller come gorefest, based (loosely you would have to think) on a true story about a serial killer. The film charts the descent into madness and brutality of the meek family man, tropical fish shop owner and eponymous cold fish of the piece, Mr Shamoto. Miike himself would have been proud of this; in fact, in many ways, it's not a million miles away from Visitor Q. A solid 4.5 film to my mind, but since I'm feeling generous I'll give it a 5.

As he proved with Suicide Club, Sono has a deft touch, both visually and in terms of plotting, but with Cold Fish, he's switched it up a gear. The film never drags - even though it is slightly lop-sided and will undoubtedly be too over the top for many - it's cleverly edited and chock full of inventive, unpredictable dialogue, with an attention to detail that warms my heart. Be warned though, this is not for the weak-stomached nor the easily offended; the last act has scenes of butchery that would make a an abattoir blush. But there's more to Cold Fish than savage black humour. After drawing you in with some nicely acted exchanges, outlining his protagonists' motivations, and allowing you to think you understand what will turn out to be their redeeming qualities, Sono gradually lets the reins of sanity slip. The characters' arcs are pushed to their extreme conclusions, seemingly in the face of logic. In so doing, he tears into the assumptions underlying a shared notion of 'humanity' and points to the beast, barely tamed, lurking just below the surface in all of us.
Dir. Shion Sono, 2010

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The Dark Myth

Piss poor anime about the arcane - an unnecessarily complex and stultifyingly dull account of the rebirth of ancient gods of darkness in modern Japan.

There is one thing worth seeing this for though and that's the potted history of the Kikuchi clan, which sounds like some kind of bizarre tongue twister...

Watch the full splendid minute right here.

"The present head of the Kikuchi clan, Kazuhiku Kikuchi is the 73rd Kikuchiko in the dynasty." Easy for you to say mate.

Dir. Takashi Anno, 1990