Takashi Miike has a global reputation as a purveyor of the wild, the edgy, the transgressive. In fact, the bulk of the Japanese director’s extensive filmography is more traditional fare, despite his standing as the international festival circuit’s enfante terrible. Yakuza Apocalypse, however, is exactly the kind of film you think of when you think of Takashi Miike.
Sometimes there are films that define their audience simply from their synopses. Korean animated feature Aachi & Ssipak is one such film. Set in a future where the main source of power is, uh, human faeces, two hoodlums (the titular Aachi and Ssipak) find themselves caught between the fascist government and a tribe of blue psychos, mutated by the narcotic popsicles the populace are awarded in return for defecation. Into the mix comes a cyborg cop, porn actress with amazing shitting powers over whom a war quickly develops.
Yotsuya Kaidan is one of the classic Japanese ghost stories. Written in the 19th century as a kabuki play, it has been filmed over 30 times. The tale centres on Iemon, a masterless samurai and his wife, Oiwa. When an opportunity to marry into a wealthy family appears, Iemon conspires to poison and then murder his wife, only for his guilt to mean he is haunted by her ghost. Finally, mistaking his new love for his wife’s ghost, he kills her, too and vengeance is served.
Over Your Dead Body sees a variant on the re-telling. The focus here is on actors Kousuke (Ebizo Ichikawa) and Miyuki (Ko Shibasaki), a couple who are starring in a play of you guessed it Yotsuya Kaidan.
As rehearsals progress, tensions raise between them and the story of the play begins to bleed and echo in real life. Miyuki suspects she is pregnant, while Kousuke starts an affair with their co-star…the actress playing his new love in the play.
Over Your Dead Body is directed by Takashi Miike, the enfante terrible of Japanese cinema who found global fame with extreme pieces like Ichi The Killer, Dead or Alive and Visitor Q. But Miike has always had many sides to him, directing everything from colourful childrens’ films to sombre introspective pieces like The Bird People in China.
This appears to be cut from the cloth of the latter, but in fact it is more like his classic Audition…a slowburn that erupts into blood and violence. This is, without doubt, a horror movie at the end of the day.
One of the most impressive things in Miike’s extensive resume is that while his films are often very stylish, he never settles on one particular style. Over Your Dead Body is another extension, the lavish production design of the theatrical sets and sleek, modern ‘real world’ houses creating space for the languid pacing of the film. The camera-work matches, all slow moves and deliberate framing. As reality and fiction wind together, so the filming becomes more unsettled as close-ups, hard cuts and off-kilter shot selection reveal the shakiness in the mental state of the characters.
The effectiveness of the movie lies in the subtle build-up of the character work. Miyuke’s mental state crumbles under the combination of her suspicions and seeing the possible result of these suspicions play out in the theatre. The problem is that this reservation carries too far when the impacts are required at the end, events feel somewhat distant.
The coldness comes from not only the shooting style, but also from Ichikawa’s impassive performance. It is so hard to see chinks in his emotional armour that the film loses the intimacy it needs to fully absorb.
The result is an interesting film with a lot to recommend about it. That it never fully hits home is the key element holding it back from real greatness and a place in the “best of” section of Miike’s filmography.
The extras are simply trailers for other Madman Eastern Eye titles coming out. Although it is testament to how prolific Takashi Miike is that two of the films promoted are also his!
In recent years France has been unrivaled in producing some of the most visceral and provocative horror cinema of our time. Mention titles such as Haute Tension, À l’intérieur, Irreversible and Frontière(s) to the seasoned horror connoisseur and you will most likely be met with an intense reaction, be it negative or positive. Martyrs is yet another fine addition to the new wave of French horror canon.
Circa 1970; a little girl is found wandering by the side of the road covered in blood. The police discover her name is Lucie and she has been listed as missing for over a year. She is soon situated in an orphanage where her only confidant is a girl named Anna. From what little details Lucie relates to Anna it appears that she was held captive and tortured by a sadistic couple.
Cut to 15 years later – now grown, Lucie manages to track down her captors and massacre them, resulting in carnage of grand guignol proportions. She is soon joined by Anna who attempts to clean up her mess in order to protect her from the authorities. Although things soon take a turn for the worse when more misfortune befalls Lucie and Anna encounters the truth about who and what happened to Lucie.
I’ve tried not to give much away in my synopsis as in my opinion it is better to go into this film not knowing too much. Suffice to say that Pascal Laugier has crafted a truly horrendous and genre-bending piece of horror cinema in Martyrs. There is violence a-plenty but it isn’t another hackneyed “torture porn” flick (though admittedly it does share a few commonalities with Hostel).
Martyrs is a film of two halves – during the first half I was reminded of Haute Tension and, to a lesser degree, À l’intérieur, particularly during the home invasion scene. But it is in the second half where Monsieur Laugier comes into his own by subtly manipulating genre conventions and expectations. Though I found it slightly harder to suspend my disbelief during it, this half contains certain themes and concepts of martyrdom that set it apart from your run-of-the-mill splatter film. Though I think it highly possible that the biting social commentary will not translate to all and indeed may completely miss its intended target due to the gratuitous violence accompanying it.
The only aspect that slightly diminished the film in my opinion was the J-horroresque appearance of the figure in the violent hallucinations that haunt Lucie, it adds a supernatural horror element to the film that only reduces the impact. On the whole though, Martyrs is a bleak and unrelenting trip through hell that will appeal to fans of the new wave of French horror and extreme cinema aficionados.
There have been few horror properties in the past decade as prodigious as the Ju-on series. From the Japanese originals, to American remakes and even video games, it is a surprising proliferation for a film with a seemingly limited core concept. Even six years after the last Japanese film in the series, the concept has been revived for two new films in the form of Ju-on: White Ghost and Ju-on: Black Ghost.
Around the turn of the century, the J-horror boom was just starting to hit. The cerebral works of Kiyoshi Kurosawa had garnered interest on the festival circuit, along with the more visceral films from Takashi Miike, but it was Hideo Nakata’s adaptation of Koji Suzuki’s novel Ring that truly ignited things.
When Ring came out in 1998, Takashi Shimizu was a young assistant director attending a filmmaking class conducted by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Kurosawa subsequently invited Shimizu to contribute a couple of short films to an anthology made-for-TV project called Gakkô no kaidan G. Shimizu’s contributions would be Katasumi (AKA In The Corner) and 4444444444, two simple one-scare three-minute pieces that would introduce the two key ghosts of the JuOn milieu and set the template for all of the films to follow.
What did follow was the surprise V-cinema hits Ju-on: The Curse and Ju-on: The Curse 2 which would then be conglomerated and reworked into a theatrical version called, Ju-on: The Grudge. This release would also be successful to the point that a sequel, Ju-on: The Grudge 2 soon followed. Then Hollywood came a-knocking and tapped Shimizu to remake his own work into the Sarah Michelle Gellar-starring The Grudge.
The US version would itself spawn two sequels, but Shimizu was no longer involved. When two more Japanese films were announced in 2009, Shimizu was on board, but only in an advisory capacity. The results were the hour-long pieces, White Ghost and Black Ghost.
White Ghost continues (loosely) the tale of the Ju-on Saeki house where Takeo murdered his wife Kayako and child Toshio. Years later, the rage locked up in the house infects another family, resulting once more in mass-murder and a new wave of ghosts who take vengeance on any unfortunates straying too close.
The movie continues the Ju-on structure of a series of chapters, each titled after a different protagonist. These are always told out of chronological order, serving to create a satisfying narrative from what is usually (and again in this case) a pretty threadbare plot. Ultimately, a Ju-on film stands or falls on the quality of its scares; this is very much a set-up that is like a theme park ride – a succession of tense build-ups followed by a sudden fright.
In this capacity, White Ghost is a mixed bag. It has terrific moments (a creepy cassette that plays by itself stands out), but some choices may result in laughs, rather than scares. Electing to make one of the ghosts an old woman is a valid choice, but when it is apparently portrayed by a child in a cheap rubber mask, the effect is badly undercut. This is not helped by having this particular ghost always carrying a basketball.
Black Ghost takes a very different approach and in fact, aside from a fan service nod by having a cameo by Toshio, this does not feel like a Ju-on film at all, rather a generic ghost story with no connection to the mythos. In this story, a young girl named Fukie is committed to hospital suffering from an apparent cyst. Naturally, this turns out to be the remains of her unborn twin…who is angry for not ever being born.
Events progress is a fairly pedestrian manner, bringing neither quality scares nor anything that hasn’t been done in numerous horror films before. It is telling that, even at only 60 minutes long, Black Ghost feels stretched too thinly.
The results are an uneven pairing. White Ghost is a worthy addition to the Ju-on pantheon, being somewhat of a middling entry, but Black Ghost is arguably the worst in the series, possibly even including the dire American The Grudge 3. A mixed bag and really only one for Ju-on fans.
Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.
Taking place in an isolated mansion located in the Fascist-controlled Italian Republic of Salo in 1944, four powerful libertines – the Duke, the Bishop, the Magistrate and the President – abduct eighteen teenagers, 9 boys, 9 girls, to indulge in four months (120 days) of debauchery and sadism with.
In-between storytelling sessions wherein three elderly prostitutes entertain both captives and sadists with lascivious tales of child abuse designed to set the mood, the four pillars of society put their slaves through harrowing acts of degradation until an eventual excruciating death.
Pasolini’s final masterpiece is a retelling of de Sade’s degenerate tour de force The 120 Days of Sodom, though various other literary giants are also referenced throughout. Dante’s Divine Comedy is used as inspiration for the segmented format, the film being broken into four sections: the ante-inferno, Circle of Manias, Circle of Shit and Circle of Blood. There’s also frequent nods and winks to Pound, Proust, Baudelaire, Nietzsche and Dada.
As a youngster exploring the depths of video nasties and extreme cinema, Salo was seen as the ultimate. Stories circulated of people puking, passing out, and being unable to make it all the way through. When I finally got the chance to see it, I must admit I was slightly let down. Yes, there’s shit-eating, eye-gouging, rape and numerous other paraphilias, and of course the infamous torture-ridden finale. But it was all set within this arthouse framework that made it feel somehow “highbrow” to me, not lowdown and filthy enough.
Now, as a “grown-up” years later, I can more thoroughly appreciate the impact it had, and still has. Not only concerning the confronting shock value but the exploration of themes such as political corruption, abuse of power, the human commodity and the role of the spectator. Pasolini was fiercely anti-authoritarian and opposed capitalism and what rampant mass culture and consumerism was doing to traditional Italian culture and age old values, these are dominant themes in Salo.
Yet despite all the depravity and allegorical statements there’s also a perversely comic element present, chiefly manifest in the role of the President (played to perfection by the late Aldo Valletti) with his lazy eye and literal shit-eating grin, he’s truly a memorable character that induces queasy giggles and groans.
Salo is a film everyone should see at least once. An absolute must own at $10 on DVD and $20 on Blu-Ray you should get this now. NZ has been waiting years for a local release and this is a great alternative to the very expensive Criterion release.
- Open Your Eyes – A newly created on set 20 minute full colour documentary shot in 1974 by Journalist and Pasolini expert Gideon Bachmann. Mostly consists of on-set interviews with a few actors and footage of Pasolini filming the torture sequences in which I cannot believe on previous viewings I never noticed they are wearing massive fake cocks.
- Walking With Pasolini – A 20 minute documentary with BBC archive footage of Pasolini and interviews with Neil Bartlett, Roberto Purvis, David Forgacs and Noam Chomsky. An insightful extra in which interviewees discuss their opinions of the themes in Salo.
- Fade to Black – 23 minute documentary including interviews with Bertolluci, Breillat, John Maybury and David Forgacs.
- Whoever Says the Truth Shall Die – An hour documentary that looks at the life and death of Pasolini. Although not terribly insightful it has interviews with director and literary friends as well as actors and interviews with Laura Betti who also reads Pasolini’s poetry.
- Ostia – A 25 minute film by Julian Cole about the death of Pasolini featuring Derek Jarman.
- Ostia Music Video – Also included is a music video for Coil’s track Ostia (The Death of Pasolini). Shot by Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson of Throbbing Gristle on location in his adopted home of Bangkok, it essentially recreates the scenario of Pasolini’s death-by-rent-boy using Thai rent boys.
For Marie (Sonia Suhl), life in her small coastal town is simple and now that she is 16, she gets a job at the local fish processing plant to help bring money into her family – her father (Lars Mikkelsen) and her catatonic, wheelchair-bound mother (Sonja Richter). She catches the eye of a handsome young fisherman named Daniel (Jakob Oftebro), but not everything bodes well.
Doctor Larsen (Stig Hoffmeyer) warns her that she will likely inherit her mother’s debilitating condition and several bullying men at her new job have decided she is the perfect target for taunting and abuse. Then Marie feels her body beginning to change…
The werewolf has always been a potent metaphor. Typically used as a male id symbol, the concept of physical change has also been applied to awakening sexuality. On rare occasions (most notably the Canadian film Ginger Snaps) it has been applied to female sexuality.
When Animals Dream takes that a step further. Marie’s real identity, her real destiny, is as a werewolf. As she comes of age, she does not flee from this. Her mother, heavily-medicated by her controlling (but caring) father and her doctor, serves as a warning of what happens if she just toes the line.
The feminist statement of the film is writ large, right from the uncomfortably sexual opening scene where Marie is examined for bodily symptoms by Doctor Larsen. Marie is wanting freedom and independence which clearly scares the traditionalist menfolk of her town.
Daniel is the exception. He is the only one who accepts Marie’s true nature and does not fear her for it. But the others in the town do, and they will not tolerate Marie in their midst. The more she stands out from the crowd and defies expectations, the more she raises their ire.
Debutant director Jonas Alexander Arnby shows a remarkably assured hand. The performances are all low-key and believable, free from overt affectation. The shooting is handheld and his Denmark is a bleak, cold place where the sun never seems to shine. The setting is a place of dying tradition, where there is no future, superbly realised.
The pacing is careful and the plot itself is very simple. This, perhaps is the film’s weakness. The ideas it presents are evocative and powerful, but along the way entertainment is somewhat sacrificed. The progression to the climax is single-minded, leaving little room for twists or turns in the storyline and while the inexorability of the film is part of its message, it does adversely affect the more superficial thrills.
A reflective, delicate and sombre film, When Animals Dream is a low-key gem and a reminder of how powerful the metaphors of fantasy and horror films can be to reflect our real world. An excellent debut.
Just trailers, which is disappointing for a film of this thematic depth.
Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.
High school student Kyosuke Shikijo (Ryohei Suzuki) wants to be a hero like his late father – a legendary cop. However, he’s academically undistinguished, and (though he participates in his school’s martial arts club) any time he tries to help anyone he just ends up getting a beating. As if that wasn’t bad enough, his mother is a notorious dominatrix (she met Kyosuke’s father when he tried to arrest her) and mocks him cruelly for his lack of romantic success.
So far, so much of a standard setup for a particular class of manga.
The Raid hit action fans like a bomb in 2012. The Indonesian crime flick had as simple a set-up as could be imagined – a handful of cops have to fight their way through a multi-storey tenement building searching for both escape and the crime boss at the top (such a simple set-up, in fact, that the same year’s Dredd had the same scenario, completely independently). But what elevated it was its incredible fight scenes – as fast as they were brutal, with its energetic and fluid camerawork an antidote to a genre overtaken by incoherent shaky cam vignettes.
The film took the festival circuit by storm and became a global cult hit. In the process, expectations grew exponentially for the sequel as director Gareth Evans, star Iko Uwais and the rest of the team regrouped for The Raid 2. Hailed as the new hopes for action in cinema, the pressure was on to deliver bigger and better set-pieces.
And so they did.
The last few survivors emerge from a bungled raid, led from the carnage by resourceful rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais). They are met by a small taskforce of cops fronted by Bunawar (Cok Simbara), who tells them their team is an anti-corruption squad, charged with getting evidence on the rot within the police force that is stopping any progress being made against organised crime in the city.
They hatch a plan to insert Rama in a local prison to ingratiate himself with Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of local kingpin Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo). Once in Bangun’s inner circle, Rama will be able to gather the evidence they need.
But things do not go as planned and Rama finds himself trapped in the middle of an escalating gang war between Bangun, Japanese gangster Goto (Takashi Miike favourite Kenichi Endo) and upstart instigator Bejo (Alex Abbad). He must somehow resolve it all while keeping his identity secret and also not getting killed in the crossfire.
The larger plot scope lets director Evans and his team really cut loose. No longer constrained by the four walls of a building, Evans takes action to bars, muddy prisons, alleyways, toilets, kitchens, streets and more. If you can think of an urban object, the odds are that someone in The Raid 2 gets their face smashed into it.
This is a violent film. Bones are broken, throats are slashed and people are hit with cars. Repeatedly. The superhuman actions of the fighters keep it on the cartoonish side, but there is still a gleeful streak to proceedings (even from the hero) that may throw a murky morality over things. The film holds off a bit before its first real fight scene but from then on, things escalate quickly.
If The Raid was the high-water mark in action films, the sequel raises the bar even further. Uwais is a phenomenon and the sequences just keep getting crazier, including a wild car chase through the streets of Jakarta involving a fight inside a car and numerous gun battles between vehicles.
The camerawork is almost as phenomenal as the fighting itself, swirling around the action without ever sacrificing spatial awareness for freneticism. The result is adrenaline-pumping throughout.
As brilliant as the action is, there is the occasional err in overplaying the hand a touch. There is nothing quite as over-the-top as the endless climactic fight in The Raid, but there is again a duel here that runs for minutes longer than it should. Perhaps few fans will complain, but there are points where it just becomes two guys wailing on each other with no sense of advancement.
The biggest problem is the script. It is as hoary an old gangster tale as you can get and there isn’t a moment or motivation you haven’t seen in a dozen other movies. Indeed, if the action were merely serviceable, The Raid 2 would be a very poor movie. Cardboard characters, stilted acting and bland dialogue abound.
Fortunately, the visceral rush of the visuals is more than enough to carry the day. Breathtaking in the extreme, this is the gold standard of action filmmaking today. The Raid 2 is every bit a worthy successor.
The first main extra on board is a quickie ‘behind the scenes’, which is worth a look for a couple of key sequences. One where a bouncing SUV very nearly takes out a camera crew (missing by maybe a metre) and another an ingenious sequence to film a car chase. It involves the camera car driving alongside one car, then slowing down to drop back to the next, at which point the camera is handed in through the window to a camera operator who is actually disguised as a car seat! He then moves across the second video and hangs out the far window while a third operator, lying on his back on a trolley outside the car, supports him.
It’s a terrific example of the cleverness and commitment to extraordinary shots that elevates the movie.
The other main extra is an extended Q&A session with Evans, Uwais and composer Joe Trapanese at a festival screening. Evans does the majority of the talking and he is a hugely likeable presence, both humble and clearly enjoying his work. The stories are interesting, from the adaptation of the script (which was actually an old gangster script Evans had) to the fact that Uwais psychs himself up for fights by listening to Toni Braxton. The pair are also clearly good friends and chat keenly about plans for The Raid 3.
Buried amongst the recent glut of “found footage” horror films there is the occasional gem that raises a glimmer of hope that all is not lost to soulless studio systems and calculated money-men (unsurprisingly the US acquired remake rights for this before it’d even opened stateside). Troll Hunter is an independent Norwegian production that, along with titles such as Rare Exports and Dead Snow, once again goes to show the Scandinavians have more up their sleeve than Fjords and Black Metal.