Love Exposure

Love-Exposure

Wow. Some films try to cover a fair bit of ground. Love Exposure is more like some vast, country-spanning blanket. A four-hour movie both epic and perversely intimate, it takes on religion, sexual awakening, abuse, family, relationships…oh, and the art of kung fu upskirt photography.

The story follows Tokyo teenager Yu Honda (Takahiro Nishijima) through a period of self-discovery in his life. His mother dies, and his Catholic priest father falls for a morally-dubious woman. Left feeling abandoned, Yu decides to sin just to have an excuse to see his father in the confessional.

The sinning quickly escalates as Yu shows a remarkable aptitude for the art of taking clandestine photographs up the skirts of young women in public places – with the aid of cameras on elastic bands, cameras on remote control cars and acrobatics. This proves too much for his father, who casts him out just as Yu has a passing encounter with the girl of his dreams, abuse-survivor Yoko (Hikari Mitsushima). The problem? Yu met her while dressed in drag and now is forced to pretend to be a woman in order to be close to her.

Amazingly, that synopsis is only the tip of the iceberg. But rather than become a mess, this instead is a delirious ride that manages to blend introspection with giddy entertainment.

Director Sono Shion is best known for Suicide Club (2001), a satiric swipe at youth culture in Japan. With Love Exposure he takes on a larger palette of more universal themes. Yu is lost without his parents and seeks somewhere – anywhere – to belong. Yet all he really wants is the reunification of family. His father is torn between the lure of sex and the tenets of his religious devotion. Yoko is driven by hatred, yet desperate for love. Above them all is the temptation of a religious cult, of a place where they can give up responsibility or choice…but is it true happiness or just delusion?

There are a lot of elements to juggle in the 237 minutes of running time and for the most part, Sono Shion does a remarkable job by keeping the focus tight and following Yu through an often bizarre series of events. Perhaps things become a bit muddy in the final act and some of the thematic issues raised to not get wrapped up perfectly, but that is only a minor quibble against such an enjoyable film.

A rare beast that manages to be layered and thought-provoking, more than anything Love Exposure is just a damn lot of fun.

Available on R4 DVD from Madman.

 

Let the Right One In

Let-TheAh, the poor vampire. As a movie monster, it has been used as a metaphor for everything from AIDS to drug addiction. It has been the staple of the housewife romance novel and even the teen celibacy parable. Surely its potency as an on-screen creature of the night as long since passed?

If that was the case, somebody forgot to tell the makers of Swedish flick Let The Right One In, which is not only the best vampire film of recent years, but one of the greatest of all time.

Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is a young boy in a difficult time. His parents have split up and he is suffering from relentless bullying at school. In his loneliness, he collects newspaper clippings of tragedies and retreats into a fantasy world where he has the strength to lash out and kill his tormentors.

Then one night, a man moves in to the apartment next door with a young girl around Oskar’s age. She is Eli (Lina Leandersson), and as she explains, she has been 12 for a very, very long time…

Let The Right One In boasts a solid script as John Ajvide Lindqvist adapts his own pulp horror novel of the same name, but it is the elegance of the filming that lifts the whole beyond its b-movie roots. If there is a flaw, it is that the film remains frustratingly light on its meaning, preferring to gently touch issues of sexual awakening and confusion, of responsibility and the nature of supposedly loving relationships, rather than exploring them to any depth. But stacked against this is truly beautiful cinematography, stunning composition and a superb sense of pacing.

The deft touch director Tomas Alfredson brings is masterful. Subtle touches speak volumes, such as the way Eli first jumps down from a climbing frame outside her apartment building and lands just a little too lightly. Also, her voice is dubbed by another actress (Elif Ceylan) with a deep, almost otherwordly tone. The dubbing is carefully covered with very few shots of Eli’s lips throughout the film.

Oskar’s world is a cold, bleak, eerily beautiful Sweden of the 1980s. It is all white snow and blank concrete, with even Oskar’s own skin being pale to the point of near-translucence. Into this world comes Eli and the carefully drawn picture of these two incredibly lonely beings reaching out to one another is at once tender and unnerving as we know only too well, through bursts of violence, just how dangerous Eli is. Her own human protector is becoming old and ineffective, while Oskar finds in Eli the strength he needs to stand up to his bullies and, ultimately, the weapon to enact his vengeance.

Let The Right One In is fashioned with a delicate touch, horrific in its violence, beautiful in its relationships and sinister in its overtones and perversion of the classic coming of age love story. Powerful and poetic, this is one of the finest horror films of the decade.

Let the Right One In is available on R4 DVD from Vendetta Films.

Tokyo Gore Police

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Set sometime in the future, Tokyo Gore Police tells the story of Ruka (Eihi Shiina of Audition fame) a member of the Tokyo Police Corporation whose specialty is hunting Engineers, a mutant breed of super-criminal with the ability to transform any injury into a weapon. While fighting the good fight Ruka stumbles upon evidence relating to the murder of her father and is soon drawn deeper into the world of the Engineers in pursuit of the truth.

Tokyo Gore Police takes the best parts of films such as Robocop, Starship Troopers, Videodrome & Tetsuo and blends them into an over-the-top satirical splatterfest the likes of which I can honestly say I’ve never had the pleasure of witnessing before. Within the opening five minutes the blood & guts is already flowing freely and it continues to do so throughout. It’s obvious special effects/make-up is director Yoshihiro Nishimura’s first love, as at times TGP almost begins to resemble an FX reel rather than a film. Continue reading

The Protectors [Series 1]

Protectors-DVDWith the success of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo it was inevitable that there would be interest in any new (and a revival of old) Scandinavian crime related sensations. First it was the murder mystery series The Killing with its Twin Peaks-esque whodunit tease-fest and now the Danish series The Protectors.

The Protectors also known as “Livvagterne”, is a series about a Danish Personal Protection Unit. We follow three recruits: Arab born Jasmina El-Murad, Danish born Rasmus Poulsen, and Jewish Jonas Goldschmid as they go through the annual admission test and go on to become protectors.

The show focuses on the three protecting their clients, while exploring their lives, the clients’ lives and some major political themes affecting Denmark. The most central recurring theme is the impact of Muslim culture and its assimilation into Danish culture. To balance this out it also deals with issues such as White Extremists, political, environmental, and moral corruption.

The Protectors is a very multi-cultural show and in the eyes of Anders Behring Breivik this aspect would serve to prove his notion of the “Islamic Threat” and how Scandinavian culture is being destroyed. In wake of his actions watching a show like this does make you consider how traditions and cultures might get forgotten amidst so much culture. Having said that it’s really up to the individual to judge the nature of the show. This is obviously an issue in Denmark and they are not focusing only on extremism but the reasons for it.

Ultimately The Protectors is a nice break from the typical cop/action series. We get something a bit more fleshy and realistic although it still manages to provide some action and suspense sequences. One thing Scandinavian films and TV always excel in is character development and the show is more about the characters than the action which again is a nice change. Recommended for those who liked The Killing.

Madman’s release of Series 1 consists of 10 episodes spread over 3 discs with no special features.

Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

Suicide Club

SuicideClubDVDA subway station loaded with people await the arrival of the express train to Tokyo. As the announcement of its approach is made over the loudspeaker, 54 schoolgirls move to the edge of the platform in one long line. They hold hands, count to three, then all leap in front of the oncoming train, showering the entire station in a massive spray of blood. As opening scenes go, it is hard to top.

So begins Shion Sono’s Suicide Club.

More suicide follow, apparently completely unrelated to each other. The police, led by Detective Toshiharu Kuroda (Ryo Ishibashi from The Grudge and Audition) move to investigate and make a grisly discovery – two rolls of human skin, stitched together in ten centimetre strips from around 200 people. Combined with a mysterious web site that counts the suicides before they occur, it becomes quickly apparent there is some kind of force behind the suicides…

Suicide Club is a difficult film to categorise. Part mystery thriller, part horror movie, part social commentary, it shifts tone a number of times and even protagonists. Despite this somewhat disjointed feel, the core mystery – why are people killing themselves? – gives the narrative momentum. Add to this some often surreal imagery and ambition that far outstrips its modest production budget and it is clear why this is often regarded as something of a cult classic.

The facets of the mystery – including the possible involvement of pre-teen J-pop band “Dessert” (alternatively called “Desert” and “Dessart” in the subtitles) – are diverse enough to maintain interest as red herrings and bizarre occurrences litter the story. This is engaging, energetic stuff.

If there is a flaw in the film, it is that the final stages are somewhat confused, to the point that the central “live for yourself, not for the approval of others” message of the story risks being muddled. But the scathing view of the way modern culture jumps on trends, no matter how foolish or even destructive they are, remains acidic throughout.

With such rich subject matter, it is a bit of a shame that this DVD is a bare bones release. A commentary or even interviews to discuss some of the issues raised would have been extremely welcome. The transfer is also quite grainy, but certainly adequate enough.

An effective blend of entertainment and a blacker-than-pitch sense of humour with some worthy intellectual musings, Suicide Club is an excellent film and deserving of more than its avid cult following. Are you connected to yourself?

Available from Madman Entertainment.

Mother

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Do-joon (Bin Won) has a widowed mother (Hye-ja Kim) who is utterly devoted to him. He may be simple, but he’s all she has and she works hard to support them both. Doting and protective, she only wants the best for him.

Then, one night, a local schoolgirl is found brutally murdered and the evidence found at the scene points to Do-joon, who has no memory of the night. Naive and easily confused, he is quickly taken into custody and ends up confessing to the killing.

But his mother is not so easily convinced and begins a one-woman campaign to find the truth about the murder and clear her son’s name…no matter what it takes. Continue reading

Himizu

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Based on the Manga by Minoru Furuya but altered slightly to include recent events, Himizu tells the tale of two disturbed 14-year-olds trying to find hope in a devastated post-quake Japan.

Opening with documentary-style handycam footage of the disaster sites, we are immediately given a taste of the bitter flavour that will permeate the rest of the film. Then enters Sumida, a coldly nihilistic teen whose goal in life is to be nothing more than ordinary; living in a ramshackle hut with some older homeless folks, he assumes he’ll one day take over his father’s business renting boats. Then his mother abandons him and his father racks up a rather large debt to the Yakuza then goes on the lam leaving Yuichi to deal with it. Though he does occasionally return to mock and belittle his son, urging him to commit suicide. To add to these hardships he has a very intense and obsessed girl named Keiko following him around.

Keiko’s home life is hardly any better. Her parents are in the process of building a gallows in their living room for her to end her life on. She attaches herself to Sumida and, despite being constantly physically and verbally abused by him, slowly earns his trust and friendship. Together they seem to find some kind of solace while violence rages around them.

There’s also a sub-plot concerning one of Sumida’s elderly friends befriending a pickpocket in an attempt to learn his skills and pay off the debt which involves the burglary and murder of a violent (Japanese) Neo-Nazi youth, complete with SS bolts shaved into his hair and Swastika flag prominently displayed.

Though very different than previous works such as Cold Fish or Love Exposure – in fact I’d say it has more in common with something like Wakamatsu’s Go, Go Second Time Virgin than these titles – Himizu still retains Sono’s unmistakable thumbprint. It’s an incredibly powerful film with a palpable undercurrent of emotional instability running throughout. And whether it’s Keiko’s uncomfortably hyper state or Sumida’s homicidal outbursts, the looping Mozart piece that serves as the score only works to heighten things.

With the constant references to the country’s state, nuclear power and mass stabbing epidemics, Himizu is perhaps Sono’s message of hope to Japan in the wake of disaster: in spite of all odds the teens manage to “never give up!”.

There’s a 72 minute Making Of and a selection of deleted scenes as extras. Clearly the Making Of is the stand-out extra here both in terms of quality and quantity and it’s not just focused on making the film, there’s interviews with actors and producers which helps it from becoming too stale.

DIRECTOR(S): Sion Sono | COUNTRY: Japan | YEAR 2011 | DISTRIBUTOR(S): Madman | RUNNING TIME: 129 minutes | ASPECT RATIO: 1.85:1 Widescreen | REGION: 4 / PAL | DISCS: 1

Princess

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When famous porn star Christina Christensen dies, her brother August arrives on the scene to take custody of her five-year-old daughter, Mia. August, a priest, quickly find that the little girl has been deeply and cruelly affected by her association with the seedy world of pornography and so he begins a violent crusade of vengeance to wipe all traces of his sister’s career from the face of the Earth. His main target is Charlie, the nebulous porn king and lover of Christina, the man responsible for setting her on the path to notoriety.

Anders Morgenthaler’s debut film is a strong piece in every sense of the word. It has a singular vision, it does not shirk away from the darkness and it features superbly stylish animation blended with live-action footage. Plotwise, it is pretty adherent to the conventions of the revenge flick, but this is a movie far more interested in matters of theme and tone. Continue reading

[REC]

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Some horror movies have a cerebral bent, using the supernatural or extreme as metaphors for daily horrors and social issues. Others aim for a psychological effect, to tap into collective fears and deeper psychoses. Then there are movies like Spanish festival hit [REC], that simply aim to create the cinematic equivalent of a rollercoaster – a feat that [REC] most definitely achieves.

Angela (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman Pablo are heading out to follow a couple of firemen around on their nightly duties as part of their ‘day in the life’ TV programme, “While You’re Asleep”. However, an apparently routine call to free an elderly woman trapped in her apartment suddenly becomes more sinister when the whole building is closed off with Angela, Pablo and the firemen still in it due to some kind of mysterious disease outbreak.

[REC] is all shown through Pablo’s camera, in that Cannibal Holocaust/Blair Witch Project style that has become very big recently through such releases as Diary of the Dead, Cloverfield and The Zombie Diaries – although [REC] (narrowly) precursors all of these.

It is a style that aims to immerse the audience into the action to increase the thrills – and here, it works magnificently due to some terrific and clever work behind the camera and solid work in front. In particular, Velasco proves utterly charming in her role and we immediately sympathise with her even though her role for much of the film is reduced to running and screaming.

The premise is simple and the plot streamlined, but the script is deceptively intelligent. Minor characters are remarkably well-drawn so that even in a relatively large cast, everyone remains distinctive. From the bickering and confused elderly couple, to the preening camp hairdresser, to the young agent badly out of his depth yet struggling for control and Manu, the fireman who proves himself heroic and resourceful, all are painted as real human beings.

The filming is even more intricate. The conceit of Pablo being a professional cameraman, used to chasing journalistic subjects, allows the filmmakers to ease off the ‘shaky cam’ and shots are perfectly lit and framed for maximum effect. Take, for example, the shot where Angela is breathlessly talking to camera with a dead body in the background over her shoulder. As she speaks, she keeps moving so the body drops out of view behind her and we are constantly wondering, has it got back up? Is it going to suddenly jump on her?

There are jump scares galore, but the pacing is perfect. The story allows for lulls, where we explore characters and get background information, before launching into the next eruption of chaos. Everything culminates in a killer climax and in a razor-sharp 75 minutes, the film is as tight as a drum.

Any flaws are relatively minor. The story is very simple and there is no attempt at any kind of depth beyond surface thrills and at one point proceedings resort to that hoariest of horror exposition cliches – the Wall of Newspaper Clippings.

But such quibbles are trying to pick holes in what is a massively enjoyable movie. Co-directors Jaume Balaguero (Darkness, The Nameless) and Paco Plaza (Romasanta) have delivered serviceable but unspectacular work in the past, but [REC] is glorious, visceral entertainment.

After a successful run at various film festivals (including the 2008 New Zealand Film Festival), [REC] received worldwide theatrical runs; except in the USA where it was locked down until its rapidly-greenlit Hollywood remake could be rushed out, Quarantine. It is, however, difficult to see how a remake would improve on the original in this case – [REC] is a lean, mean thrill machine of a movie and undoubtedly one of the horror films of the year.

Extras:
  • Extended scenes
  • Behind the scenes
  • Casting and rehearsal footage
  • Trailer
  • Image gallery

Available on R4 DVD from Vendetta Films.

Yatterman

Yatterman-2009To say Japanese director Takashi Miike has had a varied career is a gross understatement. Incredibly prolific, Miike has dozens of features to his credit and they run a wide gamut in subject matter and style. His international reputation has been founded on the bizarre, the extreme and the unpredictable. As such, his adaptation of the 70s childrens’ anime Yatterman was always going to be something a bit out of the ordinary.

Continue reading