Saturday, 30 November 2013

Nihilistic Love: Noisy Requiem (1988)


Dir. Yoshihiko Matsui

Noisy Requiem is set in desolate places. Junk yards. Building rooftops. Red light districts and pachinko parlours. Obscure business offices. Backyard fields of weeds and industrial concrete. Any contact with the wider world, in this independently funded film, taking my steps into the rarely available jishu eiga underground films, is 'stolen' with documentarian capturing of the images without permits. Or distant like there are glass walls and ceilings baring the characters of the film to be noticed. In some cases the outside world runs away from them. It is mostly slum area. Shin Sekai, Osaka, a place of immense homelessness. The entire economic and social ups and downs visible on the locations onscreen like if you could film the council houses here in my own country. There is a violent young man whose only existing love for another, any love to anyone as he may even hate himself, is for a female mannequin, planning to raise a child with her. Going as far as giving her the organs needed from unwilling donors. A man and his very young sister, his care for her beyond convention. A homeless man who drags around a tree stump the shape of the lower half of a woman, perfectly so you wonder if a poor tree nymph was killed and cut up for firewood. A midget brother and sister, who run a sewer cleaning business, she feeling the immense distance from the world and progressing to random acts of destruction in a need she may not even know of. It sounds purposely transgressive. It is trangressive. It breaks so many taboos. It sounds absurd and the Japanese answer to Pink Flamingos (1972) before Takashi Miike's Visitor Q (2001) came to existence. People would dismiss it as another example of weird Japanese cinema, but with only the films to go by themselves, in their own worlds and contexts, many of them are more reflecting and artistically minded than you think.

Noisy Requiem is black and white. Beautiful in its ugliness and ugly in its beauty. Made independently, director Yoshihiko Matsui used the fact he was making a guerrilla movie to his advantage. Handheld cameras move with the dexterity I've only seen in the films of Akio Jissoji. Encapsulated, as the violent young man berates two disabled veterans of World War II, by the cameraman running around the water fountain behind them, on the other side secretly hearing on them and not getting involved, twirling around, thinking better of it, and running back to watch defencelessly as the violent man eventually gets a claw hammer out of his back pocket. Tinny synth doesn't detract from the film, and there is moments of tender piano music to counteract this music choice. To get high, almost eye-of-God shots, someone sat on a roof. Recording in one scene schoolgirls, like the pigeons the young man kills in the beginning, fleeing on  mass like running, liquid mercury. A rooftop was set on fire, and the person(s) who hid filming real fireman assess the damage never got caught and managed to get the footage into the film. Independent cinema here is suicidal in its bravery in getting the shots desired. In trying anything. Blurring the lines between fiction and real when it seems characters are hassling real people. It is not a static camera in a room filming dull conversation between the characters no one cares about like in other films.

You are forced to follow characters who have no moral grounding. There is incest. Blood. The desire for another literally consuming. But Matsui is on their side, having called this a film about true love. "True love", such an odd choice of words at first against such nihilistic, taboo breaking material where someone shows their love to another, a mannequin, by licking bird shit off their cheeks. But even if the characters could never be real, at least to a rational, "normal" society, the film is calm, lingeringly slow to the point you follow it carefully. Rationalising this behaviour from the characters' perspectives. Some of it is so twisted its sickly humorous, but you feel pity, then ask if they're the miscreants or if the ordinary public barely seen are worse. The only people from this part of the society, who are sympathetic and aren't faceless, are two schoolgirls in the beginning. One recounts the dream she had which is the central idea of the film, a white dove prevented from getting seeds by pigeons, and turning into a black crow who kills to survive. To live in this film's outskirts, you have to even harm other, and normality itself can be even more grotesque and sadistic, as takes place on a public bus full of bulling, sideshow caricatures. The main characters for all their crimes they commit are trying to rationalise their own existences let alone the one outside theirs.

At two hours, nearly forty minutes, Noisy Requiem becomes trance-like. You stop being offended by the content because you're living through the characters' eyes for so long, the daily rhythms, that you live in their place outside of perceived existence. Switching between characters, the film becomes confusing at times, what actually is happening in reality up for debate, but keeps a consistent and enticing tone. Fantasy eventually breaks through to sit alongside the disgusting, vomit and blood matched by rivers existing on rooftops and a split in time, a split of a body into two, long before Uncle Boonmie Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) did it too twenty two years later. If the film is depressing, it at least gives you characters to care about. If its vulgar and offensive, it at least lingers on the aftermaths with thought, that causes you to actually feel pain than let the incidents merely pass, as if they were acceptable, as in politer mainstream films. If it's rough, messy in presentation, maybe too long, it at least tried. And trying means more when you see a film like this that feels something. Characters searching for true love. All from an area completely isolated from the rest of the world. The homeless, the lost, the physically and mentally disabled (by birth, by accident or by war), those born with dwarfism, minorities or those to paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson are "too weird to live". Pity changes to showing your own hypocrisy. Even if these fictitious characters are miserable, at least they're trying to live. The last image of the film is an extreme close-up of a woman's face. You've seen her wander aimlessness. And the film actually makes you care for her when something else would make her a freak to gawk at or to only pity with a clear distance between you and her. There's no distance in Noisy Requiem.


Thursday, 28 November 2013

Videotape Swapshop: The Falls (1980)


Dir. Peter Greenaway

Birdmen. Human flying. Bird puns. Bird films. Avant-garde films. Twins. Faux twins. Typo errors. This and so much more exists in The Falls, a film that is both hilarious and profound. That's all I really need to say about it.

Review Link -

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Going Through The To-Watch List #2: Odin - Photon Space Sailer Starlight (1985)


Dirs. Eiichi Yamamoto, Takeshi Shirato, Toshio Masuda and Yoshinobu Nishioka

Odin... is a folly. Its negative legacy is understandable. It has so many problems. Tonal ones. Length related ones. Consistency ones. But I cannot hate it. I'm drawn to films this sincere in their failure. Plus there is much worse in existence. Really much worse in existence in animation and live action. This was a cakewalk for me for a film infamous for its length. When you get into world cinema through Satantango (1994), that's nearly eight hours long, you've jumped into the deep end of the cinematic swimming pool rather than start with the arm floats in the kiddy one. I can think of ninety minute films that have felt like dental operations compared to this one's lengthy stroll. The film, past this, is a mega budget folly in the truest sense. In anime there is a series called Space Battleship Yamato (1974-1975). One of the most well regarded anime ever made. One of the most loved. Ordinary people on the street in Japan, even if they are older now, know of the show not just a small club of otaku. One of the creators, Leiji Matsumoto, became incredibly famous. The other creator, the late Noboru Ishiguro, has contributed a great deal to the industry but he was also notorious with stories under his belt. One of which involved live howitzer shells. Odin... was supposed to be a landmark. One of the highest budgets for Japanese animation. It shows. The first part of a planned franchise. It failed miserably and the result is usually scorned.

A test flight of a new experimental spacecraft, designed to look like a sailboat but laser and gravity-based energy to propel its sails. The test is interrupted when the new crew get a distress signal on the other side of our galaxy. Finding only a female survivor, they are led on to a journey to a planet called Odin. The possibilities to travel light years ahead to a new civilisation are too tempting to the crew as they mutiny against their officers. Once on their way, they discover a threat to them and their own world. Pretty simple plot. The mentality of Star Trek for global exploration. Grandiose and for all mankind. The prologue is an elaborate story of the history of sailing on Earth. Vikings. Christopher Columbus. An ode to sea travel and discovering new land expanded to outer space for new cosmic sailors, with the mechanics for space travel in their world explained. All shown with a sombre narration and classical orchestration. Then suddenly the film proper starts. A space station where the test ship, the Starlight, will set off from. Someone suddenly appears on camera, pointing to the side and shouts "Go!". The young crew start running around like idiots on the ship for what feels like a whole music video. It is a music video. A cheesy and ridiculous glam metal job by Japanese band Loudness blares out over the images. Immediately there's a discrepancy. The orchestra has wandered off. Christopher Columbus's future generation are being propelled by eighties cock rock.

The schizoid tonal shifts stay. Serious melodrama at one moment, silly the next. It wants to be profound, fed by its high budget and wide eyed in its view of cosmic travel. But the music by Loudness  is there. And the rest of the score, while catnip for me, is still eighties dated synth. You immediately get the logic jumps in the script as it goes along. One key protagonist failed to get on the ship, punching his trainer in the final exam. Yet illegally commandeers  a personal spacecraft, gets on board the Starlight, and is not put in an improvised prison hold but allowed to help through the lark of the boatswain. The film cannot keep its point together. Its charmingly naive for me. So earnest and goofy at the same time. But you will laugh if the film doesn't drain you. Countless mentions of the "mizzenmast" will come as an improvised drinking game you will lose. The countless galactic navel laws broken in the name of exploring the universes have to be ignored completely. What's with the Norwegian references, alongside the ones of Viking mythology, and considering the sole female character is supposed to be Norwegian herself, Sarah Cyanbaker doesn't exactly sound Scandinavian either. When she screams she cannot take it, because it's too much, the film's fed a line into the hands of people whose brains were scrambled by the film and want to get revenge on it.

The film would have been good nonetheless for many, even unintentionally, if it kept itself focused. It has to be enforced how good it looks. When someone would be suicidal enough to do so much detail on each animation cel. The galaxies depicted are like that of acid rock music and someone staring at a lava lamp for too long. Pink nebulas. Strange machine men. Eighties hair. A random inclusion of blue, space snake-dragons made from blue fire passing through the stars that just looks awesome regardless. The ship's graveyard that exists out of time and dimension completely and looks likes the contents of a spinning colour wheel or of a Skittles bag. Action wise, the animation allows for dense, exhilarating combat sequences by themselves especially by the end. Yet the film is incredibly dumb alongside being this cool. It will have characters suddenly turned a function in the ship into, say, an improvised wave cannon just because. "Just because" is Odin's modus operandi. Usually it's a loved aspect of anime but here it's a complete jump required for some of the moments when whole plot trajectories are based around them. Then there is the bigger problem. The film is two hours, nineteen minutes long. I've said already that I have seen far longer work and that I resisted Odin...'s length and pace issues. I even like it's this long, when most anime is under ninety minutes feature length. But even I admit it feels too long, or actually, not put together well enough to justify the length. The film's not a piece of garbage as its reputation says it is, but for all its virtues, it's a structural mess. Four directors. Three screenwriters. I was grinning when the warp speed sequence for the Starlight was shown, golden orange glow blurring the entire screen, and still was each time, but having said that having this sequence five times at least in the film is overkill. It's not spectacular when the mutiny feels like when the crew ran around the ship like idiots in the beginning, with the same Loudness song, but funny. It's not a good idea to intercut the serious dramatics with unintentional humour. By its end its stating the obvious, naive views of human kindness and the coldness of machinery, while yet being about how great the robots look animated. And as archetypes the characters are barely detailed. Someone has a grandmother back on Earth, but he even calls her "Granny" and that's all we get of her or any person close to the characters. And at over two hours, it's going to feel long even for someone like me resistant to it, still able to feel the time pass despite being resistant to the brunt of the sensation. Even I confess to looking at the running time left at points and being amazed about how much more left there was of it.

The film is a folly of excess. It shines with beauty in its production. Its good intentions are nice. It's not a piece of excessive capitalist rubbish, wasting money for the sake of it, but a folly of someone wanting to make a work that moves metaphorical mountains. True mega budget films are like this. The virtues and the terrible mistakes both have to be admired to appreciate the whole film. When money was like tap water in the eighties, you got weird, obscure straight-to-video anime, it was possible for a film like Mamoru Oshii's Angel's Egg (1985) to be made and put in a cinema, and an attempt like Odin... at a spectacle wouldn't be seen as a really bad idea. But while I wish, too young and born in the wrong country to appreciate it from an eye witness's place, for this era to return, a large chunk of the remembered anime from that era, barring the few mainstream successes, weren't big hits. Even the big hits were hits for a cult fanbase of anime otaku. Its not dissimilar to live action cinema in the West at the same time. When Blade Runner (1982) was a film unsuccessful at the box office than a cult masterpiece.  Odin... tries to be something which makes it more rewarding. It's not merely being as average as possible. I can think of anime which is far more pointless in its existence than this one. I would rather have the majestic folly of this film, which tried its damned hardest but only failed. I can only enjoy its failure because it feels more genuine as well as being thick headed. The ending credits is live action footage of the band Loudness playing another song. Tight leather pants. Poodle hair. Fog machines turned up to eleven. A rudimental placement of the animated Starlight going over them. This is not how you're supposed to end a film trying to be serious, but what the hell? I have the song now on my iPod, knowing how ridiculous it is. The opening guitar riff is irresistible. It fits the amusing bombast of a film completely. The bombast of the film, no matter how misguided it was, was worth the spectacle. 


Monday, 25 November 2013

Videotape Swapshop: Space Adventure Cobra (1982)

Dir. Osamu Dezaki

This film has grown on me. The imagery. The sensuality. How damn cool it is while still being humourous in the same way the Lupin The Third anime I have seen is. Its sad that something this playful, that's not the ultraviolent anime of the nineties for men only, but more larkish while techincally beautiful and experimental, is missing now. It proves you can have a romp while pushing the boundaries of how animation can look. Without being silly because its able to be silly itself and completely sincere in its too. I can hope one day that this changes, when everyone gets bored with anime high school, or the industry collapses and the crazed offspring of the most die hard animators, who wanted to cut their teeth on their own work, get the chance to try something. I'm hoping for something ludicrous, but something this awesome and fun is something I'm begging more for.

Review Link -


Saturday, 23 November 2013

Videotape Swapshop Review: The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962)


Dir. Jesús Franco

Another Videotape Swapshop review, and more Franco. Like a reliving high, I can jump back to reviewing another of his films and always find something of interest. Only my own inconsistency with using Jesús and Jess for his first name is going to give me grief one day if I don't get a consistence first name moniker for him in my writing, especially when I'm LONG before ever getting through a quarter of his work. I was thinking about starting on another director, next year, that I felt I had barely seen work from and wanted to compensate for the embarrassment, but I had to choose a director whose filmography is over the hundreds as the first, meaning I'll be with Franco for a while at the same time. Its damn great to be watching his works which is the thing I'll be going to in my mind every time I think this, and I only wish I started becoming a fan of his while he was still alive. But as I watched this early work of his, I can say fully that he left a vast library of work that expands when you think you've pinned the late Spaniard down fully in tropes.

Review Link -


Thursday, 21 November 2013

Videotape Swapshop Review: Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)


Dir. Jeff Burr

Another Videotape Swapshop review, and the other threequel I covered. Sequels are always a fickle concept. Any premise could lead to a justifiable sequel unless it closed the book on its content completely in a single film. Even then, its possible for some to become a franchise if good filmmaking was involved. The problem is whether there's actual 'good filmmaking' involved because sequels are usually made only for economic purposes and not with the optimism for making something interesting. In this franchise's advantage, there was a good first sequel in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II (1986). I reviewed that film months ago, so covering this second sequel is a nice follow-on. Would I cover The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)? Yeah I definately will one day, here on Swapshop. This franchise has a better track record than others I've seen, baring the terrible Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013), and while I've not seen all the films, I've seen a fascianting spectrum of differnt attitudes through all the films. From the original's raw tone, to number 2's greater emphasis on blackest of black humour, to this one's grimy nineties tone, they all have something of interesting in them from the original four of the franchise. Yes, even The Next Generation when I get around to it.

Review Link -


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Going Through The To-Watch List #1 - Bare Behind Bars (1980)


Dir. Oswaldo de Oliveira

With this I'm starting a project that this blog will be incredibly useful in pushing along - clearing out my To-Watch pile. It's not a significant problem, avoiding an obvious pun considering the first film I'm covering, but I want to clear and rewatch through films I've had for up to five years now. It's going to last up to next year, and while I won't review all of them, and there will likely be some bad films I have to go through, there will be at least some peculiar choices within this project. Like Bare Behind Bars. Note the version I viewed was technically censored. For me a single second can have a drastic change on a final film, but I can still fully review this Brazilian women-in-prison film once banned in Britain because, while 1 minute and 35 seconds have been removed by request of the BBFC here, I don't think it drastically changes the film. If an uncut version was available would I watch that one and get a new review from it? Maybe, but this one is fine as it is.


This is certainly one of scuzziest films I've reviewed on this blog, barring of course Alien From The Darkness (1996) for Videotape Swapshop, the difficulty in finding screenshots that have no nudity in them a little harder here because it's a key point of the film and rampant in this content for eighty percent of its sum total. I've avoided nudity and sex in a lot of my screenshot choices over the year or so of adding them to my blog reviews, out of a desire of not coming off as another male film fan whose just obsessed with bared breasts and nudity, thus alienating any potential female readers, but this review is going to have a bit of perversion this time. There was an explicit tag before you enter this site for this reason.


There's actually not a lot of plot here in the film. A group of convicts in an all female prison slowly plan to escape. Aside from this, the film is bordering on aimless porn but only reaches softcore which just skips to the sex instead of much actual plot. In a rat infested, oppressive prison of torture and neglect everyone has given up and, barring that group who want to escape, decided to shag her nearest neighbours, even prison guard, no stop. The head warden sleeps with her prisoners or sends them off to be playthings for older women, the guards are sleeping with everyone, the bubble headed nurse is in a relationship with one prisoner full of bizarre habits, and the prisoners themselves are literally passing dildos on the same fishing line, from one cell to the other, they trade secret messages on. It truly feels like porn, the removed footage for the British television screening (?!) actually pornographic content, and emphasises this tone by crash cuts to any random sexual acts it could imagine taking place, from 69ing to a phallic cut pineapple being licked. Instantly the area of the male subconscious called "guilt" is reached and asks "should I be watching this?", only for the answer to be a lot more complicated when thought about carefully. The film itself is trashy, with no regard for eroticism, emotion, romance or relationships, just wall-to-wall nudity and titillation. Like the nurse character, high on her own ether stocks and completely weird even if she wasn't on it continually, this film is off-its-gourd in tone. Bafflement is a more likely response to it than actual offense.

What do you react to in a film like this? Honestly, to get offended by it, if you're not the target audience who would find it a turn on or giggling at its brazen tone, is pointless. There is worse in existence. There are obvious issues still with the content but even an absolute greenhorn like myself in the area of sexuality has learnt how complex this and gender politics actually are. Some will be understandably shocked by the sexualised degradation, with some torture too, but it's no way near as shocking now and barely scrapping the world of BDSM that, despite my little knowledge of it, still has humiliation and dominance scenarios more extreme than shown in here. And that's not taking into account completely fantastical scenarios or sexual masochism like with the direction the late artist/performer Bob Flanagan took it to. The potential gender issues, of a film made by a man for men to drool over stereotypes of lesbians, is more of an issue for me in the discrepancy of material made by people of both genders and all sexualities. If there was a market for it, and people were allowed the budgets and international distribution these exploitation films had, there should have been women-in-prison erotica made by lesbians for lesbians. There should have been ones set in an all male prison with homoerotic longings and lusting over the pained and battered male bodies. These films may actually exist, but in cult circles its patriarchal, heterosexual films like Bared Behind Bars that get the coverage and DVD releases, which is the discrepancy. This film is an example of a more significant issue to tackle in society, not the problem itself.


The actual, eye rolling issue with the film for me is, forgiving the actual pun of the review, the movie eventually loses its balls. For three quarters of it length, there are no male characters. One man appears and sleeps with a guard in the storage room, where everyone seems to go to have more intimate relationships, but it's a passing moment of fun between them with no connection to anyone else. The prison setting is one of misery, but the porno tone actually makes it seem that everyone is enjoying themselves way too much, where even taking a shower together sets the prisoners (and their watching guards) off, emphasised by the continuous amount of sex and nudity throughout. The head warden gets to the point she's completely knackered by the next morning from her relationship with one person each night before. Accidentally, for the exploitation content, the film suggests women characters completely disconnected from men and being perfectly content with their own company. When the escape story takes place it goes over to even more subversive areas at the beginning. Then a male or two panicked. The horrible moment in these exploitation films where social norms must win and patriarchy must dominate happens again. Suddenly female characters have to shack up with hairy men, rearing out that damn chestnut that "really, all women desire the love of a man", which is obnoxious, and honestly, feels like the threatened ideology of males jealous of women and compensating for a lack of testicular fortitude of their own. An all-male police force crack down on everyone, a male prison governor gets involved, and while you may be sympathetic to the anti-hero women, it feels like, in masculinity taking power from the female "perverts", my own gender was taking a dump in my mind and embarrassing itself again. This is the real piece of offence of Bared Behind Bars, not lots of very naked women grinding into each other, or in one case, bringing out the strap-ons.

The film even before this crumbles because it has no real plot or tone, just a series of sexual events. It's usually funny when the nurse is onscreen because, along with her English dubbing voice, everything she does is incredibly weird. But the film is dated. It's surprising how far this film goes in content but it's not shocking anymore. It's so full of sex every few minutes that it's not actually titillating, and being mere softcore it cannot become masturbatory material either when viewers could get actual porn online. It could have been sexually potent if there was actual eroticism, but set in dull, oppressive grey prison sets, the camera shows too much of the clearly artificial sets, and the content, upfront and with inmates writhing each other willy nilly like the contents of a gummy worms sweet bag on a vibrating chair, is comically trashy instead. There is something far more transgressive about this film than many others, befitting a country of origin that also gave birth to Coffin Joe, but barring this its nothing shocking or memorable unless you like the car crash of arbitrary nudity and that nurse's ridiculous behaviour. Compare it to Japan's Female Prisoner Scorpion films and it's a sitting target against those films and their technical craft and unconventionality. Its junk and its unfortunately not very memorable junk unless you include the moments where you ask "are those two women really doing that in the storage room?". But this is not memorable in a way beyond catching you off guard and being the moments you immediately conjure up separately then remember the rest of the film fully. My desensitisation to this kind of material influenced this opinion definitely, as I clear through films like this on my to-watch pile, but once you get to that point, you realise what is legitimately shocking and what's just tacky. There's a tacky thrill to the film, but while I'll defend it from accusations of the content, I'm not that fond of it that much by the end.

Your guess is as good as mine. 

Monday, 18 November 2013

Videotape Swapshop Review: Basket Case 3 - The Progeny (1992)


Dir. Frank Henenlotter

During this week I'm going to clear through the Videotape Swapshop reviews that have not had links posted up on my personal blog. I'll start with one of two films I choose for the site's "Threequels" series, the second sequel to a cult favorite. There's not much to say this time because my thoughts were pretty much written down in the review.

Review Link -


Saturday, 16 November 2013

Snake Fist of A Buddhist Dragon (1979)


Dir. Henry Cheung

If Henry Cheung is able to read this, I apologise for the comments I'm about to make. But with only this film on his IMDB page, any film connected to producer Joseph Lai and director Godfrey Ho causes me to wonder if the director's name is actually a pseudonym. I rented this film under the belief that Ho, infamous creator of numerous cut-and-paste ninja films made from pre-existing material, directed it. He is said to have written this, and it's still a film "produced" by Lai. I have many guilty pleasures that aren't really that guilty. But there's only two in cinema for me so far that have become obsessions - nineties anime, sometimes great, more interesting when it's a fragment of a story that never got an ending, always fascinating even when bad, and c-level martial arts films with poor English dubs and terrible DVD transfers. Joseph Lai could in fact become the first producer to get his own tag on this blog because of my obsession with his films. I love the martial arts films because they are, except the occasional dull one, completely unpredictable. They exist with clear traits different from other martial arts films. English dubs that sound silly and for some reason always seem to have an accent I presume to be Australian when I could be deluding myself. Ridiculous martial art skills used in even basic situations like chopping wood. Jump cuts and tricks straight from Georges Méliès magic films. The only real sour note with Joseph Kai, depending on your tolerance to exploitative content, is the sexism more pronounced in a genre where, in Chinese and Taiwan cinema, there are very strong female characters in the stories too. You have to bare it in mind with his films, sleazier than what martial art films usually are, clinging over some scenes in this one despite one of them having a great trick from a character of spitting needles from his mouth. These films feel more and away more interesting than other trashy sub-genre work though because of how creative and bizarre they are, let alone the fact that the performers and actors are solid martial artists even in technically mediocre work.

The story begins with a group of Chinese rebels having to protect itself when an evil Manchu organisation kidnap a female member for information on dissidents. From there its somewhat pointless to try to explain it because of how vague and all over the place it becomes. It does involve revenge. An orphan raised at a Shaolin temple who is taught martial arts. Behaviour that frankly doesn't seem logical to what real human beings would do. And befitting how Joseph Lai and Godfrey Ho used to make new films with pre existing footage, a big chunk of this one is made from fight sequences that are clearly from other work, existing ones or, as Lai and Ho did as well, unfinished projects, padding out a plot from it. It becomes shambolic very early on, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing with Snake Fist of A Buddhist Dragon. There is something curious and utterly entertaining about the recycling of previous material to create new things, beyond sampling to references, the seems glued together to make this film's eventually collapsing plot work fascinating to look at rather than to mock. Barely held together with characters like White Tiger and absurd moments, usually in the many fight scenes, this feels like viewing the footage of all the pulpiest martial arts films in its purest form, churned together into a single movie. Cutting out lifeless moments when the pace sags or when it was no longer entertaining to watch on of these films because it descended into dull, expository dialogue with no gain to it.

Even with the "bad" martial art films, I've found that many still have so much to enjoy and get from as entertainment. Brief moments, even when the plot is threadbare and the swearing filled English dub for this film is hysterically poor, shining out. A fight scene that is still exceptional in terms of the agility of the performers, a rudimentary visual effect or wire work trick, like a flying tray of food at one point, all of which evokes a childlike wonder, that even a bad film can still be memorable in a special way, mixed with the adult glee of exploitation cinema and z-grade pop culture where anything can happen around the corner even if the plot's obvious. Things happen not quite as you would expect them to in this film, and it's fun because this happens. Unlike other genres, where the things that entice viewers (gore, sex) can too easily mingle with tedious, time eroding paces and forced-out plotting, the immediate advantage of even a film like this one, that the actors are still more athletically superior than even many in Western action films, and have no qualm with acting out the most brutal, ridiculous and showboating stunts on a shoestring budget, is always engaging even if the film itself is in shambles from the get-go. Even in a film like this you get all the theatrics crossed with a culture steeped in well taught martial arts whose history and beliefs still seep into a work written by Godfrey Ho. Physical people doing psychical fighting, back flips, kicks, elaborate counters and strikes. Physical stunt falls. Physical visual effects from wires to the clear camera edit, by human hand, where a person disappears and reappears a distance further in a peculiar, near stop motion effect. Even the regurgitation of pre-existing material, for a buck, and the dub are physically made, the battered print of these kinds of films, on DVDs by third-grade companies long gone, adding  to their material rawness.

As two sides collide, the good Chinese rebels and the Manchu group, the cacophony of material is compelling as if sticking random pieces of these films together into a Surrealist's cut-up martial arts film project. Where you can have razor blade sewn into your cape to slash at people, but don't fear it stabbing into you as you were wearing it. Where you can get a hostage released by sneaking into the villain's lair and cutting all his hair off in his sleep, more significant as he is legitimately dangerous when he's sober and not drinking. The vulgar, messiest and trashy of material can be the most inspiring even if it's to amuse oneself, and a film like this, and the many I can get second hand in a martial arts section of a nearby store, remind me that looking at the bottom of a barrel can be just as creative and fanciful.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

An Introduction For Angel's Egg (1985)


Dir. Mamoru Oshii

[Note = This was originally an introduction for a project I'm part of on the forums for MUBI, which is why its tone may be a bit different. I hope you all can get something of interest from it though.]

Angel's Egg is now an even rare type of creation in the Japanese animation industry. Experimental anime still exists, even in pulpier areas, but with the economic issues taking place globally many industries are playing it safe and drawing back away from areas of bolder creation. Hollywood even went away from the mid-budget hard boiled action and crime films that were part of its bread-and-butter at one point, so how could another Angel's Egg be made in anime now unless it was a suicidal risk? In the eighties, with an economic boom, so many anime works were commissioned even though they were just made to let someone experiment or to try any idea out. Mostly these works were made for the new, and at times higher budgeted, straight-to-video market, with creations like California Crisis: Gun Salvo (1986) and Cosmos Pink Shock (1986) examples of the most obscure of the obscure I've at least seen myself, usually up to a mere forty minutes or so long, one off pieces with no original source material or follow-on, and only available now thanks to Western anime fans who have acquired Japanese VHS tapes and put up digital copies online. Angel's Egg is more significant in this area because it's a completely abstract film that was made to be shown in Japanese cinemas. It didn't do well, understandably despite wishing for a perfect world of the opposite, but it has built up a reputation. A lot of it is to do with two key men who created it. Director Mamoru Oshii, who would go on to make entries for the Patlabor franchise, the two Ghost in The Shell films, Avalon (2001) and The Sky Crawlers (2008), a chequered career in cerebral, acclaimed animation and live action experiments. The other is artist Yashitaka Amano, known most for his illustrations for the Vampire Hunter D  novels and his work for the Final Fantasy videogame series. But the film has gained a lot of status by itself for a lot of good reasons.


It's an incredibly surreal film. Even on this viewing, things in it do not make rational sense for me, more dreamlike and felt than connected together into a full conventional tale. But there is a clear through line within it. The world depicted is a dying one, desolate, destroyed, with remnants of a war still going on. A young girl wanders through an empty town keeping herself alive and carrying a giant egg, the egg incredibly precious to her that she guards it all the time. (The odd, accidental or purposeful, pregnancy motif when she carries it under her dress is either saying a lot about my own though process, or something to dig into another time with another person). A soldier encounters her, adamant to find out what's in the egg, following her with the possible intent of breaking it just to answer his questions. It's here that a very important piece of information about Oshii has to be taken into account. Oshii has been documented as being a Christian at some point, whether he is still or not unknown, to the point of considering entering a seminary. The drastic change, in the path of his life, that would lead him to instead become a celebrated auteur of anime cannot be ignored when viewing a film like this with its choice of Christian symbolism. Anime is notorious for its vague uses of this type of Christian-Judean religious symbolism, especially since the TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) became a leviathan of a work that brought more people to anime but made a hodgepodge said symbolism haphazardly with its real intellectual meat.  But Oshii's use of any symbolism, quotation or reference, even if you have difficulty with it, has always been done with some clear purpose, even in a film like this that is also clearly abstract.


The soldier, with bandages on his hands and carrying a staff/weapon shaped like a cross, doubts his existence and the meaning of it. His interpretation of the story of Noah and the Ark, in a key monologue in a film mostly without dialogue, is a very disillusioned one. He even questions whether he actually exists. The girl believes devoutly in her egg being something of importance, maybe even an egg of an actual angel, but he wants to break it open to see if this is true or prove his disillusionment forcibly on another person. There is also a group of fishermen in the town, but their prey are giant shadows of fish, which their spears merely pass through and damage their surroundings. It is missing the point to say the film is about blind faith in a "fictitious" God. Atheism is a religious belief in itself, just one where there is no God and the Holy Book is of natural science with no suggestion of it coexisting with a spiritual entity, and disillusionment with one's beliefs can be encountered in any person like it did for Mamoru Oshii. The soldier is trying to find himself, while at the same time he is just as questionable in letting his nihilism cloud his judgement and bully a young girl. In a destroyed world, one would ask if God actually exists. Even in our own world, November 2013 as I write this, the situation of the world with its centuries of war, religious conflict and disillusionment, and the wider realisation of the atrocities committed globally has made the issue of the existence of a God (or Gods), and the question of the existence of evil, more pertinent. Even whether one truly exists could be up to debate, as the soldier suggests to the girl they are being dreamt by another, such an ironic idea when said by a character hand drawn and made to breath and be alive through another person's hands. Even those who stayed faithful to the belief in a Christian God can suffer as well; a term, "the dark night of the soul", was coined in the sixteenth century to describe a rare sensation where certain Christians felt they were completely alone, that God was completely absent in existence and their beliefs may have been wrong. In the New Testament itself, Jesus Christ, said to be part of God Himself as well as His Son, screamed while on the Cross why he has been forsaken for a brief moment. The crisis Angel's Egg depicts is that of the loss of a surface to even place one's foundations, one's feet, on. Oshii in his career would explore these themes in different areas, asking what makes us human, with the "soul" against technology in the Ghost In The Shell films, and in the plot events of The Sky Crawlers.


The film looks beautiful. Painstakingly animated in ways rarely done now if ever. It looks legitimately ethereal in tone and look through Amano's character designs. It sounds beautiful and mysterious in its score by Yoshihiro Kanno. Its paced slowly, so slowly time seems to abruptly holt at one point with a character just sitting there in the dark. Unfortunately this kind of anime is not being made available. This film is not available commercially in the West, and other inventive works like Belladonna of Sadness (1973) aren't either. As much as anime at its best, in its pulpiest genre based material, can be so brave and creative in its aesthetics and ideas, films like Angel's Egg have been left stranded. The key target audiences of anime are young teenagers who haven't been given an opportunity to grasp slow paced, cerebral work that is not punctuated by Facebook links. Or adult geeks of both genders that, stereotypically but honestly at times, are more interested in alarming sexual fetishes involving fictional school girls or boys, or want to stay in their adolescences permanently, considering what is mostly being made now in anime, not something like this film about the existence of God. An audience needs to be built for Angel's Egg so it can be finally released. It's the strongest piece so far for me in Mamoru Oshii's filmography, and one of the most potent works made in this medium.


Friday, 8 November 2013

Somewhere, In Australia... [Houseboat Horror (1989)]


Dirs. Kendal Flanagan and Ollie Martin

I went into Houseboat Horror knowing how bad it was likely to be. Scraping the bucket of Australian exploitation films, it's also a while past the golden age of American slasher films its transposing to the outback. I really don't like the slasher subgenre. I'm willing to watch them still, to be a completist, in hope of finding one or a few I would like, always willing to give something another chance. To maybe be converted into a slasher film fan who can get past the flaws and love the films with enthusiasm. This subgenre can be great, technically starting with Halloween (1978), a damn good film let alone a great one in the subgenre. Even if Houseboat Horror was ridiculous, it may have still been entertaining, to a lesser extent The Nail Gun Massacre (1985), more obviously the jaw dropping Pieces (1982). But the concept of the slasher film could be seen as easy to dismiss, workmanlike in creation, with no atmosphere, teenagers being picked off repetitiously whose only characterisation is the bland dialogue that fails to give them character and their dated fashion. Going through the z-grade slashers would make these factors worse. But I wanted to enjoy Houseboat Horror even as bad trash.


Dear Lord, it was worse than I presumed it to be!


A rock band, subjective because their music is diabolically bad, dated pop with tinny synth, go to record a music promo, renting a houseboat or two and travelling up the river of the Australian woodland. Unfortunately a killer with clear burn marks on their flesh is stalking around the isolated location picking off unwelcomed visitors. After that, if you've seen at least one, imagine the bog standard slasher plotline. And if you watch Houseboat Horror, prepare for the worst. I didn't expect it to be this cheap looking. Shot on a low price video camera from near the turn of the early nineties. Awful music that evokes the low rent cousin of a Casio keyboard. The title is shown as a cheap text made on a computer of the time. It could be seen as cruel to dismiss this from the beginning, but my heart sank when it came obvious that the creators weren't trying at all here. Even if passion was here, it was for such low aspirations. They merely wanted to make an average slasher film with no creativity, and the realisation of how painful the film would be grew when a main character was introduced and spoke. I wanted to avoid evoking the word "Neighbours", as in the Australian soap opera shown on the BBC and the show my parents once watched all the time, even though it was in my head, because I feared it could be seem as racist, by accident, to immediately evoke this for an Australian film. Then I discovered one of the directors of this made episodes of Neighbours. That series was at least a soap opera with some ridiculous drama. This is that soap opera stiltedness through the lowest budget possible and as horrible as it sounds.


In another context, stuff in the film would be entertaining even if it was technically bad. There is one laugh that I had surrounding a running motif of a jet ski. As the band make the promo and cavort, sleep around and drink, they brought a jet ski with them since, hey, maybe they could use it in the promo since it was still the eighties but only just. Maybe they wanted to create a Duran Duran video even on a shoestring and Russell Mulcahy was unavailable since he was riding high on Highlander (1986). Its naturally used in a death scene in the only amusing moment of the film. But the rest is lifeless. Actors left stranded with insipid dialogue. I tried to engage with the film, but eventually gave up mentally halfway through. Apathy met the film as it went through the motions, as the killer does their thing and cheap prophetic gore effects are thrown about. Something this low budget could have been charming. The Nail Gun Massacre, for how bad technically it was, felt like the locals of a middle American town bringing their idiosyncratic personalities to a mess of a film that yet let them breath through its gaping structure holes. Houseboat Horror is just shockingly low rent. So tedious that it's been difficult to actually write about. Paper-thin characters died with no sadness or tension released, any visual flair or any engaging luridness stayed away from the film, and the gore and nudity is here but missing any jolt to it. Its defiantly an Australian film, but blasphemously it lacks the insane energy of an Australian exploitation film, more when in the nineties a similarly very low budget film, Body Melt (1993), was everything you wanted from such a movie. It's one of the worst films I've seen in a long while. Probably the worst covered on this blog so far. It's not worth the viewing. It's pointless to view it.


October 2013

1. Brain Dead aka. Dead Alive (Peter Jackson, 1992/New Zealand) [Rewatch]
2. The Cremator (Juraj Herz, 1968/Czechoslovakia)
3. The Golden Coach (Jean Renoir, 1953/France-Italy)
4. Kagemusha (Dir. Akira Kurosawa, 1980/Japan-USA) [International Cut] 
5. Prisoners (Denis Villeneuve, 2013/USA)
6. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009/Germany-USA) [Rewatch]
7. The Keep (Michael Mann, 1983/USA) [Rewatch]
8. A Woman After A Killer Butterfly aka. Salinnabileul ggotneun yeoja (Ki-young Kim, 1978/South Korea)
9. Ringu (Dir. Hideo Nakata, 1998) [Rewatch]
10. Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Benjamin Christensen, 1922/Sweden) [Rewatch]
11. Faust (Aleksandr Sokurov, 2011/Russia)
12. La tête contre les murs (Georges Franju, 1959/France) [Rewatch]
13. Macross Plus (Shinichirô Watanabe and Shôji Kawamori, 1994/Japan) [Rewatch]
14. Straight on Till Morning (Peter Collinson, 1972/UK)
15. Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966/Sweden) [Rewatch]
16. Horrors of Malformed Men (Teruo Ishii, 1969/Japan)
17. Blue Rita aka. Das Frauenhaus (Jesus Franco, 1977/France-Switzerland)
18. Twixt (Francis Ford Coppola, 2011/USA)
19. Two Orphan Vampires (Jean Rollin, 1997/France)
20. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Tommy Lee Wallace, 1982/USA) [Rewatch]

Honorable Mentions: Time to Leave (François Ozon, 2005/France); Mean Creek (Jacob Aaron Estes, 2004/USA) [Rewatch]; Penthesilea: Queen of the Amazons (Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen, 1974/UK); GenoCyber Episode 1 (Koichi Ohata, 1994/Japan); V/H/S/2 (2013/Canada-Indonesia-USA); Jack the Ripper (Jesus Franco, 1976/Switzerland-West Germany)

I love Brain Dead too much to not put it at my number 1. Forgive my blasphemy. But its a strong list of non-horror films in the twenty shown, including a film I saw at the multiplex I never even knew existed until just before seeing it, showing new movies can be great. As for horror, of course I completed Halloween 31 For 31 even with the delay that took place. What have I learnt from this and the other horror films I watched for Halloween? I could say "watch old horror films only" like a contrarian, but its a bit more complicated than that, especially since I saw V/H/S 2 (2013) and liked it. Frankly though, there has been a considerable drop in artistic quality in the sort of horror films that get wider attention; they're not interesting, for the most part, at all and the few gems are unconventional and neglected for a dull Chucky sequel. In fact all the horror films on this list are not conventional. Even Halloween III would have been a bizarre work to see, back when it was first released, for people expecting a Halloween sequel, which sadly did cause horror cinema to lose a potential franchise with a difference in favor for more regurgitation of Michael Myers. With a global bent for this year's series, this affirms this idea further, as I've seen some very generic films even from countries like Iceland, while the really interesting films are products of very distinct directors, very distinct source material like Japanese author Edogawa Rampo, and/or sheer bloody mindedness. Revisiting a film like Ringu, which kicked off a whole boom in Asian horror movies, you realise that even a source that eventually led to generic films could be so drastically different from its offspring, especially the film's slow, methodical, water obsessed tone.This month affirms that I need to be even more picky than I am with horror cinema. Why waste my time with something that looks generic just from the DVD cover when I could see more films by the likes of Ki-young Kim? If there was a poster boy for this Top Twenty list, he's up there because his film on the list was made independently by himself, ostracised from the Korean film industry, with the money his wife gained from her dentistry career. That's devotion.

Worst film or work? There were two things I gave up on again, but one, the anime TV series Highschool of the Dead (2010), will be attempted again at some point. It'll be a messy experience to get beyond a single episode, with its gratuitous animated images of schoolgirl's underwear and breast physics like plastic bags full of tap water, and that was just the first episode before I gave up, but I want to be an anime completionist, especially for horror anime as it isn't as common as I wish it would be considering the flexibility animation could provide. Worst work I got through? Unfortunately Jess Franco made Bloody Moon (1981); for every great film of his I'm seeing, it feels like there has to be a terrible one to balance out the discrepancy of enjoying his films too much. Cosplay Complex (2002), a terrible anime so bad I'm not actually going to review it on here, its fetishes no way near as bad as the pandering, lazy tone of the whole thing in general. The Filipino film The Killing of Satan (1983), for the Halloween project, was the worst film of the whole series of reviews, slapdash to the point its no longer entertaining. Nude Nuns with Big Guns (2010) showed what true offensiveness in films is, laziness making it truly offending because it feels like the creator(s) are grasping for straws with the most base content without any daring or intelligent transgression to it. And it managed to make the concept of looking at beautiful naked women, for a heterosexual male like myself, a numbing experience with no real physical engagement to it, and on a serious point, probably the discovery for me of what it really feels like to see human sexuality turned into a produce with no humanity to it, especially on such a cheap looking film. Your libido will die of boredom before you get to the issues of sexism. The real worst film though, from the year of my birth, was Houseboat Horror (1989). Wait for the review of that one...

61 Works Watched In October
15 Rewatched Works
46 New Works Seen