Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Agitator; the director of peace and happiness

Since yesterday the bulk of my post concerned an overview of Japanese cinema(I said Asia, but realized later that most of my comments were centered on Japanese films), but didn't have much in the way of recommendations, I thought today I'd go through a quick list of some films that are worth checking out beyond The Ring(or Ringu, but the title is meant to be The Ring, so I wont be a stickler on that one). It should be said, since I made a bunch of sweeping general statements yesterday, that I am in now way an expert of Japanese culture. I've just seen a bunch of movies. And nothing I'm saying is meant to offend, in case I am way off the mark, these are just the observations I've made through the years of absorbing Japanese books, movies and music.

The Ring can take a lot of credit, if not for inventing the 'haunted technology' genre, but for giving Asian cinema in general a huge boost in the eyes of the world market. It's spawned a slew of sequels and foreign language remakes(the American version being only one of several), and opened the floodgates for the currently waning remakes of Asian films(the Grudge, Pulse, Dark Water). Many of the sequels and remakes weren't that good, but a few other movies about spooky electronic gadgets have lived up to, or maybe even surpassed the Ring. One of the better films would have to be One Missed Call, by the certifiably insane Miike Takashi. It suffers from the curse of familiarity, since it has so many aspects that appear in every Japanese horror movie. Miike is never known for subtlety, but this film is MUCH more subdued than almost every other film he's ever made(and he's made quite a few). That said, it's also much more sensational than the rather dreary Ringu or Dark Water. There's one death, in a TV studio, on live broadcast, that will probably make your jaw drop.

Also by Miike, and much more frightening a film, is Audition. The film follows a middle aged TV producer widow, Shigeharu, who is urged by his teen aged son and coworkers to find a new woman. The problem is, our hero is completely unaware of how a middle aged Japanese businessman finds a woman. A coworker comes up with the monumentally sleazy idea of holding a series of auditions for a fake television movie, calling for women that fit the basic profile of what he's looking for. That alone sounds pretty creepy, but Shigeharu is so sincere that you're willing to forgive him.

Eventually Shigeharu finds a woman who attracts him, a ghostly, silent woman by the name of Asami who seems to be utterly perfect. It's telling about Japanese culture(or just men in general, you decide) that the perfect woman is someone so utterly submissive and unresponsive. Still, the romance begins, and despite the perfection at the outset, things start to go sour when we learn what Asami's secrets are. Beyond that I'm not really willing to give much away, because this film was such a pleasant, masochistic surprise when I watched it with very little idea of what to expect. I'd urge you to not watch ANY trailers, as all the ones I've seen give away one of the best shocks in the history of horror cinema. Suffice to say, you may become bored after nothing much happens in the first hour, but make sure you aren't eating spaghetti(as I was) during the last half hour.

I guess a word about Miike is in order. His first work as a director was in 1991, when he started out working in television. In 15 short years he's become one of the most prolific directors ever to come from Japan, and he'd probably have a pretty high standing in western circles as well, with his 70th film currently filming. As I said he's never very subtle, and his movies are never easy to predict. Sometimes this works against the film, since he seems eager to throw whatever silly idea comes to him on screen, but sometimes it's incredibly effective. He seems to be a filmmaker with no filter. I don't mean that in a 'he says what he believes, he's totally real, man!' way. I mean that he seriously doesn't seem to filter out any idea that comes to him, and just throws it all on screen. This gives even his more generic action work a dreamlike and often horrific quality, since his ideas seem to skew towards torture, violence, and gallons upon gallons of blood. Just look towards Ichi the Killer, which has to be the single bloodiest movie I've seen.

Another film worth checking out is Gozu. Although not a horror film, and maybe not even one of my favorites, this film got under my skin like few others, so that for weeks after I kept returning to it and trying to figure out it's mysteries. A basic plot rundown; it involves a young Yakuza ordered to kill his friend and mentor and then dump the body. The killing goes OK(although not how you'd expect), but on his way through a small town the body goes missing, and our young hero must find the body.But this is one of those towns that seem to exist only in David Lynch films, where everyone is bizarre beyond belief, and events happen with a sudden yet dreamlike quality. Some characters; a transvestite waiter, an inn-keeper who sells breast milk and dreams, a mythical minotaur, a man who collects the skins of killed yakuzas(for their tattoos), and a yakuza boss who finds inventive and disgusting uses for large wooden ladles. Seriously. Not for kids.

The movie, like I said, isn't a horror, and it probably means absolutely nothing in the end, but like I said it stuck with me. To me horror isn't about monsters or ghosts, but about what you can't understand, what you can't get your brain around. In that case, this movie is one of the most terrifying you'll ever see. Except it isn't REALLY scary, and quite funny.

Well... I didn't quite mean to, but this entire post turned out to be centered on Miike Takashi. That means my Asian movie thread will continue tomorrow, with a more traditional list of recommendations and reviews. Seeya then.

A quick list of more Miike:

Happiness of the Katakuris; a joyous musical about an accidentally murderous family trying to open a bed and breakfast.
Zebraman; an incredibly fun movie about a loser middle school teacher in the near future who finds himself gaining the powers of Zebraman, the main character from a 1970's Pwer Rangers-esque TV show.
The Great Yokai War: A remake, of sorts, and Miike's attempt at rubber suited monsters.
Full Metal Yakuza: A violent and silly Robocop rip-off, with gigantic mechanized phallus'.

No comments: