turning Japanese, he thinks he's turning Japanese, he really thinks
Well, the book is finally done and so I'm back and ready for more
DigiBits action. It's been a
long time, but a fruitful one, because very soon, you'll be able to
put Bill and me up on a bookshelf where we've long dreamed of being
- in book form anyway.
I think I can say, without sounding too full of myself, that this
book is damn good. It won't necessarily replace the Internet in
terms of what you'll be able to learn or stay current on, but for a
snapshot of where DVD is right now in the year 2003, it works
incredibly well. I honestly think every person who has any sort of
interest in DVD will have fun with it. All in all, this is going to
be a good book to toss your newbie friends, use as a reference for
yourself and MAYBE even stuff in every stocking come Holiday time.
God bless us, everyone.
So, enough about what I've been doing with all my minimal spare
time. I've put the time in, and it was fruitful. But what have I
done for you lately? Well, I've watched a ton (a literal ton) of
DVDs in the last few months. I've watched major studio releases,
minor studio releases and best of all, foreign films on DVD. Right
now, my passion is with the Japanese cinema. Gotta love those
Japanese films on Region 1 DVD. But it's so hard to find a perfect
DVD of a Japanese film here in the States, for a variety of reasons.
It's nice when a good company puts them out, but not every good
Japanese film comes out from a good company. As I've said in the
past, Film Preservation isn't as widely held in vogue outside of
Hollywood. Tack on the fact that most Japanese companies want too
much money for newly produced elements of their films, and most of
the companies getting these licenses have limited funds and skimp
out. Thus, you have great movies on occasionally subpar DVDs. But
sometimes, you have to weather the problems in order to see great
movies. It's just a fact of life for you film fans out there.
Anyway, with all of that in mind, this month, to mark my return to
this column, I'm going to be looking at some recent Japanese
releases that I think are pretty interesting. Some will rock you and
others with leave you with a headache. But to me, the most living
cinema out there happens to be Japanese, and I have to give them the
props they deserve.
So this week we're going to take a look at one of my favorite
genres: the Zombie flick. Happily, Zombies are making a comeback in
the States of late (see: Resident Evil,
28 Days Later and the new
Dawn of the Dead crapfest
currently in production). But the Japanese have been kicking it with
the Dead for a few years now and have turned out quite a few good
ones, like Stacy,
Junk. Sadly, the king of the
recent crop of Japanese Zombie flicks (that would be
Wild Zero) won't be out from
Synapse for a few months, but we do currently have the other three I
mentioned reviewed here.
Oh... and just so other studios don't feel left out in my columns
this month, and so they can get their much deserved props, I'll also
review a select few DVDs that aren't Japanese, but might have
something to do with the theme I choose for each column. This time
it's the Bay's Day of the Dead
and Warner's long-in-the-hopper The Omega
Man. Dig it and let's go.
Views - Main Page
2000 (2003) - Media Blasters
"There are 666 portals that connect this world to the other
side. These are concealed from all human beings. But there are some
who notice their existence. And some are willing to open the door
and try to gain the power of darkness. Somewhere in Japan exists the
444th portal, known as the Forest of Resurrection."
Versus starts in the past. 500
years ago to be exact. In the Forest of Resurrection mentioned
above, a lone samurai battles a horde of undead enemies, making
quick work of them with his flashing sword. As they amble towards
him, he just cuts them down. That is, until he meets their leader,
who ends the battle as if there were no battle to be had. Right from
the start with this film, you feel like you're about to witness
something very, very cool.
We then flash forward to the present day, where two escaped
criminals rush headlong through the woods en-route to a rendezvous
point. When they get there, one of them will die, one of them will
learn his place in the history of the forest and the undead will
rise again and fight to unleash whatever is behind portal 444.
a hyper kinetic mix of Raimiesque camera work, Romero blood flow and
Peter Jackson's over the top cartoon violence (see: Dead
Alive and Brain Dead,
not Rings), director/co-writer
Ryuhei Kitamura has crafted something, well... interesting. But is
it interesting enough? Is Versus
worth all the bubbling fan boy word of mouth it's gotten of late?
Personally, I have to say: no. Don't get me wrong, it's a neat flick
overall and I'm glad I shelled out the 25 bucks to put it in my
library. But I have a habit of initially falling for fan boy
hyperbole, and the consensus out there is that this flick is the
coolest flick out there. It's cool sure, but pretty flawed as well.
Then again, it was the first feature film from Kitamura.
I could go on and on criticizing the lack of characterizations, the
insignificance of the plot to the end result, or even the huge holes
in the logic of the film. But what's the point? Kitamura made this
to have fun and show off his style. And it does that. As much as I
don't want to like the film, I do. I just don't think it's very good
or super cool. It's just neat and likable. Sometimes it sucks being
a fan and a critic, let me tell you.
Without a doubt, the best stuff in the film are the shots from 500
years ago. Kitamura should just make quirky samurai films from now
on and he'd have a lifelong fan in me. His camera style, angle
choices and sense of humor fit this genre incredibly well. Why he
hasn't picked up the license to re-do the Lone
Wolf and Cub series is beyond me.
That being said, the biggest problem I have with the film is the
fact that watching Versus is
like watching a friend play a video game like, say, DoA3.
Sure it's neat for a while, but it gets old quick. I'm sure your
friend is having a bang up time playing, just like I'm sure the cast
and crew were having a ball shooting this film. But for you, there
is only so much fun you can get out of it. Consider this when I tell
you that Versus is over two
hours long and most of it is fight sequences. As cool as some of it
is, that ends up not being a good thing. Overall, unless you're a
Japanese film fanatic or a fight film fan, that doesn't care about
story structure of characterization, I can't really recommend people
blindly pick this film up.
Media Blasters isn't known for its DVD quality, and at this point
in time they don't seem to be trying to rectify that.
Versus is a step up from the
bad pirate copy you can find at your favorite comic/DVD shop, but
only a small step up. The picture is very soft, full of artifacts
and lacking in definition. The blacks, of which there are plenty,
shift and shimmy with compression artifacts. I thought I could get
used to the sub par picture pretty fast, but because the camera work
in this film is so fluid, these problems just keep coming up, which
prevents me from forgetting it's a shitty transfer. Hey, but it's
anamorphic at least, I guess I can be happy about that.
As hard on Blasters as I am about the video, they get kudos for the
sound options, which are pretty good. We get a very nice Japanese
5.1 that has a lot of impact and plenty of play, as well as a 2.0
for both English and Japanese. The English track is a bit muted held
up against the Japanese 2.0 (and the dubbing isn't very good, but is
it ever?), which is almost as good as the 5.1, itself. So the DVD
has that going for it.
Those looking for extras will be only half-pleased. There are two
commentary tracks. The first is a Japanese track with the cast and
crew discussing the film and making jokes - with subtitles. The
other is in Engrish with Kitamura, his producer and a female
moderator. Both tracks are good and actually very fun. Kitamura is a
funny guy and I doubt any of my criticisms of the film will surprise
him as he has plenty more. He's a way harsher critic of this film
than anyone else could be. Sadly lacking from this disc are the "making
of" featurettes and parallel story from the Japanese disc. Both
are talked about in the commentary tracks, so to not have them here
is pretty glaring. Ah, but what are you gonna do? I complain, you
listen and if you're intrigued by what I say, you'll buy the disc
Versus is neat. It's okay.
It's worth the time for a rental and if you like it after that, it's
worth buying. I'm just not going to crow about it like it's the
Second Coming. You may like it. You may not. I'm not going to vouch
for it. But I will say, after seeing this I can't wait for
Kitamura's recently theatrically released Azumi
the trailer here) to come to Region 1 DVD. That, my droogs,
looks badass and it's exactly what Kitamura excels at - a quirky
samurai flick. Check the trailer out and see if you aren't clamoring
for it. B-
2001 (2003) - Synapse
"At the beginning of the 21st Century, young girls, aged 15 to
17, began dying one after another, all over the world. Even more
surprising, the dead girls began to reawaken as zombies."
Japan, nay, the world is in utter turmoil as war, famine and a
declining birth rate have put a choke-hold on society. No one knows
why, but teenaged girls on the edge of becoming women get all giggly
(thanks to NDH Near Death Happiness) and just fall over dead.
Moments later, these girls turn into flesh crazed zombies (called "Stacys")
and attack anyone they see. It's that simple. That's your set-up.
That's your story. Well, actually that's not true. The situation is
explored through the parallel stories of a select group of people.
First there's Shibu and Eiko. Shibu is a puppeteer who's seen
better days. His crew has left him to join an elite troop of "Stacy"
killers called the Romero Repeat Kill Troops (Repeat Kill -
dissecting the body of a Stacy into 165 pieces). Eiko is a young
girl with NDH and a wind chime, who adopts Shibu as her boy friend
to repeat kill her when she dies. You see: it's illegal to repeat
kill unless you are with the RRK, a family member or you're the
boyfriend of the girl that dies.
brings us to the second group, three sixteen (and two month)
year-old girls, who call themselves the Drew Illegal Repeat Kill
Troop (named after their idol Drew Barrymore). These girls, armed
with swords, nunchucks and guns take the jobs the RRK are either too
busy or lazy to do. Their aim is trying to earn enough money to hire
someone named Sorimachi to repeat kill them when they die.
That just leaves Matsui and Arita. Matsui and Arita used to work
with Shibu in his shop. They are with the RRK stationed at the
Inugami Institute of Corpse Resuscitation - formerly the Riruka
Women's Art School - where Arita is trying to find his sister's
friend so he can save her. Matsui is trying to stay sane, and is
having a hard time of it.
All three stories will converge in interesting way, and if you want
to find out what comes out of mixing cute Japanese school girls,
tongue wagging zombies, bucket loads of gore, an Art Neuvo chainsaw
dubbed the "Blues Campbell's Right Hand 2," adorable home
shopping hostesses dressed as a bunny and a wacky mad scientist -
well, look no further, 'cause this is your flick. It's wild. It's
wacky. And it's hard to swallow in one sitting. But man, does this
film grow on you. Everything about it seems off, but in a good way.
The music, the direct-to-digital cinematography, the acting - all of
it melds into one wacky, bold and wholly original head-trip.
I know just a little bit about Japanese culture. That is to say,
I'm no expert. I don't have enough knowledge to be able to wax
philosophical about what's really being said about this film. I can
say, however, that there's a lot being said with the film. Just the
ending alone will make your eyebrows arch, with it's unspoken
message of a future society sprouting out of a magical love made
manifest. Like I said, Stacy
is a bold and original film - even with all the bad American Zombie
Director Naoyuki Tomomatsu's choice to shoot this film on digital
may have been a financial one, but in the end, I think it was a good
one. It gives Stacy a nicely
clean, crisp look. I found it a bit jarring at first, not really
expecting it to be as digital looking as it is, but after many
repeat viewings, I can't see the film any other way. I tried
thinking about what it would look like with a cinematic, grainy
look, and I don't think it would work as well. Tomomatsu's choice
works in the film's favor.
Synapse respects the digital look of the film, presenting it in a
super crisp, bright and very detailed anamorphic widescreen
transfer. Colors are solid and blacks are full. As always, Synapse
did a stellar job. It's such a good job that Stacy
is one of my favorite transfers from them to date (excluding the new
flawless Hi-Def transfer of Brain Damage
they released recently). The sound is a functional 2.0 in Japanese,
with easy to read subs. Extras are light... well, actually pretty
non-existent, except for the trailer. A commentary by a cultural
scholar, explaining the history of the book the film is based on
(written by Kenji Otsuki), the pornographic career of the director
and the cultural references within the film would have been great.
But maybe that's a lot to ask. Donny May, Jr. takes care of us in
other ways, so I'll cut him slack and stop my bitching.
Stacy is funky fun. It's not
for everyone, but once you check it out, it'll nestle inside your
brain and stay there.B+
2002 (2003) - Unearthed Films
The Japanese have an odd love affair with Quentin Tarantino.
Lately, every stylish Japanese movie (at least the B-Grade stuff)
has a weird Tarantino touch. That's particularly true of this flick,
Merging together the worlds of Reservoir
Dogs and From Dusk Till Dawn
with an obvious smattering of Romero's Dead
films, Junk is a happy little
brain dead action flick without much going for it. And yet, it's
satisfying in the end.
Saki is the de facto leader of a gang of jewel thieves who just
pulled off a nice job... leaving behind a casualty of course. They
have the goods, but they need a fence. In comes Ramon (outfitted
with Clooney tats from Dusk)
who promised to take their jewels and give them a nice chunk of
change. Of course ,he's a lying bastard and plans to kill them all
and take the loot.
plan to meet at an abandoned American military base in Okinawa, home
to a secret super soldier serum research group who just had an
accidental outbreak of DNX, which obviously revives the dead.
Sooooo... in comes Saki and her gang, and out come the zombies.
Bang, bang. Blood, blood. Ramon comes in, more bang and blood.
Meanwhile, an American team, with the help of a Japanese doctor
(with mysterious ties to DNX) is trying to blow the base up, but
their computer system is malfunctioning so they need to go inside to
do it. Of course, the doctor is met there by his naked past. More
bang, more blood and we end. Whew.
Junk is fast, furious and
derivative as all hell. But it's also fun to watch, and so I can
heartily recommend at the very least a rental.
Unearthed Films is a new kid on the DVD block, but they're trying.
Making a name for themselves with the morbid Guinea
Pig series (remember the snuff film Charlie Sheen went to
the feds with? Those films.), the Unearthed guys have some great
titles planned for release. Chief among these is one of my favorite
guilty pleasures of Japanese cyber punk (I don't see it on their
site, so I won't name it yet). We'll talk about it when they
announce it. Anyway, Unearthed did a good job with this film. The
film is here in a non-anamorphic, 1.66:1 aspect ratio, which
represents the film well. The original film elements prevented them
from doing an anamorphic transfer, which is understandable. What we
do get is a transfer with nice blacks and bold colors. There is a
lot of grain, but that's to be expected. Sound is a well done Dolby
Digital 2.0 in Japanese, with easy to read English subs.
Extras are pretty much text based, with a translation of the
original Japanese press notes and cast and crew biographies. There
are also trailers for this, the upcoming Evil
Dead Trap 2 and the notorious Guinea
Pig films. Also along for the ride is a gallery of photo
material. Not bad for a movie you probably only just heard of.
Junk isn't the best flick in
this week's column, but it still can be a fun ride if you have an
open mind. The Tarantino influence makes it an interesting
conversation piece at least and the style of the film is certainly
better than most films you'll see at the Cineplex this weekend. Pop
it in and see what you think. C+
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