Thursday, December 10, 2009

More story details for Kitano's "Outrage"

Alerted by Jason Gray's tweet to the existence of an official site for Kitano Takeshi's upcoming "Outrage", I found and translated the following synopsis:
The story begins with Sekiuchi (Kitamura Soichiro), boss of the Sannokai, a huge organised crime syndicate controlling the entire Kanto region, issuing a stern warning to his lieutenant Kato (Miura Tomokazu) and right-hand man Ikemoto (Kunimura Jun), head of the Ikemoto-gumi. Kato orders Ikemoto to bring the unassociated Murase-gumi gang in line, and he immediately passes the task on to his subordinate Otomo (Beat Takeshi), who runs his own crew. The tricky jobs that no-one wants to do always end up in Otomo's lap...
The site also describes the film as "a violent action blockbuster set in the world of the yakuza, where men put their lives on the line and engage in betrayal and subterfuge in a vicious struggle for power."

Monday, December 07, 2009

Comedy, horror, Iguchi, Noboru

Hard work, resilience and an admirable crowd-pleasing ethos has enabled Iguchi Noboru to hack off a small but loyal chunk of popularity among Japanese filmgoers. namely those seeking titillation, mutilation and cheesy gags in equal measure. If you're looking for a modern day equivalent of old-school artisan B-movie meisters such as Ishii Teruo or Suzuki Noribumi, who has quite appropriately professed his admiration for Iguchi's handiwork, you'd have a hard time finding a more jovial and well-regarded heir to their legacy. Now in his 40s, Iguchi boasts a still-expanding repetoire of oddball hardcore porn to complement his more 'mainstream' work as an actor for frequent collaborators Takenaka Naoto and Matsuo Suzuki's Otona Keikaku, as well as writing and directing credits on several late night TV series mostly starring untested young female idols, and then there are his films. In recent years, Iguchi has been brought to the attention of overseas audiences largely through the U.S.-funded "The Machine Girl" and his subsequent "Robo Geisha", two eclectically idiosyncratic projects that gleefully exploit fetishized western images of Japan (or rather the assumptions of the filmmakers themselves) to riotously absurd extremes. More stereotype aikido beckons with a new project in the works from Nikkatsu's foreign geek-baiting Sushi Typhoon label. But regardless of what you think about his oeuvre, you have to hand it to Iguchi for managing to consistently churn out well-received niche entertainment with a distinctive voice in the face of minuscule budgets, suicidal schedules and working conditions that are considerably less than luxurious. When so many more well-known directors are struggling to get their own projects off the ground and languishing in obscurity, that's quite an accomplishment.

Somewhere in between all this, the man still finds time to blog on occasion and generally comes across in his writing as a sensitive, playful personality with a genuine dedication to making sure paying customers get their money's worth. In contrast to the lovable sicko image projected by his loincloth-flapping glute-puncturing festival appearances, Iguchi is also a reliable source of frank and well-considered opinions on certain films, filmmakers and the state of the industry, as shown in this entry lamenting the contrasting attitudes to horror in Japan and the U.S.:
So lately my work has revolved around scriptwriting and meetings, but the more films I make, the more I come to realize that there's no end to it. Trying to find what's entertaining, what people want to see. I agonize over the gap between my own values and sensibilities, and those of audiences.

Meanwhile, I saw "The Final Destination" and "Drag Me To Hell".

Both were made in the U.S., where over-the-top horror films are big business, and these were actually big hits. The needs of viewers there are totally different to those in Japan.

Anyway, what impressed me about both films was their devotion to entertaining audiences. "The Final Destination" is 3D, and it puts you on the edge of your seat just by making you wonder when and how its characters are going to be killed off. In "Drag Me To Hell", an elderly woman torments the heroine to a sadistic degree, and gratuitously throws up on her time after time for our enjoyment. Their unrelenting stance and dedication to spectacle is terrific, and they function unashamedly as horror films, nothing more and nothing less. This spirit is truly wonderful!

That's because I see Japan as a country where being 'mere cinematic entertainment' is for some reason often looked upon with shame and disdain. Horror films tend to be regarded as vulgar and an infantile genre, so in Japanese horror there is an odd tendency to add complex interpersonal drama and auteurish, stylish cinematography, despite the fact they're horror films.

Furthermore, often when you see interviews with actors who appear in Japanese horror films, they'll say "This isn't just a horror film", and that saddens me. Every time I feel like retorting, "What's wrong with just being a horror film?"

This seems to be misunderstood, but making a proper horror film isn't about stringing together scenes of violent cruelty. You need a sense of dramatic balance and technique to deliver suspense while closely adhering to viewers' psychology.

"The Final Destination" director [David R.] Ellis, and Sam Raimi, making his first horror film in several years, are both first-rate directors who possess that kind of technique of the highest standard. On top of that, they are actually skilled at portraying characters, and their unobtrusive depictions of the modest struggles and hang-ups of the black alcoholic security guard in "The Final Destination" and the heroine in "Drag Me To Hell" add depth to their films. By underpinning the story with such elements, fear is felt more keenly. Especially with Raimi's film, I felt that his experience in creating blockbusters like "Spiderman" and serious works was used to powerful effect.

To an extent, the way in which they fulfill their missions as genre films gives you an idea of their directors' good nature. They opened my eyes to the fact that these are the kind of films that are made by adults, in the truest sense. These are directors who are worthy of respect. Please see these films if you get the chance.

*Photo graciously supplied by Iguchi wrangler outcastmarc

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Sono Sion: cinematic contrarian

A selection of the most interesting quotes from an interview back in February by online mag Hogaholic with "Love Exposure" director Sono Sion:

Hogaholic: Suggesting meaning in the spaces between dialogue and ruminating on it is often described as cinematic. In Japan especially, it's widely viewed as a good thing.

Sono Sion: That's right. In fact, there are lots of films like in Japan. But I'm a contrarian, so I want to go in the opposite direction. It makes me feel "anti-Japanese film" (laughs). If Japanese films were all chatty, I think I'd make ones that focused on the silence between words. However, right now there's a glut of that kind of film, so I do things the other way. I don't know if this is a great example, but I think the people who make those films take a firm stance like "There might be 36 colors, but black's all I need". But that kind of austerity isn't for me. I've got the kind of personality where if I have 36 colors, I want to use them all. I want to try all kinds of techniques. These days, there's a school of thought that regards narration as crude, but if it's the best option I wouldn't hesitate to use it. After all, narration is a fine traditional cinematic technique.

HH: There are a considerable amount of homage-like scenes in this film. One of the most obvious would be [male protagonist] Yu dressing up in drag as Sasori, which of course is a reference to the "Female Convict Scorpion" series.

SS: You could even say there are too many. Directors like Tarantino deliberately and explicitly insert them as if to say "this is dedicated to that scene from that movie", but with me it's more of an automatic process. There's absolutely no intention to say something like "This one goes out to Sasori and Toei". They just appear naturally. This time around, personally speaking, I wanted to make a film with a virginal quality, and there was an element of wanting to make something with the kind of aroused excitement I felt when I was a virgin. Basically I wanted to make a film that provided the kind of excitement I felt when I was still in junior high and high school. That's why homages to the films I watched back then ended up in it. I myself didn't notice until afterwards. Yesterday, I watched [Brian] De Palma's "Phantom of the Paradise", and there's a kind of homage to it in "Love Exposure". But while I was shooting it, that didn't occur to me at all. Yesterday while I was watching "Phantom" on DVD, I realised for the first time that "Hey, I made an homage to this" (laughs).

HH: I get the impression that you pay a lot of attention to the feelings of your actors. Is that because you're a director with acting experience?

SS: I haven't done much acting lately, but that might be true. Also, I like John Cassavettes, and he's the origin of my directing style. Cassavettes was a director who had experience as an actor, and that influenced his method of direction. His influence is probably quite significant.

SS: This doesn't apply only to Japan, but producers these days, once they have a hit with a particular actress, they only think about how far they can stretch out that success by continuing to use that same actress, saying "she stars in your next film" without putting any thought into it. They work within what you might call their comfort zone, and won't take a chance on uncovering some new unpolished gem. The result is that you get four or five films a year starring the same actress. That's abnormal. If Japanese films continue down this road, they'll definitely suffocate. A producer's role should be something like a day trader, but they only treat casting like a safety mechanism that aims to recycle past successes. That's why you end up seeing the same faces all the time. Doing things that way, new talent will just stay buried. This isn't a good situation. I believe in my own eyes, and I want to keep on searching for actors with future potential.