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


  1. Comparisons between Iguchi and Raimi are apt. Both started with low-budget shock-horror, and Raimi made major inroads (and a pile of cash) with his cheesy-but-fun TV series "Xena" and "Hercules". Don't discount Iguchi's "Ancient Dogoo Girl" series: it's great fun and wildly creative, especially if you like the humor of his films. It's a clever and surprising variation on the Cutie Honey formula--check it out!
    If Dogu-chan is his Xena, the next step for Iguchi is a blockbuster film. I'd see anything he's attached to...

  2. keeperdesign, do you live in Kansai or did you see Dogoo on YouTube? I heard a rumor there's a film version in the works...