[For the month of July, Japanator's sister site Flixist will be covering the Japan Cuts film festival, which is running in New York City from the 12th until the 28th. For your convenience, we will be posting review roundups here, but you can find all of Flixist's coverage here, and their coverage of the New York Asian Film Festival here.]
It's a shame that I decided to blather on about Yasujiro Ozu in the last Japan Cuts roundup, because I clearly only get one chance, and it would have been relevant this time. From the sound of it, Masato Harada's film Chronicle of My Mother is a great movie with some very clear Ozu influences. But I've already missed my shot. So let's talk about another relevant topic.
The Japan Society at New York has those weird toilets that make noise and have water spouts in them. I had read a Cracked article about them, but I'd never actually seen one before. They're really strange and difficult to operate, but they're pretty darn cool. How is this relevant? Because tonight we have the thing you've all been waiting for: Zombie Ass. Spoiler alert: it's crazy. Also there are other things, one of which is about a club about making teachers have miscarriages, fittingly titled Lets Make the Teacher Have a Miscarriage Club.
Chronicle of My Mother (Waga Haha no Ki | わが母の記)
Synopsis: Masato Harada's moving period drama about the relationship between a self-centered writer and his ageing mother draws on an autobiographical novel by Yasushi Inoue. Kosaku (Koji Yakusho, Shall We Dance?), married with four daughters, is a successful writer and tyrannical husband and father. When his mother (Kirin Kiri) begins to display signs of dementia, duty demands that he take care of her. She moves in and, as her grip on reality loosens, facts about the past--specifically why she saw fit to abandon her son after the war--come to light. Chronicle is an unabashedly emotional epic with shades of Yasujiro Ozu's melodramatic masterpieces.
Thoughts: Chronicle of My Mother is both an adaptation of an autobiographical novel by Yasushi Inoue and a tribute to the films of Yasujiro Ozu. Since I haven't read Inoue's books, it's hard to say if it's successful as a strict adaptation, but it is an excellent evocation of Ozu. Koji Yakusho, Kirin Kiki, and Aoi Miyazaki carry the film with their solid and likable performances. Yakusho in particular is able to communicate a lot in a nod or just a twitch of a smile. Director Masato Harada's visuals help communicate the deeper emotions that run through the film that may not be explicitly stated. While the characters are a bit broad, I think that allows audiences to find bits of their own family experiences in the events of the movie. Even when its mannered, sentimental, and obviously composed to pull at the heartstrings, I couldn't help but feel that there's something real and honest beating inside.
Verdict: See it. [Read the full review]
Zombie Ass (Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead | Zonbiasu | ゾンビアス)
Synopsis: Wracked with guilt over the suicide of her sister Ai, karate student Megumi accompanies a group of older friends on a trip into the woods. Things start to go badly when Maki finds a parasitical worm inside a fish--and wolfs it down alive, in the hope that it'll help keep her skinny! Attacked by a crowd of undead who emerge from an outhouse toilet, the group seek refuge at the home of Dr. Tanaka and his daughter Sachi. Unbeknownst to them, Tanaka has been conducting experiments on the parasites--and the zombies! Featuring special effects by Yoshihiro Nishimura, and some truly jaw-dropping contributions from Iguchi's genius subconscious, Zombie Ass is a steaming helping of bad taste from the twisted mind of cinematic madman Noboru Iguchi.
Thoughts: In a way, Zombie Ass defies any attempt at grading or scoring -- like many trashy movies, it exists in a place beyond math. Noboru Iguchi fills the film with classic Troma-like delights. It's all bad taste, all the time, with slapstick characters ready to fight, die, get naked, and get covered in crap. Thankfully the film never shows us on-screen excretions, but the things that come out of people's asses are much, much worse. There's still plenty of poop, but there's also a fair amount of vomit and farting to go with it. This is my first journey into the world of Noboru Iguchi, and somehow it won't be my last. I will simply end with this: if you were interested in seeing Zombie Ass, you should see it because whatever I said will not sway you from watching this entertaining bit of insane garbage; if you had no interest in seeing Zombie Ass, stay away from this thing like it's the puzzle box from Hellraiser.
Verdict: Consider it. [Read the full review]
The Atrocity Exhibition: The Big Gun / Metamorphosis (Dai Kenju | 大拳銃 / Henge | へんげ)
Synopsis: In this award-winning first short film from Hajime Ohata, director of Henge, a rundown, family-owned iron works gets a quick, lucrative job from a client who wants them to disassemble a revolver and make at least 10 copies. Owner Ikuo agrees, because he really doesn't have any choice. The client, however, is the yakuza, and once Ikuo turns in his job, his shop will become nothing more than a production facility for death. And so Ikuo fights back the only way he knows how: by building another gun--but this time he's building The Big Gun.
Yoshiaki and Keiko are a normal couple, except that Yoshiaki suffers from violent seizures. Under hypnosis, he speaks in an unknown, alien language. Yoshiaki's doctor wants to institutionalize him, but Keiko refuses to give up on her husband. Unfortunately, the bugs that live in Yoshiaki's mind are growing insatiable, and soon he begins to transform into an insectoid horror. The first long-form feature from newcomer Hajime Ohata, Henge grossed out the audience at the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival. Ohata's theme is unconditional love versus disease, and the bravura Michael Bay-with-50-cents finale is a mighty roar of underground filmmaking brio.
Thoughts: Although I could never call either The Big Gun or Henge "good," they exist as the beginnings of a beautiful career. The Big Gun, as far as I can tell, was done while Hajime Ohata was a student, and it looks that way, but when the eponymous Big Gun comes out, even if it's only for the final few minutes, you completely forget. The effects may be terrible, but so what? They're inventive and fun. Henge takes that a step further. The first half presents itself as an exorcism film, but then the big rubber suit comes out, and people start dying. Unfortunately, the death effects are ruined by awful-looking CG blood, but the final minutes once again make everything that came before them totally worth watching. If Ohata continues on his current track, I think that some day he'll be revered in the same way that Iguchi and other Japanese cult filmmakers are now.
Verdict: Consider them. [Read the full review]
The Atrocity Exhibition: Let’s Make the Teacher Have a Miscarriage Club (Sensei o Ryuzan saseru Ka | 先生を流産させる会)
Synopsis: Loosely based on a true story, and not for the faint of heart, the movie opens on five bored junior high girls staring into a rabbit hutch. Ringleader Mizuki grabs one of the rabbits, climbs to the top of a nearby slide, and punts the animal to the ground, killing it instantly. The other girls giggle, but Mizuki doesn't see what's so funny. Their teacher, Sawako (Aki Miyata) is four months pregnant, and stronger than the rest of her ineffectual colleagues. She wants to help her students, but she can't get their parents on the phone, and she's becoming increasingly concerned for her own safety and the safety of her unborn child. When the bravura finale comes, it's light-years beyond dime-store Western psycho-thrillers.
Thoughts: The best thing about Let's Make the Teacher Have a Miscarriage Club is its name. It has so much promise. It's like Zombie Ass, you know exactly what you're getting into. But in this case, you really don't. Rather than getting some terrifying story of a group of girls trying to terminate their teacher's pregnancy, you have a terrible looking and boring movie about a bunch of characters with absolutely no personality trying to do something that doesn't matter. Basically every aspect of the production is flawed in some major way, and there's really nothing particularly good about it. It's an interesting idea, and it's mercifully short (only sixty minutes long), but there's nothing about it that's actually worth your time.
Verdict: Skip it. [Read the full review]
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