Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A little catching up

Well, after last week's viral fiasco, I'm finally able to post without having a virus scan or pop-up slow me down, I'll take the time to write one of those personal 'catching up with Jon' posts. My trip to Hawaii was great, caught up with old friends, and ate onolicious ('ono' means 'hella good') food almost every day. I remarked to a friend of mine that it's great taking a vacation to a place you've lived or been to enough (in my case, the former) because you can just relax and enjoy yourself and not get stressed out from all of the tourist itineraries, running from one sightseeing spot to another.

Speaking of the Minutemen (we weren't, but whatever), I recently borrowed several of their albums from a friend mainly for the nostalgia but I've really found myself listening to them with fresh ears again. Glad I got to see fIREHOSE, the Minutemen's successors, in '92. Rock on in heaven, D. Boon.

Back on track (ahem), I'm really happy about the recent announcement by Criterion/Eclipse films to release a boxset of Mizoguchi's films which will be titled "Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women", available on October 21st. Mizoguchi, along with Mikio Naruse, was one of the few Japanese filmmakers who accurately captured the trials and tribulations of the women in modern and postmodern Japan. This set will include four films, the last of which, I believe, has never been released in North America: Street of Shame, Sisters of the Gion, Osaka Elegy, and Women of the Night. I'm slightly bummed that I just recently picked up a copy of Eureka's edition of Street of Shame but I love Mizoguchi enough to double-dip. Now, if only Criterion would release more Naruse films, I would be a happy man.

Speaking of being happy (and spending money), I'd been waiting for several years and finally got myself a cheap copy of the Wonderswan game, Uzumaki. I haven't had a chance to play the game yet but I am looking forward to some swirly horror game goodness. From the back of the box, the game looks like a genre that the Japanese call a "sound novel", basically the game is told with lots of text, audio clips, and minimal graphics. To tell you the truth, these sorts of games tend to be pretty boring, I'd much rather have some sort of action game in which I play Kirie, running from sliced naruto, snails, and renegade washing machines. If you are a little puzzled about what I'm talking about, check out the manga and/or movie and get ready for some supreme wacked out fun.

That's all for now!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

We're OK now, thanks.

Well, a hundred billion scans and countless hours spent in regedit (it actually only took a total of a couple of hours but uninterrupted scans take a long time to complete), my PC finally has a clean bill of health, yay. Just another lesson in "never download anything that looks suspicious even if it's from a friend". Let your guard down and see what happens?

Anyway, we will be posting some review(s) and information later this coming week. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Technical Difficulties

No, Gaijinzoku is not moving and getting renamed yet again. I've been back from my vacation for a week and watched several reviewable movies since but my PC contracted a big fat virus (and screw y'all grinning Mac users) so I've been working away at clearing it out and getting everything back to stability.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Gaijinzoku is on vacation

Gone to Hawaii for a friend's wedding and a visit to my alma mater. See you all next week!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Review: Message From Space (1978)

Director: Kinji Fukasaku

Jillucia, a world of peace-loving people, have their planet taken hostage by the evil Gavanas whose leader vaguely looks and dresses like a low rent Optimus Prime. The leader of the Jillucia sends out eight liabe seeds (the titular "messages from space") to the universe to search for the chosen ones who will save their planet, and the whole universe. These saviours end up being a few daredevils (one of which is Hiroyuki Sanada), a grumpy but sensible ex-general (veteran Vic Morrow who looks visibly aware that he's the only one turning in a decent performance) and his robot, and a deposed Gavanas prince (Sonny Chiba). And, yes, since Sonny and Hiroyuki are in the movie, Etsuko Shihomi was also along for the ride, playing the Princess Leia-like Esmeralida of the Jillucians, and looking pretty good in her white satin robe getup. And, YES, Tetsuro Tamba is along for the ride to nibble a little of the scenery as well.

Message From Space
shares other things with Star Wars than Leia-looksortofalikes: there's the requisite cantina scene, Morrow turns in a surly Han Solo-like performance, even the one lone (and extremely perky) female daredevil is named "Meia", even the soundtrack vaguely feels like something that was fished out of John Williams' garbage. Since Message was released a year after Star Wars, it's pretty obvious that Toei was trying to cash in by throwing in some bits from the Lucas epic, then-stars Chiba, Sanada, and Shihomi, and a veteran gaijin actor who needed a paycheck in Morrow. To a degree, and probably more to the credit of Fukasaku, the combination works.
Of all the Japanese films I've seen, if there was ever a film that exemplified the bloat and excess of that country's 1980's bubble era, it is the live-action version of 1988's Tokyo - The Last Megalopolis with its all star cast (Shintaro Katsu, Kyusaku Shimada, Jo Shishido, Tetsuro Tamba), going-everywhere-except-toward-a-conclusion storyline, and its single decent special effect designed by H.R. Giger, the film feels like a "because we want to and because we can" type of affair. Though Fukasaku's Message From Space pre-dated this era of great wealth and waste, it does share some of the bloat. The quality of studio sets and effects range from high school cardboard standups to subpar '70s Battlestar Galactica laser effects. Hell, even the laser guns in the movie look like exotic garden hose attachments than scientifically designed firearms capable of containing and conducting a laser to its destination. Still, though, to Fukasaku's credit, it really looks like he was trying to stretch the budget (the amount of which is unknown to me) instead of cut corners. The film is also well-paced and has enough dogfights and goofball action for every fan of good, cheap sci-fi.

The copy that I watched was the English dubbed version but here's the original Japanese trailer:

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Another Bye-Bye

Well, I don't mean to turn this blog into the bearer of bad news but we have another organization to sort of bid a fond farewell to. Some of you might know that Tartan USA shut its doors a couple of months ago and basically liquidated all of the films in their collection. The significance of this information to this blog is that Tartan had their "Asia Extreme" line of films which included some household titles like Oldboy, A Tale of Two Sisters, the re-release of Tetsuo, Vital, Marebito and others. Tartan also had a small but respectable line of other indie titles in their catalog including Battle In Heaven and The Cave of the Yellow Dog. This should have been a foreshadowing of worse things to come. In fact, the worse has come as Tartan's main UK branch appears as if they have done the equivalent of filing chapter 13 bankruptcy.

This is not particularly big news for the US since there is not much of a shortage of indie companies releasing seeming waves of Asian films. In fact, Media Blasters recent stepping up their Tokyo Shock line by dipping into the Shaw Brothers catalog suggests that they could theoretically pick up the Asia Extreme line. For UK and Euro film fans, though, the cut is much deeper since Tartan has been one company that has really pushed indie movies and their catalog certainly shows it; if you dig deep enough you will find that they had releases as diverse as El Topo, Battle Royale, Tokyo Story, and Super Size Me. For our UK and Euro fans' sake, we hope that Tartan can pull through OK.