Friday, July 31, 2009

Revealing the Gakken SX-150 analog synthesizer

Our first video is the unboxing of a Gakken SX-150 analog synthesizer that I got a few months ago. I was hoping that this would be a more complex assembly job but it ended up only taking me about ten minutes to complete. As a 'musical' synthesizer, it's not much but I will try to use it once I start composing some eight-bit music again in the future.

As with other videos, this will be archived in the "on demand library" of the Gaijinzoku Cinema player.

P.S. Sorry about the Blair Witch Project-like camerawork.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Livestream stuff (or "Look ma, I'm on the internet!")

Undoubtedly, you have noticed the new toy on the front page, welcome to Gaijinzoku Cinema! The GC feed (whose standalone page is here) has a loop of various Japanese movie trailers, clips, and features. In the near future, I will also be posting some video blog stuff such as film and book reviews, interviews, etc. (which will be accessible as "on-demand" video). Also, if there's any demand, I may also broadcast a live event with a movie and/or have live discussion. Feel free to comment or email me if you have any feedback, suggestions, or ideas; I'd be happy to hear them. In the meantime, new trailers and clips will be added to the feed periodically so feel free to come and view them anytime.

Speaking of live events, I will be hosting a live movie night event sponsored by the other site I write for, Varied Celluloid. The link to the feed is here and the event will be on Sunday, August 2nd, 2009 at 7:00pm PST. I will review a couple of films then show some trailers and the uncut European edition of the horror comedy classic Braindead (aka Dead Alive) directed by a pre-Lord of the Rings and King Kong Peter Jackson. Again, feel free to log in - registration is not required - watch, and participate via text chat.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Short, sharp shocks: The X from Outer Space, Cash Calls Hell, Abashiri Prison

"Short, sharp shocks" is a new section in which I will give short looks at films that are not readily (and/or officially) found on DVD at the time of writing.

The X from Outer Space (1968; dir: Kazui Nihonmatsu). The "X" (or Guilala as he is known in his native Japan) was, as you can imagine, another Godzilla cash-in replete with a rubber suited monster (which is very chicken-like, to boot), terrible cityscapes constructed of models, even worse spaceship sets, lasers, convoluted sci-fi dialog (the monster can be destroyed by an element known as "Guilalaium"), broad characterizations, and bad acting. The plot is standard: ol' X comes from a pod-like egg resulting from the main characters' trip through an asteroid belt. Of course, ill-advisedly, they bring the pod back and X hatches and reaks (reeks?) havoc on Tokyo and the surrounding areas. Unlike other kaiju films of its kind, X dispenses with an orchestral or even a stock film score and opts for a lot of ill-fitting go-go music instead. Put out by the normally classy Shochiku studios, The X from Outer Space is for B-movie and/or kaiju fans only. For everyone else, leave the Guilala and get with the Godzilla. A sequel of sorts, The Monster X Strikes Back, has recently been released.

Cash Calls Hell (1966; Dir: Hideo Gosha).
Whether or not the influence of the West in Japan has been positive is an ongoing question in many academic circles. However, the influence of Western filmic styles has been extremely beneficial, especially in capturing the mood of post-WWII Japan (native films were heavily censored during the war and foreign films were outright banned): the rampant poverty, lawlessness, desperation, anger have all been captured in, among many other films, The Burmese Harp (1956; dir: Kon Ichikawa), The Human Condition trilogy (1958, 1959, 1962; dir: Masaki Kobayashi), and later in the epic Battles Without Honor and Humanity series (1973 - 1979; dir: Kinji Fukasaku). Gosha's Cash Calls Hell is another that owes a lot to Western film, noir in particular. Always awesome Tatsuya Nakadai plays Oida, an ex-con, caught in the middle of a two-year blood pact between four other men whom Oida must go along with and against throughout the film. Gosha, always a capable director, puts in one of his best efforts and does well replicating noir techniques: lighting, odd and interesting camera angles, and nicely framed shots. A shame this isn't available officially on any format.

Abashiri Prison (1965, dir: Teruo Ishii) Ken Takakura, who plays the protagonist of Abashiri Prison, is probably better known outside of his country for his roles in the 1974 Sydney Pollack potboiler The Yakuza, the broad 1992 comedy Mr. Baseball, and animal trainer to Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia in 1989's Black Rain (Takakura's classic line "And I DO speak fucking English" should have been picked up as an advertising slogan for an English school in Japan but that's another story). It may surprise people who only know him for these roles that Takakura is somewhat of a God in the Japanese acting community and the Abashiri Prison series, which got up to seventeen installments, is what elevated him to that status. Takakura plays Tsukibana, a two-bit gangster with a heart of gold whose quick temper and poor decision-making have landed him in Abashiri (an real-life former prison in the Hokkaido region). Tsukibana's mother has fallen sick so he is stuck between waiting for a parole stay or escaping prison. When he becomes an unwitting accomplice to an escape, he must then figure out the right path to redemption. Abashiri is a capable film with a little of everything: action, comedy, mystery, drama but it's Takakura who keeps it all together; his charismatic presence absolutely dominates the film and definitely elevates it above the typical yakuza actioneer. Genre film fans might also take note that this film, much as it did with Takakura, made director Teruo Ishii a household name (well, he was able to get more work anyway). However, you might not find a speck of evidence in Abashiri Prison of what you would find in Ishii's later works such as Shogun's Joy of Torture and Orgies of Edo.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Review: Pachinko in Your Head

The melding of music and environmental sound is nothing new. In fact, the so-called ambient and new age genres have been founded on the reduction of music to emphasize the combination of manufactured and found sounds over notes, harmonies, and melodies. Even in popular music, a sound form as distinctive and abrasive as scratching can be catchy enough for people to reproduce in oral form (i.e. "wicky-wicky-wack").

Deeper into this notion is pure environmental sound as music which is what Pachinko in Your Head: Non-Linear Music (PiYH) is based on. Recorded in 1998 at the Shinjuku Aladdin, a parlor that still stands near the southern exit of the Shinjuku train station in Tokyo, PiYH is one full hour of environmental sound. PiYH, in essence, is just a constant buzz of 8-bit melodies, machinery, yells, bells, bings, and whistles - the din of a parlor at what sounds like its peak time. It's doubtful that many will find value in buying this CD for this very reason and, to reflect that, it seems merchants on eBay and Amazon will practically pay you to take their shrink wrapped, mint condition copies off them. However, a release like this will always possess some sort of curious appeal to audio nerds who think far outside the box. Sure enough, upon extended listening, there is a sort of fascinating order to the chaos, a sort of din not unlike listening to a hive of bees at work (again, if you might be into that sort of thing).

I, myself, bought PiYH out of curiousity and nostalgia, both stemming from being a big pachinko player during my Japanese residence (more about that in later posts). Sure enough, there are sounds that I can pick out easily: the melodies of certain machines (the most dominant being that of Gingira Paradise), the rush of pachinko balls moving from storage zones into machines, the tell-tale ringing of small payouts, the crash of an attendant dumping someone's winnings into a counter, etc. Eclectic German producer Eckart Rahn actually did well in producing the sound of this disc as it never gets too abrasive and even has some dimension to it. Still, or those of you might still have some curious interest in this disc, what you're getting with PiYH can be replicated by looping the following video:

See? I saved you some money, so don't say I never gave you anything before.