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Cult

Phantasm Xmas ornament photo
Phantasm Xmas ornament

This Phantasm sphere Christmas ornament is not a dream... BOOOOOOY!


Deck the balls with Tall Man mayhem...
Dec 07
// Hubert Vigilla
Phantasm is one of the great influential cult horror movies. Released in 1979, the film unfolds like a strange teenage nerd dream--a little bit B-movie, a little bit Something Wicked This Way Comes. In some ways, 2016 was the...
Kodoku Meatball Machine photo
Kodoku Meatball Machine

The trailer for Kodoku: Meatball Machine is blood-soaked and absolutely bonkers (NSFW)


Content and title are a perfect match
Dec 06
// Hubert Vigilla
If GWAR in its classic form decided to remake Tetsuo: The Iron Man, it might look like Yoshihiro Nishimura's Kodoku: Meatball Machine. That is all I can really say. There are no words. Just feelings. Strange, strange feelings. Seriously, watch this f**king trailer, dudes. Note: There is a lot of blood and some (maybe fake?) nudity.
Lost MST3K episodes found photo
Lost MST3K episodes found

The first MST3K episodes have been found, are available to stream for Kickstarter backers


Like finding long-lost geek demos
Nov 30
// Hubert Vigilla
The new Mystery Science Theater 3000 should show up on Netflix some time next year. We still don't know what movies Jonah Ray and the bots will be watching, or how the new cast will interact with some of the familiar faces, b...
MST3K Turkey Day 2016 photo
MST3K Turkey Day 2016

MST3K Turkey Day is back for Thanksgiving 2016 with Joel Hodgson and Jonah Ray


Their top six episodes as voted by fans
Nov 23
// Hubert Vigilla
Thanksgiving is tomorrow. You're probably busy traveling or pretending to work or fretting over the time you have to spend with your relatives right now. If you're stressed out or feeling down, buck up: MST3K's Turkey Day is ...
Kadokawa retrospective photo
Kadokawa retrospective

NYC: Haruki Kadokawa 80s cinema retrospective at Japan Society (Nov 8-Dec 17)


Producer, publisher, poet, eccentric
Nov 11
// Hubert Vigilla
Japan Society routinely has excellent screenings and film series throughout the year for fans of Japanese cinema. Right now there's a special retrospective on flamboyant book publisher and film producer Haruki Kadokawa. The s...
Big Lebowski spin-off photo
Big Lebowski spin-off

The Jesus Returns: First look at John Turturro's Big Lebowski spin-off Going Places


Until it goes click
Oct 28
// Hubert Vigilla
The Big Lebowski overflowed with memorable characters, from The Dude, Walter, and Donny to known-pornographer Jackie Treehorn and The Dude's awkward landlord. The best of the side characters, though, was John Turturro's Jesus...
Uwe Boll retires photo
Uwe Boll retires

Horrible director Uwe Boll says he will quit making terrible movies... again


Goodnight, schlock prince
Oct 26
// Hubert Vigilla
After years of making crummy video game adaptations and low-rent garbage, Uwe Boll claims that he will quit directing movies. This comes on the heels of his supposed swan song, Rampage: President Down. From the title alone, i...

Review: Tampopo

Oct 21 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220968:43157:0[/embed] TampopoDirector: Juzo ItamiRating: NRRelease Date: October 21, 2016 (limited)Country: Japan  There's a familiar old west tale in Tampopo, with variations on cowboys and saloons and pretty schoolmarms. Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and Gun (Ken Watanabe) are a pair of truck-driving gourmands that mosey into town. They stop by a noddle shop in a sorry state run by a widow named Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto). She's quaint, mousy, often dressed in gingham, demure to a fault. Also, her ramen just plain sucks. Since they're good cowboys, Goro and Gun help Tampopo improve her shop, sort of like working the farm or rebuilding this here schoolhouse. Tampopo spends the the film perfecting her ramen and in the process attempts to perfect herself. It's not just a western but, philosophically, a martial arts movie. This is a story about the discipline of mastery. Think Jiro Dreams of Sushi, except ramen: self-improvement through a process of trial and error and practice. It's a familiar narrative, but when filtered through an unexpected intermediary, it achieves remarkable existential heft. Even in a decidedly lighthearted comedy like Tampopo, it's moving to witness someone try and try again until they achieve some ennobling dignity, no matter how small. All that effort for a good bowl of soup. But that's just part of the oddball/heartfelt appeal of Tampopo. Soba isn't the only noodle. The movie starts with a gangster in white (Koji Yakusho) and his moll (Fukumi Kuroda) entering a movie theater, ostensibly to watch the main story of Tampopo described above. The gangster waxes philosophical about life, death, and the movies, and then roughs up a guy crinkling a bag of chips in the row behind him. Later in the film, the gangster and his moll reappear periodically, using food as foreplay. By comparison, these scenes make 9 1/2 Weeks seem like the missionary position in Mormon underwear. Swirling around these two recurring narratives are a series of one-off skits on the role of food in people's lives. So many rituals, roles, and social codes are built around food and propriety, and we take a break from our gal at the noodle shop to get a survey of food culture in 1980s Japan. What Tampopo seems to emphasize in most of these one-offs is the sensual pleasure of food, and how our desire for sweets and richness and even just sloppy eating can't be restrained. Yet even when defying restraint, our taste for the sensual can be refined and in the process our appreciation for pleasure deepened. Tampopo isn't a movie for foodies. What a wretched, bourgie word that is. Tampopo is a movie for uplifting gormandizers who want to suck marrow rather than spoon it from the bone. Tampopo was just the second film from Itami, though it seems so assured and confident. Who else but a confident filmmaker decides to include a goofy rice omelet scene with a hobo? At numerous times the actors address some off-camera interlocutor by looking directly at the audience. This recurring quirk is sort of like Ozu, but not like Ozu at all. Tonally I was reminded a little of A Christmas Story, but then in comes a sexy or dark or sensitive moment redolent of some separate influence. Every couple minutes, unexpected surprises, and just more and more delight.
Review: Tampopo photo
Zen and the sexiness of ramen making
Prior to this week, the last time I saw Juzo Itami's 1985 food comedy Tampopo was in the mid-90s. I remembered so little of the movie save for the fact that I enjoyed it. Some isolated scenes are easy to recall, though. There...

Tampopo rerelease photo
Tampopo rerelease

Quirky cult Japanese food comedy Tampopo getting 4k restoration and theatrical rerelease


Egg-cellent and egg-quisite
Sep 13
// Hubert Vigilla
To paraphrase Roger Ebert, Juzo Itami's 1985 Japanese comedy Tampopo seems to exist outside of traditional categories. It's a movie I remember enjoying a lot when I rented it in high school, with its oddball exploration of fo...
Heathers TV pilot photo
Heathers TV pilot

A Heathers TV pilot has been ordered by TV Land--yes, that Heathers


This is so very
Sep 09
// Hubert Vigilla
Heathers starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater is one of the great cult movies of the 1980s. It's a pitch black dive into the worst aspects of high school and its clique mentality. Heathers was adapted into a s...
Willy Wonka 35mm photo
Willy Wonka 35mm

NYC: Metrograph showing Willy Wonka in 35mm Labor Day weekend


Young lovers love the spring
Sep 02
// Hubert Vigilla
If you live in New York City and can't get into the AMC screenings of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory this weekend, you may still get to see the movie on the big screen in the next few days. Metrograph (one of my favori...

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer getting 4k restoration, 30th anniversary theatrical re-release

Aug 28 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220820:43067:0[/embed] If you've never seen Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer before, the trailer above will give you an idea of what to expect. What makes the movie so chilling isn't the gore (though it has its share) but rather its worldview. The movie is an upsetting, psychotic nightmare played straight for its duration. Henry feels real, and that's a terrifying thing. Expect a Flixist Cult Club spotlight on Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer in mid-October. Below is a theatrical re-release poster for Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Additional screening engagements and Blu-ray release information are currently unavailable. [via Fangoria]
Henry 30th anniversary photo
An underrated and unsung classic
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is one of the best horror movies of the 1980s. Directed and co-written by John McNaughton, the film is an unrelentingly bleak trip into the world of its title character. Loosely based on rea...

Phantasm sequel and 4k photo
Phantasm sequel and 4k

Phantasm: Ravager and the Phantasm 4k remaster get release dates--BOOOOOY!


Balls to the wall in Sept and Oct
Aug 10
// Hubert Vigilla
A while ago we reported that J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot was overseeing a 4k restoration of Don Coscarelli's 1979 cult classic Phantasm. I speculated that the remaster would be released to coincide with the fifth and final film in...
S-M-R-T... S-M-R-A-T! photo
S-M-R-T... S-M-R-A-T!

Enjoying trashy movies is linked to high intelligence, making all of us brilliant


BRILLIANT!
Aug 04
// Hubert Vigilla
Everyone loves a bad movie every now and then. Whether it be a cult favorite like Troll 2, Tommy Wiseau's The Room, or Miami Connection, or the riffs on rubbish courtesy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 or RiffTrax, there's a ...
MST3K Netflix photo
MST3K Netflix

The Mystery Science Theater 3000 revival will be on Netflix


And some familiar faces are back
Jul 25
// Hubert Vigilla
After breaking Kickstarter records, the new cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000 has found a home. And no, I'm not talking about the Satellite of Love. They announced during San Diego Comic-Con that the MST3K revival will be ...

Watch Hardy vs. Hardy: The Final Deletion (aka wrestling meets Tommy Wiseau's The Room)

Jul 10 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220650:42981:0[/embed] Guys, that aired on TV somehow. (Given, it was on Pop TV, but still.) Let's get something straight: this was not a good match, it was not a good promo, and it wasn't even that good a wrastlin' short film. And yet there's something about it that's almost badgood. I found it watchable because I couldn't look away. Hardy v Hardy: Dawn of Dilapidated Boat is a sort of minor kitsch masterpiece in the vein of bad 80s action movies and earnestly made but ultimately execrable indie films (e.g., The Room, the work of Neil Breen). I don't like it. I don't love it. I don't know. What do you think about this match? Let us know in the comments, and say hi to the doggy. [via YouTube]
Hardy v Hardy v Wiseau photo
It's an extraordinary xylophone, Lisa!
WWE dominates the wrestling world today, though indie and international promotions like Ring of Honor, Lucha Underground, New Japan, and Chikara offer some excellent alternatives. Yet these are relatively niche; even WWE's in...

MST3K contest photo
MST3K contest

Win a $2700 prize pack to see the RiffTrax Live: MST3K Reunion in Minneapolis


I don't care! (No, but I do)
Jun 13
// Hubert Vigilla
The MST3K Reunion show on June 28th promises to be a swell time. It brings together the great bad-movie riffers from the Joel and Mike eras of the show as well as new host Jonah Ray. Tickets for the actual event in Minne...

Review: A Touch of Zen

Apr 22 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220492:42919:0[/embed] A Touch of Zen (Xia Nu, 俠女)Director: King HuRating: NRRelease Date: April 22, 2016 (New York, with subsequent expansion)Country: Taiwan A Touch of Zen is such a singular sort of movie. After the success of Come Drink with Me and Dragon Inn, Hu had the creative freedom to do what he wanted, and the result was a movie of different moods and different modes. There is the wuxia element centered around a heroic fugitive named Yang (Feng Hsu), a swordswoman fighting for her life after corrupt government officials have murdered the rest of her family. She's one of Hu's many female heroes, though this movie doesn't have the same level of gender role confusion seen in other martial arts films. Yang is a woman but never mistaken for a man (the common genre convention), and she's the most capable fighter in the film. The centerpiece fight in the bamboo grove is an exhilarating bit of old school swordsman action. When A Touch of Zen was released as two films, the bamboo fight concluded the first movie and opened the second. Hu further adapts the theatrical movements of Peking Opera and the visual style of Japanese samurai pictures (en vogue at the time) to a swashbuckling cinematic form uniquely suited to Chinese martial arts. Trampolines give the heroes and villains a kind of superheroic flair as they clash with one another on rooftops and treetops. Hsu slashes, evades, and ripostes, and Hu cuts the action together to add intensity to the elegant movements on display. The action in A Touch of Zen feels like a transition period in fight choreography between the stage-like combat of the 1960s to the faster-paced cinematic combat that would be pioneered by later Shaw Brothers filmmakers Chang Cheh and Lau Kar-Leung. Yet the first fight doesn't occur until at least one hour into the film. Instead of rollicking adventure, A Touch of Zen opens with the banal rhythms of pastoral life. We follow a bumbling mama's boy/artist-scholar named Ku (Chun Shih), who takes an interest in Yang and a blind man (Ying Bai) who are hiding in an abandoned ruin. Ku is an archetypal fool, and a great vessel for the audience into the story (which has an archetypal opening: a stranger comes into town). While he's crafty, Ku's a coward and he falls in love too easily, which is a great contrast to Yang's ruggedly stoic heroism. Before A Touch of Zen, Chun Shih played the hero of Hu's Dragon Inn. In a subversive move, Hu has a previous star play against type and also against gender stereotype. And then there's the Zen Buddhism, which pervades the film's visual style emphasizing nature, seasons, and impermanence. I mentioned patience at the beginning of the review, and Hu's return to slow rhythms and long takes seems to give the audience a chance to breathe and take in each scene. A group of Buddhist monks show up when Yang is on the run, and they are unstoppable force and immovable object. They're shot with diffuse or star-filtered light emanating from behind them, and they seem to be followed by a supernatural veil of mist. The Zen aspects figure heavily in the film's unexpectedly bonkers finale, which I can only be described as 2001: A Space Odyssey meets El Topo.  The 4K digital restoration looks great during the daytime shots--you can make out the dust on King Hu's camera lenses as he lovingly absorbs hillsides and waterfalls and sky--though I noticed some major issues with image noise during the nighttime scenes. One of the pivotal action sequences in the last half of the film is at night, and it was often difficult to make out what was happening in each scene. Part of it may be the limitations of lighting and photography that Hu had to work with back then, though I sense there might have been an issue with the projection and/or the copy I saw during my screening. I'm curious to see A Touch of Zen again now that it's out in theaters, just to see for myself if the digital noise has been eliminated/addressed. Besides, I could use a little more patience and adventure in my life.
Review: A Touch of Zen photo
The beguiling wuxia masterpiece in 4k
A Touch of Zen is King Hu's masterpiece, yet unless you're patient and a bit adventurous, it may not be the best introduction to his work. Dragon Inn, his straightforward wuxia classic from 1967, might be a more palatable ent...

Rifftrax and MST3K photo
Rifftrax and MST3K

Kickstarter: The RiffTrax Live MST3K Reunion Show adds new stretch goals in final hours


ROAD HOUSE!
Apr 08
// Hubert Vigilla
As we noted earlier in the week, the RiffTrax Live MST3K reunion show has been successfully funded on Kickstarter. Bringing together Joel-era and Mike-era casts as well as new host Jonah Ray, the reunion show will take place ...

NYC: 6th Old School Kung Fu Fest showcases the badassery of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Golden Harvest

Apr 06 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220479:42891:0[/embed] Enter the Dragon (1973)Starring Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Bolo Yeung Even though Fist of Fury (aka The Chinese Connection) is my favorite Bruce Lee movie, I can't deny the importance of Enter the Dragon. The landmark movie brought Lee international stardom, and it helped kick off my personal martial arts movie obsession. (Ditto Infra-Man.) The film would also help propel the film careers of perennial bad guy Bolo Yeung (Bloodsport) and blaxploitation star Jim Kelly (Black Belt Jones). The set-up is simple: infiltrate an island, punch and kick people really hard, repeat. In addition to one of the most brutal kicks to the head in cinema history and a funky ass Lalo Schifrin score, Enter the Dragon manages to impart some martial arts philosophy amid the mayhem. Sammo Hung makes a cameo appearance, as does Jackie Chan in two blink-or-you'll-miss-him moments while Bruce Lee dispenses of faceless goons. [embed]220479:42892:0[/embed] The Man from Hong Kong aka The Dragon Flies (1975)Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, George Lazenby, Roger Ward, Hugh Keays-Byrne Australian exploitation movies are bonkers in the best possible way. Take The Man from Hong Kong for example. The film stars Shanghai-born Jimmy Wang Yu (Master of the Flying Guillotine, One-Armed Swordsman) as a violent Chinese supercop sent to fight an Australian crime boss played by George Lazenby (James freakin' Bond). The film is recklessly enjoyable. Yu blows up cars, demolishes a Chinese restaurant, blows up buildings, and effortlessly seduces comely Aussie women (whom he apparently detested behind the scenes). Sammo Hung also appears in this movie, as does Roger Ward (Mad Max) and Hugh Keays-Byrne (Mad Max, Mad Max: Fury Road). For more on The Man from Hong Kong and other great Australian exploitation movies, I urge you to watch Mark Hartley's excellent documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! [embed]220479:42889:0[/embed] Pedicab Driver (1989)Starring Sammo Hung, Nina Li, Lau Kar-Leung, Billy Chow Both Enter the Dragon and The Man from Hong Kong are American and Australian co-productions, respectively. Pedicab Driver, on the other hand, is a Hong Kong movie through and through, featuring hard-hitting action, broad Cantonese comedy, machismo, and extreme melodrama. It may be a matter of taste, but I love that histrionic hodgepodge. (Though its gender and sexual politics are definitely of a different era.) The film follows the travails of some pedicab drivers as they look for love and seek justice against an irredeemable crime boss. Pedicab Driver features an exceptional fight between director/star Sammo Hung and Lau Kar-Leung. Lau was one of Shaw Brothers' premiere action filmmakers, which makes his on-screen battle with Hung feel like a generational passing of the torch. Sammo Hung also dukes it out with Billy Chow (Fist of Legend). Both fights typify the fast, fierce choreography that Hung perfected in the 80s. [embed]220479:42890:0[/embed] Rumble in the Bronx (1995)Starring Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Francoise Yip, Bill Tung Jackie Chan didn't break big into the US market until Rumble in the Bronx, which received a major push when Quentin Tarantino championed Chan's work at the 1995 MTV Movie Awards. For most Americans, Rumble in the Bronx was Jackie Chan 101: Introduction to Jackie Chan. While not his best Golden Harvest movie, Chan shows off his prowess as a choreographer, stuntman, and cornball comedian, including a memorable clash with a gang in a hideout full of props. Based on the info listed by Subway Cinema and Metrograph, Old School Kung Fu Fest is apparently screening the longer Hong Kong version of Rumble in the Bronx rather than the American cut released by New Line Cinema. This means you get a better-paced film with the original score and sound effects, and you'll be seeing a version of the movie not readily available stateside.
Old School Kung Fu Fest photo
Celebrating Hong Kong action cinema
This weekend (April 8-10) is the 6th Old School Kung Fu Fest, put on by Subway Cinema and held at Metrograph in the Lower East Side. This year's unifying theme is Golden Harvest. Co-founded by Raymond Chow and Leonard Ho, Gol...

Japan Sings! April 8-23 photo
Check out the Japan Sings! series
Japan Society is a great place to catch Japanese cinema here in New York. If you're around in April, you'll definitely want to check out Japan Sings! This film series (curated by Michael Raine) runs from April 8th to April 23...

RIP Andrzej Zulawski (1940-2016)

Feb 17 // Hubert Vigilla
RIP Andrzej Zulawski photo
A great cult filmmaker from Poland
Andrzej Zulawski, the Polish director behind cult classics such as Possession and On the Silver Globe, passed away on Wednesday. He was 75 years old. In 2012, BAMcinématek held a retrospective of Zulawski's work titled...

RIP Abe Vigoda (1921-2016)

Jan 27 // Hubert Vigilla
The false reports of Vigoda's death turned him into a sort of irreverent comic figure (getting more irreverent and more comic as the actor got older), and it eventually spawned a few internet memes at various websites. Someone even started the website isabevigodadead.com, which up until yesterday simply said "No." Vigoda was beloved, to be sure, so much so that he would pop up in unexpected places and provide joy simply from his unexpected presence. Case in point, here he is at a Phish show on Halloween in 2013. [embed]220314:42798:0[/embed] According to his daughter Carol Vigoda Fuchs, Abe passed away peacefully in his sleep due to old age. "This man was never sick," Fuchs said. Here's a clip of Conan O'Brien and Andy Richter paying tribute to Abe Vigoda yesterday for his countless appearances on their NBC Late Night show. [embed]220314:42796:0[/embed] Classic Abe Vigoda. [via Variety, ABC]
RIP Abe Vigoda photo
Goodnight, Abe
Abe Vigoda, best known for his work in Barney Miller and The Godfather, passed away yesterday. He was 94 years old. While he was recognizable character actor throughout his long career, at a certain point in his life, Abe Vig...

David Bowie: Sound/Vision photo
David Bowie: Sound/Vision

NYC: Paley Center starts David Bowie: Sound + Vision series this weekend


To honor the life of David Bowie
Jan 14
// Hubert Vigilla
David Bowie's death just days after the release of Blackstar was a painful shock to many. To celebrate his life, The Paley Center for Media in New York will reprise its 2002 screening series David Bowie: Sound + Vision. Takin...
Ridley Scott/The Prisoner photo
Ridley Scott/The Prisoner

Ridley Scott wants to adapt The Prisoner for the big screen


Plus Hubert's preferred episode order
Jan 11
// Hubert Vigilla
Originally aired in 1967 and 1968, The Prisoner is one of the best TV shows of all time. Many directors have tried to bring it to the big screen, including Simon West and Christopher Nolan, and the show had a poorly received ...

RIP Angus Scrimm (1926-2016)

Jan 10 // Hubert Vigilla
Phantasm's Tall Man has p photo
Phantasm's Tall Man has passed away
Angus Scrimm, the actor best know for portraying The Tall Man in the Phantasm films, died yesterday in Los Angeles. He was 89 years old. Phantasm director Don Coscarelli emailed the following statement to Entertainment Weekly...

Of Oz the Wizard photo
Of Oz the Wizard

Watch: The Wizard of Oz re-edited alphabetically (Of Oz the Wizard)


Home Like No Place There's
Jan 08
// Hubert Vigilla
If you are a person of a certain age who has tried certain substances, you've probably synced The Wizard of Oz to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. It lent the movie an added air of weirdness and otherworldliness in the pop...
Phantasm 4k restoration photo
Phantasm 4k restoration

In addition to Star Wars, J.J. Abrams is doing a Phantasm 4k restoration


Boooooooooy!
Dec 14
// Hubert Vigilla
J.J. Abrams and Disney have been really good at keeping most of Star Wars: The Force Awakens a secret. That'll change tonight after the film premieres, and on December 16th when official reviews go online. Abrams and his comp...

Review: Seven Weeks (Nononanananoka)

Dec 04 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220169:42720:0[/embed] Seven Weeks (野のなななのか, Nononanananoka)Director: Nobuhiko ObayashiRelease Date: March 2, 2014 (Japan)Rating: n/aCountry: Japan There's a line in Neil Gaiman's Sandman that goes, "If you keep [stories] going long enough, they always end in death." Ironically, death is also a great place to start a story. When a friend or relative passes away, loved ones gather to mourn and remember, and in the process they find something useful for the future. Seven Weeks opens on a similar note, commemorating the real-life passing of a director before saying that each time someone dies, someone else is born to take his or her place. So stories keep going, and there's death, but it's not necessarily the end; it's more like a continuing historical process. That's the broad shape of Seven Weeks. A family's 92-year-old patriarch, Dr. Suzuki Mitsuo (Shinagawa Toru), passes away, and the film proceeds to explore the town he lives in, his secret past during WWII, and the lives of his surviving family and friends. The film is set in Ashibetsu, a mining town whose population has dwindled as reliance on coal has declined. The characters in the film often have rapid, funny exchanges with one another, especially in the first hour, which plays out with the speed of a screwball comedy. It's not just Mitsuo's surviving family members doing the talking. The ghost of Mitsuo also has a chance to comment on his own life and death, which he does at length. Even though I'm only mildly familiar with the history and politics of post-war Japan, the setting is essential for Obayashi's concerns, which are at once distinctly Japanese and yet also universal. So many of the anxieties of every generation are rooted in the inability to account for a world that's constantly changing. Moving from coal power, Japan settled on nuclear energy, and yet with nuclear power comes a reminder of the atomic bomb and, more recently, the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima. What next, where to go, what to do? When Mitsuo's family brings these concerns up, Seven Weeks feels like a message movie about green energy, albeit a sincere one. The local economy in Ashibetsu isn't what it used to be and may continue to decline, and yet Obayashi lovingly photographs the rural landscape, always finding beauty and grace in the hillsides. It's as if somewhere in the past, in the very soil of this place, there's an answer, or at least a chance for beautiful reflection that can inspire worthwhile solutions. I sensed a few nods to Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries, which is apt. Similar concerns of place and tradition come from a few of Mitsuo's drunk contemporaries, who talk about the loss of a traditional Japanese culture, the west exerting more cultural influence on the country and its youth in the post-war period. Mitsuo's own struggles with the past suggest an unwillingness to let go, haunted by a poem and the memory of a woman. His clinic even has an adjoining local history museum, which suggests different ways and reasons why we hold on to events from our past. Seven Weeks clocks in at nearly three hours. Some long films feel much shorter, but Seven Weeks feels like it's three hours. That's not really a bad thing, but anyone expecting the movie to be brisk will be disappointed. Anyone expecting an experience like Hausu will be especially disappointed. Seven Weeks contains a few flashes of anarchic experimentation like Hausu, but it's mostly a grounded affair given the subject matter. The characters are quirky, but mostly only just. There's a monk who plucks and admires his comically large ear hair, which has a nice payoff in a scene in which one of Mitsuo's grandsons starting picking his own nose hair. A few uses of blue screen and green screen to convey the passing of time and the change in the seasons are jarring since they look spotty, but for the most part there's a slow, deliberate confidence in much of Seven Weeks that reveals an old director in complete control of his material. There's an overture played throughout Seven Weeks by a group of marching ghosts. The spectral musicians are motif I've seen in a few other Japanese movies, though I'm still never quite sure what to make of them. The melody they play is rather charming, and the slow yet beautiful dazzle of the tune seems mirrored in the pace of the film. The ghosts walk the landscape and play their song, and they're a calming presence in Seven Weeks. The whole film has a calming and contemplative presence, in fact, like a grandfather telling a story. Sometimes we drift in and out when listening to the tale, but there are details and textures we recall vividly, and it's just nice to hear that voice.
Review: Seven Weeks photo
Past, present, future
Even though most people in the US know Nobuhiko Obayashi for his 1977 cult classic House (Hausu), he's remained a prolific filmmaker in Japan. His body of work is varied, including the body swap comedy Exchange Students ...

Nobuhiko Obayashi: The Strange, the Sweet, and the Childlike

Nov 20 // Hubert Vigilla
In Alec's Cult Club piece on Hausu, he hinged some of his observations on the childlike approach to the film. Originally intended as a remake of Jaws, Obayashi went entirely in his own direction, blending his background in experimental filmmaking with the imagery of soap operas, melodramas, youth pictures, and colorful horror films. (I'd still love to see a Jaws remake done in the style of Hausu.) Obayashi turned to his 10-year-old daughter for the film's story, and it feels like the sort of story a 10-year-old would tell. There's a haunted house that eats people, and a bunch of school girls are its prey. Spooky and surreal things happen. And then Noodle Bear. I mentioned last week that Hausu feels like the fever dream of an imaginative child who's really into Scooby-Doo and Mario Bava. The events unfold with the logic of the subconscious, as Obayashi fills the film with his young daughter's fears. It's an anarchic film, a story told without an expectation of adult rules since the film is mostly about young girls fending for themselves and using their own skills and ingenuity to do it. The finished movie is like the work of a child rooting through an upended box of art supplies and being asked to make a pretty picture. And what a pretty picture. What's striking about Hausu is how the movie seems stitched together by the childlike conjunction "and then"--they went to the house and then Mac's head flew around and then the piano ate a girl and then Kung Fu jumpkicked stuff and then the man turned into bananas and then there was a flood. It's a flow of strange ideas, and if a 10-year-old girl told it to you, the stream would only be interrupted for the occasional impish giggle and a brief fit of hyperventilation to catch a breath. I Are You, You Am Me (転校生, Tenkousei) is a much quieter and down-to-earth film adapted from a novel by Hisashi Yamanaka. Sure, almost any film is much quieter and down-to-earth than Hausu, but I get a sense that I Are You is less like a movie told by a 10-year-old and more like a movie made by an adult who's taking a thoughtful look back at what it was like to be 14. I Are You is something of an adolescent minor-masterpiece, a coming-of-age story built on one of the great comedy sub-genres of the 70s and 80s: the body-swap movie. Rather than swap roles of parent and child, I Are You switches the minds of a boy named Kazuo and a girl named Kazumi during the awkward early teen years. Seeing the two child leads "act male" (snips and snails and puppy dogs' tails) and "act female" (sugar and spice and everything nice) is pretty fascinating, particularly given how gender norms have become more fluid over time, but almost all ideas of maleness and femaleness are products of their time and culture, and so the gender norms in the film are no exception. (Tangent: Maybe there's an era-specific nature to the body-swap genre? Decades when the world started to become more interconnected and the earth a little flatter?) I Are You predominantly centers on Kazuo's mind in Kazumi's body, which might be a kind of stand-in for Obayashi himself as he tries to inhabit the world of adolescence again and what it's like to be a young girl. Young actress Satomi Kobayashi has solid body language playing a guy, sort of like Hausu's Kung Fu by way of Tom Sawyer. By contrast, Kazumi's mind in Kazuo's body is meek and out of sorts, with more than a hint of deep depression. Before the body swap happened, Kazumi was a happy transfer student who's new in town. Now she's been unmoored from her own body, and she may have to move away with Kazuo's family. That unanchored, life-in-flux state is part of growing up, but here its given more metaphorical heaviness. Much of I Are You is goofy, but it arrives at a beautiful, wistful tone by the final half hour. Many coming-of-age stories are defined by a lesson that equips a child for the adult world. In I Are You, it's all about the beauty of empathy. Bound for the Fields, the Mountains, and the Seacoast (野ゆき山ゆき海べゆき, No Yuki Yama Yuki Umibe Yuki) is also a great film, and also its own animal, which speaks to Obayashi's diverse range as a filmmaker and the concerns he has as a storyteller. It's a period piece set right before World War II, focused predominantly on the lives of the children of a town as a counterpoint to the poisonous nationalism, militarism, and conformity of the adults. It's a type of coming-of-age film about empathy, and yet it's done in a style reminiscent of Yasujiro Ozu, with balanced compositions and characters looking right into the camera as they recite their lines. In terms of weirdness, Bound for the Fields splits the difference between Hausu and I Are You, like a break in the child world of experience and the adult world. Obayashi continually finds surreal, fantastical moments to play with and locates that beating human heart in the scene. When a young woman meets with a lover at night to discuss running away--she's going to be sold to a brothel, he's been conscripted into the Japanese military--there's a pair of extras above them at a dock playing with sparklers. As we come in for the two-shot of the couple, the foreground becomes filled with sparks. It's a beautiful bit of romantic dazzle. By focusing on children in Bound for the Fields, Obayashi is able to critique the absurdities and horrors of war and also the underlying creepiness of playing war as a child. As the kids simulate a battle, they chuck rocks at one another. It's fun and games, but as their bodies lay flat to play dead, it can't help but evoke thoughts of the real and forthcoming horrors of WWII; the same goes when watching the kids tied up playing prisoner and tortured enemy combatant. As the factions of children join together to save a boy's sister-in-law from life in a brothel, they come up with a type of game that doubles as a rescue mission. It reminded me of the weird solution that Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer have for getting Jim out of his jam. Mark Twain did that rescue as a farce because, as George Saunders mentioned in an essay, the ugly and logical reality of what would have happened to Jim had it not been a farce would be too dark to handle in a comic novel. Obayashi, on the other hand, takes the light and the dark of the situation, blending farce with painful social commentary. As a coming-of-age-story, Bound for the Fields deals with the way children confront the ugliness of the adult world, and also the realization that it's a world they'll eventually join.
Nobuhiko Obayashi photo
Youthful Anarchism vs. The Adult World
The largest retrospective of Nobuhiko Obayashi's work in the United States kicks off tonight at The Japan Society with a screening of House (Hausu). Hausu is Obayashi's best known work in the US, and probably the only one of ...


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