Tag Archives: Japan

Now Playing: ‘Blood:The Last Vampire’ is anemic

10 Jul


Blood: The Last Vampire (R) 91 min. Directed by: Chris Nahon. Written by: Chris Chow.based on characters by: Kenji Kamayama & Katsuya Terada. Starring: Gianna Jun, Allison Miller, Maisela Lusha, JJ Field, Koyuki, Liam Cunningham. Cinematography: Hang-Sang Poon Original Music by: Clint Mansell


Looking like the bad dream half-breed of the Martial Arts Matinee and the Saturday Creature Feature, Blood: The Last Vampire comes stumbling into theaters this weekend with little of the style or atmosphere of its animated source material. Based off of a 2001 anime of the same name, Blood tells a story that horror fans could recite in their sleep. There’s a race of terrible creatures who hide themselves among the human population, feeding off of them, and in the midst of this secret tribe is a once-human warrior who rejects her monstrous pedigree. Her name is Saya and along with help from the enigmatic Council, she tracks and kills the vampires (she refers to them as either demons or bloodsuckers) wherever she finds them. Existing forever in a perpetual teenage state, Saya is searching for the head vampiress who turned her and murdered her family 400 years ago.

The culprit is Onigen, a female spirit who looks like a Geisha crossed with a pirahna, and who has most recently taken up resident at an American military base in Japan. When dead and not-so-dead bodies start turning up on base, the Council sends Saya in, undercover as a high school student, to destroy the blood suckers. With a plot like that, one could almost expect a silly gonzo comedy, like the upcoming Vampire Girl Vs. Frankenstein Girl or a hard-edged super-hero thriller like the Blade films. Instead, what flops out on screen is a choppy, half-baked fantasy with so little sense or imagination that its only source of comfort is that it is at least three times as good as the overblown Transformers 2. And trust me, that is meager consolation indeed. Continue reading

Now Playing: ‘Big Man Japan’ trades zero for hero

29 Jun



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 Giant monsters tromping around wrecking cities sounds like alot more fun than it actually is. I’ve been listening to nearly every beleagured friend who has seen the new Transformers movie complain; ‘it’s just giant things punching each other–that’s it!’ Well, duh. In their case, though, I have the perfect remedy; Hitoshi Matsumoto’s Dai Niiponjin, or the english translation, Big Man Japan. Continue reading

Bartleby Abroad: Teen love with a ‘Chainsaw Edge’

1 Jun



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Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge isn’t quite the movie the title or the trailer suggests it will be. After witnessing flashy snippets of a young, female warrior doing battle with a hulking behemoth that looks like Andre the Giant wearing a holocaust cloak and lugging a massive chainsaw, I expected we were in for some zany, hyperactive silliness like Machine Girl or Tokyo Gore Police. As it turns out, NHCE isn’t remotely in the same genre as either of those movies; instead, it’s a teenage romantic comedy.

Huh? You mean it’s got a love story shoehorned into the battles with the giant chainsaw man? No, I mean it’s primarily a teen love story with the chainsaw man providing the film’s metaphorical layer and a few choice action scenes. Yea, if John Hughes moved to Japan and replaced the smug, arrogant boyfriend or the unresponsive, overbearing parent with a gigantic reaper wielding a gas-powered weapon for a hand, it would more or less look exactly like Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge.


  Young schoolboy Yosuke has been having a rather rough time of things ever since his friend Noto died in a motor-bike accident. Always living in his dead friend’s shadow and staging reckless stunts, Yosuke is just haphazardly cruising through life when he runs into the bewitching but somber Eri. Yosuke knows Eri has issues right off the bat, because her issues try to grind his face off the first time he meets her. See, Eri’s afterschool activities consist of essentially only one thing: dueling with a phantasmal giant with the titular chainsaw attached where his right arm should be. She employs a host of weapons in this crusade, and the giant’s attacks are always telegraphed by an unnatural snow-fall, even indoors. If Eri can withstand the monster’s assault and impale his heart, he flies away and returns, seemingly, to the moon. Yea, the moon.

 Yosuke is obviously a bit daunted by that initially, but he sees it as an opportunity to once again challenge the echoing words of his lost friend, who had a habit of calling him gutless. Eri is brooding and lonely, but she welcomes Yosuke’s presence, even if it is grudgingly at first. And then, the romance begins. What follows isn’t a polished, trite teen romp or a frenzied action pic, racing past the courtship to get to the chainsaw battles. Instead, it’s a light, and occasionally delicate teen drama about dealing with grief, loss and mortality and putting it all in a perspective that still allows one to live with joy. In fact, the chainsaw battles are an integral part of the central courtship. Yosuke and Eri ride around on Yosuke’s bike, get coffee, talk, go to the amusement park and dance around their obvious feelings for each other like any other reluctant teen movie couple. But death lurks at the center of both of their lives, even if it’s haunting Yosuke’s past and dominating Eri’s present. So, every night when Eri goes off to fight Chainsaw Man and Yosuke scurries behind to protect her, it’s really the dark aspects of their individual lives they are confronting.

Sometimes the epic battles aren’t even depicted on screen. We see Eri charging into the fray with a golf club or an umbrella, and then we see the two kids sitting in the aftermath of victory, glancing nervously at one another. It’s a nice touch in a film that plays everything light as a feather. The battles that do appear on screen are visualized with an energetic camera style that isn’t aggressive but rather playful, and the special effects create a world that is just real enough without taking away the manga-esque elements of the action sequences. Best yet, Hayato Ichihara and Megumi Seki have a quirky chemistry with each other; he manages to make bumbling look charming and she gives defensive melancholy a fetching sheen. It’s odd, but it works. And, in his own way, so does the chainsaw man.


It’s rather a shame that a lifeless and dull exercise like Twilight is garnering the attention of teenagers while this film, which tackles a similar theme, premise and audience will most likely never be seen by any of the vamp pic’s fans. NHCE is a strange and curious movie, and its success isn’t a massive triumph but rather a small victory. It’s entertaining and engaging and it will likely ensnare even the viewers who come to it expecting something gorier, ghastlier and more twisted. But its real strength and it’s real story will work best for those in their teenage years. Word to whoever might have the power to get this thing an American distribution. If you get it out there on dvd, I will personally promise to recommend it to every teenager I know.


MFF Review: Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo

12 May



May 12th, 2009–

Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo (2009)  90 min. Writer & director: Jessica Orek, cinematographer: Sean Price Williams, film editing: Theo Angell, Jessica Orek, Original music: J.C. Morrison, narration: Dr. Takeshi Yoro 

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Jessica Oreck’s new insecto-centric documentary couldn’t be more tonally different from its title if it tried. While Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo conjures images of giant rubber monsters eating cities, the actual film is a meditative, thought provoking mood piece centered around  Japan’s fascination with insects. Oreck, whose full-time job is as an entomologist at New York’s Museum of Natural History, makes a spectacular film debut that focuses on the wonder and beauty of it’s minuscule animal world while also celebrating the human culture that reveres and adores it. Instead of flooding the movie with dry statistics and by the numbers scientific facts about insects, Beetle Queen  embraces true Japanese aesthetics and gives us a languorous, patient, and at times poetic ode to beetles, fireflies,  inch-worms and the intimate design of nature that they represent.

Beetle Queen opens with images of a young japanese boy wandering through a shop, trying to convince his father to buy him a beetle that costs nearly 60 dollars; the bug in question is an enormous thing, almost the size of an adult’shand. If you happen to have a phobia involving anything with more than four legs, the film might be difficult to stomach at first. The japanesechildren are entirely enamored with the beetles, and they collect them the same way an american child might collect baseball cards or comic books. If the picture Oreck paints is accurate, than the rest of Japan is obsessed as well. Consumers buy insects, trade them, play video games centered around them, and we see endless amounts of merchandise on the shelves that bear images of  creepy crawlies. 


In the film’s opening twenty minutes I was amused and intrigued by this cultural disconnect I was feeling; the Japanese seem to hold the bugs in high esteem, as if they personify the unity and interconnected facets of nature. Still, as I watched  children play with beetles the size of a softball, I had a hard time relating to this unique past-time. To the credit of Oreck, and her cinematographer, Sean Price Williams, they manage to do the near impossible: they craft the film in such a way that it compels the viewer to adopt the mindset it’s documenting. Williams cinematography is breath-taking and it captures the natural beauty of the Japanese countryside and the  picturesque loneliness of the night-time cityscape.

At the same time that Oreck hones in on the humans and their rituals, habits and behaviors, the insects themselves are observed in the kind of extreme detail that places the viewer inside of their world. All of these images are woven together so that they thematically intertwine, and reflect the film’s gentle narration by Dr. Takeshi Yoro, a Japanese entomologist and philosopher who believes that human interest in the insect world is edifying.

Yoro narrates in his native Japanese and the film provides subtitles. There is little scientific knowledge, and instead the film travels into Japanese history and shares poetry, anecdotes and folklore surrounding insects. An interesting, throbbing score by J.C.Morrison creates another layer to the film that sometimes helps in identifying the insect-like behaviors of bustling businessmen or the almost perceptably human attributes of the bugs.


For all the vast visual and aural information tossed about in Beetle Queen, the experience of watching the movie isn’t really an intellectual exercise. I found myself most intrigued by the scenes that took place out in dark fields, with children wandering through the mist  hunting fireflies, or an interlude with a bug hunter who walks into the middle of a forest and kicks a nearby tree in order to stun the bugs he will then collect. It’s moments like this that capture the obvious wonder of these tiny creatures interacting with the humans in their natural habitats. On the soundtrack we hear the constant flapping of wings or droning of crickets, and it’s transporting.

 By the end, I considered how amazing this microscopic community really is, and if we aren’t missing something by being less than fascinated by it. The beauty of nature and creation are encompassed in these diminutive beings and Beetle Queen actually celebrates that fact. I have fond memories of childhood that involve sitting in my backyard with a flashlight hunting for various bugs and spiders, and regarding each one with awe. The strength of a movie like this is that it inspires me to seek out those long forgotten activitesand familiarize myself once more with the compelling marvels of God’s creation.

But Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo is as much about the people who see the bugs, as the bugs themselves. I’m a huge fan of Japanese film, and Oreck, an American, has created a picture that is intriguingly Japanese in its sensibilities. There are images of sublime and staggering beauty as the camera captures the air, the earth and the mountains of Japan. Each person who wanders in and out of the frame posesses a unique voice and without too much posturing on the part of the filmmakers these characters get the films’ main themes across; that a life lived close to nature offers more than one without it. Whether or not you agree with the sentiment, Beetle Queen makes a compelling argument for it.

Jessica Oreck and her team at the Q and A after the film
Jessica Oreck and her team at the Q and A after the film

Sometimes the movie can become too sedate for its own good, and the images  lull us into an almost somnambulist state; once there, it’s hard to come back to the place Oreck wants you at, absorbing the information and artistry at hand. Still, it’s one of the more imaginative documentaries I’ve seen lately and as an experience it’s natural charms are often superior to big budget visuals and contrived drama. Here’s all the best to Oreck and her team. I’ll be awaiting Beetle Queen on Bluray.