Movie Review – Woman in the Dunes

Woman in the Dunes (1964)
Written by Kōbō Abe
Directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara

Hiroshi Teshigahara was the son of an ikebana master (the art of flower arranging). This craft informed Teshigahara’s work as he was intentional and meticulous about filmmaking. He would eventually shift from narrative to documentary in the 1970s. In 1980, his father died, and Teshigahara assumed the position of headmaster at the ikebana school his father had run. He would focus on creating stunning bamboo art installations, eventually moving on to calligraphy and ceramics. Such an eclectic life is inevitably going to produce unique, incredible art. Woman in the Dunes is precisely that: a strange masterpiece that uses a deceptively simple situation to examine human existence. 

Continue reading “Movie Review – Woman in the Dunes”

Movie Review – Perfect Blue

Perfect Blue (1997)
Written by Sadayuki Murai
Directed by Satoshi Kon

I have tried to get into anime throughout my life, and I just don’t think it’s my thing. When I was in college, I had friends who would regularly consume Dragonball, Inuyasha, or whatever else was on Toonami. I ended up watching several films & parts of shows like Vampire Hunter D, Hellsing, Attack on Titan, among others. I can say that I usually enjoy feature films. I love Akira and Metropolis; I think they push past many tropes that generally don’t click with me in this particular animation genre. Of course, Miyazaki is fantastic, but he exists in a category all his own. Perfect Blue is something beyond anything I’d ever seen before, an anime with clear links to some of the best psychological thrillers of live-action cinema.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Perfect Blue”

Movie Review – Drive My Car

Drive My Car (2021)
Written by Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe
Directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi

There’s just something about filmmakers taking author Haruki Murakami’s short fiction and giving their own spin on them. See Lee Chang-dong’s Burning. This time around, Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi gives us a three-hour adaptation of a short from Men Without Women. He certainly takes a lot of artistic discretion and takes the story in a different direction than its original form. Author Murakami has become infamous for inserting “manic pixie dream girl” types in his work, and this film has several women that influence our protagonist but not by forfeiting their own agency or depth as characters. The result is simply one of the best, most moving film experiences of the year.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Drive My Car”

Movie Review – Noroi: The Curse

Noroi: The Curse (2005)
Written by Kōji Shiraishi and Naoyuki Yokota 
Directed by Kōji Shiraishi

By 2005, J-horror popularity in the United States was peaking. There were so many poorly made and poorly received adaptations that producers began looking elsewhere for something to exploit. That’s a shame because Noroi became a film criminally overlooked by audiences in the States. This is one of the best found-footage horror films I’ve ever seen, and I’m someone who typically hates this subgenre. Noroi works because it doesn’t just stick with the framing of seeing the movie through the eyes of someone walking around, holding a camera the whole time. Instead, it engages in mass media as part of its narrative, cleverly telling its story through complex structures that add up to a single disturbing whole.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Noroi: The Curse”

Movie Review – Ringu

Ringu (1998)
Written by Hiroshi Takahashi
Directed by Hideo Nakata

The origin point for much of modern Japanese horror can be traced to Ringu. This horror film has all the elements I’ve previously talked about: techno-horror, child murder, investigation that reveals the truth behind the horror. These things speak to the existential fears of not just the Japanese but almost all people living in our neoliberal present, attempting to make sense of modernity and the collapse of myths. Technology is going to lift humanity out of suffering, we are told. But has it really? Or does it fix some problems while creating new ones or exacerbating existing troubles? There’s currently a fervent discourse around child murder/molestation/etc. in America right now, but it mostly feels like political factions using the concept as yet another cultural divide rather than genuinely attempting to protect young people. The great pit in your stomach moment of horror that is well-written is the realization that the forces you are up against cannot be stopped, and so the protagonist is often warped in some way for the rest of their lives.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Ringu”

Movie Review – Ju-On: The Grudge

Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
Written & directed by Takashi Shimizu

One of the common themes I’ve seen in my look at J-horror thus far is an exploration of loneliness and a focus on the victimization of women & children. If you’re making existential horror in Japan, then it makes sense there will be some big ideas to tackle. They apply to almost every nation on Earth, but these movies look at them from the Japanese perspective. This movie is also a weird anomaly in that many viewers assume it’s the first in the Grudge franchise but is actually the third picture, just the first to get a theatrical release. You wouldn’t know it by watching Ju-On as one of its strengths is that it slowly lays out the core haunting and the bits of history behind it. It’s a franchise encompassing 13 films, including the horribly bad 2020 sequel. The less said about that one, the better.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Ju-On: The Grudge”

Movie Review – Audition

Audition (1999)
Written by Daisuke Tengan
Directed Takashi Miike

Takashi Miike is a cinematic force of nature I stumbled across one night while sitting in the Belcourt Theater in 2001. I can’t remember the film I was waiting to see, but the trailer for Audition played beforehand. If you’ve seen this trailer, then you understand what I mean when I say it was one of the most jarring things I’d seen at the time. In a matter of a minute and a half, I was wholly intrigued about what this insane, bizarre movie was. A month or so later, I returned with friends and watched Audition. At the time, I didn’t think I fully appreciated it. My vocabulary and understanding of film were much more limited than when I recently revisited the movie.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Audition”

Movie Review – Pulse (2001)

Pulse (2001)
Written & Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Japanese horror cinema didn’t come into existence in the late 1990s/early 2000s, but it certainly reached a peak in terms of its exposure to the global movie-going market. You likely know of the ones that got American adaptations, The Ring and The Grudge. Pulse also got a less well-received American version, but I have always heard positive things about the Japanese original. With this in mind, I decided to do a short dip into the J-horror of this period, focusing on the “classics” to get a sense of what was popular. These were movies I was aware of, some of which I actually saw, and seemed to have a significant impact at the time in American popular horror.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Pulse (2001)”

Movie Review – Akira

Akira (1988)
Written by Katsuhiro Otomo & Izo Hashimoto
Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo

While there are a decent number of science fiction films that could be classified as masterworks, I personally believe it is the rare few that could be called visionary. I use that word in the sense of building a world that feels so unique and real, taking elements of our present and showing them taken to an extreme in the future. Every time I’ve watched Akira, I get that sense; it’s the same feeling I have watching Blade Runner. This is a fully realized world; we just see a small glimpse of a critical moment. Neo-Tokyo is one of the best science fiction settings ever created, and this story captures the best of the science fiction genre, particularly the subgenre of cyberpunk.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Akira”

Movie Review – Violence Voyager

Violence Voyager (2019)
Written & Directed by Ujicha

Gekimation. A new word for me and one I won’t soon forget. It describes the very unique style of animation seen in the work of Japanese filmmaker Ujicha. Characters are paper cutouts moved & posed in real-time against paper backgrounds. There’s no stop-motion animation here. It’s hard to compare this to any other animated works because it is so unlike anything else. There are hints of early South Park with the DIY-paper aesthetic. Storywise we’re in Junji Ito/David Cronenberg territory, a very retro body horror atmosphere. But Violence Voyager will be a shock to your senses no matter how many things you know inspired it.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Violence Voyager”