Evil Brain from Outer Space (1964)

Evil Brain from Outer Space (1964)

directors  Koreyoshi Akasaka, Akira Mitsuwa
viewed: 12/13/2017

Evil Brain from Outer Space is my type of pop surrealism, like someone slipped some acid in your cheap hot sake.

It’s like an old fashioned serial meets 1950’s Superman TV show, madein Japan, of course, with bananas hackneyed dubbing, writing, and voice acting.

“I was trying to bring the brain here to you , Dr. Sakurai . Because it’s imperative that it be destroyed. To do so won’t be easy. Its indestructible.”

Okay, making fun of the dialog or voiceover is like shooting fish in a barrel. That said, I’m not sure the American soundtrack could be improved upon. It’s pure silly awesome genius.

This film, as it is, is an edited fabrication for American audiences of a couple of Super Giant movies from late 1950’s Japan.  Really, it’s one of a set, including Atomic Rulers of the World, Attack from Space and Invaders from Space, all adapted from the film series featuring Japan’s first cinematic superhero.

The action is almost non-stop and trying to transcribe the plot seems near impossible. It’s best taken as is, a straight-up late-night (or anytime) hallucination of cosmic weirdness and hilarious wonder, and 1950’s parkour, by which I mean lots of jumping and editing for action fights and leaps and flying by the seat of your tights (attached to a visible cable). Also, some really cute kids are in it, though they turn into other cute kids partway through (I think.)

That’s the point: don’t think. Just enjoy.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

director Shinya Tsukamoto
viewed: 12/06/2017

They don’t make ’em like they used to.

Shinya Tsukamoto’s bombast bomb blast of body horror surrealist industrial phantasmagoria, Tetsuo: The Iron Man not only holds up almost 30 years later, but in my viewing, is even better.

The last time I saw Tetsuo was in film school back in the Nineties. Though visual images, ideas, and impressions were deeply emblazoned on my brain, I had really forgotten what a radical visual effects, editing, and pacing of the film. Also, how little explication is given to the narrative.

I love moviemaking that incorporates so much such tactile techniques. This is totally 16mm film and from the stop-motion animations and other pre-digital effects, you can almost feel the crew making this with their hands on the actual film. When editing was editing actual celluloid strips of photo-exposed images.

Brilliant.

Space Amoeba (1970)

Space Amoeba (1970) movie poster

director  Ishirō Honda
viewed: 11/19/2017

Space Amoeba! Space Amoeba! Space Amoeba!

Okay, so the Space Amoeba aren’t really the true focus of this movie. Heck, they don’t even make it to the movie poster. That’s because they are animated fuzzy clouds that take over a satellite and come to Earth and take over some critters, make them huge, and plan to take over the planet.

This is kaiju right off the sushi menu, with a giant cuttlefish, a crab-cum-prawn, and most wonderfully, though all too short on screentime, a fancy snapping turtle with an extendo-neck.

It’s from director Ishirō Honda, so you know it’s legit. It’s actually a lot more fun and entertaining than some more well-known kaijus of the time.

Interestingly, the plot revolves around a plan to put up a big luxury resort on a heretofore unspoiled paradise. Is it social commentary that the amoebae from space want to take over Earth? Despoil our world from us? Lessons learned?

“Thanks to their superstitions we can fish where we want to!”

Gozu (2003)

Gozu (2003) movie poster

director Takashi Miike
viewed: 08/09/2017

It’s gotta be said, Takashi Miike is outré there. Or at least he was at one point, for quite a while.

The iconolclasts of contemporary cinema are rather few and far between. Or otherwise maybe too obscure?

Gozu comes from Miike’s ripest period and seems to rank for many among his best movies. And that seems a fair assessment.

Absurd and comic, Gozu is the spiritual journey of a young yakuza flunky, Minami (Hideki Sone), and his crazy (really, really crazy) boss and best friend, Ozaki (Show Aikawa), who winds up dead and then disappears.  Minami finds himself adrift in a very David Lynchian world, trying to figure out where his “brother” got off to. The journey is a prolonged and surreal, punctuated with strange and awkward humor.

If you think you know where this film is going,…well, let’s just say that the last half hour features twists that aren’t just unforeseen but gruesome and vivid.

Of all of Miike’s films I’ve seen, Gozu feels the most Lynchian. I’m not sure I’ve thought of David Lynch in his other works, but this one takes that vibe, runs with it, and then smacks down with some of Miike’s most intense stuff.

Massacre Gun (1967)

Massacre Gun (1967) movie poster

director Yasuharu Hasebe
viewed: 07/02/2017

The jowliest of the jowly, Jō Shishido, stars in Yasuharu Hasebe’s yakuza picture, Massacre Gun. Shot in black-and-white, it’s as stylish as it is by-the-numbers, featuring a plot of escalating violence in a local yakuza rift.

Really, what else would you ask of genre film?

I had never realized that Shishido got cheek implants (or some sort of cheekbone surgery) to give him that look like a chipmunk. Is this where Brando got his Godfather inspiration?

I’d be interested to read an analysis of the relationship between the yakuza genre and the samurai genre. So many elements of Japanese culture is deeply imbued in these archetypes: loyalty, the individual, hierarchy, duty, violence.

What else would you ask of genre film?

Pitfall (1962)

Pitfall (1962) movie poster

director Hiroshi Teshigahara
viewed: 06/23/2017

Wow. And I mean, wow.

Pitfall is indeed an amazing film, a complex interweaving of realism, social criticism, fantasy, and the surreal. Profound and weird, and deeply unsettling, stark and vivid and so, so much.

Pitfall was the first cinematic collaboration between director Hiroshi Teshigahara, writer Kōbō Abe, and composer Toru Takemitsu. But it’s the third of Techigahara’s films that I watched after The Face of Another (1966) and Woman of the Dunes (1964), and of the three, the most immediately striking, already having me recontemplating the others in retrospect.

The film starts out semi-mysteriously, with two men and a young boy, stealing away from a town, sneaking to someplace, hiding from something. And it only get more and more strange and mysterious. While we come to know these men are hiding from some authority, while trying to earn a living as miners. As the story comes into clarity, it shifts into the otherworldly, with the dead observing the living, an abandoned mining camp, littered with ghosts.

There is some significant grotesqueries from the rape of a woman to the skinning of a live frog, harsh imagery, loaded and haunting.

There are films that sit with me long after viewing. This film, for me, is just beginning.

Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) movie poster

director Jun Fukuda
viewed: 06/09/2017

I have vivid memories of Godzilla vs. Megalon from 1976. I was 6 or 7 when it came to town and I totally remember the excitement of going to see a Godzilla movie in the theater. I loved monsters and Godzilla was my favorite. I also recall being somewhat disappointed with the movie. I always thought that Megalon was pretty cool, but it seemed like forever waiting for Godzilla. I think I liked Gigan and Jet Jaguar, more or less. Probably before Star Wars, this was my biggest movie thrill.

Over the years, the kids and I have worked our way through the Shōwa period Godzilla movies, but at that point I couldn’t get my hands on Megalon. The kids both fell asleep though this one.

It’s super-silly, even by super-silly standards. That a lost Atlantis-like world called Seatopia is disturbed by underground nuclear testing and sends Megalon and eventually Gigan to attack the surface-dwellers. They put a lot of focus on a robot developer, his pal, and kid brother, roping them into the hijinks. There is a lot of really bizarre stuff in here like the dolphin paddle boat thing the kid rides (which looks pretty cool despite also looking totally non-functional).

But really the weirdest leaps in logic are related to would-be kaiju king Jet Jaguar, who was apparently designed by a kid in a contest and originally planned to be the star of the thing. First, he develops his own will and cognizance, to only a mild surprise of his creator. Then, he magically wills himself from human-size to Godzilla size, which is explained as something he just decided to do.

Really, you should just embrace the whole thing and not really question it.

The fight sequences are indeed reminiscent of professional wrestling, more than most kaiju flicks I can think of. And, you know, as dumb as it is, it’s still moderately entertaining.

Your Name (2016)

Your Name (2016) movie poster

director Makoto Shinkai
viewed: 04/08/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

I often take my kids to movies on the weekends, and while we do hit some of the blockbusters and such, we also try to see more unusual or offbeat stuff.

So this weekend, I looked and there was not a lot calling my name. I was vaguely interested in Kong: Skull Island and the documentary about James Baldwin, I am Not Your Negro, but kind of uninspired. Then I saw that a new anime feature was playing, one I hadn’t really read much about. I thought, “Cool, maybe the kids would dig that.” And they were into it.

The weird thing was this Japanese animated feature Your Name was playing EVERYWHERE, including our local neighborhood cinema. And it was playing on the largest screen in the theater, squeezing Beauty and the Beast and Ghost in the Shell into the smaller ones. I guess it was massively popular elsewhere but this is pretty unprecedented, even in San Francisco.

Well, you know what? It’s pretty fucking lame.

It’s beautifully animated, but it’s a sort of teenager The Lake House with a boy and a girl occasionally swapping bodies because of a comet and some temporal shifts. I found it unengaging and kinda dull.

My son liked it okay. I couldn’t get my daughter out of bed.

So much for the most interesting thing I could find.

Seance (2000)

Seance (2000) movie poster

director Kiyoshi Kurosawa
viewed: 03/08/2017

Made for Japanese television, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Seance is derived from the same source novel that became the 1962 British film Séance on a Wet Afternoon.

A husband and wife Koji Yakusho and Jun Fubuki are living their lives, totally normally. That is if the husband is a sound engineer and the wife is a psychic with real powers who occasionally works as a waitress. Totally normal.

When a child victim of a kidnapping escapes and stows away in a case for sound recording, the couple find themselves with a problem. First the girl seems dead. Then the girl is alive. What to do? Call the police? That would be insanity! Right? Totally normal.

One thing leads to another, but there are lots of questions, for me at least. Like wouldn’t the case have felt heavier with a little girl inside? Why wouldn’t a normal person take a little girl to the police or hospital? Though later a plan emerges to sort of address the latter question, it troubles the story. Apparently in the British film, the kidnapping was planned by the couple, they didn’t accidentally do it. Which seems to make more sense.

All said, it’s a decent enough film. Well-framed and shot if full of weird plot holes.

The Green Slime (1968)

The Green Slime (1968) movie poster

director Kinji Fukasaku
viewed: 01/14/2017

“The Green Sublime.”

Though it opens and closes with its groovy, very late 1960’s theme song, Kinji Fukasaku’s The Green Slime feels more like a relic from earlier in the decade. It bears the clean production design of 1960’s Japanese science fiction, but features an almost entirely America cast, American producers, and American writers.

And some very silly but lovable gooey one-eyed tentacle monsters that quickly evolve from “green slime”. While some of the effects are hilarious, others are pretty successful, like all the ways that the slime can ooze and multiply.

And it’s pretty action-packed. A space station becomes infected with green slime when a team lands on an asteroid they have to destroy to avoid collision with the Earth. Slime begets one-eyed tentacle monsters, who devour all forms of energy, and the heroes have to try to contain them all to keep them from frying everybody and reaching home planet.

This is another sort of alternative Star Trek world of space exploration sci-fi. It was apparently preceded by a series of Italian films produced by Antonio Margheriti for MGM. Would make an interesting mini-marathon, though The Green Slime with its Japaneseness, would doubtlessly be an outlier. A very fun outlier, if you ask me.