Posts for 2006

No-No Boy (John Okada) (2006/12/12 11:57)
This is the first, last and only novel you will ever find by John Okada, and that fact made me seethe with sadness. There was another John Okada book, almost finished when he died of heart failure at the far-too-young...

Yoshinotsune (Merzbow) (2006/12/12 11:15)
Albums, like books, can be seeds: they can lie dormant for any length of time and then flourish in completely unexpected ways. This was definitely true of Yoshinotsune, one of Merzbow’s less widely-discussed albums, and one I confess I went...

Invisible Connections (Vangelis) (2006/12/12 09:49)
In every recording artist’s catalog there’s almost always one or more releases that seems so far out of phase with everything else they’ve done that it might as well not bear their name. Those are the recordings that tend to...

The Great Yokai War (2006/12/12 09:33)
The Great Yokai War brought back to mind an on-again-off-again debate I’ve been having with friends for a long time: Are kids today more jaded, cynical and worldly than they were even a generation ago, or is that just me?...

Ninja Resurrection (2006/12/12 07:46)
What we have of Ninja Resurrection opens a door just wide enough to give us a tantalizing peek at something good-to-excellent—and then slams that door in our faces forever. The two episodes produced for this mini-series, clocking in at a...

Manji (2006/12/12 05:21)
A friend of mine has two abbreviations he uses to categorize certain things he likes: VFM and OTT. The first is “Value for Money”—meaning, it was worth the investment not only of cash but time to watch it. The other...

Ode to Kirihito (Osamu Tezuka) (2006/12/12 03:48)
Osamu Tezuka is routinely called “the god of manga”, not just because of the sheer size of his lifetime output but its breadth and depth. He drew hundreds of thousands of pages in his lifetime, and did everything from simple...

Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (2006/12/12 01:14)
There are two widely-entertained speculations about how civilization might collapse: the first is warfare, the second is boredom. The two seem to be intertwined: when people get terminally bored and disenfranchised, they drift into things they would never have considered...

Mademoiselle Anne Sanglante ou Notre Nymphomanie Aureole (Masonna) (2006/12/12 08:52)
There was a time, not all that long ago, when pure excess and overkill were enough by themselves to get your name in the books. This definitely applies when it comes to noncommercial music, where a fair number of both...

Karas: The Prophecy (2006/11/11 08:49)
What a stupendous-looking show this is, and also what a boring and incoherent mess. Karas: The Prophecy is a wonder of production design and visual flair, animation and color, movement and sound—but not of story or character, coherence or logic....

Trinity Blood (2006/11/11 05:51)
Trinity Blood begins with a fantastic idea: If vampires are creatures that feed on humans, what kind of creatures feed on vampires? It then spends as much time and energy as possible doing absolutely nothing with this concept. Instead, it...

Mikadroid: Robokill Beneath Discoclub Layla (2006/11/11 05:46)
Not only is Mikadroid: Robokill Beneath Disco Club Layla the best title for a movie since The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed-Up Zombies!?, it’s a pretty good little movie, period. It’s one of the more legendary...

Lethal Force (2006/11/11 05:07)
I’ve long believed that if you grabbed someone at random off the street, gave him $10,000 and told him to make a film, odds are he’d come up with something that’s at least as good (or interesting, or funny) as...

Rampo Noir (Rampo Jigoku) (2006/11/11 04:24)
Some movies are about plots and characters and stories, and some movies are about images and sounds and feelings. Rampo Noir starts in the second category—it’s a deliriously beautiful movie—but gradually backs into the first. It does not, however, make...

Shinobi: Heart Under Blade (2006/11/11 12:31)
If Trinity Blood was an example of an anime where they took a great idea and wasted it, Shinobi is the live-action version of the same sort of mistake. It is a period ninja-fantasy adventure with a game cast, based...

Otogi-Zoshi (2006/11/11 01:27)
Otogi-Zoshi is a great and bold experiment that works—a story that spans hundreds of years of history, that freely ties together drama, mythology and fantasy into a unified whole, and above all is grand fun to watch. It’s the complete...

Vampire Hunter D: The Stuff of Dreams (Hideyuki Kikuchi) (2006/10/10 11:26)
The Stuff of Dreams is yet another bit of the map in the atlas of the Vampire Hunter D universe, one where we see the first real test of the strength of D’s spirit instead of just his sword. The...

Dead End Run (2006/10/10 11:11)
Sogo Ishii has said that the images for his films seem to well up from somewhere deep inside him, without connection to anything earthly. That certainly explains Dead End Run, which seems to come from literally nowhere but ends up...

The Legend of Kamui (Sanpei Shirato) (2006/10/10 10:56)
The most frustrating thing about The Legend of Kamui is how we know there is so much more, but you won’t find it here. Sanpei Shirato’s Kamui ran in Japan for dozens of volumes, but all we can see of...

Vibrator (2006/10/10 09:28)
The Japanese term for a freelancer, no matter what the occupation, is the English-derived prefix free-, and that’s how the two main characters of Vibrator introduce themselves to each other. They’re “free”, in the sense that they have no real...

Neji-shiki (Screwed) (2006/10/10 08:17)
Tadanobu Asano is an actor I will gladly see in most any movie, even ones where his brooding charisma can’t redeem the rest of the project. Asano has been compared favorably to a Japanese version of Brad Pitt or Johnny...

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (Volume 1) (Yoko Kanno) (2006/10/10 05:49)
Film and TV soundtracks are often the bastard children of popular music. The best composers in the field, like Jerry Goldsmith or John Williams, are regarded as hacks by the classical community—a rather short-sighted view, given that many of their...

Fushitsusha [PSF 3/4] (Fushitsusha) (2006/10/10 04:54)
Once upon a time, a record company was a brand of distinction—you could pick up a Motown record and know to a high degree that you were going to get not just a certain kind of sound (or soul), but...

United 93 (2006/10/10 10:37)
How quietly and starkly this film tells a story that still has such horrible immediacy. Without politics, without cant or hypocrisy, and without even much fanfare, this film shows us a dramatization of a scarifying incident from real life and...

The Hidden Blade (2006/09/09 10:50)
The Hidden Blade is not about a secret sword technique that saves a hero in the face of terrible evil. If anything, it is exactly the opposite: it gives us a samurai, Munezo (Masatoshi Nagase) who has never drawn a...

UltraViolet (2006/09/09 09:15)
UltraViolet is a CGI / live-action / vampire / horror / fantasy / action / adventure / sci-fi / thriller kreplach that is even more horrible than such a mish-mash description could possibly imply. If you took a New...

Vampire Hunter D: Tale of the Dead Town (Hideyuki Kikuchi) (2006/09/09 08:35)
Now we’re getting somewhere. Tale of the Dead Town, fourth in the Vampire Hunter D novel series, is a big step up (and forward) from the going-through-the-motions of the previous book, Demon Deathchase. This time around, Kikuchi mixes things up...

Spheres (Keith Jarrett) (2006/09/09 08:23)
Spheres is somewhere between mesmerizing and frustrating, not least of all because it’s not the record that was originally made. This is a severely edited-down version of a much larger work, Hymns/Spheres, an album which spanned two LPs when originally...

Amlux (Merzbow) (2006/09/09 07:44)
Nobody today objects to the idea that you’re still making art if you create a painting or a sculpture that doesn’t represent anything “real”, so why do we still assume that the only things we can safely call “music” are...

Cowboy Bebop (2006/09/09 07:18)
After the samurai-honor-meets-B-boy-attitude of Samurai Champloo, I backtracked to its immediate predecessor, the jazz-riffs-on-Wild-West-in-space of Cowboy Bebop. Describing a show this influential, this aesthetically solid and this fun is like talking about a sunset over the phone: it might be...

Caché (Hidden) (2006/09/09 04:56)
The opening shots—or shot, rather—of Caché goes on for so long that it calls attention to the fact that we’re staring. This is exactly the idea, because Caché is all about the feeling that someone is watching us, taking notes,...

V for Vendetta (2006/09/09 04:31)
The shame of V for Vendetta is that it has a lot more on its mind than it knows how to handle. Here we have a film that is a stylized visual fantasy about the Individual vs. the State, a...

The Samurai Banner of Furin Kazan (Yasushi Inoue) (2006/09/09 04:07)
I can think of two things that most immediately piqued my interest in Japan: their movies and their popular fiction. My first “Akira” was Kurosawa, not the Akira of Neo-Tokyo, so when I finally did come to anime and manga—the...

Blood: The Last Vampire (2001) (2006/09/09 12:26)
After the monumental disappointment of Mamoru Oshii’s attempt to revisit and extend on the story of Blood: the Last Vampire, I went back and dug out the original animated production, and was reminded all the more of how badly it...

SARS Wars: Bangkok Zombie Crisis (2006/08/16 01:43)
With a title like SARS Wars: Bangkok Zombie Crisis, how can you possibly go wrong? Imagine, if you can, a Thai spoof of action/horror films in the same vein as Scary Movie and you’ve sort of got the template for...

Vampire Hunter D: Raiser of Gales (Hideyuki Kikuchi) (2006/08/08 09:39)
Raiser of Gales, the second of Hideyuki Kikuchi’s Vampire Hunter D novels, did two things that impressed me: It kept and renewed my interest in the series, and presented me with a story and a set of characters that are...

Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface (Masamune Shirow) (2006/08/08 06:14)
The most disconcerting thing about the Ghost in the Shell mythology is something that, oddly enough, parallels Star Wars. The further the material has been taken from its creator (manga artist Masamune Shirow), the more interesting it has become—which implies...

Shadowless Sword (2006/08/08 03:13)
Shadowless Sword is an okay movie that’s forever just on the threshold of becoming a far better one, but don’t let that keep you from seeing it. According to a formula that critic Pauline Kael once laid down, the movies...

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: The Lost Memory (Junichi Fujisaku) (2006/08/08 03:05)
Tie-ins, or novels that are created to cash in on a particular franchise—like a movie or TV show—are one of my guilty pleasures. Sometimes they’re interesting in a forensic way, because the novels are often prepared from early shooting drafts...

Brothers (Brødre) (2006/08/08 01:28)
Strange how a movie that is built out of the simplest and most unpretentious elements can take on the weight of an epic tragedy when mounted and executed just the right way. Brothers has one of the least complicated plots...

Cromartie High: The Movie (2006/08/08 01:01)
The hilarious and outlandish Cromartie High has now gone through three mutations of form: it was originally a manga, then later an animated TV show, and now it has been (one might say it was inevitable) adapted into a live-action...

Neighbor #13 (2006/08/08 12:56)
The opening scenes of Neighbor #13 show us a young man whose traumas have given him an alter ego—but it’s shown in a way that is fresh and powerful enough to make us forget how this plot usually becomes a...

Ki-Rei? Terror of Beauty (2006/08/08 12:49)
Here we have what ought to have been a very good movie trapped inside a rather mediocre one. The good movie is intelligent and more than a little disturbing; the mediocre movie is made out of shoestring production values and...

Vampire Hunter D: Demon Deathchase (Hideyuki Kikuchi) (2006/08/08 12:09)
After the high that was Raiser of Gales, the Vampire Hunter D series plunges to a rather dreary and functional low with Demon Deathchase. This is easily the weakest book in the series so far, not just because it’s a...

Secret Garden (Himitsu no Hanazono) (2006/07/07 11:20)
I think I ended up here by accident, as did most of us. Almost everything in my life that I now cherish are not things that I really planned to have at some point early on; I stumbled into them...

Tetsujin 28 (2006/07/07 11:01)
If truth in marketing were mandatory, Tetsujin 28 would have been renamed Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots: The Motion Picture. Yes, this is a live-action updating of an animated feature and manga series that was aimed mainly at little boys,...

SPL (Sha Po Lang) (Kill Zone) (2006/07/07 10:12)
SPL is the best pure-entertainment Hong Kong movie in a long time, totally unafraid of big gestures, grand statements about honor, and crushing blows to the chest. After all of the wailing about how the Hong Kong film industry is...

Cromartie High School (2006/07/07 09:10)
I have the same problem talking about Cromartie High School that I did talking about Azumanga Daioh: I can talk about the words, but not the music. Adjectives like “deranged”, “demented” and “surreal” sort of fit the bill, but again,...

Running on Karma (2006/07/07 07:23)
Running on Karma is such an unrepentantly absurd movie that it works simply by dint of being unrepentantly absurd. Even for a Hong Kong film, it’s pretty far-out—but let’s face it, what other country would dare to make a movie...

Jigoku (Hell) (2006/06/06 10:38)
We’ve been lucky enough to see Ringu, Audition and many of the best of the recent spate of Japanese horror movies, but we’ve seen amazingly little of the four decades of Japanese horror films that predate and influence them all....

Blood: The Last Vampire: Night of the Beasts (Mamoru Oshii) (2006/06/06 08:01)
In the year 2000, the incredibly talented animation team Production I.G released a 48-minute film that rocked the socks off everyone from James Cameron on down: Blood: The Last Vampire.  The story was simple enough: Saya, a vampire hunter who...

Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist (Richard Rhodes) (2006/06/06 07:28)
There are months that go by when I don't read a single novel or work of fiction in any form, if only because I find my attention captured by a nonfiction book that makes all the fiction I could have...

Time of the Wolf (Le Temps du Loup) (2006/06/06 05:47)
I remember reading a number of science-fiction novels, most of them published in the Seventies, which showed civilization coming to an end not through nuclear war or disease, but simple fatigue: Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. Such...

The Köln Concert (Keith Jarrett) (2006/06/06 03:09)
I once got into an argument with someone about a certain record—I think it was possibly one of the early Merzbow discs, believe it or not—because he didn’t believe that I would really want to listen to such rubbish, let...

Pigs of the Roman Empire (Melvins / Lustmørd) (2006/06/06 01:26)
Whenever you put two artists of strong temperament together, you either get genius or dissonance. Most of us probably still remember the supergroups of the Seventies—generally ill-fated attempts to forcibly engineer a rock band by taking the brightest stars from...

The Last Unicorn (2006/06/06 01:14)
NOTE: To ensure that Peter S. Beagle gets his share of the profits for this film, please purchase copies from him directly. The Amazon affiliate link here is for reference only. The Last Unicorn is another of the great “lost”...

Burst City (2006/06/06 01:02)
Burst City more than lives up to its title—it’s a gloriously out-of-control mess of a film that has more going on per frame than any five other movies that come to mind. Part punk rock concert film, part teen /...

Vampire Hunter D (Hideyuki Kikuchi) (2006/06/06 12:18)
Whenever I review anything that has a legacy behind it, I try to put the legacy aside and look at the thing in itself.  It’s only fair, after all—there are many people reading this who have never heard of Vampire...

Birdy the Mighty (2006/05/05 11:24)
Birdy the Mighty starts with a fairly well-worn idea, but jumps beyond its basic conceit and actually does some inspired things with it. Coming up with something original is tough, but in some ways it’s even tougher to start in...

War in Space (2006/05/05 05:50)
There was once a little “science fiction fairy-tale” flick called Star Wars, which came out of nowhere, changed the face of popular entertainment forever, and made dumptrucks full of money. In its wake were some of the most astonishingly shameless...

Eijanaika (2006/05/05 01:20)
Maybe Eijanaika isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. That was one of the many competing theories I came up with after sitting through Shohei Imamura’s 1979 epic about Japan being transformed by Westernization in the latter half of the...

Address Unknown (2006/05/05 12:58)
Address Unknown has so many moments of real emotional power that I was tempted to overlook the many other moments when the film stumbles. It’s one of the more recent films by Korean director Ki-duk Kim, a man drawn to...

The Bow (2006/05/05 12:39)
The old man lives with the young girl on his boat, which they rent out for the day to fishermen, and which along with the endless expanse of the ocean is the entire scope of their existence. She fell into...

The President's Last Bang (2006/04/04 09:31)
Imagine if someone made a film about a political assassination, something on the order of the death of Robert F. Kennedy, but injected irreverence and black comedy to make it more like M*A*S*H than JFK. A movie like that...

The Samurai Trilogy (2006/04/04 07:50)
The problem with the Samurai trilogy is that its scope as a film does not match its quality as a story. It’s especially problematic because the subject is one of Japan’s most enduring heroes, legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, who has...

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2006/04/04 06:36)
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is not remarkable for its storyline or even its imagery but for how completely and shamelessly it panders to a very specific audience and gets away with it. Like the Magic Theater in Steppenwolf, it...

Goyokin (2006/04/04 05:58)
Goyokin is the best samurai film I’ve seen yet that was made more or less exclusively for Japan and not intended for a foreign audience. I’ve written before how the DVD format and a general broadening of awareness about samurai...

Samurai Champloo (2006/04/04 02:19)
Champloo, in the Okinawan language, is a kind of stew with everything in the world in it, and who better than to brew up a stew of samurai movies and hip-hop attitude than Cowboy Bebop creator Shinichiro Watanabe? Bebop was...

The Constant Gardener (2006/04/04 12:29)
The Constant Gardener comes billed alternately as a political thriller or a love story, but it’s really the best kind of movie of all—one that stands entirely outside of any specific genre. Yes, it’s based on a novel by...

Portrait of Hell (2006/04/04 12:07)
Many of the movies I review from Japan were made for Japanese audiences and make no concessions to anyone else, but as a general understanding of such things has spread it’s become possible to enjoy them for what they are....

Ratcatcher (2006/03/03 11:42)
After being startled by Lynne Ramsey’s Morvern Callar, I went back and watched Ratcatcher, her debut feature-length movie that is one of the very few first movies by any director to earn a Criterion Collection release. There are a few...

Tenjho Tenge (2006/03/03 10:18)
Tenjho Tenge seems to have been produced in some kind of anime clean room, where all traces of real-world consequences and common sense were scrupulously excluded from the final product. In plain English: this is one of the most blissfully...

The Coast Guard (2006/03/03 09:49)
Like many Korean films, The Coast Guard deals with a country divided against itself, and how the ones who are caught in that division suffer the most. In this film, it’s a young man who is part of South Korea’s...

Buja's Diary (Se-yeong Oh) (2006/03/03 09:45)
Bookstore shelves across the country are experiencing a boom in translated Korean comics, or manhwa, just as they’ve been enjoying a similar influx from their Japanese cousins for a long time now. And like Japanese manga, Korean manhwa has both...

Umberto D. (2006/03/03 09:26)
Is there anything left for him? That is the question Umberto D. poses about its main character, a pensioner eking out a hand-to-mouth existence in post-WWII Italy. He has no family, no close friends, no support structure—nothing except his dingy...

The Ticket That Exploded (William S. Burroughs) (2006/03/03 09:10)
"Language is a virus from outer space,” William Burroughs was noted for having said, and The Ticket That Exploded is like a book from outer space—or maybe, what someone would write if infected by a virus from outer space. Naked...

Kaze no Yojimbo (2006/03/03 08:53)
Some have described Kaze no Yojimbo as a remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo when in fact it’s something far better: a new version of the same source material. The original inspiration for Yojimbo was Dashiell Hammett’s novel Red Harvest, a hybrid...

Five Novels (Daniel M. Pinkwater) (2006/03/03 04:20)
When I was ten years old, I didn’t want to grow up to be an astronaut or a rock star; I wanted to grow up to be Daniel M. Pinkwater. I can’t think of any other writer I read during...

Aimless Bullet (Stray Bullet) (Obaltan) (2006/03/03 12:17)
What little we are seeing now of Korean cinema in the West is probably only a tiny fraction of what truly exists and is worth seeing, so having a movie like Aimless Bullet cross my path is a revelation. Here...

Tony Takitani (2006/02/02 11:47)
Whenever people tell me they cannot watch a particular movie because it is “depressing,” I wonder if what they really mean is that it is profoundly emotional in a way that they don’t know how to deal with because most...

Suicide (Suicide) (2006/02/02 11:40)
The original plan was to call the band Life, but downtown New Yorkers Alan Vega and Martin Rev were barely hanging onto life as it was. Vega was at the time the custodian of an art venue named the Project...

Breaking News (2006/02/02 11:19)
The opening scene of Breaking News, a single unbroken take that lasts eight minutes and includes a gunfight of startling ferocity, is so good I half-expected the rest of the movie to fail miserably. This opening shot involves most of...

Giant Robo (2006/02/02 09:58)
Giant Robo couldn’t have unlikelier origins: it was derived from a 1960s-era schlock TV show about a kid and his giant flying robot, faced long and extremely difficult production problems that held up its completion, and was among the last...

Memories of Murder (2006/02/02 05:38)
The movies are one of many places where we hang our cultural dirty laundry out to dry, and for a country with as troubled and difficult a recent past as Korea, Memories of Murder is unquestionably part of that process....

Yamakasi (2006/02/02 01:18)
There are so few genuinely original movies out there that I tend to coddle the ones I see that have a shred of originality in them. For that reason I wanted to go easy on Yamakasi, which takes one wonderful...

Kamikaze Girls (2006/02/02 12:36)
Maybe it’s just the way it seems in the media, but does Japan has more subcultures per square inch than it does actual populace? Kamikaze Girls looks at two of the least-similar subcultures you could imagine and finds they have...

The Brother From Another Planet (2006/02/02 12:34)
The Brother from Another Planet had me just from its pedigree alone: it’s a modest independent film that does more with what little it has than projects with a thousand times the budget. It was the fourth film by...

Le Portrait de Petite Cossette (2006/01/02 04:51)
There was once a very underrated film called Paperhouse, in which a girl draws a picture of a boy and forms a connection with him that seems to span lifetimes. Le Portrait de Petite Cossette seems to have been loosely...

Vital (2006/01/01 11:18)
Every truly great movie I have ever seen has, in some way, been about the human face. Bergman considered the human face to be the one true subject of all cinema, and made dozens of films about that one subject....

A Time to Live and A Time to Die (2006/01/01 11:11)
A Time to Live and a Time to Die is the first movie I have seen by Taiwanese director Hsiao-Hsien Hou, and if it turns out to be the best he will ever make I won’t be surprised. Hou’s film...

Taro the Dragon Boy (2006/01/01 09:57)
Most every country that has a history of animated film has tapped into their vein of myth and legend for stories to tell, and Japan has done this countless times. Sometimes the inspiration is indirect: Spirited Away, for instance, doesn’t...

Morvern Callar (2006/01/01 05:50)
Her eyes. I had a hard time watching Morvern Callar without being drawn to Samantha Morton’s eyes, which while they are not in every single shot are impossible not to notice when they do appear. Maybe that is for the...

Harakiri (Seppuku) (2006/01/01 04:48)
The first shot of Harakiri is not of a human face but an empty suit of ancestral armor—a perfect visual metaphor for the emptiness and inhumanity of the codes of honor upheld by feudal Japan’s ruling classes. The camera moves...

Lady Vengeance (Sympathy for Lady Vengeance) (2006/01/01 04:42)
Lady Vengeance, the final third in Chan-wook Park’s “revenge trilogy” of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy, is everything a movie should be: great entertainment, a work of visual art, and a thought-provoking meditation on everything it brings up. Without...

Cutey Honey (2004) (2006/01/01 02:53)
The odd thing about Cutey Honey, the unhinged live-action version of the perennially-popular Go Nagai manga, is how strangely flabby and aimless it is. The manga was one of my first forays into Nagai’s wild universe of goofy, stylized violence...

The Bad Sleep Well (2006/01/01 12:51)
Even a lesser film by a major filmmaker is still worth seeing. When a director of Akira Kurosawa’s caliber makes a film that doesn’t match his other work, it’s usually head and shoulders above most of the rest of...

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