Monday, September 18, 2006

"Everyone's A Critic."

It seems that the Gods must've read the recent blog entry about my hours at work because the powers that be (aka: the store manager) granted me my requested three consecutive days off. :) I used much of the time off to hang out in Boston with my aforementioned friends from New Hampshire and even stopped by the Somerville Theater in Davis Square for a couple of Chuck Norris 80's "classics" from the Cannon Pictures vaults (Silent Rage and Invasion U.S.A.) and a good time was had by all. So, in short, there's not much new to report this time around. Instead, here are a couple of reviews of some interesting Japanese films released in the USA by the great folks at Artsmagic DVD. Enjoy, and more later...

The Bird People in China
Artsmagic DVD
Anamorphic Widescreen
NTSC/Region Zero
Dolby Digital Sound; Japanese Audio/English Subtitles
Biographies/Filmographies, Original Theatrical Trailer
Japanese Theatrical Film Promotional Material (translated into English)
Lyrics of and Essay on "Annie Laurie" (traditional Scottish ballad)
Interview featuring Takashi Miike (director)

From the DVD Cover:
We journey with the Japanese Salaryman (an impressive Masahiro Motoki) and the debt-collecting Yakuza (the hilarious Renji Ishibashi) on a journey to investigate a jade mine, which turns into a search for the Bird People but ultimately becomes a voyage of discovery to the core values of modern man.

Perhaps the most critically respected film of Takashi Miike's wildly varied career, The Bird People In China is a funny, nostalgic and emotionally deep antidote to the "man against nature" themes put to use in so many other films of the time. Motoki and Ishibashi shine as the two city men thrust into the Chinese countryside who's rough relationship is the film's center. The always-welcome work of the wonderful character actor Mako brings a good-natured smile to the viewer with every scene.

The commentary track (feature length) and Takashi Miike Interview (17 minutes) cover everything from the actual genesis of the film and it's production (including how everything was -- quite unusually -- paid for in cash), the casting and location processes, and what the success of the film has meant to Miike both personally and in terms of his career. Also included are trailers for the Black Society Trilogy films directed by Takashi Miike and a look at the Scottish folk song "Annie Laurie," which features prominently in the film's narrative.

Featuring the work of the writer of the Young Thugs films and the cinematographer of Takeshi Kitano's Fireworks and Boiling Point, Miike's film and its message about getting one's self "back to basics" has an emotional resonance that many will find uplifting and worth thinking over. And, perhaps most significantly, The Bird People in China will show the uninitiated that Miike is not just a gross-out-noir filmmaker but an insightful artist, as well.

An Obsession
Artsmagic DVD
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
NTSC/Region One
Dolby Digital Sound; Japanese Audio/English Subtitles
Commentary Track featuring author Jasper Sharp
Interview featuring Shinji Aoyama (director)

From the DVD cover:
As in Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog, "filmmaker Shinji Aoyama weaves his plot around a Detective (Ryo Ishibashi) whose stolen gun is used for murder, but from there on in the two works part company. In Aoyama's world, onsession is the common condition of man, and for his purposes here it takes the form of a workaholic detective and a homicidal leukemia patient (Kazuma Suzuki). Each is driven down the road to destruction, a path on which Aoyama explores the dark night of the human soul. Along the way, Saga is forced to endure the rewards of his own dehumanized behavior."

An Obsession (and likewise, the Korean film The Missing Gun, with which it shares some similarities) offers an alternate take on the aformentioned work of cinema master Akira Kurosawa. While the film does try to travel different ground than the classic Stray Dog, it unfortunately doesn't really go anywhere new. Shinji Aoyama has been referred to as having a style that's occassionally too clinical and distant and that style is displayed again, here. On the plus side, though, the film is quite a bit more involving than his previous EM: Embalming, due to the work of the lovely Eiko Nagashima as the Detective's Wife (adding a bit of emotional warmth)... and lest we forget, the comical, unexplained, recurring appearances of a mysterious Squad of Men in haz-mat suits. An Obsession also features very good work by Ryo Ishibashi as one of Aoyama's strongest lead characters yet and it is his work as the obsessed detective that makes the film worth seeking out.

Jasper Sharp of the website The Midnight Eye contributes a lively and humorous commentary and, along with the Aoyama interview, discusses the director's career, the links between the film and Kurosawa's acknowledged masterpiece, the terrorist gas attacks on the Japanese subway system from years ago, Jean Luc Godard, Shakespeare's Hamlet and illuminates how An Obsession could never really be described as "a date film."

More on these films can be found at

This week's star-reviews:

Silent Rage *
Invasion U.S.A. **1/2

Get On The Bus **1/2
Summer Of Sam ***
The 25th Hour ***1/2
The Pope Of Greenwich Village **1/2
Cop ***
Cache (France) ***

Video Games
Yakuza (PS2) ***1/2

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