Makeup Room (UK Anime Network Review)

SBLEkl5First Published on UK Anime Network


It’s a little known fact that everyone seems to know, but the Japanese pornography industry is one of the most lucrative in the world producing countless hours of “AV” or “adult video” movies every year. No one expects the world of erotic filmmaking to be glamorous, but rest assured Makeup Room is not interested in exploring the dark side of the industry either. For the characters involved in this rather witty backstage drama it’s just another working day filled with personal concerns and petty office disputes.

In fact, Makeup Room began as a stage play and occupies just the one set – the green room where the various starlets hang out before the performance. The star of the show in here is the veteran makeup artist, Kyoko, who is responsible both for creating whichever look the director has asked for from innocent school girl to sexy cop or dominatrix and for providing guidance and moral support as she chats away to the various divas and ingenues who occupy her chair. Porno shoots happen very fast, the team only have a brief amount of time in this location before the next crew arrive to shoot another porno so everything needs to go to plan. Today, nothing goes to plan. The lead actress is late, another actress has an undisclosed tattoo meaning she’ll have to switch roles requiring some hasty script edits, and the new girl who’s apparently an inexperienced nymphomaniac is having a few last minute jitters. The director’s stressed, the veteran actress is getting antsy and they’re all just lucky Kyoko is around to keep everything running smoothly!

Makeup Room starts with a rather worrying disclaimer to the effect that this was an extremely low budget shoot and that given the materials available, there is a degree of stuttering in the video which cannot be fixed. In actuality it isn’t that much of a problem but you’d have to admit Makeup Room is never a very pretty looking film. Perhaps appropriately it has a very cheap video look and a simplistic directing style using mostly static shots camera from different angles of its one set location.

However, the rather basic approach does allow the script and performances to shine. Undoubtedly witty, the dialogue both rings true and offers a fair amount of humour at the expense of the diverse cast and crew many of whom are played by real life AV actresses making their “debuts” in a purely narrative film. This is not a tale of fallen women forced into the sex industry through a series of traumatic events, each of the women is fine with their career choice and likes what they do. Though one character reveals that many of the people in her life don’t know what she does and not all of those who do approve, including her boyfriend who’s only just found out and not taken it well, mostly the women talk about the practicalities of their work. Whether that’s having a tattoo that’s much larger than your manager tells people it is, or having your nails done right before finding out you’re down for a lesbian scene meaning they’ll all have to be cut off, or chatting about the way your work is going to change as you get older, the kind of workplace problems that occur perhaps aren’t altogether different than those women experience in all industries.

Director Kei Morikawa has had a long career in the AV industry as well as in more mainstream fare and makes good use of his personal experience to create a film which at least feels very authentic as well as giving the impression of a group of friends getting together to send themselves up in classic style. Full of frank humour though very little explicit content, Makeup Room comes across as a warm and refreshingly straightforward look at the Japanese porn industry though its extreme low budget stylings are likely to put off viewers who prefer the glossier side of things.


Out now from Third Window Films

Rashomon (UK Anime Network Review)

Snapshot-2015-09-15 at 02_17_05 AM-34662330My review of this stone cold classic up at UK Anime Network. I always find these kind of intimidating to review, what could I possibly have to add about such an oft discussed film? The answer is not much! It is a great film though and this new BFI HD re-release serves it pretty well.


When it comes to the history of Japanese cinema in the West, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a more important title than Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon. A moderate success in Japan, it did well with audiences and critics though its producers Daiei had their doubts regarding the picture’s complicated setup and were not always supportive to its production. In fact, the reason it managed to travel overseas at all was largely thanks to the efforts of Giulliana Stramigioli, the head of Italiafilm’s Japanese office who managed to ensure Rashomon was entered into the 1951 Venice film festival where it shocked the world by walking off with the top prize. From there on in the door was open for Japanese cinema outside of Asia where it continued to dominate the art house market for years to come.

Launching a cultural phenomenon in its own right, Rashomon is story which probes at the nature of truth, perception and delusion through examining several witness accounts of the same crime. Inspired by two stories by one of the best known figures of Japanese literature, Ryunosuke Akutawa – Rashomon and In a Grove, the facts are as follows – a samurai is dead and a bandit has been arrested for his murder. We pick up the story listening to two of the puzzled witnesses to the case as they take shelter from a heavy rainstorm under the Rashomon gate and recount their strange day to a third man who comes walking by and starts ripping off bits of wood from the gate itself to build a fire. The Woodcutter says he found the body in the woods, the priest says he saw the samurai and his wife travelling shortly before the incident.

At the trial, the bandit says he was struck by the wife’s beauty and decided to rape her even if he had to kill the husband (though it would be more fun not to) but that after he’d raped her she was overcome with shame and wanted the two men to duel to the death to prevent her from having the suffering of two living “husbands”. He says he killed the samurai in a duel.

The wife says that the bandit ran off after raping her but that when she freed her husband he looked at her with such loathing that she eventually asked him to kill her until she fainted with a dagger in hand only to wake up and find the same dagger in her husband’s chest. She then ran to a temple for sanctuary.

Then we hear from the dead man himself via a shaman who claims that the bandit offered to take his wife with him and she agreed but asked him to kill her husband first. Then the wife ran off and the bandit let him go whereupon he killed himself.

Actually, there’s yet another version too, but you can see that none of these accounts share much in common and cannot possibly all be true. What really happened, who is telling the truth and who is either lying or reconstructing events to suit their own way of seeing things is, in the end, beside the point. The point is that you can’t rely on others to speak the truth, and that “truth” itself is a fairly nebulous concept that is always polluted by the fallacies of memory and of personal perception. Through recounting their confusion and debating the case, the three men sheltering from the storm meditate on the implications of their discovery. The third man, a commoner, is the most cynical of the three and insists that men are only motivated by self interest and is therefore not surprised that everybody is lying in order to make themselves look “better”. The priest is heartbroken by this turn of events and has his faith in humanity shattered – how can he go on living if the world is as wicked as this and things like honesty and morality no longer have any value? The woodsman stands somewhere in the middle, ordinary, basically good but fallible and wanting to do better.

Whether actively lying as we would understand it, simply deluding themselves into seeing events in a way which makes them feel more comfortable, or just mistaken in their recollections no one person’s account can accurately reflect the real truth of events and so it follows that each additional account differs from those which precede it and serves only to add more confusion and misinformation. For Kurosawa this is the real “truth” that he aims to expose, that human beings are incapable of being honest even with themselves – let alone with others, and will always tailor their recollections to best fit their own particular needs.

Finally arriving in HD in the UK from the BFI, this blu-ray edition boasts a pleasing HD transfer based on the 2008 restoration and is a fine opportunity to revisit this well regarded classic of Japanese cinema. As mysterious and thought provoking as ever, Rashomon asks serious questions about the nature of truth and humanity but you’ll have to supply the answers for yourselves.


 

Curious about Kurosawa? Here are some of my other reviews:

Taiwanese Cinema About to Hit the UK in a Big Way

exit 1This is kind of another link post, but bear with me! First up Ang Lee’s first three films finally became available on DVD in the UK. Cunningly titled The Ang Lee Trilogy, you can now feast your eyes on Pushing Hands, The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman for the first time. Feast is the right word too as all the movies feature food in a very prominent way so make sure you have the proper supplies arranged before you sit down to watch them. You can read my review of the trilogy over at UK Anime Network. They’re all great, but I particularly like The Wedding Banquet because it’s just so funny!

Here’s an awful old school trailer for The Wedding Banquet (the film is better than this, I promise).

OK, moving on you can also pick up the award winning debut from Chienn Hsiang EXIT on DVD and VOD courtesy of Facet Films. I reviewed the film when it played at the Glasgow Film Festival and you can read that at UK Anime Network too. I also had the opportunity to interview the film’s star Chen Shiang-Chyi while she’s over here shooting The Receptionist. Contrary to expectations, Chen Shiang-Chyi was actually very chatty and super nice so the only reason the interview seems a little short is because she gave very long and detailed answers! You can checkout the interview over at UK Anime Network.

Which brings me on to the upcoming Hou Hsiao-Hsien season at the BFI which begins tomorrow. Pretty much everyone is expecting his new movie The Assassin starring his regular muse Shu Qi to appear in the film festival (it would be really strange if it didn’t right?) and I for one am really looking forward to seeing it.

Hou Hsiao-Hsien will be appearing in conversation at the BFI on 14th September (tickets apparently still available) ahead of a screening of one of his greatest films, The Time to Live and the Time to Die. I was lucky enough to see this one during the BFI’s extended season of Chinese films last year and though it’s not always an easy watch, Hou’s biographical tale of mainland refugees and their Taiwanese offspring is nevertheless a moving and fairly universal coming of age tale.

I’d also recommend Dust in the Wind 

and A City of Sadness

but I just have to post this scene from Three Times again because I love it so much

They’re also showing Hou’s Ozu tribute and Japanese set Café Lumière starring Tadanobu Asano if that’s more your speed.

That’s a lot of Taiwanese cinema all of a sudden right? It’s a good thing though! If you still want more I’ll direct you to the films of Edward Yang as mentioned in Chen Shiang-Chyi’s interview:

Yi Yi: A One and a Two

No trailers for a Confucian Confusion or A Brighter Summer Day though – both are a little more difficult to get hold of but worth the effort. A Confucian Confusion has a great Rom-Com style ending (though not as good as Comrades: Almost a Love a Story which has the best ending of any film, ever, but I digress) and A Brighter Summer Day which is an epic at four hours long but a total heartbreaker.

 

The Happiness of the Katakuris (UK Anime Network Review)

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This new cover art from Arrow is actually really great, isn’t it?

Arrow Films are really spoiling us lately when it comes to amazing Japanese cinema – they’ve given us some cool ’60s classics and forgotten gems like Lady Snowblood, The Stray Cat Rock movies, Branded to Kill, Massacre Gun and Retaliation but now they’ve zapped back to the more recent past and brought us one of Takashi Miike’s zaniest and best loved efforts, The Happiness of the Katakuris. You don’t need me to tell you what this crazy, zombie and murderous inn keeper themed musical psychedelic masterpiece is about but you can read my review of the film and Arrow’s new HD effort over at UK Anime Network. (Spoiler, it’s pretty great).


 

Ah, Takashi Miike – that unpredictable Japanese auteur who’s equally at home with bloody yakuza dramas, gore soaked satire and strange fever dream experiments. There’s no denying his out put is decidedly patchy, which given his prolific career isn’t particularly surprising, but there’s really nothing he won’t at least try. Such is the joy of a Takashi Miike movie. The Happiness of the Katakuri’s wasn’t the first time he made use of musical sequences in his films and it wasn’t the last, but it is one of the craziest. Inspired by the 1998 Korean film The Quiet Family (debut movie of Kim Jee-woon) The Happiness of the Katakuris is, essentially, a family drama which incorporates shady goings on at a guest house, singing zombies, volcanoes and weird stop motion creatures appearing in people’s soup only to fly off with their uvulas (dangly bit between your tonsils).

The film begins with a young girl finding a weird looking creature in her soup which then rips out her uvula and flies off with it before before being snatched by a crow which is then hit with a log by an old man with surprisingly good log throwing game. The old guy is the grandpa of a family which runs a small hotel in the middle of nowhere. Family patriarch Masao used to be a shoe salesman but after losing his job was convinced to buy a hotel after a tip off that a road was supposed to be built nearby which would likely mean lots of customers. Predictably, the road has not materialised and the fledgling inn isn’t exactly packing them in. Besides grandpa, Masao is helped out by his long suffering wife, grown up daughter with a little daughter of her own and a grown up yet seemingly feckless son.

At last, a guest arrives but unfortunately dies soon afterwards. Bearing in mind the declining state of their new business, Masao makes the decision to quickly bury the body in the woods rather than report the death and suffer the negative publicity. Just when things were looking up, another two guests arrive and then promptly die too (in somewhat embarrassing circumstances). As if that weren’t enough, love sick daughter Shizue has fallen in love…again! With “Richard” the secret Japanese love child of the British royal family who’s also some kind of sailor which is why it’s difficult to get in touch with him. All told through the child’s eye view of the youngest member of the family, Shizue’s daughter Yurie, this was one crazy summer in the life of this strange family.

It would be wrong to call The Happiness of the Katakuris a musical, there’s no real musical through line so much as a collection of musical sequences inserted at points of high tension. The musical numbers themselves often act as parodies of other genres with their traditional ballads, karaoke video style sequences and the bonkers Sound of Music-esque field frolicking. Then there’s the singing corpses – who knew zombies were so jolly?

It all undeniably gets a bit grim as the family have to contend with burying the bodies of their unfortunate customers all the while waiting for someone to finally build this long promised road so their business can take off. Each of them is chasing a different kind of “happiness” the father in looking for success in business which will lead to financial security for the family, the daughter in looking for love (in all the wrong places) but it takes the totally bizarre death filled adventure of demons, corpses and escaped murderers to make them realise that they had what they needed to be happy all along – each other. The Katakuris may not be a model family, but everything runs better when they work as a team and they are very happy together no matter what strange adventures befall them. Despite all the trappings of weirdness, The Happiness of the Katakuris maybe Miike’s most subversively conservative film as it ultimately fulfils the role of that most Japanese of genres, the family drama, in which the traditional family is reformed and everything in the world is right again.

Available for the first time in HD, Arrow’s new set is nothing short of a wonder. Shot near the beginning of the digital age before the cameras where anywhere near as good as they are now, you wouldn’t assume The Happiness of the Katakuris would look this good and even if it does show its age here and there the presentation is pretty much top notch and the best it’s ever going to look. The set also comes with a host of special features, some ported over from the original release but also adds a Takashi Miike commentary with critic, Miike champion and sometime actor Toshitoki Shiota in Japanese with English subtitles but also, in an appropriately strange and surreal option, a dubbed version with actors “playing” Miike and Shiota speaking their lines in English too. You also get an entirely new commentary from Japanese film scholar and Miike expert Tom Mes of the recently deceased Midnight Eye plus a short video essay about Miike’s career and a couple of new Miike interviews too.

Almost 15 years on, The Happiness of the Katakuris remains as endearingly bizarre as it did on its first release and is truly worthy of its status as a beloved cult movie that continues to be the go-to weird Japan choice for the genre savvy cinephile. Back and better than ever, this new set from Arrow breathes new life into the film and is a great excuse for another stay at the White Lover’s Inn.


 

Here’s a trailer for the film:

If Takashi Miike x musical madness is your thing you also need to see Ai to Makoto (AKA For Love’s Sake) – available in the UK from Third Window Films.

Also a mini reminder for Miike fans that Over Your Dead Body is going to be at Frightfest and is apparently going to receive a UK release from Yume Pictures (the same people who released A Tale of Samurai Cooking: A True Love Story, now available on UK DVD). Miike madness is back! In more ways than one.

Over Your Dead Body trailer:

Fukuchan of Fukufuku Flats Released on UK DVD Today

44ea2aa088e78643f1ee584fde4e3d2eQuirky comedy Fukuchan of Fukufuku Flats is released on UK DVD today by Third Window Films. I reviewed the film for UK Anime Network back when it was screened at Raindance last year and I also had the opportunity to interview the director Yosuke Fujita while he was over here doing promotion.

Fukuchan of Fukufuku Flats UK Anime Network Review (previous link post)

Yosuke Fujita Interview also for UK Anime Network (previous link post)

I also reviewed the portmanteau movie Quirky Guys and Gals which Fujita directed a segment of (the “Cheer Girls” bit with the overly helpful cheerleaders) and the movie also contains a short film by Mipo O (The Light Shines Only There) about a woman who’s neglected to pay her electricity bill so it’s well worth a look (also released in the UK by Third Window Films).

Here’s a trailer for Fukuchan

Anyway I completely loved this movie. It also has an amazing song (with thanks again to Genkina Hito who tracked it down).

You should all go and watch this very funny film right now because I want to see more movies by Fujita (and I’m selfish like that).

P.S.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya is also out today and you can read a review of that over here . ‘Tis very good though you likely knew that already 😉

Concrete Clouds (Lee Chatametikool, 2014) Via UK Anime Network

Concrete CloudsI reviewed this flawed yet interesting film, Concrete Clouds, for UK Anime Network. Probably I think I liked it a bit more than the score suggests but it does have its problems. Also ’90s (or maybe ’80s?) Thai pop is kind of amazing.


Up to now Lee Chatametikool has been best known as the regular editor on the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee, Tropical Malady) but with Concrete Clouds he’s finally stepped out of the edit suite and behind the camera to direct his very first feature film. However, Concrete Clouds owes less to Apichatpong Weerasethakul or any of the other well known Thai directors he’s been working with over the last decade than it does to early period Tsai Ming-Liang and the Taiwanese new wave. A mood piece heavy on directorial flair but light on detail, Concrete Clouds never quite comes together but still manages to offer a few rewards for the patient viewer.

Set in 1997 just as the Asian Economic crisis begins to take hold, long time emigré Mutt (Ananda Everingham) gets a late night phone call from his high school age brother to say their father has just jumped off the roof. Mutt goes home for the first time in a long time aiming to lay a few ghosts – less that of his father than that of his teenage self and half forgotten love. Meanwhile, younger brother Nic has formed a tentative romance with a girl from the next building who appears to be living more or less alone and has just begun working in a hostess club. Just like his brother he’ll have to decide whether to abandon his love in Thailand to seek new dreams overseas or chase an ever elusive future in the land of his birth.

To be frank, the somewhat shocking and early death of the father retains little impact after the fact as neither of the now orphaned sons seems to dwell very long on the loss of their only parental figure and there’s no real soul searching over why he did what he did. The blueprints for new buildings he was looking at right before and the constant financial concern on the news screens seem to be evidence enough of his ultimate motives. Neither is much mention made of the absent mother who, one assumes, has been absent for a relatively long time. The age gap between the brothers also means that their relationship is not as close as you might assume brothers to be as Mutt must have left for America when Nic was little more than a toddler. Nevertheless, both boys are cast adrift by the older man’s decision, taken alone and with seemingly little concern for those around him.

The historical context is fairly key to the film though may be impenetrable for those less versed in recent history. In setting the story in 1997, the director intends both to imply that many of Thailand’s present social and economic problems stem back to the Asian Financial Crisis and the new Thai constitution which was created around that time but also to deal with the fragile nature of memory and our own tendencies to over romanticise our pasts by falling in love with a fantasy of our own creation. Mutt has dreamed of his high school girlfriend, Sai, ever since leaving her to go to college in America. He lives with a woman in New York but their relationship doesn’t seem particularly serious and she has not accompanied him to Thailand for his father’s funeral. Even though years have passed he’s remained faithful to the image of Sai he has in his mind and however much he tells himself nothing has changed it’s his own self created image that he’s wedded to, rather than the flesh and blood Sai who’s been busy getting on with her own life in the intervening ten years.

In a another cloud based film, Mikio Naruse’s Floating Clouds, the title refers to the the central characters who are unable to re-root themselves after the disruption caused to their lives firstly in failed Manchurian expedition and then by the after effects of the war. They float aimlessly trying to find something they can cling on to that will allow them to move forward with their lives and ultimately never find it. In Concrete Clouds it’s almost the opposite problem, the characters are weighed down by their dreams, almost crushed by them and unable to move. Their dreams will never lift off the ground because they can’t bear to let go of the past, of the people they once were and things they once thought they wanted.

The most notable element of Concrete Clouds is its unusual shooting style which incorporates everything from snatches of archival footage to long stretches of fantasy sequences played out as karaoke videos to late ‘90s Thai pop songs. The film has an interesting aesthetic which appropriately matches its melancholy and slightly wistful tone though it fails to capture the exact emotional ache that it seems to be going for. Ultimately its disparate elements never quite seem to coalesce into something more and though Concrete Clouds has plenty to admire it stops short of capturing the heart. Nevertheless it’s an impressive debut from Lee Chatametikool who has marked himself out as new talent to look out for in Thai cinema.


This is getting a release from Day For Night in the UK and here’s the trailer

And here’s a clip of one of the karaoke sequences

And another from the OST

(I don’t know any Thai at all, what is this music?)

Raindance 2014 Interviews – Hirobumi Watanabe / Kosuke Takaya (Via UK Anime Network)

Forgot to link to the other two interviews I conducted at Raindance last year for UK Anime Network.

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And the Mud Ship Sails Away

Hirobumi Watanabe – Director of And the Mudship Sails Away

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Buy Bling Get One Free

Kosuke Takaya – Director of Buy Bling Get One Free.

Both of these films are available in Third Window Films’ New Directors From Japan box set alongside Nagisa Isogai’s The Lust of Angels whom I also interviewed at the festival.

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The Lust of Angels

Um, maybe don’t read them all though or you’ll figure out that I mostly just asked everyone the same questions without quite realising at the time….

I’d like to think I’m getting better at this but perhaps not, judge for yourselves!