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'A Snake Of June': A Love (And Death) Triangle

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Shinya Tsukamoto's eros-and-thanatos story doesn't always work, but gets an A+ for dazzling effort anyway

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Nisioisin's 'Katanagatari': Adventures Beyond The Language Barrier

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Nisioisin's twelve-novel cycle of a 'swordless swordsman' and 'strategemist' on a weapons hunt is, in its English edition, a gold standard for how to translate cutting-edge cultural properties

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'The Great Pretender': Con Men At Work

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A real delight: a smart, fleet-footed story inspired by classic con-man comedies, and with correspondingly more to bring to the table than other anime

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'Electric Dragon 80.000V': Raw Power

Gakuryū Ishii's hourlong, warp-speed clash of pseudo-superheroes is still deafeningly good fun after twenty years

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Two of the wildest, most stylish films from Japan in the past few decades clock in at only an hour or so. One is Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo: The Iron Man, with more jammed into its frenzied 65 minutes than many films muster into two hours. The other is Gakuryū Ishii's Electric Dragon 80.000V, only slightly less frenzied but every bit as exuberant and heedless. It's also more fun to watch; it's like a indie manga come to life, complete with scratchily drawn animated intertitles and low-fi effects. And it's loud. Really loud.

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'Gojoe': The Demons On The Bridge

Twenty years later, Gakuryū Ishii's revisionist samurai legend still dazzles and jolts like few other movies of its kind

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It's in the nature of every kind of storytelling to grow familiar, to need a shaking-up from the outside. When someone shows a whole new approach to a genre story, it feels like nothing ever got old in the first place. Japan's samurai movies, like the Western and the detective thriller here, have gone through multiple cycles of ossification and reinvention. Gakuryū Ishii's Gojoe Reisenki (五条霊戦記, "Gojoe Spirit War Chronicle") took a samurai legend overly familiar to Japanese audiences, spun it on its ear, swathed it in blazing imagery that seems embroidered by hand, and enriched it with apocalyptic and experimental sensibilities. Twenty years later, it's still in a class by itself, still dazzling and jolting like few other movies anywhere.

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'HUMAN LOST': The Death Wishers

Why transmute Ozamu Dazai's 'No Longer Human' into medico-punk science fiction? Good question

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At this point I think it is safe to say Osamu Dazai's writing, especially his masterwork No Longer Human, are seen as "texts" or "sources" in their native Japan as they are works in themselves. Every staging of Shakespeare is as much about the staging as anything else, because we know the underlying material so well. Likewise, Dazai's been so widely read and adapted -- as manga (multiple times), as anime, as live-action film, as live-action TV, as a cultural influence generally -- that by now a "straight" reading of his work probably holds little appeal. What can be done with it, what can be developed from it, comes to the fore. Not always for the better, though.

HUMAN LOST -- the title, in Romanji, comes from one of Dazai's own shorts -- takes elements from No Longer Human and wires them into a cyberpunk setting akin to Project Itoh's Harmony. It posits an alternate present where sickness and aging have been technologized out of existence, but where the second-order effects of such things -- like what to do about the fact that some people just plain have a death wish -- haven't been handled as gracefully. Life without death is meaningless, but does that mean the only alternatives are stasis or suicide? The results are spectacular to look at and ambitious in concept, but what Dazai's name is doing on this material is another question entirely.

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