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'Versus': No Budget, All Ambition, Total Excess

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Twenty years later, Ryūhei Kitamura's pulp-horror gumbo of Lucio Fulci, Sam Raimi, George Miller, and everything in between remains a micro-budget, J-indie milestone

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'Burst City': Punkocalypse Now!

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Gakuryū Ishii's head-on collision between gang-war and punk-rock exploitation pictures still explodes on impact decades later

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'Malice@Doll': The Machine's Last Love Song

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Half adult OVA of the 90s/00s home-video era, half experimental stop-motion art film, and while not entirely successful it's still worth a look for its low-fi digital aesthetic

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'Vital': The Weight Of The Dead, And Of The Living

Shinya Tsukamoto's dark drama about a medical student obsessed with the cadaver of a lost love becomes a moving meditation on how life and death inform each other

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Do you believe that you will die? Oh, yes, “Man is mortal. I am a man, consequently....” No, not that; I know that; you know it. But I ask: has it ever happened that you actually believed it? Believed definitely, believed not with your reason but with your body, that you actually felt that some day those fingers which now hold this page, will become yellow, icy?... No, of course you cannot believe this. That is why you have not jumped from the tenth floor to the pavement before now, that is why you eat, turn over these pages, shave, smile, write.

-- Evgeny Zamyatin, WE

Most movies, when they deal with death, either don't really deal with it at all (action movies: somebody's shot and they fall over) or deal with it fetishistically (horror movies: how cleverly can we kill someone?) Shinya Tsukamoto's Vital is actually about death: how we deal with it, how we process it, how we confront the reality of someone close to us no longer being alive, and how we drive all of that back into some awareness of our own mortality.

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

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

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The two hardest things in movies are being funny and being sexy, because you can't force either of them; you either embody them or you don't. Shinya Tsukamoto's A Snake Of June tries to be about eroticism in the same way that something like In The Realm Of The Senses was, instead of just being, you know, a dirty movie. I am not sure if it is as successful, because so much of what any one of us finds sexy inwardly risks looking silly when made literal on a screen. But it's not a failure either, because it pushes at the outer edges of Tsukamoto's own sensibilities and shows him daring himself. I admire the impulse, even when I'm iffy on the results.

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

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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I could not call myself a fan of Nisioisin after having read many of his previous works. I wrote kindly -- too kindly, I think -- about his ×××HOLiC and Death Note tie-ins -- and less kindly about his original work, like the Zaregoto cycle and the Monogatari projects. Then the animated version of his Katanagatari cycle dropped, and I fell for it, hard -- hard enough that when Vertical, Inc. licensed the original novels to be translated into English, I pre-ordered them sight unseen. Now all twelve books are available in English, in four three-in-one volumes, and if I am not a fan of anything else Nisioisin has produced, maybe that's only because the Katanagatari stories seem so hard to beat. Light novels have not been my thing, and even in the wake of this still aren't, but reading Katanagatari was as close to a conversion experience as I'm likely to come. It also stands as, to date, a go-to example for how to translate a work of popular culture where a good half or more of it would be lost in translation.

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