Saturday, May 28, 2011

Cinema Obscura: Kurosawa's Revenge Double Featue

Before emerging as an international cult favorite with the slow-burn thriller "Cure" in 1997, Kiyoshi Kurosawa was deeply mired in producing efficient and violent direct to video yakuza cheapies. The six part TV series "Suit Yourself or Shoot Yourself" (1995-1996) had made Kurosawa a well known artist in Japan, and this gave him the license to create further experiments in the yakuza genre, playing with conventions and, ultimately, not really taking the genre very seriously. "The Revenge; Parts 1 and 2" were prime examples of a filmmaker whose boredom with the idea of the embedded yakuza culture gave way to seeing just how oblique he could make the well-worn genre look.

If some studio were to bless Kurosawa with the finances to create an 8 hour gangster flick, I'm certain he'd run with the idea. Like his later films "The Serpent's Path" and "Eyes of the Spider", Kurosawa takes a central theme and tweaks it just enough to back end two films together in alternating fashion. Starring long time regular Sho Aikawa, "The Revenge; Parts 1 and 2" tracks a man's existence from goodly cop to incessant revenge-driven killer after his wife is murdered by the local yakuza. Part 1, titled "A Visit From Fate", is the better of the two parts, building up a slight back story for Aikawa's cop Anjo as his family is murdered before his eyes while he cowers in the closet as a scared five year old. Spared by the seemingly aloof killer, Anjo grows up to become a policeman. After a drug suspect kills himself when running from Anjo later in life, his body is picked up by a guardian, who turns out to be the seemingly benign killer who spared his life as a child. Anjo's tracking of the guardian leads him into the spotlight of a local yakuza gang, so they murder his wife as a warning. From there, Part 1 and Part 2, titled "A Scar That Never Disappears", follows Anjo on his quiet but violent quest to exact revenge.

"The Revenge" feels like a Takeshi Kitano film with all its blank faced gunfire and languid swagger. Anjo and the overweight yakuza member who soon becomes his primary target cross paths at least 4 times and fail to kill each other as they shoot from twenty yards apart, leaving their brawl to continue in the next scene... and then the scene after that. As Anjo, Sho Aikawa is emotionless... like the Asian Terminator. There are hints of yakuza hierarchy, but Kuroswawa's penchant for cutting out the most potent bits of information create an air of comedy as we simply follow Anjo and have to believe in his blood thirsty desire.

While sharing an affinity with his portentous horror films in editing, sound and calculated camera swivels, "The Revenge" plays far less seriously than those previous Kurosawa efforts. And there are still quiet moments of human interaction between the violence though. In Part 2, Aikawa befriends a young female student upstairs and charges her to mend him a suit, which she places on his door handle outside and is never picked up by Anjo. The tall, lanky yakuza member that Anjo spends most of his time with in Part 2 shares an appreciation of chess with Anjo, and they try and complete one game the entire movie as various interruptions always seem to pop up. "The Revenge Double Feature" does have one motive on its mind for most of its 3 hour running time, but the attention to humanity that creates the monsters in Kurosawa's unique universe is never far behind.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Rangers Roadtrip

Well, I can now scratch one more ballpark off my list. A trip to cloudy and cool Kansas City yielded one great baseball game and some damn fine bar-b-que.

Beautiful, open air ballpark that feels terrific.

Wash having fun and tossing batting practice to his boys.

Elvis warming up.

Derek warming up... and who should have gotten a win after that gem of a game he pitched Thursday night. Luckily, we saw the Wednesday night game where the Rangers did all they could to lose the game, then win it in thrilling extra innings fashion.

One thing I'll never forget about Kaufmann Stadium.... they actually have their "KC Cheer Crew" girls come up after an inning and toss hotdogs into the stands. I guess the vendor walking by could see the open-mouthed gap on our faces and quickly said... "Texas fans huh? Yea.. I think this is weird too. Just wait, later in the game they shoot the hot dogs out of canons."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Top 5 List: More Songs That Should Be Used In a Movie

5. Smog: Teenage Spaceship

Probably my very favorite Bill Callahan song... subdued, heartbreaking and perfect for one of those long take scenes as someone peers longingly out a window or set to a montage of images. And if I see this scene in a film over the next year, I'm yelling concept copyright infringment.

4. Radiohead: Kinectic

Known for the stingy use of their music in popular art (except, seemingly, for Baz Luhrman and his "Romeo and Juliet" experiment in the mid 90's), this B-side Radiohead track from their "Amnesiac" years is hypnotic to say the least and would fit right in with one of those grungy British kitchen-sink films or maybe a David Lynch epic?

3. The Appleseed Cast- Sunlit Ascending

This relatively unknown (but great) Kansas band deserves bigger success, and what bigger way than tacking this song at the end of a movie where the main character talks directly into the camera about his major emotional breakthrough, cutting to black and this song interrupts.....

2. Beck- Guess I'm Doing Fine

Words don't work in describing this song. Use your imagination for where this song belongs.

1. Radiohead: Last Flowers

Again, so much of their music elicits strong emotions, and "Last Flowers", off their b-sides release to "In Rainbows", would fit nicely into numerous works of art where the lulling piano and Thom Yorke's strained voice add considerable depth to the image.

And a bonus video... for a song that HAS been featured prominently in a movie ("In Between Days") and still stands as one of my faves.

Thursday, May 05, 2011


Nothing really special to say this week. The glut of near summer movies (i.e. "Thor", "Fast Five") is brain numbing and nothing has gotten me to the theater in a couple weeks. The exception was James Gunn's all-over-the-map indie superhero 'comedy' "Super". It has its moments (Ellen Page especially) but one knows the superhero motif has run its course (much like the zombie genre) when all fragments of the genre have been explored. We now have a low-budget take on the idea. What's left... the mockumentary where a group of elderly citizens dress up and patrol the streets at night? But, hopefully the tide is turning with some interesting fare in the upcoming weeks, "Meek's Cutoff" especially.

Secondly, the Cannes Film Festival gears up, and this clip from Nicolas Winding Refn's upcoming moving entitled "Drive" looks and feels if Walter Hill or Michael Mann had breathed life into the now tired fast-car-movie. Hopefully this film and others at Cannes expose us to some terrific things.

And finally, does anyone remember this:

Going through some boxes of books yesterday, I came across this blast from the past. In the mid 90's, I signed up as a member of Home Film Festival and received this program guide. The idea, renting movies through the mail for flat fees and postage paid, was brand spanking new and I jumped at the chance. Granted, we're talking about VHS tapes here, but for someone with a unique passion of finding films one could not find anywhere else, this was terrific. Home Film Festival exposed me to the films of Jean Pierre Melville, Hou Hsiao Hsien, hard to find Godard, and Lars von Trier. I remember only ordering five or six times, with the pricing of 16 bucks for three tapes, and the idea of actually calling and speaking to someone with ID numbers and titles is definitely antiquated in this streaming and rapid Internet environment, but it got the job done. Good times indeed. I'm glad for the current existence of DVD-R's and Netflix, but there's a special place in my heart for combing through this guide and then having to wait 4-5 days for my VHS selections to arrive. Drop a comment if you remember other pre-Netflix methods of home film exposure.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Produced and Abandoned #10

Ten more movies that deserve a mainstream region 1 DVD release:

1. City of Hope (1991)- Thank God John Sayles is working again and with a new movie coming out later this year, it got me thinking about this early 90's "mosaic" film which charts numerous subplots in a story of urban politics. I've only seen it twice on VHS years ago and wonder how it holds up today. With a majority of Sayles' fine work available on DVD, this one is a head scratcher.
2. United Red Army (2007)- Japanese director Koji Wakamatsu's three hour epic about the violent internal and external clashes of a terrorist group has screened all over the world at festivals and garnered a French DVD release, but that's all. I've read the final hour of this film- as police attack the Red Army compound- is tremendous. Wakamatsu has led a lengthy and varied career so I suppose the delay on "United Red Army" is no real surprise.
3. The Beaver Trilogy (2000)- Ok, first off I have no idea how good or interesting this experimental project actually is, but the thought of Crispin Glover and Sean Penn playacting the very strange existence of one man named Groovin Gary sounds alluring. I've stumbled across it at various bootleg sites, but never pulled the trigger and paid for it. Thoughts?
4. The Jerusalem File (1972)- Director John Flynn (whose made this list with great, under seen films like "The Outfit" and "Rolling Thunder") adapted this short novel into a 1972 film starring Bruce Davison as an idealistic college student caught up in international politics and violence. With Flynn's track record, I think this could be something great.
5. The Black Windmill (1974)- Starring Michael Caine, directed by Don Siegel... spies and international intrigue. What's not to like.. and I see its available to watch on YouTube!
6. Vanya on 42nd Street (1994)- One of the several Louis Malle films not available on DVD, this was a mainstay on IFC back in the day, starring a young Julianne Moore as an actress rehearsing a play in their studio. The complete lack of costumes and artifice was especially riveting and Malle's gentle touch was evident. A great little film.
7. And God Said To Cain (1970)-Supposedly tough little spaghetti revenge western starring Klaus Kinski. All of the reviews I've read for this film- which apparently stem from a now OOP poor transfer DVD- sound intriguing, with the big standoff happening within the first act, allowing the film to break usual narrative constraints.
8. Knock On Any Door (1947)- So little of Nicholas Ray's films are readily available on DVD, and this his debut, is one of them. It does air on TCM later this month, though.
9. The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1978)- Alan Alda as a senator involved with Supreme Court objections and his increasingly strained home life. Also starring Meryl Streep, "The Seduction of Joe Tynan" sounds like a promising and intelligent political drama. Too bad MGM, one of the studios awfully inept at home video releases, has never really put any faith behind this film. Update: looks like the film was just added to Netflix streaming today, May 3rd!
10. Go Now(1995)- One of Michael Winterbottom's first films about the relationship between a soccer player (Robert Carlyle) whose body begins to betray him. Another indie stalwart that made the rounds on IFC back in the late 90's. Winterbottom, one of my favorite directors, makes this film work despite the mawkish storyline and Carlyle is terrific. It deserves a wide release on DVD.