Seems like an extremely good movie by about the halfway point, but it gets long and drags seriously through the second half. Still, I was excited enough about the sequel to rewatch the original.

Sho Aikawa (Scars of the Sun, Gozu) is unappreciated at home (especially by his young son, who’s bullied since his dad is the schoolteacher) and not too respected at work either, but he can escape into his hobby, which is watching the seven episodes of a quickly-cancelled TV series from his youth and making his own Zebraman costume.

TV’s original Zebraman:

A weird bit of animation:

Sho meets a mother (Kyoka Suzuki of Bullet Ballet) with a wheelchair-bound son, and bonds with the son over Zebraman. Meanwhile, a series of villains in funny costumes that seem straight out of the old episodes arrive in town. Whenever Sho faces one of them, he turns from a sad man in a silly suit into an actual superhero, culminating in a big fight against a green-slime alien overlord during which Sho can fly and briefly transforms into a pegasus zebra with a laser cannon.

Sho imagines Kyoka Suzuki as his sidekick Zebra Nurse:

Evil crab man:

Besides the long, drawn-out scenes where Sho connects with either the wheelchair kid or his own son, the movie pads its runtime with a couple of underequipped cops sent to track down the source of the alien invasion (I think they are Atsuro Watabe of Three Extremes and Koen Kondo of 13 Assassins), and a school principal (prof. Kyoto) who’s aware of the aliens and of the Zebraman connection, has copies of unfilmed show scripts that correspond to recent (and future) events.

Professor Kyoto:

Some cops:

From the writer of Ping Pong. The same year, Miike made Izo, part of Three Extremes (which I can’t remember at all) and a TV-movie sequel. Nice comic references to Ring (Zebraman fights the backflipping, well-dwelling Ring ghost in an episode) and Pulse (the principal tries to contain the aliens by sealing doors with red tape).

I’ve seen Miike do a big-budget action film with Sukiyaki Western Django, and I’ve seen him do period drama with Sabu. And both of those movies were kinda boring. So I knew not to expect the world from Miike’s 13 Assassins, despite online reviews calling it the best thing he’s ever done. He throws a few bones to the longtime extreme-cinema fans – like a tidal wave of blood when a sympathetic character gets blown to bits – but mostly it plays like a high-quality studio samurai drama. It’s classically well constructed – I’m guessing it’s this glossy lack of rough edges (what some would call personality) that has the casual Miike followers raving, but I can’t see anyone who was impressed by Big Bang Love being too wowed by this. I haven’t seen the 1960’s original 13 Assassins, but I’ve seen Seven Samurai, and if I didn’t know this was a remake of one, I’d guess it’s a remake of the other. It plays like a remake. Whiny complaints aside, it’s a fine, entertaining film. I had a good time and all.

Shinzaemon (Kiyoshi Kurosawa fave Koji Yakusho) is our hero, hired by government man Sir Doi (Miijiro Hira, star of Sword of the Beast, psychiatrist in The Face of Another) to kill an heir to the throne, Lord Matsudara (Goro Inagaki of Hypnosis, one of many Japanese horror movies I rented in a flurry back when The Ring came out). The Lord is extremely evil – rapes a girl at random then kills her husband and, for good measure, ties up his entire family and uses them for close-range target practice.

Shinz is going to need a lotta swords to take on Lord M’s army of guards so he hires 12 more guys, only a few of whom get personalities because hey, we don’t have all day here. Most of the movie is build-up as it is. He gets his hard-gambling nephew (Takayuki Yamada of Crows Zero, who will be one of the only survivors, not that he particularly earned it more than the others), a badass ronin with a spear (was his name Sahara?), a couple explosives novices, and finally Koyata (Yusuke Iseya, awesome leader of the white clan in Sukiyaki Western Django), a wild man with a sling they find in the woods. Of course Shinz has a personal rivalry with the leader of Lord M’s guard, Hanbei (Masachika Ichimura, voice of Mewtwo), in order to up the stakes.

A ton of the fighting comes down to a bunch of indistinguishable, muddy brown-robed guys slashing at each other amongst clanging sound effects and quick editing. But the best parts involve Shinz’s master plan to turn this entire town into a trap, full of spring-loaded gates, explosive-rigged houses, and flaming bulls (quite cartoony, but they got a good laugh), like Seven Samurai or Three Amigos. Fun ending – Koyata, having been stabbed through the neck to his death, shows up alive and unscratched.

S. Tobias:

What is surprising about 13 Assassins is how far it goes in upending the samurai picture. In Miike’s mind, there’s nothing honorable about the thoughtless commitment to honor and code, especially if it means protecting dastardly men who don’t deserve that kind of loyalty. With 13 Assassins, he’s made a film both punk and moral.

The actors playing Sir Doi and Otake previously worked together on a movie called Big Shitty Marathon (“Biggu Shiti Marason”).

Stylish and well shot Miike gangster film from the same year as Dead or Alive Final and Sabu. Jump cuts galore, and a badass tone that outdoes Outrage. Based on a Fukusaku film from the 70’s – Miike’s first remake? He’s done a couple more lately, with 13 Assassins and Harakiri.

Ishimatsu (Goro Kishitani, lately in Like a Dragon and Crows Zero) is already a violent sociopath when he enters yakuza life, recruited from his dishwashing job after saving the boss man Sawada (Shingo Yamashiro of the original Graveyard of Honor) from an assassination attempt. Fond of murder and rape, he fits right in, but his new bosses don’t realize just how much of a loose cannon he’ll be.

Ishi in his element:

He’s locked up early on after an assignment to kill a guy who stirred up trouble in a gambling parlor, and in prison makes friends with scar-faced Imamura. Also at some point he gets rape victim Harumi Inoue (star of Freeze Me) to marry him. After a misunderstanding when Ishi wants his money right fucking now and thinks the godfather (who is at the dentist) is avoiding him, he whups everyone’s ass, and cracks the skull of middle man Yuwada (Renji Ishibashi, below, always receiving dentist-related injuries in movies, played the mob boss who got shoddy oral surgery from Kitano in Outrage).

This is bad for sure, and it’s possible that Ishi could run some damage control or do some kind of penance, but he wants his fucking money, busts into the boss’s house and shoots Sawada, who was reaching for the cash to pay Ishi. Oops, another misunderstanding, and now Ishi stays on the run, sheltered by his friend Imamura.

I think this is Imamura, but a second scar-faced character was placed in the movie to confuse me:

A detective (Rikiya Yasuoka of Tampopo) gets involved. Goons beat up Ishi’s wife and he wails on their faces with a metal pipe. Another misunderstanding and Ishi stabs his friend. Yakuzas panic, fingers are cut off, tear gas is fired, and finally he lets himself be captured, later knocking out a guard in prison then climbing a tower and jumping to his death, unleashing a typically Miike-overkill rainstorm of blood.

B. Sachs:

What makes it different from most of its forebears is that Takashi Miike works to avoid any intimations of a narrative arc. Instead of setting up a pattern of hubris and comeuppance, Miike organizes the film as an accumulation of detail, with a special preoccupation with how things work: the way yakuza from different families forge alliances, how a prisoner can give himself salmonella to get into the infirmary, how the body reacts to heroin. For all the instructive, caught-in-the-moment observation, though, it is a frighteningly amoral film, less an object lesson in criminal psychopathology than an attempt to meet that psychopath on his level.

Ishi makes his “escape” from prison:

It snowed in Atlanta so everything shut down for an entire week. As is now traditional, I celebrated by watching a pile of shorts I’d long been planning to see (some as part of the Auteur Completist Initiative).

The Dreamers (1982, Orson Welles)
Welles as an old man narrates the story of opera singer Pellegrina Leone (Oja Kodar), who lost her singing voice in a fire. It’s all Welles and Kodar doing monologues. Maybe all of Welles’ films come down to monologues. Constructed from fragments, with black screens where footage was missing, narration recorded with the sound of rustling script pages. Ooh look, a Don Quixote reference. Not the most exciting of the many late-career Welles fragment films… personally I’d like to see more of The Deep.

Orson in his magician hat:

Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969, Kenneth Anger)
Good camerawork, but ridiculous movie. I think with his images Anger is trying to say that the military is a death-obsessed homosexual cult. I think with his audio Mick Jagger is trying to declare the death of interesting music. I think with his performance, Anton LaVey is trying to expose himself as a silly clown.

That is a nazi flag, but what is he burning?

Le Lion Volatil (2003, Agnes Varda)
Julie Depardieu (Guillaume’s younger sister) works for a psychic, while an aspiring magician named Lazarus Combes (Anton LaVey would be pleased) works at a tourist-trap dungeon around the corner. Every day on their lunch breaks they meet in front of the Lion of Belfort memorial – the same one featured in Rivette’s Pont du Nord and Paris s’en va. Their brief almost-romance doesn’t pan out, but more interestingly, Julie starts hallucinating variations on the lion – first it has a giant bone in its mouth (as supposedly suggested by Andre Breton), then it vanishes and is replaced by a giant housecat. Special effects + Vardaian whimsy = happiness.

Les Dites Cariatides (1984, Agnes Varda)
A tour of caryatids – human statues used as building columns or ornamental facades – throughout Paris, with poems by Baudelaire. “The Peloponesian city of Karyate aided Persia in a war against other Greeks, but Persia lost. The Greeks took revenge on Karyatian collaborators, slaying all the men and enslaving the women. They were paraded as spoils of war. The noble women were triumphantly shown in their lovely gowns and finery. To illustrate their punishment, architects used these statues on public buildings instead of columns.”

The Calligrapher (1991, Bros. Quay)
Three short (15-sec?) segments rejected as BBC2 ident bumps. My favorite kind of Quay film – awesome stop-motion with no human actors, repetition or long-winded confusing mythological story.

Storytime (1968, Terry Gilliam)
This came out while the show Do Not Adjust Your Set (a precursor to Flying Circus) was in production. Opens as a poorly-animated (in Gilliam’s magazine-cutout style) story of a cockroach named Don, who is then stomped on by a man called Jeremy Trousercrease… and so on, each minute-long concept leading into another. Even features a “we apologize for the previous cartoon – the animator responsible has been sacked” disclaimer, which would be reused in Monty Python. Not exactly a lost masterpiece, but a fun little series of cartoon gags.

Pandoora (2002, Takashi Miike)
Just a cheesy samurai music video – does not count as a Miike movie. It ends with our hero about to face off against a giant mantis. What, were they expecting a sequel?

Male (1962, Osamu Tezuka)
Lots of play with frame sizes and positions as a male cat narrates, talking to the man of the house, about how sex should be simple and private and should not end in stabbing your partner to death.

The London Story (1986, Sally Potter)
A woman conspires with a door opener and a retired photocopy machine operator, takes a government minister out to the theater and while he sleeps, replaces his speech about the future of Britain with a new one, causing panic in the media the next day as the conspirators enjoy a choreographed dance on a bridge. Delightful.

Reasons To Be Glad (1980, Jeff Scher)
More of Scher’s fanciful drawing and incredible editing based on rotoscoped (?) images and set to a Dinah Shore song.

The Bum Bandit (1931, Dave Fleischer)
Oh my. A Popeye-muttering train robber gets out-toughed by a passenger in the form of Proto-Betty Boop (still with the dog ears), the robber’s abandoned wife, who steals the locomotive and the bandit, closes the shades and makes with the sweet pre-code lovin’.

Betty and the Bum:

Negro passenger with stolen chickens:

Russian Rhapsody (1944, Robert Clampett)
Watched this recently on the big screen but it never gets old. Hitler’s plane is taken out by gremlins from the kremlin. Why don’t we have wartime cartoons anymore? I want to see the Penguins of Madagascar take on Osama Bin Laden.

Vinyl (1965, Andy Warhol)
In the 60’s it was revolutionary to make slow, cheap movies with bad gay actors, but not anymore. There are probably three filming as I type this. This isn’t technically a short film, but I gave up after thirty minutes, having dozed for the previous ten. A dude recites Burgess and dances to pop music – and it’s all one shot. Wikipedia says it was filmed unrehearsed, which I don’t doubt, and says it’s one of the “1000 films to see before you die,” which I do.

Thought I’d kick off SHOCKtober this year with Miike’s epic vampire TV- movie which I bought on DVD years ago but never actually watched. Bad move: either it was too stupid or I was not drunk enough to enjoy it properly. I think the problem is simply that it’s a giggling teenage sparkly-vampire flick and I am in my thirties.

Dig the shadow:

Opens with some guy who doesn’t matter getting his whole gang’s ass kicked by a teen girl in motorcycle gear – Riona, I think, who is friends with Mahn (Ayana Sakai of Battle Royale II and Devilman), I think. I didn’t take very good notes here, so I’ll omit the words “I think” (also “teen”) from now on, or else you’ll see them everywhere. Together they’re some kind of Teen Girl Squad who practice sweet fight moves, and maybe kill vampires. Not sure if vampires were a big deal before the scope of this movie, but presumably they fought something in Tennen Shojo Mahn, the previous chapter of this series. Both movies came out the same year as Audition and Dead or Alive and Silver and a couple others, so these didn’t exactly receive Miike’s full attention.

Mahn and Riona, I think:

Vampires have sparkly blood, of course, but they can walk in the daylight and go places they’re not invited and other stuff. Local hunk Yuya runs the city’s dreamiest fashion modeling agency (despite being nineteen) and is the public face of the vampire organization, while his buddy Kamio lurks moodily atop a skyscraper wishing for more power. Then there’s a winged “Saint Vampire” who controls them all from behind an Argentoesque red curtain.

Vamp boys:

Saint V:

Cheap cheap cheap looking movie. Reviews say it has amazing FX for television, but these reviewers have low expectations. The girls aren’t great actors either, but the fight scenes are surprisingly okay.

More intrigue: the girls’ friend Maki (who is big into donating blood – don’t ask) wants to be beautiful like top model Maria (played by porn star Shiori Fujitani), so gets bitten and joins the vamp club, immediately becoming a bitch to her former friends. Head vamp Yuya is a misogynist who is “taking revenge on all women”, though despite his big talk he kinda seems nice And Mahn meets a bullied young boy who happens to be Yuya’s little friend. She gives him a time-killing training montage set to some bland mid-tempo pop songs, teaching him not to be such a little wuss, while Yuya (who could’ve taught the kid himself) looks on disapprovingly. Everyone gets facile back-stories, including characters I won’t bother to mention. And this beardy preacher (Shingo Tsurumi of Freeze Me and Dead or Alive) shows up, embarrassing everyone whenever he’s on screen:

“Mahn, I wish I’d met you earlier… I might not have hated all women.”

Things Of Slight Interest: The word “vampire” isn’t spoken for the first hour. Kamio has a Dr. Claw-via-Minority Report virtual TV (below) that shows him what’s happening anywhere in the city. Only virgins can become vampires, so one girl’s dad tries (unsuccessfully and pathetically) to rape her in order to save her. And vampires are immune to garlic, crosses and sunlight but grow weak when they hear piano music. That one was never explained.

Turns out only the saints have eternal life. Girls become super beautiful and powerful when bitten, but only live 500 days after that, so Maria has an electric death scene on the beach. The girls decide to act, so their former friend won’t suffer the same fate. Then the grand vampire turns out to be the long-lost dad of one of the girls, or maybe of Taichi, I wasn’t paying attention. Some shit goes down and he dies easily, then Yuya stabs Kamio and himself and has a dull, protracted death scene

Maria on the beach:

Based on a comic, obviously, from the writer of Stop The Bitch Campaign, and adapted by the writer of Andromedia and (surprisingly) Visitor Q. So, not a killer Miike adaptation, but we do get a couple cool moments reminiscent of Big Bang Love:

First time I watched this, I thought of Miike as a provocative ultraviolent action and horror director, based on Dead or Alive and Ichi the Killer and Audition. Most people still do, of course, since his quieter films (Bird People In China), his children’s films (Yatterman, The Great Yokai War) and his oddball art films (Gozu, Big Bang Love) don’t get as much attention. It turns out Izo is one of the art films masquerading as an action flick, and with that in mind, I enjoyed it much more the second time around. There are accepted ways of shooting action scenes or dialogue scenes, and these are not they. Miike uses strange and varied techniques to suit his strange, upsetting movie.

Tom Mes:

Taking the final scene of Hideo Gosha’s Hitokiri – the execution of homicidal 19th-century samurai Izo Okada – as its starting point, this was never meant to be any old chambara, but a meditation on mankind’s eternal propensity for violence and destruction.

From the oft-repeated plot description:

We learn that among Izo’s various guises was a doomed soldier who had to leave his lover (Kaori Momoi) to fight in World War II. He spares neither Buddhist monks nor schoolchildren, and eventually, Izo confronts Mother Earth (Haruna Takase) herself.

“Acid-folk” singer Kazuki Tomokawa is incredible, even if I’ve no idea what he’s singing – I have the old Cannibal King version of the DVD with no subs during the songs. Izo is crucified at the start of the movie, and born at the end, so I’m afraid a simple plot description won’t cut it, even if the songs were some sort of commentary. Lots of fun along the way, as he destroys hypocritical institutions, slaying religion and government (Beat Takeshi Kitano plays the prime minister and Ryuhei “Nightmare Detective” Matsuda plays the emperor), and a big fight with muscular black samurai Bob Sapp (a former Minnesota Viking) is an oft-cited high point. But he also spends lots of time killing innocents, moving down the weary ghosts of WWII soldiers, getting badly hurt and slow-morphing into a red-eyed demon as the frequency and repetition of the fight scenes start to wear on the audience.

That repetition is why many people seem to hate this movie. It’s accused of being slow and overlong, which I would partly agree with, but it’s more varied and interesting than the also-slow Sukiyaki Western Django – and even that one I expect will improve on a second viewing. Tons of cameos significant to people more familiar with Japanese cinema than I am. Learned from Midnight Eye that the soldiers stabbing Izo to death in the opening scenes are Kenichi Endo (father in Visitor Q) and Susumu Terajima (Takeshis’).

Ben Sachs:

To begin with the obvious: Izo is one of the most difficult works of art to be made in recent times. . . . The film is pure theme and variation, deliberately lacking consistent rhythm or sense of progression that would allow you to enjoy it casually. Still, nearly every sequence boasts some fascinating juxtaposition—between character and decor, between dialogue and action, in the way images are ordered—that makes it consistently striking to watch, if something of a slog to keep up with.

A “live-action” children’s hyperactive candy cartoon full of dick and boob jokes. When you consider the American alternative (poop jokes) you stop minding so much. Ultra-energetic bright super-CG-assisted silliness, and mostly quite watchable (altogether better than Zombieland, or Miike’s own Sukiyaki Western Django).

Good guys standing in front of their underpants-looking symbol:

Baddies in disguise:

Based on a 70’s TV show, and flaunting it (a short TV-style credit open, dialogue referencing weekly occurrences). The titular team is #1 (pop star Sho Sakurai), his girlfriend #2 (Saki Fukuda) and their crew of robots, including a giant dog that gets beaten up more than it helps out. The baddies (more interesting than the bland heroes, as usual) are dazzling dominatrix leader Mistress Doronjo (Kyoko Fukuda of Kamikaze Girls, Dolls, Ring 2), pudgy pig-nosed Tonzra (Kendo Kobayashi), and carrot-nosed Boyacky (Katsuhisa Namase of the Japanese remake of Sideways) who is in love with his boss. It seems there’s a magic skull, and the two teams are scrambling to collect its pieces – team Yatterman by request of a sad girl, and team Doronjo by orders from “the god of thieves,” a skull-totem spirit which has possessed the girl’s father.

Spirit-possessed father: Sadao Abe, a Great Yokai War veteran:

Saki Fukuda busts up a split-screen:

Seems like a cross between Miike’s Great Yokai War, Pokemon, the Gundam/Robotech giant-robot series and all the other Japanese cartoons I don’t watch (plus rip-offs of Indiana Jones and who knows what else)… nothing too original, but it’s all so winningly performed, keeping a light tone despite the overpacked story, that originality hardly matters. There are musical numbers, dream sequences and increasingly absurd robots. Defeat comes accompanied by giant mushroom clouds. Not knowing the show, I have no idea how much of this pre-existed and how much is Miike’s contribution. The whole thing was well-shot and edited to make sense, which is not a given when it comes to hyper kids shows – would be interesting to see how it stacks up to the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer.

Pigman dream sequence:

Kitty sphinx head a’splode:

Opens with reclusive white bearded artist Yuki Aoyama making Hellraiser-inspired artworks which will pop up throughout the movie. Then we’ve gotta introduce our mismatched couple: two next-door neighbors named Raita. R. Kazama (Kazuya Nakayama, Izo himself) is a detective who, despite some slapstick scenes and his retro wardrobe, is no Maiku Hama. R. Takashima (Kuroudo Maki of Kitano’s Brother) is an upright office worker who doesn’t really want to know his imposing neighbor. Tak is the straight man who gets pulled into an investigation, contributing his mad hacker skills and acting as a center for the film (I don’t know why the more fun detective Kaz couldn’t have been our center). Tak never unpacks after moving in – I can’t figure if he’s joking when he tells Kaz that he won’t stay long since moving is his hobby.

Detective Raita:

Salaryman Raita:

Our detective’s employees are young dude Masakuni (who turns out to be the bad guy; spoiler alert) and Girl Whose Name I Didn’t Catch (played by Harumi Inoue of Miike’s Graveyard of Honor and star of Freeze Me). The mystery involves girls showing up horribly killed with some new agey earth-wind-fire metaphor business, each missing a different internal organ. The one thing they’ve all got in common: they insulted famous artist Aoyama in front of detective Masakuni, who is not only the artist’s secret son but has killed the artist and taken his place using blood and organs mixed with his paint.



Before all that comes to light, we have to sidetrack into a giant Silence of the Lambs ripoff, with detective Kaz visiting a horribly burned isolation-cell prisoner whom he once locked up, asking the prisoner for psychological advice.


Miike tries to keep it fun – jump-cuts all over, two (two!) peeing jokes and a hilarious final line (“My fingers grew back!”) and Koji Endo contributes nice saxy music. Supposedly everyone knew this would be a bad, throwaway Miike movie because it was produced by the guy behind the reputably poor Silver and Family… but he also wrote Big Bang Love so how bad could the guy be? This seemed about on par with One Missed Call – throwaway, yes, but not outright bad… a fun genre flick with no higher calling.


Almost seven years passed between when I rented this and when I finally watched it (not counting the time I fell asleep a few years back)

Banker-type Wada (Masahiro Motoki, starred in Tsukamoto’s Gemini and the recent Departures) is sent to a rural town in China called yun nan to look at a vein of jade for his employer. An uber-tattooed gangster (Renji Ishibashi of Gozu, Graveyard of Honor, Dead or Alive) tags along since Wada’s boss owes him money. Things get weird, but in a casual, slow, satisfying manner – not all The Great Yokai War weird.

There’s style a-plenty (narrated back story shown in fast motion), some poor late-90’s digital effects, mystic business about the origins of Japanese culture, and trained swimming turtle chauffeurs. The gangster freaks out at the end, not because he’s sick of the place and wants to go home but because he’s afraid the mineral exploitation will corrupt this perfect place, so he shoots the homing turtles. Our hero spends his time talking with the girl who teaches ancient traditions of human flight (as translated by her grandfather, a british pilot who crashed in the area to local children. It’s all quite lovely.