Tuesday, 18 September 2018

A 1000 Anime Marathon

A huge amount to cover from my other blog 1000 Anime, a frenzied month or more covering all of the following alongside Cinema of the Abstract reviews. So lets not dither about shall we?

Bubblegum Crash!
From https://www.midnightpulp.com/wp-content/
uploads/2017/02/07YlWL72-320.jpg

The first admittedly wasn't a great experience to revisit, Bubblegum Crash! (1991) an attempt to capture the lightning in a bottle of its more successful predecessor which failed considerable. As someone with a morbid fascination with old Manga Entertainment licenses, it was worthy of revisiting but as you will read in the review HERE, it managed to be worse than some of the more technically and dramatically incompetent anime I've covered on that blog.

A Branch of a Pine is Tied Up
From http://www.shortshorts.org/2018/tmb/2216.jpg

Taking a different direction came A Branch of a Pine is Tied Up (2017). Sadly Tomoyasu Murata's short, probably the first stop motion work I have covered, was a short only made available through MUBI's streaming side, so I felt guilty even reviewing the short, praising it as an emotionally affecting take on Japan's history of natural disasters and loss by magical realism and stop motion, but aware how difficult now it will be for many to see. Nonetheless the review is HERE  and in the perfect world, such reviews and potential interest could help make Murata's work more easily available.

Dragon Half
From https://somewhereinthemidstofnowhere.files.wordpress.com/
2014/01/super-deformed-mink.png

Thankfully Dragon Half (1993), be it by the American release by Discotek or various old releases, is more readily available, sadly an OVA which barely got out of the gate before it was officially cancelled but in its two short episodes managing to have a lasting impact still. Especially for those who cannot stand most high fantasy, like myself, this is a perfect antidote and you can read of the absurd comedy HERE.

Armitage III: Poly-Matrix
From https://conceptionclearinghouse.files.wordpress.com/
2013/03/vlcsnap-2013-02-28-18h38m05s254.png

Somewhat more divisive for myself, though a fascinating curiosity from the past is Armitage III: Poly-Matrix (1997), a theatrical length re-edit of a larger OVA which brought in name stars for the English dub. Not a perfect production, definitely the weakest of all the works one of my favourite screenwriters, Chiaki J. Konaka, has ever had his hands in but, especially next to Bubblegum Crash!, a better example of the nineties sci-fi anime about robots and their interactions with human beings. The review can be found HERE.

Princess Tutu
From https://ibhuluimcom-a.akamaihd.net/ib.huluim.com/
video/50081816?size=1024x576

A significantly better production Chiaki J. Konaka had involvement in was the brainchild of female screenwriter Michiko Yokote, a two season production that is arguably one of the few anime I have covered appropriate for all the family. Its also arguably one of the most unique and best so far covered on the entire blog too, the meta-tribute to fairy tales and ballet named Princess Tutu (2002-3). Sadly not a series with named recognition in the British Isles, and a cult one only in the USA, a tragedy as this is one of the those rare cases of something so sweet but so clever at the same time. Out of all these reviews in this post, this is the one you should follow the review link for, found HERE, first as a priority than go back to the others.

Batman: Gotham Knight
From https://i.ytimg.com/vi/Ok0WAzAUZYg/maxresdefault.jpg

Tonally completely at odds, this ginormous bundle of reviews almost included the US-Japan co-production of Batman: Gotham Knight (2008), which should've been a triumphant anthology of Japanese animators tackling probably the best and most well known superhero characters ever. It wasn't to be but, as always when covering anthologies which take longer to detail for each segment, the results even if a disappointment in production still has moments of inspiration. Find the link HERE.

Thunderbolt Fantasy
From https://myanimelist.cdn-dena.com/s/common/uploaded_files/
1472670840-8bd87069a8c7cf3af00c0b5ba2ded010.jpeg

Finally, and again stepping outside of conventional anime, is the Taiwanese-Japanese glove puppet series Thunderbolt Fantasy (2016). Openly, my review which you can find HERE is probably not a common one in opinion, but if anything is to be gained from the series (planned for a second series in 2018) its that it at least encourages more puppetry based productions like it in the future. I just wish the screenplays were better in this particular case...

Back here in Cinema of the Abstract land, hopefully more reviews in the future. Prioritizing 1000 Anime is as much the maddening number of anime I have watched over the last month or so, but for this blog there are some choice entries to cover, so keep your eyes glued here.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

The Clowns (1970)



Director: Federico Fellini
Screenplay: Federico Fellini and Bernardino Zapponi
Cast: Federico Fellini as Himself and a cast of real life clowns

Synopsis: In his childhood, recreated for this TV movie that is a hybrid between fiction and documentary, the legendary director Federico Fellini recounts being taken to the circus as a child only to be frightened by the clowns. Having a lasting effect, he with his motley production crew tour around Italy and France exploring the history of some of the greatest professional clowns to have ever existed, intermixing their histories with recreations by the newest generations of clowns.

In the midst of his golden period of filmmaking Fellini made The Clowns. He'd become a recognisable name even in the USA by this point, having already become a legend with films like La Dolce Vita (1960) and entering his hyper surreal and dream influenced era with Juliet of the Spirits (1965). By the point of The Clowns, he was moving on to be the Italian maestro whose name would be put in the title of his productions (Satyricon (1969) and Roma (1972)). Here, able to make this television movie, he recreates an incident where clowns traumatised him as a child and, coming as an adult with a longing to fully appreciate and admire their craft, creates a document dealing with their history. After the elaborate prologue, which feels like a prelude to the likes of Amarcord (1973), which shows child Fellini seeing a circus tent being erected outside his window, and the trauma he'd have with said clowns, what you get is an unconventional hybrid.

Whilst it's not as unconventional as Orson Welles' F For Fake (1973), it's the perfect comparison as the tag of "documentary" comes off as a joke itself when The Clowns defies and flaunts being an actual document, with the crew characters themselves, cameos from the likes of Anita Ekberg, and culminating into countless recreations and performances in a circus ring by clowns. It gleefully undercuts the border between truth and recreation fully, Fellini the director and the character within his own film grabbing together a crew, including the comically underappreciated female assistant, to begin an escapade to learn of the history of clowning in Italy and France. "Escapade" is perfect as the level of mirth on display if infectious, the film artificial and Fellini playing as jokes with real former clowns as characters playing themselves, and yet discussing their lives and craft even in the midst of this. Willing, as the symbolic moment of the entire film itself, to have a bucket land over his mid-speech for a one shot joke. If it's all true, and hasn't been lying like Orson Welles was in F For Fake, it's a fascinating take at a dying art, going into the past with clown archetypes of yore examined. Tipping the hat to legends, it's a noble task, cutting to recreations of these clowns by new disciples of face paint and slapstick who stand out as well.

From https://theleastpictureshow.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/clowns-1.jpg

Fellini
at this point was exceptionally indulgent, the discovery of Carl Jung and the esoteric permanently changing his cinema after 1965. Even when fantasy appeared in the likes of 8½ (1963), and overblown spectacle matched by his stand-in Marcello Mastroianni getting a space rocket launch built for his next feature, it tipped over the edge further mid-sixties onwards. I was once not a huge fan as a younger and dumber viewer to these later spectacles, though I still sympathise with those who'd agree with my younger self arguing his later work leaves one with cinematic indigestion, especially if one is not used to Fellini's style. For me now, older and smarter, and able to digest said style fully, I now adore it and am amazed he was able to get away with some of the sights you see in these films. Even on a TV budget, Fellini gets away with a lot even in the "normal" scenes for The Clowns, deliberately staged. Anita Ekberg playing herself can cameo to pose around big cat cages at the circus whilst legendary French actor/director/former clown Pierre Étaix, obscurer in English speaking worlds but a significant figure in his homeland, has a segment as himself where his recorded film from his own clowning family's past sadly burns up in the projector. In neither case, as with any appearance, is the film trying to be real document in the slightest which deliberately undermines the viewer's sense of reality. Even if real facts are on display, it's a very interesting viewing experience when the film's presentation gleefully undercuts the notion of documented verisimilitude.

All playful, entirely irrelevant. Utterly unconventional as it still maintains absolute respect for the clowns themselves, a sadness felt as a circus which had its own building became a beer hall after the decades past. The sense that clowning will become lesser appreciated, more so nowadays, is more enforced as even on the cusp of the seventies The Clowns talks of it being forgotten. In the modern era the likes of Stephen King's It, coulrophobia is a more known idea and the bizarre phenomena that was the 2016 evil clown sightings, really cruel jokes that got out of hand in multiple countries with people dressing as clowns and frightening members of the public, didn't help in the slightest. But it really makes a startling reminder, even in this humorous tribute, that by the seventies clowning was seen as antiquated by this film's viewpoint. That a lot of its figures, the archetypes of clowns and those who donned their face paint in real life, vary from before the 20th century to before the 1950s really does emphasise how old a profession it is. In The Clown's testament, it makes itself a real document by just talking about the subject matter in detail.

From http://images3.static-bluray.com/reviews/5065_1.jpg

The clowns here are not creepy Its either, not even the mainstream examples like Ronald McDonald, but an old profession with a real, tangible history to it untainted at this point by crass commercialisation. To those of the clowning profession reading this review, or if you the reader know any as friends or relatives, The Clowns is absolutely rewarding just for the clowning sequences themselves, which become the most unconventional aspect of the entire film. Farces in a circus ring where all manner of surreal gags involving their exaggerated movements and props, on and off themselves, entertain us the viewer. Some assistance are helped by the power of cinema, but most of what is seen is likely what would be performed on stage, and they are bizarre. Fellini, in one of the odder moment very early on, has a montage of various types of public figures drawn very likely from his own childhood, from gossipers to members of the fascistic Italian office, portrayed as pure caricatures to show that the clowns themselves usually took inspiration from the manners of real people, their exaggerations given context in a very inspired and clever inclusion on his part. Taken to its most extreme is when, lamenting the tragedy of clowning's failing fortunes, the film ends on a literal clown funeral. It is arguably one of the standout sequences in any Fellini film, a mad scenario between clowns lamenting the loss of their friend and also prating around or the carriage driver arguing with one of his own horses. Eventually it goes on so long clowns start to have to bow out in exhaustion, a feverish end for a high note. Certainly a  stand out as a big sequence within the director's career.

Abstract Spectrum: Delirious/Eccentric/Expressionist
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Low

Personal Opinion:
An obscure but rewarding entry in Fellini's career. Certainly a film I have immense interest in for him and my ongoing obsession with anything involving circuses and carnivals. Also in term of his career, The Clowns is not only a great film by itself but a very interesting prelude to his later work. I can see when he jumped away from conventional narrative structure with this film, and the breaking down of features into vignettes and segments interlinked is certainly see here more than the work of the sixties. So it's also a good film to find to bridge to the likes of Amarcord too.


From http://www.emiliodoc.it/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/clowns8.jpg

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Alipato: The Very Brief Life of an Ember (2016)

From http://rapideyemovies.de/wp-content/
uploads/2016/10/a4_alipato_rgb.jpg


Director: Khavn
Screenplay: Khavn and Achinette Villamor
Cast: Khavn, Dido De La Paz, Marti San Juan, Robin Palmes and Bing Austria

Synopsis: Split into multiple segments, Alipato begins in the near future with a child gang, led by the Boss and all the infant and adolescent children left abandoned on the streets, stealing and killing an adult in their way. Events spiral out of control when the Boss decided to rob a band, the off-screen robbery and its disaster leading to many years later when he is finally released from prison as an older man back into the slums and to the members still alive.

To experience Khavn's film Alipato is difficult to describe. Honestly Khavn's style, the poet/musician/songwriter/filmmaker starting properly in 2004, is arguably of his own.  So much its really on multiple viewings a film like this can be absorbed, where even its prologue catches you off-guard. Handheld camera. Quotations from the likes of Muhammad Ali, quotes talking of both the slums of Manila to fighting gorillas, with a man in a gorilla suit involved. A musical number at night that is elaborate and takes quite a few minutes amongst its fire lit figures. A pan into a television where, in this futuristic tale of poverty dystopia, the Natural Pornographic Channel (sic) plays, the news broadcast banner at the bottom talking about none of the other members of U2 expect Bono caring if African children starve, all as an obnoxious Western host sets up the hell the slums have become.

From https://m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BZjc4YjhiMGMtYzg
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YzFjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTI5NjIyMw@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_.jpg

To tone of Alipato is a vast  carnival, these first moment introducing the dank, hyper violent world of the Manila slums. Even if Alipato has a deliberately provocative tone, it is explicit as a exaggeration of poverty, crime and general chaos. Not that you won't baulk at the taboos mind anyway - in its first of three segments you begin with an all-pubescent criminal gang led by the Boss, given title cards for even one shot characters which emphases various transgressive details, like killing one's father to the youngest member being a baby girl who learnt to smoke before she could walk. Alongside child actors smoking on camera and brandishing guns, it's a very shocking juxtapositions. Adding this is that Khavn uses the "throw in the kitchen sink" approach to its fullest. Juxtaposing hip hop beats with classical music, alongside songs he composed and sings himself of various genres, as eclectic in the music as the material on camera. A scene of the police chasing the gang that has them completely motionless whilst the camera pans around them all, a three dimensional moving statue a la The Hypothesis of a Stolen Painting (1978) and its staged tableaus. Elaborate one-takes such as with the kids rampaging around a supermarket where they've already slaughtered all the adults. All with a manic energy but too precise to be messy technically, Khavn in a music genre comparison an avant-garde punk rocker.

Very soon into Alipato, you are met with the most reoccurring technique, which is the one emotional thread in this hyperactive content - that for every character when they die, even the most minor of ones, it always cuts to their grave stones at the end of each scene in another time briefly listing those who've died by their graves. Considering many characters are killed, so much so whilst there is a sick humour to it, it becomes also unnerving. It causes one to realise that that Filipino director Khavn is a fellow countryman to Lav Diaz. Both are radically different from each other, but its pertinent both have dealt with the Philippines being riddled in a despaired atmosphere, of poverty and death between them. Especially in the second segment this stands out - where a character's prison sentence, including being raped by a fellow prisoner and then killing them,  is depicting in stop motion entirely in a prison cell, with plastic lizards coming out of a corpse's mouth and an improvised gory use of a Spiderman mask. Drastically different in aesthetic and style to Diaz, but both from a colonised nation which has felt centuries of history and trauma throughout its existence, both exorcising them in different ways for the same goal.

From http://i101.fastpic.ru/big/2018/0822/61/
2d9f60e58ad63dc09ab9b60a1a8e5a61.png

Whether Khavn's film is able to hold a serious emotional effect on a viewer is entirely to debate. I cannot lie, however, that it's a compelling experience. Arguably a unique style entirely of the director's own. Alipato is a film elaborate in production value - one sadly suspects a lot of the slum locations the adult version of the Boss returns to are real as much as its dressed up, the sight of American pop culture like Ben 10 or a Pixar's Car duvet in the world of lowlifes being systematically bumped off profane. Colourful yet dirty, bizarre (such as having a character Mario-like mushroom swaying off his crotch) yet also like Harmony Korine with a willingness to have idiosyncratic faces and scenes that are humanising. Khavn like Korine could be seen as parading a freak show to some, but is actually more empathetic than most socially conscious filmmakers in their ability to show the piss and shit of life and allow actors/non-actors of all shapes and size, disabled or dwarf, to be equal in the worse of these characters' lives as much as their best alongside everyone else. In such not only do you see a man with no actual legs, in a major role, manage to keep up with a car on the street just by walking on his arms, but also a very sensual and explicit sex scene, scored to an old Filipino love song, that just happens to be inside a toilet with an actor in his forties and a (real) pregnant actress involved. Dressing everyone in deliberately garish and distinct costumes, everyone is on an equal playing field too.

Khavn is a dynamo of energy, able to pull out novel ideas and visibly, painstakingly yet then accomplished onscreen, someone who with Ruined Heart: Another Love Story Between A Criminal & A Whore (2014), that was all shot in one day, clearly plans his work out even if he's a punk. How else do you explain the "Goat-Cam"? A female character, part of a subplot of surviving members of Boss' gang being killed one-by-one as adults, whose corpse is left in a sexually demeaning place atop a mascot for an American burger franchise, on top of a very real dump for plastic that spans a great deal of land, all shot on a camera that has been strapped on a small black goat, who the production managed to coordinate to trundle around the actress, to have an establishing shot and detail of the scene fully, whilst seeing its head from the back and with the cameraman still a goat who wanders like an actual animal. Its moments like this, even in films you despise, that nonetheless burn themselves into your memory, and Alipato has many such scenes that do so.

From http://www.tidf.org.tw/sites/www.tidf.org.tw/files/styles/node_films
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Even as an overload of material, a base crassness that could be off-putting in its rainbow colours, it's a film that surprises. Young Boss cursing all adults in a fire lit night in an industrial waste land. The surprisingly poignant final scene involving a spirit of a character leading the newly deceased away. The prologue musical number, a literal carnival of dancers, disabled performers and Khavn himself performing with a song about the pointlessness of life yet with a celebratory tone. The sticky end of a pair of corrupt cops, a karaoke group session that is bizarrely in a slaughterhouse for pigs, turning sour to someone's singing being criticised, the camera wandering to and from as cop, singer and nude female staff are shot off-camera.

The result, full of moments like this, is a delirious and profane spectacle that deals with everything from infant death to police brutality of an old woman. Does it register at all with an emotional connection though? Entirely dependent on each viewer, though as Boss curses the adults who spawn children like him, leaving them on the streets like dogs to fend for themselves, there is a sense, no matter how exaggerated, of a very bleak view of modern Filipino culture as depicted in this film set in the future. That it can still be triumphant is due to the moments of life that struggle and scrape to survive, but entirely on the side of the lowlifes, Khavn views everything else as nasty and prone to death around them as a result.

From http://www.offscreen.be/sites/default/files/images/movie/alipato_06.jpg

Abstract Spectrum: Avant-Garde/Delirious/Grotesque/Transgressive
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Medium

Personal Opinion:
Obviously the obscurity of most of Khavn's work is a detriment for me, finding Alipato an all-consuming experience, one which is difficult and crude but with a potency and violent energy that is awe-inspiring. View with caution but those who want to see a film which is truly unique, this is it.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Night is Short, Walk On Girl (2017)

From https://media.senscritique.com/media/000017621874/
source_big/Night_Is_Short_Walk_on_Girl.jpg


Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Screenplay: Makoto Ueda
Based on a novel by Tomihiko Morimi
(Voice) Cast: Kana Hanazawa as The Girl with Black Hair; Gen Hoshino as Senpai; Hiroshi Kamiya as The School Festival Executive Head; Ryuji Akiyama as The Underpants Leader; Kazuya Nakai as Seitarō Higuchi; Yūko Kaida as Hanuki-san; Hiroyuki Yoshino as The God of the Old Books Market
A 1000 Anime Crossover

Synopsis: The Girl with Black Hair (Kana Hanazawa), on her night of finally becoming an adult as a university student, goes on a drinking spree across the town on night. Senpai (Gen Hoshino), a fellow university student in love with her and knows her well, decides to also finally make this night the one where he woos her. Their night will be one including a rich tyrant who steals men's underwear, the God of Second Hand Books, the war between the School Festival Executive Head (Hiroshi Kamiya) and guerrilla musical performances that he's trying to suppress across the campus, and an ever increasing case of colds spread amongst the populous.

The trajectory of Masaaki Yuasa is a glorious victory for the right man. Once he was a secret among anime fans, acclaimed for works like his debut Mind Game (2004) but with none of his work available in the West. A fan like me confesses to having been provided bit torrent links to some of his work after, like the series Kaiba (2008), from a wonderful benefactor for the simple reason that, inexplicably, that work wasn't available and in some spots in his filmography still isn't. The Tatami Galaxy (2010) was for a long while the only work available, which I'll get to later as its important in this particular tale. Than within the time afterwards Yuasa finally got some recognition. He got to direct an episode of Adventure Time, and slowly to the current time we're getting his work even in the UK. In one of the strangest success stories, which will hopefully lead to a new chapter in his career, he's helming Devilman Crybaby (2018), an acquisition for Netflix which, whatever your opinion on the streaming site, did the world a big favour in presenting Yuasa to a wider public, aptly in another resurrection tale at the same time as, of all things, it was an obscure Go Nagai character that, barring a 70s children series, starred in ultraviolent and grotesque material.

From https://i.imgur.com/cU41JxE.png

If that feels like an odd turn for some, in context Yuasa's always had an experimental bone in his body even in his choice of genres. He's dabbled in horror before in Kemonozume (2006), had in Mind Game existential drama play out in a throw-in-the-kitchen-sink mentality with a recreation of the Jonah and the Whale story, even made a TV series about ping pong. Somehow the man who once needed fan donations through a Kickstarter campaign to create projects managed to now have three directorial features made within this year or so - Devilman Crybaby itself, his family film about a mermaid, Lu Over the Wall (2017), and Night Is Short, Walk On Girl, effectively a sequel of the eleven episode long The Tatami Galaxy. This doesn't following the same main characters but set in the same world of author Tomihiko Morimi's story of before about university students and their lives. Side characters I loved from The Tatami Galaxy make an appearance again like old friends - Seitarō Higuchi (Kazuya Nakai) a modern day vagabond dressed like a period ronin and with a Robert Z'Dar approved chin, and his alcohol loving, big sister-like friend Hanuki-san (Yūko Kaida), who play major parts here as in The Tatami Galaxy. Even the "libido cowboy", who I forgot from the series, once a running gag with obvious connotations, returns in style and with a posse at the end, and a major voice actor from the series, Hiroyuki Yoshino, also makes an appearance as a character strangely similar in appearance to one from the show.

The leads, whilst looking the same as those in The Tatami Galaxy, are different figures however. A young woman with an iron stomach for alcohol and only the desire to be nice to all people whilst enjoying her night as much as possible in youthful, determined enthusiasm. The male, merely "Senpai", could pose a problematic figure for some viewers as he gets up to some shady means to win her heart, including when the School Festival Executive Head offers him access to their illegal files on her, but as in The Tatami Galaxy the male protagonists in Tomihiko Morimi and Yuasa's combined world are not perfect people. They take the entire narrative paths to be anywhere near close to redeeming themselves. In The Tatami Galaxy said character had to endure a Groundhog's Day scenario, and even then the ending suggested his self improvement included become more devilish in personality, whilst Senpai here gets dragged (literally by a sentient book at one point) through his doomed attempts to woo the Girl with Black Hair throughout. In the end, including the hilarious sight of thousands of himself at a conference in his mind arguing about love not existing, Yuasa's takes on author Morimi's work really rubs the nose in for anime (and even film) viewers perceptions about male characters being perfect, noble individuals. They get up to some dumb, even sleazy goals to win over the opposite sex, and its telling that the Girl with Black Hair at one point, in an attempt to overcome his flaws and begin their romance, has to sedate and flee thousands of his libidinous duplicates. Youthful, full of too much spunk and dumber than bricks at times, very much a type of male lead in these stories which won't win some fans of Night Is Short... but is more honest.

From https://i0.wp.com/www.heyuguys.com/images/2017
/08/C5GnnE5VUAEc_q8.jpg?fit=1200%2C675&ssl=1

It helps that this is as much the Girl's film, where even if it might seem problematic that they eventually fall in love, it's with her not really changing herself, really sympathetic and lovable from beginning to end, but Senpai having sides of himself bashed out instead. Yuasa, alongside fully undermining the boundaries of what is reality, metaphor and the surreal, utterly making the ability to differentiate them a joke, has always been obsessed with very unconventional but more realistic takes of how human beings are and interact. He's comparable to the late Satoshi Kon for his blurring of reality, but his style (alongside being compared to Superflat) has the one distinct trademark in that, despite how bizarre and incredible his imagery is, it's entirely for the sake of character pieces about people. (Even his horror story Kemonozume ultimately was about characters who felt like actual adults, merely in a gory action horror tale where the lead is the leader of a clan who kill monsters and the love interest being one of those aforementioned monsters.) Likewise here, on the longest and maddest night of pub crawling, improvised illegal musicals, and stints at even more illegal rare book tents, where copies of rare texts can only be won by eating more violently hot food than the other patrons, it's about a guy learning to start thinking more meekly, more affably, whilst the girl whose already well balanced merely realised he was attracted to her.

The noticeable difference in the age of the characters from most makes a breath of fresh air too. Anime suffers from the normalcy of "anime high school" where, due to a variety of factors such as a nostalgia for high school in contrast to modern Japanese society, a fantasised version of high school (or secondary school) is to be found in a lot of anime, hence why so many are about characters in their teens. Here, these are young adults who drink, read books, piss about and stage surprise musical performances in public, and the sense of change is rewarding. That and its liberal take on magical realism, Yuasa's trademarks matched by material which gleefully interconnects its segments with the utterly unnatural and strange gleefully. More so in this case as a tale of the exhilaration of life in the littlest of details. Far removed from any caution of drinking, it's a Bacchanalian parade where the young and the old intermingle. The love of books. Love in general, as a subplot reveals that the guerrilla musicals are all part of a scheme by a character who is in love with a girl he met one day, refusing to take the underwear he wore on said day off until then and using this illegal activity, which mocks the authority, as his stage to finally confess his love. (In fact the only real disappointment with Night Is Short... is that it nearly looks like it's going down into an unexpected gay romance at some point, and whilst its swerve from it is explained and never comes a cop-out, it would've been great if that tangent had gone fully to the hilt.)

From https://genkinahito.files.wordpress.com/2017/10/
the-night-is-short-walk-on-girl-film-image-4.jpg

As with all of Yuasa's work, Night is Short looks incredible, even more surrealistic in a literal sense than someone like Satoshi Kon can be. It's fascinating how, when his clear themes over multiple genres is the important of human interaction and personality, its filtered through such sumptuous, unpredictable and openly weird stylistic choices. His tonal shifts over the years - sci-fi with Osamu Tezuka influence story and character designs in Kaiba, Kemonozume being adult horror in terms of its characters as well as sex and gore with even moments of Bill Plympton in the stylistic choices - have transformed stories like Night is Short into their own genres, a magical realist farce here where one can not only meet the God of Second Hand Books, a diminutive dwarf who pulls price tags of old books to liberate them, but can command them to fly like birds in the air when freed. There are moments of spectacle here more elaborate than in some action anime and, as with Yuasa's previous stories, even the fact the protagonists don't have proper names doesn't stop them and even a one scene character from having a personality or something strange about them, like one of the School Festival Executive Head's minions being a literal monkey riding a vacuum cleaner/Segway hybrid.

Abstract Spectrum: Expressionist/Magical Realism/Surreal/Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): High

Personal Opinion:
Since he has tackled the work of Tomihiko Morimi twice, the return to Night is Short does bring a nice circular movement with eyes back to one of the more easily accessible works when he was a cult figure. The growing status of Yuasa is wonderful, but its poignant he effectively made a sequel to arguably the least conventional of all his work, a comedy-drama which nonetheless decides to tell its story through the deliberately strange, one where the sense of white and black morality for its protagonists is greyed but everyone is still part of a madcap farce, not serious and intense drama. Night is Short is a very odd love story, which boldly shows the worst aspects of people but also that they can still be good people deserving a happy ending. All in a film that has romance, fantasy, supernatural figures, gangsters, and even musical numbers about the School Festival Executive Head sneaking into the women's bathroom. A film that works more having seen The Tatami Galaxy, preparing you for it, but by itself is still glorious to witness.

From https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-_MScbd3ptAo/WdDJkEYwLII/AAAAAAAAODg/
GR1PCzj-om8TlKuY6jdZVzPH0IpeMj_-ACLcBGAs/s1600/night_sAp_0877.jpg

Monday, 27 August 2018

Rise And Fall Of A Small Film Company (1986)

From https://image.tmdb.org/t/p/w300_and_h450_
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Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Screenplay: Jean-Luc Godard
Meant to be based on the novel The Soft Centre by James Hadley Chase
Cast: Jean-Pierre Léaud as Gaspard Bazin; Jean-Pierre Mocky as Jean Almereyda; Marie Valera as Eurydice

Synopsis: The state of cinema by way of an adaptation of a James Hadley Chase crime novel, originally produced for the crime story series Série noire in France. Where producer Jean Almereyda (Jean-Pierre Mocky), once a matinee idol and major producer, is now reduced to TV movies and dogged by a case of stolen money from his past. All whilst Gaspard Bazin (Jean-Pierre Léaud), a director who now, after acclaim, spends his time in an obsessive ritual for casting extras that eats up their budgets, finds Almereyda's wife Eurydice (Marie Valera) a potential creative source when she desires to be an actress.

It's strange we can uncover lost films by Jean-Luc Godard, one of the biggest names in all cinema, but we can forget that even after ten years obscurer films in a director's filmography can be neglected absentmindedly. There is, of course, when new blood in the fan base don't know common knowledge that the older members do, something which can happen be it for horror fans to art house aficionados, and in that case we need to provide that information or doom ourselves to obscuring works of the past. Retrospectives are thankfully more common too as are physical released, but there are cases, with a director like Godard who made so much outside of theatrical screenings, that once it was a lot more difficult to access this material and a lot of it hasn't even been gotten around to until now. That even a great American director can have material not available means that the Swiss director, even if he is a legend in cinema, can have probably more as both being a director who worked in a foreign language to English, made very difficult work that contrasts his famous early sixties works immensely, and has experiments in television and short work more rife than many other filmmakers which always tend to be neglected with any auteur. So, yes, you have the clues to why we trip over these obscurities like so.

Even in the theatrical corner of Godard's wing, where for many his debut Breathless (1960) is his most well known film, there are productions neglected especially in the late eighties when, returning with his second "debut" Every Man For Himself (1980) after his experimental era, which are not available. Now which his Dziga-Vertov Group films (mostly) available in high definition, even if many are some of the most painful failures of his career, the Holy Grail alongside films like the controversial Hail Mary (1985) is his television work. Experiments like Rise and Fall of A Small Film Company.  From a time where he was going to return back to experiments until the unforeseeable day and was in-between various projects, a year before his infamous Cannon Films production King Lear (1987). One very much not taking his assignment with Série noire as intended.

From https://medias.unifrance.org/medias/252/193/180732/
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Rise and Fall
, rather than the adaptation of a crime novel as likely intended, is that meeting place between the return to narrative cinema in the eighties and the video experiments that would lead him to his career in the current day. The noticeable limitations - the TV screen ration, the limited aesthetic, the video sheen and digital text captions - are things that would undermine another director, but are like providing Godard with new tools to work with. He's someone, know to use VHS rips of old films on purpose still to this day, completely polymorphous when it comes to technology, already working on television productions in the seventies and, in the 2010s in his older statesman position, having his own 3D camera built by scratch and making a 3D feature in Goodbye to Language (2014). Here though he's still working with a plot, around one which contrary to his famous quote does have a beginning, middle and end in that order. The struggles of a TV movie company mid adaptation of James Hadley Chase's The Soft Centre, the novel Godard is meant to adapt, which he weaves his state of unrest cultural critiques in the midst of through the tired producer Jean-Pierre Mocky (Jean Almereyda), and the frankly deranged director Gaspard Bazin (Jean-Pierre Léaud).

Léaud, meeting back with Godard and thus evoking his many moments in the latter's work, could if you cheated a little be the exact character he would later play in Olivier Assayas' Irma Vep (1996). The same director hired to remake Les Vampires (1915-16) in that film, who decided to cast Maggie Cheung, once before with an entirely different name stuck in these wilderness years in the late eighties, his obsessive ritual with the extras of having them move through rooms in a  conveyor belt, quoting at one point the same passage contracted together between them, as much him attempting to find his creative sanity as a madness. He's less irritated by being stuck making television work, but as he confesses (and shows Godard biting the hand financing this feature) wishing he was adapting Dashiell Hammett instead. In a world where he and his producer sit in front of a television showing a fire, rather than a real one, to stay warm, the world has become stranger than the sixties they made their fames in. It's not an absurd comparison either between films as, whilst the ending of this suggests a happy ending for Léaud's character, the film making world is so different from France's before, where his arcane ritual with the casting is chewing up money for a company who can't even get a TV movie off the ground and shown.

From https://i.ytimg.com/vi/069Xaf__6nM/maxresdefault.jpg

Admittedly Godard's criticisms of the state of cinema and life, as he's been doing them since the sixties and hasn't stopped since, could dangerously fall into shouting into the wind, worse a man trying to joust windmills thinking they're dragons. (Even if that's the case for some now, I'd at least want to picture him as cinema's Prospero, in his magical tower in Switzerland creating his cinematic incantations, or like his character Professor Pluggy in King Lear with patch-cord dreadlocks in his hair). What doesn't allow this to be the case is that, generally, his philosophical concerns are not only enlightening but constantly evolving over time, the ones of yore still relevant to the current day or time capsules to new problems per era. Here, ironically when he was asked to make this TV film, he's practically spiting the producers by having the pair of Bazin and Almereyda as doomed figures of the past floundering even in commercial television. Their lives are small scale, the television budget and style of Rise and Fall... helping this. It is too rye to be an out-and-out comedy, but humour is to be found especially in characters like the accountant, who in deadpan just doing his job hands out paltry earnings to the extras discounting their social security. Or Léaud playing up his character's out-of-control behaviour, be it interrupting a phone call between a potential actress with acute abruptness, brought at what she suspiciously suspected to be erotic when asked to bring a bikini alongside her, or breaking into a Woody Woodpecker impression.

Godard's also one of the few directors able to get away with casting himself as the wise sage. Much of it, by this time, is because Godard was such an iconic name it was impossible to get around this, common in narrating his own films since the sixties and having a reputation as a figure outside of cinema, making his work (usually dialectic anyway) completely attached to him. Rise and Fall... offers him playing a character as himself, amusingly (as I want to picture it) living in Reykjavik in Iceland because he had to witness the greatest chess game being played there, here appearing to find a deal back in the left for him with a (fictional?) producer and Romy Schneider. Thus his scene also turns to an appropriate melancholic air about the period, when both said producer is dead and Schneider, in real life, passed in 1982. When that comes to pass it becomes one of the film's most meaningful scenes, more so because Godard is playing himself interacting with a fictional creation of his, two old pros lamenting their careers in cinema being affected by the change in tide and left adrift within it. Even if Godard would become more and more a legendary filmmaker who made films to the current day, he's eventually drift far from narrative cinema into experimental features entirely, all bolstered by the reputation he developed allowing him to leave mainstream cinema behind.

From http://media.flix.gr.s3.amazonaws.com/cache/
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His critiques are matched by a willingness to play with the form of film a way few would. The limitations, the flaws, of this television work are devices for him to exploit, superimposition to the hair-raising use of slow motion on a female extra's emotions mid-performance. He even deliberately has the sound abruptly halt as if the film's failed, followed by a technical difficulties screen, for a joke. Musically he picks interesting pieces like from Leonard Cohen to Janice Joplin, the latter's famous rendition of Mercedes Benz amusingly used on a moving computer square with the technical screen colourbars. The marriage between the two sides is like a very underrated theatrical feature Godard made within this era, Detective (1985) with Johnny Hallyday and Nathalie Baye, a small scale crime narrative confined to one hotel, perfect for Godard's experimentation as well as providing an actual story. Rise and Fall... still tells an interesting tale - for Jean-Pierre Léaud's Bazin, a spark of life is found in his producer's wife Eurydice (Marie Valera), who he compares to actress Dita Parlo known for films like Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion (1937). Theirs is not a romantic or sexual relationship, instead Bazin finding artistic clarity as, testing her, she is one of the only people when giving an old painting will not point out all the figures within it but say the characters are actually the most important themes of said painting. Sadly, apt for a small scale crime drama about a little company, it's the producer's shady past with stolen money that does them in.  

Abstract Spectrum: Avant-Garde/Diegetic
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Low

Personal Opinion:
Hopefully, restored and premiering at the 2017 Locarno Film Festival, the reappearance of Rise and Fall of a Small Film Company is not restricted from public access beyond being temporally streamable on MUBI. If Godard's Dziga Vertov years can be accessed, as difficult and un-cinematic in his career's work as you can get, an uncovered gem like this can have appeal. If anything it hopefully leads closer to the vast television and video work in his catalogue finally appearing in wider access.


From https://assets.mubi.com/images/notebook/post_
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Monday, 20 August 2018

Flexing With Monty (1994/2010)

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Director: John Albo
Screenplay: John Albo
Cast: Trevor Goddard as Monty; Rudi Davis as Bertin; Sally Kirkland as Lillith

Synopsis: Living together, Monty (Trevor Goddard) a physical education teacher at a university fitness obsessed muscle man with a homophobic streak, complicated sexuality and complex due to being raised by his grandmother, who believes in being the best in physical might. His teenager younger brother Bertin (Rudi Davis) is more sensitive, an intellectual but also with a severe complex for a mother he never met and Christian mystical thoughts. Their lives are to be drastically changed when an eccentric nun Sister Lilith (Sally Kirkland) enters their lives.

Among films left unfinished, only to be finally completed decades later and released, Flexing With Monty is a one-off even a person like myself, a jaded viewer of many a strange film, was taken back with. Starring Trevor Goddard, who most will know from playing Kano in the 1995 live action Mortal Kombat film, Flexing... was an early nineties production that started in 1994 only to be finally released in 2010; in that time Goddard sadly committed suicide in 2003, and one of the producers of the film also passed away. That it's a film of the nineties, regardless of its actual release date, means a lot to me. It's strange for myself, born in 1989 and a child of the 1990s, to see a production from that era and distinctly see the idiosyncrasies from that time, completely separate to now as a time ago. Like The Dark Backwards (1991) or nineties Gregg Araki movies, these films are going to grow in cult status now the nineties will probably get as much attention as the eighties even in the mainstream. Those references are not out-of-place either as they are the perfect comparisons for the oddity that is Flexing With Monty. Imagine the kind of transgressive story found in classic Greek plays to William Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus - incest and gory revenge abound here - but with bright gel lighting Mario Bava would be proud of and an idiosyncratic, mad script filled with enough religious symbolism to make your head burst, and enough scatological and profane material to piss yourself laughing over.

From http://sinsofcinema.com/Images/Flexing%20with%20
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The tone is where you where you separate the casual  fans of weird cinema from the obsessives as its a mad hodgepodge. Some feels retched from director/writer John Albo's own life clearly, especially with its Catholic references, and issues deal with sin and the place of women as corrupting forces in Christianity, and aspects that can never be explained such as Bertin acquiring a rare bird, actually a diminutive man in a cage (Manny Gates), who varies between masturbating to suddenly bursting into an aria for a profound moment. There's points in Flexing... where even I was surprised by where the tangents went, both in dialogue and when visualising some truly strange images. The dialogue's enough before Goddard, in arseless leather chaps and a cowboy hat, starts humping a stuffed polar bear in from a prostitute on his birthday as they elaborate the tale of his ancestor impregnating a bear in the forests. The combination is delirious, especially as the film, mostly set in deliberately artificial interior sets, adds to the deliberately sense of exaggeration on display.

That it's a tale of weird psychosexual issues is amplified by the tone. Monty the brash, homophobe who yet places ads in newspapers for gay cruising. Even that sequence, with leads to him brutally harming the gay man who expects a pleasurable time, has the strange mix of Monty harming him but still giving him the pleasure he wanted only in a violent way. Obvious, with moments like this, this is going to turn people off for how nasty the film is as out-there it is too. This is alongside the truly weird moments like Bertin dreaming of giving birth to his own mother, given an abortion by their grandmother with a knitting needle, extracting a ball of wool from him. Or the incestuous moment about said nightmares between the men. This type of drama is not common nowadays in mainstream storytelling, which is strange as, as mentioned in the beginning, this is not that different from the type of storytelling even Shakespeare and the ancient Greeks wrote of, classic canonical art which dealt with the complexities of human beings through extreme content. The issue is that this type of storytelling is rarer in modern art baring that which is dubbed "extreme" and gets divisive reactions from professional critics.

From http://sinsofcinema.com/Images/Flexing%20with%
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Flexing...'s
plot is effectively the downfall of a completely amoral man, as told in classic literature and even cinema. Where the strangeness comes in is the tone and the heightened dialogue. As much as this type of extremer material has a basic in classic work, you still have to work around moments likeSally Kirkland's entrance into the film as Sister Lilith. Talking about a charity campaign to deal with pollution undermining the biology of the populous' brains. Which leads to her talking about having to lay eggs in a ditch. Which leads to a cut to Academy Award nominated actress herself in a post apocalyptic environment, naked and squatting in a wasteland ditch laying an actual egg. It's one thing to have a story, like Shakespeare's tales of revenge, which eventually gets into dismemberment and toxic family relationships, it's another to have scenes like this or dialogue as ripe to rattle off terms like "fried rat cunt" or muscles having their own souls with constant regularity. It's something special but also giddy in its madness that you have to be very prepared for.

As a result, however, it's also never boring. It's also too well made to dismiss. Production wise, it's a low budget film restricted in sets that stands out. It's also worth comparing, not only to Araki, to the work of Stephen Sayadian, a.k.a. Rinse Dream, films like Cafe Flesh (1982) and, for a non-pornographic production, especially Dr. Caligari (1989) in its completely artificial look that feels on theatrical sets. The central one, with Monty's gym that includes a giant hamster wheel for him to run in, is spectacular especially with the deep, rich coloured lighting. The cast as well are trying their hardest and chewing the scenery, and this is where Flexing With Monty can get away with being this mad in tone. Tragically, as mentioned, Goddard would pass away at the age of forty, a true shame as whilst his Australian accent is over-the-top, actually born in England, he's utterly compelling. Aware of the tone of the film, he's in tune to the film's take on the extremes of masculinity within Monty, one which arguably has a clear point to in within the weirdness again his toxic macho attitudes, the whole misogynistic streak by way of Christian faith he has subconsciously within (even with a sex worker who visits on his birthday talking about Lilith as the first true wife of Adam), and the quasi (and frankly overt) homosexuality in spite of his homophobia. He's an energised ball of energy, the character constantly exercising or flexing, Goddard at the peak of physical health on camera, the life force of the film whose profane dialogue is richer due to his ridiculous fake Australian twang and forcefulness. Monty is an utterly loathsome character who you yet follow throughout gladly, the perfect anti-protagonist whose downfall is hideous as it is sickly funny.

From http://img.movieboom.biz/movie/screen/194965/15.jpg

The rest of the cast do as well though, especially Kirkland. In a film, among bizarre moments after another, where Monty's soul possesses his own penis, or Kirkland's scene where she reveals full body tattoos and goes into a frenzied religious monologue about the Whore of Babylon, you had to have a cast willing to both take the material serious but also, to quote Spinal Tap, go up to eleven to make it credible. It's here the film fully succeeds even if it's an acquired taste, a revenge tale like the nastier classics of yore brought kicking and screaming into the nineties. The extremes of people, over the top in tone and performances on purpose. The perversity, entirely appropriate and not out of place in context, telling a tale not that different from the likes of Oedipus only the later is of historical legacy and Flexing With Monty isn't. What separates it as well is Flexing...'s tone and style is something that makes its tale of bad blood and neurosis, until its calm and disquietly serene shot of a cabbage field, even more twisted and rewarding as a result.

Abstract Spectrum: Grotesque/Psychodrama/Psychotronic/Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Medium

Personal Opinion:
Absolutely a ripe, bizarre discovery still needing more coverage on. Flexing with Monty will be very divisive for many viewers, but the few that can get onto its wavelength will be morbidly delighted.

From http://sinsofcinema.com/Images/Flexing%20with%20
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A 1000 Anime Quartet

I did nearly use the term "quadrilogy", but considering its not an official term, know more by people by its use for the Alien franchise in DVD sets, and"tetralogy" or "quartet" are proper dictionary terms, I decided to stay classy...

A non-anime abstract review will be coming very soon. Until then, here are a few more tie-ins for the 1000 Anime blog, as eclectic as you can get.

Robot Carnival
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The first, Robot Carnival (1987), is an actual anthology film which, barring the theme of robots, entirely let its animators (including Akira director/author Katsuhiro Otomo) loose on their segments, an example of the craft of eighties animation that has to be seen to be believed. The review can be found HERE


Sparrow's Hotel
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On the opposite side of the coin, in terms of the lowest of budgets and expectations, is Sparrow's Hotel (2013); if Robot Carnival is an anime production that could've only been made in the eighties or nineties, with its painstaking craft and artistic heights, than Sparrow's Hotel could've only been made in the 2010s, with its janky animation, three minute long episodes and having some recognition in the West through the streaming site Crunchyroll. Is it deliberately bad - with its voluptuous, Barbie-with-assassination skills protagonist and crude, colourful demeanor - or just bad? Read the review HERE and find out how more complicated the truth is.


Five Star Stories
From http://www.anime-kun.net/animes/screenshots
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Back to the eighties, with painstaking and gorgeous animation, but with the reminder that that era could have productions which promised so much in a teaser but never had an ending, nor a follow on barring a manga that might've never been translated for the West. Hence, whilst I absolutely recommend finding Five Star Stories (1989), a melodramatic space opera with fabulous character designs based on the manga author's obsessively beautiful art, and even more fabulous giant robots, be warned that if you fall in love with its uniquely fantastical take on the giant robot genre of anime, it'll hurt like it did for me that this was the only anime adaptation of Mamoru Nagano's manga, and obsession over multiple decades and still counting, and nothing else came after. Admire the series and share the pain HERE.


Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise
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Thankfully some of the productions in the eighties had endings, and in any other blog post like this, seeing Robot Carnival or even Five Star Stories and writing of that experience would've been huge for another anime fan. However I also watched Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (1987) for the first time. One of the most significant anime theatrical films of all time, one of the biggest anime productions from the eighties, effectively birthing the divisive but culturally important anime studio Gainax, and one of the most divisive anime just for a (understandably) controversial segment, less than ten minutes but enough to lead people to dismiss the entire feature and its virtues, and took a huge additional chunk (with full spoiler warnings) for me to cover as it's be impossible not to talk of. However, even if that segment in its alternative world sci-fi drama was a moment that ruined the film for you the reader, rather than part of the complex drama few anime films cover for myself, than I'd still argue seeing The Wings of Honnêamise is going to be one of the most significant film viewing experiences, of all cinema not just anime, for the entirety of 2018. Read the review HERE and read why. 

So effective, watch all these anime. Well Sparrow's Hotel is to debate, but at less than thirty minutes or so for an entire series, even something that deserves a warning before seeing would've hurt that much dear reader would it?