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CINEMATON: Loving J-cinema.

April.15.2011

Since I am joining Cinematon Cinematon for this instance, I am going to play with my strengths. I’d like you to join me on the nuttier, crazier, and the fun part of the Japanese cinema. I am not exactly sure on how I would be able to present this. I know a list would be more appropriate but I would find it a little bit on the stiff side. I think it would be better if I would just like to give out my personal and cinematic experiences that I achieved when I saw these crazy and way out of this world films full of determination, oddity, love, expressionism, survival, and controversy.

Wow, I survived.

From as far as I know the Japanese media, when I was young, only provided us with the big monsters and giant heroes, like Godzilla and Ultraman, and Sentai, Robocop-like heroes in the form of Bioman, Shaider, and Machine Man. Other than that, I know that we have been peppered with a lot of anime that one might suddenly have a disinterest in, probably with me looking for other forms of entertainment, the ones where live-action is shown.

I frequent local comic and toy conventions and a cartoonist friend introduced me to the live action G-Force. The moment I saw that, I was overwhelmed with that short experience. I never knew that such media exists! Now, this same person introduced me to an unknown J-Horror named Ringu, directed by Hideo Nakata. It was making its rounds in one of the local film fests that we have in the Philippines, Eiga Sai. I never had the chance to take part in that film fest since it was over and I was still a student that time, no time to watch films.

Lucky for me, this cartoonist friend of mine, got a copy of Ringu. During that time, I used to be his fan and I belonged to his group, the Beerkadets. Since Ringu was a definite unknown during that time, he asked us to join in a game that would involve the film. It was fairly simple, he is going to give a copy of the film Ringu to one of his fans and then that fan has to meet with another fan in a span of six or seven days. And so we did it. It was fun and I think the copy of the film was passed to at least six people.

Fast-forward to a few more months, Ringu made its name into the world. Along with Dark Water, it has created a new type of genre, a rehash of the Asian cinema since a few other countries tagged along with the hype. And during this time, this same cartoonist introduced us to the film, Batoru Rowaiaru, translated as Battle Royale in English. Gladly, no Ringu games were played in our group anymore. We just have to ask what the film is all about and why they were hyping about it.

At this time, I was not aware of the extremes in cinema. And it was probably a test in my psychology whether I would be able to put up with a film such as Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale, as they were banging our Yahoo group on the idea of the film and its main essence as a dangerous subject in world cinema. You see, Battle Royale, I know a lot of people are familiar with this already but let us try to remember what happened, is a world gone wrong film. The utopian idea of a better society was what the film decided to point out. What they did was to take a random group of students and then they send them off to a place or an island where they have to kill each other, until one of them survives.

Despite its brutality, one can still be amazed on how it portrayed its morals to the viewers; sample of it is the unruly student disrespect the elders / teachers. I know that such theme is an eye-opener to conservative people; the take is on why they have to use children to kill off each other. But it conveys more on what is usually seen on the naked eye. Whenever I see this, I remember the adage that one has to do war to make peace. A funny concept and sad truth but as humans it is part of our nature. And with this film, the protagonist, Shuya Nanahara, tries to defy the system hoping to achieve what everybody wants, survival and freedom. People may say that the film itself is wrong but we have to see the grim truth to adjust our morality and go to the straighter parts of our society, at least.

Work it hard boys.

So, year after year, I try to check the latest Eiga Sai schedule hoping I could squeeze my thin stature in a crowd of freeloaders, just to see a new film from Japan. Luckily, this new film had its own buzz coming from the same people whom I got copies of Ringu and Battle Royale. The film is entitled Wota Boizu or Waterboys, directed by Shinobu Yaguchi.

Waterboys tackle the life of a boy named Suzuki, the main protagonist, whose sole love is swimming. The school hires a beautiful swimming teacher and a lot of male students joined the newly formed swimming group. They found out that she teaches synchronized swimming and a lot of boys withdraw from the team except for four boys and Suzuki. A big problem ensued when the teacher goes pregnant and the boys had to train for themselves. Asking help from a Dolphin trainer, the group found themselves initially exploited by the trainer and found out later that they can work well as a team. While they were practicing for an upcoming event, a sightseer takes a video of them and eventually ends up on TV. Making a good publicity for the boys take on something that is very unusual for a group of students.

One of the most upbeat and innovative Japanese films I’ve seen in my entire life. It was such a refreshing take on the usual life around campus that this movie gives us the out-of-the-box ideas that they can create, produce, and show. I usually ask people to see this in case they want to check out a funny Asian film. I know a lot of people are not aware that this kind of film exists and I am sure you are lucky enough in case you enjoy watching feel good movies.

The movie represents a big deal on the determination of the kids in the movie. I remember whenever I see this film, it is such a given that the Japanese are determined people and imagine at a young age, even if this is just a cinema, it is inculcated in their young minds that determination is important in a person, more so in a whole race and culture. And you have to remember the damage that has been dealt upon them during and after the Second World War. Where are they now, presuming of course that the recent events didn’t happen?

Apart from the determination of the boys, creativity shouts out from this film. I know bravado and machismo are usually taught, and what the cinema usually tries to point out, but we have to accept that the Japanese cinema can get away with it. Like what was shown at the end of the film, the boys get what they worked hard for and they were celebrated even if they were against all odds.

Robogirl, is that you?

I think we have established the fact that I am now interested and somehow engrossed with the Japanese cinema. From time to time, I check out the latest Japanese films, hoping I would get the same high I got from the previous movies that I encountered. It doesn’t matter what genre it is, as long as I enjoyed it before then I am all for it. Lo and behold, I got lucky one time when I got my hands on a film called Kataude Mashin Garu, or The Machine Girl, directed by Noboru Iguchi.

I know it might seem perverted for me to include this film in this write-up. I mean there is that fantasy of men regarding girls donning skirts and armed with kick-ass weapons; as this idea might gather the same sentiment for the guys who love Sucker Punch. But it is actually not the case; I wasn’t even that enticed with the cover of the film, it features a girl in school girl attire armed with a very dangerous weapon that looks like a hand-held Gatling gun. It was more than that exactly.

The main run of the film features the revenge of a girl against a boy, who is backed up by a lot of “powerful” people, who killed her brother. Since she has no experience in any armed combat, she tried to battle the antagonists even if the odds are clearly against her to the point where she has to lose her arm in the process and she was able to replace her arm with a machine gun, hence the title of the film that could’ve been derived from the said weapon.

Aside from this film’s main point being a revenge for a loved one, the main attraction actually is the craziness that the scenes in the film have provided to the viewers. It was amusing as those side shows in the local fairs in the U.S., and here in the Philippines too. An arm cooked ala tempura, a group of Sentai enemies who also do formations whenever they start a battle, and a Madonna-suit wearing enemy that features two drills coming from her bra are some of the memorable scenes in this film. This is an honest to goodness cult film suitable for the adult audience as I have tested this film with a female peer and she liked it.

I know it is quite shallow for the female lead to fight a lot of enemies. But if you think about it, she did it all for love. Amidst all the craziness in the film, which was what mattered, the survival of a person in a lot of trials would actually remind you of what happened to the female lead in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill franchise. And this film certainly goes to the fun part of the spectrum.

Welcome to the Japanese version of Ingmar Bergman’s Persona.

I had a conversation with a friend when we had a road trip a few months ago. I don’t know how it went there but he told me that there is this anime series about rock music. The story went like this: it is about a boy who loves music. He goes to the urban area and studies music. Now, the thing is this boy has two lives. One is singing the happy and sappy and corny songs that he plays alone and it basically makes people barf whenever they hear it, due to its extreme cheeriness. The other is he is part of a death metal band that a majority of his friends and family are unaware of. He sings the worst lyrics that man can make which mostly tackles murder, death, and incest, and is actually celebrated by a lot of fans in their area. Their group embarks on a class of the death metal bands tour, trying to outwit the other death metal bands in the other provinces hopefully gaining respect in the genre.

The funny thing about this is that this boy is not actually fond of his career. What he wants is the life of a cheesy pop singer. But whenever he tries to convince himself to do what he loves, he ends up with the wild side, which he can’t initially accept that that is his destiny.

The great thing about this film is it was able to grab the essence of its anime counterpart, even if I wasn’t able to watch the animated series. I mean if you’re just going to watch a film coming from a TV series and you are wow’ed, as opposed to what M. Night delivered last year since the movie version is just ok or really bad according to the followers of the TV series, and then the movie adaptation is effective.

But wait there’s more, aside from the lyrics used by the songs in the film; I was actually shocked and surprised that Kenichi Matsuyama, who is the main protagonist of this film, also acted as L from the celebrated Death Note franchise.

I believe that Japanese films that tackle music are one of the best expressionism in world cinema. I know a lot of Filipino would probably agree with me since they’ve been bitten by the J-pop and J-rock bugs. That’s why this film worked and mattered.

I also would like to add that there is this other Japanese film that relates to music. It is entitled Fisshu Sutori, or Fish Story. It is not as odd as Detroit Metal City but it clearly follows its main theme of great music and story. And would you believe that music in the film literally saved the world? It surely made the film Armageddon weak, IMHO.

The love will continue, XOXO.

As much as I would like to continue telling my journey with the wonderful world of Japanese cinema, I have to shorten this a bit as it might get too tedious already. I have two more films that I want to share, and yes, I am keeping it light.

The first one is Jisatsu Sakuru or Suicide Club, directed by Shion Sono. I know the Japanese loves controversy. And that is one of the reasons why they are great in the world cinema. They create films to boggle one’s mind, to challenge morality, to express the out of this world ideas, and to scare you as much as possible. Suicide Club might be it and one thing that defines this film among the other supposed scary J-horror films is its take on what seems to be impossible but at the back of your mind, it may happen, despite its sort of weird ending for me, I guess that is what makes this film distinct among the other scary films that I know of. Its impact level might not match what Battle Royale provided, but still it still made a name on its own.

And the other film is Takashi Miike’s Koroshiya 1 or Ichi The Killer. Some may say that this film is particularly brutally odd. I know the film doesn’t make any sense, well it did in some cases but there’s no point in a sexually aroused killing machine of a retardate, right? But that is what makes this film along with the other Japanese films in this genre that makes it particularly distinct. Actually, it includes the entire world too. I have to say that they are at best when it comes to the hateful nature of life. It may sound negative, regardless it was made to provoke and in the end, as much as some people wouldn’t like it, cinema wins.

Whether we like it or not, Japanese cinema changed our lives and our world. I know that they have been here for decades already but I have to mention the other films that mattered, especially for me. I know we have the Kurosawa and Miyazaki films abound and I think a lot of people know them already. I think after a decade, it is about time to update the movie queue.

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