THE GEISHA OF GORE’S BEST FILMS VIEWED IN 2014
By Colleen Wanglund, “The Geisha of Gore”
I generally don’t go to see new movies in the theaters. Even when I see new Asian films, their release date is usually from the prior year and are just being seen in the United States for the first time. Although once in a rare while I do get to see a new release that I really enjoy. So here is my list of the best twelve films I was able to see for the first time in 2014, in no particular order.
I have always been wary of sequels—ALWAYS. They almost never live up to the original film and I invariably end up disappointed. Not with this one. THE RAID 2, directed by Gareth Evans, picks up where the original left off, with Rama (Iko Uwais) working undercover for the special police unit to take down a major gang. The fight scenes are just as epic as in the original, and Hammer Girl was an awesome addition to the cast. It had some tedious moments but overall I really enjoyed it and surprisingly, I find myself looking forward to the third film in the series.
Directed by the Godfather of Pink Films, Koji Wakamatsu, this movie is about an emasculated man with an Oedipus complex determined to torture a woman into being the perfect wife. It’s brutal at times and quite claustrophobic giving it a very tense atmosphere, and a statement about the expected roles of men and women in 1960s Japan. This was the first film that Wakamatsu completely financed and the first released by Wakamatsu Productions, which he formed after leaving Nikkatsu Studios. This is a must-see for fans of exploitation films.
Sion Sono is one of my favorite directors and I was not disappointed with this film. A wannabe film crew find themselves in the middle of a yakuza war and decides to make a movie out of it. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, right down to the very bloody and masterfully choreographed final scenes, even though there were some tedious moments. Not one of Sono’s best but still a great film with all of his typical surrealism.
I know, it’s not an Asian film. But it doesn’t matter. The Geisha absolutely LOVED this movie! I think many comic book film adaptations are overrated and formulaic, but not this one. The acting was great, the directing was great, and the soundtrack was brilliant. Chris Pratt has secured his place as an endearing leading man with this film, moving on successfully from a very funny run on the sitcom PARKS AND RECREATION. Who doesn’t want to see a bunch of misfit outcasts make good?
Directed by Lee Sang-il and starring Ken Watanabe, this is a remake of the Clint Eastwood 1992 Western, set in Japan’s Meiji period (1868-1912), when Japan’s Tokugawa Shogunate collapsed and the new government hunted down and slaughtered the remaining samurai after the wars. Watanabe’s acting is superb and the cinematography alone is worth the price of admission. While I usually despise remakes, this one works well because Lee is able to completely transform the story from one cultural context to another with little effort.
I was able to see this one on the big screen in all its scratchy 35mm glory at the Japan Society, and it was well worth the two hour trip into Manhattan. 2014 was the first time the film had ever been screened in the United States. Another First Wave pink film for Japan, this one is about a private detective/hit man hired to rescue a man’s girlfriend from a ruthless gang. The film takes a bizarre turn and ultimately nothing is what it seems. The film was written and directed by Atsushi Yamatoya, who would write many pink films, but would only direct a handful. It has gone under other titles including DUTCH WIFE OF THE DESERT, but as a First Wave Japanese pink film, it’s another must-see.
This psychological thriller/horror film from Taiwan stars Jimmy Wang Yu (MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE, 1976) as a man whose son returns home possessed by a demon. It is unsettling and heartbreaking at the same time, and beautifully directed by Chung Mong-hong. Family secrets are revealed and family bonds severely tested. The horror aspects are subtle but gruesome and satisfying.
Set in a future Japan where zombies exist, but not in an apocalyptic way, this horror film directed by cult filmmaker Sabu gives us a unique take on zombies. The zombies are able to be trained as domestic servants and “cured” of their craving for flesh. A female zombie brought to work for a family is horribly abused by other workers but she still retains some memory of her former life. It is a heartbreaking and bleak story in which the zombie and her boss’s wife have far more in common than anyone realizes.
This is a horror film that pays tribute to the Japanese horror comedy series MR. VAMPIRE (1985-1992), though the comedy in RIGOR MORTIS is heavily downplayed. The film is about a washed up actor who is the only salvation for a haunted housing complex, where he actually went to kill himself. Many of the cast are from the original series and Chin Siu-ho plays himself as the suicidal, ghost-seeing actor. It’s a great film with some fantastic fight sequences.
This is a silent film that tells the story of a brother and sister living in the slums of Tokyo during the time of the samurai and they have no one but each other. The brother, Rikiya, thinks he committed murder and begins a downward spiral into madness, while his sister Okiku tries desperately to help him. Director Teinosuke Kinugasa paints a vivid picture of class distinction and, even though it is a period piece, there isn’t a single sword fight. It’s a beautiful film heavily influenced by German expressionism.
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s return to filmmaking after over twenty years was something I eagerly anticipated. I’ve been a huge fan since a friend of mine took me to a midnight screening of THE HOLY MOUNTAIN years ago and, waiting in line hoping to get a ticket at MOMA was well-worth it, especially since Jodorowsky was there and did an amazing Q&A for about an hour after the film. DANCE OF REALITY is a quasi-autobiographical film about Jodorowsky’s childhood in Chile with a communist father and a mother who was a former opera singer. In fact, she sings all of her lines. The film is tamer than his previous body of work and a good place to start if you’ve never seen a Jodorowsky film before.
This documentary delves into what would have been, had Jodorowsky been able to fund his vision of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Massive books full of storyboards (including art by H.R. Giger), music by Pink Floyd, and a complete script still exist of the doomed film (I would probably kill to own just one of the books), that were sent to every studio at the time. It was fascinating to see just how many films this never-made movie influenced, with the original team assembled by Jodorowsky (Giger, Dan O’Bannon, Chris Foss, and Jean Giraud) moving on to eventually work on ALIEN (1979).
© Copyright 2015 by Colleen Wanglund