Category Archives: Imaginary Japanese Cinema

#238 – Moshi Moshi

(1951, Jap, 125 min, b/w) Dir Haruko Miyaguchi. Cast Setsuko Hara, Kuniko Miyake, Rentarō Mikuni.

Setsuko Hara, lovely as always, is Michiyo, a switchboard operator for a company in Tokyo. One day she receives a call from one of the new young executives, Ken Okamoto (Mikuni), and after a brief conversation she falls in love with him, sight unseen. Before long however her heart is broken when she finds herself juggling calls from both his wife and his mistress. Turning the situation to her advantage she elects to blackmail him with her knowledge so that he will take her out on a date. Once she has laid eyes on him she realises how foolish she had been and promptly leaves. Unfortunately for her the brief meeting was all it took for young Ken to fall head over heels in love with her and before she knows it she is fending off his advances from one side and defending herself against his aggrieved mistress on the other. A typical black comedy from Miyaguchi, often called the ‘Japanese Billy Wilder’, though Moshi Moshi was in fact a rare flop for him upon it’s release, some say due to the fact that the normally pure hearted Hara was cast so far against type.

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#203 – Rancid House

(1982, Jap, 75 min) Dir Kan Tan.

In the early eighties Kan Tan, director of the mostly offensive and fairly popular Apartment Lust and Zoom Lens series, found himself regarded as nothing more than an also ran. His scheme was to channel his unpleasantness into what he imagined would be his definitive filmic statement before taking his own life and fortunately for him his plot backfired – the vile and shoddy Rancid House found itself an audience and not just locally either. An aspirant British distributor called Phil Roget caught the film on a stopover from the Philippines and immediately negotiated the rights for the burgeoning UK video market where the gross schlock of Lucio Fulci et al was going over a storm. Unfortunately for Roget his title was released in 1984 just as the Video Recordings Act was kicked into play and was immediately banned. Once the laws were relaxed in the early 2000’s it was finally released but without much fanfare. If your idea of a good time is to watch a trio of schoolgirls try to survive a night in a house with scabbed walls and a basement full of pus where they can’t sleep for five minutes without being hosed with maggots or assaulted by invisible molesters and flying razor blades then be sure to check out the shoddily transferred copy currently being plied under the Electric Video Company name – all Tan’s attempts at depravity are hilariously undercut by his own ineptitude to create a film of unmissable craptitude.

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#191 – Zūmurenzu: Kameraman Bōkō (Zoom Lens: Photographer Assault)

(1974, Jap, 61 min) Dir Kan Tan. Cast Mitsuo Ibaraki.

In the early Seventies the studios got involved in the formerly independent pinku eiga genre and the films got slicker. As ever Kan Tan was waiting and Zoom Lens saw him attempting to kick-start his own series following the success of the likes of the Apartment Wife series. The idea is simple – Ibaraki (the De Niro to Tan’s Scorsese) is a camera wielding pervert who roams Tokyo hunting for women to photograph. Sick of continuously being thwarted in his lusts he takes to forcing himself on women and photographing the results. More than that, this is a comedy. A curious, queasy mix of sexual assault and slapstick that seems more bizarre and less palatable than Tan’s previous work due to the increased budget on display with its attendant glossy photography and high production values. The series was a modest hit and a further thirteen installments were produced before the series was put out to pasture.

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#190 – Apāto Retsujō (Apartment Lust)

(1967, Jap, 57 min) Dir Kan Tan. Cast Mitsuo Ibaraki, Anna Shimura, Haruo Tanaka.

From the beginning of the pinku eiga era Kan Tan was there with his camera. 1967 represented the peak of his productivity with a staggering twelve films produced that year and Apartment Lust was the most popular of the dozen, at least partly because of the brief controversy it’s release caused. The story’s as old as the hills – young Kaneda is failing in school because of an unrequited love for a girl in his class so his parents track down and kidnap the object of his affections so that he may tie her to his bed and beat and whip her. Eventually she escapes and gets her bloody revenge on the whole family. I know what you’re thinking – isn’t this just the same plot as Kōji Wakamatsu’s The Embryo Hunts in Secret? Why yes, it is, but with the addition of the parent characters and the subtraction of Embryo‘s formal trickery. It would appear that, upon spying the controversy that greeted the release of Wakamatsu’s film, Tan guessed that the introduction of the parents as the torturer’s enablers would up the shock quotient and the removal of the nouvelle vague elements would please the more mainstream punters. He was right too. Artless and grubby stuff all in all.

#177 – Dr. X

(2000, Jap, 91 min) Dir Hiroya Hino. Cast Yukie Inoue, Mitsuo Ibaraki, Kon Ito.

Based on the Japanese urban legend of the masked doctor. In case you haven’t heard of it, it goes like this – you’re on your own and you fall maybe and hurt yourself and from a nearby side street or even from out of the bushes appears this man in a long white coat and a surgical mask offering to help. If this ever happens to you get up and run as fast as you can no matter how badly you’re hurt – the legend goes that if this mysterious helpful passerby were to lift up his mask you wouldn’t return to tell people what you saw. So how has this slim premise become another film in the J-Horror canon? Nanako is at home one day waiting for her son Rikiya to get home from school but he never arrives. Asking about she hears from one of his classmates that he saw Rikiya fall and a tall man in a white coat and face mask appear to help him. The young boy won’t tell her any more. Later, when the old man Hiroyuki turns up at her doorstep to tell her about his own son who went missing thirty years before and shows her the drawing of the masked man, at that point Nanako’s desperate search is on. An eerie urban nightmare in a rare display of restraint from director Hino (Dark Tentacles, the uncomfortable Gynaecologist series).

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#153 – Burakkurōzu (Black Rose)

(1988, Jap, 70 min) Dir Helmut Durmou. Cast Setsuko Tanaka, Hiroshi Somai.

In 1986 Francois Fleider accidentally asphyxiated in whilst trying out a new modified harness/pillory post made by famed ‘device’ maker Jan Flugel-Flugel which left the previously secure Durmou without a steady patron. Thankfully his fans leapt to the rescue in the form of his Japanese fan base, the surprisingly well organised Helmut Durmou Appreciation Society, populated by various titans of industry. In honour of his new backers Durmou relocated to Japan for what was supposed to be a brief engagement but lasted until his recent death and was where all his subsequent films were made (barring Hard Light which was made in Italy but with an all-Japanese crew). Black Rose acts as a kind of low-budget aperitif in this respect, focussing on two people in one anonymous room, the kind typical to the average Tokyo apartment block which immediately sets it apart from his previous films which were always set in the opulent past, whether an imagined one or clearly defined era. The reason for this becomes immediately clear when the female lead is presented with the what is the centrepiece of the film – a Flugel-Flugel pillory post of the same ‘Black Rose’ design that ended the life of Durmou’s patron. He’s obviously working some stuff out here and as such he has, unusually, made a slow, mournful film for completists only. Nonetheless it remains a fitting tribute to his indulgent benefactor. His next film, Demon, was him back to form.

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#93 – I Love Japanese Punks

(1984, US/Jap, 104 min) Dir Rachael Gaudi. Cast Rosanna Arquette, Lea Thompson, Miyuki Ono, Kō Machida, Cobra.

The first film from video artist Rachael Gaudi, inspired by her time in Japan in residence at the Tokyo ‘Shoebox’ and the punk scene there. Arquette and Thompson are Split and Max, a pair of New York new wave punks bored with life in the USA and whose only idea for getting by in the world involves hanging around the punk scene until something happens. Split is obsessed with Japan and, in particular, with Japanese punks and misappropriates Max’s winnings from a daytime quiz show to invest in a pair of one way airplane tickets to the land of the rising sun. From there it’s culture shock comedy all the way but at the same time acting as a document of the punk music scene in Japan at the time, the only such window onto that world for Western viewers. Before long though Split and Max’s dreams have come true – by hanging around the punk scene in Japan they get noticed and are soon making a living as crazy American punk girls advertising cola and deodorant and the like. But have they sold out? A sweet, silly film and not at all as you would expect from Gaudi, whose internationally renowned gallery pieces are of an altogether more eye-watering cast.

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#77 – Gynaecologist

(2008, Jap, 72 min) Dir Hiroya Hino. Cast Mitsuo Ibaraki, Yukie Inoue.

In the horror genre examples of sexism and of female empowerment rub shoulder so frequently and so vigorously it surprises me that the whole genre isn’t constantly engulfed in the resultant wildfire. There are plenty of examples of both but there are some of the former that go so far as to have no parallel among the more progressive end. This is one such film. I’m not going to go into detail as to the plot and so on as it’s beside the point – the film exists for no reason other than the examination scenes. Despite the fact that Japan’s censorship prevents any depiction of the area relevant to the film they still try their best – there is pixelling, there are POV shots from the anatomical perspective and there are shots that are so close to the matter at hand that they are abstracted into uncomfortable fields of pink. The fact that there is nothing actually graphic works in the maker’s favour though, with bloodied instruments and removed matter in conjunction with the patient’s pained face suggesting unfathomable grotesquery in the viewer’s mind. My recommendation: avoid unless you like brain damage. Postscript: the horror genre, like any other, relies on people to vote with their money and their interest and though two sequels followed this the series has now thankfully met its end.

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#53 – Dark Tentacles

(1999, Jap, 63 min) Dir Hiroya Hino. Cast Yukie Inoue.

I don’t know about you but if – all those years ago, back in more innocent times – if then someone had suggested to me the erotic potential of tentacles I would probably have smiled and nodded whilst backing away from them slowly. Of course now that the internet has opened our eyes to these things actually being things it’s harder to think of anything uncomfortable or unpalatable that hasn’t been exploited by some deranged pioneer or another, all of which is a long-winded way of saying that here is Dark Tentacles, should you want it. It’s the age-old story – an anonymous woman (let’s call her AW) is chosen by some sort of grotesque and many tentacled pan-dimensional fiend to bear its terrible spawn. Apart from a brief prologue showing AW looking in shop windows while the dread beast monologues its plan, the whole thing takes place in her apartment where said hell creature does its gross tentacle thing. It doesn’t go straight to it though – there’s 63 minutes to fill here people! No, there’s a slow and agonising preamble involving AW held down and tortured by the slippy limbs with lots of close-ups of her agonised features and vulnerable regions. It all goes downhill from there when the pixels come out… The whole thing ends with poor AW swollen with the pan-dimensional fiends offspring. It looks like it was shot on a camcorder in someone’s actual apartment which makes it worse in a couple of different ways and though the creature itself is well realised I’d probably have preferred that it hadn’t been. Easily avoidable.

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#37 – Kitten Dream

(1995, Jap, 72 min) Dir Takashi Ōmori.

In Japan in the eighties there was a TV show called Happy Puppy Kitten which consisted mostly of the fifteen minute adventures of puppies and kittens as they, for example, discovered a new box or frolicked in a garden, all while being narrated by an excessively excited young woman. Happy Puppy Kitten didn’t make it out of the country but Kitten Dream, a feature-length cat only version, did. Basic story: kitten in house, kitten escape from house. Kitten climb in van of milk man, milk man drive away. Kitten get out at sea-side, kitten lost. Kitten must find kitten’s way home. It’s all very cute though the little ones in the screening I attended were mildly traumatised by some of the scenes of lost kittens. I will assure you, to save any distress on your own part, that a happy ending is most definitely had with kitten finding her way home and being thrown a kitten party by her owner. Blessedly the big screen version released over here is without the breathless narration of the excited young Japanese woman but, oddly, she has been replaced with Christopher Plummer who I can’t help but think is being a touch too ironic for the proceedings. Puppy Dream was released the following year.

Twitter: @MadeUpFilms