Japanese cult cinema

A look at some alternatives to this summer’s Hollywood fare

KONICHIWA, HOLLYWOOD? Eihi Shiina as Asami Yamazaki in Takashi Miike’s <i>Audition, </i>featured this month on the Sundance Channel.

KONICHIWA, HOLLYWOOD? Eihi Shiina as Asami Yamazaki in Takashi Miike’s Audition, featured this month on the Sundance Channel.

Sturgeon’s Law dictates, “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

Of course, if you actually have to pay attention to the deluge of refuse gushing from Hollywood, you’ll notice that the suits have managed to mud-wrestle that factor down to the lowest common denominator and creep the percentage on up to 99.9. The obvious reason is that—aside from dealing with a public that, when faced with a de facto coup d’etat involving the executive and judicial branches of their federal government, went, “Damn, that sucks, hope The Man doesn’t get us into a war or something"—companies that have no business being involved in the film business view it as just that.

Walking into the local multiplex theater expecting to find a decent film is kind of like walking into a “Mexican restaurant” expecting to find a decent salsa. Not gonna happen. Like the salsa, American films (yes, even the independents, which are now generally distributed through that tentacle of Disney, Miramax) have been homogenized to remove any content that may offend anyone other than the most tweaked-out fundamentalist. If you’ve reached the point where, like me, you actually recommend half-assed entertainment like Spider-Man merely because it didn’t suck, you need a breather from American film.

How ’bout we do Japanese?

Now, 90 percent of Japanese cinema may be crap, but when you dig into what is considered crap by most people, you’re gonna find some jewels that blow everything Western off the map. Generally, when asked what the Japanese have to offer to the world film community, most people think of men dressed in lizard suits stomping the bejeezus out of miniaturized Tokyos. Fine, but you also have to take into account that the man responsible for that ‘60s camp howler The Green Slime is also the director of one of the most dangerous films of the last decade, Battle Royale. A nasty little satire that cross-breeds Lord of the Flies with Survivor, BR offers up a Orwellian future where—in response to rising civil disobedience among grade school students—the Japanese government passes the BR Act, in which every year an entire ninth-grade class is set on a deserted isle, necklaced with an explosive band and handed a weapon with the admonishment: You have three days to kill off your classmates, one winner only, thank you, or that band goes boom. This is a brilliant film that stands a zero chance in hell of being distributed in the States, for obvious reasons.

Another man to keep an eye out for is Takashi Miike, a literal madman of filmmaking who makes Roger Corman look like a piker. With something like 60 titles under his belt in just the last decade, he is notable not only for his insane productivity, but also that seemingly every film he makes is a gem. Check out Audition or Dead or Alive, and you’ll realize what vanilla chaps such “dangerous” filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino really are.

Of course, Hollywood has taken notice of this new wave of Japanese film, responding in typical Tinseltown fashion, not actually distributing these films, but optioning them for an Anglicized remake. This October sees the remake of one of the most disturbing horror films of recent memory, Ring (a haunted videotape causes the death of anyone who views it), followed by a retooling of what is probably the most hyper-violent zombie flick ever made, Versus.

Of course, with the remakes on the slate the companies involved aren’t going to allow distribution of the originals, so the only way to see these films is to either pick up a foreign release of the title or drop by local obscure-video archive Paradise Lost for a crash course in Hollywood sucks.